The Beginnings of Quakerism

By William C. Braithwaite | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
NAYLER'S FALL (1656)

Reader, if you are not acquainted with it, I would recommend to you, above all church-narratives, to read Sewel History of the Quakers. It is in folio, and is the abstract of the journals of Fox, and the primitive Friends. It is far more edifying and affecting than anything you will read of Wesley and his colleagues. Here is nothing to stagger you, nothing to make you mistrust, no suspicion of alloy, no drop or dreg of the worldly or ambitious spirit. You will here read the true story of that much-injured, ridiculed man (who perhaps hath been a by-word in your mouth)--James Nayler: what dreadful sufferings, with what patience, he endured even to the boring through of his tongue with red-hot irons without a murmur; and with what strength of mind, when the delusion he had fallen into, which they stigmatised for blasphemy, had given way to clearer thoughts, he could renounce his error, in a strain of the beautifullest humility, yet keep his first grounds, and be a Quaker still !--so different from the practice of your common converts from enthusiasm, who, when they apostatize, apostatize all, and think they can never get far enough from the society of their former errors, even to the renunciation of some saving truths, with which they had been mingled, not implicated.-- CHAS. LAMB, Essays of Elia, "A Quaker's Meeting."

The difficulties of the doctrine of Inward Guidance are, as James Nayler's experience reminds us, serious and practical. I would suggest that the solution lies in a deeper interpretation of the person and message of Jesus Christ. Apart from the thought of God as we see Him set forth in Jesus, and the common consciousness of truth as revealed in lofty souls who have been touched by His spiritual fire, it is not evident how the faults of individual interpretation are to be corrected. . . . [But] with Jesus as the Gospel, witnessed in the conscience of a civilization infected by His Spirit, I see the balance-wheel to the doctrine of the Inward Light.-- J. W. ROWNTREE , Essays and Addresses, pp. 244, 245.

In a previous chapter the account of the work in London was not carried beyond May 1655. Howgill and Burrough had been the chief labourers: they now spent a month in the Eastern Counties, and in July went north towards Ireland, not returning to London until the spring of 1656. Shortly before they left, James Nayler, the most brilliant of the Quaker preachers, had come to the

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