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SAVING GRACE AMONG PURITANS AND QUAKERS A Study of 17th and 18th Century Conversion Experiences Mary Cochran Grimes * In Reformation England the Puritans were so called because they wanted to purify the Church of England. In New England a hardy band of Puritans were struggling to build a City of God which would serve as a model of purity to England and Europe. To ensure purity in their church the early ministers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony became the first to require parishioners to attest to a genuine conversion experience in order to become church members. They were called Saints, or members of the "visible church."1 Even though these Puritans had escaped from the dissolute society of England and had maintained a rigid policy of intolerance of any dissent, they were disappointed to find that sin still existed both within and without the church, obscuring their vision of the pure City of God. The last thing they needed was the arrival of a group of fanatical evangelists on their shores. Puritans , who prided themselves on their devotion to logic, took a dim view of "enthusiasts" who believed in direct revelation of the divine as did the Quakers, mockingly so called for their tendency to quake "at the word of the Lord."2 They called themselves Friends. Puritan authorities seem to have been far more concerned about Quaker behavior, such as disturbing church services in England to testify and "going naked as a sign of the Lord," than with their inner faith.3 As James Truslow Adams said, of all the sects that arose during the religious ferment following the Reformation, "none seems to have been more misunderstood or to have encountered greater opposition than the Quakers."* * Mary Cochran Grimes is a teaching assistant in the history department at Yale University where she received her M.A. degree. 1.Edmund S. Morgan, The Gentle Puritan: A Lije of Ezra Stiles, 17271795 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 1962), p. 23. 2.George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, a revised édition by John L. Nickalls (Cambridge: University Press, 1952), p. 58. 3.Kai T. Erikson, Wayward Puritans. A Study of the Sociology of Deviance (New York, London, Sydney: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1966), p. 129. 4.James Truslow Adams, The Founding of New England (Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921), p. 263. 4 Quaker History When the Saints of Boston tried to banish Quaker missionaries, and then resorted to whippings and hangings when they persisted in returning, Puritans in England were shocked at the Saints' violence .5 Roger Williams, Puritan maverick and defender of religious freedom whom the Saints also banished from Massachusetts, did not condone the physical persecution, but he verbally whipped the Quakers in an effort to expose their "errors." Williams called the Quaker religion a heresy. He contended the doctrine of the Inner Light was too easy when he said: "How can you imagine that a serious Christian . . . should be so easily stird (as a Rock with a Feather) by your bare crying 'Repent, Repent or be Damned, hearken to the Light within thee'?" In his fourteen propositions Williams was expressing common complaints held against Quakers.6 George Fox, whose numinous experience convinced him there was a simple way to purification of the individual, declared that it "was opened to me that God who made the world did not dwell in temples made with hands, but in people's hearts." He felt compelled "to turn people to that inward light, spirit and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God," and those who responded to this call called themselves "children of the light" or the "people of God."7 Puritans and Quakers sought the same goal—salvation—but their concepts of how to get there and who might get there differed significantly. They both believed that the most vital matter was to experience conversion and be born again. Only then could one realize the kingdom of God.8 Since conversion lay at the heart of the religion of both groups this essay will deal with their concern by looking at Puritan and Quaker conversion experiences. Were the early influences, or preparation, the same...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 3-26
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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