WHILE the conflict between Episcopacy and
Presbyterianism was desolating Scotland during the second half of the
seventeenth century, a humble sect of Christians made an effort to fix
themselves in the north-eastern parts of the kingdom; Considering the
important issues, political as well as religious, involved in the
struggle between these two great parties, we need hardly wonder that the
historian has ignored the fathers of Scotch Quakerism, or that the
labours and sufferings of these worthy men should have met with little
recognition except among their own followers. But the early Scottish
Quakers left behind them a testimony and an example too precious to be
forgotten. No one can read the early annals of the Scotch Quakers
without being convinced that they were a remarkable people, a people who
in simple piety, in personal godliness, and in patience under
affliction, approached more nearly to the primitive Christians, than
many a sect which has put forth higher pretensions to this pre-eminence.
It seems hardly probable that Scotch thought would have produced of itself such a religious phase as Quakerism. The Hebrew theocracy, with its indissoluble union of secular and sacred power, was the religious ideal of the hour in Scotland. The English idea of a Church was practically the same, differing only in the interpretation of hierarchical forms. It was the abuse arising from the intermixture of religion with secular affairs that seems to have first given shape to Quakerism. A few pious men of little learning but great goodness were disgusted because people calling themselves by the name of Christ shed their neighbours’ blood on the pretext of religion; because the professed servants of Him who washed His apostles’ feet were pluming themselves upon their priestly office; because the Church was usurping the place of Christ; and because, while people were clamouring at their loudest for godly teaching, godly living was falling into disrepute. These men marked all this, and they resolved to separate themselves into a communion which should hold the fear of God of more importance than the authority of men, and which would afford, as their apologist expresses it, a life of “inward quietness, stillness, and humility of mind, where the Lord appears and his heavenly wisdom is revealed.” In Scotland, however, the case of the Quakers was somewhat different from what it was in England. There was little room for cavilling at the few and simple forms of Presbyterianism; its errors lay in an opposite extreme to indifference; and its ambitious tendencies were confined to more practical aims than those of the English Dissenters. It was because Presbyterianism had in a great measure forestalled those very wants which Quakerism sought to supply, that the Friends made so little progress in Scotland; and it is probable that this progress would have been even less, had not the Presbyterians kindled against them the fire of persecution. It was during this time of trouble that the Friends displayed a meekness and Christian constancy which reflect a brighter lustre upon the sect than all the rest of their history put together; and it is to their sufferings at this period that the present brief notice will be confined.
The history of the Scotch Quakers centres in the lives of a few individuals, who, though less known, are not less worthy of being honourably remembered than George Fox or William Penn. Alexander Jaffray was the first northern proselyte of mark, and much of the history of the Aberdeen Friends is drawn from his diary and papers. Jaffray was born in 1614 of a family of Aberdeen burgesses, and was educated at the ancient Grammar School and Marischal College in that city. His parents were godly people who left behind them a good name for religion. He was married at the early age of eighteen to a lady named Downe. Though a marriage of convenience, it seems to have been a very happy union, and Mrs. Jaffray’s affectionate disposition and Christian earnestness doubtless did much to prepare her husband’s mind for those strong religious impressions which afterwards overtook him. After leaving College Jaffray travelled in England and on the Continent, learning the French language, and acquainting himself with commerce at Paris and Neufchatel; and returning to Aberdeen about his twenty-first year, he settled down as a merchant in that city. A liberal education and foreign travel had enlarged Jaffray’s mind far beyond the average scope of the Scottish burgher of that period, and his wealth and intelligence soon raised him to a high position in his native city. When acting as a Bailie, he unfortunately fell into a feud with Sir George Gordon of Haddo, the ancestor of the Aberdeen family, in consequence of his having committed to prison a follower of the Cavalier baron. Sir George made a personal assault upon Jaffray and his kinsmen, while they were attending a funeral outside the town; for which the Estates of Scotland subjected Haddo’s property to a severe fine. As Spalding, the local annalist, remarks, “it was no just quarrel to pursue a judge for doing justice.” But the haughty baron could ill bear to be thwarted in this fashion. The whole of Aberdeenshire was then in arms either with the Forbeses and Frasers for the Covenant, or with Huntly for the Crown, and acts of violence were being constantly committed by both parties. Haddo had little difficulty in persuading his friends that the abduction of the Aberdeen magistrates would be of service to the Royalist cause; and Jaffray, with three of his colleagues, was accordingly carried off from the very heart of the city, and kept in Huntly’s country of Strathbogie until the arrival of the covenanting army procured their liberation. The abduction of Jaffray was one of the principal charges brought against Sir George Gordon, when the Scottish Estates condemned him to death shortly afterwards. During the brief ascendancy which the Royalist cause obtained at Kilsyth, the Aberdeenshire barons made Haddo’s execution the pretext for further persecutions. Jaffray with his brother and Andrew Cant, the famous Presbyterian minister, were carried off and imprisoned in the tower of Harthill in the valley of the Don. The prisoners, however, seized the opportunity while their keepers were engaged outside, barricaded the doors and defended themselves within the house until a party of Covenanters came from Aberdeen to relieve them.
Jaffray represented Aberdeen in the Scottish Parliaments from 1644 to 1650. In 1649 he was associated with the Earl of Cassilis and other two peers in a mission to Holland to treat for the return of Charles II. The Commissioners returned again the following year and concluded the negotiation, regarding which Jaffray makes the following remarkable confession:— “We did sinfully both entangle and engage the nation and ourselves and that poor young Prince to whom we were sent; making him sign and swear a covenant, which we knew from clear and demonstrable reasons that he hated in his heart. Yet, finding that upon these terms only he could be admitted to rule over us (all other means having failed him), he sinfully complied with what we most sinfully pressed upon him:—where, I must confess to my apprehension, our sin was more than his." It was much to Jaffray’s credit that he alone of the Commissioners had the honesty and fortitude to warn the King against swaying his conscience, if in his heart he did not approve of the terms of he Covenant. But there were few princes in Charles’s situation who would have allowed such scruples to stand between them and a throne.
Besides his petty feuds with the country barons Jaffray had looked upon war on a larger scale. At the battle of the Bridge of Dee he “was in no small hazard, having stayed too long on the field after our men had begun to ran;” and at the battle of Dunbar, he was twice wounded and had a most narrow escape. Dunbar was a memorable event in Jaffray’s religious experience. “That day,” he says, “I got again as it were a new tack (lease) of my life for this end — to hold it upon a new account of the Lord, and for Him. He was carried a prisoner to the English head-quarters, and his intercourse with Cromwell, Fleetwood, and Owen, with all of whom he was admitted to a close intimacy, seems to have given his mind for a time a bias towards Independency. After he returned to Aberdeen he excited the hostility of the Presbyterians by attacking the narrow basis upon which rested the famous Solemn League and Covenant. But however much the Aberdeen Presbyterians disliked Jaffray’s opinions, he was not at that time a person to be corrected by persecution. Cromwell had appointed him Director of the Scottish Chancelry, and his high religious reputation gave him great influence with the English Puritans. He might even have been made one of the Scottish judges but for his own scruples about taking up an office for which he was not professionally qualified.
With the Restoration Jaffray’s public influence may be said to have ended, but his religious history was only beginning. He had always been a pious man, of a graver cast of piety than we are accustomed to see in the present day. He lived in a stirring and troublous period, and he had realised the presence and guidance of a righteous Providence through all the ways of his eventful career. He had risen to a public station far above any of his fellow-citizens, he had filled one of the highest posts in the kingdom with distinction, and he had come to see that the result of all human ambition and greatness was only vanity and vexation of spirit. He had seen the blood of his countrymen poured forth like water in the name of religion, to establish now Episcopacy, now Presbytery, now Independency, and after all the slaughter, all the feuds, all the ruin that had overtaken the country, the kingdom of God seemed still farther off than before. He was convinced that religious liberty in the eyes of each of these parties meant only freedom to promulgate its own peculiar doctrines, and that they had no toleration for individual thought. He accordingly ceased to commit himself to any of the religious systems that he saw around him, and endeavoured to follow in the steps of the Saviour with such assistance as he could gather for himself from the word of God. It was a hazardous experiment in that fanatic age, when there were so few who left the beaten paths without falling into the pitfalls of either superstition or infidelity. But Jaffray’s Christian perseverance and meek and prayerful spirit never failed him; and his experience from the time of his discordance with the Presbyterians until his connection with the Society of Friends is the story of an unaided soul seeking to realise the Christian life in spite of the counteracting influences of a wicked and bigoted generation.
Jaffray’s diary during this period bears many evidences of the zeal with which he cultivated personal godliness in himself and in the members of his family. He had taken for his second wife a daughter of Andrew Cant, the Presbyterian minister, who seems to have been a woman of equally devout temperament. At one time we find Jaffray chiding himself for his “laziness and negligence in not stirring up himself with delight to be about the holy duties of prayer and meditation” and resolving to amend himself by devoting some time to reading and meditation before private prayer, and to the religious instruction of his family; by guarding more against vain thoughts in the time of prayer; and by being “more watchful between the times of approaching God by prayer,” a duty in which, as he very simply confesses, he was more wanting, and had more frequently failed than in anything else. That part of the Christian life which lies between man and his Maker, the communion of prayer — if we may venture to call it a communion — and the proper use of spiritual gifts, were subjects to which he appears to have given much thought. There are no parts of Jaffray’s diary where he shows to greater advantage, as compared with other religious thinkers of the period, than where he upsets the conclusivencsa of religious speculation, and vindicates the progressive character of Christian belief. “O,” he exclaims, on one occasion, when speaking of those who held the dogmas of the day to be the final truths of Christianity; "O that the good old men, and some younger also, who have worthily deserved praise for their faithfulness and honesty in the work of God hitherto, would observe, and condescend to see themselves outstripped, seeing Christ is thereby getting glory: however they may be decreasing (yea, and it must be so), yet if He be increasing will they not rejoice? . . . So it hath been in all generations before us: the providence of God is carrying on his work in the present age, though ordinarily his dispensation is obscure and dark to most of those who have been active and eminent instruments in bringing it thus far; the Lord in his wisdom thinking fit so to dispose, lest any creature should share in his glory.” When we think of the time and the circumstances under which these words were penned, and of the ruthless bigotry of those whom he was thus braving, we cannot but be convinced that these were the utterances of a man far in advance of his age.
We must now take up the history of a contemporary Friend. Among the many Scotch soldiers of fortune who had hurried home from the Continent on the outbreak of the civil war, was one David Barclay, cadet of a Mearns family, who had risen from the ranks to a majority in the service of Gustavus Adolphus. The Estates promoted Barclay to a colonelcy of cavalry, and he did excellent service in the wars against Montrose and Huntly. At one time we find him commanding the covenanting forces in the Northern Highlands, and on another occasion, during Hamilton’s English expedition, he was entrusted with the defence of all Scotland north of the Tay. Barclay married a daughter of Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, the premier baronet in Scotland, and a near kinsman of the royal family. One more unlikely to ally himself to so humble a sect as the Quakers than David Barclay, a man of war from his youth up, could not readily be conceived. Affliction, however, wrought its usual salutary work in his case. He was thrown into prison after the Restoration on an accusation of having supported the Commonwealth, although he had suffered for his loyalty to Charles I, and had opposed Cromwell’s ambitious attempts upon the monarchy. During his imprisonment his thoughts had turned much upon religion; and when he was set at liberty he resolved to devote the remainder of his life to the service of God. Perplexed by the conflicting systems which he saw around him, the old soldier betook himself to the Bible in search of true
Christianity. He had been much struck with the meekness and charity of the Quakers, whom he had met in England; and these prepossessions had been greatly strengthened by his intercourse with a fellow-prisoner, Swintoun of Swintoun, who had been one of the Lords of Session during the Commonwealth, and had borne a distinguished testimony in favour of Quakerism. Barclay thought he saw in the simplicity and godly walk of the Friends, in their readiness to undergo persecution for the faith, in their renunciation of war and bloodshed, and most of all in their love for each other, the signs by which he had been seeking for God’s people; and no sooner had he fully satisfied himself of their Christian character than he came boldly forward and joined the communion of this despised sect.
And thus they came together, Barclay and Jaffray, the soldier and the statesman, men who had won renown—each in his own calling—and who had alike come, each in his own way, to count worldly honour and worldly wealth as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. People read with amazement of soldiers and statesmen renouncing the world for a cloister, of a monarch like Charles I. exchanging an imperial crown for a cowl; but little less wonderful was the working of that Christian conviction which led men so eminent in their country as David Barclay and Alexander Jaffray to join themselves to the company of simple women and illiterate workmen who then formed the Society of Friends in Aberdeen. Jaffray had professed Quakerism three years before Barclay joined the sect. The breach between the former’s opinions and Presbyterianism had continued to increase, and the high-handed way in which the Scottish divines attempted to coerce him back into their communion could hardly have failed to disgust a generous-minded man. He had conceived scruples against the Scotch sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which he put forth with less than his ordinary ability and decision, but in such a way as to be offensive to the more zealous Presbyterians. Like Barclay, he had been committed to the Edinburgh Tolbooth after the Restoration, and like Barclay he had also come under the influence of the Quaker Swintoun. At the time of his release in 1661, he writes thus of the Quakers:— “For I do verily find and believe there is right appearing from, and holden forth at this time by these despised people, which, if prejudice and passion did not hinder, might be received with much advantage.” The progress which these two Christian men made towards an open avowal of the tenets of Quakerism, was effected in very different ways, showing a great divergency of character, if professional habits had not something to do with the course that each adopted. Jaffray, the statesman, went cautiously to work; he was for ever taking counsel with the Scottish divines, even after he had satisfied himself of the principles of the Friends, and seeking for godly discussions regarding the right way, which only called forth bitter feelings, and confirmed each side in its own opinions. Barclay, the soldier, sought no counsel but from the Word of God, and when his mind was fully made up his convictions were proclaimed boldly to the world. “I had more satisfaction,” said the old veteran, when the Aberdeen rabble had mobbed him for attending a meeting of Friends, “in being thus insulted for the truth, than when the magistrates were wont to meet me and convoy me on my visits to the town, and to solicit my company to a collation in their council-house.”
The first Aberdeen Quakers had, indeed, little but their obscurity and inoffensiveness to protect them against the ignorant brutality of the rabble. The earliest converts were a few women, most of them of the lower and middle classes, and one or two poor artizans and labourers. These people had been won over to the Society by the preaching of William Dewsbury, an English Friend who visited the north of Scotland a few years before the Restoration. George Gray and George Keith were two of Dewsbury’s best-known disciples. George Gray, who had been a weaver, became one of the first ministers of the Aberdeen Society, and though wholly an uneducated man, is described by the Quaker annalist as having been “thoroughly furnished in all respects unto his holy calling.” Another and very different member was George Keith, a graduate of the University, who, having been trained in the polemics of the Established Church, was one of the ablest champions in defending Quakerism against its clerical assailants. Keith’s character seems to have been ardent and zealous, but tainted with an ambition and an impatience of restraint which accorded ill with the meekness of his fellow-Friends. After undergoing many sufferings and persecutions with the steadfastness and resignation of an early Christian, Keith quarrelled with the Society in Pennsylvania, attempted to found a new sect of Quakers, then joined the Episcopal Church, and finally died Rector of Elburton, in Sussex. When the news of his defection reached Aberdeen in 1694, the Quakers there addressed a letter to their “Ancient Friends, George and Elizabeth Keith,” which has all the simple eloquence and pathos of an apostolic epistle. After a touching allusion to their former services and sufferings, the Friends entreat them “to receive in a right mind our innocent freedom and love; and in the cool of the day go forth again with your brethren into the ancient green pastures of love, and to the healing springs of life, giving up to fire and sword that which is for it; so the first and the last works shall be precious together; then righteousness and peace shall kiss each other.......... and in the sweet ancient spring of our Father’s love, wherein we have often been sweetly refreshed together many years ago, shall we truly rejoice to hear from you and also to see your faces.” Another eminent member of the Aberdeen Society from the beginning was Margaret Mollison, the wife of a magistrate, whose knees, it was said, were worn by the frequency of her devotions, and whose daughter, Christian Barclay, was even more eminent than herself.
When Alexander Jaffray and Colonel Barclay joined the sect, the former in 1662 the other rather more than three years afterwards, the anger of the Presbyterians was roused to the pitch of persecution. The Church in Aberdeen was, at that time, a curious mixture of Episcopacy and Presbytery. The north-east of Scotland, especially Aberdeen, had, on the whole, taken kindly to Prelacy, and the imposition of a bishop upon the Presbyterian clergy was not attended with the same scandal to religion as in other parts of the kingdom. Bishop Scougal was a learned and tolerant man, and might not have troubled himself about the Quakers, but for the representations of the Aberdeen ministers, who never ceased to clamour for Jaffray’s being made an example of. Jaffray was ordered by the Court of High Commission to place himself under the bishop’s surveillance; and other Friends of lower rank were thrown into the prisons of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. It is but justice both to the bishop and the Privy Council, to admit that this persecution was forced upon them by the Presbyterian ministers, to whom oppression had failed to teach tolerance. Jaffray, constant to his motto that “it was better to obey God than man,” having violated the injunctions of the authorities by holding religious meetings with the Friends in his own house, was, by the bishop’s orders, thrown into prison at Banff, though he was suffering at the time from a serious indisposition. While here he penned a solemn warning to Bishop Scougal to beware of persecution, and assured him that oppression “would only tend to the farther service and advancement of our testimony, which is indeed gloriously come forth, and shall further to the terror and astonishment of all opposers.” The unchristian attitude assumed by the Aberdeen ministers is a dark picture even in that dark age. One of them attempted to stir up the judges when on circuit against the Quakers, by preaching a sermon in which the Friends were denounced as a “most dangerous and pernicious sect,” until both judges and magistrates were ashamed of his vehemence. Having failed in this quarter, the clergy next petitioned the Privy Council at Edinburgh, “to curb and rid the land” of the sectaries.
In Sir John Keith, afterwards Earl of Kintore, the ministers found a zealous coadjutor. Inverury and Kinmuck, in the vicinity of Keith’s residence, had each its little meeting of Friends, and the baron not only delivered some of them to the Aberdeen magistrates for punishment, but exerted his influence to get a special commission for the extirpation of heresy. But before the commission was issued, the chief object of popular indignation was gathered to his fathers.
Alexander Jaffray died at his house of Kingswells in May, 1673, “with blessed and living testimonies to the honour of the Truth before many professors and profane who came to see him,” as the record of the Aberdeen Society remarks. Jaffray’s character had shone forth under persecution even more brightly than before. He had become an undaunted advocate of his opinions, and no longer troubled himself with attempts to solve his doubts by controversy. He bore his severest afflictions without a murmur, and did not permit himself to revile his op-pressors, whom he never mentions except in terms of pity and Christian love. Jaffray’s death would have been severely felt by the northern Quakers, for he had been the natural mouthpiece of their grievances, but that his place was at once taken by one who is even more eminent in the annals of the sect. Colonel Barday’s son Robert, who had been educated under the care of his maternal uncle, the principal of the Scots’ College at Paris, joined the Society, soon after his father, from independent convictions. Young Barclay’s theological training seems to have been well cared for. His writings show him to have possessed a sound knowledge of the Christian Fathers, as well as of the polemical and doctrinal writings of the age. His “Apology” is, however, so well known, even outside the Friends, and his life and opinions are so far reflected in it, that more detailed allusion to him here is unnecessary.
The Barclays were then the persons who, in the eyes of Sir John Keith’s commission, were most dangerous to orthodoxy. The Aberdeen magistrates had stretched an Act against Presbyterian nonconformists, and, under colour of it, had cast twelve of the leading Friends into prison. David Barclay pleaded the cause of his brethren stoutly before the commissioners, and both he and his companions refused to bind themselves not to attend more meetings. Heavy fines were inflicted upon all the recusants, and they were committed to prison until the money could be raised. But even imprisonment could not alter their steadfastness. Andrew7 Jaffray dared to preach from their prison window, and was removed in consequence to worse quarters. Fortunately, for himself and his friends, Robert Barclay was abroad at the time of this persecution, and when he heard the news he at once set to work to compass their liberation. Elizabeth, the Princess Palatine of the Rhine, the cousin of Charles II., was Barclay’s kinswoman, and this amiable lady listened with much interest to the teachings of the young Quaker. Not only that, but it seems that the Princess was in a special manner drawn towards the doctrines of the Friends, for she writes to Barclay in her own quaint earnest way:— “Now that I have sometimes a glimpse of the True Light, I do not attend to it as I should; being drawn by the works of my calling which must be done—anil as your swift English hounds, I often over-run my scent, being called back when it is too late.” King Charles had, upon Barclay’s petition, referred the case of the Aberdeen Quakers to the Scotch Privy Council. But though Lauderdale did his best to forward his master’s wishes, the Presbyterian opposition was too fierce, and the prayer of the Aberdeen petitioners was answered by scorpions instead of whips; the number of the former commission being doubled, and strengthened by the addition of zealous Covenanters. The new commissioners. failing to shake the constancy of the Friends, confirmed the former sentence, and empowered a Captain Melville to distrain their properties to the amounts of their several fines. Melville called in the aid of soldiers and stripped the Friends not only of their fixed fines, but of everything else that he could lay hold of. One poor Quaker, Thomas Milne, a shoemaker, who had been plundered of his little all, kneeled down publicly at the market cross, and prayed God to forgive his oppressors, for which presumption the Provost again committed him to prison. Moreover, Robert Barclay coming soon after to the north, was thrown into prison with the other Friends, notwithstanding the favour with which the Court had been disposed to treat him. When the Princess Elizabeth heard of the younger Barclay’s confinement, she wrote to her brother, Prince Rupert, entreating him to make interest with the king on the Barclays’ behalf; and there can be little doubt to those who investigate closely the history of this period, that but for the influence of the Court, which seems to have shown more concern for the toleration of the Scotch Quakers than most people will be disposed to give it credit for, the ministers would in all probability have used the sword as well as bonds to check the progress of the detested sect.
Meanwhile the prisoners in Aberdeen were in a most wretched condition. To prevent them from preaching to the populace, the windows of the prison were shut up; they were frequently denied the use of fire, although it was the winter-time; the roof leaked upon them in rainy weather, and sometimes they were so closely packed that they had scarcely room to sit or lie. The Provost and Burnett, a bailie, one of their harshest persecutors, threatened, when they complained of this harsh usage, “to pack them like salmon in a barrel.” In 1677, after having been in prison for upwards of a year, the Quakers again petitioned the Council, and Robert Barclay addressed a letter to Archbishop Sharpe, in which he cites the testimony of Athanasius, “that it was the devil’s work, and not God’s, to force men’s consciences, and that the blasphemous Arians, the first Christian persecutors, had learned to do so, not of God, but of the devil and his angels.” This letter seems to have had considerable weight with the Archbishop, but the representations of the local clergy and magistrates carried the day, and Sharpe induced the Council to remit the Quakers’ petition back again to the commissioners. The king’s recommendation, however, led the commissioners to mitigate their severity. During this troublous period, several remarkable testimonies were put forth. Lillias Skene, whose husband was among the prisoners, and who was herself held in great estimation even among the Presbyterians, for her talents and Christian character, addressed a warning to the magistrates and townsfolk of Aberdeen, in which she urged them not to draw upon themselves and their city innocent blood, for even if they kept their hands free from the blood of an innocent people, who were suffering for conscience* sake, they would still have enough to account for. Such of Lillias Skene’s letters and writings as have been preserved, stamp her as a woman of a masculine cast of character, but with a mind thoroughly imbued with love to all classes of Christians. The Aberdeen Friends were singularly fortunate in their female members, many of whom have their godly lives and Christian graces still embalmed in the traditions of the sect. Among other names, that of Christian Barclay, the wife of the apologist, who was the daughter of an equally pious mother, Margaret Mollison, mentioned above, and who made a public profession of her religion in her sixteenth year, deserves to be honourably recorded.
The persecution, which had lulled for a few months in 1677, again broke forth, and continued to rage without intermission for two years and a half. The rigorous treatment to which they were subjected, seems to have undermined the intellect of some, for we hear of Andrew Jaffray, son of Alexander, a reasonable enough person at other times, exposing himself in the streets of Aberdeen in a state of semi-nudity, as the prophets of old were wont to mourn for the sins of their people. It is curious, if it were not painful, to watch how eagerly the Friends of those days sought to trace the hand of God in whatever calamities befel their persecutors. Forbes, a Presbyterian minister, was struck down dead in his pulpit, while in the act of excommunicating his own-daughter, who had turned Quaker. Another minister was as suddenly cut off after having imprisoned two Friends for preaching in his churchyard. Provost Petrie, of Aberdeen, who had been a violent persecutor, was convicted of malversation in the Convention of Boroughs, and imprisoned in the very place where he had been wont to confine the Quakers. And these are but a few instances of the open judgments which the Friends fancied they saw wrought upon their enemies. But it was just the same with the other sects of the day.
It was again from the Court that a respite
came to the Quakers. Robert Barclay had crossed over to the Continent,
with Fox, Penn, and other Friends, to visit their brethren in the Low
Countries. But before his departure, he again represented the cause of
the northern sufferers to the Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of York,
afterwards James II. The Duke procured Barclay an order from the king,
reprimanding the Scotch authorities for their persecution of the
Quakers; and the release of all the other prisoners was shortly
afterwards effected. It is a pleasing thing to observe the toleration
which both Charles and James extended to the Scotch Quakers: and the
fact might give some colour to the plea put forth by the defenders of
the two last Stuart kings, that it was for the political, and not the
religious part of their creed, that they persecuted Dissenters, for the
Quakers alone, of all the sects of the day, were careful to exclude
political questions from their constitution. The Barclay family
possesses a memorable tradition of the apologist’s final interview with
James, during that monarch’s last few weeks of power. It is thus related
by Robert Barclay’s grandson:— “At their parting, he being in a window
with the king, when none other was present, who, looking out, said, ‘The
wind was now fair for the Prince of Orange coming over;’ upon which my
grandfather took occasion to say, ‘It was hard that no expedient could
be found out to satisfy the people;’ to which the king replied, ‘I will
do anything becoming a gentleman, except part with liberty of
conscience, which I shall never do while I live.’ It would have been
well for James had he always been as tender of his subjects’ consciences
as of his own. But still it ought to be remembered to his credit that he
put a stop to the persecution of the Quakers, until the Revolution
established religious freedom upon a more secure basis than the
good-will of a monarch.
With the termination of their troubles our interest in the Aberdeen Quakers ceases. The Barclays were in due time gathered to their fathers, but their descendants are still reckoned among the most-influential members of the Society of Friends. Quakerism never made but a limited progress in Scotland. The soil was unfavourable to its growth. But the early Aberdeen Quakers left behind them a valuable legacy in their example, not merely to the Friends, but to all sects of Christians. No man can read the accounts given in Jaffray’s diary and the Ury papers, from which the above facts are chiefly taken, without feeling that the Quakers were indeed animated with the truest spirit of Christianity. The more they were persecuted, the more they clung to their tenets; and in the darkest time of their tribulation not a word of reviling or abuse appears to have passed a Quaker’s lips. So long as the Jaffrays and Barclays directed their meetings, none of those extreme demonstrations, so common among fanatical sects of the day, could be laid to their charge, and the language which they adopted in speaking of other denominations was charitable in the extreme. Their obedience to the civil power was an example to both Episcopalians and Presbyterians, so far as the north of Scotland was concerned. There were, doubtless, many of their tenets that seem too narrow for the liberty of the Gospel, but the writings of Barclay and Jaffray are characterized by a warmth and charity which has only been exceeded in our own days.