THE LIGHT UPON THE CANDLESTICK
You can scroll through the entire pamphlet on
this page, or you can jump to the various sections, or view a facsimile
of the original title page, by clicking the links below.
Universalist ideas are found in abundance in the
writings of early Friends. Their rediscovery and dissemination aids
modern Friends in their search for a better understanding of their
Winifred Burdick, who shares our interest in Quaker
universalism, inspired our search for this tract. A student of
sixteenth and seventeenth century religious literature, she remembered
it as strong support for the proposition, as expressed by Rufus Jones
In his Spiritual Reformers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, that
Quakerism is no isolated or sporadic religious phenomenon.
It is deeply rooted in a far wider movement that had been accumulating
volume and power for more than a century before George Fox had become a
'prophet' of it to the English people.
The tract brought to English Quakerism of the 1660's a
representative product of the religious ferment in the Low Countries
evoked by the religious philosophy of Descartes (1596-1690) and Spinoza
(1632-1677), and it used a then well-known Quaker name (William Ames)
as the name of its author. Its probable author was Peter Balling, a
member of a group of spiritually-minded Dutch intellectuals, known as
Collegiants, with whom Spinoza lived from 1660 to 1663. New research by
scholars Richard Popkin and Michael Signer shows an even stronger
connection with Spinoza. In their book relating the translation of a
letter from Margaret Fell to the Jews,1, 2 Balling's thesis is that inward experience of the Divine
is the only authentic path to Truth. It is a path accessible to all
persons, and is the standard by which all religious claims, including
those of Scripture, are to be judged.
Called The Light upon the Candlestick, or Lucerna super Candelabrum,
the tract was written in 1662. It was translated into English from the
original Latin by Benjamin Furley, a Quaker merchant of Colchester then
living in Rotterdam. It was adopted as a Quaker tract and circulated as
such in England, with a title page, reproduced here, that connected it
only vaguely with its author.
William Ames (? -1662), the Quaker ''author'' whose name appears on the title
page of The Light upon the Candlestick,
had been an English soldier and a Baptist, and had joined Friends in
Cork, Ireland in 1655. He was banished from that city in 1657 and spent
most of the rest of his life on the Continent. Here, too, he was
imprisoned at a critical time for our story. For, after his believed
meeting with Spinoza to engage him to translate a letter from Margaret
Fell (see Epilogue), he is supposed to have invited the Jewish scholar
to join with him at meeting for worship. Unfortunately, according to
Popkin, Ames was jailed before the two went and states that he (Popkin)
is certain that Spinoza at no time went to a meeting for worship. With
far less information than this recent scholarship, Sewel in his History of the Rise,
Increase and Progress of the Christian People called Quakers
(London, 1722) speculated that Balling may have been influenced by Ames'
preaching, for even at the time of Sewel's writing it was known that
Ames had some contact with the Collegiants. Sewel suggests that
...there have been contact with such as either commended
the Quakers, or defended their doctrine, though they themselves never
could resolve to join them publicly.
We recreate the tract here in two versions, the
17th-century original for readers who enjoy the ruffles and flourishes
of the language of the period, and a gloss by Rufus Jones for the
reader who wishes to get quickly to the heart of the matter. The Jones
passage is extracted from his Spiritual Reformers an the 16th and 17th Centuries
(pp 128-132; 1914, Macmillan). The interested reader will also find in
Jones' volume (pp. 123-128) an elucidation of the ideas of Descartes
and Spinoza underlying Balling's argument.
The late-twentieth-century reader is left to speculate
whether Balling's tract was primarily a product of his
Descartes-Spinoza heritage, as Jones believed, or the covert
acknowledgement of his conversion by Ames, as Sewel thought. Or,
perhaps, as the recent evidence presented by Popkin and Signer
indicates, it was a case of mutual irradiation. Whatever the correct
hypothesis, it seems clear that early Friends accepted the tract as
speaking for them.
This ten-page tract has been surrounded by us with seven
pages of explanation, in part to encourage the reader to find the
patience to penetrate its 17th-century prose, and in part to share our
pleasure in unearthing it and discovering its origins. It is a seminal
document in the history of Friends' efforts to peel away centuries of
churchly dogma and rediscover the true, and universal, message of Jesus
We are grateful to the late Miriam Jones Brown, Mary
Hoxie Jones and the Quaker Collection at the McGill Library at
Haverford College for assisting us in our search for material on this
remarkable tract -- which we are reproducing here with its original
- Sally Rickerman / Kingdon Swayne
1 Eds. Richard H. Popkin and Michael A. Signer, Spinozas Earliest Publication, Van Gorcum 1978, Wolfeboro NH.
2 For a fuller discussion of this research and the involvement of other Quakers see the Epilogue.
Return to the Table of Contents
Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries
by Rufus M. Jones
The Light upon the Candlestick, to which we shall
now turn for the ripest ideas of this little sect, was written while
Spinoza was living among the Collegiants in Rynsburg. It was very
quickly discovered by the Quakers, who immediately recognized it as
''bone of their bone,'' and circulated it as a Quaker Tract. It was
translated into English in 1663 by B. F. (Benjamin Furley, a Quaker
merchant of Colchester, then living in Rotterdam), who published it
with this curious title page:
The Light upon the Candlestick. Serving for Observation of the Principal things in the Book called, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, &c. Against several Professors, Treated of, and written by Will Ames. Printed in Low Dutch for the Author, 1662, and translated into English by B. F.
The Collegiant author, quite in the spirit and style of
Spinoza, urges the importance of discovering a central love for
''things which are durable and uncorruptible,'' ''knowing thereby
better things than those to which the multitude are link't so fast with
love.'' We have outgrown the ''toyes with which we played as
children,'' ''there is now ''no desire of moving thereunto, because we
have found better things for our minds''; so, too, ''all those things
in men, even to old age, so much delight'' would seem like ''toyes'' if
they discovered the true Light ''which abides forever unchangeable,'
and if through it they got a sight of ''those things which are alone
worthy to be known.'' This ''true and lasting change,'' from ''toyes''
to "things which are durable and eternal,'' can some only through an
When a new vision begins from within, then the outward
action follows of itself, but no man will part with what he judges best
till he sees something better, and then the weaker yields to the
stronger without any forcing. This whole work of conversion, of
transformation, of ''lasting change,'' must have its origin in
something within ourselves. We cannot turn from the baubles and
''toyes'' and our ''desire for that which is high in the world'' until
a Light from some source plainly shows us an eternal reality for which
we may ''highly adventure the tryal.'' There is, our author insists,
only one place where such a guiding Light could arise, and that is
within the soul itself, as an inward and immediate knowledge: '''Tis
not far to seek. We direct thee to within thyself. Thou oughtest to
turn into, to mind and have regard unto, that which is within thee, to
wit, the Light of Truth, the true Light which enlighteneth every man
that cometh into the world. Here 'tis that thou must be not without
thee, Here thou shalt find a Principle certain and infallible, through
which increasing and going on into, thou mayest at length arrive unto a
happy condition. Of this thou mayest highly adventure the tryal. And if
thou happenest to be one of those that would know all things before
thou dost begin. . . know this, Thou dost therein just as those that
would learn to read without knowing the Letters. He that will not
adventure till he be fully satisfied, shall never begin, much less
finish his own salvation. We say then, that we exhort every one turn
unto the Light that's in him.''
In true Cartesian fashion, he demonstrates why this
Light must have its locus within the soul and not in some external
means or medium. All knowledge that God is being revealed in external
signs, or through external means, already presupposes a prior knowledge
of God. We can judge no doctrine, no Book to be Divine except by some
inward and immediate knowledge of what really is Divine. Without this
Light the Scriptures are only Words and Letters. But ''if we experience
that the Book called the Bible in regard to the Divine doctrine therein
comprised hath such a harmony with That [in us] by which God is known,
that He must needs have been the Author of it, there cannot rationally
be any more powerful demonstration.''
The same principle is true with regard to every
conceivable form of revelation which could be made to our outward
senses, whether by words, or by miracles, or by any other visible
''operations.'' No finite thing can bring us a knowledge of God unless
we already have within us a sufficient knowledge of Him to make us able
to appreciate and judge the Divine character of the particular
revelation; that is to say, we must already have God in order either to
seek Him or to find Him; or, as Balling puts it, ''Unless the knowledge
of God precedes, no man can discern Him.'' God is, therefore, the prius
of all knowledge: ''The knowledge of God must first be, before there can
be knowledge of any particular things,'' and God must be assumed as
present in the soul before any basis of truth or of religion can be
found. ''The Light is the first Principle of Religion; for, seeing
there can be no true Religion without the knowledge of God, and no
knowledge of God without this Light, Religion must necessarily have
this Light for its first Principle.'' ''Without thyself, O Man,'' he
concludes, ''thou hast no means to look for, by which thou mayest know
God. Thou must abide within thyself; to the Light that is in thee thou
must turn thee; there thou wilt find it and nowhere else. God is
nearest unto thee and to every man. He that goes forth of himself to
any creature, thereby to know God, departs from God. God is nearer unto
every man than himself, because He penetrates the most inward and
intimate parts of man and is the Life of the inmost spirit. Mind,
therefore, the Light that is in thee.''
This Light -- the first Principle of all Religion -- is
also called in this little Book by many other names. It is ''the living
Word,'' ''the Truth of God,'' ''the Light of Truth''; it is ''Christ'';
it is the ''Spirit.'' As a Divine Light, it reproves man of sin, shows
him that he has strayed from God, accuses him of the evil he commits.
It leads man into Truth, ''even though he has never heard or read of
Scripture''; it shows him the way to God, it gives him peace of
conscience in well-doing; and, if followed and obeyed, it brings him
into union with God, ''wherein all happiness and salvation doth
consist.'' It operates in all men, though in many men there are serious
''impediments'' which hinder its operations -- ''the lets to it are
manifold'' -- but as soon as a man turns to it and cleanses his inner
eye -- removes the ''lets'' -- he discovers ''a firm foundation upon
which he may build stable and enduring things: A Principle whereby he
may, without ever erring, guide the whole course of his life, how he is
to carry himself toward God, his Neighbour and himself.'' The writer,
having thus delivered his message, wishes to have it distinctly
understood that he is not trying to draw his readers to any new sect,
or to any outward and visible church. ''Go to, then, O Man,'' he says,
''whoever thou art, we will not draw thee off from one heap of men to
carry thee over unto another, 'tis somewhat else we invite thee to! We
invite thee to Something which may be a means to attain thy own
salvation and well-being'' -- a membership in the invisible Church.
Such is the teaching of this strange little book,
written by the friend of Spinoza, and revealing the maturest expression
of this slowly developing spiritual movement, which began with Hans
Denck and flowed uninterruptedly through many lives and along many
channels and burst out full flood in England in ''the Children of the
Light,'' who were known to the world as Quakers.
Return to the Table of Contents
The Light upon the Candlestick
Things are not for words, but words for things -- if
therefore we understand things aright and as they ought, by words, it
must be by such as are fit to imprint the things themselves in those to
whom they should occur, and then it were enough (to make known our
thoughts to others as we conceive them) only to make use of such words.
But forasmuch as we find the matter in this case far
otherwise, and that two men speaking or writing the same words, may
nevertheless have different, yea, sometimes contrary thoughts, the
disability of performing this fitly by words or discourse, is clearly
inferred. Nor may we at all wonder at it, seeing we know to what a
perpetual change languages are subject, even such that the very words
may be changed from their pristine signification. And the imperfection
is so great, that whosoever should have invented them, such as now they
are in use, we should certainly believe that he had little or no
knowledge of those things that are thereby intended to be signified. So
that if we would better express things unto another by words and
speeches, we had need find new words, and consequently a whole new
language: But that would be a toyle and labour indeed.
In the mean while we see what a Sea of Confusion flows
from hence to all mankind: For although there should be none who
sometimes through ignorance, and sometimes by subtilty or wickedness
might rest or pervert words contrary to the mind of the speaker or
writer, in such a manner as themselves that so do should think best for
their own ends, from whence consequently all this deceit, slandering,
contention, and the like proceeds: yet so it is, that how upright or
prudent soever a man goes to work in this matter, he nevertheless finds
himself liable to mislead, or to be misled.
But although the case be thus with words and discourses
at present in use, yet for all that, they are the most ready, and so
far as I know, the fittest means to make known all our thoughts unto
others by: And for this reason therefore, though so much confusion and
deceit happens to arise from hence, that no man that hath but any
experience, can be ignorant thereof: yet may we not (therefore) be too
much afraid of them neither, as many do manifest themselves to be, who
because they have some experience hereof, are apt to believe we are
about to deceive them, especially if they be but forewarned thereof.
This, as in many things, so it hath chiefly taken place
in that which is commonly esteemed for Religion: In which 'tis so with
most men, that they will scarce give audience to, much less take into
consideration any thing held forth unto them by any whom they judge not
to be of their own opinion, to avoid as they imagine, being thereby
Yet if they were thus towards their own Party, we might
think it was an act of prudence, and that they would see with their own
eyes: But no, in no wise, this is too hard a task: whatsoever cometh on
that side, is received with such partiality for good and current Coyne,
as if there were no danger nor possibility of erring: whereas
nevertheless it is all alike with the one as with the other opinion. It
all depends but upon a possibility of being nearest to the Truth: and
for the upholding every one his own opinion, and defending against
others, there's so much ado, so much pains taken, so much Scholastic
Learning, study and disputing, that one would rather believe that there
were no true Religion at all, then that this should needs be it.
Seeing then 'tis thus at present, can we much blame the
common people, that they despair of ever being able to trim up this
hurt, and are glad when they can but find any that are greedy of the
Work, upon whom they may cast the whole burthen? Surely no: for he that
sees but a little clearly sees, that there's always contention behind,
and no end till a man grows weary of it: Nor is the Conquest just his
that hath Truth, but that can best handle his Tongue. A miserable thing
if it were this to be fought and found! But it is not so with the true
Go to then, O man, who ever thou art, we will not draw
thee off from one heap of men, to carry thee over unto another, 'tis
somewhat else we invite thee to. Lend us but a little audience: Surely
thou knowest thus much. That as it is an extremity to receive all
things without distinction, that present themselves to us, so 'tis no
less to reject all things without judgement. We invite thee to
something which may be means to attain to thy own salvation and
well-being: Be as distrustful, or rather prudent or foresighted as thou
wilt, thou canst not in reason refuse us thy ear in this thing: All the
damage thou canst possibly have by doing that which we exhort thee to,
is only to have taken a little pain in vain, if that which is promised
should not ensue: Whereas on the contrary; should it follow, thou
mightest come to the enjoyment of a matter of so great a worth, that
would not be exchanged for all that's esteemed great in the earth.
Moreover, 'tis not far to seek, but at hand; `tis nigh thee, yea and in
thy self. And there thou mayest experience the trial of that which we
declare, which is the most certain and sure that can be desired.
We direct thee then to within thyself, that is, that
thou oughtest to turn into, to mind and have regard unto that which is
within thee, to wit, The Light of Truth, the true Light which enlighten every man that cometh into the world.
Here 'tis that thou must be, and not without thee. Here thou shalt find
a Principle certain and infallible, and whereby increasing and going on
therein, thou mayest at length arrive unto a happy condition: Of this
thou mayest highly adventure the tryal. But if thou durst not do so
much, 'tis hard to help thee. And if thou happenest to be one of those
that wouldst know all things, before thou dost begin, yea, even those
things which are experienced in a condition to which thou art so much a
stranger, that there's nothing in thee hath so much agreement
therewith, as to comprehend it according to truth: Know this, Thou dost
(therein) just as those that would learn to Read, without knowing the
To desire to know all things that we are capable of, is
good and laudable: But to go further, is folly. There will be alwayes
something else to ask, and our knowledge will ever be too short. He
that will not adventure till he be fully satisfied, shall never begin,
much less finish it to his own salvation.
But we judge it needful (as much in us lyes) to open
unto you that unto which we do exhort you, that people may understand
what it properly is.
We say then, That we exhort every one to turn into the Light,
that's in him (We give it rather the appellation of Light, than any
thing else, otherwise it's all one to us whether ye call it, Christ, the Spirit, the Word, &c. seeing these all denote but one and the same thing): Yet the word Light
being in all its natural signification somewhat else then that which we
intend thereby, we shall therefore in brief endeavour clearly to
express what we intend under this denomination.
The Light (then we say) is a clear and
distinct knowledge of truth in the understanding of every man, by which
he is so convinced of the Being and Quality of things, that he cannot
possibly doubt thereof.
From this definition which is here given of the Light, 'tis clear, that it must needs comprehend in it the principal effect of showing us, and giving us the knowledge of what's Truth and Falsehood,
what's good and evil: which verily is a matter of so great concernment,
that without it men must needs swerve up and down in continual
darkness, opinion and sin, neither knowing truth at all, nor doing any
good, but gropingly, by haphazard without any certainty.
This Light then, Christ the Truth, &c. is that
which makes manifest and reproves sin in man, shewing him how he has
strayed from God, accuseth him of the evil which he doth and hath
committed; yea this is it which judgeth and condemeth him: Again,
This is the preaching to every Creature under Heaven,
though they have never read or heard of the Scripture. This is it which
leads man into truth, into the way to God, which excuseth him in
well-doing, giving him peace in his Conscience, yea, brings him into
union with God, wherein all happiness and salvation doth consist.
Moreover, seeing it is properly the nature of this Light infallibly to discover sin and evil, to reprove and convince thereof: it can never possibly consent thereunto. And although it be true indeed, That the operations of the Light
are not in all men alike powerful, in whom it is nevertheless: yea,
(though) in some men (it) seems to have no operation at all: Yet this
is occasioned only by those impediments that do hinder it: For as the natural light
by the interposition of other bodies or covers, may be hindered from
having its operation there where else it would, were those things which
impede, removed, the Light (it self) still abiding in its self unchanged: Even so it is also with this Light
whereof we speak. The lets in this are manifold. All whatsoever we meet
in this world, seems to proclaim war in this case. What is there that
hath no[t] a powerful operation upon one or other of the Sences of man,
through which passing over into the soul, the memory is so filled, that
nothing else can enter[?] The eyes and ears stand so perpetually open
to all things, that they never want an object to bring to mind the
experience of that which pleased the body so well. And this stirs up
the desire to enjoy it, yet all without fascination: The objects are
multifarious, the enjoyment can be but single and transient and the
Now where this operateth in us after this manner by
education and example in manners and customs which are regulated by
Opinion, and not by the true Light, that men live altogether therein, is it any wonder that here (in these men) there is so little, or no operation of the Light? Not at all.
We are so involved into the desire of that which is high
in the World, so overwhelmed in pleasures, that its almost impossible
for the Light to cause one desire after Good to spring or bubble up.
Where then these so contrary operations to the Light are, there it can never break through.
According to the nature and kind of everything is the
operation thereof: Where they are opposite, the one must give way unto
the other, and that which is most powerful prevails: from whence also
the effects thereof become most visible. The LIGHT notwithstanding,
abides always the same, & therefore although man by sin, through
his love and union to corruptible things, comes to perish, be damned,
and miss of his everlasting happiness, the Light nevertheless which is in every man that comes into the World, abides forever unchangeable.
The Light is also the first Principle of Religion. For seeing there can be no true Religion without the knowledge of God, and no knowledge of God without this Light, Religion must necessarily have this Light for its first Principle.
God being then known by this Light according to
the measure of knowledge which the finite & circumscribed Creature
can have of the Infinite and Uncircumscriptible Creator, man hath
obtained a firm Foundation, upon which he may build all firm
and lasting things: A Principle whereby he may without ever erring,
guide the whole course of his life, how he is to carry himself towards
God, his Neighbor, and himself, and all things else, whereby he may
happily attain unto his chiefest salvation, which consisteth only in Union with God. And thus this Light is therefore the first Principle of Religion.
Without this Light, there is no power or ability at all in man to do any good.
This must first raise him and quicken him out of the
death of sin. 'Tis folly to expect anything, where nothing is, there's
no effect without a cause: There must be something then which must
cause a man to act, if he does anything.
And this cause must have in it whatsoever the effect produced hath in it: As for example: Where any see, there must needs be LIGHT, if the effect of Light be produced, Light must do it, and nothing else.
And therefore, is it not a silly thing that all men
would have people do this or that as good, and leave this or that as
evil, because they tell them so, without any more ado, or at best
assigning only the accustomary motives wherefore, & think they have
reason [to], just as this were enough? Who can see such effects are
hereby required, included in this Cause? Not I, for my part.
Experience also teacheth us the same; else how could it all pass away in a train and custom, without any fruit? These are therefore not the right means:
But such we must endeavor to furnish people with, Means from whence
Power may issue forth to do that which they are exhorted to. Such is
the nature of man, that he is forced to chuse that which he judgeth to
be best, before the worst, and is always willing to change for the best.
Now if it so happens (as for the most part it doth) that
a man chuseth the worst before the best, 'tis for the want of
knowledge, and contrary to his aim, and so he erreth, not being led by
the true Light.
Here then it should be begun, 'tis easie leading of a
man to that which of himself he is desirous of: If those now who make
it their Work to teach others, were but Lead themselves by the true Light,
knowing better things [than] those to which the multitude are link't so
fast with love, they would be able to hold them forth clearly to
others: And so making it their continual work, 'twere impossible their
labour should be fruitless, for people knowing better, would better do.
Who remembers not our youth, how much we were in love therewith, and
yet how ridiculous is it now unto us but to think upon it? And why?
Because we now know that which we judge better: Herehence, not
by force, but very lightly, and of it self, they came from time to time
to be worn out; and pass away, that there's now no desire nor motion
moving thereunto. How may we think then it would be, if the Spirit came
but once to apprehend those things aright which infinitely transcend
all bodily toyes in worth? which are durable and uncorruptible. So far
as these toyes then should come to be esteemed more glorious then all
bodily things, so much the more powerful would be the annihilation of
those things in which all men, even to old age, yea, death it self do
take so much delight, and then we might hope and expect that those
things which are (indeed) alone worthy to be known would gain entrance,
& being brought forth in the Light, would be also owned and received by every one, according to the measure in which they should stand in the same Light.
Hence from within, the amendment and conversion is to be
waited for, from within it must begin, if with foundation, the outward
then will follow of it self: The weakest must give way to the
strongest, all depends but upon the knowledge of something better, to
make a true and lasting change. Therefore to hold this forth to men, is
the best thing we can give them.
This Light is the inward ear by which alone, and by no other, the voice of God that is the Truth, can he heard.
By this alone must the sence and mind of him that would
signifie any thing by words or any outward sign, be comprehended and
understood. So that if the Truth of God be presented to a man who stands not in the Light of Truth,
'tis impossible he should understand it, although he hears and
comprehends the words after his manner, yet he is still fenced off from
its true sence and meaning thereof.
Hence, therefore, it is, that amongst so many hearers there are so few that have ears to hear.
He that hears Truth aright, that is, understands it well, must not stand out of, but in the Truth it self.
Therefore neither is it any wonder that all men do not understand and conceive those things that are brought forth by the Light. Those only that stand in it, are alone (and no other) capable thereof.
The case being thus, we see of how great concernment it is continually to exhort and excite men to turn in to the Light that is in them, that so they may go on to such a condition and measure therein, as to be fit to understand aright the Word, that is the Truth of God, because out of this there can be nothing understood and concluded from the words and writings given forth from the Light, but meer opinion & consequently errors. This Light, Christ, &c. is the truth & word of God, as hath been already said, and in every way appears by what we have hitherto laid down: For
this is a living Word, and transmiteth man from death to life, is
powerful, & enableth a man to bear witness of it self every where.
This is also the true Rule according unto which all our actions are to he squared.
This hath the pro-eminence before any Writing, Scripture, Doctrine, or anything else that we meet from without. We are born into the world,
and brought up as every body knows. From the very first we hear
differences, every one pretends that he knows the matter, and hath the
truth: One holds forth on this, another that to us: If now the Light which is in every man that comes into the world,
shall not be the judge, whither shall we go? To believe all is
impossible, to reject all, no less: Who shall be Judge here? Who else
can be but the Light within us? For whatsoever comes from without, is the thing to be judged of: Who then fitter? seeing this is infallible.
Again, Is not this (the Light) that by which we
must see and know God, and so consequently that by which we must judge
all things Divine? Certainly 'tis: then it follows also, That we can
judge of no Doctrine, no Book that is Divine, but by this Light
and judging it thereby to be Divine, it cannot but be truly so. As for
example, If we experience that the Book called the BIBLE, in regard of
the Divine Doctrine therein comprised, hath such an harmony with that in which God is known,
that he must needs have been the Author of it, there cannot rationally
any more powerful demonstration be demanded. With them that are thus, the Scripture may become living and powerful, and not a dead letter, as it must needs be to those men who have no feeling of this thing. And from hence then it's apparent, seeing this Light must stand before all things whatsoever that we meet with from without, that then man must first of all be directed to this,
for without it what profit is there (I pray) to be reaped any where by
any external sign but by it[?] Lay the Book of Scripture freely before
any man, let him also have all the fitness (the Universities can give
him) to look into in its proper Language in which it may have been
first written, what will all be without the Light? Nothing. The letters, the words are not the Scriptures,
but the mind alone is the Scripture, and this meaning can never be
truly and justly hit, but by those alone that stand in the same Light, out of which the Scriptures proceeded.
These are they then to whom the Scripture is a Co-witness and as a seal of their being Sons of God: while by experience they find themselves, every one according to his measure, in the same condition in which the Saints formerly were, who spake & writ all those things comprehended in the Book of the Scripture, these then have the true understanding and meaning of the Scriptures, not those that Imagine unto themselves a meaning
by opinion and guess, through a thousand imaginations, without the least
assurance of not erring: which becomes the very ground of all jangling
In fine, and lastly. This Light in every man is the means to come to the knowledge of God.
And seeing all external signes must needs presuppose this knowledge:
therefore its self must needs be immediate, without my external sign:
that signs must presuppose such a knowledge, is undeniable, for these
signs must either be words or effects, works or miracles.
If Words, we see at first an impossibility in the thing it self: for Words are created and finite, and God who should make known himself by them, uncreated and infinite: and therefore here is so infinite a difference, that there is no manner of agreement, nor any thing, in the [words] by which they might be capable to do it. But again, if you flye to the meaning
of words, as being fit for such a thing, then that which we say will
more manifestly appear: As put case for example sake, that GOD about to
make known himself by words, should say, I AM GOD, and that this should
he the sign by which he would make himself known, we see clearly, that
it would be impossible for a man at first to know God by this: For if
he comprehend anything out of the sence of the words, he must needs
formerly have the signification of the word GOD, and what he is to
understand by it: In like manner if God maketh his will known to man,
the knowledge of God (which hath its original from the true Light) must precede and convince him, that that (Manifestation) can be from none but God alone, whereupon he's sufficiently assured.
If by Effects, (or outward miraculous Works) 'tis the same thing; for these are no less created, no less terminated:
And though we might observe something in the nature of a thing, which
might be too difficult for the power of any creature, which we know to
effect: Yet this at the utmost would be a demonstration taken from our impotency, and not from the nature and all operations of it; and this kind of demonstration cannot be certain and stable, till we were able clearly and distinctly to see that there was not a concurrency of many causes to produce such an effect, but that it must needs have been caused by an infinite and unlimited cause, whom we call God: But who knoweth this? Or who can declare it?
Add to this, That the knowledge of God in all things must first be, before the knowledge of any creature
or particular thing; so no particular thing without this, can be well
known: and consequently is altogether uncapable to come to know God by,
or certainly to make known himself to man by.
Go to then, Without thy self, O man, thou hast no means to look for, by which thou maist know God. Thou must abide within thy self, to the Light that's in thee thou must turn thee, there thou wilt find it, and no where else.
GOD is considered in Himself, nearest unto thee and every man. He that goes forth of himself to any Creature, thereby to know God, departs from God, and so much the further, as he comes more to mistake himself by it. This thou must shun, and the contrary mind, viz. Mind the Light that's in thee, by it to work, unmovably and faithfully to persevere.
God considered in himself, is nearest unto
every man than himself, because he penetrates the most inward and
intimate parts of man, and is the life of the inmost spirit, as the
spirit is of the soul, & the soul of the body: Therefore is he
worthy to be turned to, minded, sought, waited upon, and feared. Let
all blind Leaders that say 'tis not God that appeareth in the hearts of
the wicked, hear this; and all fools that say, In their heart there is
Return to the Table of Contents
Margaret Fell and Baruch Spinoza
We are grateful to Richard Popkin and Michael Signer
for introducing to us another aspect of the Quaker-Spinoza connection
in Amsterdam around 1660.1 Their excellent scholarship has added a new dimension to our understanding of early Quakerism.
The story begins with a Millenarian vision revealed to
Margaret Fell. Biblical scholars of her time had calculated that 1,656
years had elapsed between the Creation and the Flood. The numerological
wisdom of the 17th Century, widely shared by thoughtful people
including the Dutch Collegiants, suggested that something of similar
religious moment would happen around the year AD 1656. Margaret Fell,
among others, concluded that the most logical happening would be the
conversion of the Jews to Christianity. She accordingly addressed an
evangelical message, called A Loving Salutation, to the Jews of the
world. Perhaps she did so in the hope that it would be easier for Jews
to accept the Quaker version of Christian teaching than those of other
Her letter needed to be translated into Hebrew at a time
when Jews were legally excluded from England. She sought the help of
the Quaker community in Amsterdam to find a translator. After some
difficulty the letter was translated, but the identity of the
translator has been a puzzle. Popkin amasses persuasive evidence that
it was none other than Spinoza, and that this translation was Spinoza's
first published work. William Ames, the English Quaker described in the Preface, was the person who recruited Spinoza for the task.
At the time, Ames was the leader of the English Quaker mission in Amsterdam. Much of the information in this Epilogue was drawn by Popkin from letters back to England penned by Ames or by William Caton, his young assistant.
Popkin's work offers evidence that there was a rich and
complex interaction among Quakers, Collegiants, and Spinoza in
Amsterdam. Spinoza's later reputation as one of the giants of religious
humanism should not cause us to give his influence undue weight. When
he first met Ames in 1657, in Amsterdam, he was a young man of
twenty-five, recently expelled from his synagogue, and seeking language
to express unconventional religious insights. Ames's account of his
meeting with ''a Jew'' cautiously avoided mention of Spinoza's name.
But the Jew's ideas strongly suggest his identity. In Popkin's words,
''the Jew'' at the time of his initial encounter with Ames had already
developed an affinity, later evident in Spinoza's work, ''for the
overall Quaker view about the need to know Moses, the Prophets and
Christ inwardly, through the light.''
According to Popkin, Quaker influence on Spinoza's
thinking is most clear in the work of Samuel Fisher. Fisher was the
first university graduate to join Friends. Adept at Hebrew and Greek,
he had been a Baptist minister before becoming a Friend in 1654.
Margaret Fell's A Loving Salutation, as published in Hebrew, had a two-page addition by Fisher, exhorting Jews to convert.
In 1660 Fisher published a massive work of Biblical criticism, A Rustic Alarum to the Rabbies,
a radical attack on the Protestant claim that the Scripture is the Word
of God, and what Christopher Hill has called the most radical Bible
criticism of the 17th Century.2 Many of his arguments are echoed in Spinoza's A Treatise on Religious and Political Philosophy (Tractatus TheologicoPoliticus), published ten years later. Popkin cites the following passages from A Treatise as indicating a clear Quaker influence on Spinoza:
He who firmly believes that God, out of mercy and grace
with which he directs all things, forgives the sins of men, and who
feels his love of God kindled thereby, he, I say, does really know
Christ according to the Spirit and Christ is in him.
God, or the Exemplar of true life, may be, whether fire or spirit or light, or thought or what not...
Popkin's discovery that Fisher and Spinoza were both associated with A Loving Salutation adds weight to the assumption that Spinoza was directly influenced by Fisher's work.
Also noted by Popkin was a marked similarity of concept between The Light upon the Candlestick and Spinoza's Improvement of the Understanding, which he attributes to Spinoza's influence on Balling and, through this tract, on English Quakerism.
Finally, Popkin's research adds strength to Rufus Jones's conclusion, cited in the Preface, that the Collegiants were accepted by English Quakers as fellows of the spirit.
Although there was this close association and
communication among these various groups, all in Amsterdam was not
sweetness and light. Adam Boreel, chief of the Collegiants, and Peter
Serrarius, a fellow Millenarimn, were in dispute with Quakers on some
issues. In addition, there was also present in Amsterdam a loyal
follower of James Naylor, the greatest embarrassment to the young
Quaker mission. Her name was Ann Cargill. She was so disruptive of
Quaker activity in Amsterdam that Caton wrote to Margaret Fell that
''that wicked woman that went out from the Truth'' was causing all
sorts of problems.
Returning to our main theme, it seems right to conclude
that the interaction among Quakers, Collegiants and Spinoza was of
substantial mutual benefit. It also seems clear that the flow of
influence was not linear but circular, with Quakers, Collegiants and
Spinoza at the service of one another in humankind's unending pursuit
of ways to think about the nature of the Ineffable Other. We may hope
that some future scholar will solve the major remaining puzzle
presented by The Light upon the Candlestick: who decided to put William Ames's name to Peter Balling's work, and why?
-- Kingdon Swayne / Sally Rickerman
1 In Spinoza's Earliest Publication
cited in the preface, Signer did the analysis and comparison of the
English and its Hebrew translation as well as the quality of the
Hebrew. Popkin, however, in the Introduction, wrote of the research
into the relationships of the participants. Therefore we refer to
Popkin only in this discussion.
2 The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill (London 1972), chapter 10, pp. 186-207.