Robert Barclay, Quaker Apologist

Robert Barclay was born on December 23, 1648. A scholarly youth,
Robert studied in Paris where a wealthy uncle offered to make him
his heir if only he would join the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile,
Robert’s father, David Barclay, had become a Quaker. In 1667,
Robert followed his example and joined the Society of Friends.
Soon afterwards, he became a theologian of the Quaker viewpoint
writing in defense of the Society, by publishing in 1670,
Truth Cleared of Calumnies, and, in 1673,
A Catechism and Confession of Faith.

Barclay published his classic exposition of Quakerism
in Latin in 1676 as Theologiæ Vere Christianæ Apologia.
He then translated his own book into English.
The Apology For the True Christian Divinity has since
been reprinted over sixty times and translated into several other

Most of Barclay’s effort was directed at defending Quaker doctrine
and showing its superiority to competing doctrines of his time,
especially those of Calvinism. Barclay argued that the only real
Christianity is that in which the Spirit of Christ is present. Since
the Bible must be interpreted and brought alive by the Holy Spirit,
even its words are secondary to inner illumination. Any merely
historical or liturgical faith is dead. Any worship which lacks
Christ’s presence is a sham. Faith must be something experienced.

Barclay’s influence was not through his theology alone. He was
active in national affairs and negotiated in behalf of King James II.
He died at the age of 42. His nine children were ardent Quakers,
and their descendants were prominent among the famous Quaker
families of subsequent centuries: the Barclays, Gurneys and Frys.

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