'P' is for Pentecost, Apocalypse and the New Covenant

“Christ is come to teach his people himself!”

A radical and life-changing experience of spiritual transformation acted as the catalyst for the emergence of the Quaker movement. For those involved this appeared to be a replaying of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles establishing a church guided by the presence of the risen Christ (Dobbs 1995, p.2). A dramatic experience of Christ appearing in their midst convinced early Friends that the true church was reappearing after centuries of apostasy (Wilcox 1995, p.3) and many Quakers saw these conversions in terms of Paul’s dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Damrosch 1996, p.108). The revelation of Christ brought a spiritual crisis in which the sinful and apostate heart was condemned (Wilcox 1995, p.79) and a sense of joyful liberation was achieved. Everything that is distinctive about the Quaker way developed out of a response to this experience and the efforts of early Friends to make sense of it.

In his Journal, George Fox describes many openings he claims to have received by direct revelation from God. Two in particular stand out as epiphanies, and both appear to relate to Chapter two of the Book of Joel in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first took place around 1647, when Fox became aware of the real presence of Christ as a living spiritual power:

“And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.” (Journal, p 11)

This was the beginning of Fox’s Pentecostal experience, which led him to proclaim that ‘Christ is come to teach his people himself”. For early Friends, the second coming had taken place inwardly and spiritually in the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21):

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28, KJV)

A few years later in 1652, Fox had a second epiphany on Pendle Hill, which he describes in his Journal as follows:

“As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill, and I went on the top of it with much ado, it was so steep; but I was moved of the Lord to go atop of it; and when I came atop of it I saw Lancashire sea; and there atop of the hill I was moved to sound the day of the Lord; and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” (Journal, p.103-104)

This passage is often interpreted as the beginning of Quakerism as a distinct tradition. However, the references to the Book of Joel make it clear that Fox’s vision was of a people to be gathered in order to join God in the struggle to defeat darkness and evil within the creation. The ‘day of the Lord’ refers to God’s final and decisive victory over evil and the coming of the kingdom of heaven on earth. This was to be a time of judgment and purification leading to salvation. In the New Testament, it was associated with the second coming of Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:8). Joel writes:

“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand.” (Joel 2:1, KJV)

So, Fox’s epiphanies point to an early Quaker movement that was both Pentecostal and apocalyptic in character. It was Pentecostal in the sense that it was founded on a transformational experience of the Spirit of Christ as inward teacher, priest, prophet and king. It was apocalyptic because this experience convinced early Friends that God was acting decisively in their time to overcome evil and establish the kingdom of heaven.

These Pentecostal and apocalyptic aspects are intimately connected, since it was through the transformative power of the Spirit that darkness and evil would be purged; firstly, inwardly in each person’s heart, and then outwardly in the whole creation. Early Friends witnessed to the universal potential of this Pentecostal experience and apocalyptic hope. They would not accept that the Spirit could be confined in any way because, as Joel had promised, it was poured out on ‘all flesh’, not just on the Christian church. The early Quaker vision was realistic in accepting the active presence of evil in the world. At the same time, however, it was fundamentally optimistic, since it witnessed to an eternal living Spirit with the power to overcome this darkness. George Fox expressed this understanding quite succinctly when he wrote in his Journal “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.” (Journal, p 19)

The Pentecostal experience prompted an apocalyptic response in the form of an assertive preaching campaign, which became known as the ‘Lamb’s War’ (a reference to the imagery of the Book of Revelation). The apocalypse has usually been portrayed as a time of violent conflict and destruction. However, for early Friends, it was to be a nonviolent inward spiritual battle. This is reflected in the words of James Nayler:

“And as they war not against men’s persons, so their weapons are not carnal, nor hurtful to any of the creation; for the Lamb comes not to destroy men’s lives, nor the work of God, and therefore at his appearance in his subjects, he puts spiritual weapons into their hearts and hands: their armor is the light, their sword the Spirit of the Father and the Son; their shield is faith and patience; their paths are prepared with the gospel of peace and good will towards all the creation of God” (James Nayler – The Lamb’s War, 1657)

B. The New Covenant

A key aspect of early Quaker understanding is the belief that the coming of Christ has brought a new covenant (a new relationship between God and humanity) in which the immediate presence of Christ in Spirit has replaced the outwardly mediated ways in which God related to humanity in the old covenant.

In the old covenant God’s presence was to be found in a temple made of stone (The Temple in Jerusalem) and access to God was mediated through a human priesthood (the Aaronic priesthood). The people of God were led by human leaders (e.g. Moses) and God’s law (the Ten Commandments) was written on stone. In the new covenant Christ ‘fulfils all these outward and mediated forms inwardly and spiritually. He is the spiritual substance of the old outward covenant. Christ is the eternal high priest who offers everyone access to God. As a result, God may now dwell in a temple made of living stone (the human body). Christ has become the inward and spiritual leader of God’s people and he writes God’s law on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

The early Quakers believed that the primitive Christianity of the Apostles was the life of a gathered community taught directly by the risen Christ (Gwyn 1986, p.36). They therefore believed that the true function of preaching was to enable people to hear Christ’s voice within them. When this was achieved there was no longer any need for human teachers (Wilcox 1995, p.38). Such a view had far-reaching consequences for Quaker practice and for the Quaker relationship with other Christian groups.

Based on the fulfilment of Joel’s prophesy at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21) early Friends believed that the Spirit of Christ might speak and act through anyone regardless of gender, age, education or social standing. This was particularly significant in terms of the freedom it conferred on Quaker women to fulfil the roles of prophet, preacher and minister by the direct call of the Spirit.

The Old Covenant
The New Covenant

For Jews

For Jews, Gentiles and all nations

From Sinai

The Law of life from heavenly Sion

A “thing decayed” having “many outward things

“Christ hath abolished all outward things.”

The Priest’s lips to preserve people’s knowledge

Christ’s lips to preserve people’s knowledge

Law written on stone

Law written in the heart

Sanctuary, tabernacle, temple

The bodies of believers are the temple of God

The High Priest lights candles and lamps in the temple

Christ lightens everyone’s spirit with his heavenly light

Sacrifices and offerings

Christ offered himself once for all and ended outward sacrifice

Aaronic priesthood

Christ is the everlasting High Priest after the order of Melchizedec

The priests live in the chamber of the temple

Christ lives in the chambers of the heart

The Feast of Passover

Jews in spirit pass out of spiritual Egypt and feed on Christ the heavenly Passover

The priesthood of one tribe

All believers are priests, both male and female

Circumcision in the flesh by priests

Circumcision in the spirit by Christ

Outward death for those resisting the High Priest or Moses

Eternal death for those resisting Christ the heavenly High Priest and prophet

The spirit poured out on the House of Israel

The spirit poured out on all flesh

The observation of days, months, feasts etc.

Eternal heavenly feast day of Christ

Outward Sabbath

Eternal rest day of Christ

Swearing oaths

Christ, the oath of God, abolishes swearing

Moses is the leader of the outward Jews

Christ is the leader and commander of his people and calls all people

Of natural and outward things

Of inward and spiritual things


Wilcox, C (1995) Theology and Women’s Ministry in Seventeenth Century English Quakerism (Edwin Mellen Press), p.36-37


     D.   Charismatic: Quaking

The Pentecostal nature of the early Quaker movement was seen in the charismatic behaviour of its adherents. Rosemary Moore has argued that more than anything else it was the charismatic nature of their early worship that distinguished Quakers from other radical sects with which they shared many ideas (Moore 2000, p.75). Douglas Gwyn has noted that early Quaker worship was “strongly emotional, filled with dread, punctuated with inchoate sounds of sobbing, groaning, sighing and impromptu singing” (Gwyn 2006, p.122). The most enduring legacy of this charismatic behaviour was the name given to to the movement ‘in scorn’. The quaking and trembling that gave Quakers their name was the result of their inward spiritual experience (Barbour 1964, p.99). For early Friends Quaking represented a decisive manifestation of the prophetic power described in the Bible (Damrosch 1996, p.34). God’s presence in worship was not revealed through human speech but rather through quaking (Moore 2000, p.144).

2. Signs and wonders

Another effect of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit in the early Quaker movement was the performing of signs and wonders including healings (Dobbs 1995, p.47). Fox and early Friends believed that miracles were a product of being in harmony with the whole of creation so that inner fruitfulness produced outer fruitfulness (Damrosch 1996, p.157). Fox in particular was seen to have healing powers and accounts of his healings were carefully recorded even if they were later suppressed when Quakers wanted to play down the ‘enthusiasm’ of the early movement. Having rejected all outward ceremony and liturgy, the prophetic sign, based on the model of the Hebrew prophets became one of the principle means for early Friends to express their inward spiritual experiences externally. Examples of this include ‘going naked as a sign’ and James Nayler’s infamous re-enactment in 1656 at Bristol of Jesus entry into Jerusalem.

3. The Spirit as ‘leveller’

The Quaker proclamation of the existence of a new covenant in which ‘Christ is come to teach his people himself’ became a significant threat to existing forms of social stratification and inequality. In particular, the idea that the Spirit was no respecter of persons and that Christ might speak through whomsoever he chooses (Dobbs 1995, p.126) represented an assault on the power and authority of the religious elites who had been trained at Oxford and Cambridge. Quakers argues that gifts and roles came by the call of the Spirit rather than by the authority of a human institution (Dobbs 1995, p.130). The idea that Christ is just as likely to speak through a woman, a child or a farm labourer as he was to work through a bishop or a parish priest was a scandal to those in positions of power and authority.

4. The position of Women

Perhaps the most radical aspect of this spiritual egalitarianism was the freedom it afforded women to be prophets and ministers within the Early Quaker movement. The Friends argued that the spirit had been poured out on all flesh and since Christ was restoring men and women to a pre-fall perfection in this life, there could be no restrictions placed on the ministry of regenerated women (Wilcox 1995, p.155). Fox consistently argued that gender divisions were an aspect of the fall reversed by Christ (Dobbs 1995, p.114). Men and women had been created jointly in the image of God and Christ could restore them into God’s image again (Wilcox 1995, p.162).

5. Gathered community

Although the spiritual transformation of early Friends was always experienced as an internal struggle within the individual, its resolution never left the convinced Friend alone as an isolated individual. Their experiences brought Friends into community and this community appears to have been an extremely tightly-knit, mutually supportive and joyous one. This is reflected in the famous words of Francis Howgill looking back on early days of the movement: 

The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. We came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in; and the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said one unto another with great joy of heart: ‘What, is the Kingdom of God come to be with men? (Francis Howgill, 1663)

6. Early Aspects of Quaker Testimony

The main aspects of Quaker testimony that revealed themselves in the 1650s were Refusal to pay tithes (and conform to the established church generally), the refusal of oaths, the refusal of hat honour, titles and other forms of deference to ‘social superiors’ and the rejection of special times and seasons. Overall, however, it is important to recognise that becoming Quaker in the 17th century led to a fundamental transformation of behavior, appearance and life-style that would have been immediately obvious to everyone around them. Their whole lives were their testimony.

7. The Lamb’s War

During 1650s the emerging Quaker movement launched an extremely assertive but nonviolent spiritual campaign which has become known as the Lamb’s War. This involved an unrelenting assault on evil within the world and on what early Friends regarded as apostate Christianity. This campaign will be dealt with in more details in the section on the ‘The Lamb’s War – Nonviolent Apocalypse’.


1. The Hebrew Scriptures - Foundational Texts
31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: 33 but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29 and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. 30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth,
blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. Joel 2:28-31
2. God’s grace and presence is no longer confined
37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. 38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. Mark 15:37-38

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 2:28-29
3. Outward Law replaced by the Inward Christ
23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 2:23-27
4. The Spirit poured out on all flesh
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: Acts 2:1-4, 16-18
5. The Outward Temple and the old ways come to an end

And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass? And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them. But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by. 10 Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: 11 And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. Luke 21:5-11

6. A direct relationship with God through Christ
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, Hebrews 1:1-2
11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Romans 8:11
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
7. God’s People are temples of living stone
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16)
if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:3-5
8. Inward Spiritual Transformation
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. Romans 2:28-29
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8
9. The New Covenant Explained
1 Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10 For this isthe covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 and they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:1-13


Barbour, Hugh (1964) The Quakers in Puritan England (Yale University Press)

Damrosch, L (1996) The Sorrows of the Quaker Jesus: James Nayler and   the Puritan crackdown on the free spirit (Harvard University Press)

Dobbs, Jack (1995) Authority and the Early Quakers (University of Oxford)

Fox, George (1975)  The Works of George Fox, eight volumes (AMS Press)
Gwyn, Douglas (1986) Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox 1624-1691 (Friends United Press)

Moore, Rosemary (2000) The Light in their Consciences: Faith, Practices, and Personalities in Early British Quakerism, 1646 -1666 (Pennsylvania State University Press)

Nayler, James & Kuenning, Licia (2003-9) The Works of James Nayler, four volumes (Quaker Heritage Press)

Wilcox, Catherine (1995) Theology and Women’s Ministry in Seventeenth Century English Quakerism (Edwin Mellen Press)


  1. Very inspiring stuff. Interested that you quote Hebrews 1:1-2 in your Biblical references; I see this as an encapsulation of an Anabaptist hermeneutic, in which the Son becomes the key to the understanding of all other scriptures, not just in the sense of finding prefigurations of Christ in the other scriptures, but in the sense that God's revelation in Jesus relativizes all other revelation, i.e. it no longer has any authority independent of his authority.

  2. Thank you Veronica. Yes, I think that the Christocentric approach highlighted by Hebrews 1:1-2 is something that Anabaptists and Quakers share in common. Friends would generally give a higher priority than most Anabaptists to the idea that God continues to speak to us directly by his Son in Spirit over and above the witness of scripture.


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