'S' is for Saul's Errand to Damascus (1653)

A. Introduction and Summary

Saul’s Errand to Damascus is one of the earliest tracts published by the emerging Quaker movement in 1653. It offers a fascinating insight into the conflict provoked by the movement, the persecution it suffered and the accusations it faced. In the answers to common accusations, we get an insight into Quaker theology and spirituality as it was being developed.

This blog post includes a summary of key aspects of the tract, a link to a digital version of the original tract and a modern English paraphrase.

This tract compiles transcriptions of court examinations, responses to accusations and accounts of sufferings in the North of England during the early 1650s. In this summary I will focus on the content relating to James Nayler.

James Nayler’s Declaration

In order to answer ‘false accusations’ against him, Nayler makes a statement of his beliefs under seven headings:

1. Jesus Christ – Nayler affirms an orthodox Christology giving particular emphasis to divine indwelling in which the living presence of Christ, which is available to all, has the power to deal with sin and reconciling people with God.

2. The Bible – The Bible is a true declaration of the Word of God which can only be understood properly when it is read in the inspiration of the Spirit that gave it forth.

3. Baptism – The only true baptism is by the Holy Spirit. Water baptism is merely an outward symbol of this that, in itself, has no spiritual power.

4. The Lord’s Supper – The only true supper involves an inward and spiritual feeding on Christ. The outward ceremony is merely an outward symbol of this that, in itself, has no spiritual power.

5. The Resurrection The resurrection has two stages; first we a lifted up into a new birth in the Spirit, then we are resurrected as a heavenly body. The latter is a mystery.

6. Human Government – God ordained government to maintain order. However, this does not mean that everything government does reflects God’s will or that we should give special honour to government officials. God calls prophets to condemn government when it does not act justly.

7. The True Ministry – The true ministry is a direct calling from God. It is not something regulated by human institutions. Those given a ministry as a free gift should carry this out freely and not for pay. This is the example we have received from Christ and the apostles.

The Persecution of James Nayler in Westmorland

This section of the tract describes James Nayler facing hostile crowds stirred up by the local ‘priests’. He is challenged about his authority to preach and accused of corrupting local people by encouraging them to burn their Bibles and disobey established authority. Nayler proclaims that all people have the Light within them (including Muslims and Indians). A crowd threatens him but he escapes unharmed.

On another occasion, the local ‘priests’ try to prevent Nayler from preaching using the Vagrancy Act. Despite this, he is able to preach to people and explain that Christ is the only teacher of his people. Fearing that he would not get a fair hearing, Nayler and his companions made their way to a local house. As they were doing this, the mob attacked them.

The following Sunday the ‘priests’ preached sermons against Nayler and accused him of being a blasphemer (alleging that he denied the humanity of Jesus and the physical resurrection) and a threat to social order. A magistrate was called (who had been a Royalist during the Civil Wars), and a mob brought Nayler to a local field where he was forced to answer a number of questions and accusation (see ‘James Nayler’s declaration above). The magistrate then had Nayler taken to a local ale house for questioning and he was convicted of vagrancy and locked him up at Kirkby Stephen. A little later Frances Howgill was also arrested while preaching and locked up. The next day both Nayler and Howgill were held in Appleby. At the trial that followed a large petition of charges were presented against them which was full of lies and slander. Through all this, Nayler and Howgill were upheld by the love of God.

The Examination of James Nayler at Appleby

This section of the tract offers a transcription of the questioning of Nayler at his trial in Appleby in January 1652. During the questioning he is question about:

  • Not removing his hat and has to defend his position based on the teachings of the Bible and the guidance of the Spirit.

  • Claiming that Christ is within him.

  • His personal background and circumstance.

  • Whether he was with the Levellers at Burford, which he denies, telling them that he was at that time a loyal member of the Parliamentary army.

  • What brought him to the area and he tells them about his convincement.

  • Whether Christ is within him. He affirms that he has experienced the Spirit of Christ within.

  • How he views the difference between him and the clergy. He states that the clergy preach that Christ is in heaven and has a physical body, whereas he preaches that Christ has a spiritual body.

  • If he believes that Christ was human. He states that Christ is divine but had also been human.

  • If Christ is within him as a physical man. He responds that Christ is everywhere.

  • If he had been excommunicated from an Independent church at Woodkirk. He states that he hadn’t, as far as he was aware.

  • If he had argued that the historical Jesus does not have the power to save. He responds “if I cannot know Christ as a presence nearer than Jerusalem, he cannot help me”. However, he also asserts that this is the same Christ who gave his witness before Pontius Pilate.

  • Why his people quake and tremble. He answers that all the holy people in the Bible trembled before the Lord.

  • Whether the Light that justifies is a created thing. Nayler states that it is uncreated (i.e. divine).

  • Whether he accepts the Bible as the word of God. Nayler respond that the Bible is a true declaration of the Word of God, which is Christ.

  • Why he disrupts church services. He denies that he ever has.

  • If it is reasonable for ministers to be paid for their work. He answers that ministers should follow the way of Christ (i.e. an itinerant teacher receiving no pay).

  • What constitutes true ministry. Nayler states that this is revealed by a minister’s fruits (i.e. by how they live and treat others).

b. The Original Tract

A digital version of this tract is available to read at the Quaker Heritage Press website by following this link:

C. A Paraphrase in Modern English

Saul's Errand to Damascus

George Fox and James Nayler (1653)

To the Christian Reader

This is to let you know that, for some time in the Lancaster area, God has been gathering many Christians (now given the nickname ‘Quakers’) who have stopped attending the parish churches which failed to offered them a genuine and meaningful encounter with Christ. Instead they have felt called to meet together regularly to experience such an encounter, to worship God in Spirit and Truth and to share among themselves what the Lord has taught them. They have not tried to cause any offence to those who respect God.

Even though they are peaceful Christians, some people in this area have taken great offence at Quaker practices, especially because they speak against pride and greediness. These people have often broken into their worship meetings armed with swords and pistols (people who probably didn’t fight for the Commonwealth and may well have fought against it) attacking them and throwing them out into the fields where there is no shelter. Luckily God has protected them from harm. On other occasions, they have broken up worship meetings being held in Quaker homes. These Quakers have quietly endured such persecution because they have the patience that Christ showed in his own life. Like him, they are prepared to forgive their persecutors (Luke 23:24). They know that Christ suffered so they expect to suffer just like him. In this we are taking up our cross and following him (Luke 9:23).

Why are these people persecuting and misrepresenting us and causing such trouble within the Commonwealth which is still so new? We are only interested in glorifying God and we have been more faithful to God’s commandments than those who persecute us and bring us to court. We can show that, based on what they say, these people are not loyal to the Parliament or the Army. What they are really concerned with is protecting their large vicarages and other privileges that enable them to feel superior to everyone else.
We hope that God will prevent the terrible persecutions of the past being seen again in England but we fear that those who bring these charges against us seem intent on doing just that. If you read the information contained in this document, you will see how we are being treated and feel compassion for us. Keep us in your thoughts.

The Charges Brought Against George Fox and James Nayler

We claim that George Fox and James Nayler have no respect for the religion and laws of this country and that since they became active in this area they have spread ideas that undermine normal social arrangements that form the basis of proper order and stability in our country (i.e. normal relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters, congregations and their ministers, people and God). They have attracted many people into their sect and their worship involves outrageous behaviour such as falling over, foaming at the mouth and other strange physical manifestations. Some of them claim to be equal with God and have done so in front of many witnesses. This is contrary to the Blasphemy Act of 1650. They also express many other dangerous views and heretical beliefs which we list in this document below. We hope that you will consider these matters and take immediate action to control these dangerous people.

The charges against George Fox are that:

1.    He claims that he is equal with God.

2.    He claims that he is the Eternal Judge of the world.

3.    He claims to be the Judge of the world.

4.    He claims to be Christ, the way, the truth, the life.

5.    He claims that anyone who uses Bible passages for preaching sermons is simply performing magical tricks and illusions.

  1. He claims that the Bible is nothing more than a physical book.
These are the charges against James Milner, who is a follower of George Fox and claims that Fox is divine and made the following prophesies:

  1. That the Day of Judgment will take place on the 15th November.

  1. That in future no judges will ever sit in Lancaster again.

  1. That he will ‘shake the foundations of the great synagogue’ by which he means that he will destroy the Parliament.
It is also charged that Leonard Fell claimed that Christ never had a body other than his Church and that Richard Hubberthorne wrote that the idea that Christ would return in the flesh was only a spiritual metaphor.

The Answer of George Fox to the matters falsely charged upon him by
the Petition and Schedule aforesaid

Charge: That George Fox and James Nayler do not respect the true religion religion.

Answer: We accept that we don’t respect the dominant religion in this land because it is false. We know a pure and true religion in our souls which reveals itself in care for the poor and needy and a desire to avoid the corrupting influence of the world. We are opposed to the kind of religion that is mere words and beliefs and that is not directly inspired by God’s Spirit. We are not impressed by those who speak the Bible in words but do not live it in their actual lives and live in the sinful ways of the world. We also oppose those who teach and preach the gospel for money (the paid clergy).

Charge: That George Fox and James Nayler do not respect the good laws of the land.

Answer: We are committed to true justice, which is the good law of God. This law 
condemns the unjust, the sinful, those who use violence in God’s name and those who do not obey God’s teaching within them and focuses instead on external things. Instead, those who obey God’s inward teaching are liberated from the need for external laws. This because God’s inward law and teaching will not allow a person to lie, get drunk, be proud, curse, quarrel or fight. Everyone who obeys God inward teaching leaves behind everything that is unwholesome in the ways of the world. All people who live this way are at one and in unity. They all have God’s law written in their hearts, whereas those who live in sin ignored and rejected this. Such people claim to follow outward written laws but do not submit to God’s power within them. They criticise those who follow the inward law of God but their own sinful behaviour condemns them.

Charge: That since they became active in this area they have spread ideas that undermine normal social arrangements that form the basis of proper order and stability in the country (i.e. normal relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters, congregations and their ministers, people and God).

Answer: God directed us to come into these parts and showed us that there where people here who would join us. However, we deny that we came to cause trouble. We support those who follow the way of God. Opinions come from humans not from God. We follow the justice and purity of God and this make us want to separate ourselves from the corrupt ways of the world. We live in the Light of God, those who live in darkness are separated from God.

Charge: They have attracted many people into their sect and their worship involves outrageous behaviour such as falling over, foaming at the mouth and other strange physical manifestations.

Answer: The meeting of God’s people have always seemed strange to the world. This was the case for the apostles, people thought they were mad and the same thing is happening today. The people of the world have always ridiculed and despised and told lies about the people of God. The way God works appears strange to those who have not been transformed by God’s Spirit. The Bible shows us that, all the holy people trembled and fell when they came into contact with God. For example, this was the case for the apostle Paul (Acts 9:3-4), for Daniel (Daniel 10:10-17), for Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:16), for David (Psalm 119:120), and for Isaiah (Isaiah 66:5). We are encouraged to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In view of this, those who do not tremble do not have the Spirit of God and this is confirmed by the way they slander and persecute the people of God. We are called away from the laws of the world to obey the Lord as our king and judge.

Charge: George Fox claims to be equal with God.

Answer: We deny that George Fox said this. However, we do affirm that God can be revealed in us in spirit. Those who live in the ways of the world and in whom God is not revealed in spirit, persecute Christ and his followers. Christ, although he was God, humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-7) and his followers do likewise. The Spirit that is within us is equal with God. “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:11). Anyone who has God’s Spirit working within them is in an intimate relationship with God. There are two states that humans can live in; the natural state and the spiritual state. The first is a purely physical existence but in the second is a heavenly existence. The new spiritual state is revealed in a life of righteousness and holiness. This is not just our ideas, it is what the Bible teaches (1 Corinthians 15:46-48).

Charge: George Fox claims to be the eternal judge of the world.

Answer: The apostle Paul made it clear that God’s people should indeed judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2). Those who seek to persecute God’s people show that they are not true ministers of God. All people need to be judged (regenerated) by God and by this process their old earthly nature is overcome by a new heavenly nature. Those who have not been through this process cannot do God’s work or bear to see Christ working in others. Christ dwells within his people and speaks through them. So George Fox is not Christ but Christ lives in George Fox. The apostle Paul said “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—if not, you fail to pass the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5). He also said “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). Christ speaks through us today just as he did through the apostles. Our opponents use the judgement of the old physical nature whereas we have received the true judgement of the Spirit. We do not imprison or persecute anyone but, in their foolishness, our opponents do.

Charge: George Fox claims that he is the way, the truth, the life.

Answer: Those who still live in the old physical nature cannot tolerate the idea that Christ speaks through those who are now living in the new heavenly nature. We accept that we are not the way, the truth and the life, but Christ is all of those things and Christ speaks though us. When false prophets speak, their words are acceptable to the world. While people remain in the old physical nature they are unable to hear the voice of God and Christ does not speak through them. Those who are in Christ know his voice.

Charge: George Fox claims that anyone who uses Bible passages for preaching sermons is simply performing magical tricks and illusions.

Answer: Anyone who regards the Bible as more important than the living Christ is wrong. The Bible itself says that Christ is the light and the Word of God (John 1:9, 14). The Spirit does not depend on the Bible because as the apostle Paul makes clear that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). It is not possible to get life from a thing that is lifeless. Those who try to do this are teaching from their own mouths and not from the mouth of the Lord. This kind of teaching draws people away from God. However, those who allow God to speak through them help others to turn away from their sinfulness. Christ in Spirit is coming to teach his people himself

Charge: George Fox claims that the Bible is nothing more than a physical book.

Answer: The Bible is a physical book and, in itself, does not have the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that inspired the people who wrote the books of the Bible. I am interested in what is eternal, not what is temporary. The Jewish leaders had the Bible but this did not stop them persecuting Christ Jesus who is the real source of salvation. Our opponents, who have the Bible but do not know the Spirit, persecute us today just like Jesus was persecuted in the past. This has always been the way. When Christ appears in the world, the world rejects and persecutes him. Based on the Bible, many people proclaim their faith in Jesus but they persecute him when he appears in his people. However, when he appears in his people he overcomes evil and leads them to a new life in him. When Christ lives in people they experience new life and are empowered by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Those who do not know Christ do not benefit from this new life. The Bible tells us that, through Jesus, God will dwell within people (2 Corinthians 6:16). Christ tells us that, in my physical lives we are the sons of Abraham but in our spiritual or heavenly lives, we are the sons of God (Hebrews 2:16). Although the world always makes war with the Lamb (Christ) and his people, the Lamb will have the final victory. We praise God forevermore!

Charge: Richard Hubberthorne wrote that the idea that Christ would return in the flesh is only a spiritual metaphor.       

Answer: In his people, Christ replaces all the old outward and mediated ways that humans have related to God in the past. He sets us free from these more limited ways. However, the Christ portrayed within the Bible is merely a representation of the real living divine substance. When people receive the living Christ they experience the same things and achieve the same things that he did during his life in the flesh. He is our example and we should follow in his footsteps (1 Peter 2:21). Christ suffered for us so that we could receive his life and power (1 Peter 4:1). Therefore we are committed to the way of Jesus who is our forerunner, our example and the source of our salvation (Hebrew 2:10). Whatever the world did to Jesus, fully expect it to do to us. Those who do not have Christ dwelling within them continue to persecute Christ wherever he appears. They don’t follow the way of Christ and they don’t encourage others to do so either. Instead, they deny him. Those who experience Christ dwelling within them know him as their ultimate example and the foundation of their faith.

Charge: James Milner, who is a follower of George Fox, claims that Fox is divine and prophesied in a blasphemous way.

Answer: We accept that, although James Milner is one of us and the Spirit dwells within him, he is human and we all make mistakes. In this case he failed to properly follow his inward teacher and was in error in what he said     

Charge: Leonard Fell claims that Christ never had a body other than his Church

Answer: There is one body and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). Christ is the head of the body which is the church (Colossians 1:18). Christ is reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19) for the sake of his body, the church (Colossians 1:18). Even though it is a great mystery, we can claim to be “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:30). It is through Christ that our community is built up. Through his Spirit he brings us into communion with God (Ephesians 2:22).

More Charges Made Against George Fox

Charge: That he has claimed that God dwells fully within him.

Answer: These are not our words but the words of our opponents. However, we would point out that the Bible teaches that God’s people are the temples of God and that God does indeed dwell within them (1 Corinthians 3:16). We are promised that we shall become participants in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). This is our experience. However, those who do not have the Holy Spirit working within them cannot understand this.

Charge: That he has claimed that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are unlawful.

Answer: I have never used the word ‘unlawful’. I reject the baptism of infants as the Bible never mentions such a sacrament. I believe that the true baptism is into Christ with ‘one spirit, into one body’ as the Bible makes clear (1 Corinthians 12:13). With reference to the Lord’s Supper I believe that, for the people of God, the bread we break is the body of Christ and the wine we drink is the blood of Christ.

Charge: That he discourages people from reading the Bible, saying that it is merely a physical book.

Answer: I would never discourage people from reading the Bible because it was given to us to be read. However, I am opposed to people preaching from the Bible for money (i.e. the paid clergy). That said it is important to realise that, in itself, the Bible is just a physical book but the Spirit that inspire its creation is eternal and gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Charge: That he claims to be equal with God.

Answer: I have never said that, but I do affirm that ‘the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father’ (Hebrews 2:11) and the people of God are all members of Christ’s body (Ephesians 5:30). The Bible teaches us that quite clearly. The apostle Paul tells us that ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’ (Romans 8:4). However, those who are united to a prostitute becomes one body with her (1 Corinthians 6:16). You are either one or the other.

Charge: That he said that God taught deceitfulness.

Answer: I have never said such a thing. It is false because God is truthful.

Charge: That he said that the Bible is the antichrist.

Answer: This is not true. I believe that those who proclaim the Bible in words but do not live in the life and power of the Spirit that inspired it are the antichrist.

Charge: That he said he was the Judge of the world.     

Answer: The apostle Paul makes clear that the people of God will judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). I claim to be one of the people of God who fulfill these words from the Bible. 

Charge: That he claims to be as good as Christ.

Answer: I have never used those words but the Bible does teach that love is perfected among the people of God (1 John 4:17) and that in Christ we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The people of God are at one with the Christ and become like him (John 3:2). Christ’s teaching brings us to ‘the measure of the full stature of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:11-13). I am prepared to stand by this biblical teaching. If Christ dwells within us he will speak through us.

Further queries put to George Fox

Query: Do you believe in the Trinity or not (i.e. that there is one God in three persons; Father, Son and Spirit)?

Answer: It seems to me that you are getting caught up in too many human thoughts and ideas with all their limitations. What can you say of your own inward experience of God? Those who are not in an intimate relationship with God cannot understand God who is beyond human ideas and notions. God is a Spirit (John 4:24) and the Son reveals God to those in whom he dwells. You can only know God by listening to his Spirit speaking within you. Those who have not received this gift of the spiritual dwelling within them cannot know what God is like.

Query: Do you believe that people are justified by imputed righteousness or not (i.e. that while not righteous in themselves, benefit from Christ’s righteousness by faith)?

Answer: Those who turn to God and experience new birth in the power of the Spirit are justified by Christ directly. Since righteousness is given to them directly, they do not need it to be imputed.     

Query: Do you believe that Christ has liberated you from sin in this life and made you sinless like him?

Answer: Those who turn to God and experience new birth in the power of the Spirit do not sin and cannot sin because God is living within them. This is our experience living within the world today.

Query: Can a believer be without sin in this life or not?

Answer: The Bible tells us that when Christ is revealed within a person he takes their sins because in him there is no sin at all and no one who abides in him sins (1 John 3:5-7). Those who sin do not know Christ within them. This is what distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. Those of you who have put these queries to me, turn inward and discern your own leadings and see whether you understand these matters any better or not.

Query: Is your character and life entirely holy and good or not?

Answer: The Bible tells us that ‘a good tree cannot bear bad fruit’ (Matthew 7:18), and ‘if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy’ (Romans 11:16). Those who live righteously, are righteous. Again you are asking silly questions based on limited human ideas. God has no time for human pride and social rank. People who care about such things commits sin and those who commit sin break God’s law. 

Query: Are the saints perfectly just, holy and glorious in this life so that no further improvement can be made after death?

Answer: A saint, by definition, is one who has experienced a spiritual death and rebirth. Clearly, you have not experienced new birth and remain in darkness. When people are dead to sin, they live in righteousness and in communion with God. It is God’s righteousness that we have received. When God lives in a person they become perfectly holy. There is no need to wait for death for this to happen.

Query: Do you believe that the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be observed in the church or not?

Answer: You obviously don’t understand this matter. The Bible says nothing about ‘sacraments’. We witness to the fact that, in the true church, the gathered people are ‘baptized by one Spirit into one body’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). I reject the idea of infant baptism. It is not mentioned in the Bible. The true church does not concern itself with physical things. Instead, it focuses on Christ who is the bread of life (John 6:35). The church is not a physical building. It is the gathered people of God, living in communion with God and feeding on the bread of life.  

Query: Was Christ in his physical life simply a symbol of something more important. If so what does this mean?

Answer: Christ is the real thing. He is the spiritual substance of all the outward symbols that represented him in the old covenant. In his physical form he made his spiritual substance known in a visible way. He is the pioneer of our faith and everyone must pass through what he passed through if they wish Christ to dwell within them. People have to experience death in his suffering if they are to know new birth in his glory. Christ is our example and the one who we follow. If you had experienced what we have experienced, you would understand.

Question: Do you believe that there is a heaven and hell after death for those who are saved and those who are not, or is heaven and hell merely an aspect of this life?  

Answer: The only way one can understand the nature of heaven and hell is through the experience of death and rebirth. Those in darkness live in hell and experience torment whereas those in the Light live in heaven, and know God’s glory. Nothing impure that can dwell with God so spiritual cleansing is required. Heaven is open to all those in whom God dwells.

Question: Do you believe that the ordained ministry will continue until the end or not?

Answer: The human ministry is merely a part of this world, it is not divine or eternal and therefore it will come to an end. God’s ministry seeks to be in intimate relationship with people. Like the apostle Paul, people become God’s ministers by the direct call of the Holy Spirit not through human institutions like the ministers of the world, who study human ways in human institutions like Oxford and Cambridge universities. This kind of human learning leads to all sorts of false practice such as infant baptism which is a sacrament that has no biblical basis. They say that they are the ministers of Christ but their desire for public status and honour goes against Christ’s teaching. In this way they show themselves to be people who live contrary to the way of Christ.

Questions: Do you accept that the Bible has the power to bring all believers to salvation or not?

Answer: The written word of the Bible is not the power of God and, in itself, does not have the power to save people. God’s living Spirit is the only thing that has the power to save. It can dwells within people and enable them to be born again by the Spirit.

James Nayler's Declaration and Answers to Charges Made Against Him

The priests have made many false accusations made against me. Although I am unconcerned about my own reputation and only care about my standing with the Lord, I believe that it is important to answer such lies in case they lead others astray. Here is my response to these false accusations.
1. Concerning Jesus Christ
I believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God who was before all things and the power through whom all things were made. He is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us and was sent to save humanity from its fallen state. He is eternal and unchanging and dwells with those who have accepted him within. He was crucified to death but rose again, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. All power in heaven and earth has been given to him. He is present in all places as the Light of the word. However, he is only known to those who receive him and follow him. He leads his followers to God and away from the ways of the world. By his pure light working within people, he reveals sin and casts it out so that the bodies of his followers become a fit place for God to dwell in. In this way, he reconciles God and humanity and restores the divine image of purity and holiness in people by driving out the image of Satan with all its sin and uncleanness. The only way to salvation is by Christ’s work within people to the measure they have been given (Gal. 1:16; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27).

2. Concerning the Scriptures
The scriptures are a true declaration of God’s Spirit working in the people who wrote them. They were made available by the Spirit to be read and for the building up of God’s people. They were not made available so that people could get paid to preach them. Those who use them in this way do not appreciate their real meaning. The scriptures can only be properly understood when they are read through the inspiration of the Spirit that originally produced them.

3. Concerning Baptism
The one true baptism is baptism by the Holy Spirit into the one body of Christ. This is the only baptism that has the power to save. The baptism in water is merely a figure or a shadow of the baptism in the Spirit. Christ is the spiritual substance (the real thing) and when someone is baptised into his death they experience him as a living force within them.

4. Concerning the Lord’s Supper
The one true Lord’s Supper involves eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Christ inwardly and spiritually. This is what brings the creature to spiritual life in communion with Christ and all the other members of his one body. The ways of the world focus only on the outward signs of this which does not lead to true communion. This is can be seen revealed in lives based on envy, conflict, division and fighting over earthly possessions.

5. Concerning the Resurrection
Those who have born the image of the earthly will bear the image of the heavenly. We have to be resurrected inwardly by the Spirit first before we can be resurrected as a heavenly body. Those who have not experienced the first resurrection cannot understand the second. It is not logical to argue that Christ is in heaven with a physical body and that God’s people are in heaven with spiritual bodies. Both have become something quite different.

6. Concerning Human Government
 Human government was allowed by God so that order might be maintained. This involves controlling evil and encouraging good. This power should be exercised justly and even-handedly so that there is peace and order. However, that does not mean that those in power should expect others to treat them with special honour as though they were gods. This is just pride and selfishness. Rather, such power should reflect God’s way and God is no respecter of human status and pride. Human pride is a sin (James 2:1-4, 9). The apostle Paul makes clear that the only true power is the power of God (Romans 13:1-2) and we must all be subject to that power (Romans 13:5). The prophets were often sent to communicate God’s displeasure with people who acted unjustly and for selfish reasons. This never entailed violence, only persuasion. They exhorted them to “love mercy, do justice, & walk humbly with God," (Micah 6:8) Those who represent the way of God do not find any joy in persecuting people because they want everyone to show mercy.

7. Concerning True Ministry
The true ministry of Jesus Christ is established by God through the gifts that God gives (1 Corinthians 12:7). This is not about human institution or education. God may call anyone regardless of their social status or job. Because true ministry is a gift and a call given by God and freely received, a minister should not do this work for pay (Matthew 10:8). The practice of preaching for money was condemned in the New Testament (Acts 8:20 and John 10:13) and in the Old Testament (Micah 3:10, Jeremiah 5:30-31, 6:13 and Isaiah 56:10-11). The true ministers of Christ preach the gospel for no charge. They are not provided with accommodation, they do not lord it over people and they don’t look for tithes to enrich themselves.

Now, based on what the Bible tells us, are your priests following the way of God or the ways of the world? If they follow the ways of the world, it is clear that God did not send them. John warned us about such false teachers (2 John 9-11). The wicked should not preach God’s word because they are untruthful and deceitful and think that God is just like them (Psalms 50:16-21).

Details of the Persecution of James Nayler by the Priests of the Westmorland Area

During a large meeting at Edward Briggs’ house James Nayler was encourages by many Friends to meet again the next day at the home of Widow Cock which is about a mile from Kendal. The priests found out about the meeting and stirred-up the local people against him. After the meeting, James was accosted near Kendal by two priests, a number of the town’s magistrates and a large group of local people. One of the priests challenged James about his authority to preach. James responded that Jesus himself was often challenged in the same way. Despite this, the priest continued to challenge him. James proclaimed that he was acting in the power of God’s spirit and that the priest would know this if he possessed the same spirit. The priest stated that when God comes, he comes to torment souls not bodies. James responded that God comes to redeem souls.

After a lot of argument, the priest accused James of encouraging people to burn their Bibles, children to disobey their parents, wives to disobey their husbands and everyone to disobey the magistrates. James denied all this and challenged the priest to prove his accusations in front of the magistrates. Being unable to prove the point, the priest then accused James of preaching that all people have a light in them that reveals their sin, when they do not. James challenged the priest to ask a member of the crowd about this and see if they deny it. The priest answered that all the people present where Christian but that if there were Muslims or Indians present they would deny it. James asserted that, if a Muslim were present, he would disagree with the priest and witness to the light within them that reveals sin.

The people began to fight and the priest suggested that James were the cause of this disturbance. James suggested that those fighting behave in this way because of how the priest had taught them. The magistrates took action to maintain order. As James crossed a bridge, some of the mob threatened to throw him off the bridge and into the water. However, God protested James and he was unhurt. In God’s power, James spoke out strongly against the crowd’s bad behaviour. For about a quarter of a mile out from the toen, the mob continued to shout, arguing and throw stones at him but God continued to protect him.

On another occasion, James wanted to meet to worship with Friends at Orton so that he might ministered to them. Many people attended this meeting. However, again, the priests found out about this meeting and gathered people against him. A local Friend suggested that James go with him to his house. The priests suggested that he address the large group of people in a field. James accepted because he wanted the people to receive good teaching. Once in the field, the priest challenged James about his authority to gather large numbers of people and cause disorder. James responded that he and his group did not come to cause trouble and that if anyone broke the law they should suffer the consequences. He could tell that they were intent on attacking him physically.

Seeing that their plans were not working, another priest suggested that James come into the church so that the people could sit and listen to him better. However, James knew that they were trying to deceive him and said he would stay in the field because all places were equally good for preaching. The priest then produced a law passed by Parliament that restricted preaching in churches and public places to those who were officially authorised to do so. Nayler asserted that the field was not a public place. The priest disagreed and asked the town constable to enforce the law. James responded saying that the true ministers of God are sent by God not by human authority. Hearing this, they challenged him to substantiate what he had said. James pointed out that the apostle Paul’s calling did not come by human authority (Acts 13:20. Could they prove that Paul preached by human authority? James pressed the priest for an answer but none was forthcoming. James then used the apostle Paul’s words from the beginning of his letter to the Galatians to prove his point (Galatians 1: 1).

Then another priest challenged James to give an account of his faith and allow people to ask him questions. A number of questions were put to James but he challenged the priest to justify his position as a minister who took payment from tithes. The priest would not answer and so James told him that he would not answer his questions, however many he put to him.

They asked James whether he believed that Christ had ascended into heaven or not. James refused to answer and so they accused him of denying the humanity of Christ and tried to stir up the people against him. However, the people present said that they wanted to hear James speak because the priests had been making all sorts of accusations against him. Hearing this, James began to speak and the people listened to him quietly. He began to tell them that Christ is the only teacher of his people. This made one of the priests shout that he didn’t want to hear any more from someone who deceives people with false teaching. James challenged him to prove his accusation but the priest did not.

It became clear that James was not going to be given a fair opportunity to explain himself so his companions wished to take him to a house where he would be safe from the mob. As they went the crowd got violent and attacked them. The house was full of people and James tried to speak but the mob remained outside shouting and causing trouble. As a result, the meeting could not continue and, with God’s help, James managed to escape unharmed. The priests were relieved that he had gone.

The priests had not succeeded in undermining James’ credibility so the next Sunday they prepared sermons that accused him of being a blasphemer who denied both Christ’s humanity and his physical resurrection. They also stated that he respected no authority and that this had happened because Parliament was allowing this sort of thing to happen. Having stirred up the violent and aggressive people, the next day they managed to get a magistrate (who had fought against the parliament and enabled the Scots to invade the area) to come from some distance away. With an armed mob they came to the house where James was staying, asked to see him. They threatened to knock his brains out against a wall and pull the house down if he would not come out, even though the door to the house was not shut or locked against them. Some of them came into the house saying that they wanted to bring him to a dispute with the priest. However, James knew what they intended to do. James told them that they had not treated him well previously but that they could come into the house if they wanted to. When they passed this message to the priests, the mob rushed into the house and took James by force to a near-by field. They knocked off his hat with a pitchfork and forced him to answer the priests’ questions. They asked him questions about the resurrection, the humanity of Christ, the Bible, the sacraments and many other things. He answered their questions and defended his position with reference to the Bible. James was asked if Christ was in him and he replied that he was in the measure he had been given. They then asked if that meant that Christ was in him as a man but James answered that ‘Christ is not divided’ (that his divine and human natures are not separate things). James stated that Christ is divine and human in equal measure. The priest stated that Christ’s physical body is in heaven. James responded that Christ fills all heaven and earth because he is spiritual not physical. It is not logical to say that Christ’s physical body is in heaven but the saints are in heaven in a spiritual sense. He also stated that when the risen Christ appeared to the disciples it was not merely his physical body as he passed through closed doors. Christ is a mystery and you don’t understand that.

After a great deal of argument, the priest, not having succeeded in defeating James, warned the people not to accommodate him in their houses (2 James 10) for it is forbidden to house anyone who is a false teacher. James answered that the priests are preventing him from preaching the true way of Christ. At this point, the priests went away but the mob began to attack James’ companions. James appealed to the magistrate to see them all safely back to their house but the magistrate left them in the hands of the mob.

The Magistrate said they would question James back at the house so they returned to this dwelling and James’ companions protected him from attack. However, after having arrived back at the house, the Magistrate decided that he should be called out again for questioning. They made him follow them to an ale house on the other side of the river and would not let him bring anyone else with him. When he came before the Magistrate he used ‘thou’ and refused to remove his hat. As a result, the Magistrate said, that for failing to show him proper respect, he would send him to prison. James explained that his actions were not due to contempt but rather about following the teachings of the Bible on this matter. He was then convicted for vagrancy because he was not known by people in this area (his companions were kept out of the proceedings). James knew a man called Arthur Scaife from his army days but the Magistrate would not take account of this, saying that he was not in the army now.

They then produced a warrant committing James to prison and took him to Kirkby Stephen, locked him up with a guard. However, many Friends went there too, where a large church service was taking place These were people who were plotted against and persecuting Friends. These Friends were not permitted to see James and so they stayed in the street and some preached to the people there. The priests were opposed this and sent people to break the gathering up. Francis Howgill was preaching at the time and he was apprehended and taken to the priests. They brought him before the Magistrate and told him to remove his hat but Francis refused. They warned that he would treat both the church and the Magistrates with contempt. Francis claimed that they made false accusations against him. Someone grabbed Francis’ hat and threw it on the fire. The Magistrate asked him what he had been saying against the priests. Someone claimed that Francis had said that all priests who preach for money in the steeple houses are liars and the enemies of Jesus Christ. The Magistrate warned him that the law gives priests this authority. Francis said he had no issue with the law. He was concerned with the actual practice of the priests. He asked the priests if they thought a true minster of Christ would seek to persecute and imprison people. Francis stated that he had witnessed a great deal of tyranny and persecution today and that he did not judge the law but rather the unjust actions of the persecutors. Francis was then sent to prison where the guards spent the night drinking and swearing. These people were members of the priests’ churches.

The next day, James and Francis they were taken to Appleby but their companions were not allowed to accompany them. Their opponents sought out people who might testify against them. A jury was established and a date set for the trial. However, the accused were not able to see their accusers. Instead three large petitions were presented filled with lies and slander against them. There was no real scrutiny of the accuracy of these accusations. In reality all they were really accused of was following their form of spirit-led worship, which was portrayed as a kind of evil sorcery and witchcraft. In addition, a large number of other unsubstantiated reports were brought against them. Two priests from Lancaster gave evidence about accusations that had heard at another trial where James and Francis had been cleared. This was done merely to pile on pressure against the defendants. However, through all this, they were upheld by the Love of God.

A Record of the Examination of James Nayler,
when tried for Blasphemy, at Appleby, in January 1652

Justice Pearson: Take off you hats.”

James Nayler: “I do not refuse to remove my hat because I have contempt for you. I accept the validity of the authorities but I will not show special respect for so-called ‘special persons’ because this is forbidden in the Bible. I believe that it is a sin to show special respect for certain individuals.”

Justice Pear: “this is about giving proper respect to people who have been given the responsibility of being judges.”

James Nayler: “If I gave preference to the rich and powerful over the poor and powerless, I would be guilty of partiality and this is evil.”

Colonel Brigs:If I were a member of Parliament in the House, would you still treat me in this way?”

James Nayler: “If God continues to teach me that this is right way to act, yes I would.”

Colonel Brigs: “I knew you would show contempt for authority.”

James Nayler: “I do not have contempt for authority but, for the sake of my conscience, I must be true to what God has taught me to do.”

Justice Pear: The law commands you to take off your hat, so will you not do so?”

James Nayler: “My position is that, when God tells me to do one thing and humans tell me to do something different, I will give priority to the authority of God over human authority.”

Colonel Benson. “I wonder whether this is really God’s command, or just your own will?”
The charge was read that James Nayler had claimed that “"Christ was in him and that there was but one word of God."

Colonel Brigs: Where were you born?

James Nayler: “At Ardsley which is two miles from Wakefield”.

Colonel Brigs: “How long did you live there?”

James Nayler: Until I was married; then I moved into the Parish of Wakefield”.

Colonel Brigs: “What was your profession?”

James Nayler: “I was a farmer”.

Colonel Brigs:Were you a soldier?”

James Nayler: Yes, I was a soldier for about eight or nine years.”

Colonel Brigs: “Where you at Burford with the Levellers?”

James Nayler: “No, I was never there.”

Colonel Brigs: “I charge you in God’s name to tell me if you were there or not!”

James Nayler: “At that time I was in the North and I was never charged with any mutiny or disloyalty which I was in the Parliamentary Army.”.

Colonel Brigs: ”What made you come to this area?”

James Nayler: “Let me speak and I will tell you. One day I was working at the plow, meditating on the things of God, and suddenly I heard a voice that said “‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house” (Genesis 12:1), and with this message I was also given a promise that made me rejoice. I had heard the voice of the God which I had believed in from my childhood but had never met before.”

Colonel Brigs: “Did you hear the voice of God?”

James Nayler: “Yes, I heard it and when I got home I decided to give up my land and my money. However, I then changed my mind and did not do what I had been commanded. This made very extremely ill and everyone thought I was going to die. However, after this, I became obedient and made preparations to leave even though I did not know where I was going. Then, shortly after this I was out walking with a companion from my household, in my old work clothes. I had no money on me and had not said goodbye to my Wife and my children. I was not expecting to go on a journey but I was told to go to the West. I did not know exactly where I was going to go or what I was going to do. After a little while, it became clear what I had to do and what I had to say. And since then, I have taken each day as it comes and been obedient to God’s guidance.

Colonel Brigs: “What was the promise that you received?”

James Nayler: “The promise was that God would always be with me and I have found that this promised has been kept every day.”

Colonel Brigs: “I have not heard of anything like this happening in these times.”

James Nayler: “I believe you.”

Justice Pear: “Is Christ in you?”

James Nayler: “I have experienced him within me and if I were to deny this to you, Christ would deny me before the Father in heaven.”

Justice Pear: “Do you mean that he is in you in spirit?”

James Nayler: “Yes, that’s what I mean. He is in me in spirit.” 

Justice Pear: “Is Christ in you by faith or by some other means?”

James Nayler: “Yes, Christ is in me by faith.”

Justice Pear: “How do you see the difference between you and the church clergy?”
James Nayler: “The clergy claim that Christ is in heaven with a physical body. I claim that Christ has a spiritual body.”

Justice Pear: “Which clergy claim that Christ is in heaven with a physical body?

James Nayler: “The so-called clergyman of Kirkby Stephen.”

Priest Higginson stood up, and confirmed this before the court.

James Nayler: “It is not logical to say that Christ is in heaven with a physical body whereas the saints are in heaven with a spiritual body. When the risen Christ appeared to his disciples he did not have a physical body. He passed through closed doors and appeared in a number of different forms.”

Question: “Was Christ a human or not?”

James Nayler: “Yes, he became a man and accepted his place among the people of Abraham. He was flesh and bone but it is more complicated than that because he was also divine. This is a mystery that physical men cannot understand. ‘The word of God became human and lived with us’ (John 1:14). If Christ had not been divine he would not have been able to win our redemption.

Justice Pear: “Is Christ within you as a physical man?”

James Nayler: “Christ is to be found everywhere. His divine nature and his human nature are not separate things.”

Justice Pear: “If we are going to discuss such matters, we really need the clergy here to advise us.”

James Nayler noticed that Priest Higginson seemed offended by his comments said, "Friend, I was not accusing you. I only said what I did because I was asked the question about the differences between the clergy and me. I am not here to accuse anyone. I am opposed to making such accusations.”

Colonel Brigs: “Were you not the member of a church in Sawrby?”

James Nayler: “I was a member of an Independent church at Woodkirk”.

Colonel Brigs: “Where you not excommunicated for your blasphemous views?”

James Nayler: “I am not aware of what has happened since I left the area. As far as I know I was not excommunicated.”

Colonel Brigs: called a Mr Coale and said “Have you ever hear of a man called in this way? Did you hear what he said?”

Mr Coale: “Yes, I heard part of it.”

Colonel Brigs: “Didn’t you write a paper which argued that anyone who thinks they are saved by the Jesus who died in Jerusalem is deceived?”

James Nayler: “If I cannot Know Christ as a presence nearer than Jerusalem, he cannot help me. Having said that, I know the same Christ who gave his witness before Pontius Pilate. I experience this Christ suffering within me now.”

Colonel Brigs: “Do you deny that you wrote this paper?”

James Nayler: “I will not deny things I have written. However, I would like to see the paper you mention, whether its contents go in my favour or against me,”#
A large petition was read that condemned quaking and trembling.

Justice Pears: “Why do your people quaker and tremble?”

James Nayler: The Bible tells us that holy people such as David, Daniel, Habakkuk, and many others trembled before the Lord.”

Justice Pears: “And did they fall down?”

James Nayler: Yes, some of them did.”

Mr Coale: “David said that all his bones were broken, but they were in one piece.”

James Nayler: “That is true for us now.”

Mr Coale: Moses and everyone in Israel trembled when they saw the face of God.”

James Nayler: “Did all of Israel see the face of God? That contradicts the Scriptures.”

Mr Coale: “Yes they saw God’s glory. I shall see the Lord with these eyes (putting his fingers to his eyes).”

James Nayler: “To do that they must first be transformed in the spirit. You cannot see God with physical eyes. God is spirit and the physical creature cannot see God and live.”

Mr Coale: “The light that justifies me is a created thing.”

James Nayler: “The light that justifies me is not a created thing.”

Mr Coale: “That is true.”

Justice Pears: “Do you accept that the Bible is the word of God?”

James Nayler: “The writings of the Bible are a true declaration of the Word of God. Because it was the Word of God that inspired them.”

Priest Higginson:Isn’t there a written word?”

James Nayler: “Where in the Bible does it state that there is a written Word? The Word is spiritual and cannot be seen by physical eyes. That said, I believe that the Bible is true and that it is fulfilled in me to the extent that the spirit is in me and based on the level of spiritual maturity I have reached.”

Justice Pears: Why do you disrupt the clergy when they are leading public worship?

James Nayler: “I have never disrupted the clergy when they are leading public worship.”

Justice Pears: Why do you argue against tithes, which are the law of the land?”

James Nayler: I do not interfere in matters of the state. I am opposed to priests who take money for preaching the gospel. Christ’s apostle never took payments from tithes. They were not paid a wage for preaching the gospel.”

Justice Pears: Do you think it reasonable to expect our ministers to work for no money? We think it reasonable to pay for this work.

James Nayler: “They are the ministers of Christ and so should live by the way of Christ.”

Justice Pears: “Who is to judge who is a true minister of Christ and who is not?”

James Nayler: “You will know them by their fruits. Those who do not live the way of Christ are clearly not the ministers of Christ.”

Justice Pears: “That is true.”


  1. Thanks for this, Stuart. I'm afraid I've not read it all in detail but I hope I've correctly understood that Fox and Nayler wrote a joint defence. What light does that shed on their subsequent falling-out, please?

    1. Hi Mark, yes this is a joint defence issued as a 'propaganda' piece designed to reveal the early suffering of Friends at the hands of the northern clergy/authorities. At this time, the movement was united and on the offensive. Fired up by the Spirit, Quaker ministers conducted a highly assertive campaign against the Anglican Church and made strongly prophetic statements to those in power. I am not sure what light it sheds on the later tensions between Fox and Nayler. My sense is that as early as 1656, a major division had emerged within the movement, between those who wanted to maintain the early prophetic position based on the unfettered inspiration of the Spirit (and in particular the proclamation that 'Christ is come to teach his peopel himself' and so there was no need for human teachers) and those who were keen to establish greater order and discipline in an attempt to manage Friends' public image and reduce persecution. Amongst his supporters, Nayler came to epitomize the latter position. He was viewed in a sense as the 'anti-leader' who would not place restrictions upon the actions or consciences of others. Fox and others became associated with the 'ordering' and 'public image' tendency. At this time, Quaker women began to experience some restrictions on their freedom to preach and write especially when this was in the form of ecstatic prophecy (e.g. Dorothy White, who was the second most prolific Quaker woman writer in 17th century was forced to print under her own name and using her own resources). The change enabled Friends to survive but it also had its costs. My view is that Quakers need both 'Foxes' and 'Nayler' so that a balanced creative tension is maintained between 'inspiration' and 'institution'. I hope that helps a bit. Shalom, Stuart.


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