Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Edward Burrough: desolation and consolation

I plan to say much in this blog on Douglas Gwyn (1995) The Covenant Crucified (Quaker Books).  First off I want to blog about Edward Burrough, whom Gwyn associates with a particular sort of spirituality.

Edward Burrough (1634–1663) was one of the early Quaker preachers and missionaries known to history as the Valiant Sixty.  As a controversialist he locked horns with John Bunyan.  Sadly, this memorable man died young while imprisoned for his faith.  Gwyn (1995; pp 102-106) cites a tract by Burrough, A Trumpet of the Lord Sounded Forth in Sion (1655) as expressing a spirituality of desolation, which a state of disillusionment, despair and purification which radicalised his social vision.  In the tract, Burrough upbraids everyone not a Quaker, not just the established powers such as Protector Cromwell or the judges, but also other radical religious groups such as the Anabaptists, Seekers and Ranters.  The tract ends by identifying the Church of England with the Beast of the Book of Revelations.  Gwyn admits that Burrough's denunciations of the various radical groups are by no means fair but that Burrough offers a fully apocalyptic vision fusing inward annihilation with an aggressive challenge to society. 

Gwyn sees the tract as expressing a spirituality of desolation.  Desolation in spiritual or theological terms means a turning away from God, whereas its opposite, consolation, is a turning towards God.  It is for consideration whether Burrough, after experiencing the anguish and desolation expressed by A Trumpet, turned his face towards God and found consolation.  This thought is prompted by the following from Burrough in Quaker Faith & Practice (4th edition; 23:11):
We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other … but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound.

Burrough's statement, which comes from his tract, To the present distracted and broken nation of 1659, is one of the early statements of the Society of Friends' corporate witness setting out the basic principles of the peace testimony and serving to distinguish Quakers from those suspected of plotting to overthrown the established authorities.  To adopt Gwyn's terminology, Burrough moved from a position of desolation in his tract of 1655 to one of consolation in 1659, of moving away from despair towards God, peace and hope.  In other words, the active radicalism of The Lamb's War was very short-lived and the Quakers, including their most vociferous spokesman, quickly moved to a quietist position confining themselves to passively resisting persecution. This early change, from desolation and rebelliousness to consolation and quietism, hints at how Quakers should treat politics today.

No comments:

Post a Comment