Despite two decades (and more) of conservative suppression, radical Quakerism lived on over the ages thanks to pamphlets like Nayler’s.

Editor’s Note

Anthony Comegna, PhD

Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

The Quakers were not your average Protestants. Like Anne Hutchinson in the Americas, they believed themselves “above ordinances.” That is, they thought each individual possessed an “inward light” given them by God which superseded any connections between ourselves and the material world. Those who followed their inner lights had no need of clergy, nor kings, nor parliaments, for that matter. Quakers were famous for taking every conceivable opportunity to extend the revolutionary promise of turning the world upside down. Quakerism was a bit of a mish‐​mash movement anyways–it combined earlier traditions of Ranting, Seeking, Digging, and Leveling into a broader, deeper religious movement. As a political program, Leveling ground to a halt while Cromwell rose in power but the more overtly spiritual tasks of ranting, seeking, and even digging continued on. Across the land, Quaker “preachers” railed against the ministry and wrote ranting screeds like Nayler’s on the Lamb’s War; they sought to probe and stoke the inner lights of others in public displays and performances; they paraded themselves naked through public specifically to shock the delicate Puritan out of his hypocrisy; they refused to respect traditional social divisions and scandalized English society by wearing hats during prayer; they heckled Anglican and Puritan ministers and when Cromwell outlawed the heckling, the Quakers kept on at it. They suffered persecution of the spirit and the flesh to positively demonstrate what all of history seemed erected to obscure: God is no respecter of persons. Not even his loyal lamb, James Nayler.

After Nayler died, the Quaker movement began to stray from its radical roots. It became institutionalized to a significant degree. In the 1660s, Fox began a quiet counterrevolution to tame his flock. He instituted hierarchical, censorial rules for meeting‐​houses like the system of certifying members for approval to change or begin new ministries. Fox divided the sexes into separate meetings and began to suggest a sort of Quaker catechism. For a people born “above ordinances” and man‐​made moral rules, their leaders were making more and more of them as time went on. By the 1680s, the decades‐​long internecine war between radical antinomians and conservative dissenters settled in favor of the new “Quaker ruling class.” In both Englands, Old and New, William Penn‐​style “weighty Friends” now controlled the movement and craved widespread respectability. Their investments in global commerce were backed by the imperial navy, their bottom lines supported at every step by the labor of enslaved millions, and their vast landholdings were worked by mostly unfree people desperate for a chance at lasting comfort. As people like Nayler died, radical antinomianism almost died with them–but it did survive into the modern period, thanks in part to the writings left behind.

Nearly a century after Nayler, while traveling in southeastern Pennsylvania, you may well have stumbled upon a cave. In the cave, you would have found not a trace of moral taint–it would have been strewn with homespun cloth (not cotton) and while there might be some honey and milk to ease your hunger, you could find no slave‐​made sugar to put pep in your step. There you might have found a most unusual man. This Benjamin Lay was deeply touched by Nayler’s vision of the Lamb’s War and God’s charge that man fight evil right here in this life, right now. To Lay, Satan’s earthly minions were all those forces which created suffering, but most especially the institution of human slavery. “Primitive Quakers” like Nayler inspired Benjamin Lay, “the Quaker dwarf who became the first revolutionary abolitionist,” and in time–at least–the first phase of their Lamb’s War seems to have been successful.

London: Printed for Thomas Simmons. 1657.

The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin

What his kingdom is. (Continued)

Can you live at ease, and in your pleasures and profits, and cover yourselves with worldly glory, while Christ Jesus is glorified in his temples with mockings, stockings, stonings, whippings, and all manner of evil entreatings? cast into holes, pits, and dungeons? having none on earth to take his part, nor plead his righteous cause, nor once to take notice of his innocent sufferings? but who as will may tread down his precious life, in the open streets, without resisting; and this for no other thing but for testifying against the deeds of the world, that they are evil, the pride and oppression, false ways, and false worships, never set up by him, but in the will of man, and so maintained against him, which he must judge with a contrary appearance, ere he come to his kingdom? And do you suffer with him herein, who have a heart consenting to these things? if not a hand deeply in them, secret or open, either in this cruelty acting, or contriving, or in cursed and scornful speeches, condemning such as bear this witness as a foolish ignorant people, and that they bring these sufferings upon themselves by their own wills: and so shoot your poisoned arrows, one way or other, against that Spirit which leads, and hath ever led such as do not resist and disobey him, into the same testimony; and so in secret you become worse than open persecutors.

Or it may be some few be come as far as Pilate, who washed his own hands, while others shed the innocent blood, and these are few indeed, who thus far will openly confess the just and innocent one, before his accusers, in what vessel he is thus honored.

But will the best of this stand in judgment, as sufferers with him? Or will he know you at his appearance, by this mark? Are these his steps you follow? Or is this his image, or power, war or weapons? Will this suffering bring you to reign with him? Or he in you, to your peace? Or will this cross crucify you to the world, and the world to you? Do you walk as he walked, or hath he left you such example to follow? Search the Scriptures, and read the life of them, and your own lives, with the light of Christ Jesus, and cease to blaspheme any longer, in saying you are Christians, while in Christ you are not, but in a contrary spirit, and contrary life. And your fellowship is not with him in suffering, but with them by whom he suffers.

Were ever Christians at their ease and worldly delights, while Christ hath not where to rest his head, thrust out of your meeting places, towns, and markets, and every assembly, if he do but testify against the evil thereof? Are you asleep in the world, and doth it not awaken you, to see or hear how sudden a return that bloody spirit hath made, lately in part cast out? and with what power he is now entering, like to exceed sevenfold, what he hath this many generations, making daily havoc of the lambs? Is it a time for you to riot in, to satisfy your lusts, to eat and drink, and arise and play, and spend your time and strength (many of you) so as modest heathen would blush at; and then say, you are Christians, and suffer with Christ? Surely were you members of that body, or sensible of his sufferings herein, you would not add thereto a greater weight, nor join to his adversary the devil, whose works these are; but on the Lord’s part everyone up and be armed in the light, with the armor of the Lamb (as before mentioned) to withstand these and other the temptations of his enemy, and in sufferings witness against them. Do you not daily read of such a testimony in the Scriptures, borne against the murderer by the Lamb?

How long shall it be ere the life of what you profess be seen in the face of your conversation, teachers and people? When will you teachers approve yourselves as the ministers of God, and sufferers with Christ (as saith the Scripture which you profess), “in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes above measure, in prisons frequently, in deaths often, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in hunger, in fastings oft, in cold and nakedness, in poverty, in longsuffering, and love unfeigned, in honor and dishonor, in evil reports and good reports, as deceivers, as unknown, sorrowing, chastened, poor, having nothing, yet coveting no man’s money, making it your reward to keep the gospel without charge?” and much more of this self‐​denying nature which is the armor of righteousness the ministers of Christ put on, and with such weapons they went out to fight with beasts and belly‐​gods, false prophets, greedy dogs, hirelings, and all sorts that went after the error of Balaam for wages, gifts, or rewards: and by these marks of Christ they were ever to be known from Baal’s priests and such as the world called and set up in the will of man: and in the Spirit of Christ did openly war against them, with the sword of his mouth, and do to this day, even to the day of judgment. In whom the Scriptures are fulfilled, which cannot be broken.

Now why will you not measure yourselves with this measure, seeing this only is sealed to all generations of God’s ministers (witness the Scriptures)? Nay, why are you so exceedingly blind, and wicked above measure, that if you be found in the contrary nature, life, and practice, and God send some to warn you thereof, and hold forth the Lamb’s testimony against you, you presently suffer the evil one to get up in you, and in rage and madness (not minding this to be obedience to God in them, and his love and faithfulness to your souls) seek to cast some of these things before‐​mentioned upon them; and so your revenge turns to their double honor, and doubles a witness against yourselves, to your own condemnation, and that you have not the Spirit of Christ in you. And some of you exceed in this, above your forefathers; for whom the lambs of God have a lamentation. Yet must God be justified when he comes to judgment; for you will be found far off the suffering with Christ, though with your lips you honor him.

Surely he that hath a living conscience may much admire how you get over these scriptures in your teaching of others, and not to wound yourselves, or pierce your hearts with fear, and your faces with blushing, who are found so absolute in contradiction thereto, in conversation; and unlike in your lives, in the sight of every open eye. Or how you can muzzle your consciences while you pass your prayers, that your own mouth doth not devour you? It’s no wonder why you are such enemies to the light within: “every one that doth evil hateth the light.”

And you hearers of all sorts, how long will it be ere you hearken what the Lord saith to your souls, who is no respecter of persons? but everyone that bears not the image of his Son in well‐​doing, he hates, though with Cain you sacrifice, or with Esau you pray with tears. That with the light of Christ in your own hearts you may see how the world’s lusts have spoiled your souls of that heavenly image, and hath captivated your minds into its self and likeness; and how you lie dead in sin, covered with earth, and daubed over with the words of men. Oh that you would awake before wrath awake you, and put on the armor of God, not relying any longer on men that beat the air, to fight your battles, against him who is got into your hearts; but that yourselves, as soldiers of Christ, may all come to use the spiritual weapons against the spiritual wickedness exalted in the temple of God, so that you can neither see nor serve God therein, being filled with wicked and worldly cumbrances.

That’s the spiritual weapons which captivates every thought to the obedience of Christ, and this is the true warfare, and is mighty through God to cast down the strongholds of the man of sin in you; “and having in readiness to revenge all disobedience,” knowing that he that will not be led by the Spirit of God is for condemnation. And only these weapons are effectual to cleanse the heart of all that exalts against the life and knowledge of God, and to make way for his appearance, which no man’s words who is in the same evils hath power to do; for this power is only in Christ, his light and life. And only blessed are they who feel and find this treasure working in the earthen vessel; such shall approve their own work to God and have praise thereof, not of men. So should you come to see what others have said in Scripture, concerning “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and savingly feel the power of his cross, of his death and resurrection, and the everlasting purity of his life, and that eternal love the Father bears thereto; an everlasting inheritance to all who learn him, and attain his appearance, whose beauty is blessed forever.

Called, chosen, and faithful are the servants and subjects of Christ’s kingdom, in whom at this day he maintains war against the prince of this world, the beast, and his seat, with the false prophet, and all that serve under his dominion and obey his laws he hath set up.

Now you that cry, “The kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ”: see that it be truth in you, and that you lie not within yourselves. The Lamb’s war you must know, before you can witness his kingdom, and how you have been called into his war, and whether you have been “faithful and chosen” there or no. He that preaches the kingdom of Christ in words, without victory, is the thief that goes before Christ. So take heed that your own words condemn you not; but mind your calling and how you have answered, and whether you have been faithful in that whereunto you have been called, the war. Christ hath a war with his enemies, to which he calls his subjects to serve him therein against all the powers of darkness of this world: and all things of this old world, the ways and fashions of it will he overturn; and all things will he make new which the god of this world hath polluted, and wherewith his children have corrupted themselves, and do service to the lust, and devourer; this the Lamb wars against, in whomsoever he appears, and calls them to join to him herein, in heart and mind, and with all their whole might: and for that end he lights his candle in their hearts, that they may find out every secret evil that the man of sin hath there treasured up, even to every thought and intent of the heart, to cast out the enemy with all his stuff, and to subject the creature wholly to himself, that he may form a new man, a new heart, new thoughts, and a new obedience, in a new way, in all things therein to reign, and there is his kingdom.

Now many are called to this war, but few are chosen and faithful. They that are faithful in their calling, them he chooses, and in them he reigns, & with them he makes war against his enemies on every side, under what color soever they appear; if they be not subjects to him, all in whom he reigns are at war with them in Christ, and the sword of his Spirit he hath put into their hand, his word into their mouths, whereby they are at wars with all the world, and the world with them; and he that’s faithful will make no peace nor agreement; neither will he bow nor yield agreement till there be a subjection to Christ. These are faithful to him that hath called them.

So you that are much in words, prove your own selves; if you be in his kingdom or of his subjects: then are you at work with him in this his day, wherein he is coming “in thousands of his saints, to take vengeance” into his hands and inflict it upon his enemies.

Now you who are asleep and at ease in the flesh are not of his kingdom; for by suffering in the flesh doth he make war, and slays the man of sin.

You that are at peace in the world’s ways and fashions, invented and maintained by the man of sin, you are not in his kingdom; for he hath given an alarm against all those things which hath caused the dragon to whet his teeth, and all the devouring spirits are stirred up, their lord’s kingdom to defend, every one with such weapons as they have, against the Lamb in his kingdom, in what vessel soever he reigns; and he is but one in all his, against all these.

Now you that are making peace where these things are upholden, you are false‐​hearted and betray the Lamb, as that of God in you shall witness; you are at peacemaking with his enemies.

But say you, God is love, and we are commanded to love all, and seek peace with all, &c.

I say, is God’s love in you otherwise than he hath ever been in Christ and all his saints, whom the world ever hated, whom God loved, & in whom he testified against the world unto death, and unto bonds and persecution? was not they in God’s love? Did not they keep his commandments? Will you take their words in your mouths and condemn their lives by your practices?

The Lamb’s quarrel is not against the creation, for then should his weapons be carnal, as the weapons of the worldly spirits are: “For we war not with flesh and blood,” nor against the creation of God; that we love; but we fight against the spiritual powers of wickedness, which wars against God in the creation, and captivates the creation into the lust which wars against the soul, and that the creature may be delivered into its liberty prepared for the sons of God. And this is not against love, nor everlasting peace, but that without which can be no true love nor lasting peace.

Love to God and man constrains us to be faithful in this war. Nor is God love to that seed of bondage, nor did he ever command you to seek the peace of it: “for the love of the world is enmity with God,” as saith the Scripture.

And were you not fallen into self‐​love, which is utterly blind (as to the love of God), you would see a great difference between the creature and that which keeps the creature in bondage and out of the love of God. Can you love that, & not hate the creature, and God also? This all that fight in the Lamb’s battles knows, who are in the true love. Doth not the spirit of pride, gluttony, drunkenness, pleasures, envy and strife, keep that in bondage which thou shouldst love by the command of God? Doth not the creature groan to be delivered from the vanity, customs and fashions of this generation? Is not the whole time of man taken up in service of the lust and invention which the man of sin hath found out: inventions in meats and drinks, inventions in apparel, inventions in worships, in sports and pleasures, &c.? Is not the whole creation captivated under this spirit of whoredom, and so man’s whole life spent in vain? So that men and women come into the world and depart out of it again, as though they were made for no other end but for vanity and selfishness: scarce one of ten thousand knows any call from God to any service for him, or hath an ear to hear that voice; but if any do hear and obey, they all conclude him deceived, and are ready to devour him, because he testifies against these evils which destroy men’s souls, and makes void man’s service to his creator, and devours the creation.

And can you love this spirit, bow and conform to it, or suffer it to reign in yourselves or your brethren, and you be silent under a pretense of seeking love and peace, and obeying God’s command, and boast in high words about Christ’s kingdom, counting it a low and foolish thing in such as faithfully and zealously bear their testimony for God, and against these evils? And will not God find you out, and your deceit and unfaithfulness in your generation; shall not God break your peace and disannul your covenant you are making with the world to settle yourselves in ease and pleasure; and bring you out with true judgment, where it shall be seen what nature your love is of, whose kingdom you are in, and whom you love and serve?

The day is dawned, and the sun is risen to many, that shall not set, nor shall he cease his course, until he have rightly divided between the precious seed and the children of whoredoms and deceit. And now the holy seed is called forth to appear in its color against the man of sin, and with “the sword of his mouth doth he make war,” and “with the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning” doth he consume the filthy and unclean spirits. And all that are faithful have their armor on, ready day and night to follow the Lamb, as he moves, counting nothing hard to undergo, so as they may but have hopes of reconciliation betwixt God and the creature that is fallen to the prince of the world, and led captive at his will. And this is love indeed to lay down all for such as are yet enemies.

Go on and prosper in the name of the Lord, and in righteousness make war; and all that are zealous for truth and purity shall say Amen. But the slothful, the lukewarm, and all unclean persons shut themselves out, as not for this work, nor worthy to be counted faithful nor chosen.

Perilous times are come; now is the earth and the air corrupted and filled with violence and deceit, ungodliness abounds everywhere, Satan is loosed and gone forth to deceive, multitudes of spirits are sent abroad, and have power given to enter all that dwell in the earth, who inhabit in dark places, who loves not the light; woe to the world, woe to all who have treasured up wickedness in themselves, for now will Satan seek to his own, and his vessels will be filled, filled with wrath, filled with pride, filled with lust, covetousness, and all manner of unrighteousness; the fulness of the Gentiles is at hand, and every bottle must be filled, that the Potter may dash them one against another. Woe to the drunken nation whose vomit is in the streets, streets filled with pride, filled with oppression and deceit, lying, swearing and cursed speaking, vomits out openly and not ashamed, vanity and folly is become a glory, wickedness shines, it exceeds in boldness, it’s not found in a corner but in the broad places of the streets, so that none can look out without danger of letting in the devil. Oh what is now to be seen in the world in which there is not a temptation? so that no safety is to him that looks out, for sin lies at the door ready to enter: woe to every city that’s without a watchman, these are the perilous times when every house is beset with danger, these are the evil days, the last times wherein iniquity abounds. And now where the watchman is blind (enemies to the light), that house will be filled with evil spirits; legions of devils may enter and inhabit in darkness, proud spirits, lying spirits, dissembling spirits, flattering spirits, deceitful spirits of all sorts, and those being got in, works in the vessel according to their several natures, the works of their father, holding forth his image to all that look out, tempting to get into others to enlarge his kingdom, and so the wanton look comes to be deceived, lust looks out, and pride calls and holds out an object to the eye, which being let in, it conceives within, and grows till it be able to bring forth of its own, and become a tempter to others, so vanity calls out of the devil’s treasury to all that pass by, spiritual whoredom cries aloud in the open streets to entice the simple and defile the virgin with eagerness, seeking to pollute the chaste spirit and corrupt the mind from God; now these are the perilous times wherein simplicity is taken in the snares of subtlety. Oh what baits are laid out, where the strong man keeps the house within; with an impudent face hath the adulterous mind set herself to deceive, enticements to the eye, words of witchcraft to ear; where Satan hath got a head, how doth he open his mouth in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit & its fruits of humility and purity and godliness, plainness & truth, blaspheming the holy truth of Scriptures, turning them against these fruits, and to plead for that which destroys these fruits and brings forth contrary fruits? what pleading for pride from Scripture, for respect of persons, for false worships, for covetousness, for excess and riot, for all deceitful dealings, and works of the flesh from Scriptures? the deceitful worker having through subtlety got the words of Scripture to destroy the life thereof, and set up a life contrary thereto as though they now allowed what they formerly condemned; and thus the whore holds forth a gilded cup, but filled with abomination and filthy lust.

And this is done with such craft as it is impossible for any who go out from the light within, to lend either eye or ear to that without, to escape the snare and not to have that which should be for their welfare turned into a trap, by that spirit which where it enters turns all the mercies of God into lasciviousness, as it is at this day in all where he is entered. How is riches become a trap to the rich to captivate them into pride, idleness and vanity. How is Dives’ table become a snare to captivate into all excess and wantonness and harden them against the lowly and meek; this is the greatest of curses, and it now abounds and seeks to enter and spread. How is trading become a trap to captivate men into deceitful dealing, and vain customs and fashions to serve the adulterous eye and vanity, so that not one trade amongst many, wherein a just plain man who is come to yea and nay, and cannot serve the vanity of the eye and the pride of life, can live; but if he will keep his conscience pure he must become a prey; these are evil times indeed. Where can the innocent go out and not a trap laid to bring him into bondage and slavery to some of these spirits, to captivate the conscience, or deceive the simplicity? What traps in laws which should defend the simple, traps in courts, traps in teachers, yea what is it wherein there is not the snare of the fowler to him that goes out? Wherefore now he alone is blessed who looks not out for a guide, who lends not an ear to the wicked, nor walks in the counsels of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, but delights in the light of Christ to exercise his mind day and night, the only shall escape these perilous times and not be polluted; his city shall be safety who stands on his watch, his house shall not be filled with thieves, these evil spirits shall not lodge there; they are prepared for darkness and have power in them that hate the light.

Watching in the light with diligence, faithfulness and patience, keeps the enemy out, and kills that of his seed that is within, where it is not wholly dead, while the root of pride & lust is within, it is fed by fetching in of its own without, but the faithful watch, suffers him no passage out nor in, and so he that watches for iniquity is cut off, and the seed of the evildoer is kept in captivity, and the devil cannot come to relieve his own; so “if a man’s enemies be them in his own house” (as it is with all till they be dead and buried), yet a faithful watch in the light will keep from being betrayed therewith, though the tempter with all his wiles and subtlety seek to draw out the mind, that he may come into his own, yet in the light he cannot enter; he that dwells in the light dwells in God and hath immortality for his defense, and who feels the power of meekness, truth, peace, love, patience, and holds this in his mind and heart, and will not be tempted from it, he holds the head; this is he that is given of the Father to be head to the church that is in God who dwells in the light, he is head over all principalities and powers and all spiritual wickedness, this is the savior and that name and nature to which “every knee must bow, and every tongue confess,” he that puts on truth and righteousness puts on immortality and eternal life, and freedom; this is our house from heaven, and hath power to save upon earth, and to take us up to heaven, to be with God forever, in whom is the kingdom, power and glory over all, blessed forevermore.


For the original text in full, see the Quaker Heritage Press.

Further Reading: Marcus Rediker, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Boston: Beacon Press. 2017.