Keith’s Anglo-Quakerism


Quakers in Choir-style Meeting

I wasn’t sure this brief examination of Rev. George Keith’s journal notes, with his advises on Church of England mission work to London, ought to be posted here or at the Anglomethodist. Though we see much affinity with Keith’s advises to Mr. Wesley’s General Rule, the ‘communtarian’ (monkish) aspects of the Quakers resonated with religious societies in general from the Puritans to those Anglican fellowships which flourished in the Restoration era.  Each sect possessed certain social rules that resembled the Quakers, and if we consider Quakerism to be a radical sect of Puritanism (or Congregationalism), then we can fathom a certain (perhaps remote) proximity to the former Establishment. Much is pragmatic and common-sense regarding these rules, but I thought it good to review Keith’s recommendations for Anglican mission, seeing much should be imitated for our time, as well as how cultural aspects of ‘holiness groups’ like Quakers might be incorporated into something like a national church.

In the early 1680’s George Keith, himself fairly educated and working as a tutor near Philedelphia, converted to Quakerism. Keith had a knack for preaching, but his stay with the Quakers didn’t last long. After disagreeing with elders regarding Quaker ‘inner light’, in 1691 Keith led about 500 people out of Quakerism, or 15 Quaker congregations. These people were pejoratively called “Keithites”, some keeping Quaker cultural habits (such as speaking in the King James language of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ as well as maintaining simple dress). The Keithites then split among themselves between parties that would worship with Anabaptists and those who followed Keith into the Anglican Church. In 1694 Keith traveled the Atlantic and was Ordained a presbyter in the Church of England before returning to America.

As a correspondent with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), Keith sent regular letters to London based on notes from his private journal regarding missionary details. He records the state of religion from town to town, region to region, the numbers and abodes of dissenting sects as well as lost sheep who lack the benefit of Church ministers. In turn, the SPG provided printed material, tracts and good books upon request, following the plan set forth by Dr. Bray for making parish libraries. The SPG also paid stipends for missionaries in America, filling the gap especially in portions of New York, Pennsylvania and New England where no establishment existed. SPG missionaries and correspondents were expected to periodically meet in conference for discussion, encouragement, and mutual help in their labors. These local conferences would eventually become the various state conventions in making the Protestant Episcopal Church– so the SPG looms large in our Episcopalian history.

Keith recommends the best remedy against the influence of Quakers in the colonies. First, Keith provides 24-points analyzing the strength of Quakerism. Most points deal with the Quakers’ speed to charity and mutual aid among brethren. I will list the more curious points, but in sum the Quakers were dutiful in contributing to a common stock of wealth which was used to spread and maintain their societies. Their preachers and elders were laity, and great numbers of their unlearned ministers could be called forth, as needed, to outward parts. Also, their meetings were frequent having both weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly gatherings. And, generously said, the Quakers kept a good government of tongue.

As mentioned before, lay-agency and common goods existed in both Puritan and even, to some extent, Anglican religious society. SPG reflected aspects of this activity with their work among their smaller meetings of lay-correspondents, seminarians, curates, and lower clergy– for sake of distributing free catechetical and other devotional material to Anglican people as well as the moral support between SPG agents by local conferencing. In fact, the methodists (if treated as organic to the English religious society milieu) would appropriate, in a rather direct manner, the Quarterly meetings from the Quakers, as done by the English circuit preacher, Mr. John Bennett. So, bits and portions of the Quaker organization either have precedent– belonging to an older, long-running milieu among Puritans– or they were being adopted elsewhere for the obvious advantages in binding together communities. However, the more sectarian or separatist element of their organization, which Keith found worthy of noting, is given below.

Starting with points- 4, 22, we see how the mutual care of members’ industry, or earning-power, likely complimented their regular tithing and offerings to common stock. Those brethren who were poor were helped by provisioning a means to improve their craft, typically increasing personal income. This made the Quakers relatively wealthy in Pennsylvania and, for a time, a de facto establishment. Also, in selling and buying, commerce between brethren had priority. Point 4:

& Point 22:

A related provision compelled Quakers to marry ‘in-group’. Obviously, this kept legacies and inherited wealth within the pale of their communion. But it also helped the stability of marriages by filtering-out the bright flame of romance and ultimately improper spouses. There were similar rules respecting marriage even for Anglican religious societies (at least, I’ve found early 18th century examples). So, the Friends knew the imperative of life-long marriages. Point 11:

Another observation transmitted by Keith was the education of the Quakers which probably greatly informed their ‘inner-light’. Not only did Quakers promote inexpensive book concerns, but at meetings they periodically read their Rules of Society to remind members the bounds of communion as well as discipline. The counterpart to such would be the reading of General Rules among Methodists at Conference or the annual reading of canons to the parish in the Reformed Church of England. Point 7.

A common understanding of belief and identity consequently permitted a wider breadth of missions. Keith complains the spread of Quakerism independent of its elders or preachers, reminding us the strong lay-agency often found within the radical Reformation. Point 21.

Though we skipped around quite a bit with Keith’s observations, it seems Keith felt even the ‘cultish’ or insular parts of Quakerism important enough to transcribe. After relaying these points, Keith then suggests a remedy under the heading “What means is there to put a stop the them?”  Keith recommends “using like ways and means above mentioned, such as are lawful, proper, and convenient”. He requests specific divinity works, among which is Thomas Ken’s Exposition on the Church Catechism and Leslie’s Snake in the Grass. Many of these titles were SPCK staples. Keith says,

Conclusion: It might profit us to study Keith’s advice. Most of his advice was within the scope and present-activity of the SPG/SPCK. But Keith urges frequent teaching of Anglican doctrine, the diligent use of the Prayer Book, and means to outward holiness (where he speaks of sincere Sabbath-Keeping). There is also much regarding apologetic works that’s worth our attention. Keith’s charge of ‘schism’ against the Quakers also indicates a genetic Anglicanism. His own dealings with the Quakers, besides the polemical, demonstrated how various sects, even holiness people, might be persuaded to the bounds of the Church. And, in this case, the Keithites continued in their modest attire and, even some, their manner of speech (and likely preference in Trade) while accepting the doctrine of the King’s religion. The Rev. Keith was an active agent of SPG, and perhaps some of his proposals filtered their way into English religious societies?

One response to “Keith’s Anglo-Quakerism

  1. Another era but kinish to the Keithites. If this can be related to the national church, then you’ve solved #AmNat.

    If not Primitive Methodists, then try Quaker Methodists as a salve for frontier-American dissenting tradition.— Charles Bartlett (@CharlesBartlet2) November 2, 2019

    Liked by 1 person

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