The Historic Quaker Peace Testimony

Narrative context and excerpts provided by Eleanor Harris

Brief context with excerpts from: A Declaration from the harmless and innocent people of God, called Quakers

The first corporate statement of what has been called the Quaker Peace Testimony was a declaration to Charles II, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This was written in 1660 and signed by George Fox and 11 other Quakers. The purpose of this document was to ask for the end to persecution of Quakers who were suspected of plotting to overthrow Charles II because they refused to fight. The statement of non-participation in “outward wars” was stated in the declaration thusly:

Our principle is, and our Practice have always been, to seek peace and ensue it and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and welfare and doing that which tends to the peace of all.  . . . All bloody principles and practices, we . . . do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.

They further testified to their deep understanding of the spirit of Christ. Their use of the term “outward weapons” intentionally distinguished opposition to violent conflict, in other writings, from inner spiritual struggle and outward non-violent actions against the ways of the world which conflicted with God’s natural order. They were not passive but non-violent resisters.

 That the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing [killing] as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.

The early Quakers were living in a country which had been embroiled in two English Civil Wars during their lifetime. Within 15 years of this declaration King Charles I was beheaded, the monarchy was replaced by the Commonwealth of England led by Oliver Cromwell, and the monarchy returned with Charles II as King. Fights over religious supremacy (Anglican, Presbyterian, or Catholic) were intertwined with the fights over governance. Quakers took seriously the call to establish the Kingdom of God on earth to replace the rulers of the world. As in Jesus’ time, the use of the word “kingdom” was not about God ruling like a king but the term served as an affront to worldly kings who asserted their divine right to rule.

And as for the kingdoms of this world, we cannot covet them, much less can we fight for them, but we do earnestly desire and wait, that by the Word of God’s power and its effectual operation in the hearts of men, the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ, that he may rule and reign in men by his spirit and truth, that thereby all people, out of all different judgements and professions may be brought into love and unity with God, and one with another, and that they may all come to witness the prophet’s words who said, ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ (Isa.ii.4; Mic.iv.3)

Quakers were looked upon with suspicion of treason in each change of governance because they would not take up arms. This was their plea for understanding and fair treatment of Quakers.

O friends offend not the Lord and his little ones, neither afflict his people, but consider and be moderate, and do not run hastily into things, but mind and consider mercy, justice, and judgement; that is the way for you to prosper and get the favour of the Lord. Our meetings were stopped and broken up in the days of Oliver, in pretence of plotting against him; and in the days of the Parliament and Committee of Safety we were looked upon as plotters to bring in King Charles, and now we are called plotters against King Charles. . .  We have suffered all along because we would not take up carnal weapons to fight withal against any, and are thus made a prey upon because we are the innocent lambs of Christ and cannot avenge ourselves.

Though their property was taken from them, their meetings outlawed, and they were put in prisons with horrendous conditions, they did not inflict violence on their captors but offered forgiveness. 

And for this cause and no evil doing, are we cast into holes, dungeons, houses of correction, prisons, they sparing neither old nor young, men or women, and just sold to all nations and made a prey to all nations under pretence of being plotters, so that all rude people run upon us to take possession. For which we say, ‘The Lord forgive them that have thus done to us,’ who doth and will enable us to suffer. And never shall we lift up a hand against any man that doth thus use us, but that the Lord may have mercy upon them, that they may consider what they have done.