Isaac Penington

As Light Is Sown

Three Quaker converts writing during the English Restoration have left us with some especially articulate explanations of Inward Light. The first, whose writing apparently had little circulation or impact during his own lifetime, is Isaac Penington (1617-1679). William Penn (1644-1718) nowadays is more widely known for his governmental legacy and visions of religious tolerance. The third, whose masterpiece remains the cornerstone attempt at a systematic Quaker theology, is Robert Barclay (1648-1690). Unlike many early Friends, these three came with thorough intellectual training and were literate in an array of contemporary and ancient languages.

In joining Friends in 1658, shortly after James Nayler fell into scandal, Penington skillfully picked up on the Light metaphor. If Edward Burrough had been tiptoeing around it, fearing its controversial implications, Penington revels in his experience of it.

“Penington’s life as a Quaker covered the transition from enthusiasm to sobriety, and his prolific works included the…

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