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Robert Barclay (1648-1690)

Robert Barclay was born into a gentry family at Gordonstown in Scotland. Educated partly in Paris, Barclay was converted to quakerism in 1667 and married the quaker Christian Mollison in 1670. Barclay was an extremely effective champion of the quaker cause. His most famous work was Apology for the true Christian Divinity, as the same is set forth and preached by the people called in scorn Quakers published in Amsterdam in 1676. This book is regarded as the classic statement of quaker principles and a brilliant theological work.

Barclay suffered persecution for his beliefs including imprisonment in 1672. While travelling through Europe in 1676 he heard of the incarceration of his father and thirty other quakers. Barclay tried to obtain their release by securing a letter from Elizabeth, Princess Palatine, to her brother Prince Rupert but was unsuccessful and was himself imprisoned in November 1676, which confinement lasted five months.

After his release, Barclay joined George Fox and William Penn in a visit to Germany. By 1679, he was starting to enjoy favour at court and in 1683 Barclay joined other quakers as a proprietor of the new North American province of East New Jersey. The constitution of the province was designed to promote religious toleration and provide refuge for the persecuted. Barclay was appointed nominal governor.

Barclay died at his ancestral home of Ury near Aberdeen on 3 October 1690.

John Wesley was very impressed by Barclay's Apology of 1676 and in 1741 published an abstract under the title Serious Considerations on Absolute Predestination (Bristol: S. and F. Farley, 1741). This became an important publication in the context of the Wesleys' conflict with Calvinist evangelicals led by George Whitefield and was reprinted several times.

Source: Dictionary of National Biography and A Biographical Dictionary of 18th century Methodism by Samuel Rogal (Edwin Mellen Press 1997)

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