Barclay, Robert of Ury, the eminent Quaker. was the son of Colonel David Barclay, and was born at Gordonstown, in Morayshire, Scotland, December 23, 1648. His elementary education over, he was sent to the Scotch college at Paris, where his uncle was rector, and there he imbibed a strong predilection for Romanism. His uncle offered to make him his heir if he would stay in France and enter the Roman Church; but, though his youthful imagination had been impressed by the splendid services of the church, he refused, and returned to England in 1664. It is said that even at this time (when he was only sixteen) he was an excellent scholar, and could speak in the Latin language with wonderful fluency and correctness. His father joined the Quakers in 1666, and his example was soon followed by his son, who thenceforward became an indefatigable propagator of their opinions both at home and in Holland. He gives an account of his change, in substance, as follows (in his Treatise on Universal Love), viz. that his 'first education fell among the strictest sort of Calvinists,' those of his country 'surpassing in the heat of zeal not only Geneva, from whence they derive their pedigree, but all the other so-called reformed churches;' that shortly afterward, his transition to France had thrown him among the opposite 'sect of papists,' whom, after a time, he found to be no less deficient in charity than the other; and that consequently he had refrained from joining any, though he had listened to several. The ultimate effect of this was to liberalize his mind by convincing him of the folly and wickedness of religious strife. In both Calvinists and Catholics he found an absence of 'the principles of love,' 'a straitness of doctrine,' and a 'practice of persecution,' which offended his idea of Christianity, as well as his gentle and generous nature. He therefore allied himself gladly to this new sect, whose distinguishing feature was its charity and pure simplicity of Christian life, and soon became one of its most devoted adherents and its ablest advocate. In the course of his life he made several excursions into England, Holland, and Germany, earnestly propagating his peaceful views wherever he went, and occasionally enjoying the companionship of William Penn." Barclay believed, as the Society of Friends now do, that divine revelation is not incompatible with right reason, yet he believed, as orthodox Friends also now do. that the faculty of reason alone, unassisted by divine illumination, is unable to comprehend or receive the sublime truths relative to that redemption and salvation which came by Jesus Christ. To show that the tenets held by the society were capable of a rational vindication, Barclay employed all the powers of his intellect, and produced a succession of works in explanation and defense of Quakerism. The first was Truth cleared of Calumnies (1670), especially in reply to Mitchell, a minister near Aberdeen, who reiterated his slanders in a pamphlet, which was answered by Barclay in his William Mitchell unmasked, etc. (Ury. 1671). Then followed an exposition of the doctrines and principles of the Quakers, bearing the title "A Catechism and Confession of Faith, approved of and agreed unto by the General Assembly of the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles, Christ himself chief Speaker in and among them; in which the answers are all given in the language of the Bible" (1675): translated into Latin, Catechismus et Fidei Cofessio Approbata, etc. (Rotterd. 1676, 8vo); The Anarchy of the Ranters (1676, 12mo); a Vindication of the same (1679); Theses Theologicae, comprising, in fifteen propositions, the doctrines maintained by the Quakers. This was sent abroad, in various languages, to the principal clergy of Europe, and was made the basis of Barclay's greatest work, Theologicae vere Christianae Apologia (Amsterd. 1676, 4to): translated into English, An Apology for the true Christian Divinity, etc. (London, 1678; often reprinted, and translated into German and other languages). The Apology was dedicated to King Charles II, and had the misfortune to receive the praise of Voltaire. "The leading doctrine which runs through the whole book is, that divine truth is made known to us not by logical investigation, but by intuition or immediate revelation; and that the faculty, if it can be technically defined, by which such intuition is rendered possible, is the 'internal light,' the source of which is God, or, more properly, Christ, who is the 'light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.' The identity of this doctrine with that held by Mr Maurice and others of the Broad Church in the present day has been more than once remarked." "Holy Writ," according to Barclay, "is a declaratio fontis, not the original source of knowing the truth; it is no adequate rule for doctrine and morals, though it gives a true and credible testimony to the original source of knowledge. It is subordinate to the Holy Spirit, from whom it derives its excellence. It is worthy of notice, that he argues for the subordination of Scripture to the inward light on the same grounds as Romanism pleads for the necessity of tradition. He points to the many contradictory interpretations of the Bible, which require a higher criterion, and asserts that this can only be found in the inward divine word. The subjective tendency, if carried out to its consequences, might lead to entirely giving up the objectivity of divine revelation" (Neander, History of Dogmas, 2:672). So able a book naturally gave rise to controversy, the assumption of inward light being supposed by many to set aside the superior authority of Scripture, and the denial of the perpetuity of baptism and the Lord's Supper occasioning a suspicion of infidelity. On this supposed tendency of the system it was acrimoniously attacked by John Brown, in a work to which he gave the title of "Quakerism the Pathway to Paganism." The Apology was also much canvassed in various seats of learning. Nicholas Arnold, a professor in the University of Franeker, wrote against it, and Barclay replied; and in the same year an oral discussion took place between some students in the University of Aberdeen on the one side, and the author, assisted by his friend George Keith, on the other.
"No part of the 'Apology' was controverted by so many opponents as that in which the necessity of an inward and immediate revelation was insisted upon. It was the only portion of the work which could be considered original. The other doctrines contained in it had all been maintained by abler defenders, their arrangement in the Quaker system of theology being the only point in which they differed from the Arminian scheme. None of the numerous publications in which this leading tenet of this new faith was attempted to be disproved called forth a reply from the writer; but having been requested by Adrian Paets, an ambassador from the court of the Netherlands, with whom he had some conversation on the principles of the Friends, to reconsider the strength of some objections which he had advanced against them, Barclay addressed him in Latin on the subject while he was in the prison at Aberdeen, reviewed his former arguments. and declared himself more convinced of their truth than he had ever been, in his treatise on Immediate Revelation (see below).
"The discipline or church government of the Society of Friends was as much defamed as their religious opinions. It could not be denied that in their forms of worship, of marriage, and of burial there was a wide departure from the customary ceremonial, and it was generally understood that the society carried its interference to a great extent in the private concerns of those who belonged to its communion. These regulations were vindicated by Barclay in a work wherein he contrasts the internal government of the Quakers with the anarchy of the Ranters and the hierarchy of the Romanists, justifying the discipline of his sect and defending its members 'from those who accuse them of confusion and disorder, and from such as charge them with tyranny and imposition.' The publication of this treatise engaged its author in a long altercation with some persons of his own persuasion, who took offense at various parts of it as tending to violate the rights of private judgment and to restrain the operations of the Spirit. Their opposition, being discountenanced by the society, soon passed away, and the work itself rose into such favor among the sect that its title was changed at one of its yearly meetings to A Treatise on Christian Discipline, and it became the standard authority on all matters to which it relates." In 1677 Barclay was imprisoned at Aberdeen, together with his father and many others, but was released at the instigation of Elizabeth, the princess palatine of the Rhine, who greatly favored him and William Penn. While in prison he wrote his Universal Love considered and established upon its right Foundation, etc. (London, 1677), a work breathing the purest spirit of Christian benevolence and peace. His last literary work was his Possibility and Necessity of the immediate Revelation of the Spirit of God
(1686, 8vo). He afterward enjoyed so high a reputation that in 1682 he was appointed governor of New Jersey, in America, by royal commission, liberty being granted to him of appointing a deputy, which he did, and never visited his government in person. He died October 13th, 1690, at his estate of Ury. — Penny Cyclopedia, s.v.; Chambers's Encyclopaedia, s.v.; Biographia Britannica; Allibone, Dictionary of Authors, 1:117; Collected Works of Robert Barclay, by Penn (London, 1692, fol., and 1718, 3 vols. 8vo); Short Account of the Life and Writings of R. Barclay (Lond. 1782, 12mo). SEE FRIENDS.