The following brief account of the Author of the Apology, may not be uninteresting to the reader. It will tend to show that the tenour of his life corresponded with the holiness of his profession. It will also evince the high estimation in which his character and writings were held by his cotemporaries of the same religious faith. The truth of this last circumstance, has been called in question by some who have endeavoured to misrepresent the acknowledged faith of the Society, of which he was a bright and conspicuous ornament.
Robert Barclay was born at Gordonstown, in the shire of Murray, in Scotland, the 23d of December, (the then tenth month,) 1648. He was the son of David Barclay, of whom Robert testifies, that he was a favoured and valuable Friend, and made a happy end. See Barclay's Works in folio, page 907.
Robert received the rudiments of his education in his native country, and having attended the best schools there, he was sent to the Scots' College at Paris, of which his uncle Robert was rector. Here he made so great proficiency in his studies, as to gain the notice and praise of the masters of the college. In compliance with his mother's dying request, his father went to Paris, and returned with him home in 1664, when he was about sixteen years of age. His father, during his ab- sence, had embraced the principles of the Society of Friends, and Robert, when he had attained to the age of nineteen, being convinced of the truth of these principles, did not hesitate openly to profess them, and soon became a public advocate in what he believed to be the cause of truth; cheerfully submitting to the indignities and imprisonments which were often the lot of our early Friends. In his youth, and even in childhood, he appears to have been favoured with the visitations of Divine love, by the tendering influence of which, he was fitted and prepared for the duties he was afterwards called to perform. For a particular account of these early religious impressions, the reader is referred to the Introduction to his treatise on Universal Love; and to the 7th section of the XIth Proposition of this work, pages 353-357.
Among his other extensive labours, it may be stated, that in 1677, he accompanied George Fox, William Penn, and other Friends, in a religious visit to Holland, a service in which they were much united, as appears by George Fox's Journal, Vol. II. pages 235, 237.
In 1686, by the solicitation of George Fox and other Friends, he came up to London, and remained there some time, actively employed in various ways on behalf of the Society.
In 1690, he accompanied James Dickinson, in a religious visit to some parts of the north of Scotland, and soon after his return to his own house at Ury, he was seized with a fever, which in a short time put a period to his useful life, on the 3d of 8th mo. (now the 10th mo.) in his forty-second year.
The estimation in which his character and writings were held by George Fox, who, in the Divine hand, was greatly instrumental in the founding and settlement of the Society of Friends, will appear from the following short, but comprehensive testimony, prefixed to the folio edition of Robert Barclays works; which being now rarely to be met with, the testimony is copied entire; trusting that the reader will not be so fastidious as to contemn the simplicity of style of this eminent and faithful servant.
"A testimony concerning our dear brother in the Lord, Robert Barclay, who was a wise and faithful minister in Christ, and writ many precious books in the defence of the Truth, in English and Latin, and after translated into French and Dutch. He was a scholar and a man of great parts, and underwent many calumnies, slanders and reproaches, and sufferings, for the name of Christ: but the Lord gave him power over them all. He travelled often up and down Scotland, and in England, and in Holland, and Germany, and did good service for the Lord: and was a man of repute among men, and preacht the everlasting Gospel of Christ freely, turning people from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. And his father was a noble man for the Lord and his truth, and died in the Lord. And after, when his son Robert had fulfilled his ministry and finished his testimony, he also died in the Lord, and is blessed, and at rest, and ceased from his labours, and his works follow him. Much more might be written concerning this faithful brother in the Lord, and pattern in the church of Christ; who was a man I very much loved for his labour in the truth: but I shall leave the rest to his countrymen; and the Lord raise up more faithful labourers in Christ Jesus, to stand in his place, and preserve his tender wife and children in the truth. Amen.
The 13th of 9th mo. (now the 11th mo.) 1690."
William Penn, in his excellent Preface to Robert Barclay's works, speaking of the Apology, says, "The book shows so much for us and itself too, that I need say the less; but recommend it to thy serious perusal, Reader, as that which may be instrumental, with God's blessing, to inform thy understanding, confirm thy belief, and comfort thy mind about the excellent things of God's kingdom."
From the testimonies of George Fox, William Penn, Patrick Livingston, and Andrew Jaffrey, men who knew him well; and from his life and writings; the following character of Robert Barclay is faithfully delineated.
"He was distinguished by strong mental powers, particularly by great penetration, and a sound and accurate judgment. His talents were much improved by a regular and classical education. It does not, however, appear that his superior qualifications produced that elation of mind, which is too often their attendant: he was meek, humble, and ready to allow others the merits they possessed. All his passions were under the most excellent government. Two of his intimate friends, in their character of him, declare, that they never knew him to be angry. He had the happiness of early perceiving the infinite superiority of religion to every other attainment; and Divine grace enabled him to dedicate his life and all that he possessed, to promote the cause of piety and virtue. For the welfare of his friends, he was sincerely and warmly concerned, and he travelled and wrote much, as well as suffered cheerfully, in support of the Society and the principles to which he had conscientiously attached himself. But this was not a blind and bigotted attachment. His zeal was tempered with charity; and he loved and respected goodness wherever he found it. His uncorrupted integrity and liberality of sentitiment, his great abilities, and the suavity of his disposition, gave him much interest with persons of rank and influence; and he employed it in a manner that marked the benevolence of his heart. He loved peace, and was often instrumental in settling disputes, and in producing reconciliation between contending parties. In the support and pursuit of what he believed to be right, he possessed great firmness of mind; which was early evinced in the pious and dutiful sentiments he expressed to his uncle, who tempted him by great offers to remain in France, against the desire of his father: "He is my father, (said he,) and he must be obeyed." All the virtues harmonize, and are connected with one another: this firm and resolute spirit in the prosecution of duty, was united with great sympathy and compassion towards persons in affliction and distress. They were consoled by his tenderness, assisted by his advice, and occasionally relieved by his bounty. His spiritual discernment and religious experience, directed by that Divine influence which he valued above all things, eminently qualified him to instruct the ignorant, to reprove the irreligious, to strengthen the feeble minded, to animate the advanced Christian to still greater degrees of virtue and holiness.
In private life he was equally amiable. His conversation was cheerful, guarded, and instructive. He was a dutiful son, an affectionate and faithful husband, a tender and careful father, a kind and considerate master. Without exaggeration, it may be said, that piety and virtue were recommended by his example; and that though the period of his life was short, he had, by the aid of Divine grace, most wisely and happily improved it. He lived long enough to manifest in an eminent degree, the temper and conduct of a Christian, and the virtues and qualifications of a true minister of the Gospel."