5 Great Quotes: Benjamin Lay

Benjamin Lay (1681-1759) was a Quaker activist who practiced a radical form of abolitionism drawn from his Christian convictions in the Quaker tradition. He wrote one book, published by Benjamin Franklin, which was titled: “All Slave-Keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates.

Today, it’s common to hear “he was a man of his times” when discussing the failures of historical persons. But Benjamin Lay defies that logic; with his eyes on the Scriptures, he wasn’t fit for his own times.

He was awakened to the evils of the slave trade as a sailor, and is one the first known activists who refused to consume goods produced from chattel slavery. His activism made him a social outcast. Take this example:

The most famous incident occurred in Burlington in 1738 when Lay entered Meeting for Worship clothed as a soldier with a sword. He gave a long message detailing the evils of slavery, and at the climax of his ministry, pierced his Bible with his sword. Concealed in his Bible was a bladder filled with red juice that splattered onto Friends sitting near him, symbolizing the blood on Quakers’ hands for not standing firm against slavery. This display proved too much for Quakers to bear and he was formally, and publicly, disowned from the Society not long thereafter.

Mark Kaharas, Quakers & Slavery

Quotes by Benjamin Lay

Now, dear friends, behold a mystery! These ministers that be slave-keepers are in such very great repute!

“We pretend to love not fighting with carnal weapons, nor to carry swords by our sides, but carry a worse thing in our heart.”

No greater sin hell can invent than to profane and blaspheme the pure holy truth, which is God all in all and remove God’s creatures made after his own image, from all the comforts of life and their country and…bring them into the miseries that dragons, serpents, devils and hypocrites can procure and think of.

Evil must not be done so that good may come from it.

It is true some may say that Christ in his great love has forgiven sins committed in time of great darkness and ignorance; but if we should commit the grossest of evils now, in the clear light of this gospel day, continue in them and plead for it too, we should withstand the [greater] spiritual Moses, and our Damnation would be just.

Sources Consulted: https://web.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/speccoll/quakersandslavery/commentary/people/lay.php https://aeon.co/essays/the-abolitionist-benjamin-lay-was-a-hero-ahead-of-his-time “What We Owe The Future” by William MacAskill https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-42640782 https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbc0001.2019franklin38906/?sp=13

Published by Jared Stacy

Jared is an American Pastor, writer, and PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

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