Edward Burrough did not want to leave home. Neither did he, a seventeen-year-old, want to cry. But he did both.
“May I not stay at home and work for thee, like one of thy servants?” he asked his father.
In tears himself, James Burrough, statesman farmer on his family’s estate near Kendal in Westmoreland forced himself to reply: “No Edward, you may not. That would do nothing but bring us more disgrace and ruin. We cannot have one who believes like you under our roof. Go!”
A year earlier, no one could have imagined it. Edward’s father had watched his progress in school with pleasure. On horseback—overseeing their workers among flocks on green pastures under Scout Scar and the surrounding Pennines—they had made plans.
Now, with Edward leaving on foot, in the cold of the year, those plans seemed sad and remote. But he could not turn back. And his father, hoping to change his mind through drastic action, could not relent.
A long series of happenings had brought Edward and his father to their firm decisions in 1652.
Before Edward turned twelve, great numbers of his parents’ Anglican church had become “Puritans.” They no longer believed in the church’s rituals. They taught sober obedience to God, and Edward, who felt inwardly drawn to know God and his ways, began to attend their meetings.
Little by little, over the next five years, his disappointment grew. The Puritans tried to live perfect lives to assure themselves that God had elected them to salvation. But the longer Edward followed them the more frustrated he felt. He knew he was still imperfect and he felt far from sure of going to heaven if he died. Then a new man appeared in town. Even though Edward went with little enthusiasm—he had heard of George Fox and expected nothing from him but yet higher “Puritan” demands—he decided to listen to what he said.
The meeting in Kendal did not go as expected. No sooner did he find his place among those gathered in the town hall than Edward sensed he had come upon something entirely new and different.
Everyone sat in silence, waiting on George Fox to speak.
When George finally spoke he did not argue for one religion above another. He spoke clearly, forcefully, of “that of God within all men.” He did not appeal to his own authority, to his interpretation of Scripture, or to the importance of tradition. He appealed only to the voice of God speaking through Christ who “enlightens all that come into the world.”
Edward knew that voice. Deep inside it had spoken to him for years, but he had not followed it faithfully. Many times he had acted against his better knowledge to please his parents and friends, to leave impressions, or simply to have a good time. Now, speaking with George Fox after the meeting, on the road from Kendal to Underbarrow, he heard the voice more clearly than ever. He became powerfully convinced of what he needed to do and hurried home to tell his parents about it.
The Burroughs had remained loyal Anglicans. For five years they had tolerated Edward’s relationship to the Puritans. But this was too much. When he told them, “I must follow Christ who has spoken to me,” and began to meet regularly with George Fox and his friends, they disowned him.
And now Edward travelled on foot through northern England and Scotland. A young linen draper from Kendal, John Audland, travelled with him. Sleeping under bridges, eating whenever they could earn a meal, driven off by dogs and angry people with sticks, speaking boldly in churches, at market crosses, and on the fields—nothing about Edward’s new life resembled how he had lived before. But he would not have traded its joy for anything his old life had to offer. After the police imprisoned John Audland at Newcastle, Edward set out with Francis Howgill for London.
In London, speaking boldly for Christ where multitudes lived in smoke-blackened buildings, the two messengers faced no less ridicule for what they taught. But wherever they went, seeking souls rejoiced to hear the truth. On a summer night in 1654 (when Edward was nineteen) the two came upon a crowd gathered around a wrestling ring. After several rounds, the best wrestler stood alone, daring anyone to come and throw him down. Almost without thinking Edward pressed his way through the crowd and leaped into the ring. The people clapped and cheered. Edward was a muscular boy, and the people did not doubt he could meet the challenge. But their gaiety turned to amazement when he faced, not the wrestler, but them.
“Today we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” he said, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Beginning with Paul’s words, Edward told the crowd they could only escape England’s darkness if they turned to Christ, shining within them, and followed him. The people he spoke to were poor. They knew injustice and abuse. Daily struggles with degradation’s last degrees were theirs. But the Spirit of Christ touched the crowd around the ring. The wrestler lost his audience and when Edward turned to go, a huddle of people pressed around him, asking when or where he would speak again.
So great was the hunger for truth in London that Edward and Francis rented a hall in Aldersgate, holding a thousand people, for meetings. Night after night, crowds came and when the Lord moved him to speak, Edward stood on a bench, Bible in hand, to address the multitude.
Meetings in London seldom remained silent. Some shouted questions. Some angrily denied what the Friends said. On all sides people struggled to make themselves seen and heard. But in the midst of the turmoil, the Lord convinced thousands and his clear light shone in resplendent peace.
In the spring of 1655 Edward Burrough, by now twenty years old, and Francis Howgill sailed across the Irish Sea to Dublin. There they worked, facing constant trials, until a military commander turned them out. On their return to England they found conditions no less trying. Some Friends, carried away in spiritual enthusiasm, brought shame and more persecution on all. Then Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader of England, died and after more fighting, the Royalists returned to power. But through everything—the more persecution and troubles rose around him—the greater grew the freedom Edward felt to announce Christ. To Mrs. Cromwell and her children he wrote:
Humble yourselves under the hand of God. Search your hearts and cast out the abominations that vex the Spirit of the Lord. . . . Mind the seed of God that you have oppressed within you and wait to know the power of the Lord. It will redeem you out of sin and death and reconcile you to God. It will bring you into fellowship with him to enjoy peace and rest for your souls and make you heirs of endless life. Doing this will make you truly honourable and bring you more satisfaction, more joy, contentment and true rejoicing than worldly crowns and glories that waste away and leave you miserable. . . Obey God and love his ways and judgements that he may make you happy.
A month after Oliver Cromwell’s death, in 1658, Edward rode from Kingston back to London. At Charing Cross he came upon a great crowd following an image of the deceased governor. “Plagues, plagues, and vengeance,” Edward cried, “against the authors of this abomination!” On a trip to France he confronted the Capuchin Friars, the Jesuits, and British army officials stationed at Dunkirk. On two occasions he walked into Whitehall and spoke with the King (King Charles II, the newly restored monarch of Great Britain). Then, on the evening of June 6, 1662, his final trial began.
Hundreds had gathered at Aldersgate in London for the Friends meeting. Many sat, and many more found places to stand before a new commotion suddenly caused them to step back and be quiet. Giving terse commands a group of soldiers entered. “Edward Burrough,” their commander said, “is to appear before the Major General of London.”
Edward did not resist arrest. For a long time he had sensed it coming. Sir Richard Browne, the Major General had purposed to end Quaker activity in the city.
The soldiers took Edward to the Newgate prison. In a stifling, overcrowded, and evil-smelling cell he found three levels of hammocks already tied from a centre post to its four walls. But he found most of his companions Friends and they encouraged one another in Christ as summer dragged into fall, the prison turned damp and frigid, and snow filtered in through the window grate as the world entered its holiday season.
Edward turned sick in prison—gaol fever they called it—but tribulation did not dim his confidence in Christ’s work on earth. In a letter he wrote:
The Lord has raised his people, even out of the dust, and them that were not a people are become a people. . . . This work he hath carried on, not by any thing of man, nor by the arm of flesh but in pure innocence and simplicity it hath been accomplished—not by the wisdom of this world nor by men in places of honour and power. . . . The Lord’s people have had none of the great men of the earth on their side to defend and establish them. All men have been against them . . . so that truly it may be said there hath been nothing of man in this work but everything is of the Lord by his own power. We know that false sects arise and are established through men and the wisdom of this world. . . . But as for this people, they are raised of the Lord and established by him contrary to all men. They have given their power only to God and they cannot give their weapons to any mortal men to stand or fall by any outward authority. They seek naught but the Lord alone, who heareth their cry, and will avenge their cause.
Through his letters, Edward encouraged numberless English Friends to look beyond their present calamities and live in the light of eternity:
Dear brethren, lift up your heads and be assured that we are the Lord’s! In his cause we are tried and he will judge and avenge our persecutors in his season. Then we shall be a people when the Egyptians lie dead on the sea shore, and when the raging sea is dried up this people shall be safe.
Even though England’s future looked dark and stormy, Edward’s hope in Christ knew no bounds. Shortly before his death in Newgate prison on February 14, 1663, he wrote:
Though this body of clay must turn to dust, yet I have a testimony that I have served God in my generation, and that Spirit which hath lived and acted and ruled in me shall yet break forth in thousands!
The hostility of city authorities notwithstanding, a great crowd (two thousand people or more) walked to the Friends’ burying ground in London, behind Edward’s body. His friend, Francis Howgill, put what they felt to words:
Though in the outward man thou hadst trouble on every side, and a greater share in that for the Gospel’s sake (though a youth) than many others, now thou art freed from temptations and from thy outward enemies. Thou art at rest in the beauty of holiness. Yet thy life and thy spirit I feel as present, and have unity with it. In it, beyond all created and visible things that are subject to mutation and change, thy life shall enter into others to testify unto the Truth that is from everlasting to everlasting. God hath raised, and will raise up children unto Abraham of them that have been as dead stones. His power is almighty, great in his people in the midst of their enemies!
Edward Burrough died a young man, in his twenties. He left no money or descendants. But what the Spirit of Christ began through him, lives on in the body of Christ.
Main Source: Sewel, William, The History of the Rise, Increase and Progress of the Christian People Called Quakers, Baker and Crane, New York, 1844