John Harrison Mills.

The Christian examiner and theological review, Volume 2 online

. (page 5 of 49)
Online LibraryJohn Harrison MillsThe Christian examiner and theological review, Volume 2 → online text (page 5 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ligious impressions. ' In my very young years, be saySt I
had a gravity and stayedness of mind and spirit, not usval in
children. When I came to eleven years of age, I knew
pureness and righteousness ; for while I was a child I yeas
taught to walk so as to be kept pure. As ) grew up, qqr
relations thought to have made me a priest ; IhU others per-
suaded to the contrary. Whereupon I was put to a man who



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BrovmUe on QutAerum. 41

was a shoemaker by trade, and dealt in wool. He also used
grazing and sold cattle ; and agreat deal went through my
bands. I never wronged man or woman in all that time ; for
the Lord's power was with me and oyer me, to preserve me.
While I was in that service, I used in my dealings the word
verily ; and it was a common saying among those that knew
me, " If George says verily, there is no altering him." When
boys and rude persons would laugh at me, 1 let them alone
and went my way ; but people had generally a love to me
for my innocency and honesty.' At the age of nineteen, he re-
ceived the command, to ^ forsake all, keep out of all, and be
as a stranger unto all ;' and on the ' ninth of the seventh
month, 1643,' he left his relations, and went abroad to obtain
or communicate light, as occasion might offer, to converse
with priests and professors, to preach, to gather meetings, and
ultimately to found a new sect. These things followed each
other in. succession ; and in the meantime, revelation pressed
upon revelation, till Fox stood forth with all the claims of an
inspired prophet. He made converts ; and converts became
preachers. Naylor, Howgill, Farnsworth, Borroughs, Penn,
Whitehead, entered into his labours, men of thorough, sincere,
and not altogether mistaken religious zeal. Not altogether
mistaken, for it was true, as they contended, that the re-
h'gion of the age was corrupt; it was true, that it stood in the
form and in the letter, and in the word of the teacher ; it was
true that men had gone away from the teachings of Crod in
their ovm minds ; and we doubt if they have yet suflSciently
returned to them. Had Fox and his coadjufors mixed no-
thing, in our view, irrational with their grand direction ;to ^ZooA;
withiny^ we should have felt that their mission was reason-
able, spiritual, — ^nay, sublime. As it is, we give them a por-
tion of our sympathy and respect ; as much, indeed, as we
give to any of the Christians of that age.

Tie eflbrts of the early Friends, and particularly the ex-
penses which they incurred, for the spread of their principles,
almost exceed belief, and, we presume, were never equalled,
for a similar purpose, by any sect of Christians. From con-
tributions of the respective meetings, ^ a fund was formed to
defray the expense of printing and publishing the books of
their authors.' With the refief which these funds afforded
from the hazards of authorship, their works multipUed be-
6



Digitized by VjOOQIC



42 Broumlee on Quakerism.

yond example. ' Whiting's catalogue of their books alone/
says Mr. Brownlee, on the authority of Bugg, * consists of
two hundred and thirty-two pages. It contains a list of three
thousand six hundred and eleven books. Upwards of six
hundred other volumes were [afterwards] added ; makuig
four thousand two hundred and sixty-nine volumes. Each
impression of these contakied about a thousand copies, on an
average. Thus the society previous to A. D. 1716, that is, in
about seventy years, had sent forth four millions two hundred
and sixty-nine thousand volumes and tracts.' Of Barclay's
Apology, * they published an edition of twelve thousand ; and
of these ten thousand copies were distributed gratis,^

Of the mass of these works, we cannot take shame to our-
selves, that we know nothing, and can give no opinion. But
the principal Quaker authors, with Penn at their head, de-
serve to be mentioned with respect. Penn's letters and
* maxims' are full of wisdom. His * No Cross, no Crown,' is
a powerful work on self-denial, and, — ^written as it was by a
youth of twenty-five, in prison, is, — with all its practical wisdom,
and its hundreds of quotations from heathen authors, of every
country and age, a book, not only worthy of notice, but
of admiration. At any rate, with such tracts as were sent
out, and with the impulse of gratuitous distribution, Quakerism
spread rapidly. It soon numbered thousands of adherents
in England, extended to the continent, and planted itself in
America. In a little time, the extravagances of its new and
zealous converts disappeared, and it settled into a system of
fixed institutions, sober morals, and industrious habits. The
number of its members, in England and America at present,
is reckoned at more than half a million.

II. We turn now to a brief notice of their opinions on the
institutions and doctrines of religion, on the maxims of chris-
tian conduct, and the usages of a religious life.

If these ti^og-^, to notice them first, shall seem to indi-
cate an excess of zeal and scrupulosity about indifferent mat-
ters, it should be remembered that there were abuses in
almost every department of life, sufiScient to account for, if
not to warrant them. It was an age of extravagance and
luxury ; and they thought it an age of ambition, and priestly
domination. Hence, the simplicity of apparel, and, to secure
this, one fixed fashion of dress. Hence the aversion to



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Brownlee on Quakerism. • 43

amusements, and to all the forms of conviviality, as drinking
healths, he. Hence the * plain language,' and the refusal to
give titles. And hence their refusal to be married by the
clergy. It is true that they maintained their views on all
these points by argument. But fashions do not often come
by the way of argument. It were well if opinions did.

The nuixims of the Friends touching the unlawfulness of
war and of civil oaths, are well known ; and most certainly,
both of these popular customs have been attended wjth evils
and abuses, sufficient to urge men to almost any extremes of
opinion. The doctrines of Quakerism will detain us a little
longer.

The most prominent of these, undoubtedly, is the. follow-
ing ; that there is given to every man an inward light to di-
rect him into the truths and duties of religion. This light, or
spirit, or guide, for it has various names, is also variously
reprcsente4* It reveals what is true ; it impresses what is
already revealed in Scripture ; it imparts the true sense of
virtue and excellence ; it often gives intelligible intimations
or impulses in the daily course of life. If it be asked, what
is this light ? the writers on the subject answer, that it is the
influence of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit. Some-
times they represent its operations as supernatural, and, in-
deed, Barclay is very strenuous in denying that it is a natural
principle. On the dfher band, Penn often treats of it as if it
were perfectly coincident, if not identical, with reason and
conscience. He very frequently calls it * the light, the law,
the life, in the conscience.^ He quotes abundantly the max-
ims of the ancient heathen, which are nothing else but the
maxims of reason and good sense, as evidence of this light.

It will be seen that in all this, there is only one idea, which
distinguishes the Friends from the body of Christians, viz.
that of immediate revelation, or sensible impubes. In the
divine influence, we all believe ; but not in supernatural or
miraculous influence. It will be found, however, that on this
point too the Friends difler from us less than we may at first
imagine. In speaking of immediate revelations, their writers
very seldom advert to any thing miraculous. They bring
forward no new trutlis or facts in the general theory of reli-
gion. They have not, like Swedenborg, introduced a new
system, new revelations of futurity, S(c. But the revelations



Digitized by VjOOQIC



44 Brownlee on Quakerism.

of which they speak, are only the stronger impression, the
inwrought, perhaps we should say, the self-taught conviction
^f things, which are found in Scripture, or in the prevailing
moral sentiments of mankind. These stronger impressions
and convictions, it is true, they refer to the Spirit of God ;
but in what does this differ from the prevailing doctrine of
Christendom ? They say, indeed, that, independently of a
written revelation, there is in every roan a light sufficient to
guide him to salvation. And what is this but the very doc-
trine of Scripture ; viz. that * they who are without the law
are a law to themselves ?'

Indeed, it is when this doctrine of revelation is brought
down to be a matter of fact, either in the inspirations of their
speakers, or the intimations, which are received in the daily
conduct of Kfe, that we find the more distinctive peculiarities
of Quakerism. Every Friend, who speaks in the congrega-
tion, believes himself to be moved to that act, and to what he
shall say, by a real and direct inspiration from God.

With regard to intimations in the daily conduct of life, we
must not speak without restrictions and cautions^ On this
subject, tliere is a difference of opinion in the Society. A
small, but very respectable portion of the Friends, advocate
these intimations ; and it is certain that some of the early
leaders in the Society, especially Fox, professed constantly
to experience them. It may be said, (hat they were guided
in matters of religion ; but are not our daily duties matters of
religion ? No Quaker believes that inspirations have ceased ;
no one believes that the ancient prophets enjoyed any advan-
tages from inspiration, (in kind, though they might in degree,)
over the humblest member of their society, — and why should
they suppose that their own prophets have any such advan-
tage over them ? Mr. Brownlee very unfairly states the ques-
tion, between the Friends and other Christians, to be, * whether
every Christian is directed by a supernatural influence, in his
every word and action f* — and says, * that the affirmative of
this is taken by every Quaker.' Now, it may fearlessly be
said, that no Quaker does, or ever did, affirm any thing that
is stated in either part of this question.

But, whatever may be the ground for these views of daily
guidance, it may be proper to state them, as they are claimed
by a part of the Society, and have thoroughly agitated the



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Brovmlet on QuaherUm. 45

whole body. They believe this guidance, then, to extend to
all the questions of human duty. Whether they shall take a
journey; whether they shall pay a visit, and where; what
shall be the employment of the morning, or of the evening ;
they conceive to be often suggested to them by some secret
and almost indefinable influence from God. A tendency to
something is created, — a state of mind is produced, they know
not how, — not by reason, not by reflection, but by some higher
principle ; — and this tendency, this state of mind, guides them
surely, not in solving, but in determining, the often difficult
questions of prudence and duty. If they counteract or dis-
obey this influence, they are unhappy, — if they return to its
guidance, all is light and peace. They do not hold, by any
means, that every man who bears the name of Quaker is
thus directed ; nor that any are, as Mr. Brownlee alleges,
' in their every word and action,' led by this guiding principle;
but that all may be ; and that all who are not, may, by wait-
ing and watching, by self-renunciation and tranquillity of
mind, and growing purity, be led better to understand and
follow its dictates.

Yet, after all, this is not very different, perhaps, from what
many Christians hav^. believed ; though we think, indeed, for
ourselves, that a nicer analysis of the human mind, and a
farther consideration of its waywardness, of the power of ima-
gination, of the offices of conscience, things as yet but ill
understood, — would lead the devout Quaker to a different
result.

We say that many Christians entertain views on this sub-
ject not very unlike those'of the Friends, whether the inspi-
rations of their publick meetings, or the intimations of daily
life. Nay, Mr. Brownlee himself, with all his zeal to beat
down this doctrine of immediate suggestions, or revelations,
admits just about as much as the Quakers would desire of
him ; and, at the same time, something much worse than
th^ would desire. For he not only believes in * the secret
of the Lord being sometimes disclosed to them that love him,'
whether by * the ministration of angels,' or by *llie Divine Com-
forter,' he does not undertake to decide, — he not only believes,
yea, he ' cannot work his mind up into a state of philosophical
insensibility, cold enough to doubt,' that there are * impress-
ions' from * invisible agency,' * presentiments,' * premonitions^'



Digitized by VjOOQIC



46 BrowfUceo% ^uakfirism.

&c. ; — ^but ho boldj ^vei^.to the influence of demons on the
mind. Very shrevd spirits \fe supposes them to be, — ^very
.sagacioCls and skilful. in th«ir operations on the human mind,
^ since they liave been studying it,' as he tells us, Hhese six
thousand years !' It would not be very philosophical, per-
haps, to deny the possibility of influences, about which we
know nothing. But this we may presume, at least;— if
* myriads' of these beings are ^ brought into action' upon tlie
human mind, they might be expected to have less respect for
its jaws than better influences would. And in just such pro-
portion does the doctrine of demoniacal influence open a
wider field for credulity and fanaticism, than any form of the
doctrine of divine influence.

Connected with the doctrine of the * inward light,' is the
value of a written revelation. On this point, Mr. Brownlee
boldly charges the Society of Friends with Deism. But on
what grounds I Does the Society deny the. inspiration and
authority of the Scriptures ? By no means. It only maintains
that the same Spirit, which guided the sacred writers into all
truth, guides them also into the same truths. This may be
called an errour^ but it is not Deism. The Friends constantly
assert, that the Might within' will never contradict the out-
ward revelation ; though they maintain that it is an indepen-
dent source of knowledge. And there is a very important re-
spect in which it is so. There is a sense of right and wrong,
which, if it were unphilosophical to say, is implanted in our
nature, is yet always developed by it ; there is a conscience,
a moral sense, which is independent of the Scriptures, and
to which the Scriptures themselves appeal in confirmation of
their claims, and which they do, therefore, so far constitute
a judge of their claims. The argument from the internal
evidence of the Scriptures, as it is called, is founded on the
correspondence of their precepts to this inward, moral judg-
ment, or light. There is a sense, then, in which this light is
superiour to the Scriptures. Our conscience can do without
the Bible,— it can lead us to virtue and to heaven, — it does,
we doubt not, lead many heathen thither ; but the Bible can-
not do without our conscience. Without the light of con-
science, it is 'a dead letter,' — without a moral nature to ad-
dress, it means nothing.

On this subject it seems to us that there is much cant,
and superstition, and will-worship. ' To the law, and the



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Broumlee oW ^akmism. 47

testimony,' it has been reiterated, and ^ the Bible ! the
Bible !' it has been exclaimed, till men mem to have forgot*
ten that there is any other source ^f knowledge,— <o have for«
gotten that the Bible can Bo more be understood, without an
inward light or conscience, than a book of philosophy can be
understood without reason. We are aware that the great
Protestant plea, for the use and sufficiency of the Scriptures,
may have brought in something of this feeling. But we think
that there has been an unusual prevalence of it in later times,
and in our own country. It is certainly true, that the Puri-
tans and Presbyterians have been much given to making ab-
struse and technical systems of theology ; and our preaching,
in consequence, and all our religious discussions, have been
too metaphysical, controversial, textual, — ^without sufficiently
going out into the great principles of right reason and moral
conviction. Indeed, we think that this was much more the
practice of the early Protestant writers, than of the orthodox
teachers of our own day. If we mistake not, the fathers of
the Protestant English Church much more frequently entered
into large and liberal views of things, — much more freely re-
cognized the principles of right reason, and of generous and
good feeling in human nature, than is now found to be com-
mon.

It is therefore true, as the Friends urge, but is too much
forgotten, that Grod hath spoken in our hearts as well as in
his word ; — ^that without this light, and spirit, and power, of
his own imparting, the revelation of his will, in written cha-
racters, would be altogether in vain. We reject, it is true,
every thing supernatural in this Spirit, or influence of God in
the human soul, and thus far dissent from the Friends ; but
we say that there is a foundation for much of the language,
and of the doctrine, which they have set forth on this subject.

To this subject Mr. Brownlee constantly recurs, and with
abundant crimination. * Their leading tenet' he says, * ele-
vates their revelations above the Bible ; and the Holy Bible
is made to sink to a secondary rule, liable to be interpreted
by their revelations, and obeyed only so far as it corresponds
with theur impulses.' And for these observations, he quotes
page 615, vol. ii, of Penn's Works. We have turned to the page
referred to, and find nothing to vindicate any of his remarks, —
least of all, the severity of the last clause of the sentence.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



48 Broumlee on Quakerim.

But ve find such a passage as thiS|— enough perhaps to satisf|r
Mr« Broi«(Qlee's easiness of conviction. ^ Nor do we say that
»^hose essential things relating to faith and godliness, mentioned
lherein,(that is, in the scriptures,) are by us to be slighted or
cAntradicted, or that the light and spirit we are led by, dotb
or can lead to any such thing ; for by its holy discoveries end
convictions we are made acquainted with them ; and our faith
concerning them is firm, and they are thereby made our duty,
and such is their correspondence and agreement, that from
an inward assent and living Amen, from Grod's light in our
consciences do we testify of their truth, use, and dignity.'

With regard to the Trinity, the Quakers have of late fallen
under what are thought to be heavy accusations. We wish
it were more evident than it is, that they held the obnoxious
views which are imputed to them. They certainly were not
Trinitarians according to the popular creed. They carefully
avoided all language of human invention. It was against this
language, tliat Penn wrote in his ^ Sandy Foundation Shaken,^
rather than against every possible notion of a Trinity. In his
' Innocency with her open Fan,' and his ' Key,' he asserts, in
. a^ strong and decided terms as can be devised, the absolute
Godhead of Jesus Christ ; and in the sao^e manner he speaks
of the Holy Ghost. But * though nominally distinguished,' he
says, *'they are essentially tihe same divine light.' The views
of the early Friends, indeed, seem to have approached neai^er
to Sabellianism than to any other system; and this,, though
stigmatised as one of the heresies, we are inclined to think is
about as good Trinitarianism as the mass of orthodox people
hold. Any other Trinity than a modal or nominal one, (that
is, one being acting in three characters,) must, to a plain
mind, nay, to any mind, we suspect, be Tritheism. Every
orthodox understanding, we believe, is either in the ex-
tremes of flat Sabellianism or Tritheism, or is hovering in
the shadowy region between, without finding any fixed posi-
tion in which it can rest for a moment. These difliculties
the Friends have avoided, by rejecting all human language
and speculation, and adhering to simple and practical views
of the subject. There is one God,— one being,-— one per-
son. He manifests himself as the Sovereign and Father
of the universe ; he dwelt peculiarly in Jesus Christ,^— he
made the body of our Saviour the vehicle of a gracious mani-



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Brownlee on Quakerisn^. 49

festation to men, — ^that spirit which he gives to all good men,
he gave to Jesus ' without measure ;' he sheds forth his influ-
ence upon the human heart, under the name of the Holy-
Ghost,— or, God, acting in this character, is called by tins
name.

The honrours into which Mr. Brownlee is thrown by this
part of the Quaker writings, — the exclamations and points of
admiration, and the ominous chasms in his sentences, are truly
amusing. ' His impiety,' he says of Penn, ' carries him
the audacious length of asserting that our doctrine of the
Holy Trinity is absurd ! And, bolder than Voltaire or Priestley,
he demands, ^^ whether if God did beget a son, that son had
not a beginning ? If the Holy Ghost proceeded from both, is
he contemporary with the Son ?" Very proper questions
certainly ; but how is Mr. B. affected by them ? Why thus,— -

' But ray pen refuses to pollute my pages with

Biore Oh ! my God ! Is it thus that his unclean spirit

blasphemed against the '^ eternal spirit" who does proceed from
the Father and the Son !— And against ** the only begotten
Son of €rod, whose goings forth have been of old from ever-
lasting?"'

The doctrine of Atonement, Mr. Brownlee charges the
Quakers with denying in ' the most positive and unqualified
terms.' And how does he prove it f Why, * they do deny
the most holy Trihity, — they take away the personal dis-
tinction,' Sic. ' And oh ! their sentiments on the Atonement
are dreadfully consistent with these other opinions !' On this
point, let us hear the apologist, Barclay. ^ Forasmuch as all
men wha have come to man's estate have sinned, therefore,
all have need of this Saviour to remove the wrath of God
from them due to their offences; in this respect, he is truly
said to bear the iniquities of u&4l11 in his body on the tree,
and therefore is the only Mediator, having qualified the wrath
of God towards us.' We have found no evidence, that Penn
held an opinion so offensive as is here expressed ; yet he
speaks of ^ Christ's suffermgs in the flesh, as a sacrifice for
sin,'— <ia being an article of their belief, which was * un-
charitably' denied to them. And moreover, * we declare,'
says be, * that we know of no other name than that of Christ
Ibe Qiighty God, by whom atonement and plenteous redemp-
tion comes.' * But all the world knows,' says Mr. Brownlee,
7



Digitized by VjOOQIC



it) BroumUe on QuakenM.

that words and phrases are one thing, and that ideas attached
to them are another !'

It is to be allowed, indeed, whatever we may think of the
illiberality of this remark, that the Friends do not now hold,
at least not in this country, an atonement which would satisfy
the Calvinistick views of the subject. Perhaps they never
did ; though we can scarcely see, what less Barclay's lan-
guage imports ; and Penn too, though he wrote, in 'The Sandy
Foundation Shaken' against the popular ideas, wrote not
against all possible ideas of an atonement ; and in other parts
of his works he distinctly admits the outward sacrifice of
Christ to be available to our salvation, — not indeed as a pro-
pitiation, but as a means.

The Quaker views of atonement, as of every other doc-
trine, were indeed modified by their views of the inward
light, and the earnestness with which they contended for them.
In the strong grasp with which they clung to these, every
thing else was more loosely held. Their views of many
popular doctrines, indeed, were general and vague, but still
we think they were about as much and as often orthodox as
otherwise. But however this may be, we have a right to ask
Mr. Brownlee what his business was, in giving an account of
Quakerism, but to interpret ideas by words, — ^the sense of
the early Friends by their writings.

With equal fairness, Mr. Brownlee charges the Friends
with denying the resurrection ; because they deny ' a fleshly
resurrection,' — because they say, that ' dust cannot be eternal,'
* as if,' says Mr. B. ' the Almighty cannot make matter as well
as spirit eternal !' The language of Penn is explicit. ' We



Online LibraryJohn Harrison MillsThe Christian examiner and theological review, Volume 2 → online text (page 5 of 49)