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William Evans.

The Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) online

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not be improper to make a few observations
on the men who were his early companions in
religious fellowship.

The religious Society of Friends in the be-
ginning, consisted of persons who were ear-
nestly seeking that inward acquaintance with
God and with his Son Jesus Christ, which is
life eternal. Many of them were highly es-
teemed in the several religious professions of
the day, for their uncommon piety and great
experience, being punctual in the perfomnance
of all their religious duties and regular in
partaking of the ordinances.

But notwithstanding their faithfulness to the
degree of knowledge they had received, their
minds were not at rest. They did not experi-
ence that victory over sin and that true settle-
ment which their souls longed for, and hence
they were led to believe that a purer and more
spiritual way than they had yet found, was to
be obtained. They felt that they needed to
know more of the power of Christ in their
hearts, making them new creatures ; renewing
them up into that divine image which was lost
in Adam's fall, and sanctifying them, body,
soul, and spirit, through the Holy Ghost.

Great were their conflicts and earnest their
prayers that they might be brought to this
lalessed experience; but looking without instead
of having their attention turned inward, they
missed the object of their seai'ch. They fre-
quented the preaching of the most eminent
ministers, spent much time in reading the Holy
Scriptures, in fasting, meditation, and prayer,
14



106



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



and increased the strictness of their Uves and
religious performances.

Many of them were deeply versed in Scrip-
ture knowledge and familiar with the religious
controversies of the day; and some after weary-
ing themselves with the multitude and severity
of their religious performances, without finding
the expected benefit from them, separated from
all the forms of worship then known, and sat
down in a very simple way, earnestly looking
and praying for the fuller manifestation of the
power of Christ, in redeeming them from sin
and giving that peace which passeth all un-
derstanding.

In this humble, wrestling, seeking state,
the Lord was graciously pleased to meet with
them, sometimes without any instrumental
means, and at others through the living min-
istry of his anointed servants whom he sent
amongst them. Then they were brought to
see that that which made them uneasy in the
midst of their high profession and manifold
observances, and raised fervent desires after a
nearer acquaintance with the God of their
lives, was nothing less than the spirit of the
Lord Jesus Christ, striving with them in order to
bring them fully from under the bondage of sin
into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

They were brought to feel that they had
been resting too much in a mere historical be-
lief of the blessed doctrines of the Gospel, the
birth, life, miracles, sufferings, death, resur-
rection, ascension, mediation, atonement, and
divinity of the Lord Jesus, all of which were
then readily assented to by Christian profes-
sors, but had not sufficiently looked for and
abode miderthe heart-cleansing and sanctifying
power of the Holy Spirit or Comforter, to seal
those precious truths on the understanding, and
give each one a living, practical interest in
them, so that they might know Christ to be
their Saviour and Redeemer, and that he had
indeed come to them the second time without
sin unto salvation.

They perceived that while partaking of the
outward bread and wine and resting in that,
they had overlooked the true communion, in
which Christ comes into the soul and sups
with it, causing it to partake of that living
bread which comes down from heaven, and
the new wine of his kingdom, by which its
spiritual strength and enjoyment are renewed.
That the baptism in water was a mere exter-
nal rite, which could neither wash the soul
from pollution nor initiate it into the church
of Christ, and that they must therefore expe-
rience the one spiritual baptism by the Holy
Ghost and fii-e ; not the putting away of the
filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good
conscience toward God ; by the resurrection
of Jesus Christ.



It was indeed the dawning of a new day
to their souls ; and as they attended in simple
obedience to the discoveries of this Divine
Light, they were gradually led further into the
spirituality of the Gospel dispensation. The
change which it made in their views was great,
and many and deep were their searchings of
heart, trying the fleece both wet and dry, 'ere
they yielded ; lest they should be mistaken and
put the vv'orkings of their own imaginations
for the unfoldings of the spirit of Christ.
But as they patiently abode under its enlight-
ening operations, every doubt and difficulty
was removed, and they Avere enabled to speak
from joyful experience of that which they had
seen, and handled, and tasted, of the good word
of life.

As Adam was originally created in the
image of his Maker, free from every defile-
ment, and fell from this blessed condition by
yielding to the temptations of the devil ; and as
Christ came to restore man from the effects
of the fall and bring him back to his primeval
condition ; so they believed that such as fully
embraced the religion of Christ, would have
power given them over sin and enabled to
follow Him in all things ; corresponding with
his blessed commandment " Be ye therefore
perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven
is perfect."

Our Lord Jesus Christ having left it as a
standing testimony to all his disciples, that
without Him they could do nothing, that it is
the Spirit which quickeneth, the flesh profiting
nothing ; they found that they could no longer
pray, preach, or sing in their own wills, when
and as they pleased, but must wait to receive
a divine qualification, and feel the spirit of
Ti'uth moving them thereto, and so helping
their infirmities that they might perform those
services acceptably to God.

Hence they came to see that no qualifica-
tions derived from human learning or ordi-
nation, could make a man a minister of the
Gospel; but that this was a divine gift received
from Christ himself, as the great head of his
church ; and that the ability to preach or pray
aright must be derived from the immediate
moving and inspiration of his Holy Spirit.

As George Fox travelled through England,
preaching this fundamental doctrine of the
light of Christ in the conscience, and calling
men away from a dependence on traditional
knowledge and outside religion, by which
Gospel truth and power had been overlaid, to
the teachings of the Holy Spirit, he found
many persons prepared to receive his testi-
mony and to acknowledge that this was what
their thirsty souls had long been panting after.
To this circumstance may in part be attributed
the great convincements which took place, and



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



107



the rapid increase of the Society ; for although
the adoption of those principles soon brought
on them the ridicule, reproach, and even cruel
persecution of their former associates and
friends, yet they joyfully embraced them,
counting nothing too dear to part with in order
to purchase the blessed truth, and that peace
and settlement they had so long sought in vain.

It is no cause of surprise that minds thus
happily brought to experience the blessed
effects of the doctrine, should dwell much in
their writings and ministry on the immediate
teachings of the Holy Spirit. It was indeed
the burden of the word with them, and as it
struck, more directly than any other of their
principles, at the very foundation of satan's
kingdom, so he stirred himself greatly to mis-
represent and pervert it.

They were charged with setting up this
doctrine in opposition to the outward coming,
and propitiatory sufferings and death of the
dear Son of God, and to his divinity and me-
diation ; which false accusation they promptly
denied, asserting that since they had come to
the teachings of His spirit in their hearts,
they had been brought to a more true, reve-
rent, and living sense and esteem, of his un-
merited mercy in coming into the world to die
for sinners, and of all his blessed offices in
the work of man's salvation, than they ever
had before.

In answer to the charge of denying or un-
dervaluing the Holy Scriptures they declared,
that those precious writings were in great
measure a sealed book to them, until they
were opened by the spirit which influenced the
holy men of old who wrote them ; and that
through its enlightening influences, the beauty,
harmony, and consistency of the Scriptures
were clearly set before the view of their minds,
and the saving truths recorded therein, livingly
sealed upon their understandings.

In reading the wi'itings of the first members
of the Society of Friends, we are struck with
the numerous quotations from both the Old
and New Testament, which they adduced to
prove the truth of their doctrines. That they
were deeply versed in those Sacred Writings,
and diligent readers of them, is obvious from
this fact, as well as from the memoirs of their
lives. Their sermons also, are fraught with
Scripture language, illustrating and establish-
ing by its high authority, the great truths they
enforced. By precept likewise as well as
practice, they recommended the duty of dili-
gently and devoutly reading the Holy Scrip-
tures ; not as a mere dry, customary per-
formance, without interest or a feeling of the
individual application and importance of the
truths they contain, but as a serious yet de-
lightful engagement, in which the mind ought



to be turned to the Lord, in I'everent desire
that he would be pleased to bless it as a means
of religious instruction and comfort, and by
the affusions of his Holy Spirit, enlighten the
heart to understand, and availingly apply to
our benefit, what we read.

From an early period in the history of the
Society, this Christian duty has been frequently
enjoined both by the Yearly Meetings and con-
cerned Friends. There is probably no com-
munity of Christian professors, who have
evinced the same solicitude, or been at as
great pains, that all its members should be
made acquainted with the Holy Scriptures,
and frequently engaged in reading them. Pa-
rents are directed in the Discipline, and en-
couraged in numerous yearly epistles, to in-
struct the infant minds of their children, in
the saving truths contained in those Divine
Writings, and to excite them to a reverent
esteem of them ; and in order that all may be
reminded of their duty in this respect, the
query is annually to be answered by each of
the subordinate meetings ; " Are Friends care-
ful to bring up those under their direction

in frequently reading the Holy

Scriptures."

"As the natural man [or man in the fallen
and unregenerate state, which by nature be-
longs to him] receiveth not the things of the
Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto
him ; neither can he know them because they
are spiritually discerned," our first Friends
contended, and the Society to the present time
holds the sentiment, that the saving knowledge
of the mysteries of Christian redemption, con-
tained in Holy Scripture, is only obtained
through the influences of the Holy Spirit,
opening and enlightening the undei-standing
to apprehend them aright, and sealing them
upon the heart by his powerful operations.
They asserted therefore, that in order to arrive
at this essential and experimental knowledge,
it was necessary that people should come to
the teachings of the same eternal Spirit by
which the Scriptures were given forth, for
holy men of old wrote them as they were
moved by the Holy Ghost. Not that they
believed we were to expect the same degree of
divine illumination which those preeminent-
ly favoured instruments enjoyed, nor yet that
we are to wait for a divine revelation to in-
duce us to read the Sacred Volume ; but that
in our daily perusal of them, we should en-
deavour to have our minds directed to Him in
whom are hid all the ti'easures of wisdom and
knowledge. While the mysteries of redemp-
tion are only revealed to the babes in Christ,
there are a multitude of precepts and narra-
tives contained in the Bible, fraught with in-
terest and instruction, intelligible to the hum-



108



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



blest capacity, and of daily application to the
duties of life. We cannot become too con-
versant with these, nor ponder them too often
or too seriously with reference to our own
conduct and conversation. It is not, there-
fore, to discourage from the very frequent
perusal of this blessed book, that the Society
holds forth the necessity of seeking the aid of
the Holy Spirit, savingly to open and apply
the doctrines it contains, but rather to encou-
rage all in the performance of this necessary
duty, to apply in faith to Him who opened the
understandings of his disciples formerly to
understand the Scriptures, that so we may
realize the truth of the apostles' testimony,
that they are profitable for doctrine, for re-
proof, for correction, for instruction in righte-
ousness, that the man of God may be perfect,
thoroughly furnished unto all good works, and
that they are able to make wise unto salvation
through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Their belief in a divine communication be-
tween the soul of man and its Almighty Cre-
ator, through the medium of the Holy Spirit,
by which the Christian may be " led into all
truth," did not at all lessen their regard for
the authority of the Holy Scriptures as the
test of doctrines. They constantly professed
their willingness that all their principles and
practices should be tried by them ; and that
whatsoever any, who pretended to the guidance
of the spirit, either said or did which was con-
trary to their testimony, ought to be rejected
and condemned as a satanic delusion, and also,
that " what is not read therein nor may be
proved thereby, is not to be required of any
man that it should be believed as an article of
faith."

With these views of the spirituality of the
of the Gospel, and the authority of Holy Scrip-
ture, they were led to the cordial acceptance
of those precepts of our blessed Saviour and
his apostles, which so strikingly enforce what
are termed the testimonies of the Society, viz:
against war, oaths, a hireling ministry, the
pride of life and worldly compliance in ex-
travagant and costly attire and living, the use
of the plural language to a single person, and
of flattering titles and compliments ; against
all intemperance in eating or drinking, vain
amusements, conversation and jesting; in short
whatever was inconsistent with the gravity of
men, who were " looking for and hastening
unto the great day" of righteous retribution,
and therefore desired to "pass the time of their
sojourning here" in the fear and favour of God.

In the midst of a corrupt and licentious age,
their godly example was as a light that could
not be hid, and which the surrounding dark-
ness only served to render more conspicuous.
Silently, but steadily it made its way to the



hearts of the people, in the face of contempt,
ridicule, and persecution, finally disarmed their
enemies and even extorted from them reluctant
commendation. Principles, for the promulga-
tion of which, they suffered deeply in person
and estate, were subsequently acknowledged
as truth by a large portion of Christian pro-
fessoi's, and several of their testimonies have
so generally obtained as to have modified the
legal codes in England and America, and given
a new aspect to judicial proceedings. When
we contemplate the spread of those Christian
doctrines which our forefathers maintained
almost alone, and remember that they have
lost none of their truth or excellence, that
their benign influence in promoting the happi-
ness and true interests of mankind is not
lessened, and that they are among the loveli-
est features and highest privileges of the Chris-
tian religion, the importance of maintaining
them inviolate assumes a most serious charac-
ter. Had the members of the Society stood
in that degree of faithfulness to which they
are individually called, we cannot say how
much more extensively those principles would
have prevailed, or what greater influence they
might have had in promoting the kingdom of
the dear Son of God. In proportion to the
advantages bestowed upon us, our responsi-
bility as a community and as individuals is
increased, and it is a serious reflection that if
we are not improving them and walking an-
swerably thereto, we are retarding the diffusion
of Gospel light and knowledge, and as far as
our influence extends, delaying the coming of
that day when " the kingdoms of this world
shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and
of his Christ."

Every individual, however humble his sphere
in life, exercises an influence over those around
him, which under divine guidance may be
made subservient to the advancement of reli-
gion. That the most important results often
arise from small beginnings, the history of
our forefathers in the truth furnishes abundant
evidence. Their zeal and devotion, their con-
stancy and faith, nay, the whole tendency of
their example, presents an awakening call to
their successors in religious profession, to press
earnestly after the attainment of the same
holiness in life and conversation, agreeably
to the exhortation of the eminent apostle ;
" Brethren, be followers together of us, and
mark them which walk so as ye have us for
an ensample : for our conversation is in heaven,
from whence also we look for the Saviour, the
Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile
body, that it may be fashioned like unto his
glorious body, according to the working where-
by he is able even to subdue all things unto
himself"



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



The Memoir of the Life of George Fox,
would be incomplete, without a more extended
notice of the establishment of the Discipline,
and meetings for Its management, a work
which he was chiefly Instrumental in accom-
plishing. Scarcely had those who embraced
the Christian principles promulgated by him,
been recognized as a distinct body of profes-
sors, 'ere occasions arose, in which the exer-
cise of a brotherly care over each other be-
came necessary.

A large portion of the early members, were
persons whose pecuniary means were small.
The singularity of their language and man-
ners, was so little agreeable to the pride of
man, that, many refused to trade with or era-
ploy them. In some cases, the priests warned
their congregations against holding any inter-
course with them, either to buy or sell, and
the general persecution of the Society, while
it cut off the means of procuring a livelihood,
wrested from them the little property they
possessed.

It seldom happened however, that the storm
fell with equal violence on all parts at once.
Sometimes it was severe in one county, while
others adjoining it would be comparatively
exempt, so that some were mostly in a condi-
tion to extend help to the sufferers. The occa-
sions for the exercise of brotherly kindness
were numerous and pressing, and they were
met in a spirit of noble liberality, which has
seldom been surpassed. None appeared to re-
gard what they had as their own exclusively,
but as a trust for the general benefit of all, to
be freely applied in relieving the wants of their
more destitute brethren. Where the kindlier
feelings of the heart were so often called into
vigorous action, it is no wonder that they ac-
quired a strength which Influenced the whole
character. The history of the Society at that
period, furnishes numerous examples of disin-
terested affection and self-devotion, on which
the mind delights to dwell. The exercise of
the spirit of kindness and accommodation to-
ward each other, established a habit of benevo-
lence, which showed Itself in their conduct
toward others, and became proverbial.

It was from this source, that the first
meetings for the affairs of the church origina-
ted. They were for the purpose of inquiring



what Friends were prisoners, or from other
causes needed rellel^ вАФ what wives had been
made widows, and what children orphans, by
the death of their husbands and parents in
prison, and to take care that suitable provision
was made for such. Another object was, to
collect accounts of the sufferings of Friends
by imprisonment, distraints, and other penal-
ties for their religious principles, and prepare
them for laying before those in authority.
This gave an opportunity for examining who
were illegally imprisoned, and adopting such
measures for their liberation, as the circum-
stances rendered proper.

The mode of accomplishing marriages, early
claimed the attention of George Fox, and called
forth the first directions which can properly
be viewed as disciplinary regulations. The
Church of England and the laws of the realm,
recognized no lesal marriages without the in-
tervention of a priest. Under the Common-
wealth and Protectorate, the ceremony was to
be performed before a magistrate, and the
words repeated by the contracting parties were
nearly the same in effect, as those which are
now used by Friends. Both these modes
however, presented insuperable objections to
the Society. They viewed the interference of
the priests, as an assumption altogether un-
warranted by Holy Scripture or the example
of the primitive church, and they clearly in-
ferred from the same authority, that marriage
was not a mere civil compact, but a Divine
ordinance, and that it was the prerogative of
God alone to join persons in that solemn cove-
nant.

Hence, on Scripture authority, they could
not acknowledge either of the existing modes
of accomplishing marriages, and therefore
adopted that which is practised at the present
day, of taking each other in marriage in a
religious assembly, this being in their appre-
hension, most consistent with the examples
which we have recorded in the Sacred Volume.

Such a departure from established usages
was an Important movement, and likely to be
misrepresented by their enemies to the injury
of the Society. The validity of their marria-
ges too, they had every reason to expect,
would be questioned and the descent of estates
consequently involved.



110



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



Already the objects of groundless suspicion
and misrepresentation, they could not but ap-
prehend that their opponents would endeavour
to cast the imputation of secresy and immo-
rality upon them, and hence they took the
precaution not only to make the proceedings
open and public, but to secure the testimony
of numerous witnesses to the ceremony. The
banns were published in their meetings, the
markets, or other places of public resort,
several weeks before the marriage took place,
and at least twelve persons were directed to
sign the cei'tificate of its accomplishment.
The wisdom of these precautions was soon
apparent. Their marriages were not only
calumniated as unchristian and indecent, but
their validity legally contested ; a circumstance
however, which proved of advantage to the
Society, for after full investigation they were
judicially established in open court by the
decision of the judges, and the calumnies
wiped awav. George Fox mentions that he
wrote to Friends in 1653, giving them direc-
tions how their marriages should be accom-
plished. This was some years antecedent to
the general institution of meetings for Disci-
pline, an event which led to some changes on
that subject, and produced a more regular and
uniform system of proceeding.

Connected with this subject, was the proper
registry of births and deaths, a matter of no
small consequence, in reference to its influence
on the rights of inheritance. The care which
he took in this respect, was marked by that
wisdom which distinguished his other arrange-
ments. Records were carefully preserved in
each subordinate meeting, and copies of them
transmitted to the Quarterly Meetings, where
they were again registered, in order that if
those of the smaller meetings were lost, access
might be had to copies duly authenticated
under the sanction of the Society.

The religious principles which governed the
members of the Society in the beginning, led
them to observe strict integrity and uprightness
in all their dealings, and to regard their words
with scrupulous exactness. They considered
the prevailing standard in these respects, much
below the morality which the Gospel required,
and could not be satisfied with anything short



Online LibraryWilliam EvansThe Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) → online text (page 24 of 105)