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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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of the comprehensive rule laid down by our
blessed Saviour, in its most strict construction ;
" Whatsoever ye would that men should do
unto you, do ye even so to them." Acting
upon these principles they established a repu-
tation for truth and honesty, which eventually
increased their trade and business, and drew
upon them the observation of others. Thus
circumstanced, George Fox was anxious that
all who made profession with Friends, might
walk consistently with the high character the

Society had thus obtained, and not be induced
to take advantage of it either to extend their bu-
siness improperly, or to promote their worldly
intei'est by any unfair means. Several of his
early epistles contain much exhortation and
advice on these subjects, and recommend con-
cerned Friends to watch over their brethren
in love, that the least appearance of departure
might be checked. Other Friends also, la-
boured both by example and precept, to pro-
mote that Christian moderation which avoids
rather than seeks riches, and is contented with
the little which Providence is pleased to be-
stow ; as well as the exercise of caution in
contracting and promptitude in the payment
of debts, consistent with the advice of the apos-
tle to " owe no man anything but love."

The care of the ministry was another ob-
ject which occupied his attention. Within a
short period after the rise of the Society, many
of both sexes had engaged in that solemn ser-
vice, and travelled through the nation as well
as in foreign parts preaching the Gospel. It
was manifestly proper that these should be
persons approved by their friends at home,
and have their unity in entering on such ex-
tensive visits. For this purpose he gave di-
rections as early as 1669, that such should
have certificates from their brethren, stating
the consistency of their conduct and conver-
sation, and the approbation of their friends.

His solicitude for the religious education
of the youth, was evinced by earnest ex-
hortation in many of his epistles, to the dili-
gent discharge of the duty of parents and
guardians in this respect. He also enjoined
on meetings the care of the estates and educa-
tion of orphans, and procuring them suitable
places with Friends as apprentices or servants.
Where widows who had children by a former
husband, contemplated marrying again, meet-
ings were directed to see that the rights of
such children to their father's estates, were
fully secured, with such other provision for
them as the circumstances of the surviving
parent rendered proper, before the proposals
of marriage were allowed by the meeting.

The superstitious opinions entertained by
most professors, respecting the holiness of the
places of worship and interment, as well as
the interference of the priests in the burial of
the dead, formed an objection in the minds of
Friends to making use of the usual burial
grounds. Connected with this, was the erec-
tion of costly monuments over the remains of
deceased relatives and friends, a practice which
they considered inconsistent with the profession
of a Christian, involving a useless expense, and
designed rather to gratify the pride of survivors
than to perpetuate the virtues of the deceased ;
the true memorial of the righteous being in



the hearts of those who revered and followed
their example in a holy life and conversation.

In consequence of these views, he recom-
mended to Friends, in one of his early epistles,
to procure burial grounds for themselves and
have them decently fenced in and preserved in
neat order, that they " might show a good ex-
ample to the world in all things."

When we consider the great numbers who
joined the Society ; that without any formal
admission, all those who embraced the princi-
ples of Friends and attended their meetings,
were considered members, as well as their
children, and the body in some measure im-
plicated in the consistency of their conduct ;
the numerous meetings which were settled ;
and the wide extent of country they embraced ;
it is obvious that the organization of the So-
ciety would have been imperfect, without some
system of church government, by which the
conduct of the members might be inspected
and restrained. Frail as man is, it would have
been miraculous if cases of aberration from
the path of Christian rectitude did not occur.
The experience of every man must teach him
that such derelictions, however painful and
humiliating, ought to be anticipated and pro-
vided for. Amid a throng of implacable ene-
mies watching the infant Society for evil, it
was no less certain that if such cases did occur,
they would be exultingly caught at, and mag-
nified to its disadvantage. Had there been no
provision for bringing home to delinquents the
tender admonition, or honest rebuke, which
the purity and love of the Gospel contemplates,
the natural proneness to evil which marks the
unregenerate heart of man, would probably
have gained the ascendancy, and carried them
beyond the reach of instrumental aid.

In this imperfect state of being, we are in-
structed from the highest authority that "of-
fences must needs come ;" but it does not
necessarily follow, either that the offender
must be cut off from the church, or that the
reproach of his misconduct should be visited
on the society where he happens to be attached.
If in pursuance of those Chxistian means laid
down in the Gospel, he is brought to acknow-
ledge and sincerely condemn his error, a
brother is gained ; the church is freed from
reproach by his repentance and amendment
of life, and thus the highest aim of all disci-
plinary regulations is happily attained. If
however, the friendly admonition of his bre-
thren is disregai'ded, and they arc placed under
the necessity of declaring their disapprobation
of his misconduct, and that he has thereby
separated himself from their fellowship and
communion, the Society having discharged its
duty toward him and testified against his
evil course, is equally exonerated therefrom.

Nor should the occurrence of such circum-
stances prejudice the Christian profession of
any, nor be made the occasion of stumbling,
any more than the treachery of Judas, the
worldly mindedness of Demas, or the apostacy
of Hymeneus, Philelus, or Alexander, can
be adduced as an argument against the Chris-
tian religion itself.

Of the different forms of church government
existing at the time Friends arose, some vested
the whole supervisory care in the ministers,
who possessed exclusively the power of ex-
communication; othei's limited it to a particu-
lar class of persons chosen for the purpose ;
and those which admitted the whole congre-
gation to participate in it, tolerated a degree of
laxity and indulgence incompatible with the
requirements of the Gospel ; while in others
there was scarcely any control at all.

The views which George Fox took of the
subject differed from all these, and were
marked by the simplicity and scriptural sound-
ness which distinguished his whole religious
character. He considered the church as a
harmonious and compact body, made up of
living members, having gifi;s difliering accord-
ing to the measure of grace received, yet all
dependent one on another, and each, even the
weakest and lowest, having its proper place
and service. This is beautifully described by
the apostle Paul, in the twelfth chapter of his
first epistle to the Corinthians, where he shows
the intimate union which subsists among the
members of Christ's church, and the honour
and service assigned to each, " that there
should be no schism in the body, but that the
members might have the same cai-e for each
other, that whether one member suffer, all the
members suffer with it, or one member be
honoured all the members rejoice with it."

As the very design of religious society is
the preservation, comfort, and edification of
the members, and as all have a common inte-
rest in the promotion of these great ends, so
he considered every faithful member religiously
bound to contribute, according to his capacity,
toward their attainment. In endeavouring thus
to discharge their respective duties, under the
influence of that divine charity " which suffer-
eth long and is kind," and with a single eye
to the good of each other and the honour of
God, the members " grow up together into
Him, in all things, who is the Head, even
Christ ; from whom the whole body fitly joined
together, and compacted by that which every
joint supplieth, according to the effectual work-
ing in the measure of every part, maketh in-
crease of the body unto the edifying of itself
in love."

In the New Testament we are furnished
with a short, but comprehensive description of



the government which our Lord instituted for
his church. " If, says he, thy brother shall
trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault
between thee and him alone. If he shall hear
thee thou hast gained thy brother. But if he
.will not hear thee, then take with thee one or
two more, that in the mouth of two or three
witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to
the church; but if he neglect to hear the
church, let him be to thee as an heathen man
and a publican."

In this passage we find no limitation of this
Christian care to ministers or to any other par-
ticular class, but every brother who sees an-
other offending, is to admonish him privately,
with a view to his restoration. With respect
to the authority of the church in the perform-
ance of its duties, the language of our Lord
is very comprehensive, viz. " Verily I say
unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye
shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall
agree on earth as touching anything they shall
ask, it shall be done for them of my Father
who is in heaven : for where two or three are
gathered together in my name, there am I in
the midst of them."

This doctrine of the immediate presence of
Christ with his church, whether assembled for
the purpose of Divine worship, or the trans-
action of discipHnary affairs, is the foundation
of all its authority. It was on this ground,
that George Fox so often and earnestly ex-
horted his brethren to hold all their meetings
in the power of the Lord, each one waiting
and striving to know Christ Jesus brought into
dominion in their own hearts, that so his living
presence might be felt in their assemblies. In
a church thus gathered, we cannot doubt that
the gracious Head condescends to be in the
midst, qualifying the members to worship the
Father of spirits in spirit and in truth, or en-
duing them with wisdom and discernment
rightly to dispose of the important concerns
which engage their attention. Nor can we
question, that so far as they act under his
wisdom and direction, their conclusions are in
conformity with his will and have the authority
of the Holy Spirit for their sanction and support.
However we may come short of this exalted
standard, in the present state of the Society,
it is certainly no more than the Scriptures of
Truth hold forth as the privilege and authority
of every true church, and it ought to be the
object of our constant and earnest aim.

It will be readily granted that the language
of our Lord is designed to apply to those only
who are really members of the true church.
Among these there will be various degrees of

growth. As in the physical economy there
are successive stages of advancement from in-
fancy to youth and manhood, before full ma-
turity is attained, so in the spiritual life there
is first a child, and then a young man, before
we can arrive at the estate of strong men and
fathers in the church.

Even the least child, however, if a living
member, has his or her allotted station in the
church. Such a state, however, necessarily in-
cludes the condition of faithfulness to the mea-
sure of light and knowledge bestowed ; and of
consequence such as do not walk in a good de-
gree consistently with their profession, cannot
be considered as properly engaged in the exe-
cution of the Discipline. " Brethren," says the
apostle to the Galatians, " if a man be over-
taken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore
such an one in the spirit of meekness ; consi-
dering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
The word spiritual, clearly designates a state
which is subject to the government of the
Holy Spirit, and appears to point out that
those only who are submitting to its restraints
and following its leadings, have a part in the
exercise of this restoring care over the mem-
bers of the body.

Throughout the whole of the Discipline of
Friends these views are upheld. They con-
stitute a part of the basis on which it is found-
ed, and without they are maintained, it must
inevitably fall into decay. While the Society
freely grants to all its members the privilege
of sitting in its meetings for business and wit-
nessing their proceedings, and encourages all
to faithfulness in the performance of their re-
ligious duties, the very nature of the compact
forbids the idea that all, whatever their spirit-
ual growth, or experience, and whether faith-
ful or otherwise in the support of their reli-
gious pi'inciples, are entitled to equal authority
and deference. This would be to subvert the
order of the Gospel, and to destroy the dis-
tinctions between right and wrong. There are
fathers and elders who " are worthy of dou-
ble honour," and to whom that deference and
respect is to be shown, to which they are en-
titled for their works' sake. " Likewise," says
the apostle Peter, " ye younger submit your-
selves unto the elder, yea all of you be sub-
ject one to another, and be clothed with hu-
mility ;" and the elders he exhorts to " feed
the flock of God, taking the oversight thereof,
not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy
lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being
lords over God's heritage, but ensamples to
the flock ;" with the assurance that " when
the chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall
receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."

Having taken this brief view of the origin
of the Discipline and the principles on which



it is founded, we shall lay before our readers
an extract from the last edition of " The Book
of Extracts of London Yearly Meeting," ex-
hibiting the successive steps by which the dif-
ferent grades of meetings for business were
brought to their present organization.

" By the term discipline, we understand all
those arrangements and regulations which are'
instituted for the civil and religious benefit of
a Christian church : the Meetings of Disci-
pline are, of course, for the purpose of carry-
ing those objects into effect. Their design
was said by George Fox, to be — the promo-
tion of charity and piety.

" It cannot be said that any system of dis-
cipline formed a part of the original compact
of the Society. There was not, indeed, to hu-
man appearance, anything systematic in its
formation. It was an association of persons
who were earnestly seeking, yea panting after
the saving knowledge of Divine Truth. They
were men of prayer, and diligent searchers of
the Holy Scriptures : Unable to find true rest
in the various opinions and systems, which in
that day divided the Christian world, they be-
lieved that they found the Truth in a more full
reception of Christ, not only as the living and
ever-present Head of the church in its aggre-
gate capacity, but also as the light and life, —
the spiritual ruler, teacher, and friend of every
individual member.

" These views did not lead them to the aban-
donment of those doctrines which they had
heretofore held in regard to the manhood of
Christ, his propitiatory sacrifice, mediation,
and intercession. They did lead them, how-
ever, to a less dependence upon man, and to
much inward retirement and waiting upon
God, that they might know his will, and be-
come quick of understanding in the fear of
the Lord ; yet were they very frequent in their
meetings together for mutual edification and
instruction, for the purpose of united worship
in spirit and in truth, and for the exercise of
their several gifts, as ability might be afforded
by Him who has promised to be with the two
or three disciples who are gathered together
in his name.

" From these meetings, in which the love of
God was often largely shed abroad in the
hearts of those who attended them, even when
held in silence, most of those ministers went
forth, who, in the earliest periods of the Soci-
ety, proclaimed to others the truth as they had
found it, and called them from dejiendence on
man, to that individual knowledge of Christ
and of his teachings, which the Holy Scrip-
tures so clearly and abundantly declare to be
the privilege of the Gospel times. As these
views struck at the very root of that great
corruption iji the Christian church, by which

Vol. 1.— No. 3.

one man's performances on behalf of others
had been made essential to public worship,
and on which hung all the load of ecclesias-
tical domination and the trade in holy things,
so it necessarily separated those who had, as
they believed, found the liberty of the Gospel,
from those who still adhered with pious regard,
or a mere ignorant and selfish attachment, to
that system which was upheld by the existing
churches of the land.

" Being thus separated from others, and
many being every day added to the church,
there arose of course peculiar duties of the
associated persons towards each other. Chris-
tianity has ever been a powerful, active, and
beneficent principle. Those who truly receive
it, no more ' live unto themselves,' and this
feature and fruit of genuine Christianity was
strikingly exhibited in the conduct of the early
Friends. No sooner were a few persons con-
nected together in the new bond of religious
fellowship, than they wei'e engaged to admo-
nish, encourage, and in spiritual as well as
temporal matters, to watch over and help one
another in love.

" The members who lived near to each
other, and who met together for religious wor-
ship, immediately formed, from the very law
of their union, a Christian family or little
church. Each member was at liberty to ex-
ercise the gift bestowed upon him, in that
beautiful harmony and subjection which be-
long to the several parts of a living body,
from the analogy of which the apostle Paul
draws so striking a description of the true
church ; ' Ye are the body of Christ and mem-
bers in particular.'

" Of this right exercise of spiritual gifis,
and thereby of an efficient discipline, many
examples are afforded in the history of the
earliest period of the Society ; we shall select
one which we believe may be considered as
fairly illustrating the practice of early times.
Stephen Crisp in his memoirs, speaking of his
own state soon after his convincement, which
was in 1655, and within a k\v years of the
establishment of a meeting at Colchester, the
place of his residence, thus expresses himself:
' The more I came to feel and perceive the love
of God and his goodness to me, the more was
I humbled and bowed in my mind to serve him,
and to serve the least of his people among
whom I walked : And as the word of wisdom
began to spring in me, and the knowledge of
God grew, so I became a counsellor of those
that were tempted in like manner as I had
been ; yet was kept so low, that I waited to
receive counsel daily from God, and from
those that were over me in the Lord, and were
in Christ beil^re mc, against whom I never re-
belled nor was stubborn ; but the more I was



kept in subjection myself, the more I was en-
abled to help the weak and feeble ones. And
the church of God, in those days, increased,
and my care daily increased, and the weight
of things relatina; both to the outward and in-
ward condition of poor Friends came upon
me ; and being called of God and his people
to take the care of the poor, and to relieve
their necessities as I did see occasion, I did it
faithfully for divers years, with diligence and
much tendei-ness, exhorting and reproving any
that were slothful, and encouraging them that
wei'e diligent, putting a difference according
to the wisdom given me of God, and still mind-
ing my own state and condition, and seeking
the honour that cometh from God only.' — Me-

" Thus, then, we believe it may be safely
asserted, that there never was a period in the
Society when those who agreed in religious
principles were wholly independent of each
other, or in which that order and subjection
which may be said to constitute discipline,
did not exist. But as the number of members
increased, those mutual helps and guards which
had been, in great measure, spontaneously af-
forded, were found to require some regular
arrangements for the preservation of order in
the church.

" The history of these proceedings affords
no small evidence, that the spirit of a sound
mind influenced the body in its earliest peri-
ods. Contending, as they did, for so large a
measure of individual spiritual liberty, and
placing the authority of man, in religious mat-
ters, in a position so subordinate to that of the
one great Head of the church, they neverthe-
less recognized the importance and necessity
of arrangements and of human instrumental-
ity, under the direction of the Spirit of Christ ;
and they were led to establish a system of
order at once so simple and efficient, that not-
withstanding the varying circumstances of the
Society, and the power of every annual meet-
ing to alter it, it has been found, in its main
particulars, adapted to those changes, and it
remains to this day essentially the same as it
was within forty years of the rise of the So-
ciety. Previously, however, to the establish-
ment of that regular system of Discipline, and
of that mode of repi'esenlation in the meetings
for conducting it, which now exist, there had
been many General Meetings held in different
parts of the nation, for the purpose of pro-
viding for the various exigencies of the Soci-
ety. How these meetings were constituted it
is not easy precisely to ascertain. The ' la-
bourers in the Gospel,' by Avhose instrument-
ality the church had been gathered, appear to
have taken the most prominent part in the
proceedings of these meetings. George Fox

mentions in his journal, that some Meetings
for Discipline were settled in the north of
England so early as 1653. The first General
Meeting of which we are aware that any re-
cords are extant, was held at Balby, near
Doncaster, in Yorkshire, in the year 1656,
and from this meeting a number of directions
and advices were issued, addressed ' To the
Brethren in the North.' This document refers
to most of the points which now form the
chief subjects of our Discipline. It contains
instructions as to the Gospel order of proceed-
ing with delinquents, and advices to husbands
and wives, parents and children, masters and
servants, as to the discharge of their relative du-
ties, and also in regard to strict justice in trade.
George Fox mentions attendins; a General
Meeting in Bedfordshire, in 1658, which last-
ed three days ; at which, he says, ' there were
Friends present from most parts of the nation,
and many thousands of persons were at it.'
He also mentions attending a meeting at Skip-
ton, in 1660, ' for the affairs of the church,
both in this nation and beyond the seas :' and
he says, that he had recommended the estab-
lishment of this meeting several years before,
when he was in the north, ' for many Friends
suffered in divers parts of the nation ; their
goods Avere taken from them contrary to law,
and they understood not how to help them-
selves, or where to seek redress.' ' This meet-
ing,' he adds, ' had stood several years, and
divers justices and captains had come to break
it up ; but when they understood the business
Friends met about, and saw Friends' books,
and accounts of collections for the use of the
poor ; how we took care one county to help
another, and to help our Friends beyond sea,
and to provide for our poor, so that none should
be chargeable to their parishes, the justices
and officers confessed we did their work, and
would pass away peaceably and lovingly.'

" Next to General Meetings we must notice
the establishment of Quarterly Meetings, which
were constituted of Friends deputed by the

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 25 of 105)