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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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several meetings within a county. These
meetings, in several of the counties at least,
had existed prior to the establishment of
Monthly Meetings, and they appear to have
had much the same office in the body as the
Monthly Meetings now have amongst us.
George Fox, in an epistle of an early date,
writes thus respecting them : ' In all the meet-
ings of the county two or three may be ap-
pointed from them to go to the Quarterly Meet-
ings, to give notice if there be any that walk
not in the truth, or have been convinced and
gone from the truth, and so have dishonoured
God ; and likewise to see if any that pro-
fess the truth follow pleasures, drunkenness,
gaming, or are not faithful in their callings



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



115



and dealings, nor honest ; but run into debt and
so bring a scandal upon the truth. Friends
may give notice to the Quarterly Meetings (if
there be any such,) and some may be ordered
to go and exhort them, and bring in their an-
swers to the next Quarterly Meeting. And to
admonish all them that be careless and sloth-
ful, to diligence in the truth and service for
God, and to bring forth heavenly fruits to God,
and that they may mind the good works of
God, and do them in believing on his Son, and
showing it forth in their conversation, and to
deny the devil and his bad works, and not to
do them ; and to seek them that be driven
away from the truth into the devil's wilderness
by his dark power. Seek them again by the
truth, and by the truth and power of God bring
them to God again.'

" It appears, by the preceding account of
the meeting at Skip ton, to have been with our
Society as it had been with the primitive church,
that the care and provision for its poor mem-
bers was amongst the earliest occasions of
disciplinary arrangements. The occasion for
this provision was much increased by the cruel
persecutions and robberies to which, on their
first rise, Friends were almost everywhere
exposed. It was no rare occurrence, at that
period, for the father of a family to be thrown
into a dungeon, and the house to be spoil-
ed of the very children's beds and all their
provisions. Nor was it uncommon to seek
their entire proscription and ruin, by refusing
to deal with them. Well may we say, with
reverent thankfulness, in reference to those
times, ' If it had not been the Lord who was
on our side, when men rose up against us,
then they had swallowed us up quick when
their wrath was kindled against us.'

" The members of the persecuted Society
were far from opulent ; but they proved them-
selves rich in charity as well as in faith and
hope : and the illustration of these virtues, by
the sacrifices which they made for the relief
of their more afflicted associates, and their un-
broken constancy in the sufferings which they
endured for the testimony of a good conscience,
were doubtless amongst the practical argu-
ments which at length extorted the commend-
ation even of their enemies.

" A second and perhaps contemporaneous
object of the Meetings for the Discipline of the
Society, was the obtaining of redress for those
illegally prosecuted or imprisoned, as also ap-
pears from the extract relative to the meeting
at Skipton. Though so patient in suffering
they deemed it their duty to apprise magis-
trates, judges, and the government of illegal
proceedings, and to use every legal and Chris-
tian effort to obtain redress. Several Friends
in London devoted a large portion of time to



this object, and regular statements of the most
flagrant cases were sent to them, and wei'e
frequently laid by them before the king and
government. Their constancy in suffering
was hardly exceeded by their unwearied ef-
forts to obtain relief for their suffering bre-
thren, and for the alteration of the persecut-
ing laws, and through these means the cause
of religious liberty was essentially promoted.

" A third object, which at a very early pe-
riod of the Society pressed upon its attention,
was the proper registration of births and
deaths, and the provision for due proceedings
relative to marriage. Their principles led
them at once to reject all priestly intervention
on these occasions, and hence the necessity
for their having distinct arrangements in re-
gard to them. In some of the meetings of
earliest establishment regular registers are
preserved from the year 1650 to the present
time. Great care was taken in regard to pro-
ceedings in marriage ; investigation as to the
clearness of the parties from other marriage
engagement, full publicity of their intentions,
and the consent of parents, appear to have
been recommended in early times as prehmi-
naries to the ratification of the agreement be-
tween the parties ; and this act took place
publicly in the religious meetings of the Soci-
ety. Marriage has always been regarded, by
Friends, as a religious, not a mere civil com-
pact.

" The right education of youth, the provi-
sion of suitable situations for them as appren-
tices or otherwise, and the settlement of dif-
ferences without going to law one with another,
were also among the early objects of the So-
ciety's care.

" The last object of the Discipline in early
times, which we shall enumerate, was the ex-
ercise of spiritual care over the members. As
the Society advanced it was soon reminded of
our Lord's declaration : ' It must needs be
that offences come.' United as they were, in
the main, in true Christian fellowship, differ-
ences did arise. Evidencing, as the Society
did, to a large extent, the fruits of the Spirit,
there were those who fell away from their
Christian profession, and walked disorderly.
Sound as was the body of Friends in Chris-
tian doctrine, there were members who were
betrayed into false doctrines and vain imagi-
nations ; and pure, and spiritual, and consist-
ent with true order and Christian subjection,
as were the principles of religious liberty advo-
cated by the Society, there were those who
appear to have assumed them under the false
expectation of an entire independence.

" To all these cases, the Discipline was ap-
plied in very early times, yet the spirit of ten-
derness, which breathes through the writings



116



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



of George Fox, in regard to the treatment of
delinquents, and which there is good reason
to believe was practically illustrated to a large
extent in the conduct of the Friends of those
days, is worthy of especial notice. In one of
his epistles he thus writes : ' Now concerning
Gospel order, though the doctrine of Jesus
Christ requireth his people to admonish a bro-
ther or sister twice, before they tell the church,
yet that limiteth none, so as that they shall
use no longer forbearance. And it is desired
of all, before they publicly complain, that they
wait in the power of God, to feel if there is
no more required of them to their brother or
sister, before they expose him or her to the
church. Let this be weightily considered, and
all such as behold their brother or sister in a
transgression, go not in a rough, light, or up-
braiding spirit, to reprove or admonish him or
her ; but in the power of the Lord and spirit
of the Lamb, and in the wisdom and love of
the truth, which suffers thereby, to admonish
such an offender. So may the soul of such a
brother or sister be seasonably and effectually
reached unto and overcome, and they may
have cause to bless the name of the Lord on
their behalf, and so a blessing may be reward-
ed into the bosom of that faithful and tender
brother or sister who so admonished them.
And so keep the church order of the Gospel,
according as the Lord Jesus Christ hath com-
manded ; that is, ' If thy brother offend thee,
speak to him betwixt thee and him alone ; and
if he will not hear, take two or three, and if
he will not hear two or three, then tell it to
the church.' And if any one do miscarry,
admonish them gently in the wisdom of God,
so that you may preserve him and bring him
to condemnation, and preserve him from fur-
ther evils, which it is well if such do not run
into : and it will be well for all to use the gen-
tle wisdom of God towards them in their
temptations, and condemnable actions ; and,
with using gentleness, to bring them to con-
demn their evil, and to let their condemnation
go as far as their bad action has gone and no
farther, to defile the minds of Friends or
others ; and so to clear God's truth and peo-
ple, and to convert the soul to God, and pre-
serve them out of further evils. — So be wise
in the wisdom of God.'

" We now proceed to notice the more regu-
lar and systematic establishment of Monthly
and Quarterly Meetings, and of the Yearly
Meeting. Though the history of those times
bears ample testimony to the useful part which
was taken in this important work by many
faithful Friends, yet it is clear that George Fox
was the chief instrument in the arrangement
and establishment of these meetings. There
was doubtless much reference to his individual



judgment, but it is worthy of notice how care-
fully he sought to keep the body from an im-
proper dependence upon him. As in his preach-
ing he directed his hearers to Christ for them-
selves, as alike their and Ins teacher, so in
the Discipline of the Society he laboured dili-
gently that the body might be strengthened to
help itself

" Under the date of 1666, George Fox says
in his journal, ' Then was I moved of the Lord
to recommend the setting up of five Monthly
Meetings of men and women Friends in the
city (London,) besides the women's meetings
and the Quarterly Meetings, to take care of
God's glory, and to admonish and exhort such
as walked disorderly and carelessly, and not
according to truth. For whereas Friends had
had only Quarterly Meetings, now truth was
spread and Friends were grown more nume-
rous, I was moved to recommend the setting
up of Monthly Meetings throughout the na-
tion.' In 1667 he laboured most diligently in
this service, under much bodily weakness from
his long confinements in cold and damp pri-
sons. In 1668 he thus writes, concerning this
service ; ' The men's Monthly Meetings were
settled through the nation. The Quarterly
Meetings were generally settled before. I
wrote also into Ireland, Scotland, Holland,
Barbadoes, and several parts of America, ad-
vising Friends to settle their men's Monthly
Meetings in those countries, for they had their
Quarterly Meetings before.' These Monthly
Meetings so instituted, took a large share of
that care which had heretofore devolved on
the Quarterly Meetings, and were no doubt
the means of bringing many more of the mem-
bers into a larger sphere of usefulness and the
exercise of their respective gifts in the church,
the free course for which he was so anxious
to promote. With reference to this subject,
he observes, in one of his epistles : ' The least
member in the church is serviceable, and all
the members have need one of another.'

" The Quarterly Meetings from this tnne
received reports of the state of the Society
from the Monthly Meetings, and gave such
advice and decisions as they thought right ;
but there was not, until some years after this
period, a general Yearly Meeting, in which
all the Quarterly Meetings were represented.
Of the establishment of that meeting we come
now to speak.

" There appears to have been held in Lon-
don, in 1668, a General Meeting of Friends
from all parts of the nation, from which an
epistle was issued to the Society, and the se-
veral Quarterly Meetings were requested to
make a collection for the service of truth be-
yond the seas, and for the distribution of books.
There is some reason to believe that this was



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



117



a General Meeting of ministers. In the year
1672 a General Meeting of ministers was held
at Devonshire House, I^onclon : Amongst its
proceedings we find the following minute, in
which we trace the origin of the Yearly Meet-
ing, constituted as it now is, of representatives
from various parts of the kingdom. ' It is con-
cluded, agreed, and assented unto, by Friends
then present, that for the better ordering, man-
aging, and regulating of the public affairs of
Friends relating to the truth and the service
thereof, that there be a General Meeting of
Friends held at London once a year, in the
week called Whitsun-week, to consist of six
Friends for the city of London, three for the
city of Bristol, two for the town of Colches-
ter, and one or two from each of the counties
of England and Wales respectively.'

" This representative Yearly Meeting met
at the time proposed in 1673, and came to the
conclusion, that the General Meeting, consti-
tuted as it then was, ' be discontinued till
Friends, in God's wisdom, shall see a further
occasion ;' and it was further agreed, that the
General Meeting of Friends who labour in the
work of the ministry, do continue as formerly
appointed. This Meeting of Friends in the
ministry, which had now been so formally
constituted and authorized, appears to have
been regularly held annually from this time to
the year 1677 inclusive. This Meeting of
Ministers in London appears at that time to
have had the general care of the church.

" In 1675 a series of important advices and
instructions were agreed upon, and sent forth
to the several meetings : they are contained in
an epistle, and are thus introduced : ' At a so-
lemn General Meeting of many faithful Friends
and brethren concerned in the public labour of
the Gospel and service of the church of Christ,
from the most parts of the nation.' I'his docu-
ment is signed by eighty-one Friends, most of
whom are well known as conspicuous in the
early history of the Society, and the spirit of
fervent piety and charity which it breathes is
well worthy of their character. In 1677 the
General Meeting agreed again to convene the
Meeting of Representatives in the ensuing
year, and then to advise respecting its con-
tinuance. Accordingly, in 1678 the repre-
sentative Yearly Meeting assembled in Lon-
don, and after agreeing upon several matters,
the substance of which was conveyed to the
various meetings of Friends, in the form of an
epistle with much Christian counsel, concluded
to meet again the next year after the same
manner ; and these meetings have continued
to assemble once a year in London, with un-
broken regularity, to the present time.

" When the General Meeting of ministers
transferred much of its duties to the represent-



ative Yearly Meeting, of which they formed a
part, there were some portions of the service
of these meetings which more particularly be-
longed to the ministers.

" Although the power to approve or disap-
prove of ministers, rested with the members
of the church to which they respectively be-
longed, in the capacity of a Monthly Meeting,
yet it was deemed fitting that the ministers
should have an especial oversight of each
other, and that they should meet together for
mutual consultation and advice in reo-ard to
those of their own station.

"George Fox, in 1674, writes thus: 'Let
your general assemblies of the ministers, [in
London,] or elsewhere, examine, as it was at
the first, whether all the ministers that go forth
into the counties, do walk as becomes the Gos-
pel, for that you know was one end of that
meeting, to prevent and take away scandal,
and to examine whether all who preach Christ
Jesus do keep in his government and in the
order of the Gospel, and to exhort them that
do not.' Meetings for these purposes, in which
Friends in the station of elder are now united,
continue to be regularly held.

" All the meetings which have been hitherto
described were conducted by men ; but it was
one of the earliest features of our religious
economy to elevate the character of the female
sex, by recognizing them as helpers in spirit-
ual as well as in temporal things ; holding in
the former, as well as in the latter, a distinct
place, and having duties which more peculiar-
ly devolved on them. For this purpose meet-
ings were estabUshed among them, with a spe-
cial regard to the care and edification of their
own sex. A meeting of Avomen Friends is
mentioned at Bristol as early as 1668, and it
appears from a passage already quoted from
George Fox, that they had been held in Lon-
don at a still earlier period. Their general
establishment does not, however, appear to
have taken place until after the settlement of
the men's meetings ; after speaking of these,
he says, ' Truth still spreading further over
the nation, and Friends increasing in number,
I was moved by the same eternal power to
recommend the setting up of women's meet-
ings also.' His views in regard to the estab-
lishment of these meetings are conveyed in
the following passages : ' That faithful women,
called to a belief of the truth, and made par-
takers of the same precious faith, and heirs
of the same everlasting Gospel of life and sal-
vation, as the men are, might in the like man-
ner come into the profession and practice of
the Gospel order, and therein be meet-helps to
the men in the restoration, in the service of
truth, and the affairs of the church, as they
are outwardly in civil and temporal things;



118



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



that so all the family of God, women as well
as men, might know, possess, and pei-form
their offices and services in the house of God :
whereby the poor might be better taken care
of, the younger sort instructed, informed, and
taught in the way of God ; the loose and dis-
orderly reproved and admonished in the fear
of the Lord ; the clearness of persons pro-
posing marriage more closely and strictly in-
quired into in the wisdom of God, and all the
members of the spiritual body, the church,
might watch over and be helpful to each other
in love.'

" Again, speaking of the important duties
of women in the church, he says : ' The elder
women in the truth were not only called elders,
but mothers : — now a mother in the church of
Christ and a mother in Israel is one who
nourishes, and feeds, and washes, and rules,
and is a teacher in the church, an admonisher,
an instructer, an exhorter. So the elder wo-
men and mothers are to be teachers of good
things, teachers of the younger, and to be
trainers of them up in virtue, holiness, right-
eousness, in wisdom, and in the fear of the
Lord, in the church of Christ.'

" The persevering efforts of George Fox to
establish a regular Discipline, a work in which
he was assisted by nearly all those who had
been instrumental in gathering the Society,
proved a great trial of spirits : To a large pro-
portion of the members the arrangements ap-
pear to have been quite satisfactory : there
was, however, a considerable number of ob-
jectors — the self-willed and lawless opposed it
with vehemence, and it must be admitted that
not a few of a very different class were drawn
aside by specious arguments, to oppose what
was represented as an encroachment upon in-
dividual spiritual liberty. Certain it is, that a
schism to some extent took place on this occa-
sion ; which, however, there is reason to be-
lieve, left the Society in a more healthy state
than it found it. The General Meeting of
1677 issued a strong declaration on the sub-
ject. Robert Barclay wrote, upon this occa-
sion, his " Anarchy of the Ranters ;" William
Penn his " Liberty Spiritual ;" and Stephen
Crisp an excellent tract, all of them endea-
vouring to prove the necessity of established
order and discipline in the church of Christ.
This very conflict, and the close examination
to which it led of the true limits of church
authority, tended, there is reason to believe,
under Divine direction, to establish the Disci-
pline at once more firmly and safely through-
out the Society than might otherwise have
been the case.

" Thus was a system of order and govern-
ment, in conformity with the spirit of Chris-
tianity, and the practice of the primitive



churches, established amongst us in early
times ; and thus a field was opened for the
exercise of the various gifts by which the
church, the body of Christ, is edified. It is
very observable in the history of our Society,
that the declension or revival of religious zeal
has ever been accompanied by a correspond-
ing relaxation or increase of care, in the ex-
ercise of the Discipline."

Beside the meetings spoken of in the fore-
going account, there are others mentioned in
the ancient writings of the Society, which
were held once in two, three, or six weeks.
They were of the same grade and service as
Monthly Meetings, but held at shorter or longer
intervals, as the circumstances of Fi'iends and
the amount or exigency of the business ap-
peared to require. There were also Half-
Year's Meetings, whose authority and duties
were similar to Quarterly Meetings, but held
only twice in the year, in consequence of the
remoteness of the members and the small
amount of business to be transacted.

During the height of the persecution which
Friends suffered, when the prisons were crowd-
ed, and many illegally arrested, it was found
necessary to make frequent application to per-
sons in authority for the redress of grievances.
Though Friends cheerfully endured the penal-
ty of the laws, rather than violate their con-
sciences, yet they promptly availed themselves
of every means of relief which the illegality
of the proceedings against them offered. Many
of these cases involved legal questions of intri-
cacy and moment, requiring the advice of the
most experienced and judicious Fi'iends ; and
not unfrequently the judgment of able counsel
was necessary to guard them from injury.
In some instances also prompt action was re-
quisite, while the fewness of Friends in a coun-
try neighbourhood, and the difficulty of assem-
bling them, rendered it almost impossible to
give the cases such mature consideration as
the nature of them seemed to demand. They
also derived a benefit from the frequent exhi-
bition to the king and council, or parliament,
of the statements of their sufferings through-
out the nation, that they might see at one
view, the extent to which persecution was
pushed.

These circumstances pointed out the neces-
sity of having a meeting in London, to which
the accounts of sufferings could be forwarded
for examination and proper arrangement, and
on which the duty of applications to the dif-
ferent branches of the government might de-
volve, as well as that of advising country
meetings in difficult and important cases.

Accordingly, " At a solemn General Meet-
ing of many faithful Friends and brethren,
concerned in the public labour of the Gospel



INSTITUTION OF THE DISCIPLINE.



119



and service of the church of Christ, from most
parts of the nation," the following minute was
adopted, viz. —

" Agreed, that certain Friends of this city
be nominated to keep a constant meeting
about sufferings four times in a year, with
the day and time of each meeting here fixed
and settled. That at least one Friend of each
county be appointed by the Quarterly Meeting
thereof, to be in readiness to repair to any of
the said meetings at this city, at such times
as their urgent occasions or sufferings shall
require." 1675.

The occasions for more frequent confer-
ences were so numerous, that in the following
year the time of the meetings was changed
from quarterly to weekly, and continued so
until the year 1794.

This was the origin of the Meeting for Suf-
ferings, and its duties being from time to time
extended by the Yearly Meeting, at length it
became the representative body of that meet-
ing during its recess ; still retaining, however,
the name which it took from the circumstances
that led to its first establishment.

Although the persecution of the Society
which gave rise to these meetings has long
since almost entiiely ceased, yet each Yearly
Meeting still has a Meeting for Sufferings con-
nected with its organization, the advantages
of which have ofi;en been apparent, especially
where prompt action on behalf of the whole
body of Friends was necessary. The duties
entrusted to those meetings in this country,
are —

First, To represent the Yearly Meeting,
and to appear on its behalf in all cases where
the cause of truth or the interest or reputation
of our religious Society may render it needful.

Second, To inspect and determine upon all
wi'itings proposed to be printed relative to the
religious principles of the Society, and to print
and circulate the approved writings of Friends.

Third, To examine and explain the titles



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 26 of 105)