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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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was determined to continue them, and the king
forbade the justices interfering with the people.
It may readily be supposed, that such proceed-
ings would have a powerful influence in pro-
moting licentiousness ; when, in addition to the
command of their king, the ministers of reli-
gion joined in encouraging practices, to which
the depraved inclinations of the human heart
alone, furnish strong excitement. We may
safely rank this among the causes, which con-
tributed to promote the immorality and cor-
ruption which so lamentably overspread the



nation, and gave rise to the close and sharp
reproof, which our early Friends so often found
it their duty to administer.

The few parliaments which James and
Charles assembled, evinced a disposition to
apply some remedy to the religious dissensions
and grievances which distracted the nation.
This was an interference so little agreeable to
the crown, that they were speedily prorogued,
and a long period suffered to elapse before an-
other was called, which gave rise to the sus-
picion, that the monarch intended to govern
by prerogative only, and without the interven-
tion of a parliament.

The condition of the nation when Charles
came to the throne, was melancholy indeed.
It was torn by internal dissensions ; and the af-
fections of a large portion of the people alienated
from the king, by oppression and injustice.
The encroachments of the crown — the con-
tinued encouragement given to Papists, the un-
mitigated persecution of the Puritans, and of
such as had the magnanimity and courage to
resist the arbitrary measures of the court and
its minions, together with the failure of some
of his military enterprises, tended to increase
the murmurs, and to rouse the spirit of those,
who regarded the liberties and the religion of
the country. Influenced by mistaken notions
of royal prerogative, and misguided by his
counsellors, Charles, instead of softening the
spirits of the Puritans by some concessions,
proceeded to still greater lengths, until the
minds of many of his subjects were prepared
for any change which promised to restore to
them their civil and religious rights. From
this state of things, it was but a short step to
open warfare, and accordingly the nation was
soon involved in a civil war, which resulted in
bringing Charles to the scafTold, and setting up
a new form of government. Numerous nego-
tiations for a settlement of the religious dif-
ferences took place, but neither the king nor
the parliament being willing to accede to the
terms proposed by the other, in 1642 they ap-
pealed to the sword to settle a controversy,
which had hitherto been managed only by
words. During the course of the war, which
continued with various success for several
years, the king was often reduced to great
extremities, and at last falling into the hands
of the parliament, he was brought to trial be-
fore his avowed enemies, and condemned to be
beheaded as a traitor. This cruel sentence
was carried into execution early in 1648.

It was in 1646, during the prevalence of the
civil and religious commotions, that George
Fox commenced his labours as a minister of the
Gospel, being then in the 23d year of his age.

After the death of the king, the nation was
without any legal form of government ; but



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



9



the parliament, which had assumed the power,
and exercised it at the commencement of the
war, still continued to govern. The Presby-
terians had the control of affairs chiefly in
their hands, and proceeded to model the reli-
gion of the nation to suit their peculiar views.
Instead of the liturgy of the Church of Eng-
land, they set up the Directory for Public
Worship ; and, forgetting the severity of
their own sufferings for non-conformity, when
others were in power, they now set about com-
pelling all to comply with their established
forms. The arguments they had used against
persecution for religion, when smarting un-
der the lash of the Episcopal Church, were
urged upon them in vain. Having the power
in their hands, they appeared to consider it
as a sufficient authority for coercing others,
to adopt that form of worship and system of
doctrines, which they had detei'mined to be
the best. Never did religious toleration seem
to be less understood, or the great right of
liberty of conscience more wantonly disre-
garded.

But while the parliament was acting in con-
formity with these narrow and bigoted opin-
ions, principles of a contrary character were
at work in the army, where the Independents
predominated, and carried with them their
wonted liberality toward the conscientious
dissent of others. Against this latitude of
indulgence, the Presbyterians declared with
great earnestness, as a source of innumera-
ble evils, and tending to the destruction of all
religion. A long conference took place be-
tween the two parties, for the purpose of ma-
king some arrangement, by which the Inde-
pendent form of worship and discipline could
be included ; but such was the pertinacity of
the Presbyterian faction, that they refused to
yield anything, and the scheme was abandon-
ed as hopeless.

This arbitrary and oppressive course, ren-
dered the sect unpopular ; and the Indepen-
dents finding they were not likely to obtain
much from the parliament, and having the
army on their side, with Oliver Cromwell at
its head, he put an end to the Commonwealth
and the parliament together, in the year 1653
— the former having continued a little more
than four years, and the latter sat as a legis-
lative body, with some short intermissions, for
thirteen years.

It was not long ere Cromwell and his offi-
cers struck out a new form of government ;
and in the latter end of 1653, he was de-
clared Lord Protector of England, Scotland
and Ireland, &c. The principles of the new
government, relative to religion, were more
liberal and Christian, than any which preceded

Vol. I.— No. 1.



it. The articles of the constitution embracing
that subject, contain the following, viz : —

" That the Christian religion contained in
the Scriptures, be held forth and recommend-
ed as the public profession of these nations.

" That none be compelled to conform to the
public religion, by penalties or otherwise ; but
that endeavours be used to win them by sound
doctrine and the example of a good conversa-
tion.

" That such as profess faith in God, by
Jesus Christ, though differing in judgment
from the doctrine, worship, and discipline pub-
licly held forth, shall not be restrained from,
but shall be protected in, the profession of their
faith, and the exercise of their religion ; so as
they abuse not this liberty to the civil injury
of others, and to the actual disturbance of the
public peace on their parts ; provided, this
liberty be not extended to popery or prelacy,
or to such as, under a profession of Christ,
hold forth and practice licentiousness."

Creditable as these provisions are to the en-
lightened views of religious toleration, enter-
tained by those who framed them, they are
still defective, in making exceptions to two
classes of professors. Had they been faith-
fully carried out in practice, they would
have saved much suffering for conscience
sake, both to Friends and the Baptists. For
however favourable the protector was to
granting liberty of conscience to all, it was
not the case with the magistrates, justices and
others, in whose hands the execution of the
laws was placed. From the cupidity or in-
tolerance of these. Friends were often inter-
rupted in the exercise of their religion, and
punished, because they could not swear or pay
tythes, though to a much less degree than was
afterward the case.

Toward the close of Cromwell's govern-
ment, he was again declared protector, under
new articles of government, in which an at-
tempt was made to narrow the grounds of tole-
ration, by a more close definition of the doc-
trines to be professed.

In the opening of the second session of the
parliament, in 1657, the Lord Commissioner
Fiennes " warns the house of the rock on
which many had split, which was a spirit of
imposing upon men's consciences, in things
wherein God leaves them a latitude, and would
have them free." — " As God is no respecter
of persons, so he is no respecter of forms ;
but in what form soever the spirit of imposi-
tion appears, he Avill testify against it. If men,
though otherwise good, will turn ceremony
into substance, and make the kingdom of
Chi'ist consist in circumstances, in discipline,

and in forms, in vain do thev

2



10



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



protest against the persecution of God's peo-
ple, when they make the definition of God's
people so narrow, that their persecution is as
broad as any other, and usually more fiei'ce,
because edged with a sharp temper of spirit."
" It is good to hold forth a public profession
of the truth, but not so as to exclude those
that cannot come up to it in all points, from
the privilege that belongs to them as Chris-
tians, much less to the privilege that belongs
to them as men."

These just sentiments, which appeared to
be gaining ground in the minds of men,
were soon to receive a check, by the change
of rulers. In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died,
and was succeeded by his son Richard ; who,
finding the difficulties and perplexities of ba-
lancing the power of rival parties, and con-
ducting the affairs of state, little suited either
to his capacity or his inclinations, resigned
his high and responsible station, after having
occupied it only eight months.

A short interregnum ensued, and in 1660
the kingdom was restored to the house of Stu-
art, by proclaiming Charles II.

These frequent changes in the government
had a tendency to keep up the unsettlement
which had long agitated the nation, as well
as those violent party feelings and prejudices,
which the political and religious struggles had
engendered. Friends took no part in the revo-
lutions of government — their principles forbade
them from putting down or setting up, and
taught them to live peaceably, as good citizens,
under whatever power the Ruler of the uni-
verse permitted to be established over them.
But though peaceable and non-resisting in their
conduct, they were neither idle nor unconcern-
ed spectators of the course of events. Believ-
ing that righteousness was the only security
for a nation's stability and prosperity, they earn-
estly enforced on the parliament and protector,
as well as the monarchs who succeeded, the
suppression of vice and immorality, the equal
administration of justice, and the removal of
all oppression. The addresses made to those
in authority by George Fox, Edward Bur-
rough and others, are marked with innocent
boldness, and good sense, delivered in a style
of great frankness and honesty. Nor did they
omit to warn them of the consequences which
would ensue if they failed to perform the divine
will, predicting with clearness the overthrow of
Oliver's government, and some other changes
which occurred.

In his declaration issued from Breda, on
the eve of his sailing for England to assume
the crown, Charles held this conciliatory lan-
guage, calculated to allay the fears of those
who dreaded the restoration of the hierarchy.
" We do also declare a liberty to tender con-



sciences, and that no man shall be disquieted
or called in question for differences of opinion,
in matters of religion, which do not disturb
the peace of the kingdom."

But plausible as are these promises, and sin-
cere as the king might have been in making
them, the event proved how little reliance was
to be placed upon the royal word. Devoted to
his own pleasures, and with too little applica-
tion or industry to examine the opinions of his
advisers, or inquire into the sufferings sus-
tained by his subjects, he permitted the clergy
to pursue their own measures for the promo-
tion of the church, who took care to return
the measure of persecution, meted to them under
the commonwealth and protectorate, heaped up
and running over into the bosoms of tbe dis-
senters. Conformity was rigidly enfoi'ced, and
not satisfied with the existing statutes for pun-
ishing those who dared to diffbr in their con-
sciences from the prescribed standard, new and
more oppressive laws were procured.

The persecution fell with peculiar severity
on Friends, who were suspected of being un-
friendly to the restoration of the king, from
their refusal to take any oath, and consequently
the oath of allegiance to the crown — though
they repeatedly offered instead, their most
solemn declarations to the same effect.

The peaceable and unresisting spirit which
governed the conduct of Fiiends, seemed to
embolden their pei'secutors to oppress them
without colour of law or justice, knowing they
had nothing to fear from the law of retalia-
tion, and that but ijew could be found to plead
their cause or espouse the defence of their
rights.

To give some colour to the severities prac-
tised against them, pretexts were drawn from
supposed violations of the regulations of civil
policy — " A Christian exhortation to an assem-
bly after the priest had done and the worship
was over, was denominated interrupting public
worship, and disturbing the priest in his office ;
an honest testimony against wickedness in the
streets or market place, was styled a breach
of the peace ; and their appearing before the
magistrates covered, a contempt of authority ;
hence proceeded fines, imprisonments and spoil-
ing of goods. Nay, so hot were some of the
magistrates for persecution, even in Cromwell's
time, that by an unparallelled and most unjust
misconstruction of the law against vagrants,
they tortui'ed with cruel whippings and exposed
in the stocks, the bodies both of men and wo-
men of good estate and reputation, merely be-
cause they went under the denomination of
Quakers."

Several obsolete statutes were brought to bear
most heavily upon Friends, though originally
enacted with a view of reaching the Papists,



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



11



who refused to conform to the estabUshed re-
Kgion. Among these was an act passed in
the 32d year of Henry VIII. 's reign, against
subtracting or withholding tythes ; obliging
justices to commit obstinate defendants to
prison, until they should find sufficient security
for their compliance. — The laws made in Eliz-
abeth's reign for enforcing a uniformity of
worship, authorizing the levy of a fine of one
shilling per week for the use of the poor, from
such as did not resort to some church of the
established religion, every sabbath or holy
day, — and also another, establishing a for-
feiture of twenty pounds per month for the like
default. A third law empowered the officers
to seize all the goods, or a third part of the
lands, of every such offender for the fine of
twenty pounds. And as if these were not suf-
ficiently severe, another was enacted in the
35th year of Queen Elizabeth, obUging offen-
ders in the like case to abjure the realm, on
pain of death.

All these laws were revived, and attempts
made to enforce them in the cases of Friends,
though it was well known they were designed
to bear upon the Papists. As Friends could
not conscientiously pay tythes, believing that
the ministry of the gospel should be free, ac-
cording to the express injunction of Christ to
his apostles, "Freely ye have received, freely
give," great havoc was inade of their property
by the rapacious priests.

The Society of Friends viewed the positive
command of our Lord, " Swear not at all,"
corroborated by the exhortation of the Apostle
James, " But above all things, my brethren,
swear not ; neither by Heaven, neither by the
earth, neither by any other oath," as being of
indispensable obligation, and entirely preclud-
ing the Christian from taking an oath on any
occasion whatever.

Soon after Charles II. came to the throne,
the acts made in the reigns of Elizabeth and
James, requiring the subject to take the oaths
of allegiance and supremacy were revived, and
visited upon Friends with great oppression.

In 1661, the parliament passed another act,
aimed directly at the Society, providing that
any Quaker refusing to take an oath, when
lawfully tendered, or who should maintain, in
writing or otherwise, the unlawfulness of taking
an oath ; or if five or more Quakers, above
the age of sixteen years, should assemble for
religious worship, they should forfeit five
pounds for the first offence, or suffer three
months imprisonment ; doubling the penalty
for the second offence ; and for the third, they
were to abjure the realm, or be transported.

The insurrection of the ".fifth monarchy
men," as they were called, was the occasion
of fresh persecution to Friends. They were



a company of infatuated men, who, supposing
that the one thousand years of Christ's reign
on earth, mentioned in Rev. xx. was just
commencing, rose in arms and ran about the
streets of London, crying out that they were
going to overthrow the government of King
Charles, and set up King Jesus. Although there
was not the shadow of reason, for connecting
the Society in any way with this wild insurrec-
tion, yet the king made it the pretext for issu-
ing his proclamation, for the suppression of all
unlawful conventicles, or meetings for religious
purposes, designating particularly those of the
Anabaptists and Quakers. This encouraged
the profane and irreligious populace to assail
the meetings of Friends, and inflict upon them
the grossest outrages an^. cruelties.

Severe as were the sufferings of Friends
under the operation of these oppressive laws,
their constancy was not shaken. They fear-
lessly and openly met for the solemn duty of
Divine worship, nothing daunted by the terrors
which threatened them. This Chi'istian bold-
ness exasperated their enemies, especially the
persecuting priests and magistrates ; and an-
other law was procured more prompt and ter-
rible in its operation. It declared the statute
of 35th of Elizabeth in full force ; and that
every person taken at a meeting consisting of
more than five, beside the household, should suf-
fer three months imprisonment, or pay a fine of
five pounds, on conviction before two justices —
double the penalty for the second offence ; and
being convicted of a third, before the justices
at the Quarter Sessions, should be transported
for seven years, or pay one hundred pounds
fine — and in case they returned or escaped,
they should be adjudged felons, and sentenced
to death. It also empowered sheriffs, justices
of the peace, and persons commissioned by
them, to hunt out and break up all religious
meetings, other than those of the established
religion, and take into custody such of the
company as they saw fit. Persons allowing
such meetings in their houses, barns, &c. to be
subject to the same penalties and forfeitures as
other offenders. Such as were sentenced to
transportation, were to be sent over sea at their
own expense ; and in default of ability to pay,
to be sold for five years to defray the charges.
Married women taken at meetings, to be im-
prisoned for a term not exceeding twelve
months, or their husbands to pay for their
redemption not exceeding forty pounds.

The next enactment by which Friends suf-
fered, was commonly known by the name of
the Oxford five mile act. It was aimed at the
Presbyterian and other non-conforming minis-
ters, requiring them to take an oath, that it
was not lawful under any pretence to take
up arms against the king; and that they would



12



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



not at any time, endeavour to procure any al-
teration in the government of church or state.
Such as refused to take the oath, were declared
incapable of teaching any school, public or
private, under penalty of forty pounds. All
nonconforming ministers were likewise pro-
hibited from coming within five i;giles of any
city, town, or borough sending members to
parliament, or within five miles of any place
where they had officiated as ministers, unless
it might be in passing along a public highway,
under a forfeiture of forty pounds ; one-third
of which went to the informer.

The refusal of Friends to take an oath,
brought their ministers within the scope of
this law, and fines, distraints and imprison-
ments were the consequences.

In 1670, there appeared to be a disposition
among some of the officers of government to
put a stop to persecution. The king, on seve-
ral occasions, had shewn his dislike to it ; but
being opposed by the bishops and parliament,
he had not the firmness or resolution to with-
stand their influence. The former Act for
suppi'essing religious meetings having expired,
a new one was prepared and passed, making
the penalty five shillings for the first offence,
and ten for the second ; the preachers or
teachers in such meetings to forfeit twenty
pounds for the first, and forty pounds for the
second offence ; and twenty pounds penalty
for suffering a meeting to be held in a house
or barn. A single justice was authorized to
convict on the oath of two witnesses, and the
fines to be forthwith levied on the offenders'
goods, and in case of his povert}', on the goods
of any other offender present at the same meet-
ing ; provided the amount so levied shall not
exceed ten pounds for one meeting. — One third
of all the fines to go to the informer, as a re-
ward for his services. Justices, constables, and
other officers, were authorized to break open
and enter any house, or place, where they
might be informed there was a conventicle, and
search for, and take into custody, all persons
found assembled there. If any justice of the
peace refused to perform the duties prescribed
in the Act, he was to forfeit one hundred pounds,
and every constable five pounds. And it was
further enacted, that " all clauses in the law
should be construed most largely and beneficial-
ly for the suppressing of conventicles, and for
the justification and encouragement of all per-
sons to be employed in the execution thereof"

A more unjust and oppressive law could
scarcely be conceived. In the hope of rioting
on the spoils of the Quakers' goods, unprinci-
pled men lurked about their dwellings, lodged
information against them on the most frivolous
pretences, and swore falsely to procure their
conviction ; the facility of which was greatly



promoted by the privacy of the trial, and rest-
ing the decision with a single justice, himself
often the accomplice of the informer and the
sharer of the prey. It would be difficult to
conceive a scene of more extensive rapine and
plunder, in time of peace and under colour of
law, than the execution of this Act produced
throughout the nation. Many Friends were
reduced fi'om competency to destitution of the
very necessaries of life.

In 1672, Charles issued his declaration of
indulgence, by which, in virtue of his royal
prerogative, as supreme in ecclesiastical as
well as civil affairs, he assumed to suspend the
operation of the penal laws against the non-
conformists. The right of the sovereign to
exercise this power, was warmly contest-
ed. Some of the dissenters, and especial-
ly the Presbyterians, who were extremely
jealous of the Papists, and unfavourable to
general liberty of conscience, were not for-
ward to accept the boon thus offered, and even
wrote against it, on the ground that it would
sanction the exercise of the dispensing power
in the king.

Friends had suffered more severely during
the preceding persecutions, than any other
class of dissenters. They had stood their
ground M-ith unflinching intrepidity, when
others fled before the storm. They contended
that liberty of conscience was the natural right
of all men, and that every interference of the
civil power, with the peaceable exercise of con-
scientious duty, was contrary to Christianity
and to sound principles of government. They
meddled not with the politics of the day, nor
professed to be skilled in questions of royal
prerogative. The knowledge, that hundreds
of their brethren were unjustly lying in
prisons, while their helpless families were ex-
posed to the rapacity of merciless informers,
was an argument sufficiently powerful, to in-
duce them to accept the relief which the king's
declaration afforded. An application was ac-
cordingly made to the crown for the discharge
of those who had been imprisoned for con-
science sake ; and such was the favourable
opinion produced by the constancy, and uni-
formly peaceable and consistent conduct of the
Society, that a warrant was readily obtained



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 3 of 105)