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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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for their liberation. The success of this ap-
plication, afforded Friends an opportunity of
proving the sincerity of their opinions in favour
of universal toleration and charity. There
were other dissenters confined in the same
prisons, and their solicitors requesting the aid
of Friends in their behalf, they cheerfully ac-
corded it, and included the names of their
prisoners in the same instrument, by which
their own members were relieved from bonds.

The respite which the declaration afforded



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



13



was of short duration ; for in the following
year, the parliament compelled the king to
revoke it ; in consequence of which, the suf-
ferings of Friends were renewed, though not
to the same extent as before.

If the calamities in which Friends bore so
large a share had no other good effect, they
evidently tended to convince the nation of the
folly of persecuting men for diffez'ences of
opinion. More than thirty years of suffering
had passed over, and not a single Quaker had
been induced by it to abandon his profession —
they were as prompt and diligent as ever in
the open performance of their religious duties,
and as ready, patiently to submit to the penal-
ties of unrighteous laws. They never resorted
to violence or retaliation, relying on the jus-
tice of their cause, the truth and soundness of
their arguments, and their peaceable and
blameless conduct, to effect a change in the
minds of those in power. This change now
began to be apparent.

In 1680, a bill was introduced to parliament
for exempting dissenters from penal laws.
Friends lost no time in presenting themselves
before the committee as the advocates of such
a measure, and urging the insertion of such
clauses, as would afford relief to the members
of the Society, on the subject of oaths. So
successful were they in these endeavours, that
they obtained an amendment to the bill, ad-
mitting a declaration of fidelity, instead of the
oath of allegiance. But the state of affairs
was not ripe for such an important change,
and the bill was lost. Another, however,
passed both houses, exempting dissenters from
the operation of the statute of the 35th of
Elizabeth. But when it should have been
presented to the king for his assent, it was not
to be found, having been secreted purposely,
as was believed, to defeat the measure. In
the next year the parliament passed the fol-
lowing resolutions, viz.

" 1. Resolved, that it is the opinion of this
house, that the acts of parliament made in the
reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James,
against popish recusants, ought not to be ex-
tended against protestant dissenters.

"2. Resolved, that it is the opinion of this
house, that the prosecution of protestant dis-
senters upon the penal laws, is at this time
grievous to the subject, a weakening of the
Protestant interest, an encouragement to Pope-
ry, and dangerous to the peace of the king-
dom."

These votes showed the growina; feelino- in
favour of dissenters, and mark the gradual
progress of those principles of religious liberty,
which were more fully recognized in 1688, by
the passage of the Toleration Act, under
William and Mary ; a measure which af-



forded great relief to Friends, though they
were still subject to prosecutions for tythes
and for refusing to swear. After repeated
applications to the king and parliament, a bill
was brought into the house, in 1695, and
finally passed early in the following year, al-
lowing thossolemn affirmation of a Friend in-
stead of an oath.

Having taken a cursory view of the laws
under which the persecution of the Society was
carried on, it is proper we should briefly allude
to the state of religion in the nation, at the time
of, and subsequently to, the rise of Friends.

In treating this subject, the statements of
historians are of the most opposite and con-
tradictory character. Clarendon and others,
who espouse the royal cause, are unwilling
to accord to the Puritans either sincerity or
truth. They alledge that canting and hypo-
crisy were the order of the day — that a high
profession of religion, and great pretensions
to sanctity and strictness, were the road to
preferment and power, and were therefore as-
sumed from ambitious motives.

The advocates of the Puritan party, on the
other hand, represent the established Church
as extremely cori'upt — her ministers destitute
of even the profession of religion, and in many
cases, guilty of scandalous and immoral beha-
viour. That she enforced by severe penalties, a
compliance with superstitious ceremonies, while
she tolerated practices of evil tendency, and dis-
countenanced everything like zeal or fervour
in religion. Allowance, however, is to be made
for the bias of party attachments, and the
distorted views which prejudice gives of the
character of an opponent. That great lax-
ity of morals, as well as neglect of their pre-
scribed duties, had crept into the clergy of
the Church of England, cannot be denied.
Many of them never preached, and addicted
themselves to hunting, and other spoi'ts ; fre-
quenting alehouses and taverns, and indulging
in drunkenness and other licentious practices.

In 1640, the parliament appointed a com-
mittee to inquire into the conduct of the min-
isters of religion, for removing scandalous
ministers, and putting others in their places,
as well as to procure ministers for places where
there were none. A part of the proceedings
of this committee was published, containing
cases of one hundred who had been tried and
ejected ; from which it appears that eighty of
them were convicted of immoralities. The
reputation of some of them has been defend-
ed by writers on the side of the Church,
though they admit that others were very vi-
cious, and the offences of several so foul, that
it is a shame even to report them. Bax-
ter says, that " in all the counties where he
was acquainted, six to one, at least, if not



14



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



many more, that were sequestered by the com-
mittee, were by the oaths of witnesses proved
insufficient or scandalous, or especially guilty
of drunkenness and swearing. This I know,
says he, will displease the party, but I am
sure that this is true."

The writings of Friends frequently mention
ministers, whose characters were similar to
those alluded to in the above statements ; and
if the language sometimes used by members
of the Society, in addressing them, appears
severe, an ample reason for it is furnished,
by the disgraceful conduct to which too many
were addicted. It is not designed, however,
to involve the whole body in indiscriminate
censure. There were, doubtless, among them,
persons of sincere piety and exemplary lives,
and who, according to the degree of light af-
forded them, endeavoured to discharge their
duties with fidelity.

When the reins of government came into
the hands of the Puritans, efforts were made
to procure a reformation in the morals of the
nation. The licentious practices which had
grown out of the encouragement given to
games, sports and revels, on the first-day of
the week, were checked. Those vain amuse-
ments, together with stage plays, were pro-
hibited ; the observance of the first-day was
strictly enforced, and regular attendance at
places of worship enjoined.

It was certainly a period, when the profes-
sion of religion, and a compliance with its ex-
terior requisitions were held in high esteem ;
though it cannot be denied, that thei'e were
some who put on the garb, in order more effect-
ually to accomplish their ambitious and sinister
designs. However just the severe censures of
some historians may be, with reference to these
individuals, they cannot with fairness be ap-
plied to others — nor should the whole mass of
Puritans be stigmatized, in consequence of the
duplicity of some particular professors.

The following obsei'vations from Orme's life
of Owen, will serve to illustrate the religious
condition of the nation during the protector-
ship of Oliver, viz.

" Of the true state of religion during the
period of Cromwell's government, it is difficult
to form an accurate estimate. Judging from
certain external appearances, and comparing
them with the times which followed, the opinion
must be highly favourable. Religion was the
language and garb of the court ; prayer and
fasting were fashionable exercises— a profes-
sion was the road to preferment — not a play
was acted in all England for many years ; and
from the prince to the peasant and common
soldier, the features of Puritanism were uni-
versally exhibited. Judging again from the
wildness and extravagance of various opinions



and practices which then obtained, and from
the fanatical slang, and hypocritical grimace
which were adopted by many, merely to answer
a purpose ; our opinion will necessarily be un-
favourable. The truth perhaps lies between
the extremes of unqualified censure, and un-
distinguishing approbation. Making all due
allowance for the infirmity and sin which were
combined with the profession of religion —
making every abatement for the inducements
which then encouraged the use of a religious
vocabulary — admitting that there was even a
large portion of pure fanaticism, still, we ap-
prehend an immense mass of genuine religion
will remain. There must have been a large
quantity of sterhng coin, when there was such
a circulation of counterfeit. In the best of the
men of that period, there was, doubtless, a tinc-
ture of unscriptural enthusiasm, and the use
of a phraseology, revolting to the taste of
modern time ; in many perhaps there was no-
thing more ; but to infer, that therefore all was
base, unnatural deceit, would be unjust and un-
wise. ' A reformation, says Jortin, is seldom
carried on without heat and vehemence, which
borders on enthusiasm. As Cicero has observ-
ed, that there never was a great man sine
afflatu divino [without a divine inbreathing ;]
so in times of religious contests, there seldom
was a man very zealous for liberty, civil and
ecclesiastical, and a declared active enemy to
insolent tyranny, blind superstition, political
godliness, bigotry and pious frauds, who had
not a fervency of zeal which led him, on some
occasions, beyond the bounds of sober, tempe-
rate reason.'"

From the dawn of the reformation, the spirit
of religious inquiry had been kept alive and
strengthened by the very efforts used to sup-
press it. The shackles with which priestcraft
had attempted to bind the human mind, had
been in some measure broken, and an earnest
desire awakened after the saving knowledge of
the truth, as it is in Jesus. This was increas-
ed by the troubles of the times. The nation
was torn by intestine strife. Civil war, with
all its attendant evils, raged throughout the
country, and the property, as well as the lives
of the subjects, were at the mercy of a lawless
soldiery. Many were stripped of their outward
possessions ; reduced to poverty and want,
and often obliged to abandon their homes, and
flee for the preservation of their lives.

This melancholy state of afliairs, had a ten-
dency to loosen their attachments from the
world, by showing the precarious tenure of all
earthly enjoyments, and to induce men to
press after those substantial and permanent
consolations, which are only to be found in a
religious life.

Where the ecclesiastical and civil power



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



15



were so frequently shifting hands, and the
national form of religion changing with every
change of rulers, new sects and opinions arising,
and different teachers of religion inviting their
attention, and saying, " Lo here is Christ ! or
lo he is there !" it is not surprising that the
honest and sincere inquirers after the right
way of the Lord, should be greatly perplexed.
The effect of these commotions was to wean
men from a dependance on each other, in the
work of religion, and to prepare their minds
for the reception of the important truth, that
however useful instrumental means of divine
appointment may be, it is the glory of the
gospel dispensation, that the Lord, by his Holy
Spirit, is himself the teacher of his people.
Previous to the commencement of George Fox's
ministry, many had withdrawn from all the
acknowledged forms of public worship, and
were engaged in diligently searching the Holy
Scriptures, with pi'ayer for right direction in
the path of duty, and frequently meeting in
select companies, for the wox'ship of Almighty
God and their mutual edification. Among these
the preaching of George Fox found a ready
entrance, and many of them joined in religious
profession with him.

The period of which we have been speaking,
may justly be denominated the age of polemic
strife. The war itself had been commenced
ostensibly for the redress of religious griev-
ances. In the camp and the field, as well as
by the fireside, religion was the absorbing
theme. The Baptists and Independents en-
couraged persons to preach, who had not
studied for the ministry, nor been formally
ordained ; and numbers of this description
engaged in the vocation, with unwearied as-
siduity, often holding meetings in the fields,
or preaching in the market places. The par-
liament army abounded with them, and preach-
ing, praying, and disputing on points of doc-
trine, were daily to be heard among both offi-
cers and soldiers. Public disputations were
also common, and were often conducted with a
warmth of temper, and harshness of language,
which seem hardly consistent with the meek
and gentle spirit of the gospel. Modei-n ideas
of courtesy and propriety, can scarcely tole-
rate the latitude of expression, which the an-
tagonists sometimes indulged toward each other,
not only on these occasions, but in their con-
troversial essays.

Amid so much strife and contention, and
the intemperate feefings naturally arising out
of them, it is not surprising, that even good
men should have formed erroneous opinions
of the character and sentiment of each other.
They judged rather by the impulses of pre-
judice and sectarian feeling, than by the
law of truth and Christian kindness. In the



heat of discussion, the mind is not in a con-
dition to form a sound and correct judgment.
The weakness or mistakes of an opponent,
ai'e seen through a medium, which greatly
magnifies them ; while his virtues are either
depreciated, or distorted into errors. The con-
troversial writings of the times, furnish evi-
dence of the existence of these uncharitable
feelings, among nearly all denominations of
professors ; and he who reads them with the
enlightened and liberal views of religious tole-
ration, which now happily obtain, will observe
with regret, men of unquestionable piety, un-
christianizing each other for opinion's sake ;
and lament that such monuments of human
frailty should have been handed down to pos-
terity.

Those who judge of the writings of the first
Friends, by modern standards of literary ex-
cellence and courtesy, are apt to censure them
for their severity. Much, however, may be
said in extenuation of them. Friends were
particularly obnoxious to the hatred of the
clergy, in consequence of their unyielding op-
position to a ministry of human appointment,
to the system of tythes and a forced main-
tenance. Their views on these subjects, which
they fearlessly published, struck directly at
priestcraft. Deeply affected by the corruption
which they saw among many who assumed
the sacred office, they boldly declaimed against
their cupidity, licentiousness, and persecution.
This course drew upon them a host of ene-
mies, who were not very nice in the choice of
means to lessen their influence and prejudice
their characters. Friends were assailed with
calumny and misrepresentation ; opinions and
practices were charged upon them, of which
they solemnly declared themselves innocent ;
yet they were again and again renewed with
the boldest effrontery. The conduct of some
of the visionary sects which arose about the
same time, was unjustly imputed to them, and
every advantage that could be taken, was ea-
gerly embraced to prejudice their religious
profession. Harassed by this unchristian con-
duct, and at the same time smarting under a
cruel persecution, they must have been moi-e
than human, if the weakness of nature had
never betrayed them into an unguarded, or
intemperate expression. A comparison, how-
ever, with other controversialists of the times,
will show that they were not peculiar in this
respect. It should be recollected, too, that
language, as well as the regulations of de-
corum toward opponents, have undergone a
great change since that time. Expressions
which sound harsh and offensive to modern
ears, were then considered strictly within the
limits of propriety, and appear to have given no
offence to those who were the objects of them.



16



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



This license of the tongue and pen, is found
also in the parliamentary debates, and ap-
pears to have characterized those times of
excitement and recrimination.

Another practice which prevailed to some
extent, was that of going into the places of
worship, and addressing the congregation
during the time of service. Custom had
sanctioned the practice of asking the minister,
at the close of the service, respecting difficult
or abstruse points, which required explanation.
This liberty was exercised to a much greater
extent, during the period of which we have
been speaking, and not unfrequently a dispute
followed. The overthrow of the national form
of worship, and the consequent termination of
ecclesiastical restrictions, had a tendency to
induce greater latitude in this respect, than
comports with our ideas of good order. The
manner in which Friends speak of those cases,
in which they went to places of worship other
than their own, induces the belief that it was
not extraordinary ; and in most, if not all, in-
stances in which violence to their persons was
the consequence, it appears to have been the
doctrine delivered, rather than the time and
manner of communicating it, which called
forth the angry passions of the assailants.
Friends were not alone in this course, and
sometimes their ministrations were so accept-
able to the audience, as to induce them to re-
main, after the stated preacher had withdrawn.

The religious men of that day, are com-
monly charged with evincing a fanatical and
enthusiastic spirit, and Friends of course come
in for a large share of the censure. To deny
that there were cases in which such a spirit
was evinced, would be folly ; but to bi'and
whole communities of professing Christians
with those epithets, on account of the ex-
cesses of a few members, would be extremely
unjust. It is, moreover, difficult for us to
judge correctly of the exigencies of the church
during that period, and what degree of energy
and fervour was requisite, to carry those holy
men through the work of their day. We
know that a much stronger feeling must have
been necessary to stem the torrent of abuse
and persecution, and carry forward the re-
formation, than the present day of outward
ease and liberty would probably elicit. It is,
moreover, highly unreasonable to allow men
of the world, their fervour and self-devotion in
the pursuit of the comparatively trivial ob-
jects of their choice, and yet censure them in
those who are pressing after the momentous
concerns of salvation, with an earnestness be-
coming their vast importance.

In the succeeding reign of Charles II., the
face of things was greatly changed. The
court was devoted to licentious pleasures, while



religion and religious things were made a
mere laughing-stock. The restoration opened
the very floodgates of vice and wickedness.
" A spirit of extravagant joy," says Bishop
Burnet, " spread over the nation, that brought
in with it the throwing off the very professions
of virtue and piety : all ended in entertain-
ments and drunkenness ; which overrun the
three kingdoms to such a degree, that it very
much corrupted all their morals. Under the
cover of drinking the king's health, there were
great disorders and great riots every where."
This lamentable state of things was the source
of great concern to Friends, several of whom
addressed the king on the subject, reminding
him of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrha ; and
that in his own dominions, wickedness had
reached a height which must certainly call
down the divine displeasure. Many Friends
were engaged to go to the courts of justice and
exhort the officers to the discharge of their
duties in endeavouring to suppress it ; they also
preached against it in the markets and places
of public entertainment. So contrary were
their example and precepts, to the prevailing
corruptions, and so plain and fearless the re-
bukes they administered, that they were sub-
jected to much abuse ; yet in many cases,
they were the happy instruments of turn-
ing sinners from the evil of their ways.
The licentiousness which had infected nearly
all ranks of society, and was tolerated, if not
countenanced, by too many whose duty it was
to repress it, furnished ample reason for the
close and even sharp expostulations, which are
found about this time in the writings of
Friends.

In taking a view of the religious principles
of the Society, it is proper to remark, that
they have always scrupulously adhered to the
position, of proving their docti'ines by the tes-
timony of the Holy Scriptures, rejecting what-
ever was contrary to the tenor of those divine
writings. In their ministerial labours, their
constant appeal to the people, against the exist-
ing errors, was to Holy Scripture, It is a well
known fact that George Fox carried a Bible
with him, which he frequently used in his
preaching; and in the meeting house which
he gave to Friends of Swarthmore, he placed a
Bible for the convenience of reference and pe-
rusal, by those who attended the meeting.
Samuel Bownas also carried a copy of the
Holy Scriptures with him, and sometimes
preached with it in his hand ; and there is
reason to believe that the practice was not
uncommon. These facts contradict the ground-
less accusation which is sometimes made,
that those worthy men did not acknowledge
the paramount authority of Holy Scripture
over all other writings. The Society has al-



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



17



ways accepted them fully and literally, as a
rule of faith and practice under the enlighten-
ing influences of the Spirit of Truth, by which
they were given forth. Such is the high
character they have ever attached to the Sa-
cred text, that they uniformly refused to ac-
cept, instead of it, the glosses and interpreta-
tions of school men. It was thus they were
led to the observance of the positive com-
mands of our Saviour not to swear or fight,
even in self defence, as well as to the strict
and literal acceptance of those precepts which
forbid worldly compliance and indulgence ;
from the force of which, too many professors
have sought to escape. It is true, that they
recommended their hearers to Christ Jesus
the Heavenly Teacher, who, by his Holy
Spirit, has come to teach his people himself;
yet they were careful to support this recom-
mendation by showing its entire consonance
with the whole scope of the Christian dispen-
sation.

But while Friends fully admitted the divine
origin and authority of the Sacred Volume, and
acknowledged the richness of the blessins; we
enjoy in having it preserved and transmitted
to us, through the goodness of Divine Provi-
dence, they dared not put it in the place of
Christ, either as regarded honour or office, nor
prefer it to the operations and teachings of
the Holy Spirit in the heart ; errors which
they believed they saw in many of the high
professors of their day.

They wished the Scriptures of Truth and
the Holy Spirit to occupy the places in the
work of salvation, respectively assigned to
them in the Bible itself, and that the honour
due to the Author and Giver should not be
conferred on the gift. It was for these causes,
that they pressed on professors the necessity
of coming unto Christ, that they might have
life, even though versed in the literal know-
ledge of the Bible. That as its precious truths
are not savingly known or appreciated by the
unassisted reason of fallen man, so it is ne-
cessary to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit,
which searcheth all things, yea, the deep
things of God, to open our understandings,
and illuminate the darkness of our hearts, and
prepare us for their reception. In asserting
the superiority of the knowledge thus derived



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 4 of 105)