A sect which took its rise in England about the middle of the seventeenth century, and rapidly found its way into other countries in Europe, and into the English settlements in North America. The members of this society, we believe, called themselves at first Seekers, from their seeking the truth; but after the society was formed, they assumed the appellation of Friends. The name of Quakers was given to them by their enemies, and though an epithet of reproach, seems to be stamped upon them indelibly. George Fox is supposed to be their first founder,; but, after the restoration, Penn and Barclay gave to their principles a more regular form.
The doctrines of the society have been variously represented; and some have thought and taken pains to prove them favourable to Socinianism. But, according to Penn, they believe in the Holy Three, or the trinity of the Father, Word, and Spirit, agreeable to the Scripture. In reply to the charge that they deny Christ to be God, Penn says, “that it is a most untrue and uncharitable censure–that they truly and expressly own him to be so according to the Scripture.” To the objection that they deny the human nature of Christ, he answers, “We never taught, said, or held so gross a thing, but believe him to be truly and properly man like us, sin only excepted.” The doctrines of the fall and of the redemption by Christ are, according to him, believed firmly by them; and he declares “that they own Jesus Christ as their sacrifice, atonement, and propitiation.”
But we shall here state a further account of their principles and discipline, as extracted from a summary transmitted to me from one of their most respectable members.
They tell us, that, about the beginning of the seventeenth century, a number of men, dissatisfied with all the modes of religious worship then known in the world, withdrew from the communion of every visible church to seek the Lord in retirement. Among these was their honourable elder, George Fox, who, being quickened by the immediate touches of divine love, could not satisfy his apprehensions of duty to God without directing the people where to find the like consolation and instruction. In the course of his travels, he met with many seeking persons in circumstances similiar to his own, and these readily received his testimony. They then give us a short account of their sufferings and different settlements; they also vindicate Charles II. from the character of a persecutor; acknowledging that, though they suffered much during his reign, he gave as little countenance as he could to the severities of the legislature. They even tell us that he exerted his influence to rescue their friends from the unprovoked and cruel persecutions they met with in New England; and they speak with becoming gratitude of the different acts passed in their favour during the reigns of William and Mary, and George I. They then proceed to give us the following accounts of their doctrine.
“We agree with other professors of the Christian name, in the belief of one eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of the universe; and in Jesus Christ his Son, the Messiah and mediator of the new covenant, Heb. 12:24.
“When we speak of the gracious display of the love of God to mankind, in the miraculous conception, birth, life, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Saviour, we prefer the use of such terms as we find in Scripture; and contented with that knowledge which divine wisdom hath seen meet to reveal, we attempt not to explain those mysteries which remain under the veil; nevertheless we acknowledge and assert the divinity of Christ, who is the wisdom and power of God unto salvation, 1 Cor. 1:24.
“To Christ alone we give the title of the Word of God, John 1:1. and not to the Scriptures, although we highly esteem these sacred writings, in subordination to the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21.) from which they were given forth; and we hold with the apostle Paul, that they are able to make wise unto salvation, through faith, which is in Christ Jesus, 2 Tim. 3:15.
“We reverence those most excellent precepts which are recorded in Scripture to have been delivered by our great Lord; and we firmly believe that they are practicable, and binding on every Christian and that in the life to come every man will be rewarded according to his works, Matt. 16:27. And further; it is our belief, that in order to enable mankind to put in practice these sacred precepts, many of which are contradictory to the unregenerate will of man, John, 1:9. every man coming into the world is endued with a measure of the light, grace, or good Spirit of Christ; by which, as it is attended to, he is enabled to distinguish good from evil, and to correct the disorderly passions and corrupt propensities of his nature, which mere reason is altogether insufficient to overcome. For all that belongs to man is fallible, and within the reach of temptation; but this divine grace, which comes by him who hath overcome the world, John, 16:33. is, to those who humbly and sincerely seek it, an all-sufficient and present help in time of need. By this the snares of the enemy are detected, his allurements avoided, and deliverance is experienced through faith in its effectual operation; whereby the soul is translated out of the kingdom of darkness, and from under the power of Satan, unto the marvellous light and kingdom of the Son of God.
“Being thus persuaded that man, without the Spirit of Christ inwardly revealed, can do nothing to the glory of God, or to effect his own salvation, we think this influence especially necessary to the performance of the highest act of which the human mind is capable; even the worship of the Father of lights and of spirits, in spirit and in truth: therefore we consider as obstructions to pure worship, all forms which divert the attention of the mind from the secret One, 1 John, 2:20, 27. Yet, although true worship is not confined to time and place, we think it incumbent on Christians, to meet often together, Heb. 10:25. in testimony of their dependence on the heavenly Father, and for a renewal of their spiritual strength: nevertheless, in the performance of worship, we dare not depend for out acceptance with him on a formal repetition of the words and experiences of others; but we believe it to be our duty to lay aside the activity of the imagination, and to wait in silence to have a true sight of our condition bestowed upon us; believing even a single sigh (Rom. 7:24.) arising from such a sense of our infirmities, and of the need we have of divine help, to be more acceptable to God than any performances, however specious, which originate in the will of man.
“From what has been said respecting worship, it follows that the ministry we approve must have its origin from the same source; for that which is needful for man’s own direction, and for his acceptance with God, Jer. 23:30, to 32, must be eminently so to enable him to be helpful to others. Accordingly we believe that the renewed assistance of the light and power of Christ is indispensably necessary for all true ministry; and that this holy influence is not at our command, or to be procured by study, but is the free gift of God to chosen and devoted servants. Hence arises our testimony against preaching for hire, in contradiction to Christ’s positive command, ‘Freely ye have received, freely give,’ Matt. 10:8. and hence our conscientious refusal to support such ministry by tithes, or other means.
“As we dare not encourage any ministry but that which we believe to spring from the influence of the Holy Spirit, so neither dare we attempt to restrain this influence to persons of any condition in life, or to the male sex alone; but, as male and female are one in Christ, we allow such of the female sex as we believe to be endued with a right qualification for the ministry, to exercise their gifts for the general edification of the church; and this liberty we esteem a peculiar mark of the Gospel dispensation, as foretold by the prophet Joel, Joel, 2:28, 29. and noticed by the apostle Peter, Acts, 2:16, 17.
“There are two ceremonies in use among most professors of the Christian name–water-baptism, and what is termed the Lord’s supper. The first of these is generally esteemed the essential means of initiation into the church of Christ; and the latter of maintaining communion with him. But as we have been convinced that nothing short of his redeeming power, invariably revealed, can set the soul free from the thraldom of sin, by this power alone we believe salvation to be affected. We hold, that, as there is one Lord and one faith, Eph. iv. 5. so his baptism is one, in nature and operation; that nothing short of it can make us living members of his mystical body; and that the baptism with water; administered by his forerunner John, belonged, as the latter confessed, to an inferior dispensation, John, 3:30.
“With respect to the other rite, we believe that communion between Christ and his church is not maintained by that, nor any other external performance, but only by a real participation of his divine nature (1 Pet. 2:4,) through faith; that this is the supper alluded to in the Revelation, Rev. 7:20. ‘Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me;’ and that where the substance is attained, it is unneccessary to attend to the shadow, which doth not confer grace, and concerning which, opinions so different, and animosities so violent, have arisen.
“Now, as we thus believe that the grace of God, which comes by Jesus Christ, is alone sufficient for salvation, we can neither admit that it is conferred on a few only, whilst others are left without it, nor thus asserting its universality, can we limit its operation to a partial cleansing of the soul from sin, even in this life. We entertain worthier notions both of the power and goodness of our heavenly Father, and believe that he doth vouchsafe to assist the obedient to experience a total surrender of the natural will to the guidance of his pure unerring Spirit; through whose renewed assistance they are enabled to bring forth fruits unto holiness, and to stand perfect in their present rank, Matt. 5:48. Eph. 4:13. Col. 4:12.
“There are not many of our tenets more generally known than our testimony against oaths, and against war. With respect to the former of these, we abide literally by Christ’s positive injunction, delivered in his sermon on the mount, ‘Swear not at all,’ Matt. 5:34. From the same sacred collection of the most excellent precepts of moral and religious duty, from the example of our Lord himself, Matt. 5:39, 44, &c. Matt. 26:52, 53. Luke, 22:51. John, 18:11. and from the correspondent convictions of his Spirit in our hearts, we are confirmed in the belief that wars and fightings are in their origin and effects utterly repugnant to the Gospel, which still breathes peace and goodwill to men. We also are clearly of the judgment, that if the benevolence of the Gospel were generally prevalent in the minds of men, it would effectually prevent them from oppressing, much more from enslaving, their brethren (of whatever colour or complexion,) for whom, as for themselves, Christ died; and would even influence their conduct in their treatment of the brute creation, which would no longer groan, the victims of their avarice, or of their false ideas of pleasure.
“Some of our ideas have in former times, as hath been shown, subjected our friends to much suffering from government, though to the salutary purposes of government our principles are a security. They inculcate submission to the laws in al cases wherein conscience is not violated. But we hold, that, as Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, it is not the business of the civil magistrate to interfere in matters of religion, but to maintain the external peace and good order of the community. We therefore think persecution, even in the smallest degree, unwarrantable. We are careful in requiring our members not to be concerned in illicit trade, nor in any manner to defraud the revenue.
“It is well known that the society, from its first appearance, has disused those names of the months and days, which, having been given in honour of the heroes or false gods of the heathen, originated in their flattery or superstition; and the custom of speaking to a single person in the plural number, as having arisen also from motives of adulation. Compliments, superfluity of apparel and furniture, outward shows of rejoicing and mourning, and the observation of days and times, we esteem to be incompatible with the simplicity and sincerity of a Christian life; and public diversions, gaming, and other vain amusements of the world, we cannot but condemn. They are a waste of that time which is given us for nobler purposes; and divert the attention of the mind from the sober duties of life, and from the reproofs of instruction by which we are guided to an everlasting inheritance.
“To conclude: although we have exhibited the several tenets which distinguish our religious society as objects of our belief, yet we are sensible that a true and living faith is not produced in the mind of man by his own effort, but is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, Eph. 2:8. nourished and increased by the progressive operation of his Spirit in our hearts, and our proportionate obedience, John, 7:17. Therefore, although for the preservation of the testimonies given us to bear, and for the peace and good order of the society, we deem it necessary that those who are admitted into membership with us should be previously convinced of those doctrines which we esteem essential, yet we require no formal subscription to any articles, either as a condition of membership, or a qualification for the service of the church. We prefer the judging of men by their fruits, and depending on the aid of Him, who, by his prophet, hath promised to be ‘a spirit of judgment, to him that sitteth in judgment,’ Isa. 28:6. Without this, there is a danger of receiving numbers into outward communion, without any addition to that spiritual sheep-fold, whereof our blessed Lord declared himself to be both the door and the shepherd, John, 7:11; that is, such as know his voice and follow him in the paths of obedience.
“In the practice of discipline, we think it indispensable that the order recommended by Christ himself be invariably observed, Matt. 18:15-17.
“To effect the salutary purposes of discipline, meetings were appointed at an early period of the society, which, from the times of their being held, were called quarterly meetings. It was afterwards found expedient to divide the districts of those meetings, and to meet more frequently: from whence arose monthly meetings, subordinate to those held quarterly. At length, in 1669, a yearly meeting was established, to superintend, assist, and provide rules for the whole, previously to which general meetings had been occasionally held.
“A monthly meeting is usually composed of several particular congregations, situated within a convenient distance from each other. Its business is to provide for the subsistence of the poor, and for
the education of their offspring; to judge of the sincerity and fitness of persons appearing to be convinced of the religious principles of the society, and desiring to be admitted into membership; to excite due attention to the discharge of religious and moral duty; and to deal with disorderly members. Monthly meetings also grant to such of their members as remove into other monthly meetings certificates of their membership and conduct; without which they cannot gain membership in such meetings. Each monthly meetng is required to appoint certain persons, under the name of overseers, who are to take care that the rules of our discipline to put in practice; and when any case of complaint, or disorderly conduct, comes to their knowledge, to see that private admonition, agreeably to the Gospel rule before-mentioned, be given, previously to its being laid before the monthly meeting.
“When a case is introduced, it is usual for a small committee to be appointed to visit the offender, to endeavour to convince him of his error, and to induce him to forsake and condemn it. If they succeed, the person is by minute declared to have made satisfaction for the offence; if not, he is disowned as a member of the society.
“In disputes between individuals, it has long been the decided judgment of the society, that its members should not sue each other at law. It therefore enjoins all to end their differences by speedy and impartial arbitration, agreeably to rules laid down. If any refuse to adopt this mode, or, having adopted it, to submit to the award, it is the direction of the yearly meeting that such be disowned.
“To monthly meetings also belongs the allowing of marriages; for our society hath always scrupled to acknowledge the exclusive authority of the priests in the solemnization of marriage. Those who intend to marry appear together, and propose their intention to the monthly meeting; and if not attended by their parents and guardians, produce a written certificate of their consent, signed in the presence of witnesses. The meeting then appoints a committee to inquire whether they be clear of other engagements respecting marriage; and if at a subsequent meeting, to which the parties also come and declare the continuance of their intention, no objections be reported, they have the meeting’s consent to solemnize their intended marriage. This is done in a public meeting for worship, towards the close whereof the parties stand up, and solemnly take each other for husband and wife. A certificate of the proceedings is then publicly read, and signed by the parties, and afterwards by the relations and others as witnesses. Of such marriage the monthly meeting keeps a record; as also of the births and burials of its members. A certificate of the date of the name of the infant, and of its parents, signed by those present at the birth, is the subject of one of these last-mentioned records; and an order for the interment, countersigned by the grave-maker, of the other. The naming of children is without ceremony. Burials are also conducted in a simple manner. The body followed by the relations and friends, is sometimes, previously to interment, carried to a meeting; and at the grave a pause is generally made: on both which occasions it frequently falls out that one or more friends present have somewhat to express for the edification of those who attend; but no religious rite is considered as an essential part of burial.
“Several monthly meetings compose a quarterly meeting. At the quarterly meetings are produced written answers from the monthly meetings to certain queries respecting the conduct of their members, and the meeting’s care over them. The accounts thus received are digested into one, which is sent, also in the form of answers to queries, by representatives to the yearly meeting. Appeals from the judgment of monthly meetings are brought to the quarterly meetings, whose business also it is to assist in any difficult case, or where remissness appears in the care of the monthly meetings over the individuals who compose them.–There are seven yearly meetings, viz. 1. London, to which come representatives from Ireland;–2. New England;–3. New York;–4. Pennsylvania and New Jersey;–5. Maryland;–6. Virginia;–7. The Carolinas and Georgia.
“The yearly meeting has the general superintendence of the society in the country in which it is established; and, therefore, as the accounts which it receives discover the state of inferior meetings, as particular exigencies require, or as the meeting is impressed with a sense of duty, it gives forth its advice, making such regulations as appear to be requisite, or excites to the observance of those already made; and sometimes appoints committees to visit those quarterly meetings which appear to be in need of immediate advice. Appeals from the judgment of quarterly meetings are here finally determined; and a brotherly correspondence, by epistles, is maintained with other yearly meetings.
“In this place it is proper to add, that, as we believe women may be rightly called to the work of the ministry, we also think that to them belongs a share in the support of our Christian discipline; and that some parts of it, wherein their own sex is concerned, devolve on them with peculiar propriety; accordingly they have monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings of their own sex, held at the same time and in the same place with those of the men; but separately, and without the power of making rules; and it may be remarked, that, during the persecutions which in the last century occasioned the imprisonment of so many of the men, the care of the poor often fell on the women, and was by them satisfactorily administered.
“In order that those who are in the situation of Ministers may have the tender sympathy and counsel of those of either sex, who by their experience in the work of religion, are qualified for that service, the monthly meetings are advised to select such, under the denomination of elders. These, and ministers approved by their monthly meetings, have meetings peculiar to themselves, called meetings of ministers and elders; in which they have an opportunity of exciting each other to a discharge of their several duties, and of extending advice to those who may appear to be weak, without any needless exposure. Such meetings are generally held in the compass of each monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting. They are conducted by rules prescribed by the yearly meeting, and have no authority to make any alteration or addition to them. The members of them unite with their brethren in the meetings for discipline, and are equally accountable to the latter for their conduct.
“It is to a meeting of this kind in London, called the second-day’s morning meeting, that the revisal of manuscripts concerning our principles, previously to publication, is intrusted by the yearly meeting held in London; and also the granting, in the intervals of the yearly meeting, of certificates of approbation to such ministers as are concerned to travel in the work of the ministry in foreign parts, in addition to those granted by their monthly and quarterly meetings. When a visit of this kind doth not extend beyond Great Britain, a certificate from the monthly meeting of which the minister is a member is sufficient; if to Ireland, the concurrence of the quarterly meeting is also required. Regulations of similar tendency obtain in other yearly meetings.
“The yearly meeting of London, in the year 1675, appointed a meeting to be held in that city, for the purpose of advising and assisting in case of suffering for conscience-sake, which hath continued with great use to the society to this day. It is composed of friends, under the name of correspondents, chosen by the several quarterly meetings, and who reside in or near the society. The same meetings also appoint members of their own in the country as correspondents, who are to join their brethren in London on emergency. The names of all these correspondents, previously to their being recorded as such, are submitted to the approbation of the yearly meeting. Those of the men who are approved ministers are also members of this meeting, which is called the meeting for sufferings; a name arising from its original purpose, which is not yet become entirely obsolete. The yearly meeting has intrusted the meeting for sufferings with the care of printing and distributing books, and with the management of its stock; and, considered as a standing committee of the yearly meeting, it hath a general care of whatever may arise, during the intervals of that meeting, affecting the society, and requiring immediate attention, particularly of those circumstances which may occasion an application to government.
“There is not, in any of the meetings which have been mentioned, any president, as we believe that divine wisdom alone ought to preside; nor hath any member a right to claim pre-eminence over the rest. The office of clerk, with a few exceptions, is undertaken voluntarily by some member; as is also the keeping of the records. When these are very voluminous, and require a house for their deposit, (as is the case in London, where the general records of the society in Great Britain are kept,) a clerk is hired to have the care of them; but except a few clerks of this kind, and persons who have the care of meeting- houses, none receive any stipend or gratuity for their services in our religious society.”
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.