A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Friends

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FRIENDS, or QUAKERS, a religious society which began to be distinguished about the middle of the seventeenth century. Their doctrines were first promulgated in England, by George Fox, about the year 1647, for which he was imprisoned at Nottingham, in the year 1649, and the year following at Derby. The appellation of Quakers was given them by way of contempt: some say on account of their tremblings under the impression of divine things; but they say, it was first given them by one of the magistrates who committed G. Fox to prison, on account of his bidding him and those about him, to tremble at the word of the Lord.

From their first appearance, they suffered much persecution. In New England they were treated with peculiar severity, though the settlers themselves had but lately fled from persecution.

During these sufferings they applied to King Charles II. for relief, who in 1661 granted a mandamus, to put a stop to them. Neither were the good offices of this prince in their favour confined to the colonies; for in 1672 he released under the great seal four hundred of these suffering people, who were imprisoned in Great Britain.

In 1681 Charles II. granted to William Penn the province of Pennsylvania. Penn's treaty with the Indians, and the liberty of conscience which he granted to all denominations, even those which had persecuted his own, do honour to his memory.

In the reign of James II. the Friends, in common with other English dissenters, were relieved by the suspension of the penal laws. But it was not till the reign of William and Mary, that they obtained any thing like a proper legal protection.

An act was made in the year1696, which, with a few exceptions, allowed their affirmation the legal force of an oath, and provided a less oppressive mode for recovering tithes under a certain amount; which provisions under the reign of George I. were made perpetual. For refusing to pay tithes, &c. however, they are still liable to suffer in the exchequer and ecclesiastical court, both in Great Britain and Ireland.

The doctrines of the society of Friends have been variously represented, and it is too much to suppose so large a denomination can be perfectly unanimous. The following account, however, has been dran up by one of themselves, and nearly in the words of their own most approved writers.

1. They believe that God is one; and that this one God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as in Matt. xxviii, 19.[1] To the assertion that they deny the trinity, Wm. Penn answers, "Nothing less; they do believe in the holy Three, or the trinity of Father, Word and Spirit, according to the scriptures; but they are very tender of quitting scripture terms and phrases for schoolmen's; such as distinct and separate persons and subsistences, &c. and they judge that a curious inquiry into those high and divine relations, though never so great truths in themselves, tends little to godliness, and less to peace."

2. They believe that Christ is both God and man in wonderful union; that he suffered for our salvation, was raised again for our justification, and ever liveth to make intercession for us. And in reply to the charge, that the Quakers deny Christ to be God, Wm. Penn says, "A most untrue and uncharitable censure: for their great and characteristic principle is, that Christ, as the divine Word lighteth the souls of all men who come into the world, with a spiritual and saving light, (according to John i. 9-12.) which none but the Creator of souls can do."

3. They believe the scriptures to be of divine authority, given by the inspiration of God through holy men; that there are a declaration of those things most surely believed by the primitive Christians; and that they contain the mind and will of God, and are his commands to us; in that respect they are his declaratory word, and therefore are obligatory on us, and are profitable for doctrine, reproof, &c. They love and prefer them before all books in the world, rejecting all principles and doctrines that are repugnant thereunto. "Nevertheless," says Barclay, "because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor the primary rule of faith and manners; but a secondary rule, subordinated to the spirit, from whom they have all their excellence and certainty."

They object to calling the scriptures the word of God, as being a name applied to Christ by the sacred writers themselves, though too often misunderstood by those who extol scripture above the immediate teaching of Christ's spirit in the heart; whereas without the last, the first cannot by profitably understood.

4. On the original and present state of man, Wm. Penn says, "The world began with innocency; all was then good that God had made; but this happy state lasted not long; for man, lost the divine image, the wisdom, power, and purity he was made in; by which, being no longer fit for paradise, he was expelled that garden as a poor vagabond, to wander in the earth." Respecting the state of man under the fall, Barclay observes, "Not to dive into the curious notions which many have concerning the condition of Adam before the fall, all agree in this, that he thereby came to a very great loss, not only in the things which related to the outward of man, but in regard of that true fellowship and communion he had with God. So that though we do not ascribe any whit of Adam's guilt to men, until they make it theirs by the like act of disobedience; yet we cannot suppose that men who are come of Adam naturally, can have any good thing in their nature, which he, from whom they derive their nature, had not himself to communicate to them. And whatever real good any man doth, it proceedeth not from his nature, as the son of Adam; But from the seed of God in him, as a new visitation of life, in order to bring him out of his natural condition."

5. On man's redemption through Christ. They believe that God who made man had pity on him' and in his infinite goodness and wisdom provided a mean for the restoration of fallen man, by a nobler and more excellent Adam, promised to be born of a woman; and which, by the dispensation of the Son of God in the flesh, was personally and fully accomplished in him, as man's Saviour and Redeemer.

Respecting the doctrines of satisfaction and justification, they say, We believe that Jesus Christ was our holy sacrifice, atonement, and propitiation-that God is just in forgiving true penitents upon the credit of that holy offering-that what he did and suffered, satisfied and pleased God, and was for the sake of fallen man who had displeased him. Penn.

6. On immediate revelation. They believe that the saving, certain, and necessary knowledge of God, can only be acquired by the inward, immediate revelation of God's spirit. They prove this from 1 Cor. ii. 11,12; xii, 3. Heb. viii. 10. Where the law of God is put in to the mind, and written in the heart, there the object of faith and revelation of God is inward, immediate, and objective: "but these divine revelations," says Barclay, "as they do not, so neither can they at any time contradict the scripture testimony, or right and sound reason."

7. On universal and saving light. They affirm, that "God hath given to every man a measure of the light of his own Son, (John i. 9.) and that God by this light invites, calls, and strives with every man, in order to save him; which as it is received, works the salvation of all, even of those who are ignorant of the death of Christ, and of Adam's fall: but that this light may be resisted, in which case God is said to be resisted and rejected, and Christ to be again crucified; and to those who thus resist and refuse him he becomes their condemnation."

8. On perfection and perseverance. They assert that as many as do not resist this light, become holy and spiritual; bringing forth all those blessed fruits which are acceptable to God: and by this holy birth, (to wit, Jesus Christ formed within us, and working in us,) the body of death and sin is crucified, and we are freed from actually transgressing the law of God. And they entertain worthier notions of God, than to limit the operations of his grace to a partial cleansing of the soul from sin, even in this life. (Matt. v. 48. 1 John ii. 14 ; iii. 3.) Yet this perfection still admits of a growth; and there remains always a possibility of sinning, where the mind does not most diligently and watchfully attend to the Lord.

9. Concerning worship. They consider as obstructions to pure worship, all forms which divert the attention of the mind from the secret influences of the Holy Spirit. Yet, although true worship is not confined to time and place, they think it incumbent on christians to meet often together, in testimony of their dependence on their heavenly Father, and for a renewal of their spiritual strength. When thus met, they believe it to be their duty patiently to wait for the arising of that life which, by subduing those thoughts, produces an inward silence, and therein affords a true sense of their condition; believing even a single sigh, 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 performance, however specious, originating in the will of man.

10. On the ministry. As by the light, or gift of God, all true knowledge in things spiritual is received, so by the same, as it is manifested in the heart, every true minister of the gospel is ordained and prepared for the work. Moreover, they who have this authority, may and ought to preach the gospel, though without human commission or literature.[2] (1 Pet. iv. 10, 11.) Barclay.

11. On baptism and the supper. They believe that as there is one Lord and one faith, so there is one baptism; which is not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience before God. And this baptism is a pure and spiritual thing, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins, we may walk in newness of life; of which the baptism of John was a figure, which was commanded for a time, and not to continue forever. (Matt, iii., 11.) Hence it follows that the baptism which Christ commanded, (Matt, xxviii. 19.) must relate to his own baptism, and not to that of John: to say it must be understood of water is but to beg the question, the text being wholly silent thereon. —With respect to the other rite, termed the Lord's supper, they believe that the communion of the body and blood of Christ is spiritual, which is the participation of his flesh and blood, by which the inward man is daily nourished in the hearts of those in whom Christ dwells; and that this is most agreeable to the doctrine of Christ concerning this matter. (John vi. 53, 54.) Barclay.

12. On the resurrection. They believe the resurrection, according to the scripture, not only from sin, but also from death and the grave. They believe that as our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, and was the first fruits of the resurrection, so every man in his own order shall arise; they that have done well to the resurrection of eternal life, but they that have done evil to everlasting condemnation. And as the celestial bodies do far exceed the terrestrial, so they expect our spiritual bodies in the resurrection shall far excel what our bodies now are. (Penn and Sewell.}

Having treated of the principles of religion as professed by the Friends, we now proceed to notice some tenets which more immediately relate to their conduct among men.

1. On oaths and war. —With respect to the former of these they abide literally by these words of our Saviour: But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, &c. but let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Matt. v. 34—37.)

To prove that war is not lawful to christians, they likewise argue thus :—(1.) Christ commands, that we should love our enemies. (2.) The apostle James testifies that wars and strifes come from the lusts which war in the members of carnal men. (3.) The apostle Paul admonisheth christians that they defend not themselves, neither avenge, by rendering evil for evil; but give place unto wrath, because vengeance is the Lord's. (4.) The prophets Isaiah and Micah have expressly foretold that in the mountain of the house of the Lord, Christ shall judge the nations; and then they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, &c. and there shall be none to hurt nor kill in the holy mountain of the Lord. (Barclay.)

2. On deportment—(l.)They affirm that it is not lawful for christians either to give or receive such flattering titles of honour, as your Holiness, your Majesty, your Excellency, &c.; because these titles are no part of that obedience which is due to magistrates or superiours; neither doth the giving them add to, or the not giving them diminish from, that subjection we owe them. But they do not object to employ those titles which are descriptive of their station or office; such as king, prince, duke, earl, bishop, &c. Neither do they think it right to use what are commonly called compliments; such as your most obedient servant, &c. Such customs have led christians to lie; so that to use falsehood is now accounted civility. They disuse those names of the months and days, which, having been given in honour of the heroes and false gods of the heathen, originated in their flattery or superstition: they likewise condemn the custom of speaking to a single person in the plural number, as having also arisen from motives of adulation.—(2.) They affirm that it is not lawful for christians to kneel, or prostrate themselves to any man, or to bow the body, or to uncover the head to them; because these are the outward signs of our adoration towards God. (3.) They affirm that it is not lawful for Christians to use superfluities in apparel, which are of no use, save for ornament and vanity. (4.) That it is not lawful to use games, sports, or plays among christians, under the notion of recreation, which do not agree with christian gravity and sobriety. They allege that the chief end of religion is to redeem men from the spirit and vain conversation of the world, and to lead them into inward communion with God; therefore every thing ought to be rejected that wastes our precious time, and diverts the heart from that evangelical spirit which is the ornament of a christian.

With regard to religious liberty, they hold that the rights of conscience are sacred and unalienable, subject only to the control of the Deity, who has not given authority to any man, or body of men, to compel another to his religion. (Barclay.)

3. On their church government, or discipline. To effect the salutary purposes of discipline, they have established monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. 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, (for they maintain their own poor,) and for the education of their offspring; to examine persons desiring to be admitted into membership; to deal with disorderly members, and if irreclaimable, to disown them. (Matt, xviii. 15—17.)

All marriages are proposed to these meetings for their concurrence, which is granted, if upon inquiry, the parties appear clear of other engagements, and if they also have the consent of their parents or guardians; without which no marriages are allowed; for this society has always scrupled to acknowledge the exclusive authority of the priests to marry. Their marriages are solemnized in a public meeting for worship; and the monthly meeting keeps a record of them; as also of the births and burials of its members. This society does not allow its members to sue each other at law; it therefore enjoins all to end their differences by speedy and impartial arbitration; and if any refuse to act according to these rules, they are disowned. Several monthly meetings compose a quarterly meeting, to which they send representatives, and to which appeals lie from the monthly meetings. The yearly meeting has a general superintendence of the society in the country in which it is established; and as particular exigencies arise, makes such regulations as appear to be requisite; and appeals from the quarterly meetings are here finally determined. There are also meetings of the female Friends, held at the same times and places (in separate apartments) to regulate matters relative to their own sex. There are likewise meetings for sufferings, composed of members chosen at the quarterly meetings. They were so called in times of persecution, and are now continued to superintend the general concerns of the society.[3]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Claridge
  2. They allow females to preach, who are called thereto and moved by the spirit.
  3. Sewell;s history of the people called Quakers, 8vo ed. vol. i. p. 45-402; vol. ii. p. 552. R. Claridge's life and posthumous Works, p. 414-442. Penn's folio edit. p. 84-875. A summary of the History, Doctrine, &c. of the Friends, p. 4-21. Bevan's Refutation of the more modern misrepresentation of Friends. p. 21-95. Clarkson's Portraiture of Quakerism, &c.