The religion of the Quakers furnishes also a cause, which occasions them to consider man in an elevated light. They view him, as may be collected from the preceding volume, as a temple of the Spirit of God. There is no man, so mean in station, who is not made capable by the Quakers of feeling the presence of the Divinity within him. Neither sect, nor country, nor colour, excludes him, in their opinion, from this presence. But it is impossible to view man as a tabernacle, in which the Divinity may reside, without viewing him in a dignified manner. And though this doctrine of the agency of the Spirit dwelling in man belongs to many other Christian societies, yet it is no where so systematically acted upon as by that of the Quakers.
These considerations may probably induce the reader to believe, that the trait of benevolence, which has been affixed to the Quaker character, has not been given it in vain. There can be no such feeling for the moral interests of man, or such a benevolent attention towards him in his temporal capacity, where men have been accustomed to see one another in low and degrading characters, as where no such spectacles have occurred. Nor can there be such a genuine or well founded love towards him, where men, on a signal given by their respective governments, transform their pruning-hooks into spears, and become tygers to one another without any private provocation, as where they can be brought under no condition whatever, to lift up their arm to the injury of any of the human race. There must, in a practical system of equality, be a due appreciation of man as man. There must, in a system where it is a duty to watch over him, for his good, be a tender attention towards him as a fellow creature. And in a system, which considers him as a temple in which the Divine Being may dwell, there must be a respect towards him, which will have something like the appearance of a benevolent disposition to the world.
Trait of benevolence includes again good will towards man in his religious capacity—Quakers said to have no spirit of persecution, nor to talk with bitterness, with respect to other religious sects—This trait probable—because nothing in their doctrines that narrows love—their sufferings on the other hand—and their law against detraction—and their aversion to making religion a subject of common talk—all in favour of this trait.
The word benevolence, when mentioned as a trait in the character of the Quakers, includes also good will to man in his religious capacity.
It has often been observed of the Quakers, that they shew no spirit of persecution, and that you seldom hear them talk with bitterness, with respect to other religious societies.
On the first part of this trait it may be observed, that the Quakers have never had any great power of exercising dominion over others in matters of religion. In America, where they have had the greatest, they have conducted themselves well. William Penn secured to every colonist the full rights of men as to religious opinion and worship. If the spirit of persecution is ever to be traced to the Quakers, it must be found in their writings on the subject of religion. In one or two of the productions of their first authors, who were obliged to support their opinions by controversy, there is certainly an appearance of an improper warmth of temper; but it remarkable that, since these times, scarcely a book has appeal written by a Quaker against the religion of another. Satisfied with their own religious belief, they seem to have wished only to be allowed to enjoy it in peace. For when they have appeared as polemical writers, it has been principally in the defence of themselves.
On the second part of the trait I may remark, that it is possible, in the case of tithes, where their temper has been tried by expensive distraints, and hard imprisonments, that they may utter a harsh expression against a system which they believe to be anti-Christian, and which they consider also as repugnant to equity, inasmuch as it compels them to pay labourers, who perform work in their own harvest; but this feeling is only temporary, and is seldom extended beyond the object that produces it. They have never, to my knowledge, spoken with bitterness against churchmen on this account. Nor have I ever heard them, in such a season of suffering, pass the slightest reflection upon their faith.
That this trait of benevolence to man in his religious capacity is probably true, I shall endeavour to shew according to the method I have proposed.
There is nothing, in the first place, in the religious doctrines of the Quakers, which can produce a narrowness of mind in religion, or a contempt for the creeds of others. I have certainly, in the course of my life, known some bigots in religion, though, like the Quakers, I censure no man for his faith. I have known some, who have considered baptism and the sacrament of the supper as such essentials in Christianity, as to deny that those who scrupled to admit them, were Christians. I have known others pronouncing an anathema against persons, because they did not believe the atonement in their own way. I have known others again, who have descended into the greatest depths of election and reprobation, instead of feeling an awful thankfulness for their own condition as the elect, and the most tender and affectionate concern for those whom they considered to be the reprobate, indulging a kind of spiritual pride on their own account, which has ended in a contempt for others. Thus the doctrines of Christianity, wonderful to relate, have been made to narrow the love of Christians! The Quaker religion, on the other hand, knows no such feelings as these. It considers the Spirit of God as visiting all men in their day, and as capable of redeeming all, and this without any exception of persons, and that the difference of creeds, invented by the human understanding, will make no difference in the eternal happiness of man. Thus it does not narrow the sphere of salvation. It does not circumscribe it either by numerical or personal limits. There does not appear therefore to be in the doctrines of the Quaker religion any thing that should narrow their love to their fellow creatures, or any thing that should generate a spirit of rancour or contempt towards others on account of the religion they profess.
There are, on the contrary, circumstances, which have a tendency to produce an opposite effect.
I see, in the first place, no reason why the general spirit of benevolence to man in his temporal capacity, which runs through the whole society, should not be admitted as having some power in checking a bitter spirit towards him in his religious character.
I see again, that the sufferings, which the Quakers so often undergo on account of their religious opinions, ought to have an influence with them in making them tender towards others on the same subject. Virgil, who was a great master of the human mind, makes the queen of Carthage say to Aeneas, "Haud ignara mali, miseris succurere disco," or, "not unacquainted with misfortunes myself, I learn to succour the unfortunate." So one would hope that the Quakers, of all other people, ought to know how wrong it is to be angry with another for his religion.
With respect to that part of the trait, which relates to speaking acrimoniously of other sects, there are particular circumstances in the customs and discipline of the Quakers, which seem likely to prevent it.
It is a law of the society, enforced by their discipline, as I shewed in a former volume, that no Quaker is to be guilty of detraction or slander. Any person, breaking this law, would come under admonition, if found out. This induces an habitual caution or circumspection in speech, where persons are made the subject of conversation. And I have no doubt that this law would act as a preventive in the case before us.
It is not a custom, again, with the Quakers, to make religion a subject of common talk. Those, who know them, know well how difficult it is to make them converse, either upon their own faith, or upon the faith of others. They believe, that topics on religion, familiarly introduced, tend to weaken its solemnity upon the mind. They exclude subjects also from ordinary conversation upon another principle. For they believe, that religion should not be introduced at these times, unless it can be made edifying. But, if it is to be made edifying, it is to come, they conceive, not through the medium of the activity of the imagination of man, but through the passiveness of the soul under the influence of the Divine Spirit.
Trait of benevolence includes again a tender feeling toward the brute creation—Quakers remarkable for their tenderness to animals—This feature produced from their doctrine, that animals are not mere machines, but the creatures of God, the end of whose existence is always to be attended to in their treatment—and from their opinion as to what ought to be the influence of the Gospel, as recorded in their own summary.
The word benevolence, when applied to the character of the Quakers, includes also a tender feeling towards the brute creation.
It has frequently been observed by those who are acquainted with the Quakers, that all animals belonging to them are treated with a tender consideration, and are not permitted to be abused, and that they feel, in like manner, for those which may be oppressed by others, so that their conduct is often influenced in some way or other upon such occasions.
It will be obvious, in enquiring into the truth of this trait in the character of the Quakers, that the same principles, which I have described as co-operating to produce benevolence towards man, are not applicable to the species in question. But benevolence, when once rooted in the heart, will grow like a fruitful plant, from whatever causes it may spring, and enlarge itself in time. The man, who is remarkable for his kindness towards man, will always be found to extend it towards the creatures around him. It is an ancient saying, that "a righteous man regards the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
But, independently of this consideration, there is a principle in the Quaker constitution, which, if it be attended to, cannot but give birth to the trait in question.
It has been shewn in the first Volume, on the subject of the diversions of the field, that the Quakers consider animals, not as mere machines, to be used at discretion, but in the sublime light of the creatures of God, of whose existence the use and intention ought always to be considered, and to whom rights arise from various causes, any violation of which is a violation of a moral law.
This principle, if attended-to by the Quakers, must, as I have just observed, secure all animals which may belong to them, from oppression. They must so consider the end of their use, as to defend them from abuse. They must so calculate their powers and their years, as to shield them from excessive labour. They must so anticipate their feelings, as to protect them from pain. They must so estimate their instinct, and make an allowance for their want of understanding, as not to attach to their petty mischiefs the necessity of an unbecoming revenge. They must act towards them, in short, as created for special ends, and must consider themselves as their guardians, that these ends may not be perverted, but attained.
To this it may be added, that the printed summary of the religion of the society constantly stares them in the face, in which it is recorded, what ought to be the influence of Christianity on this subject. "We are also clearly of the judgment, that, if the benevolence of the Gospel were generally prevalent in the minds of men, it would even influence their conduct in the treatment of the brute creation, which would no longer groan, the victims of their avarice, or of their false ideas of pleasure."
Second trait is that of complacency of mind or quietness of character—This trait confirmed by circumstances in their education, discipline, and public worship, which are productive of quiet personal habits—and by their disuse of the diversions of the world—by the mode of the settlement of their differences—by their efforts in the subjugation of the will—by their endeavour to avoid all activity of mind during their devotional exercises—all of which are productive of a quiet habitude of mind.
A second trait in the character of the Quakers is that of complacency, or evenness, or quietness of mind and manner.
This trait is, I believe, almost as generally admitted by the world, as that of benevolence. It is a matter of frequent observation, that you seldom see an irascible Quaker. And it is by no means uncommon to hear persons, when Quakers are the subject of conversation, talking of the mysteries of their education, or wondering how it happens, that they should be able to produce in their members such a calmness and quietness of character.
There will be no difficulty in substantiating this second trait.
There are circumstances, in the first place, in the constitution of the Quaker system, which, as it must have already appeared, must be generative of quiet personal habits. Among these may be reckoned their education. They are taught, in early youth, to rise in the morning in quietness, to go about their ordinary occupations in quietness, and to retire in quietness to their beds. We may reckon also their discipline. They are accustomed by means of this, when young, to attend the monthly and quarterly meetings, which are often of long continuance. Here they are obliged to sit patiently. Here they hear the grown up members of the society speak in order, and without any interruption of one another. We may reckon again their public worship. Here they are accustomed occasionally to silent meetings, or to sit quietly for a length of time, when not a word is spoken.
There are circumstances again in the constitution of the Quakers, which are either preventive of mental activity, and excitement of passion, or productive of a quiet habitude of mind. Forbidden the use of cards, and of music, and of dancing, and of the theatre, and of novels, it must be obvious, that they cannot experience the same excitement of the passions, as they who are permitted the use of these common amusements of the world. In consequence of an obligation to have recourse to arbitration, as the established mode of decision in the case of differences with one another, they learn to conduct themselves with temper and decorum in exasperating cases. They avoid, in consequence, the frenzy of him who has recourse to violence, and the turbid state of mind of him who engages in suits at law. It may be observed also, that if, in early youth, their evil passions are called forth by other causes, it is considered as a duty to quell them. The early subjugation of the will is insisted upon in all genuine Quaker families. The children of Quakers are rebuked, as I have had occasion to observe, for all expressions of anger, as tending to raise those feelings, which ought to be suppressed. A raising even of their voice is discouraged, as leading to the disturbance of their minds. This is done to make them calm and passive, that they may be in a state to receive the influence of the pure principle. It may be observed again, that in their meetings for worship, whether silent or vocal, they endeavour to avoid all activity of the mind for the same reason.
These different circumstances then, by producing quiet personal habits on the one hand, and quiet mental ones on the other, concur in producing a complacency of mind and manner, so that a Quaker is daily as it were at school, as far as relates to the formation of a quiet character.
Third trait is, that they do not temporize, or do that which they believe to be improper as a body of Christians—Subjects, in which this trait is conspicuous—Civil oaths—Holy or consecrated days—War—Tithes —Language—Address—Public illuminations—Utility of this trait to the Quaker character.
It is a third trait in the character of the Quakers, that they refuse to do whatever as a religious body they believe to be wrong.
I shall have no occasion to state any of the remarks of the world to shew their belief of the existence of this trait, nor to apply to circumstances within the Quaker constitution to confirm it. The trait is almost daily conspicuous in some subject or another. It is kept alive by their discipline. It is known to all who know Quakers. I shall satisfy myself therefore with a plain historical relation concerning it.
It has been an established rule with the Quakers, from the formation of their society, not to temporize, or to violate their consciences, or, in other words, not to do that which as a body of Christians they believe to be wrong, though the usages of the world, or the government of the country under which they live, should require it, but rather to submit to the frowns and indignation of the one, and the legal penalties annexed to their disobedience by the other. This suffering in preference of the violation of their consciences, is what the Quakers call "the bearing of their testimony," or a demonstration to the world, by the "testimony of their own example," that they consider it to be the duty of Christians rather to suffer, than to have any concern with that which they conceive to be evil.
The Quakers, in putting this principle into practice, stand, I believe, alone. For I know of no other Christians, who as a body pay this homage to their scruples, or who determine upon an ordeal of suffering in preference of a compromise with their ease and safety.
[Footnote 34: The Moravians, I believe, protest against war upon scriptural grounds. But how far in this, or in any other case, they bear a testimony, like the Quakers, by suffering, I do not know.]
The subjects, in which this trait is conspicuous, are of two kinds, first as they relate to things enjoined by the government, and secondly as they relate to things enjoined by the customs or fashions of the world.
In the first case there was formerly much more suffering than there is at present, though the Quakers still refuse a compliance with as many injunctions of the law as they did in their early times.
It has been already stated that they refused, from the very institution of their society, to take a civil oath. The sufferings, which they underwent in consequence, have been explained also. But happily, by the indulgence of the legislature, they are no longer persecuted for this scruple, though they still persevere in it, their affirmation having been made equal to an oath in civil cases.
It has been stated again, that they protested against the religious observance of many of those days, which the government of the country for various considerations had ordered to be kept as holy. In consequence of this they were grievously oppressed in the early times of their history. For when their shops were found open on Christmas day, and on Good Friday, and on the different fast-days which had been appointed, they were taken up and punished by the magistrates on the one hand, and insulted and beaten by the people on the other. But, notwithstanding this ill usage, they persevered as rigidly in the non-observance of particular days and times, as in their non-compliance with oaths, and they still persevere in it. It does not appear, however, that their bearing of their testimony in this case is any longer a source of much vexation or trouble to them: for though the government of the country still sanctions the consecration of particular days, and, the great majority of the people join in it, there seems, to have been a progressive knowledge or civilization in both, which has occasioned them to become tender on account of this singular deviation from their own practice.
But though the Quakers have been thus relieved by the legislature, and by the more mild and liberal disposition of the people, from so much suffering in bearing their testimony on the two occasions which have been mentioned, yet there are others, where the laws of government are concerned, on which they find themselves involved in a struggle between the violation of their consciences and a state of suffering, and where unfortunately there is no remedy at hand, without the manifestation of greater partiality towards them, than it may be supposed an equal administration of justice to all would warrant.
Hie first of these occasions is when military service, is enjoined. The Quakers, when drawn for the militia, refuse either to serve, or to furnish substitutes. For this refusal they come under the cognizance of the laws. Their property, where they have any, is of course distrained upon, and a great part of a little substance is sometimes taken from them on, this account. Where they have not distrainable property, which is occasionally the case, they never fly, but submit to the known punishment, and go patiently to prison. The legislature, however, has not been inattentive to the Quakers even upon this occasion; for it has limited their confinement to three months. The government also of the country afforded lately, in a case in which the Quakers were concerned, an example of attention to religious scruples upon this subject. In the late bill for arming the country en masse, both the Quakers and the Moravians were exempted from military service. This homage to religious principle did the authors of these exemptions the highest honour. And it certainly becomes the Quakers to be grateful for this unsolicited favour; and as it was bestowed upon them upon the full belief that they were the people they professed themselves, they should be particularly careful that they do not, by any inconsistency of conduct, tarnish the high reputation, which has been attached to them by the government under which they live.
The second occasion is, when tithes or other dues are demanded by the church. The Quakers refuse the payment of these upon principles, which have been already explained. They come of course again under the cognizance of the laws. Their property is annually distrained upon by warrant from justices of the peace, where the demand does not exceed the value of ten pounds, and this is their usual suffering in this case. But there have not been wanting instances where an unusual hardness, of heart has suggested a process, still allowable by the law, which has deprived them of all their property, and consigned them for life to the habitation of a prison.
[Footnote 35: One died, not a great while ago, in York Castle, and others, who were confined with him, would have shared his fate, but for the interference of the king.
It is surprising, that the clergy should not unite in promoting a bill in parliament, to extend the authority of the justices to grant warrants of distraint for tithes to more than the value of ten pounds, and to any amount, as this is the most cheap and expeditious way for themselves. If they apply to the ecclesiastical courts, they can enforce no payment of their tithes then. They can put the poor Quaker into prison, but they cannot obtain their debt. If they apply to the exchequer, they may find themselves, at the conclusion of their suit, and this after a delay of three years, liable to the payment of extra costs, to the amount of forty or fifty pounds, with which they cannot charge the Quaker, though they may confine him for life. Some, to my knowledge, have been glad to abandon these suits, and put up with the costs, incurred in them; rather than continue them. Recourse to such courts occasion the clergy frequently to be charged with cruelty, when, if they had only understood their own interests better, they would have avoided them.]
But it is not only in cases, of which the laws of the land take cognizance, that the Quakers prefer suffering to doing that which their consciences disapprove. There are other cases, connected, as I observed before, with the opinion of the world, where they exhibit a similar example. If they believe any custom or fashion of the world to be evil in itself, or to be attended with evil, neither popular applause nor popular fury can make them follow it, but they think it right to bear their testimony against it by its disuse, and to run the hazard of all the ridicule, censure, or persecution, which may await them for so doing.
In these cases, as in the former, it must be observed, that the sufferings of the Quakers have been much diminished, though they still refuse a compliance in as many instances as formerly, with the fashions of the world.
It was stated in the first volume, that they substituted the word Thou for You, in order that they might avoid by their words, as well as by their actions, any appearance of flattery to men. It was stated also, that they suffered on this account; that many magistrates, before whom they were carried in the early times of their institution, occasioned their punishment to be more severe, and that they were often abused and beaten by others, and put in danger of their lives. This persecution, however, for this singularity in their language, has long ceased; and the substitution of Thou for You is now only considered as an innocent distinction between Quakers and other people.
It was stated again in the same volume, that the Quakers abstained from the usual address of the world, such as from pulling off their hats, and from bowing the body, and from their ceremonious usages. It was explained also, that they did this upon two principles. First, because, as such ceremonies were no real marks of obeisance, friendship or respect, they ought to be discouraged by a people, whose religion required that no image should be held out, which was not a faithful picture of its original, and that no action should be resorted to, which was not correspondent with the feelings of the heart. Secondly, because all such ceremonies were of a complimentary or flattering nature, and were expressly forbidden by Jesus Christ. It was stated also, that, on account of their rejection of such outward usages, their hats were forcibly taken from their heads and thrown away; that they were beaten and imprisoned on this sole account; and that the world refused to deal with them as tradesmen, in consequence of which many could scarcely supply their families with bread. But this deviation from the general practice, though it still characterizes the members of this society, is no longer a source of suffering. Magistrates sometimes take care that their hats shall be taken gently from their heads on public occasions, and private persons expect now no such homage from Quakers, when they meet them.
There is, however, a custom, against which the Quakers anciently bore their testimony, and against which they continue to bear it, which subjects them occasionally to considerable inconvenience and loss. In the case of a general illumination, they never light up their houses, but have the courage to be singular in this respect, whatever may be the temper of the mob.
They believe that the practice of general illuminations cannot be adopted consistently by persons, who are lovers of the truth. They consider it as no certain criterion of joy. For, in the first place, how many light up their houses, whose hearts are overwhelmed with sorrow? And, in the second place, the event which is celebrated, may not always be a matter of joy to good minds. The birth-day of a prince, for example, may be ushered in as welcome, and the celebration of it may call his actions to mind, upon which a reflection may produce pleasure, but the celebration of the slaughter or devastation of mankind can afford no happiness to the Christian.
They consider the practice again, accompanied as it is with all its fiery instruments, as dangerous and cruel. For how many accidents have happened, and how many lives have been lost upon such occasions?
They consider it again as replete with evil. The wild uproar which it creates, the mad and riotous joy which it produces, the licentiousness which it favours, the invidious comparisons which it occasions, the partial favour which it fixes on individuals who have probably no moral merit, the false joys which it holds out, and the enmity which it has on some occasions a tendency to perpetuate; are so many additional arguments against it in the opinion of the Quakers.
For these and other reasons they choose not to submit to the custom, but to bear their testimony against it, and to run the hazard of having their windows broken, or their houses pillaged, as the populace may dictate: And in the same manner, if there be any other practice, in which the world may expect them to coincide, they reject it, fearless of the consequences, if they believe it to be productive of evil.
This noble practice of bearing testimony, by which a few individuals attempt to stem the torrent of immorality by opposing themselves to its stream, and which may be considered as a living martyrdom, does, in a moral point of view, a great deal of good to those, who conscientiously adopt it. It recalls first principles to their minds. It keeps in their remembrance the religious rights of man. It teaches them to reason upon principle, and to make their estimates by a moral standard. It is productive both of patience and of courage. It occasions them to be kind and attentive, and merciful to those who are persecuted and oppressed. It throws them into the presence of the Divinity when they are persecuted themselves. In short, it warms their moral feelings, and elevates their religious thoughts. Like oil, it keeps them from rusting. Like a whetstone, it gives them a new edge. Take away this practice from the constitution of the Quakers, and you pull down a considerable support of their moral character. It is a great pity that, as professing Christians, we should not, more of us, incorporate this noble principle individually into our religion. We concur unquestionably in customs, through the fear of being reputed singular, of which our hearts do not always approve, though nothing is more true, than that a Christian is expected to be singular with respect to the corruptions of the world. What an immensity of good would be done, if cases of persons, choosing rather to suffer than to temporize, were so numerous as to attract the general notice of men! Would not every case of suffering operate as one of the most forcible lessons that could be given to those who should see it? And how long would that infamous system have to live, which makes a distinction between political expediency and moral right?
A fourth trait is, that, in political affairs, they reason upon principle, and not from consequences—This mode of reasoning insures the adoption of the maxim of not doing evil that good may come—Had Quakers been legislators, many public evils had been avoided, which are now known in the world—Existence of this trait probable from the influence of the former trait—and from the influence of the peculiar customs of the Quakers—and from the influence of their system of discipline upon their minds.
The next trait, which I shall lay open to the world as belonging to the Quaker character, is, that in all those cases, which may be called political, the Quakers generally reason upon principle, and but seldom upon consequences.
I do not know of any trait, which ever impressed me more than this in all my intercourse with the members of this society. It was one of those which obtruded itself to my notice on my first acquaintance with them, and it has continued equally conspicuous to the present time.
If an impartial philosopher, from some unknown land, and to whom our manners, and opinions, and history, were unknown, were introduced suddenly into our metropolis, and were to converse with the Quakers there on a given political subject, and to be directly afterwards conveyed to the west end of the town, and there to converse with politicians, or men of fashion, or men of the world, upon the same, he could not fail to be greatly surprised. If he thought the former wise, or virtuous, or great, he would unavoidably consider the latter as foolish, or vicious, or little. Two such opposite conclusions, as he would hear deduced from the reasonings of each, would impress him with an idea, that he had been taken to a country inhabited by two different races of men. He would never conceive, that they had been educated in the same country, or under the same government. If left to himself, he would probably imagine, that they had embraced two different religions. But if he were told that they professed the same, he would then say, that the precepts of this religion had been expressed in such doubtful language, that they led to two sets of principles contradictory to one another. I need scarcely inform the reader, that I allude to the two opposite conclusions, which will almost always be drawn, where men reason from motives of policy or from moral right.
If it be true that the Quakers reason upon principle in political affairs, and not upon consequences, it will follow as a direct inference, that they will adopt the Christian maxim, that men ought not to do evil that good may come. And this is indeed the maxim, which you find them adopting in the course of their conversation on such subjects, and which I believe they would have uniformly adopted, if they had been placed in political situations in life. Had the Quakers been the legislators of the world, we should never have seen many of the public evils that have appeared in it. It was thought formerly, for example, a glorious thing to attempt to drive Paganism from the Holy Land, but Quakers would never have joined in any of the crusades for its expulsion. It has been long esteemed, again, a desideratum in politics, that among nations, differing in strength and resources, a kind of balance of power should be kept up, but Quakers would never have engaged in any one war to preserve it. It has been thought again, that it would contribute to the happiness of the natives of India, if the blessings of the British constitution could be given them instead of their own. But Quakers would never have taken possession of their territories for, the accomplishment of such a good. It has been long thought again a matter of great political importance, that our West-Indian settlements should be cultivated by African labourers. But Quakers would never have allowed a slave-trade for such a purpose. It has been thought again, and it is still thought, a desirable thing, that our property should be secured from the petty depredations of individuals. But Quakers would never have consented to capital punishments for such an end. In short, few public evils would have arisen among mankind, if statesmen had adopted the system, upon which the Quakers reason in political affairs, or if they had concurred with an ancient Grecian philosopher in condemning to detestation the memory of the man, who first made a distinction between expediency and moral right.
That this trait of reasoning upon principle, regardless of the consequences, is likely to be a feature in the character of the Quakers, we are warranted in pronouncing, when we discover no less than three circumstances in the constitution of the Quakers, which may be causes in producing it.
[Footnote 36: The Sierra Leone Company, which was founded for laudable purposes, ought have been filled by Quakers; but when they understood that there was to be a fort and depot of arms in the settlement, they declined becoming proprietors.]
This trait seems, in the first place, to be the direct and legitimate offspring of the trait explained in the last chapter. For every time a Quaker is called upon to bear his testimony by suffering, whether in the case of a refusal to comply with the laws, or with the customs and fashions of the land, he is called upon to refer to his own conscience, against his own temporal interest, and against the opinion of the world. The moment he gives up principle for policy in the course of his reasoning upon such occasions, then he does as many others do, that is, he submits to the less inconvenience, and then he ceases to be a Quaker. But while he continues to bear his testimony, it is a proof that he makes expediency give way to what he imagines to be right. The bearing therefore of testimony, where it is conscientiously done, is the parent, as it is also the bulwark and guardian of reasoning upon principle. It throws out a memento whenever it is practised, and habituates the subject of it to reason in this manner. But this trait is nourished and supported again by other causes, and first by the influence, which the peculiar customs of the Quakers must occasionally have upon their minds. A Quaker cannot go out of doors, but he is reminded of his own singularity, or of his difference in a variety of respects from his fellow-citizens. Now every custom, in which he is singular, whether it be that of dress or of language, or of address, or any other, is founded, in his own mind, on moral principle, and in direct opposition to popular opinion and applause. He is therefore perpetually reminded, in almost all his daily habits, of the two opposite systems of reasoning, and is perpetually called upon as it were to refer to the principles, which originally made the difference between him and another citizen of the world.
Neither has the discipline of the Quakers a less tendency to the production of the trait in question. For the business, which is transacted in the monthly and quarterly and yearly meetings, is transacted under the deliberations of grave and serious men, who consider themselves as frequently under the divine influence, or as spiritually guided on such occasions. In such assemblies it would be thought strange if any sentiment were uttered, which savoured of expediency in opposition to moral right. The youth therefore, who are present, see no other determination of any question than by a religious standard. Hence these meetings operate as schools, in which they are habituated to reason upon principle, and to the exclusion of all worldly considerations, which may suggest themselves in the discussion of any point.
A fifth trait is, that they have an extraordinary independence of mind—This probable, because the result of the farmer trait—because likely to be produced by their discipline—by their peculiar custom—and by their opinions on the supposed dignity of situations in life—because again, they are not vulnerable by the seduction of governments—or by the dominion of the church—or by the power of fashion and of the opinion of the world.
The next trait, conspicuous in the character of the Quakers, and which is nearly allied to the former, is that of independence of mind.
This trait is of long standing, having been coeval with the society itself. It was observed by Cromwell, that "he could neither win the Quakers by money, nor by honours, nor by places, as he could other people." A similar opinion is entertained of them at the present day. For of all people it is generally supposed that they are the least easily worked upon, or the least liable to be made tools or instruments in the bands of others. Who, for example, could say, on any electioneering occasion, whatever his riches might be, that he could command their votes?
There will be no difficulty in believing this to be a real feature in the character of the Quakers. For when men are accustomed to refer matters to their reason, and to reason upon principle, they will always have an independence of mind, from a belief that they are right. And wherever it be a maxim with them not to do evil that good may come, they will have a similar independence from a consciousness, that they have never put themselves into the power of the world. Hence this independence of mind must be a result of the trait explained in the former chapter.
But in looking into the constitution of the Quakers, we shall find it full of materials for the production of this noble trait.
Their discipline has an immediate tendency to produce it. For in no community does a man feel himself so independent as a man. A Quaker is called upon in his own society to the discharge of important offices. He sits as a representative, a legislator, and a judge. In looking round him, he finds all equal in privileges, but none superior, to himself.
Their peculiar customs have the same tendency, for they teach them to value others, who are not of the society, by no higher standard than that by which they estimate themselves. They neither pull off their hats, nor bow, nor scrape. In their speech they abstain from the use of flattering words and of titles. In their letters, they never subscribe themselves the humble servants of any one. They never use, in short, any action or signature, which, serving as a mark of elevation to others, has any influence towards the degradation of themselves.
Their opinions also upon the supposed dignity of situations in life contribute towards the promotion of this independence of their minds.
They value no man, in the first place, on account of his earthly title. They pay respect to magistrates, and to all the nobility of the land, in their capacity of legislators, whom the chief magistrate has appointed; but they believe that the mere letters in a schedule of parchment can give no more intrinsic worth to a person, than they possess themselves, and they think with Juvenal, that "the only true nobility is virtue." Hence titles, in the glare of which some people lose the dignity of their vision, have no magical effect upon Quakers.
They value no man again on account of the antiquity of his family exploits. They believe, that there are people now living in low and obscure situations, whose ancestors performed in the childhood of history, when it was ignorant and incapable of perpetuating traditions, as great feats as those, which in its greater maturity it has recorded. And as far as these exploits of antiquity may be such as were performed in wars, they would not be valued by them as ornaments to men, of whose worth they can only judge by their virtuous or their Christian character.
They value no man again on account of the antiquity of his ancestry. Believing revelation to contain the best account of the rise of man, they consider all families as equally old in their origin, because they believe them to have sprung from the same two parents, as their common source.
But this independence of mind, which is said to belong to the Quakers, may be fostered again by other circumstances, some of which are peculiar to themselves.
Many men allow the independence of their minds to be broken by an acceptance of the honours offered to them by the governments, under which they live; but no Quaker could accept of any of the honours of the world.
Others allow the independence of their minds to be invaded by the acceptance of places and pensions from the same quarter. But Quakers, generally speaking, are in a situation too independent in consequence of their industry, to need any support of this kind; and no Quaker could accept it on the terms on which it is usually given.
Others again suffer their opinions to be fettered by the authority of ecclesiastical dominion, but the Quakers have broken all such chains. They depend upon no minister of the Gospel for their religion, nor do they consider the priesthood, as others do, as a distinct order of men.
Others again come under the dominion of fashion and of popular opinion, so that they dare only do that which they see others do, or are hurried from one folly to another, without having the courage to try to resist the stream. But the life of a Quaker is a continual state of independence in this respect, being a continual protest against many of the customs and opinions of the world.
I shall now only observe upon this subject, that this trait of independence of mind, which is likely to be generated by some, and which is preserved by other of the causes which have been mentioned, is not confined to a few members, but runs through the society. It belongs to the poor as well as to the rich, and to the servants of a family as well as to those who live in poverty by themselves. If a poor Quaker were to be introduced to a man of rank, he would neither degrade himself by flattery on the one hand, nor by any unbecoming submission on the other. He would neither be seduced into that which was wrong, nor intimidated from doing that which was right, by the splendour or authority of appearances about him. He would still preserve the independence of his mind, though he would behave with respect. You would never be able to convince him, that he had been talking with a person, who had been fashioned differently from himself. This trait of independence cannot but extend itself to the poor. For having the same rights and privileges in the discipline, and the same peculiar customs, and the same views of men and manners as the rest of the society, a similar disposition must be found in these, unless it be counteracted by other causes. But as Quaker servants, who live in genuine Quaker families, wear no liveries, nor any badges of poverty or servitude, there is nothing in the opposite scale to produce an opposite feature in their character.
A sixth trait is that of courage—This includes, first, courage in life—Courage not confined to military exploits—Quakers seldom intimidated or abashed—dare to say what they think—and to do what they believe to be right—This trait may arise from that of bearing their testimony—and from those circumstances which produced independence of mind—and from the peculiar customs of the society.
Another trait in the character of the Quakers, which is nearly allied to independence of mind, is courage. This courage is conspicuous both in life and in the hour of death. That, which belongs to the former instance, I shall consider first.
If courage in life were confined solely to military exploits, the Quakers would have no pretensions to this character. But courage consists of presence of mind in many situations of peril different from those in war. It consists often in refusing to do that which is wrong, in spite of popular opinion. Hence the man, who refuses a challenge, and whom men of honour would brand with cowardice on that account, may have more real courage in so doing, and would have it in the estimation of moral men, than the person who sends it. It may consist also in an inflexible perseverance in doing that which is right, when persecution is to follow. Such was the courage of martyrdom. As courage then may consist in qualities different from that of heroism, we shall see what kind of courage it is that has been assigned to the Quakers, and how far they may be expected to be entitled to such a trait.
There is no question, in the first place, that Quakers have great presence of mind on difficult and trying occasions. To frighten or to put them off their guard would be no easy task. Few people have ever seen an innocent Quaker disconcerted or abashed.
They have the courage also to dare to say, at all times and in all places, what they believe to be right.
I might appeal for the truth of this, as far as the early Quakers are concerned, to the different conversations which George Fox had with Oliver Cromwell, or to the different letters which be wrote to him as protector, or to those which he afterwards wrote to king Charles the second.
I might appeal again to the address of Edward Burroughs to the same monarch.
I might appeal again to the bold but respectful language, which the early Quakers used to the magistrates, when they were carried before them, and to the intrepid and dignified manner in which they spoke to their judges, in the coarse of the numerous trials to which they were brought in those early times.
I might appeal also to Barclay's address to the king, which stands at the head of his Apology.
"As it is inconsistent, says Barclay to king Charles the second, with the truth I bear, so it is far from me to use this letter as an engine to flatter thee, the usual design of such works, and therefore I can neither dedicate it to thee, nor crave thy patronage, as if thereby I might have more confidence to present it to the world, or be more hopeful of its success. To God alone I owe what I have, and that more immediately in matters spiritual, and therefore to him alone, and the service of his truth, I dedicate whatever work he may bring forth in me, to whom only the praise and honour appertain, whose truth needs not the patronage of worldly princes; his arm and power being that alone by which it is propagated, established, and confirmed."
And farther on, he says, "Thou hast tasted of prosperity and adversity; thou knowest what it is to be banished thy native country, to be overruled, as well as to rule, and to sit upon the throne; and, being oppressed, thou hast reason to know how hateful the oppression is both to God and man. If, after all these warnings and advertisements, thou dost not turn unto the Lord with all thy heart, but forget him who remembered thee in distress, and give up thyself to follow lust and vanity; surely great will be thy condemnation."
And this courage to dare to say what they believe to be right, as it was an eminent feature in the character of the primitive, so it is unquestionably a trait in that of the modern Quakers. They use no flattery even in the presence of the king; and when the nation has addressed him in favour of new wars, the Quakers have sometimes had the courage to oppose the national voice on such an occasion, and to go before the same great personage, and in a respectful and dignified manner, to deliver a religious petition against the shedding of human blood.
They have the courage also to dare to do as well as to say what they consider to be right.
It is recorded of the early Quakers, that, in the times of the hottest persecution, they stood to their testimony in the places appointed for their worship. They never assembled in private rooms, or held private conventicles, employing persons to watch at the doors, to keep out spies and informers, or to prevent surprise from the magistrates. But they worshipped always in public, and with their doors open. Nor, when armed men were sent to dissolve their meetings, did they ever fly, but, on the summons to break up and depart, they sat motionless, and, regardless of threats and blows, never left their devotions, but were obliged to be dragged out, one by one, from their places. And even when their meeting-houses were totally destroyed by the magistrates, they sometimes met the next meeting-day, and worshipped publicly on the ruins, notwithstanding, they knew that they were subject by so doing, to fines, and scourges, and confinements, and banishment, and that, like many others of their members who had been persecuted, they might die in prison.
This courage of the early Quakers has descended as far as circumstances will allow us to judge, to their posterity, or to those who profess the same faith. For happily, on account of the superior knowledge which has been diffused among us since those times, and on account of the progress of the benign influence of Christianity, both of which may be supposed to have produced among the members of our legislature a spirit of liberality in religion, neither the same trials; nor the same number of them, can be afforded for the courage of the modern Quakers, as were afforded for that of the Quakers of former days. But as far as there are trials, the former exhibit courage proportioned to their weight. This has been already conspicuous in the bearing of their testimony, either in those cases where they run the hazard of suffering by opposing the customs of the world, or where, by refusing a compliance with legal demands which they believe to be antichristian, they actually suffer. Nor are these sufferings often slight, when we consider that they may be made, even in these days of toleration, to consist of confinement, as the law now stands, for years, and it may happen even for life, in prison.
This trait of courage in life, which has been attached to the character of the Quakers, is the genuine offspring of the trait of "the bearing of their testimony." For by their testimony it becomes their religion to suffer, rather than comply with many of the laws and customs of the land. But every time they get through their sufferings, if they suffer conscientiously, they gain a victory, which gives them courage to look other sufferings in the face, and to bid defiance to other persecutions.
This trait is generated again by all those circumstances which have been enumerated, as producing the quality of independence of mind, and it is promoted again by the peculiar customs of the society. For a Quaker is a singular object among his countrymen. His dress, his language, and his customs mark him. One person looks at him. Another perhaps derides him. He must summon resolution, or he cannot stir out of doors and be comfortable. Resolution, once summoned, begets resolution again, till at length he acquires habits superior to the looks and frowns, and ridicule, of the world.
The trait of courage includes also courage in death—This trait probably—from the lives which the Quakers lead—and from circumstances connected with their religious faith.
The trait of courage includes also courage in death, or it belongs to the character of the Quakers, that they shew great indifference with respect to death, or that they possess great intrepidity, when sensible of the approach of it.
I shall do no more on this subject, than state what may be the causes of this trait.
The dissolution of all our vital organs, and of the cessation to be, so that we move no longer upon the face of the earth, and that our places know us no more, or the idea of being swept away suddenly into eternal oblivion, and of being as though we had never been, cannot fail of itself of producing awful sensations upon our minds. But still more awful will these be, where men believe in a future state, and where, believing in future rewards and punishments, they contemplate what may be their allotment in eternity. There are considerations, however, which have been found to support men, even under these awful reflections, and to enable them to meet with intrepidity their approaching end.
It may certainly be admitted, that, in proportion as we cling to the things of the world, we shall be less willing to leave them, which may induce an appearance of fear with respect to departing out of life; and that, in proportion as we deny the world and its pleasures, or mortify the affections of the flesh, we shall be more willing to exchange our earthly for spiritual enjoyments, which may induce an appearance of courage with respect to death.
It may be admitted again, that, in proportion as we have filled our moral stations in life, that is, as we have done justly, and loved mercy, and this not only with respect to our fellow-creature man, but to the different creatures of God, there will be a conscious rectitude within us, which will supply us with courage, when we believe ourselves called upon to leave them.
It may be admitted again, that, in proportion as we have endeavoured to follow the divine commands, as contained in the sacred writings, and as we have followed these through faith, fearless of the opinions and persecutions of men, so as to have become sufferers for the truth, we shall have less fear or more courage, when we suppose the hour of our dissolution to be approaching.
Now, without making any inviduous comparisons, I think it will follow from hence, when we consider the Quakers to be persons of acknowledged moral character, when we know that they deny themselves for the sake of becoming purer beings, the ordinary pleasures and gratifications of the world, and when almost daily experience testifies to us, that they prefer bearing their testimony, or suffering as a Christian body, to a compliance with customs, which they conceive the Christian religion to disapprove, that they will have as fair pretensions to courage in the hour of death, as any other people, as a body, from the same causes.
There are other circumstances, however, which may be taken into consideration in this account, and, in looking over these, I find none of more importance than those which relate to the religious creeds which may be professed by individuals or communities of men.
Much, in the first place, will depend upon the circumstance, how far men are doubtful and wavering in their creeds, or how far they depend upon others for their faith, or how far, in consequence of reasoning or feeling, they depend upon themselves. If their creeds are not in their own power, they will be liable to be troubled with every wind of doctrine that blows, and to be unhappy, when the thought of their dissolution is brought before them. But the Quakers, having broken the power or dominion of the priesthood, what terrors can fanaticism hold out to them, which shall appal their courage in their later hours?
It is also of great importance to men what may be the nature of their creeds. Some creeds are unquestionably more comfortable to the mind than others. To those, who believe in the doctrine of election and reprobation, and imagine themselves to be of the elect, no creed can give greater courage in the hour of death; and to those who either doubt or despair of their election, none can inspire more fear. But the Quakers, on the other hand, encourage the doctrine of perfection, or that all may do the will of God, if they attend to the monitions of his grace. They believe that God is good, and just, and merciful; that he visits all with a view to this perfection without exception of persons; that he enables all, through the sacrifice of Christ, to be saved; and that he will make an allowance for all according to his attributes; for that he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should inherit eternal life.
Last good trait is that of punctuality to words and engagements—This probable from the operation of all those principles, which have produced for the Quakers the character of a moral people—and from the operation of their discipline.
The last good trait, which I shall notice in the character of the Quakers, is that of punctuality to their words and engagements.
This is a very ancient trait. Judge Forster entertained this opinion of George Fox, that if he would consent to give his word for his appearance, he would keep it. Trusted to go at large without any bail, and solely on his bare word, that he would be forth coming on a given day, he never violated his promise. And he was known also to carry his own commitment himself. In those days also, it was not unusual for Quakers to carry their own warrants, unaccompanied by constables or others, which were to consign them to a prison.
But it was not only in matters which related to the laws of the land, where the early Quakers held their words and engagements sacred. This trait was remarked to be true of them in their concerns in trade. On their first appearance as a society, they suffered as tradesmen, because others, displeased with the peculiarity of their manners, withdrew their custom from their shops. But in a little time, the great outcry against them was, that they got the trade of the country into their hands. This outcry arose in part from a strict execution of all commercial appointments and agreements between them and others, and because they never asked two prices for the commodities which they sold. And the same character attaches to them as a commercial body, though there may be individual exceptions, at the present day.
Neither has this trait been confined to them as the inhabitants of their own country. They have carried it with them wherever they have gone. The treaty of William Penn was never violated. And the estimation, which the Indians put upon the word of this great man and his companions, continues to be put by them upon that of the modern Quakers in America, so that they now come in deputations, out of their own settlements, to consult them on important occasions.
The existence of this trait is probable both from general and from particular considerations.
If, for example, any number of principles should have acted so forcibly and in such a manner upon individuals, as to have procured for them as a body the reputation of a moral people, they must have produced in them a disposition to keep their faith.
[Footnote 37: This character was given by Pliny to the first Christians. They were to avoid fraud, theft, and adultery. They were never to deny any trust, when required to deliver it up, nor to falsify their word on any occasion.]
But the discipline of the Quakers has a direct tendency to produce this feature in their character, and to make it an appendage of Quakerism. For punctuality to words and engagements is a subject of one of the periodical enquiries. It is therefore publicly handed to the notice of the members, as a Christian virtue, that is expected of them, in their public meetings for discipline. And any violation in this respect would be deemed a breach, and cognizable as such, of the Quaker laws.
Imperfect traits in the Quaker character—Some of these may be called intellectually defective traits—First imputation of this kind is, that the Quakers are deficient in learning compared with other people—This trait not improbable on account of their devotion to trade—and on account of their controversies and notions about human learning—and of other causes.
The world, while it has given to the Quakers as a body, as it will have now appeared, a more than ordinary share of virtue, has not been without the belief that there are blemishes in their character. What these traits or blemishes are, may be collected partly from books, partly from conversation, and partly from vulgar sayings. They are divisible into two kinds, into intellectually defective, and into morally defective traits; the former relating to the understanding, the latter to the heart.
The first of the intellectually defective traits consists in the imputation, that the Quakers are deficient in the cultivation of the intellect of their children, or that, when they grow up in life, they are found to have less knowledge than others in the higher branches of learning. By this I mean, that they are understood to have but a moderate classical education, to know but little of the different branches of philosophy, and to have, upon the whole, less variety of knowledge than others of their countrymen in the corresponding stations of life.
This trait seems to have originated with the world in two supposed facts. The first is, that there has never been any literary writer of eminence born in the society, Penn, Barclay and others having come into it by convincement, and brought their learning with them. The second is, that the society has never yet furnished a philosopher, or produced any material discovery. It is rather a common remark, that if the education of others had been as limited as that of the Quaker, we should have been probably at this day without a Newton, and might have been strangers to those great discoveries, whether of the art of navigation, or of the circulation of the blood, or of any other kind, which have proved so eminently useful to the comfort, health, and safety of many of the human race.
This trait will be true, or it will be false, as it is applied to the different classes, which may be found in the society of the Quakers. The poor, who belong to it, are all taught to read, and are therefore better educated than the poor belonging to other bodies of men. They who spring from parents whose situation does not entitle them to rank with the middle class, but yet keeps them out of the former, are generally educated, by the help of a subscription, at Ackworth school, and may be said to have more school learning than others in a similar situation in life. The rest, whatever may be their situation, are educated wholly at the expence of their parents, who send them either to private Quaker seminaries, or to schools in the neighbourhood, as they judge it to be convenient or proper. It is upon this body of the Quakers that the imputation can only fall; and as far as these are concerned, I think it may be said with truth, that they possess a less portion of what is usually called liberal knowledge than others in a corresponding station in life. There may be here and there a good classical, or a good mathematical scholar. But in general there are but few Quakers, who excel in these branches of learning. I ought, however, to add, that this character is not likely to remain long with the society. For the young Quakers of the present day seem to me to be sensible of the inferiority of their own education, and to be making an attempt towards the improvement of their minds, by engaging in those, which are the most entertaining, instructive, and useful, I mean, philosophical pursuits.
[Footnote 38: Their parents pay a small annual sum towards their board and clothing. The rest is made up by a subscription among the society, and by the funds of the school.]
That deficiency in literature and science is likely to be a trait in the character of the Quakers, we may pronounce, if we take into consideration circumstances which have happened, and notions which have prevailed, in this society.
The Quakers, like the Jews of old, whether they be rich or poor, are brought up, in obedience to their own laws, to some employment. They are called of course at an early age from their books. It cannot therefore be expected of them, that they should possess the same literary character as those who spend years at our universities, or whose time is not taken up by the concerns of trade.
It happens also in this society, that persons of the poor and middle classes are frequently through industry becoming rich. While these were gaining but a moderate support, they gave their children but a moderate education. But when they came into possession of a greater substance, their children had finished their education, having grown up to men.
The ancient controversy too, relative to the necessity of human learning as a qualification for ministers of the Gospel, has been detrimental to the promotion of literature and science among the Quakers. This controversy was maintained with great warmth and obstinacy on both sides, that is, by the early Quakers, who were men of learning, on the one hand, and by the divines of our universities on the other. The less learned in the society, who read this controversy, did not make the proper distinction concerning it. They were so interested in keeping up the doctrine, that learning was not necessary for the priesthood, that they seemed to have forgotten that it was necessary at all. Hence knowledge began to be cried down in the society; and though the proposition was always meant to be true with respect to the priesthood only, yet many mistook or confounded its meaning, so that they gave their children but a limited education on that account.
The opinions also of the Quakers relative to classical authors, have been another cause of impeding in some degree their progress in learning, that is, in the classical part of it. They believe these to have inculcated a system of morality frequently repugnant to that of the Christian religion. And the Heathen mythology, which is connected with their writings, and which is fabulous throughout, they conceive to have disseminated romantic notions among youth, and to have made them familiar with fictions, to the prejudice of an unshaken devotedness to the love of truth.
Second trait is, that they are a superstitious people—Circumstances that have given birth to this trait—Quakerism, where it is understood, is seldom chargeable with superstition—Where it is misunderstood, it leads to it—Subjects in which it may be misunderstood are those of the province of the Spirit—and of dress and language—Evils to be misapprehended from a misunderstanding of the former subject.
It may seem wonderful at first sight, that persons, who have discarded an undue veneration for the saints, and the saints days, and the relics of the Roman Catholic religion, who have had the resolution to reject the ceremonials of Protestants, such as baptism and the sacrament of the supper, and who have broken the terrors of the dominion of the priesthood, should, of all others, be chargeable with superstition. But so it is. The world has certainly fixed upon them the character of a superstitious people. Under this epithet much is included. It is understood that Quakers are more ready than others to receive mystical doctrines, more apt to believe in marvellous appearances more willing to place virtue in circumstances, where many would place imposition; and that, independently of all this, they are more scrupulous with respect to the propriety of their ordinary movements, waiting for religious impulses, when no such impulses are expected by other religious people.
This trait of superstition is an ancient trait in the character of the Quakers, and has arisen from the following causes.
It has been long imagined, that where a people devote themselves so exclusively to the influence of the Spirit as the Quakers appear to do, they will not be sufficiently on their guard to make the proper distinctions between imagination and revelation, and that they will be apt to confound impressions, and to bring the divine Spirit out of its proper sphere into the ordinary occurrences of their lives. And in this opinion the world considers itself to have been confirmed by an expression said to have been long in use among Quakers, which is, "that they will do such and such things if they have liberty to do them." Now by this expression the Quakers may mean only, that all human things are so uncertain, and so many unforeseen events may happen, that they dare make no promises, but they will do the things in question if no obstacle should arise to prevent them. And this caution in language runs through the whole society; for they seldom promise but provisionally in any case. But the world has interpreted the expression differently, and maintains that the Quakers mean by it, that they will do such and such things, if they feel that they have liberty or permission from the Spirit of God.
Two other circumstances, which have given birth to this trait in the character of the Quakers, are the singularities of their dress and language. For when they are spoken of by the world, they are usually mentioned under the name of the idolatry or superstition of the Quaker language, or the idolatry or superstition of the Quaker dress.
Now this trait, which has originated in the three causes that have been mentioned, is considered by the world to have been still more confirmed by a circumstance which happened but a few years ago, namely, that when animal magnetism was in fashion, there were more of this society worked upon by these delusions, than of any other.
With respect to the truth of this trait, I believe it cannot easily be made out, as for as animal magnetism is concerned. For though undoubtedly there were Quakers so superstitious as to be led away on this occasion, yet they were very few in number, and not more in proportion than others of other religious denominations. The conduct of these was also considered as reprehensible by the society at large, and some pains were taken to convince them of their error, and of the unsuitableness of such doctrines with the religion they professed.
With respect to the truth of this trait, as it may have existed on other occasions, it may be laid down as a position generally true, that where Quakers understand their own constitution, it can have no place among them. But where they do not understand it, there are few people among whom it is more likely to exist, as we may see from the following account.
It is the doctrine of Quakerism on the subject of the Spirit, that it is an infallible guide to men in their spiritual concerns. But I do not see where it is asserted by any of the Quaker writers, that it is to be a guide to man in all the temporal concerns of his life, or that he is to depreciate the value of human reason. George Fox was very apprehensive that even in matters of religion, which constitute the immediate province of the divine Spirit, men might mistake their own enthusiastic feelings for revelation; and he censured some, to use his own expression, "for having gone out into imaginations." The society also have been apprehensive of the same consequences. Hence one among other reasons for the institution of the office of elders. It is the duty of these to watch over the doctrine of the ministers to see that they preach soundly, and that they do not mistake their own imaginations for the Spirit of God, and mix his wisdom with the waywardness of their own wills. They therefore, who believe in the doctrine of the agency of the Spirit, and at the same time in the necessity of great caution and watchfulness that they may not confound its operations with that of their own fancies, will never incur the charge, which has been brought against the body at large. But if there are others, on the other hand, who give themselves up to this agency without the necessary caution, they will gradually mix their impressions, and will, in time, refer most of them to the same source. They will bring the Divine Being by degrees out of his spiritual province, and introduce him into all the trivial and worthless concerns of their lives. Hence a belief will arise, which cannot fail of binding their minds in the chains of delusion and superstition.
It is the doctrine of Quakerism again on the subject of dress, that plainness and simplicity are required of those who profess the Christian character; that any deviation from these is unwarrantable, if it be made on the plea of conformity to the fashions of the world; that such deviation bespeaks the beginning of an unstable mind; and, if not noticed, may lead into many evils. They therefore, who consider dress in this point of view, will never fall into any errors of mind in their contemplation of this subject. But if there are members, on the other hand, who place virtue in the colour and shape of their cloathing, as some of the Jews did in the broad phylacteries on their garments, they will place it in lifeless appearances and forms, and bring their minds under vassalage to a false religion. And in the same manner it may be observed with respect to language, that if persons in the society lay an undue stress upon it, that is, if they believe truth or falsehood to exist inherently in lifeless words, and this contrary to the sense in which they know they will be understood by the world, so that they dare not pronounce them for religion's sake, they will be in danger of placing religion where it is not, and of falling into errors concerning it, which will be denominated superstition by the world.
As I am now on the subject of superstition, as capable of arising from the three causes that have been mentioned, I shall dwell for a short time on some of the evils which may arise from one of them, or from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the agency of the Spirit.
I believe it possible, in the first place, for those who receive this doctrine without the proper limitations, that is, for those who attribute every thing exclusively to the Spirit of God, and who draw no line between revelation and the suggestions of their own will, to be guilty of evil actions and to make the Divine Being the author of them all.
I have no doubt, for example, that many of those, who engaged in the crusades, considered themselves as led into them by the Spirit of God. But what true Quaker, in these days, would wish to make the Almighty the author of all the bloodshed in the wars that were undertaken on this account?
The same may be said with respect to martyrdoms. For there is reason to believe, that many who were instrumental in shedding the blood of their fellow-creatures, because they happened to differ from them in religious opinion, conceived that they were actuated by the divine Spirit, and that they were doing God service, and aiding the cause of religion by their conduct on such occasions. But what true Quaker would believe that the Father of justice and mercy was the author of these bloody persecutions, or that, if men were now to feel an impulse in their own minds to any particular action, they ought to obey it, if it were to lead them to do evil that good might come?
The same may be said with respect to many of the bad laws, which are to be found in the codes of the different nations of the world. Legislators no doubt have often thought themselves spiritually guided when they made them. And judges, who have been remarkable for appealing to the divine Spirit in the course of their lives, have made no hesitation to execute them. This was particularly the case with Sir Matthew Hale. If there be any one, whose writings speak a more than ordinary belief in the agency of the Spirit of God, it is this great and estimable man. This spirit he consulted not only in the spiritual, but in the temporal concerns, of his life. And yet he sentenced to death a number of persons, because they were reputed to be witches. But what true Quaker believes in witchcraft? or does he not rather believe, that the Spirit of God, it rightly understood, would have protested against condemnation for a crime, which does not exist?
But the mischief, if a proper distinction be not made between the agency of the Spirit and that of the will of man, may spread farther, and may reach the man himself, and become injurious both to his health, his intellect, and his usefulness, and the Divine Being may be made again the author of it all.
Many, we all know, notwithstanding their care and attention, have found that they have gone wrong in their affairs in various instances of their lives, that is, events have shewn that they have taken a wrong course. But if there be those who suppose themselves in these instances to have been acted upon by the Spirit or God, what is more likely than that they may imagine that they have lost his favour, and that looking upon themselves as driven by him into the wrong road, they may fall into the belief, that they are among the condemned reprobate, and pine away, deprived of their senses, in a state of irretrievable misery and despair?
Others again may injure their health, and diminish their comfort and their utility in another way. And here I may remark, that if I have seen what the world would call superstition among the Quakers, it has been confined principally to a few females, upon whose constitution, more delicate than that of men, an attention to undistinguished impressions, brought on in a course of time by a gradual depreciation of human reason, has acted with considerable force. I fear that some of these, in the upright intention of their hearts to consult the Almighty on all occasions as the sole arbiter of every thing that is good, have fostered their own infirmities, and gone into retirements so frequent, as to have occasioned these to interfere with the duties of domestic comfort and social good, and that they have been at last so perplexed with doubts and an increasing multitude of scruples, that they have been afraid of doing many things, because they have not had a revelation for them. The state of such worthy persons is much to be pitied. What must be their feelings under such a conflict, when they are deserted by human reason? What an effect will not such religious doubts and perplexities have upon their health? What impediments do they not throw in the way of their own utility?
I should be sorry if by any observations, such as the preceding, I should be thought to censure any one for the morality of his feelings. And still more sorry should I be, if I were to be thought to have any intention of derogating from the character of the Supreme Being. I am far from denying his omniscience, for I believe that he sees every sparrow that falls to the ground, and even more, that he knows the innermost thoughts of men. I deny not his omnipresence, for I believe that he may be seen in all his works. I deny neither his general nor his particular providence, nor his hearing of our prayers, nor his right direction in our spiritual concerns, nor his making of all things work together for good to those who love him. Neither do I refuse to admit him either into our journies, or into our walks, or into our chambers, for he can make all the things we see subservient to our moral instruction, and his own glory. But I should be sorry to have him considered as a clock, that is to inform us about the times of our ordinary movements, or to make him a prompter in all our worldly concerns, or to oblige him to take his seat in animal magnetism, or to reside in the midst marvellous delusions. Why should we expect a revelation in the most trivial concerns of our lives, where our reason will inform us? Why, like the waggoner, apply to Jupiter, when we may remove the difficulty by putting our own shoulders to the wheels? If we are reasonable creatures, we can generally tell, whether we ought to go forwards or backwards, or to begin, or to postpone, whether our actions are likely to be innocent or hurtful, or whether we are going on an errand of benevolence or of evil. In fact, there can be no necessity for this constant appeal to the Spirit in all our worldly concerns, while we possess our reason as men. And unless some distinction be made between the real agency of God and our own volitions, which distinction true Quakerism suggests, we shall be liable to be tossed to and fro by every wind that blows, and to become the creatures of a superstition, that may lead us into great public evils, while it may be injurious to our health and intellect, and to the happiness and utility of our lives.
Morally defective traits—First of these is that of obstinacy—This was attached also to the early Christians—No just foundation for the existence of this trait.
I come now to the consideration of those which I have denominated morally defective traits.
The first trait of this kind, which is attached to the character of the Quakers, is that of an obstinate spirit.
This trait is a very ancient one. It was observed in the time of George Fox, of the members of this society, that they were as "stiff as trees," and this idea concerning them has come down to the present day.
The origin of this trait must be obvious to all. The Quakers, as we have seen, will neither pay tithes, nor perform military service, nor illuminate their houses, like other people, though they are sure of suffering by their refusal to comply with custom in these cases. Now, when individuals, few in number, become singular, and differ from the world at large, it is generally considered that the majority are in the right, and that the minority are in the wrong. But obstinacy may be defined to be a perseverance in that which is generally considered to be wrong.
This epithet has attached, and will attach to those who resist the popular opinion, till men are better educated, or till they lose their prejudices, or have more correct and liberal notions on religion. The early Christians were themselves accused of obstinacy, and this even by the enlightened Pliny. He tells, us, that they would not use wine and frankincense before the statues of the emperors; and that "there was no question that for such obstinacy they deserved punishment."
[Footnote 39: "Pervicaciam certe et inflexibitem obstinationem debere puniri."]
In judging of the truth of this trait, two queries will arise. First, whether the Quakers, in adhering rigidly to those singularities which have produced it, are really wrong as a body of Christians? And, secondly, whether they do not conscientiously believe themselves to be right?
In the case of the early Christians, which has been mentioned, we, who live at this day, have no doubt that Pliny put a false estimate on their character. We believe them to have done their duty, and we believe also that they considered themselves as doing it, when they refused divine honours to the emperors. And the action, therefore, which Pliny denominated obstinacy, would, if it had been left to us to name it, have been called inflexible virtue, as arising out of a sense of the obligations imposed upon them by the Christian religion.
In the same manner we may argue with respect to the Quakers. Who, for example, if he will try to divest himself of the prejudices of custom, and of the policy of the world, feels such a consciousness of his own powers as positively to pronounce, that the notions of the Quakers are utterly false, as to the illicitness of wars under the Christian system? The arguments of the Quakers on this subject are quite as good, in my apprehension, as any that I have heard advanced on the other side of the question. These arguments too are unquestionably much more honourable to Christianity, and much more consistent with the nature and design of the Gospel dispensation. They are supported also by the belief and the practice of the earliest Christians. They are arguments again, which have suggested themselves to many good men, who were not Quakers, and which have occasioned doubts in some instances, and conviction in others, against the prejudice of education and the dominion of custom. And if the event should ever come to pass, which most Christians expect, that men will one day or other turn their swords and their spears into ploughshares and pruning-hooks, they, who live in that day, will applaud the perseverance of the Quakers in this case, and weep over the obstinacy and inconsistency of those who combated their opinions.
But the great question after all is, whether the Quakers believe themselves in this or in any other of their religious scruples, to be right, as a Christian body? If there are those among them who do not, they give into the customs of the world, and either leave the society themselves, or become disowned. It is therefore only a fair and a just presumption, that all those who continue in the society, and who keep up to these scruples to the detriment of their worldly interest, believe themselves to be right. But this belief of their own rectitude, even if they should happen to be wrong, is religion to them, and ought to be estimated so by us in matters in which an interpretation of Gospel principles is concerned. This is but an homage due to conscience, after all the blood that has been shed in the course of Christian persecutions, and after all the religious light that has been diffused among us since the reformation of our religion.