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Quakers

QUAKERS, , the name first given' in scorn,' and since habitually, to the sect of Christians who call themselves the • Society of Friends.' [Fox, Georok, vol. x., p. 396.]

Origin.—The founder, or rather the first member of this Society was George Fox, who towards the middle of the seventeenth century, after long wanderings about the country and much spiritual conflict and inquiry into the merits of the sects then raging against each other in England, separated himself from all, feeling that' none could speak to his condition.' By degrees his religious opinions assumed a distinct form, and in the year 1647, when he was 23 years of age, he commenced his ministry by preaching at Dukinfield near Manchester. In a short time the number of believers in his doctrines increased; in 1648 large meetings attended his ministry in Nottinghamshire, and, notwithstanding cruel persecution, the Society spread from the poor and uninstructed to many of the more opulent and educated classes.

It is not our intention to describe the process by which George Fox was led to adopt his peculiar opinions, or the course of conduct which these induced him, whilst yet a very young man, to pursue. Such a narrative might cast on the sect an air of extravagance, which belongs less to this body in particular than to the period of religious excitement in which it had its rise. Notwithstanding instances of indis cretion or enthusiasm in some of its first members, the early history of the Society is full of examples of undaunted courage in passive and ultimately successful resistance to oppression.

Tenets.—The Society of Friends have no articles or creed, subscription to which is required of their members. Their principal tenets may however be gathered from the writings of George Fox, William Penn, and Robert Barclay, and their other approved authors, and from the minutes and epistles issued by their yearly meeting in London to the subordinate meetings.

They believe that it is the prerogative of God alone to declare himself to man; and therefore thev prefer expressing their religious opinions in the language of Holy Scripture. In full accordance with these sacred writings, they have ever believed that there is one God and Father of all, of whom are all things; that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom all things were made, who was glorified with the Father before the world was, who is over all, God blessed for ever; that there is one Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father and the Son, the Leader, Sanctifier, and Comforter of his people: and that these three are one God. Whilst objecting to scholastic terms and distinctions, and to all attempts to be wise in the deep things of God, beyond what He has plainly revealed, they have ever professed their belief in the real manhood as well as the true deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; that the Word which was in the beginning with God, and was God, was made flesh and dwelt amongst men. They maintain that man in the fall is separated and alienated in his nature from God; that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and aro therefore exposed to divine wrath; and that it is solely through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus that any are brought into reconciliation with him; receiving remission of sins through faith in the one propitiatory offering of the Lamb of God, and sanctification of heart through the influences of the Holy Spirit. They believe the Holy Scriptures to be given by inspiration of God, and to be profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; and they have always professed their entire readiness that their tenets and practices should be tried thereby.

But that which may be regarded as the doctrine mainly distinguishing them from other Christians, is what they apprehend to be a fuller recognition both of the universality anil of the teaching of the Holy Spirit. They believe that the light of the spirit of Christ does in measure enlighten every man that comelh into the world; that the effects of the death of Christ are coextensive with those of Adam's transgression, according to the declaration of the apostle,' As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive;' and, as a consequence hereof, that even those who have not the outward knowledge of the Gospel history may, by giving heed to their measure of this light, become partakers of that salvation which comes by Jesus Christ.

They moreover believe that the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to be experienced by every sincere believer in Christ, in reference both to his religious duties and to his daily walk in life,—that to be guided by the Spirit is the practical application of the Christian religion. They also maintain that this manifestation of the Spirit, given to every man to profit withal, is the only essential qualification of the Christian for service in the church, and is independent of human choice or appointment. They hold it to be the prerogative of Christ to call and qualify by the Holy Spirit his servants to minister in word and doctrine, and that, as in the earliest period of the Christian church, this Spirit was poured upon servants and upon handmaidens, so he continues to call from women as well as from men, from the young and from the old, from the unlearned and from the poor, from the wise and from the rich, those whom he commissions to declare unto others the way of salvation. As such have freely received the gift of the ministry, so are they freely to give without hire or bargaining, far less to use it as a trade to get money by. Hence they refuse the payment of tithes and all other ecclesiastical imposts. They believe that the true worship of God is offered in the inward and immediate moving and drawing of his own Spirit; and that all other worship,beginning and ending in man's pleasure, ought to be rejected. Hence they abstain from the use of all prescribed forms of prayer, and refuse to observe appointed days of thanksgiving, or of fasting and humiliation. They believe that as all the types and shadows and ordinances of the law were fulfilled in Christ, so he established no new ordinances to be administered or to he observed in his church, that his baptism is that of the Holy Ghost and of fire, that he himself is the bread of life, and that the communion of his body and blood is inward and spiritual, and that in thus partaking of the substance, the figures are no longer needed. They assert that us God hath assumed to himself thedominion of conscience, all punishment for conscience sake is therefore contrary lo the truth ; provided that no man under the pretence of conscience prejudice his neighbour. They believe that true religion delivers man from the spirit and vain conversation of this world, and leads him to inward communion with God; and that hence all foolish and superstitious formalities and all frivolous recreations ought to be rejected: thus all pubKc rejoicings are disapproved of.

Friends deem the taking of all oaths unlawful, and much of their sufferings arose from the firmness with which in former days they refused the oaths often wantonly tendered to them. Tbey believe too that all wars and fightings are inconsistent with pure Christianity, and they refuse all participation directly or indirectly in Ihem. They believe marriage to be a divine ordinance, but in their marriages they do not use the intervention of a minister, for whose interference they allege that there is no Scripture warrant. When any of the Society intend to marry, they acquaint their respective men's and women's meetings of their intentions, and the necessary inquiries having been made as to the consent of parents, the freedom of the parties from all previous engagements, and, if the woman is a widow with children, as to the security of a due provision for these, the parties in a public meeting for worship solemnly take each other in marriage, and a certificate of the fact is given to them. Friends abstain from all pomp in tin! burial of their dead and from the use of mourning apparel or of grave-stones. They do not use the heathen names of the days or months, but designate them by their numbers; and they object to address an individual in the plural number, or by bis title of courtesy, or by any dcng nation which they consider as either inconsistent with Christian truthfulness, or as irreverent or merely complimentary; but they have no scruple against the use uf Ibo simple names of dignity or office.

Discipline.—The discipline of the Society was at least indicated and to a great extent established by George Fox with much foresight; for notwithstanding the great increase of the body and the altered circumstances of the tunes, the system has been found adequate to the protection and the government of the Society. The members of one or more congregations (according to their size) hold monthly meetings for looking to the orderly conversation of the members, for taking careof their poor (a duty which the Society rigidly fulfils to the superseding of all parochial relief), for regulating the proceedings in relation to marriage, and for other matters affecting the wellbeing of the body.

There are quarterly meetings throughout the nation, to which representatives are sent from the subordinate monlhh meetings. There are also monthly and quarterly meetings of women Friends similarly constituted.

There are meetings for worship on Sunday, and in the forenoon of one other day in the week. The epistle from the yearly meeting in 1fi 75 exhorts Friends not to decline, forsake, or remove their public assemblies because of times of suffering; for such practices are not consistent with lbe nobility of truth. Finally, there is a yearly meeting of representatives from all churches of the Society throughout Great Britain and Ireland. This meeting is held in London on the Wednesday after the third Sunday in May, and remains sitting many days It receives reports of the state of the particular churches, and it issues to them a general epistle. A similar representative body or yearly meeting of women Friends is held at the same time for the general supervision of the religious state of those of their own sex, but they have no power to make rules for the government of the body. During the intervals of the yearly meeting, the general business of the Society is conducted by a meeting termed the Meeting for Sufferings, which is a carefully selected standing committee of the yearly meeting. There is a general fund belonging to the Society, called the national stock; it it formed by the voluntary contributions of members, and it i» applied to the publication of religious works, the expense* attending applications for legislative relief in cases of tuflrring, the payment of tho expenses of ministers travelling in foreign parts out of the limits of any meeting, and other public objects of the Society.

Whilst it is the duty of the individual members of tb* Society generally to watch over one another in love, th:» duty is more especially confided to certain officers of eaek sex in the respective meetings, who are called overseer*. and who, whenever any case of delinquency comes to their knowledge, visit the individual privately, and labour with him in tenderness with a view lo his restoration; but if these efforts prove unavailing, they are to bring the case to the monthly meeting, which appoints a committee to exercise further care in reference to it; and if all attempts at reclaiming the offender should fail, he is disowned as a member of the Society by a document issued by themonlhlr meeting and signed by its clerk.

There are many wise provisions made by the Society for exercising care over those who believe themselves called to the work of the ministry. This care is more especially entrusted to the elders, who are persons chosen for their spiritual discernment, and from having given evidence by the..fruits of the soundness of their faith. The eventual reov*nition or acknowledgment of ministers as such rests however with the monthly meeting at large, including all tLc men and women members of the congregation. Month;% meetings are cautioned not hastily to give certificates «..' competence to those who desire to travel in the ministrv . but to take care that these are well approved at home, are t* sound doctrine, of good conversation, and in unity within their own meetings.

Tlvs notice of the Society of Frienas ougnt not to be closed without honourable mention of their constant «-tTli in the cause of humanity. George Fox recommended tl . establishment of two schools, one for boys at Waltliara ar**! one for girls at Shacklewell, ' for instructing them in whatsoever things were civil and useful in the creation;' an-J a care on this head has been maintained and extended *>f later time, there being at present several large schools supported by the Society for the children of Friends and those connected with the body in different pans of England and Ireland. Some of these are intended only for elementary learning and religious instruction, others embrace the higher branches of education, and some are connected with agricultural pursuits. The Lancasterian system of instruction has found among Friends some of its most zealous supporters. The minutes of the yearly meetings from 1727 to the present time abound in exhortations to repress the slave-trade and slavery. In 1761 members engaged in the slave-trade were disowned; and the Society, as a body and individually, have been unremitting in their labours to remove this stain from the nation.

(Rules of Discipline for the Religious Society of Friends, London, 1834; Sewel's History of the People called Quakers, London, 1834; Barclay's Apology (l he edition used for this article is that of 1701, London); and Memoir of the Life of George Fox, 1839; also the articles Fox; Barclay; Penn.)

Note - this article incorporates content from The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1840)

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