Page images
PDF
EPUB

single typical ceremony, and without the necessary or constant aid of any human ministry. Although these persons may differ from us in the precise view of these very subjects, they appear to be aware that the tendency of our peculiarities is good, and they will allow that Christianity, in its progress through the world, may derive no trifling advantage from the circumstance, that these religious principles are, by some, at least, among the followers of Jesus, plainly and resolutely upheld.

That such an apprehension is well founded—that the consistent and religious part of the Society of Friends are actually occupying an important and useful station in the mystical body of Christ—that their peculiar principles are of an edifying tendency, and are calculated to promote the spiritual welfare, not only of Friends themselves, but of the church in general—is the deliberate conviction of my own mind; and it is probable that the persons for whose use this work is principally intended, will generally unite with me in entertaining that conviction.

If such be the case, I would remind them that no religious views or practices can be salutary in the long run, or truly promote the spiritual progress of the militant church, which are the mere creatures of human reason and imagination, and which do not arise directly or indirectly out of the essential principles of the law of God. I may with humility acknowledge my own persuasion, that the distinguishing views and practices of the Society of Friends are indeed derived from those principles; and to the proof of this point my future observations respecting them will be chiefly, if not exclusively, directed. In the first place, however, I must invite the reader's attention to an important doctrine of religion, which, although by no means peculiar to Friends, is certainly promulgated among them with remarkable earnestness, and which lies at the root of all their particular views and practices—the doctrine of the perceptible influence and guidance of the Spirit of Truth.

in some

While indeed these differences among the servants of the same divine Master, afford many humbling proofs of weakness and imperfection, and, in some instances, of degeneracy from the strength and purity of truth, we ought to acknowledge that they are, respects, overruled for good. The existence of different opinions, respecting minor points, entails on us the necessity of a careful selection of our own particular course, and thus operates indirectly as a stimulus, by which we are induced to bestow a closer attention on religion in general. Such a difference of sentiment brings with it, moreover, a course of moral discipline: for many occasions arise from this source, which call for the exercise of Christian charity—of mutual liberality, meekness, and forbearance: nor is it unreasonable to suppose that, as we rightly avail ourselves of this discipline, it will be one means of preparing us for a perfect unanimity in a better state of being. Lastly, while a reasonable hope may be entertained that, as the church militant proceeds in her appointed career, a gradual, yet certain, advancement will take place toward a state of greater unity and simplicity, yet it can scarcely be denied that, in that variety of administration, through which the saving principles of religion are for the present permitted to pass, there is much of a real adaptation to a corresponding variety of mental condition. Well, therefore, may we bow with thankfulness before that infinite and unsearchable Being, who, in all our weakness, follows us with his love, and who, through the diversified mediums of religion, to which the several classes of true Christians are respectively accustomed, is still pleased to reveal to them all the same crucified Redeemer, and to direct their footsteps into one path of obedience, holiness, and peace.

The particular sentiments and practices which distinguish the different classes of true Christians, may be denominated religious peculiarities :' and, before I proceed to the discussion of those which

1 The term, religious peculiarities, has been adopted for the sake of convenience and perspicuity; and I conceive it to be accurately descriptive of those opinions and customs which distinguish, from other parts of the church, any one community of Christians. It is far from my intention, by the use of such a term, to convey the idea that such distinctions are of little practical consequence. With regard to the religious peculiarities of Friends, it is the very object of the present work to evince their importance, and to show their real connexion with the fundamental principles of the Gospel of Christ.

1

up:

distinguish the Society of Friends, I would invite the candid attention of the reader to two excellent rules, laid down by the apostle Paul, on the subject of somewhat similar distinctions in matters of religion.

The first of these rules enjoins that Christians, united as they are in the great fundamentals of doctrine and practice, should abstain from judging or condemning one another on account of their minor differences. “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's serTant ? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden for God is able to make him stand.”

The differences of opinion and conduct, to which Paul was here alluding, were indeed of less magnitude, and related to matters of less practical importance, than many of those which now exist within the more extended borders of the church of Christ; but whatever change may have taken place in this respect in the circumstances of Christians, it is plain that the apostle's principle of mutual liberality still holds good. While in our various allotments within the church we are severally endeavouring to “live unto the Lord,” it is our unquestionable duty to refrain from accusing and condemning each other. Had this principle been uniformly observed among those who call themselves Christians, where would have been the vexatious disputes, the polemical severity, and, above all, the cruel persecutions, which have retarded the progress, and disgraced the profession, of a pure and peaceable religion.

The apostle's second rule, respecting the different views maintained by Christians in his own time, is applicable, with an increased degree of force, to those more important religious peculiarities, by which in the present day the church is divided into classes. “Let every man,” says he, “be fully persuaded in his own mind”—a rule to which may be added his emphatic remark, “happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” In order to obtain that “full persuasion” to which we are thus exhorted, it is plainly necessary for us to comply with another precept of the same inspired writer—“prove all things.” It will not be disputed by persons of good sense, candour, and liberality, that it is very generally desirable for Christians, who are arrived at years of sound discretion, to prove those peculiar religious principles in which they have been educated—to examine the foundation on which they rest—to try them by the test of Scripture and experience--and, more especially, with all humility and devotion of heart, to seek the counsel of God respecting them. Such a course seems to be prescribed, not only by the rule already cited, but by the exhortation of the apostle Peter : “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;" an exhortation which coincides with the injunction of Paul: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

i Rom. xiv. 3, 4.

31 Thess. v. 21.

2 Rom. xiv. 5, 22.

This careful and devout examination might, in various instances, lead to the discarding of views and practices which are useless and irrelevant, and which have no favourable influence in promoting the cause of vital and practical religion. On the other hand, should

any Christian be led, by such a proving of his peculiar principles, to a full persuasionthat, being founded on the law of God, they are calculated to edify himself, and to promote the spiritual welfare of the church in general, it becomes him again to obey the dictate of the apostle, and to "hold fast that which is good.

Having premised these general remarks, I shall proceed, in pursuance of my main object, to apply them to the religious peculiarities of that society of Christians, of which I am myself a member.

There are, I believe, few persons accustomed to a comprehensive view of the militant church, and of the course which true religion is taking among mankind, who will be disposed to deny that the situation occupied in the body by the Society of Friends, is one of considerable importance to the cause of righteousness. My own observation has indeed led me to believe, that there are some spirituallyminded persons, not immediately connected with Friends, who go still farther ; and who even rejoice in the consideration that, among the various classes of the Christian church, there is numbered one fraternity who bear a plain and decisive testimony against warfare in all its forms-against oaths under any pretext--and against all hiring or paying of the ministers of the Gospel: a fraternity, whose practice and history afford a sufficient evidence that God may be acceptably and profitably worshipped without the intervention of a

[ocr errors]

12 Pet. i. 5.

21 Cor. xiv. 20.

31 Thess. v. 21.

single typical ceremony, and without the necessary or constant aid of any human ministry. Although these persons may differ from us in the precise view of these very subjects, they appear to be aware that the tendency of our peculiarities is good, and they will allow that Christianity, in its progress through the world, may derive no trifling advantage from the circumstance, that these religious principles are, by some, at least, among the followers of Jesus, plainly and resolutely upheld.

That such an apprehension is well founded—that the consistent and religious part of the Society of Friends are actually occupying an important and useful station in the mystical body of Christ—that their peculiar principles are of an edifying tendency, and are calculated to promote the spiritual welfare, not only of Friends themselves, but of the church in general—is the deliberate conviction of my own mind; and it is probable that the persons for whose use this work is principally intended, will generally unite with me in entertaining that conviction.

If such be the case, I would remind them that no religious views or practices can be salutary in the long run, or truly promote the spiritual progress of the militant church, which are the mere creatures of human reason and imagination, and which do not arise directly or indirectly out of the essential principles of the law of God. I may with humility acknowledge my own persuasion, that the distinguishing views and practices of the Society of Friends are indeed derived from those principles; and to the proof of this point my future observations respecting them will be chiefly, if not exclusively, directed. In the first place, however, I must invite the reader's attention to an important doctrine of religion, which, although by no means peculiar to Friends, is certainly promulgated among them with remarkable earnestness, and which lies at the root of all their particular views and practices—the doctrine of the perceptible influence and guidance of the Spirit of Truth.

« PreviousContinue »