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Satarday, May 12, 1821,
TO THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.
A SINCERE friend of your society, a lover of truth, and a well wisher to every individual of mankind desires to address you on some most important subjects. As you are a plain people, you will permit me to address you in a plain manner, without any meretricious ornament, or conformity to the taste of a fantastic world. If asked why I address you through this medium ?because I know no other. Your careful absence from the religious assemblies of all other denominations, your objection to the perusal of their books, your unwillingness to take their periodical works, or join their Bible, Missionary and other public christian associations, and your habitual reservedness of intercourse, render it difficult and almost impossible to communicate with you in the usual way ;—and even through the medium of the press, it will be difficult to attract your notice or engage your attention.
Notwithstanding these discouragements, however, it is proposed to address to your consideration, a series of Letters on the several important subjects upon which we differ; letters which I hope candor will induce you to read and weigh; if not, I trust they will not escape the attention of the rest of the community.
And here, I should do injustice both to myself and you, not to acknowledge my approbation of your general character. Of your morality and amability, your civil integrity, affectionate manners, exemplary simplicity, your prudence and economy, and I may add your efficient internal discipline, I have the highest admiration. In your opposition to war, slavery, and religious persecution I can join with all my heart. But in your neglect of religious newspapers, your opposition to Bible and Missionary Societies, your rejection of several Ordinances of Christ, your unsocial separation from all other denominations ; in short, in the characteristic notions and conduct of your society I cannot join ;—for reasons which shall hereafter be assigned.
Whether any thing of mine shall draw forth an answer, is a matter of perfect indifference. Controversy is not wished, but is not feared. This only may be said, as I shall attack no one's person, arraign no one's motives, but simply oppose principles and doctrines, no one need expect me to notice personal invective, hard names, suspected motives, nor any thing but sober argument. Epithets, therefore, of "impertinent," " self-conceited,” « proselytor," “ persecutor,” or any names of the kind I give notice beforehand, will all be thrown away, as “ I am armed so strong in honesty, they'll pass me like the idle wind which I respect not."
As I know you have the most erroneous notions of our doctrines and principles, it is not impossible I may have imbibed erroneous views of
yours. As I have no object in view but truth, my heart shall be open to conviction, and every error I shall be happy to correct. The statement of your doctrines shall be given, not from the mouth of your enemies, but as far as possible, in your own phrases, taken from your daily conversation, and your
most admired writers. A complete discussion of every topic, with all the arguments and objections, in the short compass of a newspaper essay is out of the question. A concise statement of truth and error, is all that will be attempted.
And now, conscious that my motives are pure, my cause just, and the objects for which I contend of infinite moment, to this and every future essay I should have no objection to subscribe my name in full; but as it would answer no good purpose, and might be ascribed by some to ostentation ; and as the truth or error of what I write has nothing to do with my personal character, I subscribe my sentiments by the name of an old and frequent combatant of yours, the Apostle
ON INTERNAL LIGHT. Though averse to creeds, you have a system of faith and doctrinal bond of union. As a Society you tolerate a greater difference of sentiment among yourselves than any other sect; but yet in certain general and distinctive points you all agree, as is
evident from your conversation, conduct and books. These distinctive or characteristic doctrines, I shall call your creed or system of faith; and these are the doctrines, which, from time to time, I intend to canvass.
In all unscriptural systems of religion there is a radical error ; qome fundamental principle, upon which, as on a corner stone, the whole system rests. To loosen this is to sap the whole building; a blow here, is a “blow at the root.” That doctrine of yours, therefore, which I shall first call in question is this; that “there is a certain internal light, which is the source of all divine knowledge, and the only sufficient guide and rule of conduct; and that this light is either INNATE, or given to all.” That you set up this internal light as a standard superior to the sacred scriptures is the general understanding of other denominations, and I think, evident from your conversation, preaching, and the books you patronize. In a summary of your doctrines stated to have been drawn up by one of your “ most respectable members,” contained in the Encyclopedia, and in Buck's Theological Dictionary, (article Quakers) it is stated, “ To Christ alone we give the title of the word of God, and not to the sacred scriptures ; although we highly esteem these sacred writings, in SUBORDINATION to the spirit.” And in Kersey's Treatise, “ we do not agree with those professors of christianity, who say the sacred scriptures are the word of God.” (p. 20.) Hence, in conversation, when particular passages are quoted against your doctrines, we hear such language as this,-“We cannot help it, but we feel we are right.”—“The same spirit which was given to Paul is given to us, his writings have been corrupted, and it is safer to trust the spirit than them- when we can drink at the fountain, why drink from the muddy stream !" _“That was merely Paul's opinion, he was not always inspired”—and many other phrases of like import, all calculated to reduce the authority of the Bible, and exalt the light within.
Now, in opposition to this, I maintain that the sacred scriptures, (in their literal and logical sense) are the supreme and only standard of religious truth.
1. Because they were written by inspiration of God. If you deny their inspiration, what are you better than the Deists, many of whom admit the sacred writers were good men. admit their inspiration ; in other words, that these "holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," you must submit to their decisions, or make yourselves wiser than God! From the very circumstance, therefore, that they were dictated by infinite wisdom, (which you must admit, or profess deism,) we Infer nothing can be a wiser or holier guide than they ; of course there can be no higher standard of right and wrong.
Too many of your society, I fear, deny the plenary inspiration of the sacred volume, and are deists in heart; but I am willing to believe the majority agree with Jesse Kersey, that they were written “under the guidance of the word or Spirit of God," and therefore are to be held in “high esteem." With such only have I controversy. Says the Apostle, 1 Cor. xiv. 37: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” Gal. i. 9: “If any man preach any other gospel, let him be accursed." 1 Thes. iv. 8: " He that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath given unto us his holy spirit." He, therefore, that for the sake of any other standard, rejects what the apostle wrote, rejects “the commandments of God," and " despises” his maker. Those who in the face of the divine declarations, that “ALL scripture is given by inspiration;" of the divine threatening to take his part from the book of life, who should take from the words of this book ;” and of Christ's promise to “guide his apostles into all truth, and bind in heaven what they should bind or earth” shall presume to reject or alter any part, have surely no claim to the title of christian. With such, at present, I have nothing to do.
But whether those who regard the sacred scriptures as inspired of God, and yet set up a higher standard of faith and practice, are consistent with themselves, or with the sacred scriptures is the present question. To the Bible, which you, as well as I, profess to reverence, I appeal. If it give countenance to such a standard, I submit. If not, if it uniformly sit as judge itself, and forbid all other trusts, condemn all other guides, your leading doctrine must be given up.
2. Our Lord made the sacred scriptures his standard, and why should not we make it ours? “What saith the scriptures ?" was a frequent appeal. “It is written," was enough for him. “The scriptures cannot be broken,” was a fundamental principle. On questions of personal guilt or innocence, he sometimes appealed to conscience; but in all disputes concerning doctrine and duty, when scripture could be quoted, it was quoted, and deemed decisive. He appealed to a standard of which all his hearers could judge. Had he appealed to his own internal light, who but himself could have ascertained the conformity of his words to truth?
3. We are expressly commanded to try the spirits. 1 John iv. 1: “ Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, for many false prophets are gone abroad into the world.” It seems in that age, as in every age since, some were for following internal impulses as their only rule. Against this the apostle guards, and enjoins to try all doctrines and conduct