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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume Iii Part 7

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And as they are not accustomed to consider their fellow-creatures as below themselves, so neither are they accustomed to look with enmity towards them. Their tenet on the subject of war, which has been so amply detailed, prevents any disposition of this kind. For they interpret those words of Jesus Christ, as I have before shewn, which relate to injuries, as extending not to their fellow-citizens alone, but to every individual in the world, and his precept of loving enemies, as extending not only to those individuals of their own country, who may have any private resentment against them, but to those who become reputed enemies in the course of wars, so that they fix no boundaries of land or ocean, and no limits of kindred, to their love, but consider Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, bond and free, as their brethren. Hence neither fine nor imprisonment can induce them to learn the use of arms, so as to become qualified to fight against these, or to shed their blood. And this principle of love is not laid as it were upon the shelf, like a volume of obsolete laws, so that it may be forgotten, but is kept alive in their memories by the testimony which they are occasionally called to bear or by the sufferings they undergo by distraints upon their property, and sometimes by short imprisonments, for refusing military service.

But while these circ.u.mstances may have some influence in the production of this trait of benevolence to man in the character of the Quakers, the one by preventing the hateful sight of the loss of his dignity, and the other by destroying the seeds of enmity towards him, there are others, interwoven into their const.i.tution, which will have a similar, though a stronger tendency towards it.

The great system of equality, which their discipline daily teaches and enforces, will make them look with an equal eye towards all of the human race. Who can be less than a man in the Quaker society, when the rich and poor have an equal voice in the exercise of its discipline, and when they fill equally the important offices that belong to it? And who is there out of the society, whom the Quakers esteem more than human? They bow their knees or, their bodies, as I have before noticed, to no man.

They flatter no man on account of his riches or his station. They pay homage to no man on account of his rank or t.i.tle. Stripped of all trappings, they view the creature man. If then they view him in this abstracted light, they can view him only as an equal. Bit in what other society is it, that a similar estimate is made of him? The world are apt in general to make too much of those in an elevated station, and those again in this station are apt to make less of others beneath them than they ought. Thus an under or an over valuation of individuals generally takes place in society; from whence it will unavoidably happen, that if some men are cla.s.sed a little below G.o.ds, others will be cla.s.sed but a little above the brutes of the field. Their discipline, again, has a tendency to produce in them an anxious concern for the good of their fellow-creatures. Man is considered, in the theory of this discipline, as a being, for whose spiritual welfare the members are bound to watch. They are to take an interest in his character and his happiness. If he be overtaken in a fault, he is not to be deserted, but reclaimed. No endeavour is to be spared for his restoration. He is considered, in short, as a creature, worthy of all the pains and efforts that can be bestowed upon him.

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 G.o.d. 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.

SECT. II.

_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 princ.i.p.ally in the defence of themselves.

On the second part of the trait I may remark, that it is possible, in the case of t.i.thes, 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, pa.s.s 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 p.r.o.nouncing 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 G.o.d 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 circ.u.mscribe 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, circ.u.mstances, 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 circ.u.mstances 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 circ.u.mspection 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 pa.s.siveness of the soul under the influence of the Divine Spirit.

SECT. III.

_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 G.o.d, 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 const.i.tution, 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 G.o.d, 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 antic.i.p.ate 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."

CHAP. IV.

_Second trait is that of complacency of mind or quietness of character--This trait confirmed by circ.u.mstances 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 circ.u.mstances, in the first place, in the const.i.tution 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 circ.u.mstances again in the const.i.tution of the Quakers, which are either preventive of mental activity, and excitement of pa.s.sion, 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 pa.s.sions, as they who are permitted the use of these common amus.e.m.e.nts 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 pa.s.sions 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 pa.s.sive, 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 circ.u.mstances 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.

CHAP. V.

_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--t.i.thes --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 circ.u.mstances within the Quaker const.i.tution 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[34] pay this homage to their scruples, or who determine upon an ordeal of suffering in preference of a compromise with their ease and safety.

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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume Iii Part 7 summary

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