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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 circ.u.mstances, 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 circ.u.mstances 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 a.s.signed to the Quakers, and how far they may be expected to be ent.i.tled 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 coa.r.s.e 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 G.o.d 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 G.o.d and man. If, after all these warnings and advertis.e.m.e.nts, 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 l.u.s.t 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 pet.i.tion 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 a.s.sembled 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 circ.u.mstances 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 circ.u.mstances 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 circ.u.mstances 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 G.o.d, there will be a conscious rect.i.tude 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 circ.u.mstances, 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 circ.u.mstance, 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 G.o.d, if they attend to the monitions of his grace. They believe that G.o.d 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.