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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume I Part 9

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He introduced also into his system of dicipline privileges in favour of women, which marked his sense of justice, and the strength and liberality of his mind. The men he considered undoubtedly as the heads of the church, and from whom all laws concerning it ought to issue. But he did not deny women on that account any power, which he thought it would be proper for them to hold. He believed them to be capable of great usefulness, and therefore admitted them to the honour of being, in his own society, of nearly equal importance with the men.--In the general duty, imposed upon members, of watching over one another, he laid it upon the women, to be particularly careful in observing the morals of those of then own s.e.x. He gave them also meetings for dicipline of their own, with the power, of recording their own transactions, so that women were to act among courts or meetings of women, as men among those of men. There was also to be no office in the society belonging to the men, but he advised there should be a corresponding one belonging to the women. By this new and impartial step he raised the women of his own community beyond the level of women in others, and laid the foundation of that improved strength of intellect, dignity of mind, capability of business, and habit of humane offices, which are so conspicuous among Female-Quakers at the present day.

With respect to the numerous offices, belonging to the discipline, he laid it down as a principle, that the persons, who were to fill them, were to have no other emolument or reward, than that, which a faithful discharge of them would bring to their own consciences.

These are the general outlines of the system of discipline, as introduced by George Fox. This system was carried into execution, as he himself had formed it, in his own time. Additions, however, have been made to it since, as it seemed proper, by the society at large. In the time of George Fox, it was laid upon every member, as we have seen, to watch over his neighbour for his spiritual welfare. But in 1698, the society conceiving, that what was the business of every one might eventually become the business of no one, appointed officers, whose particular duty it should be to be overseers of the morals of individuals; thus hoping, that by the general vigilance enjoined by George Fox, which was still to continue, and by the particular vigilance then appointed, sufficient care would be taken of the morals of the whole body. In the time, again, of George Fox, women had, only their monthly and quarterly meetings for discipline, but it has since been determined, that they should have their yearly meetings equally with the men. In the time, again, of George Fox, none but the grave members were admitted into the meetings for discipline, but it has been since agreed, that young persons should have the privilege of attending them, and this, I believe, upon the notion, that. While these meetings would quality them for transacting the business of the society, they might operate as schools far virtue.

This system of discipline, as thus introduced by George Fox, and as thus enlarged by the society afterwards, has not escaped, notwithstanding the loveliness of its theory, the censure of the world.

It has been considered in the first place, as a system of espionage, by which one member is made a spy upon, or becomes an informer against another. But against this charge it would be observed by the Quakers, that vigilance over morals is unquestionably a Christian duty. It would be observed again that the vigilance which is exercised in this case, is not with the intention of mischief, as in the case of spies and informers, but with the intention of good. It is not to obtain money, but to preserve reputation and virtue. It is not to persecute but to reclaim. It is not to make a man odious, but to make him more respectable. It is never an interference with innocence. The watchfulness begins to be offensive only, where delinquency is begun.



The discipline, again, has been considered as too great an infringement, of the liberty of those, who are brought under it. Against this the Quakers would contend, that all persona who live in civil society, must give up a portion of their freedom, that more happiness and security may be enjoyed. So, when men enter into Christian societies, they must part with a little of their liberty for their moral good.

But whatever may be the light in which persons, not of the society, may view this inst.i.tution, the Quakers submit to, and respect it. It is possible there may be some, who may feel it a restraint upon their conduct. And there is no doubt, that it is a restraint upon those, who have irregular desires to gratify, or destructive pleasures to pursue.

But generally speaking, the youth of the society, who receive a consistent education, approve of it. Genuine Quaker parents, as I have had occasion to observe, insist upon the subjugation of the will. It is their object to make their children lowly, patient and submissive. Those therefore, who are born in the society, are born under the system, and are in general educated for it. Those who become converted to the religion of the society, know beforehand the terms of their admission.

And it will appear to all to be at least an equitable inst.i.tution, because in the administration of it, there is no exception of persons.

The officers themselves, who are appointed to watch over, fall under the inspection of the discipline. The poor may admonish the rich, and the rich the poor. There, is no exception, in short, either for age, or s.e.x, or station.

It is not necessary, at least in the present place, that I should go farther, and rake up all the objections, that may be urged upon this subject. I shall therefore only observe here, that the discipline of the Quakers, notwithstanding all its supposed imperfections, whatever, they may be, is the grand foundation-stone, upon which their moral education is supported. It is the grand part.i.tion wall between them and vice. If this part of the fabric were ever allowed to, be undermined, the building would fall to pieces; though the Quakers might still be known by their apparel and their language, they would no longer be so remarkable as they are now generally confessed to, be, for their moral character.

SECT. II.

_Manner of the administration of the discipline of the Quakers--Overseers appointed to every particular meeting--Manner of reclaiming an individual--first by admonition--this sometimes successful--secondly by dealing--this sometimes successful--but if unsuccessful, the offender is disowned--but he may appeal afterwards to two different courts or meetings for redress.--_

Having now given the general outlines of the discipline of the Quakers, I shall proceed to explain the particular manner of the administration of it.

To administer it effectually all individuals of the society, as I have just stated, whether men or women, are allowed the power of watching over the conduct of one another for their good, and of interfering if they should see occasion.

But besides this general care two or more persons of age and experience, and of moral lives and character, and two or more women of a similar description, are directed to be appointed, to have the oversight of every congregation or particular meeting in the kingdom. These persons are called overseers, because it is their duty to oversee their respective flocks.

If any of the members should violate the prohibitions mentioned in the former part of the work, or should become chargeable with injustice, drunkenness, or profane swearing, or neglect of their public worship, or should act in any way inconsistently with his character as a christian, it becomes the particular duty of these overseers, though it is also the duty of the members at large, to visit him in private, to set before him the error and consequences of his conduct, and to endeavour by all the means in their power to reclaim him. This act on the part of the overseer is termed by the society admonishing. The circ.u.mstances of admonishing and of being admonished are known only to the parties, except the case should have become of itself notorious; for secrecy is held sacred on the part of the persons who admonish. Hence it may happen, that several of the society may admonish the same person, though no one of them knows that any other has been visiting him at all. The offender may be thus admonished by overseers and other individuals for weeks and months together, for no time is fixed by the society, and no pains are supposed to be spared for his reformation. It is expected, however, in all such admonitions, that no austerity of language or manner should be used, but that he should be admonished in tenderness and love.

If an overseer, or any other individual, after having thus laboured to reclaim another for a considerable length of time, finds that he has not succeeded in his work, and feels also that he despairs of succeeding by his own efforts, he opens the matter to some other overseer, or to one or more serious members, and requests their aid. These persons now wait upon the offender together, and unite their efforts in endeavouring to persuade him to amend his life. This act, which now becomes more public by the junction of two or three in the work of his reformation, is still kept a secret from other individuals of the society, and still retains the name of admonishing.

It frequently happens that, during these different admonitions, the offender sees his error, and corrects his conduct. The visitations of course cease, and he goes on in the estimation of the society as a regular or unoffending member, no one knowing but the admonishing persons, that he has been under the discipline of the society. I may observe here, that what is done by men to men is done by women to women, the women admonishing and trying to reclaim those of their own s.e.x, in the same manner.

Should, however, the overseers, and other persons before mentioned, find after a proper length of time that all their united efforts have been ineffectual, and that they have no hope of success with respect to his amendment, they lay the case, if it should be of a serious nature, before a [16]court, which has the name of the monthly meeting. This court, or meeting, make a minute of the case, and appoint a committee to visit him. The committee in consequence, of their appointment wait upon him. This act is now considered as a public act, or as an act of the church. It is not now termed admonishing, but changes its name to [17]dealing. The offender too, while the committee are dealing with him, though he may attend the meetings of the society for worship, does not attend those of their discipline.

[Footnote 16: Certain acts of delinquency are reported to the monthly meeting, as soon as the truth of the facts can be ascertained, such as a violation of the rules of the society, with respect to marriage, payment of tythes, etc.]

[Footnote 17: Women, though they may admonish, cannot deal with women, this being an act of the church, till they have consulted the meetings of the men. Men are generally joined with women in the commission for this purpose.]

If the committee, after having dealt with the offender according to their appointment, should be satisfied that he is sensible of his error, they make a report to the monthly court or meeting concerning him. A minute is then drawn up, in which it is stated, that he has made satisfaction for the offence. It sometimes happens, that he himself sends to the same meeting a written acknowledgement of his error. From this time he attends the meetings for discipline again, and is continued in the society, as if nothing improper had taken place. Nor is any one allowed to reproach him for his former faults.

Should, however, all endeavours prove ineffectual, and should the committee, after having duly laboured with the offender, consider him at last as incorrigible, they report their proceedings to the monthly meeting. He is then publicly excluded from membership, or, as it is called, [18]disowned. This is done by a distinct doc.u.ment, called a testimony of disownment, in which the nature of the offence, and the means that have been used to reclaim him, are described. A wish is also generally expressed in this doc.u.ment, that he may repent, and be taken into membership again. A copy of this minute is always required to be given to him.

[Footnote 18: Women cannot disown, the power of disowning, is an act of the church, being vested in the meetings of the men.]

If the offender should consider this act of disowning him as an unjust proceeding, he may appeal to a higher tribunal, or to the quarterly court, or meeting. This quarterly court or meeting, then appoint a committee, of which no one of the monthly meeting that condemned him can be a member, to reconsider his ease. Should this committee report, and the quarterly meeting in consequence decide against him, he may appeal to the yearly. This latter meeting is held in London, and consists of deputies and others from all parts of the kingdom. The yearly meeting then appoint a committee of twelve deputies, taken from twelve quarterly meetings, none of whom can be from the quarterly meeting that pa.s.sed sentence against him, to examine his case again. If this committee should confirm the former decisions, he may appeal to the yearly meeting at large; but beyond this there is no appeal. But if he should even be disowned by the voice of the yearly meeting at large, he may, if he lives to give satisfactory proof of his amendment, and sues for readmission into the society, be received into membership again; but he can only be received through the medium of the monthly meeting, by which he was first disowned.

SECT. III

_Two charges usually brought against this administration of the discipline--that it is managed with an authoritative spirit--and that it is managed partially--these charges are considered._

As two charges are usually brought against the administration of that part of the discipline, which has been just explained, I shall consider them in this place.

The first usually is, that, though the Quakers abhor what they call the authority of priest craft, yet some overseers possess a portion of the spirit of ecclesiastical dominion; that they are austere, authoritative, and over bearing in the course of the exercise of their office, and that, though the inst.i.tution may be of Christian origin, it is not always conducted by these with a Christian spirit. To this first charge I shall make the following reply.

That there may be individual instances, where this charge may be founded, I am neither disposed, nor qualified, to deny. Overseers have their different tempers, like other people; and the exercise of dominion has unquestionably a tendency to spoil the heart. So far there is an opening for the admission of this charge. But it must be observed, on the other hand, that the persons, to be chosen overseers, are to be by the laws of the society[19] "as upright and unblameable in their conversation, as they can be found, in order that the advice, which they shall occasionally administer to other friends, may be the better received, and carry with it the greater weight and force on the minds of those, whom they shall be concerned to admonish." It must be observed again that it is expressly enjoined them, that "they are to exercise their functions in a meek, calm, and peaceable spirit, in order that the admonished may see that their interference with their conduct proceeds from a principle of love and a regard for their good, and preservation in the truth."

[Footnote 19: Book of extracts.]

And it must be observed again, that any violation of this injunction would render them liable to be admonished by others, and to come under the discipline themselves.

The second charge is, that the discipline is administered partially; or that more favour is shewn to the rich than to the poor, and that the latter are sooner disowned than the former for the same faults.

This latter charge has probably arisen from a vulgar notion, that, as the poor are supported by the society, there is a general wish to get rid of them.--But this notion is not true. There is more than ordinary caution in disowning those who are objects of support, add to which, that, as some of the most orderly members of the body are to be found among the poor, an expulsion of these, in a hasty manner, would be a diminution of the quantum of respectability, or of the quantum of moral character, of the society at large.

In examining this charge, it must certainly be allowed, that though the principle "of no respect of persons" is no where carried to a greater length than in the Quaker Society, yet we may reasonably expect to find a drawback from the full operation of it in a variety of causes. We are all of us too apt, in the first place, to look up to the rich, but to look down upon the poor. We are apt to court the good will of the former, when we seem to care very little even whether we offend the latter. The rich themselves and the middle cla.s.ses of men respect the rich more than the poor; and the poor show more respect to the rich than to one another. Hence it is possible; that a poor man may find more reluctance in entering the doors of a rich man to admonish him, than one who is rich to enter the doors of the poor for the same purpose, men, again, though they may be equally good, may not have all the same strength of character. Some overseers may be more timid than others, and this timidity may operate upon them more in the execution of their duty upon one cla.s.s of individuals, than upon another. Hence a rich man may escape for a longer time without admonition, than a poorer member. But when the ice is once broken; when admonition is once begun; when respectable persons have been called in by overseers or others, those causes, which might be preventive of justice, will decrease; and, if the matter should be carried to a monthly or a quarterly meeting, they will wholly vanish. For in these courts it is a truth, that those, who are the most irreproachable for their lives, and the most likely of course to decide justly on any occasion, are the most attended to, or carry the most weight, when they speak publicly. Now these are to be found princ.i.p.ally in the low and middle cla.s.ses, and these, in all societies, contain the greatest number of individuals. As to the very rich, these are few indeed compared with the rest, and these may be subdivided into two cla.s.ses for the farther elucidation of the point. The first will consist of men, who rigidly follow the rules of the society, and are as exemplary as the very best of the members. The second will consist of those, who we members according to the letter, but not according to the spirit, and who are content with walking in the shadow, that follows the substance of the body. Those of the first cla.s.s will do justice, and they will have on equal influence with any. Those of the second, whatever may be their riches, or whatever they may say, are seldom if ever attended to in the administration of the discipline.

From hence it will appear, that if there be any partiality in the administration of this inst.i.tution, it will consist princ.i.p.ally in this, that a rich man may be suffered in particular cases, to go longer without admonition than a poorer member; but that after admonition has been begun, justice will be impartially administered; and that the charges of a preference, where disowning is concerned, has no solid foundation for its support.

SECT. IV.

_Three great principles discoverable in the discipline, as. .h.i.therto explained--these applicable to the discipline of larger societies, or to the criminal codes of states--lamentable, that as Christian principles, they have not been admitted into our own--Quakers, as far as they have had influence in legislation, have adopted them--exertions of William Penn--Legislature of Pennsylvania as example to other countries in this particular._

I find it almost impossible to proceed to the great courts or meetings of the Quakers, which I had allotted for my next subject, without stopping a while to make a few observations on the principles of that part of the discipline, which I have now explained.

It may be observed, first, that the great object of this part of the discipline is the reformation of the offending person: secondly, that the means of effecting this object consists of religious instruction or advice: and thirdly, that no pains are to be spared, and no time to be limited, for the trial of these means, or, in other words, that nothing is to be left undone, while there is a hope that the offender may be reclaimed. Now these principles the Quakers adopt in the exercise of their discipline, because, as a Christian community, they believe they ought to be guided only by Christian principles, and they know of no other, which the letter, or the spirit of Christianity, can warrant.

I shall trespa.s.s upon the patience of the reader in this place, only till I have made an application of these principles, or till I have shewn him how far these might be extended, and extended with advantage to morals, beyond the limits of the Quaker-society, by being received as the basis, upon which a system, of penal laws might be founded, among larger societies, or states.

It is much to be lamented, that nations, professing Christianity, should have lost sight, in their various acts of legislation, of Christian principles: or that they should not have interwoven some such beautiful principles as those, which we have seen adopted by the Quakers, into the system of their penal laws. But if this negligence or omission would appear worthy of regret, if reported of any Christian nation, it would appear most so, if reported of our own, where one would have supposed, that the advantages of civil and religious liberty, and those of a reformed religion, would have had their influence is the correction of our judgments, and in the benevolent dispositions of our will. And yet nothing is more true, than that these good influences have either never been produced, or, if produced, that they have never been attended to, upon this subject. There seems to be no provision for religions instruction in our numerous prisons. We seem to make no patient trials of those, who are confined in them, for their reformation. But, on the other hand, we seem to hurry them off the stage of life, by means of a code, which annexes death to two hundred different offences, as if we had allowed our laws to be written by the b.l.o.o.d.y pen of the pagan Draco.

And it seems remarkable, that this system should be persevered in, when we consider that death, as far as the experiment has been made in our own country, has little or no effect as a punishment for crimes.

Forgery, and the circulation of forged paper, and the counterfeiting of the money of the realm, are capital offences, and are never pardoned.

And yet no offences are more frequently committed than these. And it seems still more remarkable, when we consider, in addition to this, that in consequence of the experiments, made in other countries, it seems to be approaching fast to an axiom, that crimes are less frequent, in proportion as mercy takes place of severity, or as there are judicious subst.i.tutes for the punishment of death.

I shall not inquire, in this place, how far the right of taking away life on many occasions, which is sanctioned by the law of the land, can be supported on the ground of justice, or how for a greater injury is done by it, than the injury the criminal has himself done. As Christians, it seems that we should be influenced by Christian principles. Now nothing can be more true, than that Christianity commands us to be tender hearted one to another, to have a tender forbearance one with another, and to regard one another as brethren. We are taught also that men, independently of their accountableness to their own governments, are accountable for their actions in a future state, and that punishments are unquestionably to follow. But where are our forbearance and our love, where is our regard for the temporal and eternal interests of man, where is our respect for the principles of the gospel, if we make the reformation of a criminal a less object than his punishment, or if we consign him to death, in the midst of his sins, without having tried all the means in our power for his recovery?

Had the Quakers been the legislators of the world, they had long ago interwoven the principles of their discipline into their penal codes, and death had been long ago abolished as a punishment for crimes. As far as they have had any power with legislatures, they have procured an attention to these principles. George Fox remonstrated with the judges in his time on the subject of capital punishments. But the Quakers having been few in number, compared with the rest of their countrymen, and having had no seats in the legislature, and no predominant interest with the members of it, they have been unable to effect any change in England on this subject. In Pennsylvania, however, where they were the original colonists, they have had influence with their own government, and they have contributed to set up a model of jurisprudence, worthy of the imitation of the world.

William Penn, on his arrival in America, formed a code of laws chiefly on Quaker principles, in which, however, death was inscribed as a punishment, but it was confined to murder. Queen Anne set this code aside, and subst.i.tuted the statute and common law of the mother country.

It was, however, resumed in time, and acted upon for some years, when it was set aside by the mother country again. From this time it continued dormant till the separation of America from England. But no sooner had this event taken place, which rendered the American states their own legislators, than the Pennsylvanian Quakers began to aim at obtaining an alteration of the penal laws. In this they were joined by worthy individuals of other denominations; and these, acting in union, procured from the legislature of Pennsylvania, in the year 1786, a reform of the criminal code. This reform, however, was not carried, in the opinion of the Quakers, to a sufficient length. Accordingly, they took the lead again, and exerted themselves afresh upon this subject. Many of them formed themselves into a society "for alleviating the miseries of public prisons." Other persons co-operated with them in this undertaking also.

At length, after great perseverance, they prevailed upon the same legislature, in the year 1790, to try an ameliorated system. This trial answered so well, that the same legislature again, in the year 1794, established an act, in which several Quaker principles were incorporated, and in which only the crime of premeditated murder was punishable with death.

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A Portraiture of Quakerism Volume I Part 9 summary

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