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§ 6. The Quakers or Friends.

This widely extended and highly respected body of professing Christians constitute the most permanent and best organized representatives of the principles of Mysticism which have appeared in the Church. They have existed as an organized society nearly two centuries and a half, and number in Europe and America several hundred thousands.

A. Their Origin and Early History.

They took their origin and name from George Fox, who was born at Drayton, Leicestershire, England, in 1624. He received only the rudiments of an English education, and was by trade a shoemaker. From boyhood he was remarkable for his quiet, secluded habits. He devoted his leisure to the reading of the Scriptures and meditation. The age in which he lived was one of corruption in the Church and agitation in the State. He was so impressed by the evils which he saw around him that he lost confidence in the teachers of religion and in the ordinances of the church. At last he felt himself called of God, by direct revelation and inspiration, to denounce the existing Church, its organization and officers, and to proclaim a new and spiritual dispensation. This dispensation was to be new only relatively to what had long existed. It was designed as a restoration of the apostolic age, when the church was guided and extended by the Spirit, without the intervention of the written Word, or, as Fox and his followers maintained, of a special order of ministers, but every man and every woman spake as the Spirit gave them utterance.4848One of the most important works of William Penn bears the title Primitive Christianity revived in the Faith and Practice of the People called Quakers.

They were called Quakers either because they themselves trembled when under the influence of the Spirit, or because they were in the habit of calling on those whom they addressed to quake in fear of the judgment of God. The designation has long ceased to be appropriate, as they are characteristically quiet in their worship, and gentle toward those who are without. They call themselves Friends because opposed to violence, contention, and especially to war. At first, however, they were chargeable with many irregularities, which, in connection with their refusing to pay tithes, to take oaths, and to perform military service, gave pretext to frequent and long continued persecutions.


The Quakers were at first, as a class, illiterate, but men from the educated classes soon joined them, and by their influence the irregularities connected with the movement were corrected, and the society reduced to a regularly organized form. The most prominent of these men were George Keith, Samuel Fisher, and William Penn. The last named, the son of a British admiral, proved his sincerity by the sacrifices and sufferings to which his adherence to a sect, then despised and persecuted, subjected him. From the influence which he possessed, as the friend and favorite of James II, he was able to do much for his brethren, and having received a grant from the crown, of what is now Pennsylvania, he transported a colony of them to this country and founded one of the most important States of the American Union. The man, however, who did most to reduce the principles of George Fox to order, and to commend them to the religious and literary public, was Robert Barclay. Barclay was a member of a prominent Scottish family, and received the benefit of an extended and varied education. He was born in 1648, and died in 1690. His principal work, “Theologiæ Christianæ Apologia,” is an exposition of fifteen theses which he had previously written and printed under the title, “Theses Theologicæ onnnibus Clericis et præsertim universis Doctoribus, Professoribus et Studiosis Theologiæ in Academiis Europæ versantibus sive Pontificis sive Protestantibus oblatæ.”

B. Their Doctrines.

It is impossible to give a satisfactory view of the doctrines of the Quakers. They have no authoritative creed or exposition of doctrine which all who call themselves Quakers acknowledge. Their most prominent writers differ in their views on many important points. The opinions of no one, nor of several authors, can be fairly taken as representing the views of the Society. There are in fact three classes of Quakers.

First. Those who call themselves orthodox, and who differ very little from the great body of evangelical Christians. To this belongs the great majority of the Society both in this country and in Great Britain. This appears from the testimonies repeatedly issued by the “Yearly Meetings,” the representative bodies of the Society. This is a much more satisfactory witness of the general faith of the body than the declarations of individual writers, however eminent, for which the Society is not responsible. A very clear and comprehensive summary of the doctrine of Friends is to be found in the “History of Religious Denominations in the United 90States,” compiled by I. Daniel Rupp. The articles in this work were written by eminent men belonging to the several denominations whose views are represented. That which relates to the Quakers was written by the late Thomas Evans, a prominent minister of the Society, and a truly representative man. Without referring to the peculiar doctrines of the Society, the following extracts show how near the orthodox Quakers (i.e., the Society itself, as represented in its yearly meetings) come to the common faith of Protestant churches.

Doctrines of the Orthodox Friends.

1. As to God, it is said, Quakers “Believe in one only wise, omnipotent, and everlasting God, the creator and upholder of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, the mediator between God and man; and in the Holy Spirit which proceedeth from the Father and the Son; one God blessed forever. In expressing their views relative to the awful and mysterious doctrine of “the Three that bear record in heaven,” they have carefully avoided the use of unscriptural terms, invented to define Him who is undefinable, and have scrupulously adhered to the safe and simple language of Holy Scripture, as contained in Matt. xxviii. 18, 19.”

2. As to the person and work of Christ, “They own and believe in Jesus Christ, the beloved and only begotten Son of God, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary. . . . . They believe that He alone is the Redeemer and Saviour of man, the captain of salvation, who saves from sin as well as from hell and the wrath to come, and destroys the works of the devil. He is the seed of the woman that bruises the serpent’s head; even Christ Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the first and last. He is, as the Scriptures of truth say of him, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved.”

“The Society of Friends have uniformly declared their belief in the divinity and manhood of the Lord Jesus: that He was both true God and perfect man, and that his sacrifice of himself upon the cross was a propitiation and atonement for the sins of the whole world, and that the remission of sins which any partake of, is only in, and by virtue of, that most satisfactory sacrifice.”

3. As to the Holy Ghost, “Friends believe in the Holy Spirit, or Comforter, the promise of the Father, whom Christ declared he 91would send in his name, to lead and guide his followers, into all truth, to teach them all things, and to bring all things to their remembrance. . . . . They believe that the saving knowledge of God and Christ cannot be attained in any other way than by the revelation of this Spirit; — for the Apostle says, ‘What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God.’ If, therefore, the things which properly appertain to man cannot be discerned by any lower principle than the spirit of man; those things which properly relate to God and Christ, cannot be known by any power inferior to that of the holy Spirit.”

4. As to man, “They believe that man was created in the image of God, capable of understanding the divine law, and of molding communion with his Maker. Through transgression he fell from this blessed state, and lost the heavenly image. His posterity come into the world in the image of the earthly man; and, until renewed by the quickening and regenerating power of the heavenly man, Christ Jesus, manifested in time soul, they are fallen, degenerated, and dead to the divine life in which Adam originally stood, and are subject to the power, nature, and seed of the serpent; and not only their words and deeds, but their imaginations, are evil perpetually in the sight of God. Man, therefore, in this state can know nothing aright concerning God; his thoughts and conceptions of spiritual things, until he is disjoined from this evil seed and united to the divine light, Christ Jesus, are unprofitable to himself and to others.”

5. As to the future state, “The Society of Friends believe that there will be a resurrection both of the righteous and the wicked; the one to eternal life and blessedness, and the other to everlasting misery and torment, agreeably to Matt. xxv. 31-46; John v. 25-30; 1 Cor. xv. 12-58. That God will judge the world by that man whom He hath ordained, even Christ Jesus the Lord, who will render unto every man according to his works.”

6. As to the Scriptures, “The religious Society of Friends has always believed that the Holy Scriptures were written by divine inspiration, and contain a declaration of all the fundamental doctrines and principles relating to eternal life and salvation, and that whatsoever doctrine or practice is contrary to them, is to be rejected as false and erroneous; that they are a declaration of the mind and 92will of God, in and to the several ages in which they were written and are obligatory on us, and are to be read, believed, and fulfilled by the assistance of divine grace. . . . . It looks upon them as the only fit outward judge and test of controversies among Christians, and is very willing that all its doctrines and practices should be tried by them, freely admitting that whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, be condemned as a delusion of the devil.”

It thus appears that the orthodox Friends are in sympathy, on all fundamental doctrines, with the great body of their fellow Christians.

Heterodox Friends.

Secondly. There is a class calling themselves Friends, and retaining the organization of the Society, and its usages as to dress, language, and mode of worship, who are really Deists. They admit of no higher authority, in matters of religion, than the natural reason and conscience of man, and hold little if anything as true beyond the truths of natural religion. This class has been disowned by the Society in its representative capacity.

Thirdly. There is a third class which does not constitute an organized or separate body, but includes men of very different views. As has been already remarked, great diversity of opinion existed among the Quakers, especially during the early period of their history. This diversity related to the common doctrines of Christianity, to the nature of the inward guiding light in which all professed to believe, and to the authority due to the sacred Scriptures. Some explicitly denied the doctrine of the Trinity and the satisfaction of Christ; some seemed to ignore the historical Christ altogether, and to refer everything to the Christ within. Others, while admitting the historical verity of the life of Christ, and of his work on earth, regarded his redemption as altogether subjective. He saves us not by what He has done for us, but exclusively by what He does in us. This, as we have seen, is the characteristic tendency of Mysticism in all its modifications.

C. The Doctrine of Friends as to the Inward Light given to all Men.

Still greater diversity of views prevailed as to the nature of the inward light which constitutes the distinguishing doctrine of the Society. The orthodox Quakers on this subject, in the first place, carefully distinguish this “light” from the natural reason and conscience of men; and also from spiritual discernment, or that inward 93work of the Spirit, which all Christians acknowledge, by which the soul is enabled to know “the things of the Spirit” as they are revealed in the Scriptures, and without which there can be no saving faith, and no holiness of heart or life. This spiritual illumination is peculiar to the true people of God; the inward light, in which the Quakers believe, is common to all men. The design and effect of the “inward light” are the communication of new truth or of truth not objectively revealed, as well as the spiritual discernment of the truths of Scripture. The design and effect of spiritual illumination are the proper apprehension of truth already speculatively known.

Secondly. By the inner light the orthodox Quakers understand the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, concerning which they teach,— (1.) That it is given to all men. (2.) That it not only convinces of sin, and enables the soul to apprehend aright the truths of Scripture, but also communicates a knowledge of “the mysteries of salvation.” “A manifestation of this Spirit they believe is given to every man to profit withal; that it convicts of sin, and, as attended to, gives power to the soul to overcome and forsake it; it opens the mind to the mysteries of salvation, enables it savingly to understand the truths recorded in the Holy Scriptures, and gives it the living, practical, and heartfelt experience of those things which pertain to its everlasting welfare.” “He hath communicated a measure of the light of his own Son, a measure of the grace of the Holy Spirit — by which he invites, calls, exhorts, and strives with every man, in order to save him; which light or grace, as it is received and not resisted, works the salvation of all, even of those who are ignorant of Adam’s fall, and of the death and sufferings of Christ; both by bringing them to a sense of their own misery, and to be sharers of the sufferings of Christ, inwardly; and by making them partakers of his resurrection, in becoming holy, pure, and righteous, and recovered out of their sins.”4949Evans.

Thirdly. The orthodox Friends teach concerning this inward light, as has been already shown, that it is subordinate to the Holy Scriptures, inasmuch as the Scriptures are the infallible rule of faith and practice, and everything contrary thereto is to be rejected as false and destructive.

Barclay’s Views.

While such are the views of the orthodox Friends, it must be admitted that many hold a different doctrine. This is true not 94only of those whom the Society has disowned, but of many men most prominent in their history. This difference relates both to what this light is, and to its authority. As to the former of these points the language employed is so diverse, and so figurative, that it is difficult to determine its real meaning. Some of the early Quakers spoke as though they adopted the doctrine of the earlier Mystics, that this inward principle was God himself, the divine substance. Others speak of it as Christ, or even the body of Christ, or his life. Others as “a seed,” which is declared to be no part of the nature of man; no remains of the image of God in which Adam was created; neither is it the substance of God. Nevertheless, it is declared to be “a spiritual substance,” in which the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are present. This seed comes from Christ, and is communicated to every man. In some it lies as a seed upon a rock, which never shows any sign of life. But when the soul receives a visitation of the Spirit, if his influence be not resisted, that seed is vivified, and develops into holiness of heart and life; by which the soul is purified and justified. We are not justified by our works. Everything is due to Christ. He is both “the giver and the gift.” Nevertheless our justification consists in this subjective change.5050See Barclay’s Apology, Philadelphia edition, pp. 152, 153. A distinction is made between a twofold redemption; the one “performed and accomplished by Christ for us in his crucified body without us; the other is the redemption wrought by Christ in us. “The first is that whereby a man, as he stands in the fall, is put in a capacity of salvation, and hath conveyed unto him a measure of that power, virtue, spirit, life, and grace that was in Christ Jesus, which, as the free gift of God, is able to counterbalance, overcome, and root out the evil seed, wherewith we are naturally, as in the fall, leavened. The second is that whereby we witness and know this pure and perfect redemption in ourselves, purifying, cleansing, and redeeming us from the power of corruption, and bringing us into unity, favour, and friendship with God.”5151Ibid., p. 218.

With regard to the authority of this inward light, while the orthodox make it subordinate to the Scriptures, many of the early Friends made the written, subordinate to the inner, word; and others, as Barclay himself, make the two coordinate. Although in this matter he is hardly consistent with himself. He expressly denies that the Scriptures are to us “the fountain” of truth; that they are “the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, or yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” 95They are, however, “to be esteemed a secondary role subordinate to the Spirit.” Nevertheless, he teaches with equal plainness that what “cannot be proved by Scripture, is no necessary article of faith.”5252Barclay’s Apology, p. 106. Again, he says: We are “willing to admit it as a positive and certain maxim, that whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the devil.”5353Ibid., p. 100. He “freely subscribes to that saying, Let him that preacheth any other gospel than that which hath already been preached by the Apostles, and according to the Scriptures, be accursed.”5454Ibid., p. 105. We look on the Scriptures, he says, “as the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians, and that whatsoever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony, may therefore justly be rejected as false.”5555Ibid., p. 100. His whole book, therefore, is an effort to prove from Scripture all the peculiar doctrines of Quakerism.

His theory is, (1.) That all men since the fall are in a state of spiritual death from which they are utterly unable to deliver themselves. He is severe in his denunciation of all Pelagian and semi-Pelagian doctrine. (2.) That God determined, through his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, to make provision for the salvation of all men. (3.) The work of Christ secures the opportunity and means of salvation for every man (4.) Through him and for his sake “a seed” is given to every man which, under the influence of the Spirit, may be developed into righteousness and holiness, restoring the soul to the image and fellowship of God. (5.) To every man is granted “a day of visitation” in which the Spirit comes to him and exerts an influence which, if not resisted, vivifies this divine seed, and thus gives the opportunity of being saved (6.) The measure of this divine influence is not the same in all cases. In some it is irresistible, in others, not. In some it is as abundant as in the prophets and Apostles, rendering its subjects as authoritative as teachers as the original Apostles. (7.) The office of the Spirit is to teach and to guide. It is not merely intended to enlighten the mind in the knowledge of truths contained un the Scriptures. It presents truth objectively to the mind. It does not reveal new doctrines, much less doctrines opposed to those revealed in the Scriptures; but it makes a new and independent revelation of old doctrines. On this point Barclay is very explicit.5656See pp. 62-64, 105. His discussion of his second and third propositions, — the one concerning “immediate revelation,” and the other, “the Scriptures,” — sets forth this 96doctrine at length. “We distinguish,” he says, “between a revelation of a new gospel and new doctrines, and a new revelation of the good old gospel and doctrines; the last we plead for, but the first we utterly deny.” Natural reason reveals certain doctrines, but this is not inconsistent with a new revelation of the same doctrines in the Scriptures. So the fact that the gospel is revealed in the Scriptures is not inconsistent with its immediate objective revelation to the soul by the Spirit.

Besides the great doctrines of salvation, there are many things the Christian needs to know which are not contained in the Scriptures. In these matters he is not left to his own guidance. The Spirit “guides into all truth.” “Therefore,” says Barclay, “the Spirit of God leadeth, instructeth, and teacheth every true Christian whatsoever is needful for him to know.” For example, whether He is to preach; and, if called to preach, when, where, and what he shall preach; where he is to go, and in any emergency what he ought to do. So the Spirit teaches us when and where we are to pray, and what we are to pray for. As the Spirit’s guidance extends to everything, it should be sought and obeyed in all things.

Quakerism ignores the distinction between inspired and uninspired men, except as to the measure of the Spirit’s influence. He dwells in all believers, and performs the same office in all. As the saints of old, before the giving of the law, were under his instruction and guidance, so they continued to enjoy his teaching after the law was given. All through the Old Testament dispensation the people of God received immediate revelations and directions. When Christ came there was a more copious communication of this influence. These communications were not confined to either sex, or to any class in the Church. They were not peculiar to the Apostles, or to ministers, but to every one was given a manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. The state of the Church, as set forth in the New Testament as to this matter, continues to the present time, except that the gifts bestowed are not of the same miraculous character now that they were then. But as to his revealing, enlightening, teaching, guiding operations, He is as much present with believers now as during the apostolic age. Then all spake as the Spirit gave them utterance. When Christians assembled together every one had his gift: one a psalm, one a doctrine, another a revelation, another an interpretation. Every one could speak; but it was to be done decently and in order. If anything were revealed to one sitting by, he was to hold his peace 97until his time came; for God is not the author of confusion. In 1 Cor. xiv. we have the Quaker ideal or model of a Christian assembly. And as the Apostles went hither and thither, not according to their own judgment, but supernaturally guided by the Spirit, so the Spirit guides all believers in the ordinary affairs of life, it they wait for the intimations of his will.

As this doctrine of the Spirit’s guidance is the fundamental principle of Quakerism, it is the source of all the peculiarities by which the Society of Friends has ever been distinguished. If every man has within himself an infallible guide as to truth and duty, he does not need external teaching. If it be the office of the Spirit to reveal truth objectively to the mind, and to indicate on all occasions the path of duty; and if his revealing and guiding influence be universal, and immediate, self-evidencing itself as divine, it must of necessity supersede all others; just as the Scriptures supersede reason in matters of religion. The Quakers, therefore, although, as has been shown, acknowledging the divine authority of the Scriptures, make far less of them than other denominations of evangelical Christians. They make very little of the Church and its ordinances; of the Sabbath; of a stated ministry; and nothing of the sacraments as external ordinances and means of grace. In all these respects their influence has been hurtful to the cause of Christ, while it is cheerfully admitted that some of the best Christians of our age belong to the Society of Friends.

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