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HISTORY, DOCTRINE, AND DISCIPLINE;
SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.
Sketch of the rise of the Society.-George Fox.
Persecution and Sufferings.-Relief by the Toleration Act and other Laws.- Ireland.United States of America.
The beginning of the seventeenth century is known to have been, in England, a time of great dissension respecting religion. Many pious persons had been dissatisfied with the settlement of the Church of England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Various societies of Dissenters had accordingly arisen; some of whom evinced their sincerity by grievous sufferings under the intoterance of those who governed church affairs.
* Sewel, p. 5. 6. edit. 1722.
But these societies, notwithstanding their hon: est zeal, seem to have stopped short in their progress towards a complete reformation ;* and, degenerating into formality, to have left their most enlightened members still to lament the want of something more instructive and consolatory to the soul, than the most rigorous observance of their ordinances had ever produced. Thus dissatisfied and disconsolate, they were ready to follow any teacher who seemed able to direct them to that light and peace of which they felt the need. Many such in succession engaged their attention ; until, finding the insufficiency of them all, they withdrew from the communion of every visible church, and dwelt retired, and attentive to the inward state of their own minds, often deeply distressed for the want of that true knowledge of God, which they saw to be necessary for salvation, and for which, according to their ability, they fervently prayed. These sincere breathings of spirit being answered by the extension of some degree of heavenly consolation, they became convinced, that as the heart of man is the scene of the tempter's attacks, it must also be that of the Redeemer's victory. With renewed fervency therefore, they sought bis appearance in their minds; and thus, being renewedly furnished with his saving light and help, they not only became instructed in the things pertaining to their own salvation, but they discovered many practices in the world, which have a show of religion, to be nevertheless the effect of the unsubjected will of man, and inconsistent with the genuine simplicity of the truth.
* Penn, vol, 5, p. 211, 212. edit. 1782.
These people were at first hidden from each other, and cach probably conceived his own heart to be the single repository of a discovery so important; but it did not consist with divine goodness that the candle thus lighted should always remain under the bed or the bushel. Our honourable elder, George Fox, who had signally experienced the afflicting dispensations which we have described, and had also been quickened by the immediate touches of divine love, could not satisfy his apprehensions of duty to God, without bearing public testimony against the common modes of worship, and directing the people where to find the like consolation and instruction.*
As he travelled in this ser. vice, he met with divers of those seeking persons who had been exercised in a similar manner: these readily received his testimony ; several of them also became preachers of the same doctrine; multitudes were convinced of the reality of this inward manifestation, (1 Cor. xii. 7,) and many meetings were settled.
Those who attempt to detach the people from the teachings of men, must expect for their enemies those men who make a gain of teaching. Such was the lot of our first Friends : and laws, made either in the times of Popery or since the Reformation against Nonconformists, served as the means of gratifying the jealousy of the
* Fox's Journal, p. 14, 15, 21, edit. 1765.
priests, and the intolerance of the magistrates. Indeed, at the time Friends first attracted public notice, legal pretences were not always thought necessary to justify the abuse which they suffered. It was during the time of the Commonwealth, when opposition to a national ministry which was supposed to be peculiarly reformed, was deemed an offence of no small import. Much personal abuse was accordingly bestowed ;* imprisonment was common, and corporal punishment frequent. Imprisonment was often rendered more severe and disgusting by the cruelty of particular magistrates, and from the numbers which were confined together; and stripes, under pretence of vagrancy, were inflicted without regard to sex, and on persons of unimpeached character, and of good circumstances in the world.
George Fox was one of the first of our Friends who was imprisoned. He was confined at Nottingham in the year 1649, for having publicly opposed a preacher, on a point of doctrine ;ť and in the following year, being brought before two justices in Derbyshire, one of them, scoffing at George Fox, for having bidden him, and those about him, to tremble at the word of the Lord, gave to our predecessors the name of Quakers ; || an appellation which soon became and hath remained our most usual denomination; but they themselves adopted, and have
Fox, 26. Besse's Sufferings of the People called Quakers, ch. 6. and 29, and passim. + Besse, pref. and passim. $ Fox, 24. f Ibid. 29. Sewel 25,
transmitted to us, the endearing appellation of Friends.
Although Oliver Cromwell did not employ his authority to put a stop to persecution, it doth appear
that he was inclined to promote it. He gave several of our Friends access to him ; and once in particular, when George Fox had been brought to him as a prisoner, * he released him after a considerable time spent in conference : on wbich occasion he confessed that our Friends were
a people risen up that he could not win, either with gifts, honours, offices, or places.”+
Persecution however continued ; but when Charles II, on the prospect of his restoration, issued from Breda, amongst other things, his declaration for liberty of conscience, it might well have been expected that Friends would be permitted to exercise their religion without molestation. Yet during this reign they not only were harrassed with the oath of allegiance, which, in common with all oaths, they scrupled to take, and by which they often incurred tedious imprisonment, and not unfrequently premunire; but new laws were made, by which even their meeting for worship subjected them to punishment.
The king, as a branch of the legislature, joined in the enacting of these laws; nevertheless he did not seem in all cases to countenance severity; for in an instance wherein he acted independently of the Parliament, he was the means of affording relief in the most sanguinary persecu.
Sewel, 98. + Ibid. 99. 16 Car, II. chap. 4. 22. Car. II. cap. 1. also 12 and 14. Car, II. cap. 1.