Presidential Address to the Friend's Historical Society (London), 1923.

Edward Grubb

[Reprinted from the "Friends' Quarterly Examiner," January, 1924. Leominster: The Orphans' Printing Press, Ltd., Broad Street.]

This Document is on

The Quaker Writings Home Page.

I wish in this Address to investigate the causes and some of the circumstance of the greatest of all the changes that have passed over the Society of Friends: the transformation it underwent during the century that elapsed between about the years 1780 and 1880, both in this country and in America. My purpose is historical, not doctrinal or controversial; and though I shall not deem it needful to conceal the views I hold myself, I have no wish to obtrude them unduly, or to enter upon any kind of propaganda. Dr. Rufus Jones has dealt with this period instructively in the first volume of his Later Periods of Quakerism. He has studied the available material so thoroughly that it would seem not many new facts remain to be discovered. But, having gone over the ground myself, and tested his conclusions, a fresh presentation of the subject may be not without interest; and in a time of transition like the present some knowledge of past changes is likely to be useful if it offers guidance for the future. By the Evangelical Movement I mean the religious revival which came into prominent notice with the conversion and preaching of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, about the year 1740, (1) and which gradually affect profoundly the whole of British and American Christianity. It is a matter of common knowledge, at any rate to those who have read J.R. Green's History of the English People, that during the first half of the eighteenth century Christianity in England was at its lowest ebb. The clergy were largely asleep, and not infrequently absentees from their livings. Among the richer classes profligacy and disbelief in religion were almost universal; "Everyone laughs," says Montesquieu concerning his visit to England, "if one talks of religion." The poorer classes "were ignorant and brutal to a degree which is hard to conceive'; of general or religious education there was almost none. It was the Methodist revival that, more than any other factor, :changed after a time the whole tone of English society. The Church was restored to life and activity. Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, wile it purified our literature and our manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the salve trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education." (2) The type of Christianity which thus became dominant in the English Churches was that which is known as "Evangelical." In the true sense of the word, indeed, all real Christianity is necessarily "evangelical," for it brings men into happy communion with the Father of their spirits who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But the word has come to have a narrower meaning, and it is in this stricter sense that I shall mostly use it. The chief marks of Evangelical Christianity (with a capital E) which distinguishes it from the Catholic conception (with a capital C) is the stress it lays on individual conversion, and its relatively meagre emphasis on the Church as the appointed channel of salvation. It may, on the other hand, be distinguished from Mystical Christianity by the supreme importance it attaches to correct belief as necessary for salvation - belief in the absolute and infallible authority of the Bible, which it calls "The Word of God"; and in the "scheme of salvation" which it finds there, centering in the Divinity of Christ and His propitiatory Atonement for sin. For the Mystic, the seat of authority is within the human soul, and that is true which finds its witness there; while for the Evangelical, Authority is external to man, and resides in the revelation given by god in the Scriptures. There is, I believe, a parallel -- and perhaps more than a parallel, a real connection -- between the rise of Evangelicalism in religion and that of Romanticism in art and poetry - associated in the latter field with the work of Robert Burns and Wordsworth - which broke down the stiffness and formality of the eighteenth century with a flood of passionate feeling and the sense of inspiration. Religion left its cold abstraction, such as the pursuit of "virtue," with its intense fear of all enthusiasm, and began to express itself as passionate devotion to Jesus Christ and a consuming desire to bring men to Him. The poet Cowper, a child of the Evangelical revival, united the movements in literature and religion, and his poetry must undoubtedly be reckoned as one of the main influences that spread the Evangelical spirit among the more educated classes. the Evangelical Friends of the early nineteenth century constantly quote him. Any real revival of personal religion could hardly, under the then existing conditions, have taken any other than an Evangelical form. While it is true that poetry is more akin to Mysticism than to the Evangelical insistence on correct theology, the new religious movement could not escape being theological because of the necessary conflict with the background of "Deism" or "Enlightenment" which characterized the more intellectual class in the later eighteenth century. "Deism" as a phrase of thought began as an attempt to simplify Christianity by ridding it of its mysterious and supernatural character, and showing its reasonableness; but in the hands of things like Hume and Voltaire it passed into an anti-Christian attitude. Its fundamental characteristic is its satisfaction with human Reason as competent to deal effectively with all the matters, spiritual as well as material, with which the soul of man is concerned. In this, it should be remembered, Deism is in sharp contracts with Mysticism, which relies not on the logical Reason but on Intuition for its certainty of Divine things. While the Mystic felt God at hand, immanent and ceaselessly active in the world and in the soul of man, for the Deist God was away at the end of an argument - a great First Cause which had started the universe and set it going, but which was quite separate from the world and never interfered with its working. Now it will be generally agreed that primitive Quakerism, while definitely Christian and in the large sense of the word evangelical, was fundamentally a form of mystical Christianity. It rested primarily on the Universal and saving Light of Christ -- given not in the Scripture only but in the soul of man, in measure in the soul of every man at all times and places. The essence of salvation lay, not in a "transaction" between the first and second persons of the Trinity, whereby man's salvation was given in exchange for the endurance of the punishment necessarily to his sin, (3) but in a change wrought in the soul of man himself. This type of Christianity the Quakerism of the eighteenth century had preserved, but in a form which had become too much traditional, and from which the vital enthusiasm of a first-hand experience had largely departed. The aggressive spirit of early Quakerism, bent on convincing the whole world of the "truth" it had discovered, had given place to Quietism, and the Society had become content to be "a peculiar people" shut off form intercourse with the world and devoted to the maintenance of its particular "testimonies." This "loss of first love" was in part a phase which has marked all religious movements, including Christianity itself; in part it was due to the deadening influence of the eighteenth century environment. There were also special weaknesses in the presentation of early Quaker Thought itself, which, as Rufus Jones has shown with great clearness, especially in the Introduction to W.C. Braithwaite's Second Period of Quakerism, made a Quietistic reaction an almost inevitable outcome of the movement. The Light Within had been exalted in such a way as to make the historical revelation given in Jesus Christ seem to some minds almost wholly superfluous; and it had been presented as a wholly supernatural endowment with which any exercise of human thought or Reason could only interfere. "The creature" with all its thoughts and strivings must be suppressed, in order that the creating and inspiring Spirit might be free to rule and guide. Everything needed for the spiritual life of men would be supplied directly by the Spirit of God himself; religious instruction was unnecessary, and even the reading and study of the Bible was by most Friends for a considerable part of the eighteenth century to a large extent neglected. Almost the only knowledge of religious thought which the mass of the Society possess was derived from the writings of the early Friends. In particular, this intense fear of "creaturely activity" gravely affect the vocal ministry in the meetings of Friends. Anyone feeling a call to preach must strive to suppress entirely the workings of his own intelligence, and to become a passive instrument thought which the Sprit might declare infallible oracles. Only so could real "guidance" be experienced; any steps of "the creature" would close the soul to the Divine influence. Hence the thought of being called to preach became to many timid souls almost a nightmare; the more sincere and conscientious the minister, the more he or she was overwhelmed with the burden and responsibility of deciding whether or not a message was a Divine one, or only due to his own thoughts. The journals of the period are full of the "deep baptisms of spirit" thought which the writers had to pass. Hence the ranks of the ministry were only filled from persons of certain "psychic" temperament, liable (as we should say now) to incursions from the subconscious region; and what ministry there was for the most if a prophetic and often rhapsodical character. While at times it searched the hidden depths of the hearers hearts in a wonderful way, and really "spoke to their condition," it was often incoherent in thought, diffuse, and of what would not be thought quite intolerable length. My own grandmother, Sarah (Lynes) Grubb, who, though her ministry was chiefly exercised during the early decades of the nineteenth century, belonged in spirit to the eighteen, frequently records in her letters that she spoke from one to two hours at a stretch. The work of ministry being thus extremely arduous and burdensome, those who took a share in it became, to a large extent, a class apart from the bulk of the members, who rarely or never "opened their mouths" in a meeting for worship. In many meetings entire silence was the rule unless some traveling preacher were present, and even when he was present he frequently did not feel clear to speak. Hence it is little wonder that the general spiritual life burned low. The attempt was made to meet this evil by disownment, which was practiced by the Monthly Meetings on a large scale - and this not for merely technical offenses such as "marriage by a priest" but for serious moral lapses, which were very frequent. (4) A partial revival took place about the year 1760, thanks mainly to the labours of John Griffith and Samuel Fothergill. A committee was appointed by the Yearly Meeting to visit the meetings throughout the country and report on their condition; the Queries were revised and enlarged, and the proper answering of them was made compulsory. "This action," says Rufus Jones, (Later Periods, Vol. I., p. 138) "marks an epoch, and is the beginning of a new stage in the importance of the discipline." But I am afraid there is not much evidence of a general quickening of religious life. The Society remained self-centered; its main efforts were still directed rather to cutting off the diseased branches of the tree than to ensuring that the soil on which it grew was good; and the journals of Friends during the later years of the century point to a continuance of widespread laxity and carelessness. It must be remembered that it was not till 1776 that the labours of Dr. John Fothergill resulted in the founding of Ackworth School. Thomas Clarkson, one of the chief leaders of the Anti-Slavery movement, himself a broad-minded member of the Church of England, found among the Friends some of his most ardent supporter during the closing years of the century. His Portraiture of the Society of Friends was first published in 1805 or 1807, just about the time when his labours were crowned with success by the abolition of the Slave Trade. The book was written with a good deal of penetrating and sympathetic insight, but gives scarcely a hind of the changes that were even then taking place among Friends; and it shows conclusively that the Evangelical movement had not at that time taken any strong hold of the body of large. It was the best side of the Society that Clarkson has seen, and he pictures it, from his own observation, in its eighteenth century dress and ways. What strikes a modern reader is the uniformity that then prevailed among Friends both in though and practice. The discipline, which he describes at length, had evidently been so administered as to cut the bulk of the members as much as possible of one pattern both in appearance in habits, and it mind. He is constantly saying "Friends believe this," and "Friends practice that," and few of his statements were ever challenged, I believe, as incorrect. The Society appears as indeed "a peculiar people," separate from "the world," attentive to religious meetings and the maintenance of discipline, but thoroughly Quietist - with few signs of missionary zeal or consciousness of a message for the world at large. He devotes a long section to their religion, which he describes as entirely in line with that of Penington and Barclay - founded on the belief in the Creative and Inspiring Spirit of God, which they regard as sufficient to lead them in all spiritual matter, as Reason in sufficient in matters temporal. Little is said about their thoughts of the place and work of Jesus of Nazareth; it is Christ as the Spirit that works in men salvation and redemption though (as in Barclay) it is recognised that it was the suffering of Christ which had procured the forgiveness of sins and so put men into "a capacity for salvation." Writing of the Quaker objection to the doctrine of Election and Reprobation, Clarkson says: "It is the belief of the members of this Society that every man who attends to the strivings of the Holy Spirit has the power of inward redemption within himself; and that as outward redemption by the sufferings of Jesus Christ extends to all where the inward has taken place, so redemption or salvation in its full extent is possible to every individual of the human race." (One volume edition, p. 164. How different this statement is from some that were accepted as "orthodox" when the Evangelical movement had penetrated the Society, the sequel will perhaps show. I have carefully looked though all the Yearly Meeting Epistles issued between 1770 and 1840, to discover if possible when the change in thought affected the official utterances of the body, but without any very clear results till after the disastrous separation in America in 1828-29. Then there is a distinct change of emphasis in the direction of insistence on correct theology and on recognition of the paramount authority of Scripture. During the later years of the eighteenth century attention is focused mainly on obedience to the Light of truth in the heart which, it is taken for granted, will show itself in the maintenance of the well-known testimonies of the Society to plainness of dress and speech, business integrity, the avoidance of mixed marriages, the non-payment of tithes, the non-recognition of a "hireling ministry," and so forth. There is a failure to distinguish between "mint anise and cummin" and the weightier matter of the law. War and slavery are almost the only subjects of world interest that receive attention. There are occasional warnings (as in 1782) against the prevalent "Deism": "subtle reasonings and plausible discourses which artfully instill the poisonous leaven of infidelity", and the diligent reading of the Scriptures is more and more insisted on. In 1799 and 1803 we find allusions to additions of members by convincement (thanks largely, I believe, to the labour of William Savery and other devoted ministers), but it 1807 it is regretfully admitted that these "do not always retain their ground." In 1813 the interest of Friends in the circulation of the Scriptures through the newly formed Bible Society is expressed, with the caution that the necessity of given heed to the inward Divine Word must not be overlooked. As the Theology, there are (all through) occasional references to the suffering of Christ as the ground of our reconciliation to God, and this receives increasing emphasis. But the relation between what Clarkson calls the outward and the inward conditions of salvation, which Barclay left in considerable obscurity, is not cleared up. Friends remained content to speak of the death of Christ as having brought men into a capacity for a salvation which would not become a reality without the inward work. The first definitely doctrinal Epistle In have found is that of 1823, in which the need of orthodox belief is stressed, and its nature indicate at some length. But here also the caution is given against supposing that correct belief will effect salvation without the inward sanctification of the Spirit. divergent thoughts among the membership thus neatly balanced, as is the way with Yearly Meeting Epistles. From 1829 onwards this emphasis on doctrine continually increases, and the changed attitude of the majority of the Society finds full expression in the well-known passage of the Epistle of 1836, written by J.J. Gurney, in which, it is hardly too much to say, the Bible is made the final seat of authority in religion, and the supremacy of the Spirit is set aside. (A) It is clear, then, from Clarkson's Portraiture and from a study of the Yearly Meeting utterances, that the Evangelical movement was very late in affecting the thoughts and ways of the main body of Friends. But it had influenced individual leaders much earlier, and among these were some of the most fervent and devoted preachers on both sides of the Atlantic. Several of these, it is important to note, were Friends by convincement and not by birth: such were Mary Dudley and Thomas Shillitoe in England, and Rebecca Jones, David Sands and Stephen Grellet from America. They brought into the Society something that would hardly have arisen from within. Mary Dudley was born in the Church of England, but was early attracted to the Methodists, and became an intimate friend of John Wesley, who did all in his power to dissuade here from joining the Quakers. (For some individual Friend Wesley had a high esteem, but he detested their principles and their practice of silent worship. Barclay's Apology he dismissed as a "solemn trifle." (B) She joined the Society at the age of 23, and before long became one of its ablest ministers, traveling not only in England but in Ireland and on the Continent of Europe. She brought into her preaching a fervour and passion which was unfamiliar in the Society, and which awakened many into new spiritual life. Her constant theme was the following of Christ, and her farewell massage was: "Preach Christ crucified...not only what He would do within us by His Spirit, but also what He hath done without us, the all-atoning sacrifice which should never be lost sight of. (C) In find more difficulty in following Rufus Jones when he ranks Thomas Shillitoe as an Evangelical. He was one of those rare natures that defy the attempt to classify them. A Quietist of the Quietists, he carried further than almost any other Quaker minister the endeavor to put aside all his own thoughts and reasonings, and to follow absolutely the supernatural direction of his inward guide. He desires to be, he says, like a cork on the mighty ocean of service, wafted hither and thither as the Spirit may blow." He was led in paths that seemed impossible, but was always brought through, though often after sore inward travail. He passed weeks of agonising repentance because once in America he missed a meeting for which he believe he had a message through making insufficient enquiry as to the hour at which it was held. His consuming passion was to bring people to Christ their Saviour and inward Teacher - especially those who seemed the furthest from Him, whether in low public-houses, among the brutalized miners of Kingwood, or on the thrones of Europe. He had at least two impressive interviews with the Prince Regent, afterward George IV., and rebuked him fearlessly for him immoral life, saying he would willingly, if it were possible, give up his life for him. (5) though there is very little theology in the two volumes of his Journal, and his preaching seems to have been severely practical (one of his concerns was that Friends should not read newspapers!) it is clear that the basis of his hope of salvation for himself and for the world was the offering of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. On of the sins that lay heavy on his soul was the non-observance, especially in Germany, of the first day of the week. And such is the complexity of human nature that this same sensitive and loving soul took a part in the great American separation which we can only now call that of a bigoted partisan. He condemned unheard all who showed the slightest sympathy with "the Separatists," refused to meet or confer with them as to any grievances they might have, and encouraged his orthodox Friends to disown them wholesale, even in Monthly Meetings where the orthodox were in a small minority. It is little wonder that the "Hicksite" Friends regarded him and still regard him as a chief representative of the new Evangelical thought which in their judgment mainly caused the separation. (6) There is less doubt about the position of David Sands. He was brought up among the Presbyterians in the State of New York, but joined Friends as a young man and was recorded as a minister at the age of 30. He traveled extensively in the ministry on both sides of the Atlantic, spending no less than ten years (1795-1805) in Great Britain and Ireland and some parts of the Continent of Europe. His anonymous biographer, who writes from a strongly Evangelical point of view, speaks repeatedly of the labours of David Sands to promote what he believed to be orthodoxy of belief. "He was desirous to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. It was the truths of the Gospel as taught by our holy Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles for which he contended" (Memoir, p. 190.) He took the lead in opposing a section of Friends in Ireland who were thought to undervalue the Scriptures, and was also a leading opponent of Hannah Barnard. These circumstances In shall have to allude to again rather later. Rufus Jones says of him, in a judgment with which In concur, that "he, more than any other prominent minster of the eighteenth century, cultivated in the minds of Friends both in England and America the Evangelical temper and the habit of orthodoxy" (Later Periods, Vol. In., p. 282. An able and more highly educated minister than David Sands was William Savery, also an American, who is best known as having been instrumental in the conversion of Elizabeth Gurney, afterwards Elizabeth Fry. Rufus Jones, apparently with some hesitation, regards him as having been equally influential with David Sands in turning the thought of Friends in the Evangelical direction, but of this In have considerable doubt. (D) His ministry attract the attention of Dr. John C. Lettsom, who had the largest practice of nay physician in London, and who strict orthodoxy was under considerable suspicion. Dr. Lettsom contributed a very favourable Foreword to a small volume of Savery's sermons, which were taken down and published without his consent and against his judgment. In these sermons, delivered to large companies of people most of whom were not Friends, the appeal is almost entirely to the Light within men as an experience which all in measure share, and which if followed will lead them to Christ. Though the historical person and work of Jesus Christ are strongly emphasized, my own judgment would be that Savery's preaching was informed by the spirit of the Quakerism of the seventeenth century, and was Evangelical in the larger sense but not in the narrower. (7) Undoubtedly he did much to awake Friends and many others to new spiritual life. He records that his chief concern was for the world at large, and that he often had nothing to say in the meetings of Friends; and nothing is more remarkable than the immense crowds that flocked to his meetings, often at very short notice, alike in England, Scotland, and Ireland. (8) He was much concerned about the "new thought" that was affecting Friends in the last-named country, especially their apparent disparagement of the Scriptures; but, though strongly opposed to "deism" in any shape, he was tender with those whose views appeared to him defective, urged them to speak their minds freely, and did not raise their wrathful opposition as David Sands did. His chief work in this country was done in 1798, and appears to me to fall into line with that of John Woolman and Job Scott, rather than with that of the strictly Evangelical ministers.

The Evangelical Movement and its Impact on the Society of Friends, Continued.

Footnotes to The Evangelical Movement and its Impact on the Society of Friends.