Taken From A Narrative of the Early Life, Travels, and Gospel Labors of Jessey Kersey, Late of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1851, pages 179-187.
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[P. 179] As the rise of the Society of Friends was an occurrence of a very extraordinary character, and attended with circumstances which prove the aid of Almighty power, and the presence of unlimited wisdom, it has appeared to me to be among the events that are worthy of particular attention. I shall therefore attempt to bring into view such cases as appear to me to be of vast importance to the world of mankind, in relation to the object they were calculated to promote, when rightly understood and practically adopted.
It must be admitted as a remarkable circumstance, that an individual should succeed, as was the fact m the ease of George Fox, in changing the order of a powerful government on the subject of oaths When he took up this testimony to truth-speaking, and absolutely determined, let the consequences be what they might, never to swear in any case, he stood alone in this concern. Magistrates, judges, and lawyers were all against him. To them it appeared to be an attack upon the whole judiciary system. The general apprehension was that oaths could not be dispensed with; that they were always necessary in taking evidence upon actions in law. It was insisted on that evidence in courts must be given under oath--how else could it be credited? It would therefore never do to let any visionary reformer lay waste the use of oaths. The doctrine preached by an unlettered man on this subject [P. 180] must not be permitted to obtain credit, and therefore he must be opposed. Here, then, we find the conflict to commence. George Fox brings the question of oaths to the single point--whether to obey Christ or man. Jesus Christ had said, "Swear not at all," but the civil power says you must swear; I cannot obey both. Which then shall I obey? George Fox makes his choice, and determines to obey Christ as the Saviour of men. He cannot believe that the testimony against oaths is an evil. But he is convinced that what Christ commanded must be right, and that therefore the world must be reformed on this subject. Under these views George Fox commenced and maintained his testimony against swearing. We therefore find him uniformly firm in the support of his belief, that it would be a sin for him to swear. And when the officers of the government administered to him the oath, he would tell them that he had never taken an oath in his life, and that his Saviour had commanded him not to swear. This was his uniform practice; and generally he was sent to jail, where he would remain until the way was made for him to come out again, without compromising his testimony. At Lancaster he was brought before the court, and the :judge ordered him to take the oath of allegiance to the king, commanding the book to be given him. When he~d received the book, he opened it at the passage where Christ commanded not to swear at all; and holding up the Bible in the court, he thus remarked: "You have commanded me to swear, and have given me a book that says, "Swear not at all." Determining to do as the book directed, George would not [P. 181] swear, and of course was sent to prison, from which in process of time he was released.
Thus it was with George Fox, until by his firm and unwavering testimony against swearing, many were convinced of the truth of his doctrine, and brought to embrace the christian testimony against taking oaths in any ease whatever. The government at length so far gave up the matter, as to make a law by which an affirmation should be accepted instead of an oath.
Here, then, we may see that a single individual, by continuing faithful to the testimony unto which he was called, became the great instrument of converting a nation to the admission of a more correct practice.
Having settled the principle of speaking the truth, and letting our yea be yea, and our nay, nay, and thus determined that all oaths were unnecessary and unlawful to those who obey the command of Christ, George Fox found in his devotion to the openings of the Divine Spirit, that the worship and ministry which obtained in England was outward and formal, and that the people were led to trust the great concern of the souls salvation to a mere formal acknowledgment of some of the doctrines of the apostles and primitive Christians, without experiencing the fulfilment of them in their own minds. He was therefore impressed with a belief that it was his duty to proclaim everywhere that the Lord had come to teach his people himself, and to call them off from a dependence on the teachings of men; that Christ Jesus was the true light which enlightens every man that cometh into the world, and therefore, if they would come to Christ, they might cease to depend upon man, whose breath is in his nostrils. He also declared that the ministry of Christ was free; that the true [P. 182] worship was spiritual, and that the church of Christ was made up of living members, a spiritual and heavenly church, not made with hands, as their steeple houses were. He further held forth among the people that their ministry was a false ministry, and their steeple houses were idols; that their worship was not spiritual but formal, and therefore of no value in the sight of God.
In the preaching of George Fox, there was a baptizing power attended him, which took a deep hold on the minds of the people: and many were convinced thereby; so that in a few years many fellow believers were gathered unto him, and came forth in the promulgation of the same simple and blessed doctrines.
Not only was George Fox abundantly persecuted and calumniated through the instigation of the priests, being frequently imprisoned, as well as beaten and abused by the populace, but those also who became fellow believers with him were subjected to the same kind of sufferings; some being made and kept prisoners for years and much of their property seized and taken from them for fines and penalties imposed upon them. But no power on earth could turn those early converts from the faith they had in the divine gift, which they felt in themselves, and which they knew was sufficient to direct and support their minds under every trial. According to the history concerning them, as given by William Sewell, it is manifest that as they were persuaded they were led by the Spirit of God, so they were supported by him. And it would seem that nothing short of the preserving power of God could have sustained and kept them in the wonderful manner in which they were supported under the severe trials they [P. 183] met with from the priests and governments of that day. The priests in particular were violent against them, because, as they said, they were a people that increased in all parts of the nation, and not only those of the middle and lower ranks among the people united with them, but that not a few of those who were men of rank, and of the first talents and standing, joined themselves to this society. They were therefore alarmed, and doubted what this profession might come to. It seemed from their rapid increase, and from the love and friendship that was among them, as if they might in time triumph over them altogether. Such opinions did take place in England, for we find that great man Admiral Penni when on his death bed held sentiments of this kind. Calling his Son William to his bed side when near his close, he said to him, "Son William, if you and your friends keep to your plain way of living, and your plain way of preaching, you will make an end of the priests to the end of the world." It was partly from fears and apprehensions of this kind that Friends in the beginning were sorely persecuted.
Contemplating the rise of this people, and how admirably they were supported and carried through those severe trials and persecutions, it is obvious that nothing short of divine power could have given them the capacity and strength, the patience and fortitude to endure it all, and come out in the end such a respectable and important society of people. What other power could they lean upon, when the strong arm of the civil government was raised against them? It is from a conviction that the Lord only was their support, their guide and protector, that I am of the judgment that Friends were brought into being for the purpose of [P. 184] gaining to the great cause of Christianity some important advancement in the world. Already they have been the great instrumental means of teaching mankind the doctrine of the sovereign rights of conscience. By their Sufferings they have maintained this doctrine, and proved that the mind of man when brought into submission and conformity to the gift of God cannot be subdued by any earthly power; that as men come under the obligations and influence of Christian principles, it is vain for any earthly power to attempt to compel them to bend to a different course, or to induce them to adopt a different practice. It is therefore obvious that Friends have been the means of establishing those principles, and that no human government can triumph over the enlightened conscience. Hence we may conclude that Friends have only to conform to their religious profession, and live up to the principles of Truth, and they must convince the world that conscience is the sovereign right of the Almighty, and must be left free.
The society of Friends have not only held up to view the sacred rights of conscience, but they are also persuaded that the same divine power and principle which raised up George Fox and his fellow-laborers, has given them a number of testimonies to advance in the world. These testimonies and views they believe must obtain, and will ultimately triumph over all opposition. Among these important discoveries of the light of divine truth, stands conspicuous the testimony to the free ministry of the gospel, in opposition to a hireling or paid ministry, Friends believe that this testimony can never be suffered to fall to the ground, but will continue and increase until it shall (according to [P. 185] Admiral Penn's prediction) make an end of the priests to the end of the world.
In the rising and spreading of Truth, the society of Friends were called upon to advocate and maintain a testimony to the equal and general right of all men to freedom. In attending to this righteous concern, the Society has set an example to the rest of mankind. For although at one period they held slaves among them, yet through patient, persevering labor they became separated from this evil; and for many years past, no person can hold slaves, and at the same time be a member of the Society.
The Society have also a testimony against contention, wars, and fightings; and no member can take part in any of the military measures resorted to by the government. But in all the wars and fightings that occur they must stand separate, and take no part in any thing of the kind. They know that Christ, the Prince of peace has said that his kingdom is not of this world; for if his kingdom were of this world, then would his servants fight.
The Society of Friends have been raised up by the power of the Almighty, and marvelously protected and preserved, it would seem extraordinary if they should be permitted to fall away, and cease to be useful in the great family of mankind. And yet this must be the case, if it should fail to answer the important end for which it has been raised up in the world. It would not be reasonable to suppose that the light with which we have been blest, and the important testimonies that have been given us to bear,--have been exclusively for our own sake: and if there is cause to conclude that our existence as a people has been with a view of [P. 186] our being useful to others, it is then highly necessary that we should continue faithful to the light that has been given us. The testimony to the spirituality of the Christian religion, stands eminent among those with which we are furnished;--because it is clear that if the great end of the coming of Christ was to establish a religion upon the doctrine of the immediate revelation of the spirit of God to the soul of man, (and this appears to be one of the principles in regard to which we stand alone, or differ from most others) it must be evident that the maintenance of this fundamental doctrine is one of the main points for which we have a being. It is therefore the duty- of the society to watch against everything that would tend to lead off from faithfully supporting this testimony.
Now if we judge of effects from their predisposing causes, there is no step the society could take that would be more likely to become a cause of the loss of this testimony, than that of joining with those who reject this doctrine,--and proceeding with them into actions and measures professedly for advancing moral and religious concerns. Because, when we unite with others who do not credit the belief that a divine guide is furnished to man, and proceed with them to act on important concerns, without waiting for the direction and influence of the Spirit of Truth, we are evidently departing from our own proper ground,--a dependance on divine revelation. For, contrary to this belief in divine revelation, those with whom we thus associate generally maintain the opinion that our own reason, understanding and natural faculties or talents, are a sufficient guide, and any :further or higher qualification is not to be expected.
[P. 187] Now the society of Friends may be considered as a people chosen for the support of the doctrines of the divine gift to man as his own safe leader in every step he takes. Therefore, the pursuit of any object which in any measure dispenses with the necessity of waiting for the divine manifestation in man,--appears to be dangerous and should be carefully avoided by Friends. It is cause of concern to find our members connecting themselves with others of the class above alluded to, for the purpose of advancing any of our religious testimonies. For, however sincere they may apprehend themselves to be, there is reason to believe that such will in the end balk the great testimonies of truth, and fall away from the only safe ground, on which the upright maintenance of our religious principles, and our Christian testimonies can be rightly supported, and the cause of universal righteousness advanced in the world.