Charles Wetherill

Wetherill, Charles. History of The Religious Society of Friends Called by Some The Free Quakers, in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Printed for the Society, 1894, Number 3 of an edition limited to 800 copies, signed by Charles Wetherill.]

This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.

I have received a verbal message by Henry Drinker which I understood came from you: On this message I propose to make a few remarks. Such are the effects of long established forms in society, that I have no reason to expect I shall convince you of the impropriety of your message; yet I request you will read what I have to offer with as much candour as you can command on the occasion: I shall then be perfectly easy at whatever conclusions you may draw, or conduct you may observe towards me in the future part of your lives.
The message delivered to me was to the following purport, and as nearly verbatim as my memory serves me: Viz. "Thou must remember what is written 'When thou comest to offer thy gift if thou rememberest that thy Brother hath ought against thee, first go and be reconciled to thy Brother, and then come and offer thy gift:' Thy appearing as thou hast done has given pain to friends; we wish thee to be quiet in future; for a person appearing on such occasions, making the appearance of a friend, and one we have no unity with; is what friends cannot dispense with, we therefore wish thee to be quiet in future; but if thou shouldst not, friends will be under the necessity of declaring publicly, that thou art not in fellowship with them."
Before I reply to the foregoing, permit me a little to premise. The subject is serious. It is now many years since the Lord in a way not less than miraculous, visited my soul with his Love and Light, giving me to see a Beauty in a virtuous life far greater than any one can comprehend who has not had the same Divine prospect; for altho' most men will admit the necessity of virtue, yet no man living sees fully into its beauty and infinite importance, until the Divine Light in an extraordinary manner opens it to him. This prospect ravished my soul, and begot in me so ardent a Love to the Lord, as that I then knew, and felt, what it was that supported the Martyrs in the flames; for I thought, if I had then an hundred lives, I could have sacrificed them all, if it had been required, for the Testimony of Jesus. At this time I entered into covenant with my God, and made a total consecration of my heart to him. This was the day of my espousal to the beloved of Souls. This experience thus related is not meant to make a parade of superiour virtue. I am far from feeling any vanity of this kind, I know my weaknesses and confess them, am poor, and have often stumbled in the way cast up for the redeemed to walk in; and have much reason to be concerned that so Divine a favour together with many others since, have not produced a greater effect: But from the day of my first visitation untill the present day, I have thought it my duty, by example and sometimes by precept, to recommend to Mankind those things on which their present and future felicity depends. That this has been done but in an imperfect manner is confessed.
I now proceed to remark upon your message as delivered by Henry Drinker, viz: That before I offered my gift I should first be reconciled to my Brother. It is not necessary for me to explain what I conceive to be the meaning of this text as delivered by our Lord. I expect you mean by it, that I should first be restored to fellowship with you, before I attempted to persuade any person to be serious, and prepare for death, and that it is an exceeding great offence if done upon a spot of ground in which you claim a propriety. Supposing myself, or any other person among the least of Mankind, on so serious an occasion as that of a fellow creature being suddenly summoned into the immediate presence of the great Judge of Heaven and Earth, should feel a fervent wish that all might be prepared when the summons should be sent to them. In such a case would it be absolutely necessary to suspend expressing this wish until the person was admitted into fellowship with you? If so, he then misses the opportunity and another may never happen. Men of all denominations are usually invited to attend the funeral of their fellow-citizens; Jews, Turks and Heathens might be present on such an occasion. Jews, Turks, and Heathens believe in a future existence and that the virtuous will be happy and the wicked miserable. Now suppose the mind of either such person to be deeply impressed on an occasion so serious, and that either Turk, Jew or Heathen should exhort every one present to be serious and endeavour to prepare for Death, I ask you my Brethren what possible ground could there be in such case for offence? All who are invited to attend on those occasions are on an equality: Death is common to all men; every one is alike interested in the awfull consequences, and therefore none can have exclusive privileges to give advice on those occasions. When the Lord represents to the mind the absolute necessity of preparation for Death, all have an equal right in his fear to express their wish for their fellow creatures, or to exhort them to prepare for this awful change; and that any one person whatever, making a profession of Piety should be offended at it is strange. I expect you admit that it is every man's duty to wish well for his neighbor. And, if so, then every man has a right and ought to be at liberty to do good to his neighbour, either by his advice or in such way as he may think most proper, so that a real good be the object: to the Lord alone is he accountable for the way and manner. This is not intended to vindicate an intrusion either upon you, or upon any other persons. For as every Man has a right to give his advice on any important occasion, he being accountable to the Lord, so every other Man has a right also either to receive or to reject as he pleases what is so offered, he or they being accountable only to the Lord: so that you as individuals or as a body, have a right to receive or reject, any advice which miry be offered to you by any person whatever. But where there is a promiscuous multitude of all persuasions collected together on an occasion interesting to all, there your publickly opposing what might be offered, would render you highly to blame; for there are numbers not under the same prejudices with you, and what you would reject, might be suited to the conditions of others, and well received by them. You may say, as Henry Drinker said; we have a rule to the contrary. It may be so, but you ought not to have such a rnle. It is an infringement upon the rights of all Men, and not only so, but you presumptuously infringe upon the prerogative of the Lord, you thereby attempt to circumscribe his grace, and limit his Divine Light upon the human soul. You may object again and say, If persons have a right to come into our Graveyards and give us advice, they have the same right to come into our Meeting Houses, and impose their advice upon us there. To this I reply, the cases are not similar. That freedom which a person might use innocently, or what might be the duty of him to express whose mind was seriously impressed at a funeral to a promiscuous multitude, might yet be very improper if exercised when you were assembled in your places for worship. There is a Divine reason and fitness in things which the upright see into and which cannot be determined or prescribed by any litteral rule. A Man, not of your society, would be either right or wrong in speaking among you, according as he was either especially qualified or not, and the strong prejudices which you have against other Societies, altho' it be your fault, it yet ought to make every person exceedingly cautious, and examine well his authority, if he supposed it his duty, in your places of Worship to give you advice; for all should take care if Possible not to offend those who even labor under the most deep-rooted prejudices. Now altho' every Man who might apprehend it his duty to give you advice should be extremely careful not to offend you if possible, and it is granted that you have a right either to hear him, or to refuse to hear him, you being accountable only to the Lord for your exercising this right; yet my brethren on this subject I will give you my opinion even tho' it will have no weight. It is safest to hear what any sober man may have to say on the all important subject of Piety and virtue: this will give you no pain in a dying hour; the opposing him might. You should not forget the error of Judgment the Apostles of our Lord were under; for altho' they were immediately commissioned by him to preach the Gospel, and to work Miracles in his name, yet such was their weakness that they forbad others doing the same, because they followed not with them; but remember they were not justified for this, but reproved by their Master.
Friends should also remember the liberty which their forefathers took in going into the places of Worship of other Societies and slSeaking among them, and in their burying grounds down to the present day. To this you will say; It was their duty to do so; But it cannot be the duty of a person of another Society, to come and Preach to friends. The vanity of this declaration is exceeding great. If it is improper for a person not of your Society to give an exhortation at a funeral among you, or in your place of Worship, upon what principle is it right in you to exhort at the funerals of others, and in the place of Worship of other Societies? Are you as a Society quite compleat in all Christian Graces, and have you all divine qualifications bestowed upon you exclusively to the rest of Men, so as that it is impossible to suppose the Lord could with any propriety authorize any other person beside a Quaker to speak to you? Can you shew that you have an exclusive right to that divine illumination which expands the heart, and warms it with good will towards all men? Untill you can shew that every member among you is so perfect as that friendly advice bestowed upon them is altogether needless, or that qualification to give advice is possessed by you exclusively, your forbidding any person to give advice anywhere is improper. It is indeed, as has been observed, presuming to limit the Authority of the Highest, and is an attempt to prevent the Salvation of Men. But do not my friends suppose from this, that I have any inclination to visit you in this way. I hope that no such thing will ever happen; it would be the most painful task ever required of me, so unwilling am I to offend you, or to have any altercation with you.
Having remarked as above, it may not be improper to shew you, that whilst you are faulting persons and proceeding against them in a high tone of unwarranted authority, for simply offering advice to such as are willing to receive it, without meaning an offence, or an obtrusion upon any; you are at the same time indecently intruding with your advice upon the clear and unquestionable rights of others. I could illustrate this by a variety of instances, but for brevity sake one shall suffice. I consider the Monthly Meeting and the select meeting of Philadelphia, as one body. Some friends by deputation from the monthly meeting waited upon two of my sons to deal with them for joining another religious Society. I was present at the conversation and the friends were treated with great decency and had a clear and full answer given them by my sons, that they chose to go to the same place of worship with their father: A visit was notwithstanding afterwards repeated, at which I happened accidentally to be present, and as it was in my own House, and the business with my own children in whose welfare I am deeply interested, so I thought, I might without any impropriety say something on the occasion and more especially on such an occasion. What was said, was very civilly said. I was however replied to precisely to the following effect: That friends' business was with my children, and not with me, that I had no business there, and must have come to interrupt friends in their visit. That my children were of age and should judge for themselves, that their father was a prejudiced person and his advice not to be regarded.
If it be an intrusion of an aggravated kind for a person not of your Society to walk into your burying ground to attend a funeral and there to express a wish that all might be serious and prepare to die, how much greater is that intrusion you are guilty of, when after you had been decently received in my house, and a clear and full answer given you to your advice, you still repeat it, and claim a right, and exercise it, too, to give your advice again and again, and tell myself I had no business there, that my children should take your advice, and not their Father's, for his they ought not to regard. Let me ask you my friends--How would you treat men who should act in the same way towards you, and your children? You would I doubt not, expatiate upon such intrusion, and would treat such persons with contempt. If there has been an impropriety in me in obtruding advice (which will be impossible for you to prove) yet when compared with yours it is small, and what our Lord said to a people formerly, who was apt to find fault is applicable to you. "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, and seest not the beam which is in thine own: first take the beam out of thine own eye and then shalt thou see clearly how to take out the mote which is in thy Brother's eye."
Having made the foregoing observations on the rights of Men, it remains to say a few words respecting another part of your message. The writer of this has not an high opinion of his gifts or abilities to promote the cause of virtue, he can say however he wishes well ta it sincerely, and in his feeble engagements therein, sometimes feels a peace Men can neither give nor take away. But yet he will confess to you, altho' you have no authority to call him to an account, nor interfere in his business, he at times feels some pain least he should not have advanced so great and good a cause. But friends, have there not been appearances among you which have given you pain when the fault lay with yourselves? I was a diligent attender of your meetings for near thirty years, and knew that a part of your meeting were uneasy at the publick appearances of some whose Ministry they at length approved. I well remember George Dillwyn's first appearance in the Ministry, and the opposition he met with. There was at that time a particular intimacy between that friend and myself, and as brethren we freely unbosomed our hearts to each other. After repeated opposition to him both in publick and private from members of your meeting, a committee told him plainly that they had not unity with his appearance: And they enjoined him not to break silence but to bear his burden, and more especially not to appear in Prayer, for if he did, they told him they would manifest their Testimony against him publickly by not joining with him, and in order still the more effectually to stop his mouth, one publick friend who is not now among the living, but who was in his day of distinguished note among you, wrote a letter to George, and in clear and express words told him, that he had neither part nor lot in the ministry, or, says the friend, "the Lord never spoke by me." As I knew the opposition to George arose from prejudice, and having a great love for him, I related to my Father-in-law what was carrying on against George, upon which my father appeared much surprised and altho' he was a member of your meeting, did not seem aware of what was doing; which shews there may not always be unanimity among yourselves on business of this kind: for my Father immediately interested himself in George's favour and spoke to John Smith at Burlington (George having then removed there) and requested John to use his influence in George's favour, and I well knew that Mordecai Yarnal, Anthony Beneset and John Smith together with some other friends, whose names I could mention who were then members of your meeting, most of whom are since dead, so interposed in George's behalf that at length he was admitted a minister among you.
Upon the whole then, If the most eminent ministers among you at times give you pain, and you do with so much determination oppose men of your own Society, meerly upon ill founded prejudices, what must such poor creatures expect, who have been declared by you not worthy of Christian fellowship. Is it possible after such a declaration, that you can possess that simplicity and candour towards them in which alone there is true discernment?
Further I was informed that if I should again appear as I had done, friends would be under the necessity of informing such who might be present that I was not in Unity with friends.
If you entertain an Idea that I wish to avail myself of any reputation which might result from a supposed membership with you, you are under a great mistake. It has happened divers times since I have been disowned, that I have fallen in company with persons who had an esteem for friends, and have found some respect paid me upon a supposition that I belonged to the Society. Now it ever appeared to me a kind of hypocrisy if I should let a person go away under such a mistake, and enjoy that sort of reputation which I was not entitled to, and have always undeceived them, frankly telling them I was disowned by you: so that if such a case should happen as you allude to, you have not only a right to do as you say, but you have my entire approbation so to do; however in this explanation of yourselves, you ought to take care not to defame me, there might be some persons present on such an occasion, who might not be acquainted with the merits of the case for which I was disowned; such might suppose I was disowned by you for some great immorality: be pleased therefore to state the whole case, and I have neither right nor inclination to prevent it, for I have scarcely ever met with one person, either a member of your Society, or of any other, who did not think I was hardly dealt with by you, and by far the greater number consider you as the aggressor. A man may be disowned by you, and held up as a spectacle of contempt, who nevertheless may be owned by Christ at the day of general judgment, and admitted into fellowship with the Saints. But let us now enquire into the nature of that offence which was esteemed of such magnitude as to render it necessary to testify against me. It was simply for submitting to the dispensations of Divine Providence, which you yourselves have since done, for this no offence, have I been, and am still to be, held up by you in an odious light, and pains taken to stamp a prejudice against me upon the minds of the rising generation, so that when both you and I are dead and all of us in that most awfull state of existence, future generations may treat my memory as you have done my person. The amazing prejudices you labour under, and your conduct governed by those prejudices, operate as an injury for ages: And yet my friends you changed your sentiments with respect to the offence for which you disowned me, for you desisted from the business you begun, and many continued members of your meeting who yet acted as myself had done: And Anthony Beneset freely acknowledged to me you were wrong. The candour of this worthy Man in making this voluntary confession to one who before he had blamed, very much endeared him to me, it was a concession I neither expected nor sought for: But you, my friends not possessing his virtues, still persecute the Man whom you at first injured.
There are divers members of your meeting for whom I have always entertained an high esteem. I have taken them to be Persons of more enlarged and liberal minds than to act towards me as you do, were they not under the necessity of joining with you for form sake. If there are such among you, they are excepted in the censure comprehended in this address. But I may be mistaken, you may be unanimous, and it is possible your conduct may not be so much the effect of ill will towards me, as an error in your judgment, you have been accustomed to certain rules, perhaps long established, which you conceive indispensably necessary to observe; how far this will excuse you at the day that is hastening is not for me to say; but this dry, formal, undistinguishing sort of business, leads at times to the same conduct as that of the Scribes and Pharisees, who bid the Apostles be silent, and excommunicated Men for believing in Christ.
Altho' the writer of this is of little consequence in your esteem, nor of much in his own, he is yet serious in this address and thinks it is not inconsistent with a becoming degree of modesty to request you would read it with solid attentiofi in your meeting; tho' this he does not expect. But were you to do so, divested of prejudice, you might derive from it some instruction which would be of future service to you, both in your individual capacities, and as members of a Religious Society.
The foregoing was written just before the breaking out of the malignant fever, and was intended to have been sent to you then, but the writer's attention was taken off from this, on account of the extreem attention to his business which he was hurryed into, occasioned by the afforesaid disease, and the great mortality which hapened in consequence. The mentioning of which circumstance brings to his memory, the particulars of that exhortation which gave you offence, and occasioned your message to him. The writer does not pretend to the knowledge of future events, except those which must happen in the nature of things; but Divine providence may make use of an instrument to give warning to prepare for those things which he may intend to bring about, without revealing to such instrument his particular designs. The writer well remembers his mind was seriously impressed with the extreem shortness of our existence here; and of the uncertainty of all things below; and of the infinite importance of a preparation for death; this prospect so impressed his mind that he thought they were as powerfull reasons for deep consideration and preparation for death, as if the Lord should again at that instant commission an Angel to declare, in the Awfull manner one formerly did to John the Divine that time should be no longer. This prospect the writer thought it his duty to express, and which he did as well as he was then abilitated to do. And, my friends, let me ask you what authority have you to reprove him for it? Has not the great mortality with which the City has been visited, shewn the propriety of such an exhortation from some person? And how came you by a right to dictate either who should or who should not be the instrument to urge those things. What was then offered did not offend all Who were present, I have been assured, but on the contrary was well received; and the late visitation esteemed a corroborating circumstance to shew its propriety. Many who were then present are now no more in mutability, and among this number is one, or more, of your Meeting, and if the Ancient friend who probably reported to you what happened, and no doubt agreed to the measure adopted by you, had taken the advice then given, instead of spurning at it, and so improved the few moments alloted to him in the evening of his day, as was then sincerely urged, it would have been acting a wiser part; and altho' we may hope he is at rest, together with other members of your meeting, who agreed in your message to the subscriber, yet their officiousness in this business is now no cause or part of their felicity, nor will it contribute to yours, my brethren, in the day that is hastening. Your conduct towards the subscriber, will not be among the good works in which the righteous rejoice.
Such is the esteem which the writer has entertained for divers members of your meeting, and so great has been his desire to live upon the most friendly terms with them, that he is sorry he is obliged to write as he has done; he wishes sincerely to cultivate the most cordial friendship for his fellow Christians of all denominations; he therefore hopes there are divers members of your meeting to whom the censure contained in this address is not applicable, it would give him pain to think otherwise; because he wishes still to love and esteem them. But if your meeting is unanimous and those persons so loved and esteemed look upon the subscriber in that point of view which the meeting's conduct towards him fully implies, he will endeavor to bear with their prejudices and patiently wait the event of all things here below, hoping and believing his weak efforts to promote the cause of virtue, will through his Master's clemency finally receive his approbation. And being supported in this faith and confidence he hopes when Jesus commissions, he shall undismayed at all fit times and places warn Men to prepare for an Awfull Eternity. Your advice and threats are therefore my friends, considered in the same light, as if you forbid the writer, to Love his Lord and Saviour.
Saml. Wetherill
Philadelphia, 11 mo. 23rd, 1793.
Next: Appendix, List of the Members of the Free Quaker Society Who are Known or Believed to be Deceased.