[P. 7] The Society of Friends, who were in derision called Quakers, because they exhorted their persecutors to fear and tremble at the Word of God, appeared in the seventeenth century. At that time there were many in England who were not satisfied with the opinions and forms of Worship which were held by the different religious societies. It appeared to them that the Life and Spirit of Christianity were much wanting, and that many formal obligations, which were connected with the various systems of Worship, were introduced and stood in the place of the substance. Hence they may be considered as waiting and looking for some further and more confident ground of faith than they conceived was to be met with among the professors of Christianity. George Fox was one of this description: and being early in Life awakened to see the sinful state of the world, he had many serious considerations excited in his mind; these he cherished, and was gradually brought to understand the nature and design of the Gospel dispensation. It would exceed the bounds allotted to this work, to give the history of this plain but able advocate of vital religion. The reader may be readily acquainted with it by recurring to his own [P. 8] account contained in a Journal of his Life, which he has left behind him. Early after he came forth in the ministry, many embraced the Truth to which he pointed, and a Society was formed in England, who were known to each other by the name of Friends.
Many were the persecutions and sufferings to which this community was exposed. An account of them may be read either in Sewel's or Gough's history. A fundamental and primary object in the infancy of the Society was to turn the attention of the people from outward forms and dependencies to the Light of Christ in themselves. This they confidently maintained was universal; that every man was enlightened by it; and that until the rational creation should conform to it, their claim to true religion had no solid foundation in Christianity. When they became distinguished, many accusations were raised against them, in order to prejudice their religious profession in the view of others. Such accusations were usually met by suitable explanations. In the course of these occurrences, there occasionally appeared reasons for their dissent from others, but as such reasons were spread among controversial writings, no regular system or concentrated profession of their belief had as yet appeared. These circumstances continued until Robert Barclay, enlightened, as we believe, by the Light of Christ, discovered the necessity for a remedy; hence he was impressed with a [P. 9] concern to communicate to the world his ideas and judgment of the true Christian principles and doctrines of the infant Society, of which he was a member; and accordingly published the work usually known by the name of Barclay's Apology. This book the Society of Friends approve. In it the reader may find a full and ample account of their belief concerning the Christian religion and the duties which it enjoins. But the Apology being more especially adapted, in some particulars, to the time in which it was written, and also requiring a very attentive examination of all its relations and dependencies, in order fully to comprehend the views of its author; it is therefore a work which we have reason to believe is at this day not so generally and deliberately read as we could wish. A work more concise, and, as far as possible, adapted to the same purpose, it is believed might be useful to many of our young people, and the means of information to such as are strangers to the Society of Friends. Under these considerations an attempt is made to give a summary of our profession. From the nature of the subjects which will be treated upon, some reasonings may be expected; but generally the plan will be to state the belief of the Society, and to show the correspondence of such belief with the meaning and doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. The author will not be confined from occasionally entering upon controverted points, and that because he believes it will be unavoidable. The Society of Friends are known to [P. 10] differ in their profession, in various particulars, from others; and in stating to others their doctrines and belief, he will necessarily have to show, in some instances, the reasons for such difference. This will be done not with a view to oppose any class of Christian professors, but wholly in conformity with the nature of the task he has undertaken.
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