[20: LETTER OF JOHN WILBUR, 10TH OF 11TH MONTH, 1839 , PAGES 331-344.]
John Wilbur

Wilbur, John. A Narrative and Exposition of the Late Proceedings of New England Yearly Meeting, With Some of its Subordinate Meetings & Their committees, in Relation to the Doctrinal Controversy Now Existing in the Society of Friends: Prefaced by a Concise View of the Church, Showing the Occasion of its Apostacy, both Under the Former and Present Dispensations, With an Appendix. Edited from Record Kept, From Time to Time, of Those Proceedings, and Interspersed With Occasional Remarks and Observations. Addressed to the Members of the Said Yearly Meeting. New York: Piercy & Reed, Printers, 1854, pages 277-325.(All italics added by J.W. for emphasis. All words supplied in [Square Brackets] by J.W.
Page numbers from original publication by -pds in {Set Brackets.}

This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.

In the following letters a very few verbal alterations and transpositions have been made, not only for a grammatical improvement, but to make a few sentences more explicit to the understanding of the reader. Yet these are substantially literal copies of the original letters, and on a comparison will be found, entirely, to coincide with the sense of the original:

Hopkinton, 10th of 1lth mo, 1838.

My Dear Friend, ----- -----:

Within these few days a little inclination has sprung up in my mind, to suggest a few considerations to thee, relative to the important question which transpired during our Yearly Meeting; and {p. 334} as much time has elapsed for deliberation thereon, I feel that I can address thee with the more freedom. And if I understand the question it was this:--Whether a Certificate granted to a travelling minister, from a body of Friends to which we are not subordinate, is an entire forclosure of a recognizance of doctrines fundamentally incorrect, and known to exist in the sentiments of the bearer of such credentials? Or, in other words, whether it be requisite, that whatever one Yearly Meeting adopts, all others are bound to receive and approve? A rule or principle, my dear friend, if this question is detcrmined in the affirmative, which will amount to the assumption, that if one of those independent bodies should unhappily become apostate in principle, (a calamity which has been known to befal the best of bodies,) then are all of those bodies unvoidably rendered obnoxious to the same apostacy?(1) Hence, if an alliance, or correspondence, one with another unavoidably subjects Yearly Meetings to such conscquences, were it not better that such alliance shouhl not exist? But inasmuch as I esteem the proposition incorrect, I would not suspend an intcrcourse between Yearly Meetings; but that each should know its own standing and abide on the sure foundation, by a constant recurrence to the pattern of first principles, independent of each other's fidelity or misgivings;--and then a mutual intercourse under the Divine superintendency, will tend to the strengthening and edifying of one another not to the perversion, but to the confirmation of sound principles as they are in Christ Jesus our Holy {p. 333}Head. And there is another case besides that of apostacy from original Quakerism, possible to occur, which might serve as an obstruction to the service of a minister from abroad with a good certificate, namely--should he be found chargeable with malconduct which transpired previous to his liberation, but unknown to the body which liberated him, and afterwards coming to the knowledge of Friends where he goes. These supposed cases are adduced upon general principles, simply to show that incidents may occur, in which full credence might be necessarily wlthholden from a minister, producing a full certificate. Furthermore, a third case may occur and be plainly tangible, independent of the authority which liberated a minister, namely, when he is found to be fundamentally defective in principle at any time during his visit abroad; and in which case neither the credibility of the meeting recommending, or its certificate, can be rightfully brought forward in defence of the person or his principles; whether known or unknown to the liberating body; belongs not to the enquiry, but whether he actually hold such principles.
Nevertheless, such person ought to be aware that his claiming the sanction of his own Yearly Meeting, reflects no honor upon that body. The truth itself is to be the test and standard of such decision; and his doctrine must be compared with the doctrines of Christianity as found recorded in the Holy Scriptures, and with which those of our Society, from the first are believed to be in full accordance: and whosoever, departs from that belief departs from Quakerism, however good he may suppose his claim to Christianity. And if the fact of his defection is clearly known and understood, whether through the medium of his own written and recorded declarations, or by his oral testimonies delivered in public or private, his liability, and the course to be {p. 334}taken by his friends, and the conclusions to be drawn are the same--undeniably the same.
But the Society of Friends in this country has always placed a stronger guard upon the Press, than upon the Gallery; because recorded and publislied defections are generally productive of the greater evil, for the reason that such are the more tangible, and reduced to a more permanent form than those put forth orally. A conclusion evinced by the order of Society in prohibiting an author from printing his doctrinal views without an official approval first obtained ;--a restraint not laid upon oral testimony.
And now, my beloved Friend, I will come more directly to the very important case in question; but before proceeding to identify and enumerate some of the impediments which are deemed to lie in the way of the conspicuous stranger now in our land, I will speak a word or two of the rights of every member of the compact, if not his duty to guard against all unrighteousness--to ask for an explanation of any avowals or doctrines which he does not comprehend, or understand to be in accordance with Christianity, (by whomsoever, or in what manner soever advanced) and to expect reasonable satisfaction to be made; and on a refusal thereof, to bear his testimony honestly against it, for the clearing of his own mind, and that he may not be a partaker with such, of their deeds.
And if I mistake not, it will be made plainly to appear that the person alluded to, has volunteered in the profession of doctrines, obviously at variance with the acknowledged and established tenets of the Society; and thereby placed himself at issue with every sound member of the body in matters of faith and practice; and until he retract the same, has never a right to complain of a prompt defence of our principles, though it could only be done at the expense of his religious character; and better so {p. 335}than omitted at the expense of the whole body, and of the testimonies of truth, agreeably to the Scripture, that it is better for one member to suffer, than that the whole body should suffer.
If it were so that a member of our Society, under any circumstances whatever in which he might be placed, being unsound, cannot be approached, or impeached, or asked to explain, and to make satisfaction for things which give uneasiness, then the Society must be in great jeopardy! If any man among us has an exclusive privilege of writing and preaching such doctrines as he listeth, and the least of the flock not allowed to be satisfied, then it would seem, that the safety of the Society, if not of its existence, as a Quaker fraternity, is in a perilous condition. Are we not informed by the published account, that one of the notable witnesses on the trial with the Hicksites in New Jersey, was asked the question, whether any Friend was considered to have a right to call on a minister travelling with a certificate, for an explanation of his avowals, or to call them in question? To which I think the answer was, that any member, or even a child, was always considered to have such a right. But Judge Ewing suggested the idea that the writings of Elias Hicks were better evidence against him than oral declaration.
I will now adduce a few articles from his (Joseph John Gurney's) own doctrines and confessions of faith; and if called for, the works, and pages, and discourses will be produced and pointed out. They are as followeth:
1st. That there is no correct divinity but that which is borrowed from the Bible.
2d. That the spirit is a person.
3d. That he believes in the resurrection of the body.
4th. That it is only by the Scriptures that we obtain a proper conception of the nature of sin.
{P. 336} 5th. Justification by faith, and that faith independent of the Spirit, which regenerates the heart: and of obedience.
6th. He believes in delivering public discourses [or lectures] on Christianity, distinct from preaching.
 7th. He believes in a form for prayer.
And in his last book called "Brief Remarks on an Impartial Interpretation of Scripture;" he interprets the following highly important passages of Scripture in a manner contradictory and perversive of Robert Barcay s interpretation of the same passages, briefly noticed as follows:
1st. The Bible, the 'more sure Word of prophecy.'
2d. He believes 'the Gospel of Christ [not] to be the Power of God unto salvation to every one
 which believeth' but only an outward declaration, or record of that which is the Power of God.
 3d. 'That was the true light which lighteth every man that comoth into the world.' From the tenor of his comments on this passage, his opinion appears to be, that Christ himself is not the Light which lighteth the heart, or inner man, but outwardly the 'enlightener.' He controverts the belief that He is himself the true Light which shines in man, and affirms that 'the obvious tendency of such an opinion, would be to deprive the Saviour of his personal attributes, and to reduce him to the rank of a principle,' a consequence often attempted, substantially, to be pressed upon our first Friends by their encmies, and as often refuted. Such objections to this our distinguished and evangelical doctrine, seems an attempted limitation, and attack upon Christ's character without knowledge; and upon this blessed and essential manifestation and office of our Lord Jesus Christ. And whilst he proffesses to be guarding his personal attributes, his reasoning goes to deprive him of an attribute divine, and us of its indispensable benefit, even that of the {p. 337} immediate revelation of light and knowledge, whereby all his attributes, together with his Holy Will. are the better understood. The material sun, (made by the skill of attributes,) by pouring forth his animating beam upon the bosom of this world ever since its creation, has never yet deprived itself of its own image, or essential properties, or that portion of light and heat so essential to vegetation, sent forth from him the fountain of it; nor reduced itself 'to the rank of a principle.' And shall we say less of Him who made it such?
4th. He thinks that the seed, the parable of the mustard-seed, and the seed of the sower, relate only to the outward increase of the church, or of Christ's outward descent, and thus disagrees with Barclay, namely, that the seed alludes to a measure of light, grace, spirit or seed of the kingdom, word of God, &c.
5th. He argues that the Name of Father, Son and Spirit, do not allude to the Power.
6th. He believes that the partaking of the Lord's Supper is not a 'Communion of the Holy Ghost,' nor yet 'a participation of the Divine nature through faith,' as set forth by Friends in England,(2) but a participation of his material Body and Blood by faith.
7th. In an attempt to divide Christ from his own Light, revelation, spirit and power, namely, that it is only Christ personally on which the Church is built.
8th. Is a continued hostility to the spirit appearing and kingdom of Christ, with and in the hearts of his people, and says that 'His second appearance without sin unto salvation, to them who look for Him,' as declared by the Apostle, is nothing {p. 338} thing more nor less than his future coming in glory to judge the quick and dead.'
These eight interpretations and their introductory and accompanying remarks constitute the whole tract, the object and purport whereof, cannot be easily misunderstood; admired and applauded by the Beaconires, and to all who receive and adopt these sentiments, they will have a direct tendency to lead them from the inner to the outer court of the Lord's house--from the spirit, life and power of that religion which is immediately revealed by Jesus Christ, in the soul and mind of man, to a more outward and literal religion, consisting of head, knowledge and notions, conceived in the wisdom of man, andunderstood by a carnal construction of the sacred volume--which is here exhibited through a brilliant display of learning, to the outdoing of all the former translators of the Holy Scriptures; and attaining to the great skill of exalting the Hebrew, Greek and Latin, over the head of Him who is not only Christ crucified, the wisdom of God and power of God, but is the light of the world, and whose life is the light of men; but to be looked for inwardly in the heart, and not (as he would seem [inclined] to have us think) outwardly and above it, by the understanding only.
The review of the above-named tract brings to mind some remarks of a late American writer, when in England, in relation to a class of men who as he says, "are endeavoring to revive many of the errors of Popery into the English Church, or to carry it back again to the state of things before the Reformation." He says, "I hardly need tell you that these views sprung up at Oxford, [the great seat of learning.]
"I was told," he continues, "that the originators of these views had been very covertly and cautiously bringing them out for a long time, and no one suspected the point to which they were aiming, till {p. 339}the whole thing stood revealed; and thus many had been entrapped unawares. The charms of poetry had been thrown around the doctrine, the attractions of learning, the plausibility of arguments, and the powers of gifted genius had been employed to give them currency. The abettors of them were men of distinguished scholarship--of great urbanity and blameless lives. Their influence at Oxford had been astonishingly great," &c.
Now, my dear friend, if such be a true picture of the means put in operation for the purpose of carrying back again the Episcopal Society to the faith of Popery, how much application or touching of the pencil will that picture require, to make it a fair delineation of the means now apparently in operation for the purpose of translating Quakerism back again to the Episcopal religion ?
Our author, in his introduction to the tract aforesaid, strongly implicates the Society of Friends and its writers, with mistakes and errors, and says, "I am convinced that the sooner such errors are rectified, the better for the growth and prosperity of our little section of the Christian Church, small as they [these errors] may be regarded in their origin, consisting perhaps in an inaccurate view of a single word or sentence" [of Scripture.]
"These mistakes," he continues "are often found to spread their influence to a great extent, &c." By these remarks it is but rational to suppose that he was referring to those Passages of Scripture which he subsequently comments upon in the same tract, and thereby plainly reprobates the faith and understanding of our standard writers upon the same passages.
Again, he seems not afraid boldly to charge Friends' views of Scripture passages, with heresy, with "being the means of aiding that tremendous lapse of heresy in America." Than which perhaps a keener and more unjust reproach and sarcasm has seldom been cast upon the faith of Friends by their bitterest enemies.
Now in solid consideration of the foregoing ,quotations, it would appear that until their Author come candidly forward and condemn his anti-quaker views and charges of error and heresy upon the Society, that his offering himself to us as a preacher of our principles, would seem as absurd and contradictory of order, as any two positions of practices can well be.
A want of conformity to the faith adopted by a religious body, has always been found the very root of disorder, and has been palpably productive of it in a great variety of instances. Witness the commotions in Ohio and New York Yearly Meetings, and let me ask which party was chargeable with the disorder?--those who first propagated unsound principles, or those who withstood them? And I will ask again, had all a right to withstand them? If the ministers and elders failed to withstand those errors [as in many instances they did] had the common members and young people a right to withstand them?
The answer to these last questions, must undoubtedly turn upon the point of another, namely--Whether the principles propagated by Elias Hicks were substantially at variance with the doctrines of the Society? And so it must be determined after all that can be said in the present case;--If J. J. Gurney's doctrines are substantially at variance with the doctrine of Friends, then every member of the body has a right,--nay, it is the duty of all, whether young or old, to make a stand against them for the body's sake. But if his written sentiments are coincident with those always held by Friends, why is it that he does not openly and candidly explain them, and thereby put all our doubtings to rest? His evasions and refusals to do so give increased uneasiness, and render his views and intentions {p. 341} the more distrustful in the minds of many, and must continue to do so until he comply with so just a course and the good order which truth requires,--"first be reconciled to thy brother and then come and offer thy gift."
It is well known that Elias Hicks and his abettors, called loudly for order, and denied every body the right of questioning the protective authority of his credentials when abroad; pleading for unity, charity and harmony with great zeal, in order to suppress inquiry. The same order, love and unity was again called for with much earnestness by Elisha Bates and the Beaconites, whilst the great breach of candor and contradiction was in themselves, professing as they did to be sound friends, whilst their grand object was to undermine Quakerism--feigning to support that which they were pulling down;--calling for order to protect disorder!
In an interview with the subject of these strictures, I informed him that the minds of many friends, were possessed of fears in relation to the soundness of his writings, and that myself was one of that number; and that he had no occasion to marvel if expression were sometimes given to those fears: but if the occasion of these fears could be removed out of the way, that all such fears and expressions would cease. He now clearly understood me to be calling upon him for a recantation, and immediately entered into a prompt defence and justification of the said writings--supposed there might be some expressions which Friends did not understand, but that there was nothing in his doctrines at variance with Quakerism!--but complained of the unfairness of Friends, as he deemed it, for sending his last book over here to hurt his service, yet seemed not at all disposed to concede a single sentiment which it contained. He plead that it was not published, but only printed for private distribution to the ministers and elders. But I asked him if he did not present {p. 342} it to the Morning Meeting in order for publication? To which he replied that he read it to the Morning Meeting, and they separated it from another work presented at the same time; but laid no prohibition upon his printing it upon his own responsibility?
Now, can we suppose that he would prepare it for the press, and finally carry it over the heads of that body, and print it for the ministers and elders, unless it was a correct transcript of his own sentiments. Nor does he make any pretension that I have ever heard, that the views are not his own. In the last paragraph of this book he says,
"Were I required to define Quakerism, I would not describe it as the system so elaborately wrought out by a Barclay, or as the doctrine and maxims of a Penn, or as the deep and refined views of a Pennington; for all these authors have their defects as ;veil as their excellencies;--I should call it the religion of the New Testament, &c."
From which proposition these several conclusions do naturally result, 1st. If Jos. J. Gurney's Quakerism is at variance from Barclay, Penn and Pennington, it must be of a spurious kind, and not entitled to the name; for there is no other legitimate Quakerism, but that adopted and defined by them and their coinciding cotemporaries; and the name belongs only to a people of their peculiar principles?(3) 2d. The charge of defection here laid upon Barclay, Penn and Pennington, leaves his readers entirely at liberty to place them on a level, or even below a Wickliffe, a Baxter, or a Bunyan, in point of Christian faith; for it may be truly said, that these last had their excellencies as well as their defects. 3. This proposition is so shaped that it

{p. 343} plainly denies to the doctrine of Barclay, Penn and Pennington an accordance with the doctrines of the New Testament.
Finally, if his printed works, (as above shown, defended and justified by himself) are to be admitted as a test of his faith, there can hardly be a doubt in the mind of any candid reader, of his readiness of mind tor the Society of Friends to make an obvious change (in some, at least) of their fundamental doctrines, from those originally acknowledged. And probably, as he suggests, so he thinks, that the sooner such change is made, (or as he calls it a correction of error)the better for the growth of our little section of the Christian Church! But my, dear friend, I trust there are a few yet among us, who are so entirely satisfied that Quakerism is in unison with primitive Christianity, (and I can but hope that thyself and wife are of this number) that they will, regardless of consequences, cleave to it without abatement and without a compromise--will faithfully watch, guard and testify against all innovations, and every doctrine which stands at variance with the faith of the true Gospel of life and peace as held by our worthy predecessors, let those opposing doctrines be advanced and advocated by whom they may, and under whatever circumstances they may be advanced:--and unto how much suffering of reproach soever the adherence of these, to first principles may expose them, it is to be hoped that a remnant at least will be found loyal to those principles.
The apprehension that thou might not be ifa possession of some of the information above: adduced, led me the more to consider the propriety of fulfilling an attraction to duty in thus freely unfolding a view, (however imperfectly) of the present aspect of things, believing that such as thyself and wife  ought not to be kept uninformed of those things {p. 344}which have so direct a bearing upon the safety of our Society.
And as we can hardly act in a manner purely defensive against him who acts in a manner offensive without a personal allusion to such an one who has taken the field before us, thou wilt expect no further apology on that score, it being no more than the upholding ofTruth's testimonies requires;--and in that conclusion I rest, and am thy sincere friend, hoping that if thou find any thing exceptionable herein contained, that thou wilt freely remark upon it, through the same medium of pen and paper.


Next: Thomas Shillitoe's Deathbed Testimony Against Joseph John Gurney

1.  If such certificate protects the bearer, forecloses all enquiry, and adepts his doctrine at home, (as by himself claimed,) then his returnlng certificates, if such be granted from all the Yearly Meeting, by the same rule must protect him from all impeachment, and establish his doctrines throughout the whole Society!

2. About half a contury ago.

3. And for any, as we have heretofore thought, to claim credence untler this name without a conformity to its.whole creed, is making rather free with that which belongeth not to them.