John Wilbur.

Source: Wilbur, John. Letters to a Friend, On Some of the Primitive Doctrines of Christianity. Philadelphia: The Tract Association of Friends, 1995.

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(from the Tract Association)

John Wilbur was born in Rhode Island in 1774. He was acknowledged as a minister of the gospel of the Religious Society of Friends in 1812. His travels in the ministry were extensive, and included two trips to the British Isles, during the first of which his letters to George Crosfield were written and published in 1832. A preface to the original edition states that the letters were not originally intended for publication.

He devotes much of the letters to stating the reasons for rejecting trends among Friends that are now labeled "Hicksite" and "Gurneyite." Yet the letters are neither wholly negative nor historically bound. They are at heart a plea for a Christian faith founded both on the outward, atoning work of Jesus on the cross, and on the inward, transforming work of Christ in the human heart. His belief in the unique calling of Friends to advance the whole gospel could do much to rally Friends to a renewed sense of their purpose and obligations.

John Wilbur died in 1856, having completed his second trip to the British Isles a few years before.


In addition to the 1832 edition in England, the Letters were included as an appendix to Wilbur's Journal, published by New England Yearly Meeting in 1859. The Yearly Meeting republished the Letters along with some of Wilbur's other writings in 1879 and 1895. The text for this edition is taken from the 1859 Journal. Wording has not been changed, though spelling and punctuation have been modernized.

The Tract Association of Friends reprints these letters, not to endorse every point made in them, but to make available an important and sometimes neglected document in the history of Friends' belief.