Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Hicksite-Orthodox Agitation > Anna Braithwaite to Elias Hicks
Note. - The conduct of Anna Braithwaite towards Elias Hicks has already been so fully and ably vindicated, and her amiable character rescued from the illiberal and unjust aspersions of her accusers, that the publication of the following letter seems almost superfluous.
We present it to the public, not because we deem it needful to say any thing more in her defence, but because it is her own reply to the letter of Elias Hicks to Dr. E.A. Atlee.
A perusal of her letter must satisfy every unprejudiced person of the rectitude of the motives which induced her to make a visit to Elias Hicks, and subsequently to pen the notes of the conversation which passed between them. The correctness of these notes is confirmed (though further confirmation is unnecessary) by the reference she makes in this letter to the statements which E.H. has declared to be "false and unfounded," and by the accuracy with which she repeats the conversation which passed upon those topics.
The explanation which she gives respecting the expression attributed to her by E.H. that "she did not want to see better," is peculiarly satisfactory, and completely dissipates the construction which he has attempted to give it. It is not surprising that she did not wish to attain that further degree of illumination which was to produce in her mind opinions coincident with his; for if "to be brought to see better" includes the adoption of his creed, we should suppose that no person endued with a rational understanding would wish "to see better."
His assertions that the account of the creation of the world was an allegory, and that this had been specially revealed to him - that he considered Jesus to be the son of Joseph, and no more than a prophet - and his asking A.B. the question respecting the fall of Adam, are so accurately related, and with circumstances so strongly corroborating as must place the correctness of her former statements beyond doubt.
She has very properly remarked upon his failing to prove that her notes are incorrect or inconsistent; since his letter to Dr. Atlee, so far from making this appear, furnishes sufficient evidence from his own pen that they are substantially correct. The matter in the notes is certainly very inconsistent, but the fault of this must rest upon himself, since they are merely a repetition of the substance of his own expressions. Had he condescended to tell Dr. Atlee what he did say, or to avow the sentiments to him which he had done to Anna Braithwaite, we should have needed no further evidence of the correctness of her statements. If he believed these to be incorrect, he could at once have proved it, and done away with any impression which they might have produced, by stating explicitly what it was he did say, and what are his real sentiments upon the disputed points of doctrine. But the truth is, that it is not so much the incorrectness of her statements which has given offence to him, as the disclosure of his doctrines, before he had disciplined the minds of the people to receive them.
Her intention of furnishing him with a copy of her notes before she left America, and the fact that his friends dissuaded her from it - her stay in New York for six weeks after the yearly meeting, perfectly disposed to meet such inquiries as her friends might wish to have answered - clearly evince the integrity and conscious uprightness with which she acted, and her being wholly unacquainted with E.H. previous to the select quarterly meeting, so that she did not eve know that it was he who spoke, when he made his singular remarks upon the appointment of representatives, proves that it was not personal prejudice against him which induced her objections to the sentiments he then expressed.
Her letter is remarkable for the good temper and forbearance with which it is written. There is neither reviling nor recrimination; nor any impeachment of his motives - indeed it contains nothing but what is kind and respectful, and in full accordance with a spirit truly Christian. In all these respects it presents a striking contrast with the one to which it is a reply.
It is proper to state that none of the following notes are from the pen of Anna Braithwaite, except the two to which the initials of her name are affixed.
In reading the first and second edition of thy Letter to Dr. Atlee, respecting the notes made by me of the conference at thy house, though neither printed nor circulated at my request, I am t a loss to find a refutation of my assertions. *
Before I enter into any pointed allusions to this part of the subject, I may acknowledge, that I do regret not having done what it was my wish to do, previous to leaving America, and that is, write to thee, enclosing these notes, and requesting any remarks thou might have to make; but several of thy friends assured me, thou wast perfectly aware of my sentiments respecting thy views on the doctrines of the Gospel; that it had been more than once proposed to thee, though not from me, to meet me, and thou hadst declined it. I remained near six weeks after the yearly meeting in the city of New-York, perfectly disposed to meet with, in the ability that might be afforded, such inquiries as my friends might wish to have answered.
It is well known to my friends in this country, and to many in America, that I went there in great ignorance of the state of things; many proofs could readily be obtained to substantiate this assertion, and I do particularly wish thee to inquire of those who were my most constant companions, what was the path I pursued in reference to existing trials in your land. I avoided every channel of information respecting individuals, and I had rarely heard thy name mentioned in any way, until my visit at Jericho.
No disposition, comparable to watching for evil, was in my heart, this all my friends well know. I hoped the little I had heard was exaggerated, and I went to see thee, as my manner indicated, in a friendly disposition.
Allow me to state what I believe to have been thy remarks in the select meeting. - "I think there must be something wrong in the present instance, for as we profess to believe in the guidance of the Spirit of Truth, as an unerring Spirit, we have a right to expect, especially in a meeting of ministers and elders, that if each friend attended to his or her proper gift, as this spirit is endued with prescience, that no friend would be named for any appointment but such as would attend, and during my long course of experience I have never appointed any one who was prevented attending, either by illness or otherwise." [See note B.] I did not, at the time, suppose thee to be the friend who spoke,** but was surprised at the remark, and being informed it was thee, I remember asking thee, if thou would be so kind as to explain this a little further, and expressed my opinion that it was carrying the matter too far. I never said that I did not want to see better, but I did say, in reply to thy remark, and it was what thou several times repeated, that I wanted experience, and thou believed I should live to think as thou didst upon doctrinal subjects, &c. that I hoped I never should.***
In reply to the following, "as to her charge against me in regard to the Scriptures, it is generally incorrect, and some of it is false," I may state that I cannot in any degree, retract it, for I was much surprised at the pains thou took to convince me, that we should do better without the Bible, and with thy remarks as stated in my notes, also with thy objections to the Scriptures as a rule of faith and practice, as they have ever been held to be by our friends. The inference from thy remarks is, that those who believe in the Scriptures as a rule, believe in them as the primary and only rule, and avoiding the path which our early friends walked in, and which, in the present day, they fully approve, of a belief in the Spirit, and in the Scriptures as a secondary rule or test, &c. agreeably to the following from Barclay.**** "In this respect above mentioned then, we have shewn what service and use the Holy Scriptures, as managed in and by the Spirit, are of to the Church of God. Wherefore we do account them a secondary rule. Moreover, because they are commonly acknowledged by all to have been written by the dictates of the Holy Spirit, and that the errors which may be supposed by the injury of time, to have slipt in, are not such but that there is a sufficient clear testimony left, to all the essentials of the Christian Faith, we do look upon them as the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians; and that whatsoever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony, may therefore justly be rejected as false. And for our parts we are very willing that all our doctrines and practices be tried by them, which we never refused, nor ever shall in all controversies with our adversaries, as the judge and test: we shall also be very willing to admit it as a positive certain maxim, that whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the Devil." Thou states in thy letter to Dr. Atlee, "I have convinced divers of the soundness of our doctrine in this respect, that not the Scriptures, but the Spirit of Truth, which Jesus commanded his disciples to wait for, as their only rule that would teach them all things, and guide them into all truth, is the primary and only rule of faith and practice, and is the only means by which our salvation is effected." [See Note C.]
In reference to the account of the Creation being an allegory, thou entered into a long explanation how it was opened to thy mind in the meeting alluded to in my notes; thou stated that a minister of some other society had been present, then, or on some other occasion when the subject was alluded to, and had been rather surprised at the first, but was fully convinced of thy assertions by a subsequent conversation, and thou ranked the belief in the existence of the Garden of Eden, with that of a belief in any such places as Heaven and Hell, which thou spoke of as equally erroneous, but didst not explain thy views so as to give me a correct idea of thy meaning.
I well remember thy asking me the question respecting Adam, and the answer as stated. I wish thou would endeavour to call to mind what pains thou took to convince me that Jesus was no more than a Prophet, and that he was the son of Joseph. On the latter point, these were, I believe, thy words: "Thou canst not surely be so foolish as to believe Jesus to be the son of the Virgin Mary - he was called the carpenter's son - he frequently alludes to himself as the son of man;" and thou quoted many texts to prove it to me; and could I be likely to doubt my memory on this subject, when I heard thee publicly declare in a meeting for worship, "God is a Spirit, and it is impossible He could beget a son, save in His own likeness."
Thou speaks of my notes containing so much inconsistency, and being so incorrect, that as thou proceeds, they appear less and less worthy of a reply; but saving for the denial of the above as having been stated by thee, thou dost not make this appear; and even in reference to the above, thou dost not say such are not thy sentiments. Thou admits thy opinion that we cannot believe what we do not understand, or, as thou said to me, comprehend; and I refer thee to my answers in reply to this, and several other things; and may further state that I consider this the foundation upon which infidelity stands; and that whilst I hope ever to be preserved from exalting one part of the glorious Gospel plan of Christian Redemption to the subversion of the rest, yet I do consider a denial of the propitiatory sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be infidelity: nor do I look upon it as detraction to bear my testimony against opinions publicly advocated. [See note D.] It may be proper to state, that in my notes, there is no allusion to thy motives, nor any comment upon thee as a man, but the attention is called solely to opinions which many have believed thee to hold, not from private conversation only, but from thy communications in meetings, and if they are not thy sentiments, a very erroneous impression has been made upon the minds of thy hearers. [See note E.] Some of thy friends, to whom my notes were read, recognised thy views in them without hesitation, and endeavoured to vindicate them as truths, without even expressing a doubt of their correctness.*****
I refer thee to my replies in further refutation of thy views, and I may now conclude with observing, that it was currently reported in Philadelphia, and other places which I visited, that in the conferences at thy house, thou hadst entirely converted me to thy opinions. After deliberately considering the subject, I concluded to leave a copy of the notes, which I fully believe to be correct, that they might be referred to in case of any misrepresentation.
I remain thy sincere friend and well-wisher,
(Signed) ANNA BRAITHWAITE.
Lodge-Lane, near Liverpool, 11th mo. 13th, 1824.
NOTE. - When I reflect upon the pains not only Elias Hicks, but many others took to convince me of his views, and that the doctrines of the Gospel are mere opinions, and abstract points, and that if we believe in the Spirit, it is of no consequence whether we believe in these doctrines or not, I am wholly at a loss to conceive why there should be so great an anxiety to evade the avowal of them. [See note F.]
I have nothing in my heart but good will to all, and sincere desires for their welfare; this, I hope my conduct, whilst among my friends in America, unequivocally proved; but the doctrines held by our ancient Friends, and maintained by the Society to the present day, are so opposed to such views, that as one who is concerned, to declare at times, under the constraining influence of Gospel Love, the glad tidings of Salvation, as believed in by the Society to which I belong,****** I dare not, in any degree, sanction such unsound principles, though many who hold them will ever retain a place in my affectionate remembrance.
* During the last few weeks of A.B.'s visit to America, she was subjected to much incivility, which she freely forgives, for steadily adhering to fundamental Gospel truths, which were known to be opposed to the views of Elias Hicks; and in uniformly avowing to those whom she thought it best to converse with on the subject, that she considered his to be deistical opinions, accompanied by a belief in what he termed the Spirit; at the same time expressing her wish that the subject should be coolly and impartially considered, without the least disposition to personal invective or party spirit, that she believed truth should stand upon its own foundation, and needed none of these carnal weapons to support it. She repeatedly told his friends, when they accused her of error in calling Elias Hicks' views doctrines of infidelity, that if he had any thing to object to in the charge, she was perfectly willing to meet him in the presence of few or many, as he might think fit, and that she was entirely willing if they thought it desirable, that her doctrine should be tried before a legitimate body of the Society; and she thought it was due to her, and to the Society to which they belong, that she, in common with her dear English friends, should have the opportunity of thus pleading the cause of truth, rather than that their labours should be clandestinely undermined: she wishes also to state, that no person could be further than herself, from wishing to inquire into the opinions of private individuals upon these subjects, as she considers them of a peculiarly delicate nature, but she holds herself, in common with all in the station of ministers, and all who try to influence others, as cognizable to the Society to which they belong, for doctrines preached and propagated by them. - [See Note A, appendix.]
** Not having seen E.H. before, she was unacquainted with his person.
*** E.H. says in his letter to Dr. Atlee, "But she replied she did not want to see better," and adds, "this manifestation of her self-importance, lowered her character, as a gospel minister, very much in my view, and her subsequent conduct while she was with us, abundantly corroborated and confirmed this view concerning her." It would appear from this, that his estimation of the characters of ministers, is graduated in proportion to their readiness to acquiesce with his dogmas, since her dissent from his belief, and her expression that she hoped never to think as he did on doctrinal points, &c. lowered her character so very much in his view. We apprehend, however, that in the estimation of most pious christians, her dissent will form a strong evidence of her being a real gospel minister, and we would ask whether it be not a mark of self-importance in him, to brand a conscientious disapproval of his principles with this epithet. The attitude in which he has placed her words, and the inference drawn from them, certainly are not in consonance with that "charity which thinketh no evil."
**** Edition 1765, page 64.
***** We cannot suppose that Elias Hicks, when he declared to Dr. Atlee that Anna Braithwaite's notes were incorrect, had any serious intention of denying that he held the doctrines which she attributes to him. Regard for his own character would, we should think, deter him from hazarding an assertion, which would be proved to be untrue by his own letters and from his public preaching. When he speaks, therefore, of parts being "false and unfounded," we are to understand him as alluding to mere literal inaccuracies, in noticing which he has heretofore allowed himself great latitude of speech, as in the case of Joseph Whitall. Every article of christian faith which she has charged him with denying, we ourselves, and hundreds more, have heard him deny many times over, and adduce arguments to support his denial; and it is well known that those of his followers who are thoroughly initiated into the mysteries of his creed, (for even E.H. has his creed,) make the same open denial, and contend for the propriety of doing so. That he cautiously avoids reducing his belief, (or rather unbelief) to the tangible and permanent form of written declaration, is by no means mysterious - he must have abundant proof that the people are not yet prepared to deny the christian faith, and that his open rejection of it would be turned from with disgust. It is, therefore, policy to confine himself to oral declarations, which may be evaded by telling us we do not understand them - to use ambiguous expressions - to invalidate the authority of the Scriptures - to destroy the respect and veneration which sensible and learned men have long entertained for them - to cloak his views under pretensions to revelation and greater light, and thus to lead the people on by degrees, and become, in some sense, all things to all men, if by any means, he may eventually gain some.
****** If there be any persons who doubt the assertion that the doctrines of Elias Hicks, are entirely repugnant to those held by the Society of Friends from its commencement, we would recommend to them the careful perusal of his letters to Dr. Shoemaker, Dr. Atlee and Thomas Willis, with the reviews of them, also Barclay's Catechism and Apology - Joseph Phipps's original and present state of man - Tuke's principles of "Friends," and Jesse Kersey's recent treatise on the doctrines of Friends.
It is a regulation indispensably necessary to the peace of society, and to the preservation of order, consistency, and harmony among Christians, that the members of every religious body, and especially those who assume the office of teachers or ministers, should be responsible to the authorities established in the church, for the doctrines which they hold and promulgate.
To admit the contrary position would be to destroy the basis upon which all religious compacts are founded, to frustrate the objects and benefits of social worship, and to introduce anarchy and confusion into our religious assemblies. In fact, it would be equivalent to a renunciation of that essential and primary requisition of the gospel, which enjoins "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." It would be to grant full licence to unbelief, and to sanctuarize it, by an admission to all the privileges of christian communion.
When associated for the sacred employ of waiting upon God, and offering him the tribute of gratitude and praise, we should be subjected to the painful necessity of hearing sentiments avowed and defended from the pulpit or the gallery, which were repugnant to our conscientious belief, - calculated to poison the innocent and tender minds of our offspring, to seduce them from the paths of virtue, and lead them into the dark and bewildering mazes of scepticism, - our devotions would be liable to continual interruption, and our religious feelings to outrage and violation by preachers setting forth strange notions, subversive of the most solemn articles of christian faith, and inculcating practices directly at variance with the precepts of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This state of things must be the necessary result of such indiscriminate licence; since every man, however shallow his experience, or however absurd or pernicious his principles, would be perfectly at liberty to impose them upon the assembled audience. It would be well, therefore, if those who are contending for the privilege of preaching what they please, uncontrolled by any restraints, and subject to no test, would reflect upon the latitude which the recognition of such a right must unavoidably introduce; and consider whether there are not some doctrines which even they would dislike to hear from their teachers. Would they be willing, for instance, that preachers should be tolerated in their religious assemblies, who publicly advocated the propriety of war, of slavery, or oaths; of pecuniary recompense for preaching the gospel, or the absolute necessity of observing the ordinances; and who as publicly denied the sensible influences of the Holy Spirit? Certainly they would not, because such sentiments would be contrary to their religious principles and practices. There are then other sentiments which they may deem correct, but which are equally as repugnant to the sincere conscientious belief of their christian neighbours, as the encouragement of war, oaths, or slavery, would be to them, and consequently can no more be tolerated in their assemblies; and we should remember, that while we claim liberty of conscience and of thought for ourselves, we should be as ready to grant it to others.
The necessity, therefore, of exercising discrimination, and even inhibition, in reference to the ministry, is at once obvious, and has been fully recognized by the Society of Friends, both in their discipline and practice, from their earliest institution. This society, although they have never required of their members a subscription to any prescribed formulary of faith, nevertheless consider it necessary to the enjoyment of membership in their communion, that the party should unfeignedly and unequivocally assent to the great fundamental truths of the gospel of Christ. The excellent and learned Barclay, who was intimately acquainted with those views which first induced friends to associate in religious fellowship, as well as with those great principles which formed the bond of their union and the terms of their compact, has the following observations in his Apology.
"For as we believe all those things to have been certainly transacted, which are recorded in the Holy Scriptures concerning the birth, life, miracles, sufferings, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, so we do also believe that it is the duty of every one to believe it, to whom it pleases God to reveal the same, and to bring them to the knowledge of it; yea we believe it were damnable unbelief not to believe it when so declared, but to resist that holy seed which as minded, would lead and incline every one to believe it as it is offered unto them." - Apology, Lond. Ed. 141.
If therefore consistency of belief in these great fundamental truths be required of every member of the society, as is clearly proved to be the case by their discipline, which makes unbelief cause of disownment, how much more shall it be demanded of those, who take upon them to be mouth to the people, and for whose doctrines the society is held accountable in the eyes of the world?
But unhappily it has become a favorite notion with some, that doctrines are of no importance; and that if we conduct ourselves with propriety, it is indifferent what opinions we hold; - and yet, with a strange inconsistency, these very persons anathematize with implacable virulence, those who conscientiously differ from what they have been pleased to establish as articles of faith. What epithet is there too hard for them to bestow upon those who believe in the scripture doctrine of Three that bear record in heaven, and of the atonement; upon such as think it their duty to receive the ordinances and to support their ministers, or who are members of Bible or missionary societies?
We consider the notion that doctrines are of no importance to be dangerous in the extreme. Belief certainly produces a powerful influence upon both moral and religious practice. There are certain principles which, if adopted, have a direct tendency to lower the standard of morality, to destroy the force of all religious obligations in the mind, and to reconcile it to the indulgence of thoughts, and the commission of acts, which under the influence of christian doctrines and principles, it would have turned away from with horror or disgust. A man who does not believe in the existence of a heaven or a hell, - in a day of righteous retribution hereafter, according to the deeds done in the body; who discards all external tests, and makes the impulse of his own mind the sole arbiter of right and wrong; who believes that he can repent when he pleases, and that God cannot refuse him pardon, - such a man will be much less likely to abstain from evil, than one who steadily abides under a firm belief in the doctrines of Christ and his apostles. The deist can find many palliatives to sooth the compunctions of conscience, and many subterfuges to lessen the sinfulness of sin; and when he believes that every day as it passes, judges his actions, atones for his failures, and settles his account in the celestial register, he may soon reconcile himself to the commission of almost any sin, provided secrecy will only screen him from public censure. But even this check is often soon removed; so that it may be said "he neither feareth God nor regardeth man."
If we "search the Scriptures," we shall find from the highest authority, that faith, or belief, in the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, is an indispensable preliminary to becoming real christians. Thus our blessed Lord told Nicodemus - "He that believeth on him (viz. Jesus Christ,) is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." When the Jews asked him "what they should do that they might work the works of God," he replied, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom God hath sent." And on another occasion he told them, "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." Again, to Martha he says, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." When he sent forth his eleven disciples to preach his gospel to every creature in all the world, he solemnly declared, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not, shall be damned." We have then the most conclusive testimony from the mouth of Him who could not lie, who came to be our Saviour, and who will be our judge, that a belief in the doctrines of that gospel which he sealed with his blood, is essentially and indispensably necessary to our salvation. Let us not, therefore, deceive ourselves with the presumptuous idea, that we may deny with impunity, or that we are at liberty to choose and carve for ourselves, and say we will believe a part and deny a part.
An assent to certain doctrines was the basis upon which the Society of Friends was founded, and upon which only it can exist. It was conscientious dissent from the faith of the societies to which they respectively belonged, that induced the worthy founders of this sect to forsake their families and friends, and join in communion and fellowship with those few despised individuals, whose doctrinal views were coincident with their own. And if the society continues to exist as a distinct body of christian professors, it must be by a strict adherence to the same principles which they professed.
Robert Barclay, in his excellent "Treatise on Church Government," the perusal of which we would earnestly recommend, speaking of the authority of the church in matters of conscience, says, "As to the first, whether the church of Christ hath power in any cases that are matters of conscience, to give positive sentence and decision which may be obligatory upon believers? I answer affirmatively, she hath, and shall prove it from divers instances both from Scripture and reason." - He then goes into the argument at large, from which we extract the following pertinent and forcible remarks. "Now I say, we being gathered together into the belief of certain principles and doctrines, without any constraint or worldly respect, but by the mere force of truth upon our understanding, and its power and influence upon our hearts, these principles and doctrines, and the practices necessarily depending upon them, are as it were the terms that have drawn us together, and the bond by which we became centred into one body and fellowship, and distinguished from others. Now if any one, or more, so engaged with us, should arise to teach any other doctrine or doctrines contrary to those which were the ground of our being one; who can deny but the body hath power in such a case to declare, "This is not according to the truth we profess, and therefore we pronounce such and such doctrines to be wrong, with which we cannot have unity, nor yet any more spiritual fellowship with those that hold them, and so cut themselves off from being members, by dissolving the very bond by which they were linked to the body?" "Suppose a people really gathered unto a belief of the true and certain principles of the gospel, if any of these people shall arise, and contradict any of those fundamental truths, whether have not such as stand, good right to cast such an one out from among them, and to pronounce positively, This is contrary to the truth we profess and own, and therefore ought to be rejected and not received, nor yet he that asserts it as one of us." "If the apostles of Christ of old, and the preachers of the everlasting gospel in this day, had told all people, however wrong they found them in their faith and principles, Our charity and love is such, we dare not judge you, nor separate from you, but let us all live in love together, and every one enjoy his own opinion, and all will do well, - how should the nations have been, or what way can they be brought to truth and righteousness? Would not the devil love this doctrine well, by which darkness and ignorance, error and confusion, might still continue in the earth unreproved and uncondemned." - "If God has gathered a people by this means, into the belief of one and the same truth, must not they, if they turn and depart from it, be admonished, reproved and condemned, (yea rather than those that are not yet come to the truth,) because they crucify afresh unto themselves the Lord of glory, and put him to open shame? It seems the apostle judged it very needful they should be so dealt with, Tit. 1 c. 10 v. when he says, There are many unruly and vain talkers, and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, &c. Were such a principle to be received or believed, that in the church of Christ no man should be separated from, no man condemned or excluded the fellowship or communion of the body, for his judgment or opinion in matters of faith, then what blasphemies so horrid, what heresies so damnable, what doctrines of devils, but might harbour itself in the church of Christ? What need then of sound doctrine, if no doctrine make unsound? What need of convincing and exhorting gainsayers, if to gainsay be no crime? Where should the unity of the faith be? Were not this an inlet to all manner of abomination, and to make void the whole tendency of Christ and his apostles' doctrine, and render the gospel of none effect, and give a liberty to the unconstant and giddy will of man to innovate, alter and overturn it at his pleasure."
As then the system of faith adopted by the Society of Friends in the beginning, is the badge whereby they are contradistinguished from other denominations of professors, and is the cement or outward bond which unites them in religious fellowship, so it is essential to their existence, that they preserve the bond unbroken, and carefully guard against all mutilation. And there is no means whereby it would be more readily demolished, than by permitting ministers to promulgate whatever sentiments they may please, uncontrolled by any restraints, and amenable to no tribunal.
In fact, while men continue to differ in religious opinions as they now do, the most likely, nay the only way, for general peace, is for them to class themselves into societies, according to their faith; for no society to exercise dominion over the rest; for their controversies to be managed with good temper and moderation; and for no person to infringe upon the rights and conscientious belief of others, by assuming the liberty of teaching or remaining in a society, the ancient tenets of which he rejects and denies.
A belief in the sensible influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is certainly an important part of christian faith, and is forcibly enjoined upon us in the sacred volume. Its direction in the concerns of salvation, as well as in many important temporal affairs, has been reverently and gratefully acknowledged by an innumerable company of confessors to the true faith.
But while we assent with all cheerfulness to this most precious doctrine, we are far from believing that the "measure of the Spirit which is given to every man to profit withal," necessarily endues its possessor with prescience; or that when an individual is named under its influence, to any particular service, all the common contingencies of human life are averted, and that an absolute and irrevocably fatality binds him to the fulfillment of the appointment. Such a supposition would give to every person so named, an exemption from disease and death until the object of his appointment was accomplished, and would consequently contradict the plainest lessons of experience.
We have instances on record, of men of the greatest piety and holiness, who believed themselves divinely called upon to go forth in the service of their Lord and master, and whose call we cannot doubt was of God, but who were arrested in their career by the unrelenting hand of death, and summoned from their labours on earth, to receive a glorious reward in heaven. We have seen such men making a triumphant exit out of time, in the full assurance of enjoying a blissful eternity through the merits of the crucified Immanuel; and giving the most conclusive evidence that they had really lived under the guidance of the unerring Spirit of God. And are we to fly in the face of these facts, and conclude that because a release from the field of labour was granted them, before their contemplated mission was completed, that their call to the service was mere delusion, when they declared upon a death-bed that their hearts overflowed with peace in consequence of their yielding obedience to that call?
We cannot but consider the pretensions of Elias Hicks as presumptuous and illusory; and if it be true that "in the course of his long experience he has never named any one, who was prevented from attending by illness or otherwise," he has given abundant proof of his want of prescience on other occasions, equally, if not more important, and more immediately connected with his own religious duties, the proof of which must be fresh in the recollection of most of his friends in this city. One instance we may notice; - it is well known that after he had announced his intention of being at a meeting on the following day, and a large concourse of persons had assembled to hear him, they were disappointed, in consequence of his being confined to his chamber with illness.
The consequences which result from the opinions which he advances on this subject, are really monstrous. It follows from his assertions, that as every man has the Spirit of truth, and this spirit is unerring and endued with prescience, therefore every man who is obedient to it, must be made prescient. But the Spirit of God is endued with all the properties of Deity; and consequently upon his position we "have a right to expect" that all true christians shall be endued likewise with omnipotence, omniscience, and ubiquity; and E.H. may as well pretend to either of these attributes, as to make the claims he does to foreknowledge.
Elias Hicks, in his observations upon the Scriptures, in the letter to Dr. Atlee, says that his "views have always been in accordance with our primitive friends on this point." From this expression, some might be induced to conclude that the Society of Friends, in its commencement, did not consider the Scriptures to be a rule of faith or a test of doctrines, and that they denied their authority. That such a conclusion would be very incorrect, the extract given by A.B. from Barclay's Apology fully evinces. The following quotations will confirm the sentiments of Barclay.
George Fox, in his "Answer to all such as falsely say the Quakers are no Christians," &c. Lond. 1682, says, "We believe concerning God the Father, Son, and Spirit, according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, which we receive and embrace as the most authentic and perfect declaration of Christian faith, being indited by the Holy Spirit of God, that never errs," &c.
To the governor of Barbadoes he says, "Concerning the Holy Scriptures, we believe that they were given forth by the Holy Spirit of God, through the holy men of God, who (as the Scripture itself declares,) spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. We believe that they are to be read, believed, and fulfilled, (he that fulfills them is Christ,) and they are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, &c. and able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. And we believe the Holy Scriptures are the words of God, for it is said in Exodus 20 c. 1 v. "God spoke all these words, saying," &c. - meaning the ten commandments given forth upon mount Sinai, - and in Revelation 22 c. 18 v. saith John, "I testify to every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man addeth unto them, or if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, (not the Word,) &c. So in Luke i. 20. "Because those believed not my words." So we call the Holy Scriptures as Christ and his apostles called them, viz. The words of God."
William Penn says, concerning the Scriptures, "we in truth and sincerity believe them to be of divine authority, given by the inspiration of God, through holy men, they speaking or writing them as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; that they are a declaration of those things most surely believed by the primitive Christians; and that as they contain the mind and will of God, and are his commands to us, so they in that respect are his declaratory word, and therefore are obligatory on us, and are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect and thoroughly furnished to every good work." "We both love, honour, and prefer them before all books in the world, ever choosing to express our belief of the Christian faith and doctrine in the terms thereof, and rejecting all principles or doctrines whatsoever, that are repugnant thereto." - Folio Works, vol. 2, 878.
In his address to Protestants he says, "'Tis great presumption, and a men shelter to ignorance or ambition, to raise a credit to human devices, by beating down the true value of the Scriptures."
Richard Claridge says, "We do sincerely and unfeignedly believe the following propositions:
1st. That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, were not of any man's private setting forth, but were given by inspiration of God.
2d. That they do contain a clear and sufficient declaration of all doctrines, in common to be believed in order to eternal life and salvation.
3d. That the Holy Scriptures are the best outward rule and standard of doctrine and practice.
4th. That whatsoever either doctrine or practice, though under pretensions to the immediate dictates and teachings of the Spirit, is contrary to the Holy Scriptures, ought to be rejected and disowned as false and erroneous; for whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith." In his Journal, page 419, he says, "The Holy Scriptures are the great charter of Christian faith and doctrine, and unto them should all appeals be made in matters relating unto both."
It is unnecessary, though it would be easy, to extend our quotations further, proving to a demonstration that E.H. in denying the authenticity and authority of Holy Scripture, has swerved from the ancient tenets of the society of Friends. - Barclay, in his Apology, page 18, says - "These divine inward revelations, which we make absolutely necessary for the building up of true faith, neither do, nor ever can contradict the outward testimony of the Scriptures, or right and sound reason;" it must therefore be evident that all pretensions to further light, or to the leadings of the Spirit, in denying any doctrine set forth in Holy Scripture, or in any way lessening their value and importance, must be considered as a dangerous delusion and false pretence.
That it is not detraction to express our dissent from doctrines which are publicly avowed, to discuss them, and to advise our friends against the adoption of them, must be obvious to every person of common sense.
Ever man has an undoubted right to enjoy his own opinions, provided they are not opposed to the laws of his Maker, nor injurious to society; and so long as he keeps them to himself, and does not infringe upon the conscientious belief or the rights of his neighbour, he is accountable for them to God only. But when he assumes the office of a teacher, whether public or otherwise, his opinions cease to be private sentiment, and become public property, upon which every man may lawfully converse when and where he pleases, may reflect and decide at his leisure, may approve or condemn, may adopt or reject as is most consistent with the dictates of his best judgment.
When a man attempts to promulgate any new doctrines, we would suppose that he propounds them to the belief of his hearers from the apprehension that they are more worthy of their acceptance than those they have hitherto held; consequently then, he must consider himself to be doing a praiseworthy act in teaching them - and it cannot be detraction to charge a man with doing that which he himself views in the light of a good action.
The speaker communicates his ideas with the design of amending or informing his hearers, and whatever assertions he may make, or whatever sentiments he may avow, they at once become the property of his hearers, and are open to public or private criticism, and to approbation or censure according to their merits. It is not to be supposed that the hearers are blindly and implicitly to adopt them, without exercising any discretion, or inquiring into their correctness, nor yet that they are to be prevented from communicating them to their friends for their judgment and opinion. This would be depriving the hearer of his liberty of conscience and expression, and placing his faith entirely under the domination and control of the ministry, who would have it in their power to force his assent to the most absurd dogmas.
Religious opinions are of infinite importance to man - they are intimately connected with his salvation, and consequently require the most serious consideration - he should have every opportunity and every facility for sober inquiry, and in coming to a decision he should summon to his aid all those helps which the kindness of our Creator has placed within his reach. If upon mature reflection he conscientiously differs from the sentiments preached - if he believes them contrary to Scripture and right reason, and inimical to true religion and to pure morality, it becomes his duty to declare his dissent and disapprobation. If he sees that much ingenuity and pains are taken to disseminate them, that they are disguised under specious and insinuating forms, calculated to deceive the unwary, he is imperatively called upon by his duty as a Christian, to sound an alarm - to expose them in their real colours - to show their untruth and their pernicious tendency - to warn his fellow men against the adoption of them, and by every lawful means to prevent their propagation.
Elias Hicks appears among us as the declaimer of certain doctrines which he propounds for our belief, and which are easily seen to be contrary to Scripture, to the acknowledged principles of Friends, and to sound reason - and surely he is not so infallible as to have a right to call upon us for our unqualified and servile assent; nor yet to debar us from the liberty of discussing them, of telling them to our friends, nor even publishing if we think proper, what he himself openly proclaims. Such requisitions would be the extreme exercise of ecclesiastical tyranny, and a most conclusive evidence of a consciousness of the weakness of his own cause.
What he openly preaches, and has often preached in the hearing of hundreds of competent witnesses, it cannot be detraction to charge him with holding, else he must himself be his greatest detractor, since the charge is but a repetition of the substance and meaning of his own words. Any man who possesses the art of stenography, may without any violation of gospel order, take down all his discourses, however absurd, print them and publish them to the world - how much more then may an individual converse upon them and tell them to his friends.
The right of absolute dictation on the part of ministers - the inordinate love of popularity and power - a claim for privilege, and for an exemption from the ordinary restraints and regulations of society, are the means by which priestcraft has ever established its dominion, and they continue to be the fruitful sources of religious oppression. So long, therefore, as liberty of conscience and liberty of speech is guaranteed to us, it becomes the duty of every member of every Christian society to exercise them in the fear of God, to watch with a jealous eye every innovation upon the established doctrines and discipline of the church, faithfully to bear a testimony against every approximation to infidelity, however specious its appearance or however sacred the sanctions with which it seeks to clothe itself, and whenever he sees the approach of the enemy, as a vigilant watchman upon the walls of Zion, to sound the awakening alarm among his brethren.
Elias Hicks, in his letter to Dr. Edwin A. Atlee, acknowledges that he has "taken up his pen to state to him the unfriendly and unchristian conduct of Anna Braithwaite to him." It would appear from this, that he considers himself exempted from the observance of that Gospel order, which he charges her with an "open violation of." We would ask whether it was not an "open violation of Gospel order," for Elias Hicks to state the unfriendly and unchristian conduct of Anna Braithwaite to Dr. Edwin A. Atlee, instead of telling it to her alone?
The religious profession of E. H. is the most exalted that we ever heard from any man - he professes to be continually guided by "an unerring Spirit," consequently his conduct, to be consistent, should be perfectly blameless. But the spirit of the Gospel teaches us meekness, gentleness, and forgiveness - its language is, "Being reviled we bless, being persecuted we suffer it, being defamed we entreat." Can we reconcile with the influence and government of this spirit, his unfounded charges against A.B. of self-importance, of hypocrisy, of falsehood, and deceit; of being actuated by the treachery of Judas - of watching for evil, of straining every nerve in exaggerating his words, of being determined to criminate him at all events, and of feigning or forcing constructions upon his words to suit her own purpose? If these grievous accusations had been true, it was his duty to tell them to Anna Braithwaite alone - not to communicate them to Dr. Atlee, that he might publish them to the world.
The tone of E.H.'s letter, and the language in which it is couched, appear to us to be little accordant with the precepts or example of Him, who when enduring the agonies of a cruel and ignominious death, prayed for his persecutors, "who when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously."
We search his letter in vain for a single one of the long catalogue of crimes which he lays to her charge; while on the other hand, there is the most conclusive testimony that she is guiltless of them all. She went to see him, as her manner indicated by his own admission, in a friendly disposition - they conversed together freely upon important points of Christian doctrine, and he avowed to her his disbelief of some of them, in terms more plain and direct than he usually had done in his public preaching. She made notes of this conversation, and when leaving America, placed a copy of them in the hands of her friends, to correct an unfounded report which had got abroad respecting her. Such is the account of her "unfriendly and unchristian conduct as relates to those notes" - and as to the "conversation among friends and others," and saying that he "held and promulgated infidel doctrines," it was certainly consistent with her duty as a Christian minister, aware of the dangerous tendency of his principles, to advise her friends against adopting them, to expose their absurdity and inconsistency, and to excite an examination into their true character and consequences. It was both friendly and Christian to warn them of the danger of listening with credulity to one whose high profession, reputed morality, and popular eloquence, had given him considerable influence; and if his opinions had been correct, the promulgation of them would not have proved prejudicial to him.
She had twice visited him, she had privately laboured to reclaim him from his errors, but finding him fixed in his unbelief, there was but one correct course for her to pursue, and that was to guard the ignorant and the unsuspecting against imbibing his notions.
It is a great mistake to suppose that the principles of E.H. are new, or that they are the result of greater attainments or superior revelation, since the same opinions, which he now propagates, have been maintained by most of the infidel writers within the last hundred and fifty years. We are aware that he has received the credit of invention, and that to many persons they have the charm of novelty, but those who will take the pains to search those excellent works which have been written in defence of christianity will find all of them have been refuted.
Lord Herbert, who wrote in 1663, taught that repentance was the only propitiation, that the christian doctrine of atonement, granted pardon on too easy terms, and derogated from the obligations of virtue - that we cannot be ascertained that the Scriptures are a revelation, and if we could ascertain it, we know not that the translations are correct; and hence he says, is the necessity of rejecting all systems and forms of religion and adopting the one universal, natural religion, written upon the hearts of all men by the divine finger. - Hobbes asserts that the only assurance for the authenticity of Scripture is the authority of the church or commonwealth - and that the New Testament was never received as of divine authority until declared to be so by the councils - Blount taught that there was no necessity for a Mediator between God and man, and that the belief of such a necessity was derogatory of his Infinite Mercy - Toland declared that there were no mysteries in religion, nor any thing contrary to, nor above reason, and that no christian doctrine can be called mystery. - The Earl of Shaftsbury wrote much to discountenance a belief in the authority of Scripture and in the truth of the christian religion as there set forth - frequently repeating the charge of corruptions and interpolations in the Bible. - Collins declared that all those who contend for the faith of the Gospel, as contained in Holy Scripture are enemies to a just liberty of thought, and to free examination and inquiry - and that the books of Holy Scripture were corrupted and altered by the early fathers and clergy to suit their own notions. - Woolston says that many of the facts recorded in Scripture are mere allegorical allusions to the work of religion in the heart, and that literally taken they are absurd and fictitious; that the history of the life of Christ is only an emblematical or allegorical representation of his spiritual life in the soul.
Dr. Tindal taught that christianity is nothing more than the religion of nature; that the dictates of the Spirit, or of "the universal law of nature" in man, are so pure, perfect and absolute, that all external revelation is utterly useless; that to believe in external revelation is to renounce our reason and give up our understandings to a blind and implicit faith; and therefore it is our duty to throw off such revelation, and follow the pure, simple dictates of the light of nature. - Dr. Morgan says, that revelation (in which he declares himself a firm believer) is no more than the discovery of truth by whatever process it be made, and that the only test of the truth of revelation is the moral fitness and reason of things - he declares that St. Paul preached a Jewish Gospel, viz. "Salvation by Christ, the Jewish Messiah." - Chubb taught, that Christ was no higher character than the founder of the Christian sect, that he was sent into the world to acquaint mankind with the revelation of the will of God, and that the account of his birth was ridiculous and incredible. He denies that he is our Advocate with the Father, or the propitiation for sin, and says the doctrine of the atonement "is contrary to all truth and the eternal reason of things" - that "to appeal to the Scriptures as the test for our opinions would be the certain way to perplexity and dissatisfaction, for the Bible is the grand source of heresies and schisms, and exhibits doctrines the most opposite, and greatly dishonourable to God. - Lord Bolingbroke, speaking of the atonement, says it is "repugnant to all our ideas of order, justice, goodness, and even theism." - Thus we see that most of the Deistical writers from the year 1663 to 1746 have avowed the very principles which Elias Hicks now teaches as the result of immediate revelation. - The reader will find a full refutation of these in Dr. Leland's View of Deistical writers.
We shall now notice the comparatively modern work of that arch-infidel Thomas Paine, called "The Age of Reason," many of the sentiments of which, are so exactly similar to those of E.H. as almost to induce us to suspect plagiarism. - Speaking of our blessed Saviour he says - "They (the Christian mythologists) represent this virtuous and amiable man, Jesus Christ, to be at once both God and man, celestially begotten, on purpose to be sacrificed" - he declares that he was a Jew by birth and profession, and was the Son of God in like manner that every other person is, for the Creator is the father of all" - that "he probably worked at his father's trade, which was that of a carpenter; that it does not appear that he had any school learning, and the probability is that he could not write." - He denies the miraculous conception, and ranks the divinity of Jesus Christ with the deification of the heathen gods.
Of the doctrine of Christian redemption he speaks in terms of great contempt - he says, "The probability is that the whole theory or doctrine of what is called redemption (which is said to have been accomplished by one person in the room of another) was originally fabricated, on purpose to bring forward and build all those secondary and pecuniary redemptions upon, and the passages in the books upon which the idea or theory of redemption is built have been fabricated and manufactured for that purpose" - "moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent would offer itself" - "the doctrine of atonement is fabulous, man stands in the same relative condition with his Maker, he ever did since man existed, and it is his greatest consolation to think so" = "the doctrine is an outrage offered to the moral justice of God, by supposing him to make the innocent suffer for the guilty." - "It is only by the exercise of reason that man can discover God." And the doctrines of the fall of Adam - the Divinity of Christ, and his great sacrifice, he declares are all irreconcilable to the divine gift of reason that God has given to man.
Religion he says, cannot have connexion with mystery - it is free from every thing of mystery and unencumbered with any thing mysterious - mystery, is the appendage of fabulous not true religion."
Of our believing facts adduced upon the authority of revelation, he says, "When it is revealed to me I will believe it to be revelation, but it is not and cannot be incumbent upon me to believe it a revelation before," &c.
Of the inspired account of the creation, he says, "It has all the appearance of being a tradition which the Israelites had among them before they came out of Egypt," &c.
To conclude the parallel, speaking of the first part of his work, Paine says, "The opinions I have advanced in that work, are the effect of the most clear and long established conviction, that the Bible and Testament are impositions upon the world - that the fall of man - the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God - and of his dying to appease the wrath of God - and of salvation by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonourable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; and that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and now mean, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues," &c. - That man must be destitute of common perception who does not at the first glance see the coincidence of these sentiments with those of E.H., and it is by no means difficult to tell where the latter may have borrowed them without the pains or trouble of invention.
Paine, however, was a more consistent unbeliever - conscious of the entire incongruousness of his opinions with the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, he did not attempt to screen himself under their sanction, by wresting the plain sense and meaning of some parts to make out a warrant for his sentiments, and wholly denying others which directly contradicted him, but he commenced his career by boldly declaring that the Bible was a tissue of falsehood and deceit - he had too much honesty to make a profession of believing them when he knew that his principles would give such profession the lie.
Bishop Watson has replied to the objections of Paine with much learning and acuteness, and with great effect - his work is well worthy of a serious perusal; but the most conclusive answer to Paine's infidelity, as well as to that of all the writers whose names we have mentioned, is a contemplation of their dying hours - He who has seen the impenitent and hardened sinner trembling with agony of body and horror of mind - destitute of hope - tormented with the very pains of hell begun while on earth - and going out of time into eternity blaspheming and contemning his God and Saviour, may form a correct idea of the state of mind which these principles have produced in most of their professors - and let those who are tampering with unbelief take warning by the awful accompaniment of their death bed scenes, a faithful account of which they may read in "Simpson's Plea for Religion," and in "Pike's Consolations of Gospel Truth."
It has been the favourite axiom and first principle of all unbelievers and free thinkers, that there are no mysteries in religion, and that no man is bound to believe what he cannot comprehend - this is, in fact, the very basis upon which infidelity in every age has been erected.
We could adduce large quotations from authors of the same school with Paine, shewing in the most conclusive manner that the dogmas of Elias Hicks, so far from being further revelations of Christian doctrines, are merely the stale objections to the religion of the Bible, which have been so frequently routed and driven from the field, to the utter shame and confusion of their promulgators.