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Such views, whether true or false, plainly were not those of the early Reformers, nor of the primitive Christians, any more than of the great body of the evangelical church in this age. Nor were they in harmony with the genius of Protestantism, since that is a supreme reliance on the Word of God, in his written testimony, as the highest and only infallible guide, both in faith and practice.
It is equally obvious that Fox and his disciples claimed to possess greater spirituality than any other of the existing sects of their day; and so to be peculiarly the spiritual church of Christ upon earth. The fundamental idea of their system is, that they are brought directly under a divine influence and government, to be witnesses against the world. Says Maurice :
“ They were therefore to keep themselves entirely from the habits of the world, from its varying fashions, from its ainusements, and even, in some cases, from its phraseology; and all who are not walking in the divine light are of the world. But as no parents, however religious, can always expect their children to be animated by their spirit, the evil arose of people who were not of the light, being separated from the surrounding world by external peculiarities, while their hearts inclined them to mingle in vanities which their religious parents detested, and thus exposed the Society constantly to violate the very distinctions for which its presence was meant to be the abiding testimony."
There were also some peculiarities which gave the Society the appearance of exclusiveness, for it was separate from the world not only in manners, habits, dress and intercourse, but even intermarriage with other sects was prohibited, not merely for those who were truly religious, but for those who were worldly-minded, thus perpetuating a form when the spirit had departed. And, for some time after Fox had declared his message, education was spurned if it was offered from those without their ranks. Sooner than accept religious instruction from ministers out of their own body, the Society would deprive their members of any religious instruction at all. And as Fox did not place a very high value on any other than common education, instruction in the classics and the higher departments of science was generally neglected. As he did not believe in a learned clergy, or in lawyers, or classical literature, or the fine arts, education was chiefly confined to the more practical and
ordinary pursuits of life. We believe no class of men have ever been more generally instructed in the common branches of useful knowledge than the Society of Friends, and no body of wealthy and substantial people, at the same time, can boast of so small a proportion of eminent masters in elegant and classic literature. Their common schools were excellent, but colleges until lately have been rare, and have not been deemed desirable, as estranging the mind from high spiritual interests.
Another apparent inconsistency has appeared in reference to the support of free and liberal governments. It can not be denied that the Friends have ever been among the best supporters of law and order. They have ever practically believed in the majesty of law as opposed to a wild, agrarian democratic license. They have rendered tribute to whom tribute is due, honoring magistrates as servants of a higher power, and never entering into schemes of revolutionary excess. George Fox was opposed to those very agencies by which law and order are secured and guaranteed, even to the sword of the magistrate, to armies, and physical force, and still more to those influences which kindle and support patriotic ardor and enthusiasm among rude people, such as warlike poetry, martial music, and honor to successful generals. Is it too much to say that Fox and his followers, while they have gloried in spiritual liberty, have overlooked the benefits conferred by former heroes upon the cause of freedom, have not been sufficiently grateful for their struggles, toils and martyrdom, without which a gloomy inspiration and an iron despotism would have been perpetuated? Who, more than the followers of Fox, glory in the breaking up of feudal bondage, in the revolt from Rome, in those great social privileges which were bestowed by the mighty agitations of the 16th century? But who delivered Europe from the fetters of proud and oppressive nobles? Who broke forever the despotism of absolute kings? Who disenthralled the mind from the delusion of Rome? Who advanced the great cause of civilization more than those men who yielded up their lives on the bloody battle-fields which were the natural consequence of the agitation of great ideas ? Shall we honor Luther and Calvin, and yet derogate from the fame of those who practically prevented their principles from being trodden in the dust, or shut up in dungeons and inquisitorial chambers ?
We owe debts of gratitude to past generations who struggled for us, which we can never pay. We should not glory in their bequests, if we are not prepared to honor those struggles by which they were obtained. The past is full of impressive morals to us. It is full of rebukes of our sloth, or thoughtlessness, or selfishness. Nor is it for us to say that the great blessings which heroic strife has bequeathed to us would have been conferred in some other way. This we do not know. We must receive our most valued privileges at the hands of those whom God has sent to us. And if we would continue to enjoy such boons as liberty and general education and material benefit and popular rights, we should be careful not to condemn the only means by which such blessings, in the course of divine Providence, thus far have been conferred ; nor should we weaken those influences by which the great mass of the people, in all ages and countries, in their weakness and degeneracy, have been most powerfully affected and stimulated to heroic struggles. What would have been the present condition of Protestant countries had not men defended their rights by the sword ? Where would have been the progress of which we boast had all classes in former times, folded their arms, and submitted to injustice and ignominy? Let us repudiate the privileges for which former generations bled, or honor those by whose sacrifice they were bought.
Again Fox instituted his Society to be the witness of what is spiritual and universal against what is earthly and national. This itself was meant to be a peace society, and a Bible society, and an anti-slavery society. The idea of unity with the world for the sake of promoting spiritual objects was never contemplated by Fox or Penn or Barcklay. Hence the Society, when consistent with its genius, was opposed to worldly organizations to do good, and hence to those enterprises which we, in this age, call philanthropic. But here is a contradiction, apparently, between theory and practice, for, we rejoice to say that the good sense and benevolent sympathies of the Friends have prevented their isolation from those who would bear the great burdens of society. No class of men have shown greater readiness of sympathies, or more generous desires to ameliorate the evils of life. They are emphatically the philanthropists of the age.
They were the first to advocate the suppression of the slave trade. They have ever given their assistance to the abolition of all grievous evils. They have been the pioneers and panegyrists of progress, and popular freedom. They have been believers in the power of truth, and the majesty of ideas in the world's conversion, even as propagated by ordinary societies.
But we do not wish to dwell on any inconsistency between the principles and practice of the Friends, especially when we think that this very inconsistency is the purest type of intellectual improvement, and of a departure from that exclusiveness which attracted notice in the reign of Charles II. Still less would we dwell on any degeneracy of which they have been accused — of devotion to thrift, and physical comfort, and money making, which we can not believe ever entered into the mind of Fox, and which show as completely the worldly spirit, as the adoption of worldly institutions. For if spirituality is to consist in not being baptized, and not keeping an outward fast, and not offering up outward prayer, and not rendering titles of outward respect, and not having an outwardly ordained ministry, when the mind is absorbed in visions of California mines, and improvements in cotton spindles, and refinements in articles of domestic comfort ; then, they certainly do not resemble the man who wandered about the villages of Yorkshire exhorting the people to repentance, with all the fervor of the ascetic Baptist when he preached in the wilderness of Judea. But inconsistency is the fate of all bodies of men. Degeneracy is the misfortune of all human institutions. In spite of inconsistency and degeneracy, yea, notwithstanding the errors and mistakes into which the Friends have fallen, or at least the departure from some of the noblest principles of Protestantism, as declared by the reformer of the 17th century, they have ever manifested some distinguishing virtues and have moreover declared some great truths, of which other bodies of Christians may be proud, and which have always secured the respect of mankind.
George Fox and his disciples have been ever distinguished for meekness and patience under injuries ; they have never retaliated the wrongs done to them, nor inflicted any other injury than denouncing evil wherever evil was to be found, with plain
ness and without regard to persons. They would rebuke ruler
of their own souls, never to violate their moral obligations in doing so, and yet to leave the protection of truth to the God of truth. Their virtues therefore were more negative than would suit the impulsive and self-forgetful. They relied on the power of a good example, rather than active labor to influence other minds, out of their Society, who were responsible to God and their own consciences rather than to them. It is something, however, to show forth the light of a good example amid general corruption and baseness. To keep unspotted from the world is one of the elements of religion as much as to visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction. Hence the Friends, by their peculiar virtues, will ever escape censure and call forth our respect, although they do not realize our ideal of life, or kindle popular enthusiasm. They appear as hind