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THE QUAKERS' YEARLY MEETING.
[From the Christian Advocate.]
The interest excited in the religious world by the theological controversy in the Society of Friends, induced us to take measures for procuring some information relative to the proceedings in their annual Conference, or Assembly, which has been sitting in this city during the last ten days. The facility of access surprised us; and we are consequently enabled to gratify our readers with the following interesting particulars :
This Conference, or, as it is termed by the Friends themselves, this "Annual Meeting," is held in a large chapel in Bishopsgate-street, fitted up for the express purpose, and well adapted for containing a popular assembly of about a thousand. We were much struck with the grave and demure appearance of those present, whom we found to be from every part of Great Britain, and to be composed of four classes of persons, namely, the ministers and elders of the Church who have a right, ex officio, to be present; of from four to six representatives sent up and appointed by each of their meetings in the counties, and from meetings held in Ireland and Scotland; these, unitedly, constitute the legal Conference," or official assembly; but every member of the Society appears to have a right to be present, and to express his opinions, if so disposed. The proceedings were conducted with an order and a decorum which might most advantageously be imitated in many other assemblies which shall be nameless. A clerk presides as chairman and moderator, supported by an assistant on either side. officers, it appears, are annually appointed by the representatives present. On this occasion Mr. Samuel Tuke, of York, was clerk, assisted by Mr. George Stacey, of London, and another gentleman, unknown to us. They sat at a table elevated so as to command every part of the assembly.
Amongst those present we observed many of the most influential commercial men in the city, and several gentlemen whom we have been accustomed to see on the platform at the public meetings of philanthropic societies. Amongst those who took a prominent part in the business of the meeting we noticed Mr. Joseph John Gurney, of Norwich, the author of several evangelical works on what are called the "peculiarities," or what may be called the singularities, of the Society, as well as on the principles of our common Christianity; his brother, Mr. Samuel Gurney, the rich banker; Mr. William Allen, the celebrated lecturer on chemistry; and Mr. Josiah Forster, the able advocate of general education. Several gentlemen also, whom we understood to be from the country, appeared to take a very active part in every discussion.We attended for the first time on Wednesday morning, the 20th May. For some time a stillness so intense as almost to be felt prevailed throughout the assembly, which probably exceeded a thousand in number. At length two gentlemen briefly addressed the meeting in a sort of short sermons, but
without a text, which were followed by a prayer by Mr. Joseph John Gurney, for the blessing of God on the meeting and on its proceedings. The clerk then announced the opening of the business, and read a short epistle from the Friends in America, stating that an American gentleman then present, named Warren, was a minister among them, esteemed and beloved. Soon after this three females came in, and were conducted to one of the highest seats. One of them, after a general silence of some minutes, prayed, and then stood up and preached a sermon of fifteen or twenty minutes' length, in which attention and obedience to what she called the "light within,” formed the most prominent topic.
A letter or epistle from the Friends in Ireland was then read, stating the evils which had arisen in that country from the intemperate use of ardent spirits, and regretting the existence of political animosity and party spirit, and advising their members not to take any part in these things. This was followed by similar documents from the Friends in several places in the United States, amongst which we caught the names of Philadelphia, New York, New England, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana. These alluded to various subjects, interesting both to the public and to themselves. Some of them spoke of the Hicksite or Unitarian heresy, which has so awfully devastated the Society of Quakers in America, as arising from a spirit of innovation, not upon the principles of the Gospel of Christ as a Saviour, but upon the ancient peculiar views of the denomination. Most of these epistles mentioned the establishment of public schools for the education of the junior members, and alluded to the present state of the native Indian tribes, several of them being under the missionary care of the Society of Friends in America. A new settlement of 900 of the Sawnee tribe, was stated to be under the care of the Friends in Indiana, by whom religious knowledge is imparted to them, combining education and social instruction. The native Indian tribes appear to have enjoyed the warm sympathy and the effective protection of the Society of Friends in this country as well as in America, the former having remitted many thousands of pounds for the promotion of their colonization and Christian instruction. Three bills were stated to be now before the American legislature on Indian affairs, by one of which a tract of land in the western country, containing 132,000,000 of acres, had been granted as an Indian settlement; to which, however, the removal of the Indians from their previously partially improved locations was compulsory. Some severe remarks were made on the want of good faith shown by the American government towards the Indians; and one gentleman truly represented it as derogatory to their characters as men, as legislators, and as Christians. It was agreed that the care of the Friends over the Indian tribes should be continued, and their Christian, moral, and social instruction and improvement strenuously promoted.
The abolition of slavery by the British government was spoken of in terms of high commendation; and some account given of the exertions made by the American Friends to accelerate the same result in the United States. The epistle from Maryland spoke of the inalienable rights of the African race, That from North Carolina alluded to the
Colonization Society, and the sending out of their coloured people to Liberia, in terms of approval, because they considered that there was every prospect of the local legislature adhering permanently to slavery -a sentiment which greatly astonished us as coming from such a quarter. It also appeared from these epistles, that the American Friends have long since liberated every one of their own slaves, and that they are constantly extending their protection to free people of colour, preventing their return to a state of slavery, and endeavouring to induce the local governments of individual states to abolish slavery. It was stated, that in North Carolina alone the Quakers had 700 liberated slaves under their care, in defence of whose freedom they had expended 27,000 dollars, and whom they found it necessary either to pass into the free states, or to ship to Liberia. The Quakers, in the other slave states, were represented as similarly occupied and circumstanced. It deserves to be known that the English Quakers have remitted large sums of money to their American brethren, in aid of their benevolent exertions.
The afternoon sitting, with several subsequent ones, was occupied almost exclusively in reading answers of various county or quarterly meetings, to certain queries calculated to elucidate the state of the society, with accounts, called" Testimonies," of the ministers who died during the last year. These contained brief memoirs of the individuals, including their religious experience and ministry; but, with one exception, relating to a deceased female minister named Bryd, they spoke almost exclusively of good works, as the foundation of hopes of reward, and made only very slight, if any, references to the great doctrine of justification by faith. These documents were altogether of a less interesting and evangelical character than we expected to find them.
The general state of the Society, as exhibited in the replies to the queries, was subsequently discussed at some length, and it was instructive to notice the different impressions which they produced on different minds. It was generally admitted that but little, if any, "growth in the truth," was experienced in the Society. Some accounted for this on the ground that the younger members did not submit to the internal influence of the Spirit, called by them "the Light;" while many declared it to be their opinion that it arose from the Gospel not being so fully and clearly preached by their ministers, too many of whom wrapped up the truth in mysticism and error.
The discussion on what may be called the Scripture controversy was brought on by a report from the ministers and elders in Lancashire, stating that the publication by Mr. Isaac Crewdson of a book called the " Beacon," had produced a breach of love and unity amongst them, and that the quarterly meeting in Lancashire had taken up the subject by appointing a committee to inquire into the cause of the disunion, and endeavour to apply a remedy, or, in other words, to bring Mr. Crewdson and his work under rebuke, if not disavowed. Mr. Forster, of Tottenham, opened the discussion by alluding to the value of concord and love in a religious society, and to the fact that this had been interrupted by the publication of the " Beacon," which had introduced a spirit of controversy into the Society calculated to prove injurious to the young people, and to draw away their minds from the internal influences of the Spirit to external testimonies; and he concluded by
proposing that the yearly meeting should extend some care and assistance to the Friends in Lancashire (where Mr. Crewdson resides).— Mr. Forster was replied to by Mr. Luke Howard, who thought this was unnecessary, as the Lancashire Friends had not applied for any such assistance, and probably felt quite able to manage their own affairs without any external help. The discussion was renewed at a subsequent sitting by Mr. Joseph John Gurney, who began by expressing his implicit reliance on the atoning blood of Jesus, and his approval of the sentiments contained in the " Beacon" on that subject, though he believed that it was incorrect and defective on the subject of the universality of the light of Christ, which he (Mr. Gurney) considered as one of the fundamental principles of Quakerism.-Here Mr. Gurney was warmly interrupted on the point of order by Mr. Allen, Mr. Forster, and several other Friends, who evinced much anxiety to prevent any doctrinal points from being discussed; and the clerk at last informed Mr. Gurney that he must strictly confine himself to the question-viz., whether the yearly meeting should extend any assistance to the Lancashire quarterly meeting.—Mr. Gurney proceeded at some length again to explain the ground on which he disapproved of the "Beacon," as unsound and deficient on the doctrine of the universality of the light and the perceptible influences of the spirit; and stated that he still more highly disapproved of Dr. Hancock's reply, not only because it professed to contain the principles of Quakerism, but because it was deficient on the great doctrine of justification by faith.-Mr. Crewdson briefly and meekly stated that he should have been glad to have been spared the pain of speaking in the meeting about himself or his book; but he thought Friends should expressly state those parts of the book which they objected to, their grounds of objection, and should show their inconsistency with Scripture. He also said that the work was intended as a reply to errors entertained by the Hicksites, and not as a full development of his own principles or those of the Society; and that those were in error who supposed him not to believe most fully in the scriptural doctrine of the perceptible influences of the Spirit.
Mr. W. Allen rose again to order, and said the subject of the "Beawas not regularly before the meeting, and therefore it should not be made a subject of remark; and several other friends seemed anxious to stop all further discussion.-Peter Bedford advised the meeting to do so by settling down into solemn silence; but the subject was too important and too interesting to be thus got rid of. Some Friends here stated that the monthly meeting of Manchester, where Mr. Crewdson resides, had taken no measures against him or his book; and that, therefore, the quarterly meeting of Lancashire had acted with great irregularity in stepping over the monthly meeting, and interfering in a business which belonged to the latter and not to the former; from which it appeared that a majority of Quakers in the town of Manchester were favourable to Mr. Crewdson and to the sentiments contained in his book, but that in the county of Lancaster, a majority was opposed to both the one and the other.-Mr. Gurney resumed his observations, and mentioned that it was surely not irregular to endeavour to get rid of so injurious a subject of contention, once and for ever; that he acted
under the advice of a judicious elder; and that he felt it to be a sacred duty to take the course he was pursuing. He again stated that he objected to the " Beacon," because his dear friend, Mr. Crewdson, in defending his own sentiments, had attacked certain great views of the Society on the doctrine of "the universality of the light within" on all mankind, and which he (Mr. Gurney) considered to be the doctrine of Scripture as well as of Quakerism. He (Mr. Gurney) still disapproved of Dr. Hancock's answer to the " Beacon," because it professed to exhibit the principles of the Society of Friends, and had committed that Society in the controversy. As a Quaker he (Mr. Gurney) thought the answer to be deficient on the great doctrine of the atonement, and he objected most strongly to its references to Barclay rather than to the Holy Scriptures in proof of its statements.-Mr. Gurney was again repeatedly interrupted in the course of his address, by members who seemed anxious to prevent a discussion on the general merits of the controversy. He concluded by stating that he felt it right, in equity and justice, to raise a point of discipline in favour of his dear friend (Mr. Crewdson); and, in the spirit of Christian charity, he proposed that instructions should be sent to the quarterly meeting of Lancashire, to discharge the committee they had appointed, and to suspend all further proceedings against Mr. Crewdson and his book, because if these proceedings were allowed to go on rankling in the Society, incalculable mischief might ensue; and, therefore, a regard for the cause of harmony alone, should induce the meeting, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, to stop all further proceedings.
Mr. Luke Howard observed that he thought the proceedings of the Lancashire meeting were encroachments upon the Christian liberty of its members, and were calculated to deprive them of the right of free discussion; that the more time was allowed for this, the more satisfactory it would prove. He did not think it in the power of any meeting to put an extinguisher either upon the " Beacon" or upon any other publication. Mr. Josiah Forster thought the Lancashire quarterly meeting needed some assistance. The author of the "Beacon was not only a member, but also a minister of the Society, and the author of the "Defence" belonged to one of the largest monthly meetings in the kingdom. Both their works were extensively circulated, and had given rise to a controversy highly important and interesting to the Society of Friends. But those who were acquainted with the past ecclesiastical history of the Society, were not prepared to allow the continuance of a controversy which had a tendency to awaken angry passions, especially in a society hitherto remarkable for harmony. It was, therefore, the duty of the yearly meeting to impart such judicious help to the Lancashire Friends as would tend, not to widen but to heal the breach in unity and love there existing; and, therefore, he proposed an amendment to Mr. Gurney's proposition-viz., that the yearly meeting should appoint a committee to assist the Lancashire quarterly meeting in discussing and disposing of the question. This proposal gave rise to a very animated, yet, as compared with other assemblies, temperate debate, which, after some time, was adjourned.
(To be concluded in our next.)