Page images
PDF
EPUB

cite that dissatisfaction, which is become so obvious, and which is so rapidly spreading *.

For the origin of some of these unscriptural views, we must go further back than the rise of our little Society in the seventeenth century, or than the Protestant Reformation. We must go back to the age of the Apostolical Fatherst, when the attempt to graft the simple and sublime truths of the Gospel on the refined Platonic philosophy of the Greek school, began to introduce into the church of Christ a multitude of errors, which disfigured its doctrines and debased its practice. Thus originated the grievous heresies of the Greek and Romish Churches, and also that mysticism, which, seeking to be wise above that which is written, has, in different ages and sections of the church, carried away men professing a high grade of spirituality, and has led them to adopt a system of ethics, the tendency of which is to give the authority of Revelation to their own feelings and impressions.

Deeply impressed as I am with the injury which the spirit of party has in all ages inflicted on the Christian church, I should not venture to enter the fearful field of controversy, but from a sincere desire to promote by free discussion a better understand.

* In referring to the mental movement on the all-important subject of religion which has been excited among us, the fact cannot be too generally known, that the publication of the “ Beacon” afforded merely a plausible and tangible ground of objection. That objection, though to a certain extent smothered, previously existed, and it was pointed against social meetings for the study of Holy Scripture.

+ By Apostolical Fathers, we mean those who were contemporaries with the Apostles; and of these there are only four, of whose writings any thing remains to usnamely, Clement, Barnabas, Ignatius, and Polycarp.

ing of those points whereon the Society is divided, and to endeavour to ascertain how far certain doctrines and opinions, generally supposed to have been from the first held by its members, are in accordance with the written word of God.

We shall, perhaps, be told, that these doctrines and opinions are not now held by the Society,-at least, that they are not held by the body, in the manner and to the extent in which they are exhibited in the works of some of our early Friends, and in those of a succession of writers down to the present time. But, while our authorized ministers preach, while our elders uphold, and our writers defend these doctrines, it is due to the body, as well as to our common Christianity, to ascertain whether they will bear the infallible test of Holy Scripturethat authority by which alone doctrine or ministry ought to be tried. In taking my stand here, I have the high satisfaction of adopting that course which has, of late years, been strongly enforced in the “ Epistles" of the Society, and which has this year, in the face of an existing doctrinal controversy, been again brought forward in the strongest manner*; by

*“ They " (our forefathers)“professed to be instructed in no new truths; they had nothing to add to the faith once delivered to the saints; they cordially acknowledged the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures ; they were deeply versed in the contents of the Sacred Volume; and they openly confessed that whatsoever doctrine or practice is contrary to its declarations must be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the devil.”

Having thus noticed the Yearly Meeting's Epistle, it is necessary. (to prevent the appearance of general approbation, which might otherwise be conveyed) to express regret that the Society should be committed to the following sentiment-namely, “We still retain the same unalterable principles, and desire to be enabled, under every variety of circumstance, steadily to uphold

which the body has pledged itself most solemnly, both to its individual members and to the world at large, to bring every doctrine and practice to the test of Scripture, and to esteem whatsoever is contrary to its declarations “ a delusion of the devil."

Sustained in this unequivocal manner by an authorized published document of the Society, I shall enter upon my task under the cheering conviction, that, if its members are true to themselves, they will be prepared to go along with me, candidly and fearlessly, into a rigid examination of the questions at issue, and thus endeavour to ascertain how far certain views of doctrine are, or are not, accordant with the written word.

As my present object is not to defend the “Beacon,” or to shew the good service which has, in my opinion, been rendered by its author to our Society, I shall confine myself to making, in this place, a very few remarks connected with it, before I enter upon the more immediate purpose which I have in view.

The title of that able work sufficiently explains its object; and when we consider that the desolating heresy, which it so clearly exposes, appears to have originated in unsound interpretations of Scripture

them.” This is a very sweeping and unguarded statement. “ The same unalterable principles,” if applied to Christianity, is of course perfectly just; but when, from the context, we are led to refer the expression to the principles of our Society, it is incorrect and unsound. To speak of those principles as “ unalterable” is a direct assumption of infallibility; and when we consider that the parties who will approve and defend this position, will refer us to Barclay and Penn as their expositors, we are compelled to disclaim such a sentiment, knowing, that, on some of the points strongly enforced by those writers, they are not supported by Scripture authority.

adopted by some of our earlier writers, who in this country also are considered as authorities, it becomes an obvious duty, with such awful experience before us, to bring these writings to the infallible test of Holy Writ. Granting, for the sake of argument only, that such errors do not in any degree obtain here, still we must be in danger, so long as the source, from which they are supposed to have sprung, is even tacitly approved or sanctioned.

But should there be reason to fear that we are not in this country wholly free from their influence, it is worthy of our serious consideration, that the incipient stage of a disease is only less alarming than its more advanced period because the danger is less apparent, and more distant; and, if not checked by a judicious remedy, it will run on to its crisis, with a stealthy pace or with rapid strides, according to the circumstances under which it is operating. Now, if there be no trace of disease among us in this country,-if the body be in a healthy and vigorous condition,why this outcry against the friendly voice that counsels us to be on our guard against its first approaches? Why are the most uncandid imputations cast upon the excellent author of the Beacon? Why is it to be insinuated that to bring heresy and blasphemy to the condemning light of Revelation, is no less than a “ covert” attack upon our principles ; and that to exhibit the deplorable results in America, is to scatter the seeds of disunion here?

There were, however, many who did apprehend that such a warning voice was needed; and subse. quent circumstances have established the correctness of that apprehension. The number is also increasing

of those who acknowledge that their doubts upon the subject arose from ignorance of the real state of things among us; and they now see that such a recurrence to first principles—namely, the great principles of the Christian faith as once delivered to the saints, was loudly called for; while there is yet a third class of persons, with whom the mere raising of the question has excited a kind and degree of opposition, contrasting strikingly with the Christian spirit in which it has been met.

Under these circumstances, no one will be pre. pared to deny, that widely differing opinions on essential points of doctrine, do prevail among us; nor, is it easy to see how the Society is to avoid increasing disunion, unless it repudiates certain unscriptural doctrines, held by Barclay, Penn, and others, which will be adverted to in a subsequent part of this work. I come to this point in the outset, feeling that such a course is indispensable ; for, so long as they remain the accredited expositors of our faith, however their errors may now be disavowed by a large portion of the Society, we are not only justly liable to the imputation of unsoundness from without, but to the baneful influence of disunion within our pale, and may continually be cast back (as we now are by Dr. Hancock, and other writers of similar sentiments)

authority,” and taunted with a departure from our faith, if we question the validity of their claim to it.

It amounts to a mere subterfuge to say that these are not now the views of our Society, while Penn's Works, and Barclay's Apology, continue to be circulated from our depositories. Have they not been

upon their so

« PreviousContinue »