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´╗┐Title: Observations on the Sermons of Elias Hicks
Author: Waln, Robert
Language: English
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                        SEVERAL LETTERS TO HIM;


                       SOME INTRODUCTORY REMARKS,

                            ADDRESSED TO THE

                             JUNIOR MEMBERS

                                 OF THE

                          SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.

                           BY A DEMI-QUAKER.

                              Robert Waln

  "To expect that we should be informed of the divine economy with the
  same distinctness as of our own duty, would be a piece of arrogance
                       above ordinary."--_Burgh._

              "Dim, as the borrowed beams of moon and stars
              To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
              Is reason to the soul: and as on high,
              Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
              Not light us here: so reason's glimmering ray
              Was lent, not _to assure_ our doubtful way,
              But guide us upward to a better day."--_Dryden._



The situation in which the Society of Friends has of late been placed,
has, I have no doubt, attracted the attention of all its members; and
that even those among you who have not been in the habit of attending
its meetings for discipline, are no strangers to their proceedings,
although you have not yet felt it your duty to take any part in them.
And to you more especially I submit the observations contained in the
following letters.

When in my early days I sometimes attended these meetings, my mind was
filled with admiration at the harmony and prudence with which their
affairs were conducted, and that genuine christian forbearance, one with
another, which enabled them to triumph over all the difficulties which
are imposed by conflicting opinions, and generally to unite in the
adoption of such measures as true wisdom dictated; and it was gratifying
to me to observe that it was, to other sects, a subject of wonder, how
any numerous association could conduct their business without the
intervention of votes or other substitutes, to ascertain the opinions of
the majority of the assembly.

The form is, I have no doubt, yet preserved, and the language of
forbearance and humility retained by many who in their hearts entertain
far different feelings; and the proceedings have in several instances
proved, that the spirit which formerly pervaded these assemblies, no
longer prevails in some of them.

Why this great change has taken place, will no doubt be ascribed to
different causes by the parties more immediately interested: an
impartial spectator may form conclusions different from many of them,
and may be permitted to ask, whether the leading causes may not have
been produced by some of that class, to whom the great majority of the
members of the society look for instruction.

The situation of a christian teacher is of awful responsibility, and in
the Society of Friends peculiarly beset with dangers, not only because
of the high claim on which their ministry is founded, and which seems to
require a degree of unremitting watchfulness with which it is difficult
for man to comply; but also, because it requires a constant attention to
keeping the mind in that state of lowliness and humility, which can
alone preserve them from mistaking the wanderings of the imagination for
a call of duty; and from those feelings which lead them to seek after
the applause of men. Hence it must necessarily follow, that but few
among them are always preserved in such a state of mind, as not to
require the caution and advice of their friends: and consequently, that
some portion of the society must be selected to watch over their
conduct; and as this is an office of the greatest importance to their
well being, the greatest care ought to be observed in the appointment.
The elders are the depositaries of this power, so essential to the very
existence of the society; and as the most prudent and cautious use of it
cannot always prevent the objects of their attention from feelings of
resentment, so it will naturally follow, that those to whom the exercise
of it is most necessary, will always be the most zealous in abridging

This impatience of control is increased by a ranting spirit which seems
of late to have infected a portion of the society, and which, in its
consequences, is always more injurious than infidelity itself; and
generally arises from a restlessness of disposition, which not content
with the measure of light which may have been imparted, is always
aspiring after greater things. It arises from a desire after
distinction; and as this disposition must prevent a growth in genuine
religion, the delusions of self-love easily enable a man to substitute
his own imaginations for revelations; and as every passion is
strengthened by indulgence, he proceeds from one step to another, until
he fancies himself under the constant and peculiar guidance of the
spirit, not only in his religious duties, but in all the temporal
concerns of life. It naturally follows, that when he has persuaded
himself that he is thus gifted and endowed, he will feel himself above
the advice of men, and regard all regulations which may have a tendency
to restrain his wanderings, as obstructing him in his duties, and it
will be one of his favourite objects to relieve himself from all
control. How individuals actuated by such passions can subject the minds
of others to their illusions, would indeed be wonderful, did not history
furnish sufficient proof that it is difficult to calculate too largely
on the credulity of a portion of mankind.

Whenever this disposition of mind is discovered, especially in any part
of the ministry, every reflecting member of society must perceive the
necessity of adopting means to prevent the injurious consequences of it;
and as that duty more especially devolves on the elders, (who are, and
always have been, the true and efficient support of the society,) they
soon become objects of dislike to the sublimated spirits opposed to
them, and the diminution of their power and authority, the first and
favourite scheme.

That they will not succeed, I am fully persuaded; because I think it
must be evident to every unclouded mind, that without such salutary
interference as they often find it necessary to exercise, all order and
propriety would be banished from the society.

Cunning is not more inconsistent with fanaticism, than it is with
lunacy; for however perverted the mind may be in relation to particular
subjects, we often see individuals in both situations, adopting the most
plausible means for the accomplishment of the most irrational objects.
It is not therefore to be expected that any attempts will be made
totally to abolish the eldership: such a proposal would hardly be
successful; but if means are found to render that body less independent,
and to diminish the weight and authority which they have long and
deservedly possessed, it may subserve the cause, and lead to ultimate
success in their projects: and here, if any where, the danger seems to

Footnote 1:

  Since writing the above, I have been informed that this attempt has
  actually been made in the yearly meetings in Philadelphia and New
  York, under the pretext of a necessity of subjecting all important
  appointments to change at stated periods. No measure could be devised
  more injurious to the society, and every friend to its welfare must
  rejoice that it was rejected. I know there are many very pious
  labourers in the ministry of this people, yet I think it must be
  evident to every observing mind, that there never was a period since
  the existence of the society, in which there was greater necessity of
  unremitting watchfulness on the part of the elders; and that so far
  from its being expedient to diminish their control, it ought, if
  possible, to be rendered more efficient. There is a spirit now abroad,
  which if not checked, will devastate this society. Who would be the
  principal agents is not for me to say; but one thing is certain, that
  if there is any disposition on the part of its ministers to relieve
  themselves from this control, it is sufficient evidence of the
  necessity of it. Such a disposition must proceed from a mind not
  imbued with true christian humility, but presumptuously confident in
  itself. It is spiritual pride, than which nothing is more injurious
  and odious in a christian professor.

It is with this disposition that such extraordinary solicitude has been
manifested, to induce the youth of the society and others of its
members, who had before silently attended to its proceedings, to take
part in its deliberations, and to flatter them into a belief that they
are qualified to administer to its affairs and direct its proceedings;
instead of recommending an endeavour to discipline the mind to the
weighty business of the society, and cautioning them against indulging a
spirit of judging without a serious and solemn consideration of the
subject; and against interrupting the business by their councils, unless
it is under a solemn impression of duty.

The effect has been such as might be expected, and was probably
intended. Individuals who had before taken no part in the deliberations
of the society, and who, (however respectable in life,) had never
evinced that disposition of mind which had before been thought a
necessary qualification of an active member, are now among the most
busy; and some of the younger portion of the society forgetting that
modesty is the most becoming ornament of youth, are found opposing their
unripe notions with unhesitating pertinacity, to the wisdom and
experience of age.

Under these circumstances is it not proper for you to consider whether
you have not a part to act? When you look back to the history of your
society and consider its admirable organization; and when you reflect on
the respectable standing, to which the unostentatious propriety by which
all its transactions have been governed, has raised it; you must be
impressed with an honest zeal for its welfare; and that reverence which
every ingenuous mind feels for the institutions and practices of their
ancestors, strengthened as it is in this case by the best of all tests,
a long experience, must induce you to oppose the innovations of the
restless agitators of the present day: and your good sense will, I
trust, enable you to distinguish between true religion and fanaticism,
and not permit you to lose your reverence for the one, in contemplating
the wild deformity of the other.

And perhaps you may be induced to believe that your attendance at the
meetings for discipline, may not be without its use; that your presence
may give additional strength and encouragement to the long tried
standard bearers, and though you may not feel yourselves called upon to
take a very active part in their deliberations, your example may be of
use to some of those froward spirits, who, whatever may be their
exterior appearance, are less qualified for the important business than
many of yourselves.

I know there are individuals in every stage of life, who judge of
preaching as others do of music, by the concord of sweet sounds; and who
are convinced more by the harmony of a well turned sentence, than by the
sentiment it is intended to convey; whose religion is founded on
sensation rather than reflection, and is an affair of feeling instead of
a deliberate sense of duty. To these I have nothing to say. My endeavour
has been to show the inconsistencies into which men are led, by
unfounded pretensions to a state of perfectability,[2] and an
acquaintance with the inscrutable workings of Providence, (which all
experience proves to be unattainable by man;) to show that such lofty
aspirations are not in accordance with the genuine principles of the
religion of Jesus Christ; and that it is by a submissive acquiescence in
the measure of knowledge communicated, and an anxious endeavour to
fulfil the obligations it imposes, rather than by curious researches
into hidden things, that we best perform our duties here; and as no
intelligent mind among you can believe that the suggestions of infinite
wisdom are ever contradictory, it was part of my plan to show the
inconsistencies in the doctrines of the great leader of the illuminati
of your society.

Footnote 2:

  Perfection, in the sense in which it is understood by some people,
  frequently leads to great extravagance on religious subjects, by
  inducing men to believe that they have eradicated from their hearts
  every propensity to evil, and have arrived at a state of stainless
  purity. There is a great difference between the perfection of the
  Creator and man. The perfection of man consists in his possessing all
  that is requisite to attain the end of his creation; and the proper
  question for him to consider, is not whether he has arrived at that
  perfection which is the promised reward in another state of being, but
  whether he has by careful diligence and attention secured for himself
  that reward.

If I have succeeded in this, and to your deliberate examination I submit
it, my task is accomplished; for if we are permitted to judge of the
sermons as the arguments of a simple individual, sure I am, there are
none among you habituated to reflection, who will not discover that they
abound with inconsistencies, and are totally irreconcileable with
reason, and the authority of the Scriptures. And you must unite with me
in lamenting the strange illusion which induced the author of such
discourses to declare that "he dare not speak at random, otherwise he
should show that he departed from God's illuminating spirit."

                               LETTER I.

When I some time since addressed you, I expressed an anxious wish that
you would submit to the consideration of your friends, your scheme of
religion, in such a form as would enable them to examine it with
deliberation; because I did believe that on this momentous subject, too
much care could not be exercised. My wish has been gratified, not by
your immediate agency, but by the zeal of your followers, who have
caused a number of your discourses to be printed and published to the

When I sat down to read them, I did not expect to find a regularly
concocted system, because I did not believe you had a mind capable of
very extensive combination; but I did imagine you had given to your plan
some semblance of consistency, and that if there was no adhesion, there
would be no striking incongruity in its parts. In this I have been
disappointed; for in it, nothing can be discovered but disjointed
effusions, and attempts to give to different passages of Scripture novel
constructions; to amuse the fancy, and engage the mind in useless
enquiries after hidden things; to withdraw it from its proper business;
to entangle it in the web which the vanity and restlessness of man has
woven; and to substitute for that pure and simple worship which consists
in prostration of spirit before the throne of grace, a grateful
acknowledgment of his goodness, and humble thankfulness for the measure
of light received; lofty speculations on subjects more curious than
beneficial; which can have no tendency to mend the heart, and which
often lead into unprofitable controversies and perplexity of mind; for
it will ever remain a truth that "the judgments of the Lord are
unsearchable and his ways past finding out."

The christian religion is of so much importance, and has so long engaged
the attention of men; it has occasioned so much research and so many
controversies; so many sermons have been preached, and so many books
written, upon every part of it, that nothing new can be said upon the
subject: yet such is the nature of man, that he is always requiring some
novelty to rouse his attention and amuse his mind. This may perhaps
furnish some apology for the preacher of a sect whose form of worship
requires sermons at stated times, if he sometimes indulges in
metaphorical allusion, or contrives to expand his discourse by ingenious
digression. With the genuine quaker this plea must be unavailing:
impressed with the sublime idea that it is by silence and abstraction
from all outward things, that the mind is best fitted for true and
acceptable worship, it must follow, that when a minister imbued with
this spirit feels himself called upon to offer advice or instruction, he
will be careful "not to multiply words without knowledge, by which
counsel is darkened." But prolixity is the vice of oratory; it infects
the pulpit, the senate, and the bar. There is something so gratifying to
the pride and vanity of man in the display of this talent, or so
fascinating is the music of his own voice, that it is almost always
carried to excess; and we often see the orator pursuing his course with
undiminished vigour, long after his exhausted auditors have withdrawn
their attention from him.

You possess some of the qualities essential to the orator; you are
voluble of speech and impressive in your delivery, and you have that
confidence in the powers of your own mind, which secures you from
hesitation and embarrassment: but you are deficient in others, without
which all is unavailing; your perception is obscure, and your
ratiocination singularly defective; and you are peculiarly unfortunate
in the belief that you excel in that faculty in which you are most
deficient. Hence we find you plunging into the fathomless depths of
metaphysics with fearless confidence; stating propositions and assuming
inferences in direct opposition to them, and such is your fondness for
amplification, that even when the truth of your proposition is
self-evident, you contrive to involve it in obscurity by the redundancy
of your expletives, and the profusion of your attempts at illustration.
You contemn all human science, for you are ignorant; yet from the whole
body of ministers of that society of which you are still a member, you
cannot select an individual who makes such a lofty display of technical
terms, or more frequently endeavours to elucidate his observations by
reference to it. You believe in the doctrine of inspiration, and you
seem to claim the possession of it to a degree with which few are
favoured: you say it is an unerring director, and plainly to be
understood, and yet declare that all its dictates must be governed by
the fallible reason of man.

Having given to reason this unlimited dictatorship, it was natural to
expect that you would recommend the most assiduous cultivation of it;
but you have interdicted the only means by which it is improved, and
denounced by a curse those who are engaged in extending it.[3]

Footnote 3:

  See discourses delivered in Philadelphia, page 53. "Oh that men of
  science might be aware what a curse they are to the inhabitants of the
  earth; what a great curse." There is no novelty in this opinion, for
  we find a poet more than two hundred years ago making Jack Cade
  exclaim, "thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the
  realm, in erecting a grammar school: and whereas before, our
  forefathers had no other books but the score and tally, thou hast
  caused printing to be used; and contrary to the king, his crown and
  dignity, thou hast built a paper mill. It will be proved to thy face,
  that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb,
  and such abominable words as no christian can endure to hear."

All this confusion arises from your not having formed any precise idea
of the terms you apply. With the words _reason_ and _rational_
continually in your mouth, you have never enquired into the nature and
operation of that distinguishing faculty of man, nor of the manner in
which alone it can be properly applied to the truths of our religion.
You appear to consider it as of physical organization; an instinct of
our nature which is perfected without care or cultivation, and that like
one of our natural senses, it may be summoned to our aid without fear of
error in its perceptions. You cannot be ignorant of the great
inferiority of the reasoning powers of man in his savage state, and a
little enquiry would have taught you, that observation and experience
are the foundation of all knowledge, and that as we can only reason from
the ideas existing in our own minds, it is by their increase alone that
our reasoning faculty is extended. Hence it must follow, that as it is
the noblest gift of the Almighty to man; a germ which without
cultivation can never flourish, it is our duty to promote its growth and
expansion by every means in our power.

I am not insensible of the evils which have arisen from the presumption
with which some learned men have endeavoured to destroy that religion
which is the foundation of our hope; but we ought to recollect that such
is the perversity of man, that if the abuse of the blessings of
Providence can be adduced as an argument against their enjoyment, there
are few indeed in which we can innocently indulge. Nor is ignorance any
security against this presumption; on the contrary its decisions are
always more bold and dogmatic; and if they are less injurious, it is
only because they are more foolish.

That we could never have arrived at a knowledge of our spiritual duties,
or of many gospel truths by the deductions of human reason, is evident;
were it otherwise, the revelations under the christian dispensation
would have been unnecessary; but we are not to infer from this, that our
reason is to be silent on this all important object; for if it is the
subject of our cogitations, it is of course under the examination of our
reasoning powers, and hence arises the importance of endeavouring so to
improve this talent, as to enable us to unravel the subtilty of the
sophist, and separate the gold, from the dross of the enthusiast. Were
we all well instructed in the right use of our reason, we should be able
to distinguish between that which is above, and that which is contrary
to it; and we should confine it to its proper place, which is, _not to
judge of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation._ To attempt
to test the truth of the things revealed, by our reason, is inconsistent
with it: they are given to us in a supernatural way, which of itself,
discovers the impossibility of examining them by deductions from our own
ideas; but the reality of the revelations themselves, stands on very
different ground. Admirable as is the instruction to be drawn from them,
the Almighty in mercy to man, did not leave them on their intrinsic
merits alone; they were accompanied by signs and wonders, the evidence
of the divine power by which they were sent. The life of our blessed
Saviour, his doctrines, and the miracles which he wrought, have been
recorded in the Scriptures, and handed down for our instruction and
government; and as no man can be a christian who does not believe in
them, I am fully persuaded that every candid and diligent enquirer, will
find sufficient evidence of their authenticity to satisfy his mind; and
that being satisfied, his faith in the things revealed will be

Now although I agree with you, that the inspirations of man in our day,
are to be examined by the rule of right reason, I fear we shall not
concur in our manner of conducting the enquiry. We have no extraordinary
signs accompanying them, and we all know, how easy it is to mistake the
suggestions of the imagination for the operations of the spirit of truth
on the mind; and the strange visions which enthusiasm often produces,
and as it is sometimes difficult to discover the source from which they
spring, it is a satisfaction to know that we have a standard by which
error itself may be rendered innoxious.

"I am far (says Locke,) from denying that God can, or doth sometimes,
enlighten men's minds in the apprehending of certain truths, or excite
them to good actions, by the immediate influence and assistance of the
Holy Spirit, without any extraordinary signs accompanying it. But in
such cases we have reason and Scripture, unerring rules, to know whether
it be from God or no. Where the truth embraced is consonant to the
revelation in the written word of God, or the action conformable to the
dictates of right reason, or Holy Writ, we may be assured that we run no
risk in entertaining it as such; because, though it be not an immediate
revelation from God, extraordinarily operating on our minds, yet we are
sure it is warranted by that revelation which he has given us of truth.
But it is not the strength of our private persuasion within ourselves,
that can warrant it to be a light or motion from Heaven; nothing can do
that but the written word of God without us, or that standard of reason
which is common to us with all men. Where reason or Scripture is express
for any opinion or action, we may receive it as of divine authority; but
it is not the strength of our own persuasions which can by itself give
it that stamp. The bent of our own minds may favour it as much as we
please; that may show it a fondling of our own, but will by no means
prove it to be an offspring of Heaven, and of divine original."

Here is a great coincidence between the opinions of the christian
philosopher and the quaker apologist; and although they refer to right
reason as well as the Scriptures, as our guide, they meant not to use
them in contradistinction to each other. When we refer to either of two
rules to solve a proposition, it is because both will produce the same
result; and they introduced the word reason, as applicable only to those
opinions and actions, respecting which, the Scriptures are silent.

If, says the philosopher, the doctrine is consonant to reason or
Scripture, it may be received without risk, although it may not proceed
from an immediate revelation of God. Divine revelation, says the
apologist, can never contradict the outward testimony of the Scriptures
or right reason; and whatever any do, pretending to the spirit, which is
contrary to the Scriptures, must be accounted and reckoned a delusion of
the devil.

By this test no genuine quaker can object to being tried,[4] "for he
preaches no new gospel, but that which is confirmed by all the miracles
of Christ and his apostles; and he offers nothing but that which he is
able and ready to confirm by the authority of the Scriptures, which all
protestants acknowledge to be true." It is indeed the only criterion by
which we can judge of the faith of man, and by that criterion, how few
of your sermons would escape condemnation.

Footnote 4:


                               LETTER II.

It may now be proper to state the motives which have again induced me
publicly to address you, and to inform you what course it is my
intention to pursue; and as I have no standing in the church, and am
aloof from those scenes which must sometimes give rise to asperities,
even in the bosom of meekness, have no personal acquaintance with you,
and have been taught to respect your private character, I enter upon the
subject, uninfluenced by many of the passions and prejudices which sway
and control the opinions of man. But although not in membership, I feel
a deep interest in the Society of Friends, and while I am without that
sectarian spirit, which in the narrow breasts of some individuals,
confines all true worship to a particular description of people, (and
which I am happy in believing is no part of a quaker's faith;) long
observation has convinced me, that there is no society whose principles
and discipline are more eminently successful in inculcating the moral
doctrines of christianity, and there is none whose religious tenets are
more in conformity with my own ideas of true spiritual worship.

I have perused your religious discourses with some attention, and as
they appear to me to be in a style, seldom, if ever before, heard in the
meetings of the Society of Friends; are abounding in terms which if not
rightly understood may lead into great error, and with propositions,
which, in the conclusions that may be drawn from them, may be
destructive to religion, I thought I should not be unprofitably employed
in endeavouring to separate your principles from the mass of expletives
and allusions, in which they are enveloped; to discover the true object
which you have in view, and to show the inconsistencies in which you
have involved yourself by your attempts to define inscrutable things:
and if I should sometimes be thought to indulge in language unsuitable
to the solemnity of the subject, my only excuse can be, that when you
occasionally favour your auditors with a display of your reasoning
powers, there is such a neglect of all order in your arrangement, and
such metaphorical confusion in your ideas, that when you arrive at your
usual conclusion, "now how plain this is," the effect is so comic that
it would extort a smile from gravity itself.

In the examination of the doctrines of every christian teacher, the
first and most essential point, is their conformity to the Scriptures;
but as your many deviations from them have been shown with sufficient
clearness in a pamphlet lately published, I shall not enter into the
subject generally, although I may occasionally refer to them. Neither do
I propose to enter upon an analysis of each particular discourse, for
they are mixed up of so many heterogeneous materials, are so diversified
in their objects, and so devious in their courses, that the end I have
in view will perhaps be best answered, by referring only to such topics,
as in their consequences, are of most importance.

In the first discourse in the volume now before me, which was delivered
at Friends' meeting house in Mulberry street, your principal objects
appear to be, to depreciate the value of the Scriptures, and to disprove
the account of the miraculous birth of our Saviour. On the first subject
it may hereafter be proper to make some observations; to the latter I
shall now give my attention.

After several allusions to the birth of our Saviour, you come forward
and explicitly state your own belief; and unlike those who have preceded
you in this path, and who have endeavoured to destroy our faith in the
miracle, by arguments drawn from the Scriptures, you take a shorter
road, and declare _it is impossible_.

You say "By the analogy of reason, _spirit cannot beget a material
body,_ because the thing begotten, must be of the same nature with its
father. _Spirit cannot beget any thing but spirit, it cannot beget flesh
and blood._ No, my friends, it is impossible."[5]

Footnote 5:

  See discourse delivered at Friends' meeting house, in Mulberry street,
  page 11.

I have in a former letter referred to this assertion, and had you
confirmed the opinion which I then intimated, that it was a hasty
expression, and uttered without your perceiving its tendency, I should
not again allude to the subject. But you found yourself seated between
the horns of a dilemma. If you admitted it was an inconsiderate
expression, you abandoned your high claim to inspiration; and if you
re-affirmed it, in its obvious meaning, it would be an adoption of
principles which I sincerely hope you do not entertain; and you have
endeavoured to escape by an explanation which, although it narrows the
meaning, does not relieve it from the stain of impiety; and is a proof,
(if any further proof is wanting,) that such a course cannot proceed
from the inspirations of the spirit of truth.

You say, that in denying the power of the spirit to _beget_, you did not
mean to question the power to _create_. To limit is to destroy the
omnipotency of the Creator; and when we see such a creature as man,
presuming to scan His power and determine what He can, or cannot do, the
feelings which its profanity would otherwise occasion, are lost in our
astonishment at its arrogance and presumption. But you have announced
your opinion not only as sanctioned by divine inspiration, but as being
according to "the true analogy of reason," and yet, taken with your
subsequent explanation, it is enveloped in absurdity. In admitting the
power to create, you have destroyed your own argument; for you cannot
suppose that there was an individual present in the meeting, so grossly
dull as to believe that when the prophecy was accomplished in the birth
of our Saviour, it was by the means which your explanation points to; or
that it was other than a miraculous intervention of that merciful Being,
who in his unlimited power and inscrutable wisdom, has chosen his own
way in directing us to a knowledge of those truths which the gospel
unfolds. And if we assent to your doctrine in the restricted sense in
which you say you intended the word _beget_ to be understood; we must
believe there are sexes in spirit, and that it can only be produced by a
corporeal union of incorporeal beings.

Here is no proof of your ability to draw conclusions from the _analogy
of reason_, but it is a striking illustration of the wisdom of the
counsel, "not to multiply words without knowledge."

A very keen and accurate observer of the foibles and infirmities of man
remarks, "it would be well, if people would not lay so much weight on
_their own reason_ in matters of religion, as to think every thing
impossible and absurd, which they cannot conceive: how often do we
contradict the right rules of reason in the whole course of our lives?
_Reason_ itself is true and just, but the reason of every particular man
is weak and wavering, perpetually swayed and turned by his interests,
his passions, and his vices."[6]

Footnote 6:


If, as I truly believe, the christian religion is intended to subdue the
wanderings of the imagination, and bring the mind into a humble
dependance on our Creator, it seems necessarily to follow, that we ought
to be anxiously careful to prevent its being drawn into a too great
fondness for enquiries into unsearchable things. In the course of my
reading, I have lately perused the prayer of a very learned man,[7]
which, for its rational and fervent piety, must be instructive to all,
and in a particular manner to those who are _our teachers_. It is the
prayer of one whose writings will be read with instruction and delight
as long as our language endures; whose intellectual faculties were of
the highest order, and who was sufficiently sensible of his superiority,
when compared with most other men: yet, when in solitude and private
worship, he looked beyond all sublunary things, and contemplated the
immensurable distance between the wisdom of man and his Creator, with
deep prostration of mind he prayed "Oh, Lord, my maker and protector,
who hast graciously sent me into this world to work out my salvation,
enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as
may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast
required. When I behold the works of thy hands, and consider the course
of thy providence, give me grace always to remember that thy thoughts
are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways: and while it shall please
thee to continue me in this world, where much is to be done, and little
to be known; teach me by thy holy spirit, to withdraw my mind from
unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious,
and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which
thou hast imparted, let me serve thee with active zeal and humble
confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the
soul which Thou receivest, shall be satisfied with knowledge. Grant
this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake."

Footnote 7:

  Dr. Johnson.

And that it is with minds thus disciplined, that all ought to be
prepared for prayer, and that in this spirit alone, can the preacher
awaken the mind to true worship, are truths which few professors of the
christian name, and none who believe in the doctrines of Friends, can

                              LETTER III.

If, in my succeeding observations, I refer to the opinions held by any
other sect than that in which I have been educated, I wish it to be
understood, that it is neither to approve nor censure. Believing, (as I
sincerely do,) that christianity consists not in forms or observances;
neither in subscriptions to curiously contrived creeds, nor in
confessions of faith; but in that worship which purifies and cleanseth
the heart; so I believe that he who ministers to a congregation in this
spirit, (whatever may be his name among men,) ministers profitably; "and
that both he that soweth, and he that reapeth, may rejoice together."

In reading your sermons, it evidently appears that you have imbibed the
notions of a sect, who attribute much more to reason, than any other
christian society, and you have asserted that you are unable to believe
any thing which you cannot bring down to the level of your own
understanding;[8] yet you believe in direct revelation, and with
singular inconsistency assert that all your discourses are from its
immediate dictates, and without the intervention of any other cause;
thus calling upon your auditors to assent to that which you assert to be
impossible; for by no process of human reason can the reality of your
revelations be tested, and if they are assented to, it must be by faith

Footnote 8:

  See Letter to Dr. Atlee. "I admit that I did assert and have long done
  it, that we cannot believe what we do not understand." This assertion
  is in curious contrast to some others which he has made. In a
  discourse before alluded to, he has declared the miraculous birth of
  our Saviour to be impossible; and in his letter to Thomas Willis, he
  says, that after believing in the miracle for many years, he has read
  the ancient History of the Church and the Evangelists with a view to
  this subject, and that according to his best judgment, Jesus Christ is
  the son of Joseph; yet he declares in the same letter, that he still
  retains his original belief: thus proving that he has a mind capable
  of believing not only what he does not understand, but also against
  the convictions of his understanding.

I know that you have been hailed as an _efficient fellow labourer_ in
destroying our belief in some doctrines which are considered as
fundamental by almost every christian sect, and I am apprehensive that
this applause has stimulated you to greater daring: but you ought to
recollect how much easier it is to destroy than to build up, and you may
be assured that when the work of destruction is accomplished, your
services will be at an end: your coadjutors have too much understanding
not to perceive, that you have not sufficient knowledge to aid in
erecting the building which is to be raised on the ruins, and that you
are without the skill necessary to give uniformity to its appearance, or
embellishment to its parts. When the temple of reason is finished and
dedicated, you may be permitted to worship in its vestibule, but will
never be called upon to administer the rites at its altar.

It seems, however, that you are not quite ignorant of the apparent
inconsistency of these contradictory assertions, and it is proper that
your explanations should be fairly examined, that we should endeavour to
ascertain what you really mean by the word _reason_, and how it is to be
applied to your own inspirations: in order to do this, it will be
necessary to quote your own words.

In a discourse delivered in New York, you say, "Now we learn as rational
creatures, that God spoke to the Israelites not only as such, but that
he always addresses us as rational creatures. Were we not rational
creatures we could not understand; for nothing is a recipient for the
spirit of God but the rational soul, and therefore we are always to
understand him rationally; for this is _according to the nature of

In this remark, the only novelty is, the confusion in which your ideas
are involved; for I cannot believe there were any of your audience so
ignorant as not to know that it is _according to the nature of things_,
that as we were created rational creatures, we should be addressed as
such; and that if we were without understanding, we could not

Again you say, "as reason is a dormant principle without revelation, so
when God is pleased to reveal things unto the immortal souls of the
children of men, they are then seen rationally: and then reason has an
opportunity to exercise its _balancing and comparing principle_ in man,
and therefore there is a two-fold revelation to man."

You surely cannot intend to persuade us, that reason has always been
dormant without revelation, or you must yourself be ignorant, or believe
that we are ignorant, of the writings handed down to us, and which
sufficiently attest the powers of the human mind, even when
unilluminated by the revelations of the Gospel, and in the darkest ages
of Paganism. And if, as I suppose, you meant to limit this dormant
principle, (as you call it,) to the revelations of the spirit, you
involve it in absurdity. We will now examine your propositions, and
endeavour to discover the deductions to be drawn from them. You say that
reason is a dormant principle without revelation:--when any thing is
revealed by God, it is seen rationally;--that then reason is to exercise
its balancing and comparing principle, and the result is, that there is
a two-fold revelation in man.

We have heretofore been taught to believe, that the only way in which we
can arrive at a knowledge of the truth of any thing by our reason, is by
the deductions drawn from the ideas which have been impressed on our
minds by the use of our natural faculties; and that revelation is a
special communication, in a manner independent of these faculties. But
admitting that all the theologians and metaphysicians who have preceded
you, have been in error, and that you alone are acquainted with the
nature and operation of the faculty of reason, in what does it result?
Why, when the Almighty reveals any thing to our souls, He, by another
revelation, enables us to examine and discover whether the first
revelation is right; but you have not told us, by which we are to be
governed, if they differ. If you say they always accord, then a two-fold
revelation is superfluous, and you admit that "our Creator never deals
superfluously with us;"[9] and if they should disagree, how are we to
decide? Your great and leading maxim, "that for which a thing is such,
the thing itself is more such," will not apply, for both revelations are
immediate and from the same source; and it will be necessary for the
_numerous[10] converts_ which your maxim has made, again to apply to you
to solve the difficulty. Can folly itself believe that the truth of any
thing revealed to our immortal souls by infinite wisdom, requires
confirmation; or that if it does, that confirmation can be found in the
authority from which it was first derived? And is it not extraordinary,
that any individual can go on day after day, and year after year,
professing to explain to us the nature and object of revelation, and the
use of our reason when applied to it; and yet not know, that divine
revelation must be immutably true, and that as it is communicated in a
way wholly unconnected with our reason, all reasoning upon it is vain.
Whether the revelation is from a divine source is another question, and
one which our reason may sometimes enable us to resolve.

Footnote 9:

  See sermon preached in Philadelphia, page 8.

Footnote 10:

  See letter to Dr. Atlee.

In the discourse you delivered at Newtown in Bucks County, you enter
more largely on this subject; and as it seems to comprise all your
notions in relation to reason, as connected with our religion, it is
proper to examine it with particular attention.

You say, "Right reason is as much a gift of God, as any gift that we can
receive: therefore, nothing but the rational soul is a recipient for
divine revelation; and when the light shines upon it and shows any
object, reason brings it to the test. If it is kept in right order, and
under the regulating influence of the divine law, it brings things to
balance, and it is brought to know every thing which may rise up,
although at first sight. If it will not accord with right reason, we
must cast it off as the work of Antichrist. All that the Almighty
requires of us, will always result in reality; and we are not to believe
any thing which does not so result. Here now we see how easy it is to go
along, if we pursue the right course; but as free agents, we can reason
ourselves into the belief that wrong is right."[11]

Footnote 11:

  See sermons, page 207.

I have perused this passage with great attention, and so far from
discovering any thing to enable me to get easily along, it appears to be
wholly inexplicable. I have examined it as a whole, and in its different
divisions, without being able to arrive at any result. In this
perplexity I recollected that I was, in my youth, in company with
several ancient friends, when some discussion occurred respecting the
true interpretation of a passage in a book which was the subject of
conversation. An individual present, with some flippancy observed, that
he had read it with great attention both backwards and forwards several
times, and thought he was able to explain it; when he was interrupted by
a venerable old man, who with admirable gravity of countenance and
simplicity of manner, said "He wished the friend to inform the company,
in which way of reading, he understood it best." But here even this
novel experiment must fail, and had the ingenious expounder tried it on
the passage I have quoted, I fear he must have confessed it was equally
unintelligible in either way; and that, being contrary to all reason, it
must, if examined by the severity of your own rule, be deemed the work
of Antichrist.

If you had said that no revelation can be the suggestion of infinite
wisdom, if contrary to right reason, it would have been intelligible and
true: but if the divine light really discovers any thing to us, we want
no test to confirm it. Again you say, that reason, if kept under the
regulating influence of the divine law, will know everything that rises
up at first sight; but that as free agents, we can reason ourselves into
a belief that wrong is right. Now what kind of reason can this be? It
does seem that reason is given to us because we are free agents, and
that it would be a very useless gift were it otherwise: and we do know
that this faculty is improved by observation and experience, and that so
far from its enabling us to know every thing at first sight, it is by
study and meditation that our knowledge is extended, and that at last,
we know but little. But the reason of which you speak, is a reason that
arrives at all knowledge without deduction, and can act and determine
with unerring certainty, although contrary to that reason which is given
to us as free agents. It must follow, that the faculty which you call
reason, is an instinct never before known to exist; or that all this
circumlocution ends in the production of one of those phantasms which
are sometimes engendered by the imagination, and which has persuaded you
that two inspirations are necessary to confirm our belief, that they are
distinct in their nature, and that one of them is right reason.

When the sensations occasioned by the sonorous voice in which the
pompous terms _analogy of reason, rational souls, and recipients for
truth_ are delivered, have passed away; and we seriously meditate the
manner in which they are applied; low indeed must that man be in the
scale of intellectual being, who does not discover that all "is but as
sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

                               LETTER IV.

Every reader of your discourses, must be surprised at the extent to
which you have carried the practice of allegorising the Scriptures: you
declare your assent to them, and yet in practice, you seem to consider
each part as a fable from which you can draw a moral to suit the purpose
of the moment; and the belief which you profess in their divine origin,
does not restrain you from indulging in all the licentiousness of
fiction. "Sacred History, (says an eminent writer,) has always been read
with submissive reverence, and an imagination over-awed and controlled.
We have been accustomed to acquiesce in the nakedness and simplicity of
the authentic narrative, and to repose on its veracity with such humble
confidence, as suppresses curiosity. We go with the historian as he
goes, and stop with him when he stops. All amplification is frivolous
and vain; all addition to that which is already sufficient for the
purposes of religion, seems not only useless, but is in some degree
profane. Such events as were produced by the visible interposition of
divine power, are above the power of human genius to dignify. The
miracle of Creation, however it may teem with images, is best described
with little diffusion of language: _He spake the word and they were

Footnote 12:

  Life of Cowley.

That an argument may sometimes be illustrated by a moral drawn from the
events recorded in Scripture, I do not deny; but I think a pious mind
must always indulge in the practice with great caution, and be careful
not to make an allegory of the fact itself. Nor do I think that the
passage of Scripture "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth
life"[13] which you so often quote, is at variance with this view of the
subject, or can furnish any argument in excuse for the spirit of
mysticism by which you involve every part of them in obscurity. It is
true that this passage is in the figurative language generally used in
the East, but the meaning appears so plain, that only those can mistake
it, whose minds have been perverted by the habit of speculating in the
airy regions of the imagination. The New Testament is a code of moral
law and spiritual instruction, teaching man his duty to his neighbour,
and the true way in which he can render acceptable worship to God. For
the outward order of this worship, and the government of religious
society, certain rules and ordinances must be necessary, and were found
to be so, even in the days of the apostles; but as under the old
covenant many had been led to consider the outward observance of the law
as their _only_ duty, and that "if they paid their tithe of mint and
anise and cummin, they might omit the weightier matters of the law,
judgment, mercy and faith; although _both_ ought to have been
observed;"[14] so this exhortation is intended to caution the flock, not
against the observance of the rules of discipline which had been
established, but that they might not sink down into the belief that such
observance was all that was required; and that they ought always to
remember that "God is a Spirit;" and they that "worship him, must
worship _him_ in spirit and in truth."

Footnote 13:

  2 Corinthians, chap. 3.

Footnote 14:

  Matthew, XXIII.

Now let us see the use you have made of this passage of Scripture, and
to how many purposes your inventive fancy has applied it. In your
discourse at the meeting house in Germantown,[15] you enter largely into
this subject, but as the passage is too long to be transcribed, I shall
endeavour to give the different inferences you draw from it.

Footnote 15:

  See sermon at Germantown, page 92.

First, That from the letter of the Scriptures, every thing suitable to
deceive the people can be taken.

Secondly, That as every thing we read in the Scriptures must necessarily
be received through our outward senses, they are only fit for the
outward creature.

Thirdly, That it was the letter of the Scriptures that led men to the

Fourthly, That all that has ever been written, is nothing but that which
the wisdom of man has devised.

Fifthly, In your discourse at Middletown[16], you say, It is but a
shadow which may do for young beginners; and may point them to the right

Footnote 16:

  Sermons, page 226.

Had the commentators who have preceded you, possessed such fertility of
imagination, their works, voluminous as they are, must have been
multiplied to an extent which it is difficult to conceive. Yet after
all, you appear at some moments to have a view of the true use of
Scripture, and of the meaning of that passage which you have perverted
to so many purposes, although you conclude by one of those strange
involutions of ideas with which your attempts at illustration so often

You say, "All letter written under the influence of God, points us back
to the place from whence it came, and this is all; because as the letter
never could be written without the spirit which stands above it, the
great first cause of all wisdom and knowledge; therefore, unless by the
letter we are gathered to the spirit, we cannot see the letter aright,
for it is the effect; and when we face the letter we turn our backs upon
the cause, just as a man turns his back upon the sun to see his own

Footnote 17:

  See sermons, page 100.

Here the sentiment is in itself correct, although the conclusion
attempted to be drawn by the puerile conceit with which the sentence
ends, is in direct opposition to it. The needle points to the pole, and
the careful mariner does not turn his back upon it, but with a steady
eye keeps it constantly in view as the guide by which alone he can be
directed through the trackless ocean: so the Christian pilgrim, with the
gospel in his hand, endeavours to explore his way. The book itself
contains not that for which he is seeking, but it has been in mercy
handed down to him by the inspirations of infinite wisdom, as a landmark
to direct him in the way in which he should walk: it has not only taught
him the nature and efficacy of spiritual worship, but it affords a
standard by which all his thoughts may be tried, and enables him to
distinguish between the wanderings of the imagination and the dictates
of eternal wisdom. If contrary to the Scriptures, he rejects them; and
whatever you may think of the superiority of your two-fold revelations,
and the accuracy of your knowledge of the nature and use of right
reason, no _reasonable_ being who is convinced that the Scriptures were
given to us by divine revelation, can believe in the truth of any thing
which does not accord with them.

Such a tissue of inconsistencies has seldom been brought together--you
say that the Scriptures were written under the inspiration of infinite
wisdom, and also assert that they only proceed from the wisdom of man:
you consider them as the box of Pandora from which the apostacy was
derived, and every thing calculated to deceive us may be taken; and
still continue to recommend them as proper to be read by young beginners
in religion: that they, and every thing else that is received by man
through his outward senses, is suitable only to the outward creature;
and yet you are continually addressing your hearers through these
senses, for the purposes of reproof and spiritual instruction.

That passages of Scripture have often been perverted to purposes far
different from the spirit and original intention of them, must be
admitted by all; and the sources from which these perversions have been
derived it is not difficult to conceive.

It was long before any of the outward professors of Christianity had the
hardihood to question their authority: they knew that the whole
Christian world considered this book as the standard by which their
doctrines were to be tested, and whenever their inclinations, or their
vices, impelled them to actions contrary to the pure and obvious meaning
of gospel ordinances, they sought to veil their aberrations by the
perversion of the book itself. The man of the world found in it so many
restraints upon his ambition and fancied enjoyments, that it is not
surprising that he should be anxious to avail himself of every pretence
to enlarge its boundaries and relax the rigour of his bonds. In this
struggle, many of the priesthood were his faithful coadjutors, for they
too felt the uneasiness of the straightened path prescribed to them, and
that the pure Christian doctrines and principles could afford no field
for the indulgence of their vanity by pompous declamation, or for the
display of a superiority of mind by subtile disquisition: all was simple
and practical, such as fishermen could teach and herdsmen understand.

Then began that system of mysticising and allegorising the Scriptures, a
practice which accorded so well with the lively and subtle characters of
the modern Greeks, that every priest became a mystagogue, and the pulpit
a chair of theological alchymy, from which men were taught "how to
reduce divinity to the maxims of the laboratory, explain morality by sal
sulphur and mercury, and allegorize the Scripture itself, and the sacred
mysteries thereof, into the Philosopher's Stone."[18]

Footnote 18:


Hence the Scriptures became as one of the sibylline books of Paganism,
to be opened by the priests alone, for they only could explain the
oracles of God; and they acted with more consistency than you have done,
by endeavouring to conceal them from the view of the laity; for if they
are indeed such as _you_ have described, and _they_ have strove to make
them, they ought not only to be concealed from the view of young
beginners in religion, but prohibited to all but the initiated.

Thus was the simplicity of the Christian religion deformed, and the
understandings of men subdued by an ambitious priesthood. They knew that
gravity and meekness were the attributes and best ornaments of a gospel
minister, and while pride and the spirit of domination reigned within
them uncontrolled, they sought, by a sanctimonious exterior and affected
humility, to prolong their sway; and we find the most imperious of the
Roman pontiffs, when treading on the necks of kings, subscribing himself
the servant of the servants of God.

I fear you will consider me as presumptuous, yet I must venture to
entreat you to examine the course you have been pursuing; to consider
whether the habit you have acquired of looking for some hidden novelty
in every passage of Scripture, does not prevent you from perceiving its
obvious meaning; and whether the manifest inconsistencies in which this
practice involves you, is not sufficient proof of your being under the
guidance of a different spirit from that which you claim as a director.

I have no disposition to question the uprightness of your motives, but I
am fully persuaded that the applause with which you have been
surrounded, has given an unhappy bias to your mind; and that if it was
under a right direction, you would be enabled to see, that it is not the
letter of the Scripture, but the habit, (in which you so largely
indulge,) of seeking for meanings other than the letter, which has
caused so many false interpretations and divisions among men: that the
letter is intended to teach us our moral and spiritual duties, and
points out with sufficient clearness the way in which we should walk;
and that the nice distinctions and elaborate refinements of the orator,
neither have a tendency to enlighten the understandings nor purify the
hearts of the audience, though they often gratify the vanity of the one
and amuse the imaginations of the other.

                               LETTER V.

In reading your discourses my attention was particularly engaged by the
sermon delivered at Newtown, in Bucks County, and it did seem to me so
much at variance with the principles which induce the Quakers to
assemble for public worship, that were there no other evidence, it would
be sufficient to prove that you are not under the guidance of that
spirit, by which, in former days, their ministers were governed.

That society believe that the great object of such assembling is to
endeavour, by shutting out all external things, to discipline the mind
to that pure and silent worship and waiting upon God, in which they may
experience Christ to be their shepherd and teacher; and although this
solemn silence may sometimes be profitably interrupted for the purposes
of admonition, instruction and encouragement, yet that no minister can,
(when under right direction,) expatiate on topics irrelevant to the

A little examination must, I think, convince us that your sermon, so far
from being delivered under such impressions, carries on the face of it,
the proof of a mind struggling for distinction: and that in this effort,
much has been introduced foreign to the subject on which you professed
to treat, and however innocent in itself, very unsuitable to the place,
and peculiarly calculated to withdraw the mind from the object for which
the assembly were ostensibly gathered.

You commence your sermon by stating your apprehensions that there are
individuals who are not sufficiently impressed with the necessity of
order and discipline in society, and seem to consider it your duty to
convince them of its importance. To a plain understanding this does not
appear difficult, for the arguments in favour of it are so palpable,
that a very few minutes indeed, would be sufficient to any one not in
the habit of multiplying words, to establish it beyond all controversy.
You, however, seem never disposed to take the common road: the arguments
would be but the repetition of a thrice told tale, and would therefore
command no extraordinary attention: they might beget conviction, but
would not produce _that effect_ upon the audience, which, if not always
the object, is so dear to the orator.

But in deviating from the road, you have lost yourself in the
wilderness; and such has been your entanglement, that after all the time
which you consumed, I am sure there was not an individual present in the
meeting, who could tell what you really meant by discipline, how it is
to be established, or in what manner it is to be enforced. I form this
opinion from having read the sermon: for with all the advantages of
frequent recurrence to particular passages, and of re-perusal, I found
it very difficult to form any idea of your meaning: how then could your
audience, with none of these advantages, in the very few moments in
which they could preserve unbroken the slight concatenation of your
ideas, encumbered as they are with references unconnected with the
subject, receive any information or instruction from them. If I am
correct in my conclusion, and sure I am that no one who heard you can
contradict me, it must follow, that being incomprehensible to those to
whom it was addressed, it could not proceed from the suggestions of true

After a few observations on the subject of discipline, you give to your
audience a kind of lecture on astronomy. Had you confined yourself to
recalling to their recollection the wonderful harmony in the works of
the Almighty, it would not have been incongruous; but to enter into a
long dissertation on the sun, moon, and stars, and on vacuum and
unmeasured space, was neither adapted to the place or company. It was no
doubt quite new and entertaining to such of them as had never read the
elementary treatises in use in some of our schools; and it is certainly
the most sublime of all sciences, and that in which the powers of the
human mind have been displayed in the greatest degree; yet I cannot
think you were judicious in selecting a Quaker meeting as a proper
theatre for the display of your talents, nor can I believe that your
ingenuity can make any application of the facts you have stated to the
subject of your discourse. You tell us that the sun, although it emits
so much light, never lessens; that there is harmonious and social
commune between the heavenly bodies;[19] that the earth, if kept too
long in the cold, would grow heavier, and falling from its proper place,
derange the other bodies; that the moon has a great effect upon our
globe, &c. &c. The moon, we know, is thought by many to have a
considerable influence on the imaginations of men in certain situations,
but I never heard that such influence had any effect in producing good
order and discipline, and no one supposes that the rays of the sun can
throw any light upon the subject. Besides you ought to have recollected
that you were subjecting yourself to the charge of ingratitude; for
surely the men of science must think you ungrateful in availing yourself
so largely of those labours, which you have endeavoured to persuade your
friends are a curse to mankind.[20]

Footnote 19:

  This information, I must acknowledge, is an exception to the
  generality of my assertion, for I do not believe it is contained in
  any of the elementary books I have mentioned; nor do I think it can be
  found in the writings of either Newton or Herschell, or that either of
  them, although so long engaged in examining the planetary system, were
  so fortunate as to observe any of these bodies at the moment when they
  were engaged in these friendly conversations. Perhaps the author has
  been led into a mistake by some obstruction in his glass, like a
  celebrated member of the Royal Society, who announced the discovery of
  an elephant in the moon, which, on examination, was found to be only a
  mouse in his telescope.

Footnote 20:

  Sermons, page 53 and 55.

I am not so ignorant of the situation of the Society of Friends, as to
be uninformed of the uneasiness which is felt by some of its members
under its established rules of order and discipline; and as I know that
your preaching was one of the principal causes of it, I did think it of
some importance to endeavour to ascertain your opinions on the subject.
It was indeed a laborious work to travel through the many pages over
which they are dispersed; to remove the various matters with which they
were encumbered, and collect the scattered fragments. Yet after all my
toil, I found my work not half accomplished. These fragments when
brought together, were of such various sizes and colours, so diversified
in shape, and heterogeneous in their materials, that it surpassed my
skill to arrange them in any way consistent with order and propriety;
and if the knowledge of them can afford any instruction, it must be from
the striking contrast between their wild deformity, and the rational
rules of order and discipline which they are intended to supersede.

You say that all aversion to order and discipline arises from the want
of a right knowledge of ourselves: that when we come to this right
knowledge, we shall be so perfect in these things, that there will be no
contests or divisions among us: that all order and discipline must be
fixed by the divine Lawgiver, and that then it cannot be violated; and
therefore that all attempts to censure or control a member must proceed
from those who counterfeit its meaning, in order to _lord_ it over
others: that each member of society is in himself a little world, which,
if kept in right order and subjection, all would be harmony and
discipline; but, when this is not the case, all attempts to enforce them
tend to increase the confusion: that we all have the law within
ourselves, therefore order and discipline must never be contrived by
mortals: that the Quaker discipline is unsound, because it is in the
letter; but that there are some true Quakers, and that each of these has
all discipline and order within himself.

Now what is all this? Is it not a second growth of that _Fungus_ which
was engendered in the hot bed of fanaticism many years past; and has not
the sober sense of the humble Christian, or the wit and humour of a
Butler, been able to eradicate it from the soil of the Christian church?
Are we again to have among us those men above ordinances, who mistake
confusion for order, and the destruction of our faith for the
consummation of religion?

These questions must present themselves to every mind when examining
your opinions; for, when stripped of all glosses, and exhibited in their
genuine colours, they mean that all written rules of order and
discipline are restraints upon the liberty of the saints: that no rules
should be established by men, for that every man has the rule written in
his own heart, and that there alone he is accountable.

That no man is accountable to another for his religious belief, and that
every man has a right to worship in the way which he may believe most
acceptable to his Creator, are undeniable truths; but as the different
Christian sects have congregated on account of a unity in their
religious tenets, and assemble together for the purpose of uniting in
divine worship, they have a right, and, (if they are firm in their
belief,) it is their duty, to establish such rules and regulations as
will best preserve their religion in, what they believe to be, its
greatest purity; and in an especial manner to prevent the preaching of
doctrines adverse to it. And this is no infringement of the liberty of
conscience; for any man who dissents from their doctrines may separate
himself from them; he may unite himself with any other sect; or if, in
his career, his spiritual knowledge has set him above all ordinances, he
may erect his own standard, and, unrestrained by forms and unfettered by
creeds, he may give the utmost strain to his imagination, and perhaps
become himself the head of a sect. But no casuistry can justify, or
pretence excuse a man, who continues to be ostensibly the member of a
religious community, for the purpose of undermining its principles or
destroying the belief in its tenets. Let him believe them erroneous and
the substitutes he offers unquestionably true; it alters not the case.
The source will be impure, and the waters which flow from it, tainted.

If the mind can be brought to conceive the possibility of the existence
of a society formed according to your rules and orders of discipline, it
must present itself to the imagination in all the sublime confusion of
another chaos--you may offer yourself to explain the word of God, and
you will be reminded that this is all in the letter: you may tell them
that the Scriptures may be read to advantage, when all things in them
have been previously revealed;[21] and they may reply, that reading them
will then be quite unnecessary--you may exhort them to assemble together
for the purpose of divine worship, "for that then we should be
instructed what to do, and how to bring our offerings, to be handed over
to the priest, so that they may be made acquainted with our state, and
may preach the true gospel to us;"[22] and they may tell you "that such
assemblies are not the places to gather spiritual food."[23] If you are
asked why you waste so much time in preaching, you will tell them "the
reason is plain; that although the letter directs us to the law, and
nothing else can teach us, yet we flee from it; and therefore outward
instruments are raised up and clothed with power:"[24] and they may
reply that this is also the letter, and "that the Lord is too kind to
send them away for instruction; and that he is always present, a
schoolmaster to every soul."[25] If you explain to them your own growth
and experience in spiritual knowledge, they will ask you of what use it
can be to them, and tell you, "that each individual requires a law
peculiar to himself; and that the law of the Spirit of Life in one, is
not the law of the Spirit of Life in another"[26]--and if, (adopting
this opinion,) you should declare to them that the law of the Spirit of
Life is different in each individual, some of your audience may assert,
"that the divine law which is written by the finger of God upon the
tablet of our hearts, is the same to every individual"[27]--and if
fatigued with these objections, you should express your surprise at
their number, inconsistency and futility, you will be told that they are
all furnished by yourself.

Footnote 21:

  Sermons, page 313.

Footnote 22:

  Sermons, page 248.

Footnote 23:

  Sermons, page 275.

Footnote 24:

  Page 52.

Footnote 25:

  Sermons, page 51.

Footnote 26:

  Sermons, page 51.

Footnote 27:

  Sermons in New York, page 124.

If, then, the great founder of the sect is yet so indistinct in his
vision, what must be the situation of those who are less advanced in the
religious experience of your new school? If he is so frequently involved
in contradictions, what must be the accumulated mass when collected

Should your project be realised, and such a congregation assembled,
those who, like yourself, search the Scriptures for types and figures,
may, with much less violation of probability than occurs in your
discourses, consider the meeting as a consummation of that confusion of
tongues typified in the building of the Tower of Babel.

                               LETTER VI.

The extraordinary and unhesitating confidence with which you state your
opinions, even on the most important and solemn subjects, and the air of
authority with which you endeavour to enforce them, is in such striking
contrast to that humility and reverence with which we are accustomed to
hear such subjects treated, that it naturally excites some suspicion
that there are views and feelings in the mind of the preacher not in
accordance with that meek and quiet spirit which is the necessary
qualification of a Christian teacher: and when we turn from the tone and
manner of the discourse to some of the opinions delivered, I am afraid
that suspicion will ripen into certainty, and that there will be too
much evidence of a mind not habituated to reflections on its own
infirmities, but proud[28] in its acquirements, and vaunting in its own
strength. For we find you glorying in the ability to withstand the enemy
of your peace, and gratifying yourself with the honour to be derived
from the victory.[29] In this elevation of mind you say, that it would
be a debasement to man, were he placed by the Almighty in a situation
from which he could not fall;[30] and that had we been content to remain
in a state of innocence, we should have continued to be but as mere
machines.[31] To rely on any other than your own exertions you think
degrading, and would not accept the sacrifice which is offered for your
sins by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.[32]

Footnote 28:

  Sermons, page 68. "I challenge the whole host of mankind."

Footnote 29:

  Sermons, page 231.

Footnote 30:

  Sermons, page 231.

Footnote 31:

  Sermons, pages 230, 231.

Footnote 32:

  Letter to Doctor Shoemaker.

We are, indeed, placed in a state of probation, surrounded with
temptations and perplexed with dangers: we have before us the prospect
of a change into a never-ending state, and that state is promised to be
one of endless felicity to those who, with a sincere and humble heart,
seek the God of Israel for their portion. To such, and such alone, is
promised _the exceeding great reward_; and, though it is our duty to
acquiesce, without repining, in our station and allotment here,
temeracious indeed must that man be, who, with such a prize before him,
would, for the gratification which the honour of a victory over his own
evil propensities might afford, prefer the hazardous contest to that
state of innocence with which our first parents were blessed before the
fall; and confident indeed must he be in his own merits, if he rejects
the offer of an intercessor, and relies on them alone for a fund not
only to redeem his errors here, but to purchase the rich inheritance of
eternal happiness.

Such a state of mind alone could conceive the singular idea of opening
an account current with the Creator,[33] and call it religion; to ask a
record of our sins, and boldly claim our offsets; and to rely on the
accumulated balance of our own works: to gain the prize of everlasting
life from the justice and not from the mercy of the Almighty, and not to
pray with David, "have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving
kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, _blot out
my transgressions_."

Footnote 33:

  Sermons, page 44.

Such an account would indeed be a novelty: there is no difficulty in
filling the debtor side of the ledger: the melancholy list of man's
frailties and vices furnish ample materials; but, from whence the mighty
balance reserved for the great purchase should arise is not easily to be
conceived. Let us figure to ourselves a man not immured in sloth or sunk
in wickedness, but one whose march through life has been in the path of
propriety and virtue, arranging his account,

    I have lived a life of temperance, regularity and virtue.

      Thou hast been blessed with the enjoyment of health.

    I have been, through life, frugal and industrious.

      Thou hast acquired wealth.

    I have been humane and charitable to the poor and needy.

      I gave thee the fat of the land.

    I have been a good husband and a careful and tender father.

      Thy wife has been virtuous and faithful, and thy children a
         blessing to thee.

    And if he could add, I have gone about preaching to, and exhorting
       large assemblies of people in thy name.

      May not the answer sometimes be, And hast thou not been richly
         rewarded by the incense of flattery and applause which thou
         hast received.

Here, then, is no balance; virtue is generally rewarded in this life;
and, if the Christian is to look for redemption, is it not "by standing
fast and holding to the traditions which we have been taught," by which
we shall know that as all have sinned and fallen short, so we can only
be justified by grace "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;
whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,
to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past,
through the forbearance of God."[34]

Footnote 34:

  Romans, 3d Chap.

You may say that your idea of opening an account with the Creator was
only by way of illustration, but what does it illustrate? Is our
situation with our Creator such, that works are sufficient to insure our
salvation? and do you believe that if "in looking over the leaf and
seeing where the balance strikes,"[35] we should find it to be in our
favour, we may indulge in sin and iniquity until the balance is brought
to an equilibrium? Do not you believe in the efficacy of repentance, and
that the truly repentant sinner may receive remission of his sins,
although it may be in the eleventh hour, and when they are of a crimson
colour, or a scarlet dye?

Footnote 35:

  Sermons, p. 45.

The idea is indeed cold and heartless; in sentiment most degrading, and
in its deductions most pernicious. How different from the inspirations
of the man of old, when musing on the sacred mount of Zion, or on the
banks of Shiloah's stream fast, by the oracles of God, he saw the dawn
of that auspicious day, when HE, our promise would appear to blot out
our transgressions and redeem us from our sins--and with what holy
rapture did he announce the joyful tidings? "Speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her
iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord's hand double
for all her sins. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. Unto us
a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be
upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. The sun
shall be no more thy light by day: neither for brightness shall the moon
give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting
light, and thy God thy glory."

But this is not the Messiah of whom you preach: yours is like yourself,
a peccable man clothed with infirmities and liable to transgression; and
who, so far from having the power to give salvation to others, was
himself tempted to sin.[36] You profess to believe that Jesus Christ is
"the way, the truth, and the life," but in direct opposition to the
plain intent and purport of the sentence, you declare it only means that
he had power to cure outward diseases and give strength of body to enjoy
the good things of this life;[37] that for this only was he sent, and
his power was but as a figure or shadow of the great Comforter. But even
with this perversion, the facts you state will not support your
argument. It is true that Jesus Christ healed the diseases of
individuals; but surely no rational being can suppose that such was the
object of his mission, for the number of the healed was so small that it
could have had no perceptible effect on the general outward health of
mankind, or even of the particular people to whom he appeared.

Footnote 36:

  Sermons, p. 253. E. Hicks says, "He, (Jesus,) was tempted in all
  points as we are. Now how could he be tempted if he had been fixed in
  a state of perfection in which he could not turn aside. Could you
  suppose as rational beings that such a being could be _tempted_? No,
  not any more than God could be tempted. Perfection is perfection, and
  cannot be tempted, it is impossible." Here is an evident perversion of
  the Scriptures; for we nowhere find that Jesus yielded to temptation;
  and it is a most irrational conclusion, that because there was a
  tempter he was subject to temptation; and so far from such attempts
  evincing that _he was not perfect and could turn aside_; the
  resistance and reproof of the tempter proves, (and was probably
  intended to prove,) the very reverse. It is one thing to be tempted,
  and another to yield to temptation, and E. Hicks could not have
  forgotten that the authority from which he drew his account of the
  temptations likewise declares that though Jesus "was in all points
  tempted like as we are, _yet without sin_." Heb. 4. 15. By E. Hicks's
  erroneous construction of the sentence, he could with equal ease prove
  the fallibility of the Almighty, for the Scriptures in several places
  speak of His being tempted by the people.

Footnote 37:

  Sermons, p. 50.

You say you believe that the Scriptures were written by divine
inspiration, and that Jesus did nothing "but as he received power and
command from His heavenly Father;"[38] and these Scriptures tell us that
when the Pharisees began to reason and said "who can forgive sins but
God alone?" Jesus answered, is it "easier to say thy sins be forgiven
thee; or to say, rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the _Son of
Man hath power upon earth to forgive sins_, he said unto the sick of the
palsy, I say unto thee arise, and take up thy couch and go unto thine
house: and immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon
he lay, and departed to his own house glorifying God."[39]

Footnote 38:

  New York Sermons, p. 97.

Footnote 39:

  Luke, chap. 5th.

Here we have a plain historical narration, from which it is evident that
the sick was healed to convince an unbelieving people, by an act of
supernatural power perceptible to their senses, that Jesus was clothed
with authority to forgive sins. You however say it was a figure or
shadow, and as these terms are often in your mouth, it may be proper to
enquire whether you understand their true meaning, and whether by any
possible construction of language they can be considered as illustrative
of your view of the subject. They are here used as synonymous, and mean
_the expression of an idea by resemblances_: if I speak of persons in
the morning of life, I am understood to mean youth; and if I say, the
king of day is rising in the east, every body understands it to mean the
sun; and there are other figurative resemblances more obscure, but no
one can, without violating every principle of reason, attempt to adduce
as authority for, and illustrative of his opinions, expressions which so
far from resembling are in direct opposition to them, merely because he
chooses to call them figurative.

If indeed there are any individuals who believe they can perceive any
resemblance between your inferences and the facts; and that when Jesus
said he healed the sick, in order that the Pharisees might know that he
had power on earth to forgive sins, he meant it only as a figure, and
that he claimed authority only as to the cure of outward diseases; their
conclusion must be arrived at by a process which the uninitiated do not
understand: and if your argument is according to the _analogy of
reason_, it cannot be of that reason which arrives at the truth by
observation and deduction, but the reason of your new school of
metaphysics, which discerns _without reflection_ all things at first

Footnote 40:

  Sermons, p. 207.

Were you reading a letter informing you that a friend had departed on a
journey, riding on a black horse, and was told by one of your auditors
that the expression was figurative and that he meant a white cow, you
would probably laugh; and yet the incongruity is not greater than some
of your own discoveries. For instance, Paul said "let your women keep
silence in your churches;" and you observe that all who _are truly
enlightened_ will understand that the woman means the selfish spirit
which ought not to be permitted to speak in churches; but you have
forgot to tell us how to apply the succeeding observation that "if they
will learn any thing they must consult their husbands at home." Nor is
it probable that Paul, (although a bachelor,) was so uncharitable as to
believe the selfish spirit so identified with woman, as to render her a
proper emblem of it.

In this instance Paul was recommending a rule of conduct, and ought to
be allowed to speak for himself: so thought Robert Barclay, and in
accounting for the exhortation he has given the probable reason of it.
He considered it neither as an allegory or a figure; but he had not
arrived at that degree of spiritual knowledge which enabled him to
discover in every page of the Bible a meaning in direct contradiction to
the plain and obvious sense of the written language. Religion was with
him not an occult science, nor the Bible a caballistick book which can
never be read to advantage until the truths contained in it have been
previously revealed to us.[41] On the contrary, he believed with the
Apostle Paul "that these things were written for our learning," that
"the holy scriptures are able to make wise unto salvation, through faith
which is in Christ Jesus," and that "all Scripture is given by
inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be
perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work."[42]

Footnote 41:

  Sermons, p. 313.

Footnote 42:

  2nd Timothy, Chap. 3d.

                              LETTER VII.

When the early Quakers, dissatisfied with the formal worship of the
existing protestant church, separated themselves and formed a society of
their own, they were reproached by some with denying the authenticity of
the sacred writings, and by others with setting up their own
inspirations in opposition to them; and they seem at an early period to
have discovered the necessity of recording their belief on this subject,
not only to refute the calumnies circulated by their opponents, but as a
guide to the inexperienced of their own sect. For, such was the ferment
of men's minds at that moment, and the violence of the change from the
dull uniformity of formal belief, to all the extravagancies of
unrestrained enthusiasm, that it appeared like an epidemic affecting all
descriptions of people; and their imaginations became so exalted, that
every fancy was mistaken for a revelation, and every preacher, however
wild his doctrines, had his followers. Nor did their own members wholly
escape the infection; for with all their care, there were those among
them who indulged in extravagancies, to the great grief of their more
sober friends.

It fell to the lot of Robert Barclay to record the doctrines of the
early Quakers, and none of them was better fitted for the task; for he
was learned and pious, clear in his perceptions and logical in his
arrangement, and well able to give his reasons for his faith. He knew
that superstition and fanaticism were the Scylla and Charybdis of
religion, and how much care was necessary to prevent us, while avoiding
the one, from being swept into the whirlpool of the other. He was
surrounded by instances of the unhappy effects of that exaltation of
mind, which induced individuals to believe they had arrived at such an
unerring state of spiritual knowledge, that the recorded opinions and
advice of their pious predecessors, and even the scriptures, (being only
in the letter,) were to them neither authority nor a guide; and that
they had derived the fulness of knowledge from the fountain itself. That
to them reason itself had ceased to be of use, since they were under the
constant influence of a clear and distinct revelation, as stable and
certain as any of the instincts of our nature: and such was the fever of
the brain, that when their prophecies were contradicted by the event, it
did not impair their confidence in their own inspirations, _because it
was the Lord who chose to deceive them, and they were deceived_.

He had not adopted the fantastical idea that every passage of scripture
has a mystical meaning; but declares them to be the revelations of the
spirit of God to the saints, and that they contain a faithful historical
account of the actings of God's people in various ages; a prophetical
account of several things, whereof some have passed, and some to come;
and a full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine
of Christ. That they are profitable for correction and instruction in
righteousness, and that _divine inward revelations can never contradict
the outward testimony of the scriptures, or sound reason_.

Here all is plain and consistent. No man of sound mind can believe that
the revelations of infinite wisdom are ever contradictory; and as the
evidence of the divine origin of the scriptures is such as no individual
can produce, he was warranted in his conclusion, that all pretensions to
the spirit in contradiction to them, are delusions of the devil. And
indeed no man of observation can cast his eyes round him, and
contemplate the various illusions into which the human mind is seduced
on religious subjects, without perceiving the absolute necessity of a
standard or rule by which its wanderings may be checked and its
aberrations corrected, and we find Locke concurring with Barclay, in
stating the scripture revelations and right reason, as the true
standards by which our faith is to be tried.

You also seem to perceive the necessity of some check, but in the very
spirit which induces that necessity, your own standard is as visionary,
and as fruitful a source of evil, as the propensity it is intended to
correct; for yours is not that reason which proceeds from premises to
consequences, but an actual illusion, which has persuaded you that there
is a reason which can see all things immediately and by intuition;[43]
and your bible, a book written in cypher,[44] the key of which is one of
the most vigorous plants of the wilderness of fanaticism. Hence it
follows, that your standard, so far from being a true test or corrector
of your opinions, must always, when used, confirm you in error; for it
is a magnifying mirror, reflecting the exaggerated image of the delusion
it is intended to control.

Footnote 43:

  Sermons, page 207.

Footnote 44:

  Sermons, page 313.

There is not a more prolific source of error, than assuming principles
without a careful examination of their correctness, and drawing
conclusions from them; and even when the principle is correct, and the
inference fairly deducible, men in the ardour of their zeal, often push
it to an extreme far beyond its just limits.

It is not difficult to conceive, that a man whose mind is convinced by
internal evidence of the truth of the christian religion, and who, under
an awful impression of its incalculable importance, opens the sacred
volume, finds more instruction and comfort in it, than he who only reads
it as history, or from an indistinct sense of duty; because he has a
greater degree of inward acquaintance with the same spirit and work in
the heart. But this simple exposition is too plain to satisfy the lofty
imaginations of the high professors of the present day: because the
lukewarm and indifferent do not receive the same instruction and profit
from the scriptures as the more serious and pious, the perusal can
afford them no benefit; and even to the sincere inquirer it is a sealed
book, until its contents are previously communicated by an especial

Footnote 45:

  Sermons, page 313.

This is the doctrine you have preached, and yet your own practice proves
that you have no reliance on it; and that it was only one of those
inconsiderate excursions, in which the orator, when not under the strict
control of duty or reason, too often indulges; for when, in your cooler
moments, you wished to instruct your mind on the subject of our
Saviour's birth, you sought it, not only by reading the scriptures, but
also by consulting the traditions of the christian church, as recorded
by one of its historians.[46]

Footnote 46:

  Letter to Thomas Willis.

These are the inconsistencies to which extravagance always leads; for
when the mind, tired of its aerial flight, revisits the earth, and is
again employed in its proper duties, it finds that practical objects can
only be attained by practicable means.

Exaggeration in public speaking is always blameable, and in the preacher
particularly objectionable: it is generally resorted to for the purpose
of increasing the impression, but seldom produces that effect; and it is
upon religious subjects, above all others, that amplification should be
avoided, and that pure and simple style adopted which admits of no
adventitious ornaments.

You, however, pursue a different course, and by the extravagance of your
epithets, not only defeat your own views, but sometimes occasion the
subject itself to be considered, if not with ridicule, at least with but
little seriousness. Thus in speaking of the propriety of plainness in
apparel, instead of giving the simple and obvious reason why the Society
of Friends adopted it, you consider it as a vital principle of religion;
and you mistake, (to use your own favourite expression,) the effect for
the cause, when you exclaim that there is religion in clothing, and
exaggerate beyond all bounds, when you declare, that all the sin in the
world is created by men's following foolish fashions: and when you
seriously assure us that high-crowned hats were never devised in the
wisdom of God, the obvious inference that low-crowned hats were, is so
ludicrous, that we should be tempted to laugh, were not all merriment on
a subject in which that sacred name is introduced, (however improperly,)
incongruous, if not profane.[47]

Footnote 47:

  Sermons, page 133.

Again, in speaking of the necessity of a living faith in God, you
exclaim that, faith in creeds and the traditions of your fathers, is
worse than nothing; that we had better have no faith at all, for it is
no better than the faith of devils; and in confirmation of this rash
assertion, you quote a passage of scripture which has not the most
remote application to the subject.[48]

Footnote 48:

  Sermons, page 293.

To this, no rational christian can ever assent: he believes in the
necessity of spiritual worship, and that all ought to feel the power of
religion in their own souls: but that the faith which is derived from
the lessons of a pious parent, although it may not be accompanied with
that degree of spiritual knowledge which it ought to be our endeavour to
attain, is no better than the faith of devils, no man in his sober
senses can believe.

You would no doubt think me very daring were I to say that your own
faith is as bad as the faith of devils; and yet, admitting the truth of
your own assertion, I can prove it by testimony, which, to you at least,
ought to be conclusive. For in your letter to Thomas Willis, before
alluded to, you declare your belief in the Scripture account of our
Saviour's birth from your _reliance_ on _tradition_, although it is
contrary to your judgment. If then that faith which a child admits and
believes to be true from a firm reliance on the wisdom and experience of
a pious father, is as bad as the faith of devils; how are we to describe
the faith of that man who gives to tradition such supreme control, as to
make a reliance on it a point of duty, although a belief in it, is
contrary to his deliberate judgment.

This is one of the instances of the wanderings of your imagination, and
the strange inconsistencies into which your metaphysical divinity leads
you: and I cite it as a proof of the pernicious consequences of
substituting mystical reveries in the place of the simple religion
taught by Jesus Christ; and not to censure your reliance on the faith of
your predecessors: for I truly believe that did you, like many of them,
endeavour to preserve your mind in that meek and lowly state recommended
by His example and precepts, all propensity to curious speculation on
hidden things would be suppressed, and when called to testify to your
faith, you would be ready "always to give an answer to every man that
asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with _meekness and

In alluding to the reasons which prevent many Friends from taking a part
in the governments of the earth, instead of ascribing them to that
peaceable principle which does not permit them to be agents in any
measures connected with war, you denounce the governments of this world
as standing _eternally_ in opposition to the government of the God of
heaven; and this because all laws made in the wisdom of man are
foolishness with God: yet you acknowledge them to be necessary, although
you say it is no reason why the law of the Almighty should not prevail,
which would take away the necessity of all other laws.[49]

Footnote 49:

  Sermons, p. 198.

This reasoning is as confused, as the conclusion to which it leads is
extraordinary. How laws in opposition to the will of the Almighty can be
necessary, when there is no reason why his law should not prevail, you
have not explained; and if human governments are in eternal opposition
to the government of God, and yet are necessary, then is there not only
a necessity for man's being in eternal opposition to God's will; but the
necessity is a justification of it, and your argument, if sound, affords
a complete vindication of the persons engaged in the administration of
those governments.

We need not be told that if all men were under the strict influence of
virtue and religion, most of the existing laws would be unnecessary,
because they are enacted in consequence of the vices and frailties of
man; but that such a state of things will ever exist on earth, in which
all regulations and covenants of society may with safety and convenience
be abolished, is an idea too extravagant to require refutation. Nor can
it be believed that all laws made by the wisdom of man, are foolishness
with God, in the sense in which you understand it. The Creator in his
wisdom seems to have ordained that the improvement of man in this state
of being should be progressive. The first step is associating in
societies, and they necessarily require rules for their government; and
as they multiply, new circumstances are continually arising, which
require additional regulations. And herein that reason with which man
alone, of all created beings, has been favoured, is properly applied:
for this it was given to him, and its application to the purposes for
which it was originally intended, can never be foolishness in the sight
of the Almighty. The scriptures indeed tell us that the wisdom of this
world is foolishness with God; but it is used in reference to our
religious duties; to teach us the vanity of building up systems for
ourselves, and pretending to explain the hidden things of Omnipotence;
and to warn us that "as it is the gospel that has brought life and
immortality to light," so "other foundation can no man lay than that is
laid, which is Jesus Christ."[50]

Footnote 50:

  Corinthians, Chap. 3d.

                              LETTER VIII.

When we consider the ingenuity of the mind of man, in drawing inferences
from propositions to suit his present passions and prejudices, and how
often they are perverted to the most injurious purposes, every person of
reflection must admit that it is of the most serious importance that the
ministers of religion should be extremely guarded in the terms they use,
and not suffer a sentence to escape from their lips without a careful
examination of its bearing and tendency. Nor is it any justification of
such persons, although they may with truth assert that the pernicious
deductions drawn from their declarations were not intended by them, if
such deductions can fairly be made.

These reflections were impressed upon my mind in reading your sermons,
in which are to be found many assertions which appear to me to have a
very injurious tendency; and with whatever views they were uttered, (for
I inquire not into your motives,) seem to strike at the very foundation
of revealed religion.

In your vain attempts to describe the nature of the Almighty, we should
be induced to believe, from some of your expressions, that you had
adopted the opinion of some sects of unbelieving philosophers, that God
is not the governor, but the soul of the universe; not a Being, but a
principle or element, which, although it acts efficaciously, implies the
absence of all personal agency. For you say, "Every child of God _has
the full and complete nature, spirit, and, may I not say, the divinity
of God Almighty_; because there is nothing but divinity in God, and
therefore, if they are partakers of his divine nature,[51] so far they
are partakers of his divinity, according to the portion which he is
pleased to dispense: and he _must_ dispense that portion which will make
them like himself. _For his children are as much like their Almighty
Father, as the children of men are like their fathers._"[52]

Footnote 51:

  This is not the doctrine or belief of the Society. They believe in a
  divine principle of light and life, wherewith Christ hath enlightened
  every man that cometh into the world; but _by this they understand,
  not the proper essence and nature of God precisely taken, who is not
  divisible into parts and measures, but is a pure and simple being,
  void of all composition and division_. See BARCLAY.

Footnote 52:

  New York Sermons, page 130.

In speaking of the operation of the great first Cause, you compare it to
the sun: "What, (you say,) would become of us, were it not for the
enlivening beams of the sun? Although it emits so much, yet it never
lessens.[53] Our immortal spirits receive all their light from that
celestial and invisible Sun which is the Creator of all things. _He
emits of his excellency to us, yet he does not lessen, but remains
eternally the same, for all that comes from him will return to

Footnote 53:

  Philadelphia Sermons, page 187.

Footnote 54:

  Philadelphia Sermons, page 188.

Consistent with this idea, you totally reject the Scripture declarations
respecting heaven and the kingdom of God, and consider them only as a
condition of the mind, and that we can enjoy them in this state of

In alluding to the account of the apostle's being taken up into the
third heaven, you say, "What is this third heaven but a three-fold
manifestation of the divine presence;"[55] and you ask, "Is heaven of so
little value to us that we put it off till the day of our death?"[56]
"We are led to believe that there is an opportunity to lay up treasure
in heaven; that is, to be in possession of heavenly treasure; or, _to
use a more proper expression, to be in possession of heaven_; because
heaven is a state; it is every where where God is;"[57] "God comes alike
into the hearts of all the children of men, as much in the fornicator,
the thief, and the liar, as in me. But there it is dead, because the
creature is in opposition to God."[58] "Now this leading by the spirit
of God is the same as the kingdom of God, and being subject to the
leaven. They are still one and the same thing; they are not two things;
and as we yield to the leaven it leavens us, and brings us into the
divine nature, so that _we come to partake of the nature of God_."[59]

Footnote 55:

  Sermons, page 17.

Footnote 56:

  Sermons, page 76.

Footnote 57:

  Sermons, page 275-6.--In one of his sermons, (page 292,) the preacher
  declares that God never set Jesus Christ above us, "_because if he did
  he would be partial_." In this, he sets himself above Christ by
  undertaking to correct his erroneous notion of heaven. Christ, in his
  Sermon on the Mount, says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon
  earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break
  through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."
  This _humble teacher_ says the proper expression would be "to be in
  possession of heaven, because heaven is _a state_, and every where,
  where God is."

Footnote 58:

  Sermons, page 292.

Footnote 59:

  Sermons, page 295.

It is an observation of Doctor Paley, that contrivance is a proof of the
personality of the Deity; and we have been accustomed to contemplate
with admiration and awe the stupendous works of creation as emanating
from his wisdom and will. But you, in strict accordance with the notion
to which I have alluded, seem not to admit the argument, or the fact on
which it is founded; for, in speaking of the earth's revolving in its
orbit, you say, "So it has been through all ages past, and so it will
continue through the _eternal_ ages to come."[60] "As the moon receives
all its light from the sun, for itself in the first place, so by that
means it is enabled to emit a part of the power received to the next
orb; and here the heavenly order is kept up--so it has been through all
the previous _eternal ages_, and so it will continue to all future

Footnote 60:

  Sermons, page 188.

Footnote 61:

  Sermons, page 193.

Is this Christianity, or is it not a renewal of the old doctrines of
Pagan philosophy? They held that matter is eternal, although they did
not think with you that our system had existed through all eternity.
Plato believed the world to be the work of God out of existing matter;
but it was the general belief of the learned at a period preceding the
coming of Jesus Christ, (as it appears to be your's,) that the soul of
man is an emission of the divine nature, and that all are partakers of
it--and from hence they drew the natural, and indeed unavoidable
inference, that as God is immortal and the soul of man a part of him, it
must necessarily have existed from all eternity.

This idea, so incompatible with God's moral government, completely
excludes the doctrine of rewards and punishments; for if "all that comes
from him must return to him, and is part of his nature," how can the
soul, when absorbed in the divine essence, be rewarded for its virtues
or punished for its vices practised on earth?

So far from being alarmed at this conclusion, you appear to have adopted
both the idea and the inference; for you say, "to be in the image of God
we must partake of his own nature, and have a portion of his own blessed
spirit _to animate the soul and make it immortal, as God is

Footnote 62:

  Sermons, page 66.

Hence it must follow, that if the only immortal part in man is the
portion of the blessed Spirit of which he is the partaker, and that this
is a part of the nature of God, it must be bestowed equally on the good
and the wicked, or that no part of the latter can be immortal; and this
extraordinary consequence must result, that _worship in spirit_ is not
the homage of man to his Creator, but the Divinity adoring himself.[63]

Footnote 63:

                  As much you pull Religion's altars down,
                  By owning all things God, as owning none;
                  For should all beings be alike divine,
                  Of worship, if an object you assign,
                  God to himself must veneration show,
                  Must be the object and the votary too;
                  And their assertions are alike absurd,
                  Who own no God, or none to be adored.


Socrates alone, of all the ancient philosophers, had adopted the belief
of a future state of rewards and punishments; and the reason why he
arrived at this truth, affords an instructive lesson to the metaphysical
preachers of the present day--he confined himself to the study of
morality. "What, (says an eminent writer,) could be the cause of his
belief, but this restraint, of which his belief was the natural
consequence? For, having confined himself to morals, he had nothing to
mislead him; whereas, the rest of the philosophers, applying themselves
with a kind of fanaticism to physics and metaphysics, had drawn a number
of absurd but subtile conclusions, which directly opposed the
consequences of those moral arguments."[64]

Footnote 64:


And the great Newton, in reference to this subject, finishes his
principles of natural philosophy with these reflections:--"This most
elegant frame of things could not have arisen, unless by the contrivance
and direction of a wise and powerful being: and if the fixed stars are
the centres of systems, these systems must be similar; and all these,
constructed according to the same plan, are subject to the government of
_one_ Being. All these he governs, _not as the soul of the world_, but
as the Lord of all; and therefore, on account of his government, he is
called the Lord God; for God is a relative term, and refers to subjects.
Deity is God's government, not of his own body, as those think who
consider him as the soul of the world, but of his servants. The supreme
God is a _Being_, eternal, infinite, and absolutely perfect. But a
being, however perfect, without government is not God; for we say my
God, your God, the God of Israel. We cannot say my Eternal, my Infinite.
We may have some notions, indeed, of his attributes, but can have none
of his nature. With respect to bodies, we see only shapes and colour,
hear only sounds, touch only surfaces. These are attributes of bodies,
but of their essence we know nothing. As a blind man can form no notion
of colours, we can form none of the manner in which God perceives, and
understands, and influences every thing.

"Therefore, we know God only by his attributes. What are these? The wise
and excellent contrivance, structure, and final aim of all things. In
these his perfections we admire him, and we wonder. In his direction or
government, we venerate and worship him--we worship him as his servants;
for God without dominion, without providence, and final aims, is
_Fate_--not the object either of reverence, of hope, of love, or of

You may say that you never intended to inculcate such doctrines as I
have alluded to, and you can produce various instances in which you have
described the Almighty as the supreme governor of the universe; and if
these facts are a justification of the course you have pursued, you may
continue your career completely sheltered from censure or reproach; for
I cannot observe a single novelty in your opinions, or deviation from
the established doctrines of the Christian church, which have not been
contradicted by yourself.

But such an excuse cannot be availing; you declare that you dare not
speak at random, otherwise you would show that you departed from _God's
illuminating spirit_; and although those who have had an opportunity to
read and compare your different sermons, can contemplate that solemn
declaration with no other than feelings of astonishment and regret at
the strange delusion, with others it may have a different effect. You
are a travelling preacher, scattering one doctrine here, and another
there; and interlarding your discourses with bold assertions, which are
remembered, when the prolix and visionary distinctions by which you
attempt to qualify them are forgotten.

I remember hearing an individual who had attended at a meeting in the
vicinity of Philadelphia, at which you preached, when asked what was the
subject of your discourse, reply, that you preached very comfortable
doctrine for some of the company, for you had assured them there was no
devil. I am not so uncharitable as to believe that you are intentionally
instrumental in removing the salutary restraints upon the vices of man;
and yet I am surprised that you do not perceive the inevitable and
pernicious consequences of such declarations; and that, if you do not
believe in the authority of the Scriptures yourself, you do not avoid
assertions which, while they can have no tendency to strengthen and
encourage the pious mind, must necessarily diminish those feelings of
future responsibility which, awful as they are, unhappily are not
sufficient to restrain the wickedness of man.[65]

Footnote 65:

  If the reader wishes to know what Elias Hicks says on this subject,
  let him peruse the Sermons, pages 37, 163, 166, 170, 182, and 293, and
  he will there have a fair specimen of the darkness which surrounds
  him--a cloud of words unilluminated by a ray of light.

Many to whom you preach are illiterate, and without capacity to
investigate your doctrines and their tendency. They have been accustomed
to listen to the simple truths of our religion, enforced in language
which they can understand; and they often found in their attendance at
places of worship, consolation, instruction, and encouragement. They
have been taught to believe in the revelations unfolded in the sacred
volume, and to look forward with the cheering hope, of a Mediator and
Redeemer, "who ever liveth to make intercession for them."[66]

Footnote 66:

  Hebrews, chap. vii.

These are the lessons of practical piety, which bring the mind into a
situation to worship acceptably, and under the influence of which, men
but little instructed in human learning, are often enabled to counsel
the wise of this world in the things that lead to their peace.

But if these things are all to be changed: if in place of this simple,
practical religion, our places of worship are to be converted into
theatres for metaphysical disquisitions, and the discussion of questions
more curious than useful; and we are to be instructed in the
unprofitable controversies which have so long perplexed and disturbed
the christian world: if faith is no longer a christian principle, and
the revelations of the scriptures rejected when not to be arrived at by
the analogy of reason, then indeed must the Quaker ministry be
constituted anew, and even your own labours cease. The old and unchanged
servants can take no part or portion in the new order of things; and it
cannot be expected that the disciples of the new school will take for a
master to lead them to the truth by analogous reasoning, one, who has
yet to be taught what reason really is.

                               LETTER IX.

Your assertion that "you cannot believe what you do not understand," is
often quoted by your followers, as a proof of your having emancipated
yourself from the thraldom of tradition, and risen superior to those
prejudices, which early education, and the authority of antiquity have
fastened on the minds of men; and yet when we examine and compare this
assertion with the doctrines you inculcate, it appears evident that you
have not a correct idea of the meaning of your favourite maxim.

This understanding can only be arrived at by the natural faculties of
perception, judgment, and reasoning, and as the truth of the especial
revelations of which you speak, are propositions which cannot be
demonstrated by the use of these faculties; they must, if assented to,
be purely matters of faith, arising from our belief in the general truth
of the christian dispensation.

There is a clear distinction between things which are according to,
above, and contrary to, reason. The first are propositions, the truth of
which may be discovered by the use of the ideas we have acquired from
sensation and reflection. The second are propositions whose truth cannot
be investigated by these means: and the third, such as are inconsistent
and irreconcileable to our clear and distinct ideas.

Thus, were you to tell us, that without other impulse than your own
_will_, you can give mobility to matter, and at your pleasure reduce it
to a quiescent state, we cannot withhold our assent, because we see you
exercising that dominion in the government of your limbs; and yet so far
from understanding the operation of this wonderful power, the mind
cannot form the least idea how the effect is produced. But when we hear
you declare to one set of people "that the law of the spirit of life in
one, is not the law of the spirit of life in his brother; and that each
individual requires a peculiar law to himself;"[67] and to another,
"that this divine law which is written by the finger of God upon the
tablet of our hearts, is the same to every individual;"[68] we know that
these contradictory assertions cannot both be true; and must withhold
our belief when you declare "that you dare not speak at random,
otherwise you should show that you departed from God's illuminating
spirit;" because our reason will never permit us to believe that such
inconsistencies can proceed from the illuminations of infinite wisdom.

Footnote 67:

  Philadelphia Sermons, page 51.

Footnote 68:

  New York Sermons, page 124.

"Reason," (says Locke,) "is natural revelation, whereby the eternal
Father of Light, and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind
that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their
natural faculties. _Revelation_ is natural reason, enlarged by a new set
of discoveries, communicated by God immediately, which reason vouches
the truth of, by the testimony and proof it gives that they come from
God." And he rebukes the presumption of those who reduce the measure of
their belief to the narrow limits of their own understanding, and
declares "it is an over-valuing of ourselves, to reduce all to the
narrow measure of our capacities; and to conclude all things impossible
to be done, whose manner of doing exceeds our comprehension. This is to
make our comprehension _infinite_, or God _finite_, when what he can do,
is limited to what we can conceive of it. If you do not understand the
operations of your own finite mind, that thinking thing, within you, do
not deem it strange, that you cannot comprehend the operations of that
eternal, infinite mind, who made and governs all things, and whom the
heaven of heavens cannot contain."

If a Socinian tells me that he cannot assent to any doctrine which is
not on a level with the comprehension of the human understanding, he is
at least intelligible; for he necessarily rejects the doctrine of
inspiration; but when you make the same assertion, and yet declare that
God is incomprehensible to us as rational creatures, and that all the
aids which science and philosophy can give, can never bring man to
believe rightly in God,[69] and that it is by his inward manifestations
only that we can discover the path of our duty; the assertions are
evidently incompatible; and if any deduction can be drawn from them, it
is, that the indications by which alone we are taught aright, we are not
bound to believe.

Footnote 69:

  Philadelphia Sermons, pages 51, 294, and 300.

Reduce your argument to a syllogism, and reflect on the result.

_Prop._ I. We cannot believe any thing which the human understanding
cannot comprehend.

_Prop._ II. Science and philosophy, and all the knowledge which man can
derive from his natural faculties, can never bring him to comprehend or
believe rightly in God.

_Conclusion._ As it is impossible for man to believe any thing which the
human understanding cannot comprehend, and he not being able by the aid
of these faculties to comprehend or believe rightly in God, it is
impossible for him to comprehend or believe rightly in God.

Suppose, (and I think it actually the case,) that you do not perceive
the extent to which your assertion leads, and that you intended to
convey the idea that we are not to believe any thing above the limits of
our natural capacities on the testimony of another, and only when the
same is especially revealed to us; then I would ask why you waste so
much time in descanting on them? According to your own rule, none but
those who are favoured with the same especial revelations can believe
you, and to them your preaching is useless.

These are the inconsistencies of those _who bow the knee to the image of
the Baal of the present day_; who, neglecting the exhortation "not to
think more highly of themselves than they ought to think; but to think
soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of
faith,"[70] have become wise in their own conceits.

Footnote 70:

  Romans, chap. xiv.

If indeed the doctrine is true, that nothing is to be believed as of
divine origin, which cannot be accounted for by that faculty of
comprehending and judging which we derive from nature, the number of
religions must be nearly in proportion to the number of individuals.
What will be clear and evident to the more discerning, will be
unintelligible to the superficial and ignorant, and our unbelief will be
increased in the same ratio in which our intellectual faculties are

Look from the hillock on which you stand, at the ascending and
descending grades of human intellect, and contemplate the immeasurable
distance between the minds of a Newton and a Hicks; of a Hicks and an
Esquimaux: you will find the last unable to comprehend truths of which
you possess indubitable evidence, and yourself unable to understand many
of the laws by which the universe is governed, although you may have
before you, the demonstrations by which the great philosopher has proved
their truth.

Indeed after all this boast of regulating the conduct by those facts and
circumstances only which we understand, every observer must perceive,
that under the practical exercise of this principle, even the common
affairs of life would stand still; that we all act on the moral
certainty of the existence and operation of things, the cause or
production of which is beyond our comprehension; and that it is from the
evidence of their actual existence, and not the discovery of the means
of it, that our belief in them is established. And such is the weakness
of that understanding on which you so much rely, that even on subjects
where it can with propriety be exercised, we every day see men believing
and disbelieving propositions under the influence of their interests and
inclinations, and sincerely changing their opinions, with their
situations and circumstances.

"Reason," (says the author[71] of a review of the internal evidence of
the christian religion,) "is undoubtedly our surest guide in all matters
which lie within the narrow circle of her intelligence. On the subject
of revelation her province is only to examine its authority and when
that is once proved, she has no more to do, but to acquiesce in its
doctrines; and is therefore never so ill employed as when she pretends
to accommodate them to her own ideas of rectitude and truth. God, says
this _self sufficient teacher_, is perfectly wise, just, and good; and
what is the inference? That all his dispensations must be conformable to
our notions of perfect wisdom, justice, and goodness: but it should
first be proved, that man is as perfect and as wise as his Creator, or
this consequence will by no means follow; but rather the reverse, that
is, that the dispensations of a perfect and all wise being, must
probably, appear unreasonable, and perhaps unjust, to a being imperfect
and ignorant." And in reply to the objections to the divine origin of
the christian religion, from the apparent incredibility of some of its
doctrines, particularly those concerning the trinity, and atonement for
sin by the sufferings and death of Christ, one of which is asserted to
be contrary to all the principles of human reason, and the other to all
our ideas of divine justice, he says, "No arguments founded on
principles which we cannot comprehend, can possibly disprove a
proposition already proved on principles which we do understand: and
therefore on this subject they ought not to be attended to: that three
beings should be one being, is a proposition which certainly contradicts
reason, that is _our_ reason; but it does not from thence follow that it
cannot be true; for there are many propositions which contradict our
reason, and yet are demonstrably true: one is, the very first principle
of all religion, the being of a God; for that any thing should exist
without a cause, or that any thing should be the cause of its own
existence, are propositions equally contradictory to our reason; yet one
of them must be true, or nothing could ever have existed. In like manner
the overruling grace of the Creator, and the free will of his creatures;
his foreknowledge of future events, and the uncertain contingency of
these events, are to our apprehensions absolute contradictions to each
other; and yet the truth of every one of them is demonstrable from
Scripture, reason, and experience. All these difficulties arise from our
imagining that the mode of existence of all beings must be similar to
our own, that is, that they must all exist in time and space; and hence
proceeds our embarrassment on this subject. We know that no two beings,
with whose mode of existence we are acquainted, can exist at the same
point of time, in the same point of space, and that therefore they
cannot be one: but how far beings whose mode of existence bears no
relation to time or space, may be united, we cannot comprehend; and
therefore the possibility of such an union we cannot positively deny."
And to those who assert that even if these doctrines are true, it is
inconsistent with the justice and goodness of the Creator to require
from them the belief of propositions which contradict, or are above the
understanding which he has bestowed on them, he says, "to this I answer,
that christianity requires no such belief: it has discovered to us many
important truths, with which we were before entirely unacquainted, and
amongst them are these, that three beings are sometimes united in the
divine essence, and that God will accept of the sufferings of Christ as
an atonement for the sins of mankind. These, considered as declarations
of facts only, neither contradict, nor are above the reach of human
reason: the first is a proposition as plain, as that three equilateral
lines compose one triangle; the other as intelligible as that one man
should discharge the debts of another. In what manner this union is
formed, or why God accepts these vicarious punishments, or to what
purposes they may be subservient, it informs us not, because no
information would enable us to comprehend these mysteries, and therefore
it does not require that we should know or believe any thing about them.
The truth of these doctrines must rest entirely on the authority of
those who taught them; but then we should reflect that those were the
same persons who taught us a system of religion more sublime, and of
ethics more perfect, than any which our faculties were ever able to
discover, but which, when discovered, are exactly consonant to our
reason, and that therefore we should not hastily reject those
informations which they have vouchsafed to give us, of which our reason
is not a competent judge. If an able mathematician proves to us the
truth of several propositions by demonstrations which we understand, we
hesitate not on his authority to assent to others, the process of whose
proofs we are not able to follow: why therefore should we refuse that
credit to Christ and his apostles which we think reasonable to give to
one another."

Footnote 71:

  Soame Jenyns.

We know that the first preachers of the gospel were generally illiterate
men, and that the first converts were among the unlearned and ignorant;
and it was sufficiently intelligible to them because the practical parts
were then taught; which, if not the only, are certainly the most
essential portion of it. Its intrinsic excellence is perhaps the best
evidence of its divine origin; yet it cannot be denied that proofs of
its authority may sometimes be drawn from the speculative inquiries of
learned and pious men. But a very little reflection must convince us how
little the reasoning of uninformed men can be depended on; and that when
they are so unwise as to habituate their minds to such speculations,
their ignorance must continually involve them in error and
contradictions: and it surely would be prudent in these to pause, before
they reject a revelation which does not accord with their crude notions
of reason and the fitness of things, when they recollect that the
diligent and learned researches of the master minds of such men as
Grotius, Bacon, Newton, Locke, and Paley, have ended in convincing them
of its truth.

There are in the Scriptures, allusions to mysteries which it seems not
given to us to comprehend in this state of being; and, consequently, all
inquiries into them are vain: is it not, therefore, reasonable to
believe, that such is not our proper business, and that our concern is
with those truths only, which have a practical operation on the minds
and conduct of men, and which are clearly revealed: and if we examine
the consequences to many of those who are engaged in these theoretic
inquiries, must we not conclude that they tend little to righteousness,
and less to their own peace.

                               LETTER X.

Religion being a subject of the greatest importance to man, and a matter
solely between the Creator and the individual who worships him, its
rewards and its punishments appertaining to that kingdom which is not of
this world, and "the conscience of man being the seat and throne of God
in him, of which He alone is the proper and infallible judge, who by his
power and spirit can rectify its mistakes;"[72] and it being man's duty
to worship according to the dictates of that conscience, it must follow,
not only from the precepts of the Christian religion, but also from the
clearest dictates of reason, that every attempt on the part of others to
control or direct his belief, is a usurpation; and the injustice is not
greater than the folly of such attempts; for who is there that can
believe that the coerced acquiescence in any form of worship, can be
grateful in the sight of the Almighty; or that he who, by the exertion
of power, thus makes hypocrites, can render a service acceptable to him.

Footnote 72:


Yet, notwithstanding this self-evident truth, we find the spirit of
persecution had taken such fast hold of the minds of men, and had become
so identified with the priestly character, that although they were
always ready to complain, and recommend moderation, when suffering from
its exercise by others, they generally resorted to it when their own
sect became dominant, and ages elapsed before the principles of
toleration gained the ascendency in any portion of the globe. And it is,
indeed, painful to observe with what reluctance this wicked prerogative
of power has been abandoned, and that in this country, in the full
exercise of the rights of conscience, and in the midst of the blessings
which accrue from it, individuals are found in different Christian
societies who evince by their conduct, the old spirit; and who, happily
restrained by the law from the use of the sword and faggot, freely
indulge in contumely and reproach, the only weapons left them.

The Society of Friends early distinguished themselves as champions for
the rights of conscience, and the consequences which resulted from the
practical exercise of this principle in settling the province of
Pennsylvania, have, both mediately and immediately, been of incalculable
advantage in softening the hearts, and enlarging the minds of men, and
have caused the name of Penn to be enrolled in the first class of the
benefactors of mankind.

The soil of Pennsylvania was dedicated by the great proprietor to
religious freedom; it was the asylum offered to all sufferers for
conscience sake; and our legislators, acting on the same principles,
have done their part by protecting it from the actual violence of
bigotry. This is all that they could do, and the duty remains to each
religious community to suppress that spirit, which, when indulged,
eradicates from the human heart all the charities of life.

This is the duty of all, and, in a more especial manner, of those who,
professing to be of the same faith, also profess to walk in the path of
that man: and that they are now called to the exercise of this duty must
be evident from the course which you and some others have pursued.

"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he
standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up; for God is able to make
him stand. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at
nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of
Christ. Let us not judge one another any more."[73]

Footnote 73:

  Romans, chap. xiv.

This was the exhortation of Paul to the Romans, when instructing them in
the use of Christian liberty; for he had been taught by his master,
_that there were other sheep, though not of this fold_.[74] You,
however, seem to be in the state of Peter before his vision, who thought
it unlawful to eat with the uncircumcised, and knew not, _that on the
Gentiles also, was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost_: and, like
James and John, you seem ready to call down the fire of heaven on those
who do not receive the gospel according to your own particular ritual,
although you must have read the rebuke of their master, "Ye know not
what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man is not come to
destroy men's lives, but to save them."[75]

Footnote 74:

  John, chap. x.

Footnote 75:

  Luke, chap. ix.

You denounce the members of Bible and Missionary Societies, and the
ministers of most other sects, and stigmatise their endeavours to spread
the gospel, _as an abomination in the land_; and accuse them of taking
from the widow for their own aggrandisement.[76] You say that they
compass sea and land to make a proselyte, and that _when he is made,
they have made him two-fold more the child of hell than he was
before_;[77] and, in speaking of the studies which many religious
societies enjoin as a preparation for the ministry, you call it
inventing religions by earthly science; and, usurping the judgment seat,
you boldly pronounce every priest, thus made, to be _an enemy to his
God_;[78] thus indiscriminately anathematising thousands and tens of
thousands of men, of whom you know nothing.

Footnote 76:

  Philadelphia Sermons, pages 23, 24, 26.

Footnote 77:

  Phil. Sermons, page 120.

Footnote 78:

  Philadelphia Sermons, page 289.

Yet, when it answered a present purpose, we find you asserting, "that
the law of the spirit of life in you, is not the law of the spirit of
life in your brother, whose bondage here may be different from your own;
that each requires a law peculiar to himself; and that the law in
another man's mind is no law to us;" and you say you believe that there
are among the Christian professors, many who are industriously seeking
the Lord, although under the power of tradition and education, and the
superstition that reigns in the land.[79]

Footnote 79:

  Philada. Sermons, pages 51, 267.

That no man can tell how far his own opinions are influenced by
tradition and education is unquestionable, and it ought to render us
cautious in censuring those of others; and if it is indeed true, that
each requires a law peculiar to himself, and that the law in another
man's mind is no law to us, it must follow that we can form no idea of
another's duty, and that to attempt to censure or direct his conduct, is
as unwise as it is presumptuous. And we can account for your
inconsistency, only by supposing, that you believe yourself possessed of
a faculty heretofore thought to be an attribute of Omnipotence only, and
that you also are a searcher of hearts; or that, like Mahomet, you have
especial revelations which release you from the obligations which you
impose on others.

Neither of your positions appear to me to be correct. I believe with one
of the most exemplary ministers that the Society of Friends ever
produced,[80] that all true Christians are of the same spirit, though
their gifts may be diverse; that sincere, upright hearted people in
every society who love God, are accepted of him; and that Christianity
is a pure principle in the human mind, _which is confined to no forms of
religion, nor excluded from any_, where the heart stands in perfect

Footnote 80:

  John Woolman, pages 9, 81, 325.

These are the opinions of one, who I cannot be mistaken in considering,
as of greater authority than yourself; for the history of his life
discovers the uniformity of his belief; and the moderation which
characterised his language and opinions, sufficiently prove that he
adopted in practice the recommendation of a very pious man,[81] "turn
your eyes inward upon yourself, for you can hardly exceed in judging
your own actions, nor be too cautious and sparing in censuring those of
others; and _censuring_, indeed, this deserves to be called, in the
worst sense of the word, rather than _judging_; if we consider, not only
how unprofitable to any good end, but how liable to infinite mistakes,
and very often how _exceedingly sinful_, all such judgments are."

Footnote 81:

  Thomas a Kempis.

I am not a member of any Missionary or Bible Society, nor are all the
measures pursued by either of them, in accordance with my opinions; but
I see among them, men who, by their lives and conversations, evince the
purity and uprightness of their motives, and I dare _not judge them,
lest I be judged_.

In reading the rash and uncharitable assertions which I have quoted, I
have imagined one of these men expostulating with you. Suppose him to
say, Look to the many pious, charitable, and distinguished men who are
among us, and say whether you really believe they would rob the widow of
her mite for their own aggrandisement? Or do you believe that the
labours of a Wilberforce,[82] who has devoted all his talents, and
passed a life in unparalleled exertions for the relief of the oppressed
Africans, and in communicating to them a knowledge of the Christian
religion, are an abomination in the land? You appear to have your mind
exercised on account of this people, and have expressed great zeal on
their behalf; but your labours seem to be confined to declamations among
your friends in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, among whom slavery does not
exist, and whose abhorrence of the practice is equal to your own.

Footnote 82:

  He is one of the most active members of the Society for propagating
  the gospel.

Compare these labours with those of one of our brethren,[83] who, under
a like concern, believed himself called to visit the mansions of misery,
and endeavour to pour into the afflicted bosom of wretchedness, the
consolations unfolded by the gospel. He knew the perils and privations
that awaited him, and he encountered them all. Excluded from the society
of the white inhabitants, and continually assailed with contumely, he
passed his days among this miserable and degraded race, until, under the
pretext that he fomented rebellion among the slaves, he was imprisoned
and condemned to die, on the oaths of some of these wretched beings,
whose own lives depended on the testimony they gave. This was all that
his enemies could do, for the regulations of the government of England
did not permit the execution of the sentence until ratified by them, and
the proceedings were no sooner known there than they were annulled. But
it was too late! the severity of his imprisonment in an unhealthy
climate had hurried him to his grave. His journal and letters show the
extent of his labours, and that in many instances, even the imperfect
knowledge and experience which his converts must necessarily have had of
our religion, had produced a striking improvement in their conduct and
conversation, and afforded great encouragement to expect the happiest

Footnote 83:

  The missionary Smith.

Now, can you believe that this man, who has given such evidence of the
sincerity of his belief, and of his devotedness to what he deemed his
duty, could be numbered among the enemies of his God? Or that the
glimpse of gospel light which he had been instrumental in communicating
to the benighted minds of the miserable beings around him, had made them
_two-fold more the children of hell than before_?

To such expostulations you could make no reply, nor can the imagination
conceive any plausible apology for the terms you have used. The
inconsistency and extravagance of the assertions carry with them their
own refutation, and the coarseness of the language can inspire nothing
but disgust in every liberal mind. In one point of view only, can they
be of importance to any but yourself, and that is, as it affects the
reputation of the society of which you are a member; and as these
sentiments are alien to those of that respectable body, it is to be
lamented that a meeting which was probably attended by people of various
religious professions, was permitted to separate, without some
individual whose mind was imbued with their truly catholic principles,
explaining what they really are; so that none might go away in the
belief that _this people also_, presume to scan the limits of the mercy
of the Almighty, "and deal damnation round the land, on each they judge
his foe."

Nor do I believe that your own heart responds to such sentiments, or
that in your cooler moments you can possibly believe them correct. The
tongue is an unruly member, and he who talks much, will sometimes talk
unwisely. We are told that although man can tame the beasts of the
forest, "the tongue no man can tame." "Behold," (says the apostle,[84])
"how great a matter a little fire kindleth." "Therewith bless we God,
even the Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the
similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and
cursing. _My brethren these things ought not to be so._ This wisdom
descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. But the
wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and
easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality
and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace,
of them that make peace."

Footnote 84:

  James, Chap. 3.

An accurate observer will often discover how erroneously the zeal of
individuals operates: he will see around him numbers always ready to
counsel and advise their neighbours; to detect their errors and reprove
their aberrations: but how few among us scan with equal severity their
own; and this, because there is something gratifying in the superiority
which attaches to the counsellor and censor of others, but always
troublesome, and often painful, to sit in judgment on ourselves. So when
the preacher is followed and applauded, it often begets a restless
spirit: silent worship no longer affords him satisfaction, and he seldom
permits it to others, when he is present. Few men have such fertility of
imagination as to be able to vary such frequent discourses; he is often
at a loss for a subject, and seizes with avidity every new idea,
regardless of its correctness, if it possesses the charm of novelty.

The author of an essay on practical piety[85] makes some reflections on
the situation of ministers of the gospel, which ought to be attentively
considered by them. "There are perils on the right hand and on the left.
It is not among the least, that though a pious clergyman may, at first,
have tasted with trembling caution of the delicious cup of applause, he
may gradually grow, as thirst is increased by indulgence, to drink too
deeply of the enchanted chalice. The dangers arising from any thing that
is good, are formidable because unsuspected. And such are the perils of
popularity, that we will venture to say that the victorious general, who
has conquered a kingdom, or the sagacious statesman who has preserved
it, is almost in less danger of being spoiled than the popular preacher;
because their danger is likely to happen but once, his is perpetual:
theirs is only on a day of triumph, his day of triumph occurs every
week; we mean, the admiration he excites. Every fresh success ought to
be a fresh motive to humiliation: he who feels his danger will
vigilantly guard against swallowing too greedily, _the indiscriminate_
and often _undistinguishing_ plaudits, which his _doctrines_, or his
_manner_, his _talents_ or his _voice_, may equally procure for him. If
he be not prudent as well as pious, he may be brought to humour his
audience, and his audience to flatter him with a dangerous emulation,
till they will scarcely endure truth itself, from any other lips. The
spirit of excessive fondness generates a spirit of controversy. Some of
the followers will rather improve in casuistry than in christianity.
They will be more busied in opposing Paul to Apollos, than in looking
unto Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith, than in bringing
forth fruits meet for repentance. _Religious gossip_ may assume the
place of religion itself. A party spirit is thus generated, and
christianity may begin to be considered as a thing to be discussed and
disputed, to be heard and talked about, rather than as the productive
principle of virtuous conduct."

Footnote 85:

  H. Moore.

That this spirit exists in a considerable degree among a portion of the
Society of Friends, I think cannot be doubted; and it would indeed be
wise in each individual, seriously to scrutinize his own conduct, and
consider whether he has been instrumental in generating or propagating


When I first undertook to review some of the prominent features in the
sermons alluded to, I did expect to confine my remarks within a narrow
compass; but the topics which the author discusses are so various and
the applications so numerous, that it unavoidably led to their
extension, and I have at last left many untouched which are entitled to
very serious consideration.

I know there are some very serious and pious men who lament that these
sermons were published; but I am not of their opinion; for although they
may, in one point of view, be prejudicial, an accurate knowledge of the
whole scheme, must I think convince every thinking mind, that it is not
only inconsistent with the christian religion, but that its parts are so
discordant, and its doctrines so darkly mysterious, as to elude the
comprehension of man; and that the author, so far from elucidating that
religion by his boasted reliance on the human understanding, has been
led by that modicum of it possessed by himself, into many notions
totally irreconcileable to right reason.

In one respect they may be injurious; not by making converts to the
system, but by impairing the belief of individuals in the truths
recorded in Scripture, and thus paving the way to complete infidelity;
for there are few minds so stolid as really to have faith in a religion,
founded on a book, which they believe to be itself a fiction.

It would perhaps be advisable for every member of the Society, after
perusing these sermons, to read the life and writings of John Woolman.
Contrast often serves to elucidate the truth, and the dissimilitude is
so great, that they will have little difficulty in discovering which has
been actuated by that humble, peaceable, and gentle spirit, recommended
by the example and precepts of the Founder of our religion. They were
probably equally deficient in human learning; but while the one,
confident in his own abilities, is continually involving himself in
contradictions by allusions to subjects which he does not understand;
the other, favoured with what learning can never supply, a large fund of
_good sense_, pursues the even tenor of his way without entanglement or
inconsistency: the one, labouring to clothe his arguments in the
brilliant language of the orator, leaves them involved in inextricable
confusion; the other, explains his ideas with a precision and clearness,
which if they do not convince cannot be misunderstood.

Indeed there is such a sober seriousness and mildness of spirit which
breathes through all the writings of John Woolman; such unbounded
charity for others, and such severity in the examination of himself;
such persuasive earnestness in his exhortations, and such a perfect
conformity between all his principles and practices, that however men
may differ respecting some of his doctrines and opinions, all must
acknowledge that he possessed a mind imbued with a truly christian
spirit, and regard his tone and manner of writing as a model which ought
to be imitated by all christian professors.

The doctrine of divine inspiration was the belief of every christian
church in its primitive simplicity, and is yet the doctrine of almost
all of them, under different names and modifications; and if the belief
in it is impaired, I fear it must, in a great degree, be attributed to
some of those who profess to be under the guidance of it. Not content
with the measure of light which it affords, and which is sufficient for
the great purpose of enabling him "to work out his own salvation," man,
in the pride of his heart, is prone to get from under that humble state,
in which alone its manifestations are rightly impressed on the mind; to
believe it is given as a substitute for, and not in aid of, our reason;
and mistaking his own visionary fancies for revelations, actually
persuades himself that he also is invested with the attribute of
omniscience. The inconsistencies in which minds thus sublimated are
always involved, are stumbling blocks to many, who are from thence led
to consider all as an illusive or hypocritical pretension.

These are the whims of the imagination; when man in his exaltation
releases himself from the control of his reason, and eradicates from his
heart the pure and unadulterated principles of the christian religion;
when, forgetting his infirmities, and vaunting in his strength, he
assumes that station to which he is not called, and ministers to others,
when his own light is extinguished. These are they who are described by
the poet--

                   "Aspiring to be Gods, if angels fell,
                   Aspiring to be angels, men rebel."

But, notwithstanding the discouraging prospects which surround this
people, I trust that all is not lost; that the ark is yet upborne by
hallowed hands; and that Sion's mount is still encircled by a chosen
band, who read with humility, reverence, and instruction, that _great
spiritual and moral code_, given to man in the name and in the majesty
of Him, "who is from everlasting to everlasting, the Almighty."


Transcriber's Notes:

Missing or obscured punctuation was corrected.

Typographical errors were silently corrected.

Errata provided at the end of the book have been applied to the text.

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