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Quaker Thought & History

The Evangelical Movement and the Society of Friends

By Edward Grubb

III

The Evangelical Movement and the Society of Friends1

I wish in this Address to investigate the causes and some of the circumstances of the greatest of all the changes that have passed over the Society of Friends: the transformation it underwent during the century that elapsed between about the years 1780 and 1880, both in this country and in America. My purpose is historical, not doctrinal or controversial; and though I shall not deem it needful to conceal the views I hold myself, I have no wish to obtrude them unduly, or to enter upon any kind of propaganda. Dr. Rufus Jones has dealt with this period instructively in the first volume of his Later Periods of Quakerism. He has studied the available material so thoroughly that it would seem not many new facts remain to be discovered. But, having gone over the ground myself, and tested his conclusions, a fresh presentation of the subject may be not without interest; and in a time of transition like the present some knowledge of past changes is likely to be useful if it offers guidance for the future.

By the Evangelical Movement I mean the religious revival which came into prominent notice with the conversion and preaching of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, about the year 1740,2  and which gradually affected profoundly the whole of British and American Christianity. It is matter of common knowledge, at any rate to those who have read J. R. Green's History of the English People, that during the first half of the eighteenth century Christianity in England was at its lowest ebb. The clergy were largely asleep, and not infrequently absentees from their livings. Among the richer classes profligacy and disbelief in religion were almost universal; "Everyone laughs," says Montesquieu concerning his visit to England, "if one talks of religion." The poorer classes "were ignorant and brutal to a degree which it is hard to conceive"; of general or religious education there was almost none. It was the Methodist revival that, more than any other factor, "changed after a time the whole tone of English society. The Church was restored to life and activity. Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education."3

The type of Christianity which thus became dominant in the English Churches was that which is known as "Evangelical." In the true sense of the word, indeed, all real Christianity is necessarily "evangelical," for it brings men into happy communion with the Father of their spirits who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But the word has come to have a narrower meaning, and it is in this stricter sense that I shall mostly use it. The chief mark of Evangelical Christianity (with a capital E) which distinguishes it from the Catholic conception (with a capital C) is the stress it lays on individual conversion, and its relatively meagre emphasis on the Church as the appointed channel of salvation. It may, on the other hand, be distinguished from Mystical Christianity by the supreme importance it attaches to correct belief as necessary for salvation — belief in the absolute and infallible authority of the Bible, which it calls "The Word of God"; and in the "scheme of salvation" which it finds there, centering in the Divinity of Christ and His propitiatory Atonement for sin. For the Mystic, the seat of authority is within the human soul, and that is true which finds its witness there; while, for the Evangelical, Authority is external to man, and resides in the revelation given by God in the Scriptures.

There is, I believe, a parallel — and perhaps more than a parallel, a real connection — between the rise of Evangelicalism in religion and that of Romanticism in art and poetry — associated in the latter field with the work of Robert Burns and Wordsworth — which broke down the stiffness and formality of the eighteenth century with a flood of passionate feeling and the sense of inspiration. Religion left its cold abstractions, such as the pursuit of "virtue," with its intense fear of all enthusiasm, and began to express itself as passionate devotion to Jesus Christ and a consuming desire to bring men to Him. The poet Cowper, a child of the Evangelical revival, unites the movements in-literature and in religion, and his poetry must undoubtedly be reckoned as one of the main influences that spread the Evangelical spirit among the more educated classes. The Evangelical Friends of the early nineteenth century constantly quote him. Any real revival of personal religion could hardly, under the then existing conditions, have taken any other than an Evangelical form. While it is true that poetry is more akin to Mysticism than to the Evangelical insistence on correct theology, the new religious movement could not escape being theological because of its necessary conflict with the background of "Deism" or "Enlightenment" which characterized the more intellectual class in the later eighteenth century.

"Deism" as a phase of thought began as an attempt to simplify Christianity by ridding it of its mysterious and supernatural character, and showing its reasonableness; but in the hands of thinkers like Hume and Voltaire it passed into an anti-Christian attitude. Its fundamental characteristic is its satisfaction with human Reason as competent to deal effectively with all the matters, spiritual as well as material, with which the soul of man is concerned. In this, it should be remembered. Deism is in sharp contrast with Mysticism, which relies not on the logical Reason but on Intuition for its certainty of Divine things. While the Mystic felt God at hand, immanent and ceaselessly active in the world and in the soul of man, for the Deist God was away at the end of an argument — a great First Cause which had started the universe and set it going, but which was quite separate from the world and never interfered with its working.Now it will be generally agreed that primitive Quakerism, while definitely Christian and in the larger sense of the word evangelical, was fundamentally a form of mystical Christianity. It rested primarily on the Universal and saving Light of Christ — given not in the Scriptures only but in the soul of man, in measure in the soul of every man at all times and in all places. The essence of salvation lay, not in a "transaction" between the first and second persons of the Trinity, whereby man's salvation was given in exchange for the endurance of the punishment necessarily due to his sin,14  but in a change wrought in the soul of man himself. This type of Christianity the Quakerism of the eighteenth century had preserved, but in a form which had become too much traditional, and from which the vital enthusiasm of a first-hand experience had largely departed. The aggressive spirit of early Quakerism, bent on convincing the whole world of the "truth" it had discovered, had given place to Quietism, and the Society had become content to be "a peculiar people" shut off from intercourse with the world and devoted to the maintenance of its particular "testimonies." This "loss of the first love" was in part a phase which has marked all religious movements, including Christianity itself; in part it was due to the deadening influence of the eighteenth-century environment. There were also special weaknesses in the presentation of early Quaker thought itself, which, as Rufus Jones has shown with great clearness, especially in his Introduction to W. C. Braithwaite's Second Period of Quakerism, made a Quietistic reaction an almost inevitable outcome of the movement. The Light Within had been exalted in such a way as to make the historical revelation given in Jesus Christ seem to some minds almost superfluous; and it had been presented as a wholly supernatural endowment with which any exercise of human thought or Reason could only interfere. "The creature" with all its thoughts and strivings must be suppressed, in order that the creating and inspiring Spirit might be free to rule and guide. Everything needed for the spiritual life of men would be supplied directly by the Spirit of God Himself; religious instruction was unnecessary, and even the reading and study of the Bible was by most Friends during a considerable part of the eighteenth century to a large extent neglected. Almost the only knowledge of religious thought which the mass of the Society possessed was derived from the writings of the early Friends.

In particular, this intense fear of "creaturely activity" gravely affected the vocal ministry in the meetings of Friends. Anyone feeling a call to preach must strive to suppress entirely the workings of his own intelligence, and to become a passive instrument through which the Spirit might declare infallible oracles. Only so could real "guidance" be experienced; any steps of "the creature" would close the soul to the Divine influence. Hence the thought of being called to preach became to many timid souls almost a nightmare; the more sincere and conscientious the minister, the more he or she was overwhelmed with the burden and responsibility of deciding whether or not a message was a Divine one, or only due to his own thoughts. The journals of the period are full of the "deep baptisms of spirit" through which the writers had to pass. Hence the ranks of the ministry were only filled from persons of a certain "psychic" temperament, liable (as we should now say) to incursions from the subconscious region; and what ministry there was was for the most; part of a prophetic and often rhapsodical character. While at times it searched the hidden depths of the hearers' hearts in a wonderful way, and really "spoke to their condition," it was often incoherent in thought, diffuse, and of what would now be thought quite intolerable length. My own grandmother, Sarah (Lynes) Grubb, who, though her ministry was chiefly exercised during the early decades of the nineteenth century, belonged in spirit to the eighteenth, frequently records in her letters that she spoke from one to two hours at a stretch.The work of ministry being thus extremely arduous and burdensome, those who took a share in it became, to a large extent, a class apart from the bulk of the members, who rarely or never "opened their mouths" in a meeting for worship. In many meetings entire silence was the rule unless some travelling preacher were in attendance, and even when he was present he frequently did not feel clear to speak. Hence it is little wonder that the general spiritual life burned low. The attempt was made to meet this evil by disownment, which was practised by the Monthly Meetings on a large scale — and this not for merely technical offences such as "marriage by a priest" but for serious moral lapses, which were very frequent.15  A partial revival took place about the year 1760, thanks mainly to the labours of John Griffith and Samuel Fothergill. A committee was appointed by the Yearly Meeting to visit the meetings throughout the country and report on their condition; the Queries were revised and enlarged, and the proper answering of them was made compulsory. "This action," says Rufus Jones (Later Periods, Vol. I., p. 138) "marks an epoch, and is the beginning of a new stage in the importance of discipline." But I am afraid there is not much evidence of a general quickening of religious life. The Society remained self-centred; its main efforts were still directed rather to cutting off the diseased branches of the tree than to ensuring that the soil on which it grew was good; and the journals of Friends during the later years of the century point to a continuance of widespread laxity and carelessness. It must be remembered that it was not till 1776 that the labours of Dr. John Fothergill resulted in the founding of Ackworth School.Thomas Clarkson, one of the chief leaders of the Anti-Slavery movement, himself a broad-minded member of the Church of England, found among the Friends some of his most ardent supporters during the closing years of the century. His Portraiture of the Society of Friends was first published in 1805 or 1807, just about the time when his labours were crowned with success by the abolition of the Slave Trade. The book was written with a good deal of penetrating and sympathetic insight, but gives scarcely a hint of the changes that were even then taking place among Friends; and it shows conclusively that the Evangelical movement had not at that time taken any strong hold of the body at large. It was the best side of the Society that Clarkson had seen, and he pictures it, from his own observation, in its eighteenth-century dress and ways. What strikes a modern reader is the uniformity that then prevailed among Friends both in thought and practice. The discipline, which he describes at length, had evidently been so administered as to cut the bulk of the members as much as possible to one pattern, both in appearance, in habits and in mind. He is constantly saying "Friends believe this," and "Friends practise that," and few of his statements were ever challenged, I believe, as incorrect. The Society appears as indeed "a peculiar people," separate from "the world," attentive to religious meetings and the maintenance of discipline, but thoroughly Quietist — with few signs of missionary zeal or consciousness of a message for the world at large. He devotes a long section to their religion, which he describes as entirely in line with that of Penington and Barclay — founded on belief in the Creative and Inspiring Spirit of God, which they regard as sufficient to lead them in all spiritual matters, as Reason is sufficient in matters temporal. Little is said about their thoughts of the place and work of Jesus of Nazareth; it is Christ as the Spirit that works in men salvation or redemption, though (as in Barclay) it is recognized that it was the sufferings of Christ which procured the forgiveness of sins and so put men into "a capacity for salvation." Writing of the Quaker objection to the doctrine of Election and Reprobation, Clarkson says:

"It is the belief of the members of this Society that every man who attends to the strivings of the Holy Spirit has the power of inward redemption within himself; and that as outward redemption by the sufferings of Jesus Christ extends to all where the inward has taken place, so redemption or salvation in its full extent is possible to every individual of the human race." (One volume edition, p. 164.)

How different this statement is from some that were accepted as "orthodox" when the Evangelical movement had penetrated the Society, the sequel will perhaps show.

I have carefully looked through all the Yearly Meeting Epistles issued between 1770 and 1840, to discover if possible when the change in thought affected the official utterances of the body, but without any very clear results till after the disastrous separation in America in 1828-29. Then there is a distinct change of emphasis in the direction of insistence on correct theology and on recognition of the paramount authority of Scripture. During the later years of the eighteenth century attention is focused mainly on obedience to the Light of truth in the heart which, it is taken for granted, will show itself in the maintenance of the well-known testimonies of the Society to plainness of dress and speech, business integrity, the avoidance of mixed marriages, the non-payment of tithes, the non-recognition of a "hireling ministry," and so forth. There is a failure to distinguish between "mint anise and cummin" and the weightier matters of the law. War and slavery are almost the only subjects of world interest that receive attention. There are occasional warnings (as in 1782) against the prevalent "Deism": "subtle reasonings and plausible discourses which artfully instil the poisonous leaven of infidelity"; and the diligent reading of the Scriptures as the antidote is more and more insisted on. In 1799 and 1803 we find allusions to additions of members by convincement (thanks largely, I believe, to the labours of William Savery and other devoted ministers), but in 1807 it is regretfully admitted that these "do not always retain their ground." In 1813 the interest of Friends in the circulation of the Scriptures through the newly formed Bible Society is expressed, with the caution that the necessity of giving heed to the inward Divine Word must not be overlooked. As to Theology, there are (all through) occasional references to the suffering of Christ as the ground of our reconciliation to God, and this receives increasing emphasis. But the relation between what Clarkson calls the outward and the inward conditions of salvation, which Barclay left in considerable obscurity, is not cleared up. Friends remained content to speak of the death of Christ as having brought men into capacity for a salvation which would not become a reality without the inward work. The first definitely doctrinal Epistle I have found is that of 1823, in which the need of orthodox belief is stressed, and its nature indicated at some length. But here also the caution is given against supposing that correct belief will effect salvation without the inward sanctification of the Spirit. Divergent thoughts among the membership are thus neatly balanced, as is the way with Yearly Meeting Epistles. From 1829 onwards this emphasis on doctrine continually increases, and the changed attitude of the majority of the Society finds full expression in the well-known passage of the Epistle of 1836, written by J. J. Gurney, in which, it is hardly too much to say, the Bible is made the final seat of authority in religion, and the supremacy of the Spirit is set aside.

It is clear, then, from Clarkson's Portraiture, and from a study of the Yearly Meeting utterances, that the Evangelical movement was very late in affecting the thoughts and ways of the main body of Friends. But it had influenced individual leaders much earlier, and among these were some of the most fervent and devoted preachers on both sides of the Atlantic. Several of these, it is important to note, were Friends by convincement and not by birth: such were Mary Dudley and Thomas Shillitoe in England, and Rebecca Jones, David Sands and Stephen Grellet from America. They brought into the Society something that would hardly have arisen from within.

Mary Dudley was born in the Church of England, but was early attracted to the Methodists, and became an intimate friend of John Wesley, who did all in his power to dissuade her from joining the Quakers. [For some individual Friends Wesley had a high esteem, but he detested their principles and their practice of silent worship. Barclay's Apology he dismissed as a "solemn trifle.") She joined the Society at the age of 23, and before long became one of its ablest ministers, travelling not only in England but in Ireland and on the Continent of Europe. She brought into her preaching a fervour and passion which was unfamiliar in the Society, and which awakened many into new spiritual life. Her constant theme was the following of Christ, and her farewell message was: "Preach Christ crucified . . . not only what He would do within us by His Spirit, but also what He hath done without us, the all-atoning sacrifice which should never be lost sight of."I find more difficulty in following Rufus Jones when he ranks Thomas Shillitoe as an Evangelical. His was one of those rare natures that defy the attempt to classify them. A Quietest of the Quietisms, he carried further than almost any other Quaker minister the endeavour to put aside all his own thoughts and reasonings, and to follow absolutely the supernatural direction of his inward guide. He desires to be, he says, "like a cork on the mighty ocean of service, wafted hither and thither as the Spirit may blow." He was led in paths that seemed impossible, but was always brought through, though often after sore inward travail. He passed weeks of agonising repentance because once in America he missed a meeting for which he believed he had a message, through making insufficient enquiry as to the hour at which it was held. His consuming passion was to bring people to Christ their Saviour and inward Teacher — especially those who seemed the furthest from Him, whether in low public-houses, among the brutalised miners of Kingswood, or on the thrones of Europe. He had at least two impressive interviews with the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., and rebuked him fearlessly for his immoral life, saying he would willingly, if it were possible, give up his life for him.16  Though there is very little theology in the two volumes of his Journal, and his preaching seems to have been severely practical (one of his concerns was that Friends should not read newspapers!), it is clear that the basis of his hope of salvation for himself and for the world was the offering of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. One of the sins of the world that lay heavy on his soul was the Nona observance, especially in Germany, of the first day of the week. And such is the complexity of human nature that this same sensitive and loving soul took a part in the great American separation which we can only now call that of a bigoted partisan. He condemned unheard all who showed the slightest sympathy with "the Separatists" refused to meet or confer with them as to any grievances they might have, and encouraged his orthodox Friends to disown them wholesale, even in Monthly Meetings where the orthodox were in a small minority. It is little wonder that the "Hicksite" Friends regarded him, and still regard him, as a chief representative of the new Evangelical thought which in their judgment mainly caused the separation.17

There is less doubt about the position of David Sands. He was brought up among the Presbyterians in the State of New York, but joined Friends as a young man and was recorded as a minister at the age of 30. He travelled extensively in the ministry on both sides of the Atlantic, spending no less than ten years (1795-1805) in Great Britain and Ireland and some parts of the Continent of Europe. His anonymous biographer, who writes from a strongly Evangelical point of view, speaks repeatedly of the labours of David Sands to promote what he believed to be orthodoxy of belief. "He was desirous to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. It was the truths of the Gospel as taught by our holy Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles for which he contended." (Memoir, p. 190).He took the lead in opposing a section of Friends in Ireland who were thought to undervalue the Scriptures and to deny the deity and atoning sacrifice of Christ, and was also a leading opponent of Hannah Barnard. These circumstances I shall have to allude to again rather later. Rufus Jones says of him, in a judgment with which I concur, that "he, more than any other prominent minister of the eighteenth century, cultivated in the minds of Friends both in England and America the Evangelical temper and the habit of orthodoxy." (Later Periods, Vol. I., p. 282.)

An abler and more highly educated minister than David Sands was William Savery, also an American, who is best known as having been instrumental in the conversion of Elizabeth Gurney, afterwards Elizabeth Fry. Rufus Jones, apparently with some hesitation, regards him as having been equally influential with David Sands in turning the thoughts of Friends in the Evangelical direction, but of this I have considerable doubt. His ministry attracted the attention of Dr. John C. Lettsom, who had the largest practice of any physician in London, and whose strict orthodoxy was under considerable suspicion. Dr. Lettsom contributed a very favourable Foreword to a small volume of Savery's sermons, which were taken down and published without his consent and against his judgment. In these sermons, delivered to large companies of people most of whom were not Friends, the appeal is almost entirely to the Light within men as an experience which all in measure share, and which if followed will lead them to Christ. Though the historical person and work of Jesus Christ are strongly emphasized, my own judgment would be that Savery's preaching was informed by the spirit of the Quakerism of the seventeenth century, and was evangelical in the larger sense but not in the narrower.18  Undoubtedly he did much to awaken Friends and many others to new spiritual life. He records that his chief concern was for the world at large, and that he often had nothing to say in the meetings of Friends; and nothing is more remarkable than the immense crowds that flocked to his meetings, often at very short notice, alike in England, Scotland and Ireland.29  He was much concerned about the "new thought" that was affecting Friends in the last-named country, especially their apparent disparagement of the Scriptures; but, though strongly opposed to "Deism" in any shape, he was tender with those whose views appeared to him defective, urged them to speak their minds freely, and did not raise their wrathful opposition as David Sands did. His chief work in this country was done in 1798, and appears to me to fall into line with that of John Woolman and Job Scott, rather than with that of the strictly Evangelical ministers.

I believe that one of the chief agencies in working the change we are considering was the preaching, at a rather later period, of Stephen Grellet. But, as this belongs distinctly to the nineteenth century, it may be well to defer its consideration till we have picked up one or two more threads from the later years of the eighteenth.The great agitation against the Slave Trade, which went on from 1787 to 1807 when it was abolished by law, brought many Friends into contact with the leaders of that movement. These were for the most part Evangelical Churchmen, and the historian Green is certainly right in attributing the anti-Slavery movement, as well as that for the reform of prisons, to the Evangelical revival, which had aroused in the minds of men a new sense of the worth of every human soul "for which Christ died." This appeal came home with special force to those who had been taught to believe that in all men's souls there shone a Light from God, and it has already been mentioned that Clarkson and Wilberforce found in the Friends their most ardent supporters. Friends took part in the agitation not without misgivings and much cautionary advice from the older members, who feared party politics and association with persons of other religious bodies; the result was a broadening of their outlook, a new realization of the true and earnest Christianity of men and women of other creeds, and in particular a new understanding of the evangelical and missionary aspects of the Christian life. There is not, so far as I can discover, much positive evidence, for few Friends appear to have realized at the time that any change was going on; but I should judge that two of the principal channels through which the Evangelical movement penetrated the rather prickly hedge that the Society had planted round itself were the poems of Cowper and the antic Slavery agitation.10

A quite different influence, and one that acted in a totally different way, may perhaps be found in the French Revolution. Friends were agitated not so much by its political terrors — for they lived in a world almost entirely shut off from interest in world politics — as by fears of its effect on religion. They heard with horror of Thomas Paine, and associated The Rights of Man with The Age of Reason What they feared was a total dissolution of the bases of Christian belief, and it is, I believe, mainly to this cause that we must trace their rather terrified opposition to, and crushing of, the mild attempts at "freedom of thought" made by Abraham Shackleton and Hannah Barnard. The only barrier against an overwhelming flood of atheism and ungodliness seemed to be the maintenance, at whatever cost, of the old standards of thought and conduct; the only refuge against licence appeared to be the absolute authority of the Bible.11

Abraham Shackleton, of Ballitore, a leading Friend in his district, and a man of independent mind, objected openly to the severe discipline to which the members were then subjected, to the Advices given to ministers, and to the infallible authority attributed to the Scriptures, particularly the supposed commands to extirpate the Canaanites. William Savery had a long interview with him in 1798 and found him holding

"opinions of a singular nature . . . he professes to think there is little if any need of books of any kind on religious subjects, that they only darken the mind and keep it from turning itself to God, the fountain of all light and life. Of all books of a religious kind he especially dislikes Friends' journals, and has but a slight opinion of ministry and discipline, and all secondary helps in general, but is for having all people turned to the Divine Light in themselves alone . . . He thinks the Evangelists were poor historians, that Paul brought much of his Epistles from the feet of Gamaliel and many parts of them are therefore rabbinical stuff . . . For my part I could not see as he did nor unite with him in his erroneous expressions and opinions." (Journal of W. Savery, p. 270.)

In the end he gave up attending meetings and was disowned, as were also a large number of his sympathisers, including many "of the most intelligent and progressive members", but they never formed a separate body.12

Hannah Barnard, a minister of Hudson Monthly Meeting, New York, travelled acceptably in the ministry in England, Scotland and Ireland during the years 1798-1800. In the latter year a full and appreciative returning certificate was given her by the Irish Yearly Meeting (from which, we must remember, most of the "advanced" members had then been weeded out); but when, a few weeks later, she appeared at the meeting of ministers and elders at London Yearly Meeting, and asked for a minute of liberation to visit Germany, David Sands objected to her teaching as unsound. William Savery was not present, having returned to America in the autumn of 1798. An enquiry was held, by various committees consisting of men Friends only, and she was subjected to severe examination, being finally refused her minute and asked to return home; after which her own Monthly Meeting disowned her. Her chief offence was similar to that of Abraham Shackleton, in denying the Divine authority of portions of the Bible, particularly the accounts of the Jewish wars of extermination. Parts of the New Testament, including the miraculous conception and miracles of Christ, she did not deny but could not affirm since "they had not been revealed to her mind."13

These proceedings show clearly that a change passed over London Yearly Meeting during the closing years of the eighteenth century. Religious teaching based on the Inward Light in the souls of men, which a few years before would have passed as sound Quakerism and genuine Christianity, was now called in question, and tested in the light of the doctrine of the infallible authority of the Bible. The new spiritual life which had been awakened by the devoted labours of William Savery and others had begun to clothe itself in new forms derived from the prevalent Evangelicalism of the day — forms which, however, were in reality older than Quakerism, being more akin to the beliefs of Bunyan and Baxter, and the Reformation generally, than to those of George Fox and Isaac Penington. It must, however, be remembered that the careful literary and historical study of the Scripture documents had not then begun, and those who could not accept their plenary inspiration had no better grounds to offer than their own individual impressions of truth. To many there seemed no alternative between a trust in inward impressions, which might be delusive, and a blind reliance on the outward letter; and in the general fear of "Deism" the latter course was chosen by the majority.The Hannah Barnard controversy produced a number of works written by Friends to show that the Society had never held the Unitarian position, and these were mostly of a strongly Evangelical character. Chief among them is a pamphlet by Henry Tuke written in 1801, and entitled "The Faith of the People called Quakers in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," consisting mostly of extracts from the writings of early and later Friends to show that they accepted Evangelical doctrines. He also wrote a larger work in 1805, "The Principles of Religion as professed by the Society of Friends," which had an enormous circulation in the Society, and which bases all Christian doctrine on the Divine authority of the Scriptures. Another learned work produced in the same year by John Bevans, junr., was "A Defence of the Christian Doctrines of the Society of Friends against the charge of Socinianism." Both these works represent correctness of doctrine as vital to Christianity, and defend the view that the Jewish wars of extermination were undertaken (under a different "dispensation") by the direct command of God. They are important landmarks showing the direction in which the Society was moving.

The new Evangelical spirit among Friends on both sides of the Atlantic received powerful reinforcement from the labours of Stephen Grellet and William Forster. The conversion of the young French nobleman, Etienne de Grellet, from Voltairean infidelity to a fervent belief in Evangelical Christianity, and an ardent missionary life, is one of the most remarkable chapters in religious history. What now specially concerns us is that human instrumentality seems to have had little or nothing to do with it. He was then, in 1795, residing on Long Island, with a French-speaking family, and could at that time scarcely speak or understand a word of English. At one of the first Friends' meetings he attended he was impressed (without understanding it) by the ministry of two English women Friends, Deborah Darby and Rebecca Young (afterwards Rebecca Byrd), and these Friends a little later helped him by private conversation.14  But I cannot think that these ministers had much to do with shaping the form of his religious views. He seems to have attached himself to Friends because they were the most spiritually-minded Christians within his reach, because he had read (with the help of a dictionary) Penn's No Cross, No Crown, and because he valued the silence of their meetings for communion with the God who had met him and opened his eyes. He says he had at first very little intercourse with Friends. The French mind is not naturally mystical, and the forms of Evangelical Christianity expressed better than any others the truths he had discovered. The passages in his Journal given by Benjamin Seebohm in the well-known Memoirs, in which he expresses his deepest convictions, are all cast in a strongly Evangelical mould, and I have discovered no mention of belief in universal Light. The following passage, written at the age of 24 when he had just been recorded as a Minister in the Society, is typical of many more:

"My mind dwelt much on the nature of the hope of redemption through Jesus Christ. I felt the efficacy of that grace by which we are saved, through faith in Christ and His atoning blood, shed for us on Calvary's mount; and the excellency of the blessed gifts which, in consequence of this the meritorious sacrifice of Himself for sinful man, are offered to the believer in His name, especially that of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was my soul's chief concern to draw the attention of the people to this saving work and experimental faith, and I felt that the best testimony I could bear to the efficacy of the Redeemer's love was to evince by my life what He had actually done for me." (Memoirs, third edition, Vol. I., pp. 39, 40.)

Stephen Grellet paid four missionary visits to Europe, beginning respectively in 1807, 1811, 1818, and 1831, being absent from home on each occasion from one to four years. He had much work among Roman Catholics, who were often remarkably open to receive his message, and interviewed many of the crowned heads and leading Statesmen of the European countries, including the Pope. He was given free access to the Inquisition and the secret Library at Rome, where (he says) he found no Quaker books. During his second visit he got his Friends in London to gather a company of Jews at Devonshire House, and one of thieves and prostitutes at St. Martin's Lane. In company with Mary Dudley he also had a meeting with "people of high rank" in the West End of London, where (he says) he did "not find the same degree of brokenness and contrition of spirit that I have done among the poor." It was he who communicated to Elizabeth Fry the awful state of Newgate prison, and got her started on her work of prison reform. I mention these things to show the breadth of his sympathies and the practical missionary work to which his Evangelical religion led him. He certainly commended it by his own life. There can, I think, be no doubt that his was one of the chief influences that turned the minds of Friends in the Evangelical direction.

Over his maturer years a dark cloud was spread by the movement towards freedom of thought and practice in America which is associated with the name of Elias Hicks. Those who were affected with this spirit he acknowledges that he was almost unable to reach. I fear he quite failed to understand it — to him it was nothing but "sour leaven," "thick darkness," "infidelity." He faithfully preached "Christ crucified" as he understood the matter, but not in a way that could "speak to their condition." He seems to have had little or no knowledge of religious history, or to have read much except the Bible. He had little sense of the "varieties of religious experience," and could not imagine that anyone could find the truth of God except along the path by which he himself had been led. In the deepest distress of soul he went all through the separation in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1828.

Another minister who exerted a powerful influence in the Evangelical direction was William Forster. He was an intimate friend of Isaac Crewdson and Joseph John Gurney, and his thoughts from very early years were of a wholly Evangelical cast. At the turn of the century he was 16 years old, and he writes even then with the seriousness of a man of fifty. We do not learn from his Memoir what influences moulded his religious thought; apparently he was an almost unconscious product of the Evangelicalism that was then the dominant force in religion. He was deeply afflicted by the evils of slavery, and died in Tennessee during a second visit to America made on behalf of the slaves. During the Irish famine of 1846 he laboured hard for the organization of relief. His first visit to America was during the 'twenties, and he was as much distressed as Stephen Grellet with the prevalence among Friends of a spirit that seemed to him infidelity. "Almost in every place" he writes, "I have to make war against a formal and superficial religion, to seek to convince the people that they have need of a Saviour, and to preach the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour for poor lost fallen man." (Memoirs, Vol. I., p. 305.)

He notes that his interest in the Bible Society and the circulation of the Scriptures was regarded by many Friends in America with "a jealous eye," and this impressed on him the need for better religious education among Friends. He was so much impressed by the spirit he found among them that he concluded a separation could hardly be avoided: that Friends would have to declare themselves on one side or the other—" either attached to the Society on its ancient Christian principles, or one with that revolutionising and disorganizing spirit which would very much lay waste the discipline, and introduce and establish the anti-Christian notions of Socinianism and a sort of spiritualised Deism." (Memoirs, p. 381.) At the same time he recognizes that some might consider his own attitude of mind to be not exactly that of the old-time Quaker: "I am," he naively writes to J. J. Gurney, "much more of an old-fashioned Quaker than many take me to be." (Memoirs, Vol. II., p. 86.) The only really distinctive characteristic of the "old-fashioned Quakers" that I have been able to discover in his Memoir is his implicit belief in Divine Guidance; but that will be better considered when we come to compare the newer with the older Quakerism.

The great separation of 1828-29 I propose to pass over, referring those interested in its details to Rufus Jones's Later Periods and my own small book on Separations. Its main effect, from the point of view we are taking, was to intensify very greatly the Evangelical tendencies of the "orthodox" Friends, both in Britain and America. Such would seem to be the inevitable result of a separation: each party is rendered more extreme by being deprived of the moderating influence of the other. From the accounts that reached this country, most English Friends were led to regard it as entirely due to an evil spirit of disbelief in the essentials of Christian faith on the part of Elias Hicks and his friends. This drove many to seek for safety in a clearer definition of those essentials, and in particular of the inspiration and infallible authority of Scripture; it even led some to question whether the ancient principle of the Inward Light was a safe foundation on which to build. There were not wanting those who pointed the moral of the Hicksite secession thus: "See what comes of trusting to the Inward Light!"

After 1830 the Evangelical movement among Friends in England made rapid progress, largely as a reaction against Hicksism, and it culminated in the publication, early in 1835, of the small book called The Beacon, by Isaac Crewdson, of Manchester. Crewdson selects passages from Hicks' published sermons, and contrasts them with texts of Scripture headed with such words as "What saith the Holy Spirit?" The Scriptures are definitely the final and only authority in religion; the principle of the Inward Light is stigmatized as a "delusive notion," and its universality is explicitly denied. The book produced many answers, and it is not surprising that many Friends believed the author to be simply using Elias Hicks as a convenient stalking-horse behind which to shoot at the Society of Friends itself. In these years it seemed that a separation in London Yearly Meeting could hardly be avoided. In 1835 there was the recent publication of Crewdson's book, and the appointment of a Committee to help in settling the trouble to which it had given rise at Manchester. In 1836 there was the report of this Committee, of which J. J. Gurney was the leading spirit, and which left the situation more embittered than it was before — professing general agreement with Crewdson's view while usurping the power to silence him as a minister. There was also a request from Westmorland Quarterly Meeting for a definition of the place of Holy Scripture as the rule of faith and practice, which produced the passage in the Epistle of that year to which I have already referred.15  In 1837 the Yearly Meeting of Ministers and Elders was almost equally divided on the application of J. J. Gurney for a minute of liberation to visit America, and after many hours of discussion a liberating minute was with difficulty framed.

The most conspicuous defenders of Crewdson's views were Luke Howard, a man of some scientific distinction and editor of The Yorkshireman, and Elisha Bates, of Ohio. Both these men shortly afterwards left the Society. Among the chief opponents were my grandmother, Sarah (Lynes) Grubb, who in the Yearly Meeting of 1836 entered the men's meeting under religious concern, and delivered a lengthy tirade against the "Babel-builders" in a tone of prophetic infallibility which drew upon her some animadversion from the Elders; and George and Ann Jones (the latter formerly Ann Burgess) who, like Thomas Shillitoe, had been recently in America and had taken a strong line against the "separatists" there. Thomas Shillitoe himself was ill, and died shortly after that Yearly Meeting was held. There is no doubt that his sympathies were with the Conservatives — as also were those of Daniel Wheeler, who was then absent, I believe, in the South Seas. Joseph J. Gurney professed to hold a mediating position, and drew on himself the wrath of both parties, but undoubtedly his sympathies were with the innovators, as were those of William and Josiah Forster. During and after his American visit, which lasted from 1837 to 1840, J. J. Gurney was the most distinguished exponent of the Evangelical view, as John Wilbur, of New England, became of the Conservative. The unscrupulous persecution which the latter endured from the dominant Evangelical party in New England Yearly Meeting, and his expulsion from the Society, greatly embittered the relations of the two sections, produced a melancholy crop of separations among orthodox Friends in the States and Canada, led to the isolation for many years of Philadelphia (orthodox) Yearly Meeting, and lost us the little body of Conservative Friends whom we connect with Fritchley in Derbyshire.

It is by no means easy to set down in clear terms exactly what it was that so acutely divided the two sections, and caused them at times to denounce one another in terms of some violence. It was not a question of what is generally called Theology, for both parties held without question what were regarded as the essential doctrines of Christianity, and had been equally determined opponents of the Hicksites because of their supposed deistical tendencies. Both held the total depravity of man through the Fall and the consequent corruption of his reasoning powers. Both regarded belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and in his "propitiatory sacrifice" as essential for salvation from eternal ruin in hell. They were united in looking upon the Scriptures as containing an infallible revelation from God, and equally dreaded any exercise of man's unregenerate reason for their study and elucidation. And both parties held, though with some doubt on the part of Crewdson himself and others who left the Society with him, to the necessity of looking for the special and immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit in the work of the ministry. What cause was there, then, for the fierce antagonism that divided them — the echoes of which I can myself recall during my earliest attendance of our Yearly Meeting, in the 'eighties of the last century, at times when the doings of the Home Mission Committee were under discussion?

It was, I believe, due to an instinctive apprehension on the part of the more thoughtful Conservative Friends, which they were never able to put into language that would reach the understanding of the Evangelical section, that the latter were undermining the mystical basis on which the Society of Friends had been gathered and built up — the supremacy of the Light of God in the souls of men, and the paramount need of His inward work of cleansing and regeneration. Few of them had devoted clear thought to the subject; such indeed was their fear of the "carnal reason" that they would have thought it wrong to do so; they could only express themselves in cloudy imagery drawn mostly from the prophets and the Apocalypse. Consequently their warnings were put down to prejudice and unworthy suspicion, were resented as unjust, and largely disregarded. The Evangelical message was at least intelligible; the Mystical Gospel, though deeper and more penetrating, was expressed in a language that few could understand, and those who preached it came to be thought of as troublesome "cranks." The following passage, from my grandmother's Letters, is perhaps as dear as anything. I must apologise for its length, but nothing short will serve the purpose.

"For a number of years [the date is 1834] it has been my lot to warn Friends, and particularly in the Yearly Meeting in London, against a spirit of subtlety that would draw us from attention to the inward manifestation of our blessed Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; for I have long seen that some of the most prominent and influential characters among us never have been altogether of the Lord's own forming, either as Friends or as ministers of Christ; and now many, very many, have embraced something short of Him who remains to be the fulness, and are settling on the surface of things — building on the sand; highly extolling in words the 'One Offering,' which indeed is to be appreciated with feelings of adoration and heartfelt gratitude; but these know not of what they speak, while they preach up a literal faith in Christ crucified, and endeavour to bring people from a pure dependence on the leadings and unfoldings of the Spirit of Christ, and on the inward and heart-felt power and coming of Christ within, the hope of glory . . . The absence of this quickening Spirit is in my apprehension mournfully and oppressively felt, while 'Mystery Babylon' mimics it in various ways — in language, in orthodox sermons, in dissimulation of love, in solemn silence, not the silence of the Lord's own power. We have a zeal among us which draws from the influence and motions of the inward anointing into creaturely activity; and we are so blind, in many instances, as to mistake Babylon's stream, where go the 'gallant ships and the galleys with oars,' for the 'place of broad rivers and streams' where none of these are found. Our predecessors suffered much in avowing the leadings of the Spirit of truth, which brought them away from all will-worship; shall we with impunity trample upon the testimonies of the everlasting Gospel, which they embraced at the risk of the loss of property, personal liberty, and life itself?" —Letters of Sarah Grubb, pp. 17, 18.

There was another reason why the Conservative protest against Evangelical Quakerism passed so largely unheeded. It mixed things up, and attributed almost as much importance to practices handed down by tradition as to belief in inward revelation. It tacitly assumed that the Spirit of God could only express itself in an outward conformity with all "the tradition of the Elders," that it could not lead into new paths. Hence it drew to itself the dry traditionalists who lived only in the past and abhorred the idea of progress. A large part of its opposition to meetings for the study of the Bible and to organized mission work abroad and at home was neither more nor less than pure Conservatism — the desire that as things had been so they should remain.

But perhaps at this point I may so far obtrude my own convictions as to say that in my judgment the more thoughtful Conservatives were right in believing that to a large extent the Evangelical innovators were off the real foundation of the Quaker faith. It appears to me that Joseph J. Gurney, who more than any other man shaped the Quakerism of the middle and later years of the nineteenth century, and whose leadership was recognized by the great body of Friends in these islands and in America, never really understood what the early Friends had discovered, or appreciated in the least the meaning of inward revelation. He did really, though quite unconsciously, change the basis of authority from inward to outward, and recalled the Society from the Quakerism of Fox and his friends to the position of their Puritan opponents. For him and those who thought with him, like his predecessor Henry Tuke and his friend William Forster, final truth was to be found in the Bible only — the deposit of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." The consequences of this, which I believe to have been a real "departure from the foundation," we see in the Pastoral developments of American Quakerism to-day.

What kept Gurney and his supporters to the Society, and what made them in many respects real Friends, was their retention of belief in what was called the "perceptible" guidance of the Spirit, in silent worship as the only field in which this guidance for vocal ministry could have free play, and in the non-necessity of outward sacramental observances. In these matters the leaders of the Evangelical section were just as much true Friends as were their opponents. But Gurney seems never to have recognized the difficulty of detaching these "peculiarities" from the inward and spiritual foundation on which they rested, and basing them simply on a private interpretation of certain Scripture texts; nor the offensiveness of claiming, as he did, that Quakerism with its peculiar practices is nothing but pure New Testament Christianity, when the vast majority of other Evangelical Christians, equally devoted to the New Testament, draw no such inferences from it. Unless our form of religion rests on a deeper basis than a literal interpretation of certain texts, it will with difficulty propagate or even maintain itself; as, again, American experience testifies.

The struggles through which the Society of Friends has passed, during the last century and a half, are truly tragic in their character. The appropriateness of the adjective will be appreciated if we take the word "tragedy" to have the meaning assigned it by a master of thought, Professor A. C. Bradley, in his lectures on Shakespearean Tragedy. Tragedy, he says, is in essence the fact or appearance "of a world travailing for perfection, but bringing to birth, together with glorious good, an evil which it is able to overcome only by self-torture and self-waste." "There is no tragedy in the expulsion of evil; the tragedy is that this involves the waste of good." (Op. cit. pp. 39, 37.) The conflicts in the Society of Friends, which culminated, first in the Hicksite separation and then in the dominance of Evangelicalism, were both struggles for liberty — for freedom of thought and practice from the dead hand of repression and tradition. "The first attempt produced a secession which separated a large part of the Society in America for generations from historical and evangelical Christianity (using the word, for once, in its larger and better meaning), and almost destroyed its united witness to the world. The second, in reaction against this, led away the great body of the Society, both in England and America, from the central experience that had gathered the 'Children of the Light' and given them a message for humanity." (Separations, p. 76.) Some evil was expelled, but at how great a sacrifice and waste of good! Those who, like my grandmother, Thomas Shillitoe, and John Wilbur, clearly saw the large measure of failure that would attend both these efforts, tried to cope with them by summoning to their aid the forces of blind conservatism and reaction, and the support of those who sought to stifle liberty with the pressure of formalism and tradition.

The chief lesson of this study of one of these struggles, so far as it is in the direction of the truth, would seem to be that we should in our day keep an open eye for the "new duties" to which the "new occasions" call us; that, in seeking to enter the fields that are opening before us, and to bring to a distracted world a gospel of freedom and peace and reconciliation, we should learn from the successes and failures of our predecessors both why they succeeded and why they failed; and that above all we should drink deeply for ourselves from the perennial fountain from which their spiritual needs were supplied.

Chapter IV ...>


From Quaker Thought and History: A Volume of Essays. By Edward Grubb, M.A. Published in 1925 by The MacMillan Company, New York.)

Notes and Links

 1  Presidential Address delivered to the Friends' Historical Society (British), November, 1923.

 2  It is pointed out in the first chapter of Liberal Evangelicalism (p. 5) that the conversion of the Wesleys was preceded by remarkable religious revivals in Wales and Cornwall.

 3  J. R. Green, History (Illustrated Edition), p. 1612.

 4  See quotations from early Evangelical writers in Liberal Evangelicalism, pp. 11-13.

 5  Thomas Clarkson, in his Portraiture of the Society of Friends (1805), has an interesting passage in which he notes that many more women Friends than men were disowned for "marrying out." This he attributes to the higher moral and spiritual quality of the women in the Society as compared with that prevailing outside its borders. Men Friends had little difficulty in finding suitable partners within their own ranks, while non-Friends were drawn to marry women Quakers by their superior virtue and good sense! (Clarkson, Portraiture, one volume edition, p. 115.)

 6  There is a story which so far as I know is not to be found in print, but which I believe to be well founded, that when George IV. was on his deathbed in 1830 a State carriage appeared at Devonshire House at the time of London Yearly Meeting and an emissary from the Court sent for Elizabeth Fry to ask that Thomas Shillitoe might be sent to him. The one cry of the dying king was "Send for the Old Quaker." Some confirmation of the truth of this story may be found in the Journal of the Friends' Historical Society, (Oct. 1914), article by Francis C. Clayton on "George IV. and Thomas Shillitoe," and in a small book Thomas Shillitoe, the Quaker Missionary by William Tallack (1867), p. 111.

 7  That Thomas Shillitoe's deepest convictions were not really of the kind called Evangelical is indicated by a reply he sent in 1827 to some Canadian Indians he had visited and who were perplexed by his having spoken of the Bible as "the holy book." He wrote, in opposition to the teaching they had received from a certain missionary, "I now declare that so far from my believing the Scriptures to be the only means of salvation, and sole rule for our conduct, I am decidedly opposed to such dangerous and false opinions. I consider them to be the writings of holy men in former ages who were inspired by the Great Spirit. But I consider such as tell you they are the only rule or means of salvation to be under the influence of a wrong spirit; for, if we are to believe such sentiments as these, what must have become of millions of our fellow-creatures before the Scriptures were in existence?" (Journal, Vol. II., p. 214.)

 8  Both in the Journal (which is a very full one) and in the printed Sermons, the phrases dear to the hearts of Evangelicals are hardly to be found at all.

 9  The last years of the eighteenth century seem to have been marked by a general revival of interest in religion in many parts of the country. I am informed that in the Huddersfield district of Yorkshire in the period 1780-1810 seven or eight Independent Chapels were founded. These sprang up of themselves without outside stimulation, and were due in large measure to the religious awakening caused by the ministry of Henry Venn at the Parish Church. He was one of the most fervent preachers of the new Evangelicalism (see R. M. Jones, Later Periods, Vol. I., p. 272). I am not sure whether his views were Calvinistic or Arminian; but the newly-formed Nonconformist bodies to which I have alluded are said to have been all strongly Calvinistic. There would seem to have been many "seekers" at that time who were not satisfied either with Anglicanism or with the Calvinism of most of the Nonconformist sects (except the Methodists).

 10  I have looked through the five bulky volumes of the Life of Wilberforce, but cannot find that he himself came into close relations with Friends until he made the acquaintance of J. J. Gurney in 1816. The only Friends frequently mentioned (after this time) are J. J. G., Elizabeth Fry and William Allen. In 1826 W. W. records that J. J. G. took him and some others to a Friends' meeting, apparently at Bath, where he says J. J. G. spoke for an hour ("it appeared rambling, and left no deposit, only impression") and prayed twice. "We all came away thankful that we were not Quakers." (Vol. V., pp. 269, 270.)

 11  "Conservative forces instinctively combined. It was vaguely known that strange religious opinions were abroad in Europe, but as revolution was also at large on the Continent, it was highly probable that both were hatched from the same egg, and neither was wanted in England, especially as the former might be the forerunner of the latter." (Liberal Evangelicalism, pp. 17, 18.)

 12  See R. M. Jones, Later Periods, Vol. I., P. 298. A full account of these events, by a sympathiser, will be found in A Narrative of Events in Ireland, by W. Rathbone. For a summary see The British Friend, December, 1902, p. 313.

 13  See The British Friend, October, 1902, pp. 257-260.

 14  We would gladly know more of Deborah Darby and her work, but no memoir of her appears to have been written. She travelled extensively in the ministry, and meeting Elizabeth Gurney not long after the change had begun in her through the preaching of W. Savery, prophesied of her that she would be "a light to the blind, speech to the dumb and feet to the lame" — to the young girl's great astonishment.(Elizabeth Fry, by G. K. Lewis, p. 30.)

 15  See above, p. 70.