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"To expect that we should be informed of the divine economy with the
“ Dim, as the borrowed beams of moon and stars
THE JUNIOR MEMBERS
SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.
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 it.
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 infi"delity 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 be. *
* 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 er 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,