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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

He gave them also meetings for dicipline of their own


[Footnote

15: Matt. 18. 15, 16, 17.]

For the carrying of this system into execution in the order thus recommended, he appointed Courts, or meetings for dicipline, as the Quakers call them, with the approbation of the society, where the case of the disorderly should be considered, if it should be brought to the cognizance of the church; and where a record should be kept of the proceedings of the society respecting it. In these courts or meetings the poor were to have an equal voice with the rich.--There was to be no distinction but in favour of religious worth; And here it is to be remarked, that he was so desirous, that the most righteous judgment should be pronounced upon any offender, that he abandoned the usual mode of decision, in general so highly valued, by a majority, of voices, and recommended the decision to be made according to the apparent will of the virtuous, who might be present.--And as expulsion from membership with the church was to be considered as the heaviest punishment, which the Quakers, as a religious body, could inflict, he gave the offender an opportunity of appealing to meetings, different from those in which the sentence had been pronounced against him, and where the decisive voices were again to be collected from the preponderant weight of religious character.

He introduced also into his system of dicipline privileges in favour of women, which marked his sense of justice, and the strength and

liberality of his mind. The men he considered undoubtedly as the heads of the church, and from whom all laws concerning it ought to issue. But he did not deny women on that account any power, which he thought it would be proper for them to hold. He believed them to be capable of great usefulness, and therefore admitted them to the honour of being, in his own society, of nearly equal importance with the men.--In the general duty, imposed upon members, of watching over one another, he laid it upon the women, to be particularly careful in observing the morals of those of then own sex. He gave them also meetings for dicipline of their own, with the power, of recording their own transactions, so that women were to act among courts or meetings of women, as men among those of men. There was also to be no office in the society belonging to the men, but he advised there should be a corresponding one belonging to the women. By this new and impartial step he raised the women of his own community beyond the level of women in others, and laid the foundation of that improved strength of intellect, dignity of mind, capability of business, and habit of humane offices, which are so conspicuous among Female-Quakers at the present day.

With respect to the numerous offices, belonging to the discipline, he laid it down as a principle, that the persons, who were to fill them, were to have no other emolument or reward, than that, which a faithful discharge of them would bring to their own consciences.

These are the general outlines of the system of discipline, as introduced by George Fox. This system was carried into execution, as he himself had formed it, in his own time. Additions, however, have been made to it since, as it seemed proper, by the society at large. In the time of George Fox, it was laid upon every member, as we have seen, to watch over his neighbour for his spiritual welfare. But in 1698, the society conceiving, that what was the business of every one might eventually become the business of no one, appointed officers, whose particular duty it should be to be overseers of the morals of individuals; thus hoping, that by the general vigilance enjoined by George Fox, which was still to continue, and by the particular vigilance then appointed, sufficient care would be taken of the morals of the whole body. In the time, again, of George Fox, women had, only their monthly and quarterly meetings for discipline, but it has since been determined, that they should have their yearly meetings equally with the men. In the time, again, of George Fox, none but the grave members were admitted into the meetings for discipline, but it has been since agreed, that young persons should have the privilege of attending them, and this, I believe, upon the notion, that. While these meetings would quality them for transacting the business of the society, they might operate as schools far virtue.


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