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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Or of the quantum of moral character


SECT. III

_Two charges usually brought against this administration of the discipline--that it is managed with an authoritative spirit--and that it is managed partially--these charges are considered._

As two charges are usually brought against the administration of that part of the discipline, which has been just explained, I shall consider them in this place.

The first usually is, that, though the Quakers abhor what they call the authority of priest craft, yet some overseers possess a portion of the spirit of ecclesiastical dominion; that they are austere, authoritative, and over bearing in the course of the exercise of their office, and that, though the institution may be of Christian origin, it is not always conducted by these with a Christian spirit. To this first charge I shall make the following reply.

That there may be individual instances, where this charge may be founded, I am neither disposed, nor qualified, to deny. Overseers have their different tempers, like other people; and the exercise of dominion has unquestionably a tendency to spoil the heart. So far there is an opening for the admission of this charge. But it must be observed, on the other hand, that the persons, to be chosen overseers, are to be by the laws of the society[19] "as upright and unblameable in their conversation, as they can be found, in order that the advice,

which they shall occasionally administer to other friends, may be the better received, and carry with it the greater weight and force on the minds of those, whom they shall be concerned to admonish." It must be observed again that it is expressly enjoined them, that "they are to exercise their functions in a meek, calm, and peaceable spirit, in order that the admonished may see that their interference with their conduct proceeds from a principle of love and a regard for their good, and preservation in the truth."

[Footnote 19: Book of extracts.]

And it must be observed again, that any violation of this injunction would render them liable to be admonished by others, and to come under the discipline themselves.

The second charge is, that the discipline is administered partially; or that more favour is shewn to the rich than to the poor, and that the latter are sooner disowned than the former for the same faults.

This latter charge has probably arisen from a vulgar notion, that, as the poor are supported by the society, there is a general wish to get rid of them.--But this notion is not true. There is more than ordinary caution in disowning those who are objects of support, add to which, that, as some of the most orderly members of the body are to be found among the poor, an expulsion of these, in a hasty manner, would be a diminution of the quantum of respectability, or of the quantum of moral character, of the society at large.

In examining this charge, it must certainly be allowed, that though the principle "of no respect of persons" is no where carried to a greater length than in the Quaker Society, yet we may reasonably expect to find a drawback from the full operation of it in a variety of causes. We are all of us too apt, in the first place,


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