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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

It takes cognizance of the actions of Quakers to Quakers


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is the organization of the discipline or government of the Quakers. Nor may it improperly be called a government, when we consider that, besides all matters relating to the church, it takes cognizance of the actions of Quakers to Quakers, and of these to their fellow-citizens, and of these again to the state; in fact of all actions of Quakers, if immoral in the eye of the society, us soon at they we known. It gives out its prohibitions. It marks its crimes. It imposes offices on its subjects. It culls them to disciplinary duties.[32]This government however, notwithstanding its power, has, as I observed before, no president or head, either permanent or temporary. There is no first man through the whole society. Neither has it any badge of office, or mace, or constables staff or sword. It may be observed also, that it has no office of emolument, by which its hands can be strengthened, neither minister, elder, [33]clerk, overseer, nor deputy, being paid; and yet its administration is firmly conducted, and its laws better obeyed, than laws by persons, under any other denomination or government. The constant assemblage of the Quakers at their places of worship, and their unwearied attendances at the monthly and quarterly meetings, which they must often frequent at a great distance, to their own personal inconvenience, and to the hindrance of their worldly concerns, must be admitted, in part, as proofs of the last remark. But when we consider them as a distinct people, differing in
their manner of speech and in their dress and customs from others, rebelling against fashion and the fashionable world, and likely therefore to become rather the objects of ridicule than of praise; when we consider these things, and their steady and rigid perseverance in the peculiar rules and customs of the society, we cannot but consider their obedience to their own discipline, which makes a point of the observance of these singularities, as extraordinary.

[Footnote 32: The government or discipline is considered as a theocracy.]

[Footnote 33: The clerk, who keeps the records of the society in London, is the only person who has a salary.]

This singular obedience, however, to the laws of the society may be accounted for on three principles. In the first place in no society is there so much vigilance over the conduct of its members, as in that of the Quakers, as this history of their discipline must have already manifested. This vigilance of course, cannot miss of its effect. But a second cause is the following. The Quaker-laws and regulations are not made by any one person, nor by any number even of deputies. They are made by themselves, that is by the society in yearly meeting assembled. If a bad law, or the repeal of a good one, be proposed, every one present, without distinction, has a right to speak against the motion. The proposition cannot pass against the sense of the meeting. If persons are not present, it is their own fault. Thus it happens that every law, passed at the yearly meeting, may be considered, in some measure, as the law of every Quaker's own will, and people are much more likely to follow regulations made by their own consent, than those which are made against it. This therefore has unquestionably an operation as a second cause. A third may be traced in the peculiar sentiments, which the Quakers hold as a religious body. They believe that many of their members, when they deliver themselves publicly on any subject at the yearly meeting, are influenced by the dictates of the pure principle, or by the spirit of truth. Hence the laws of the society, which are considered to be the result of such influences, have with them the sanction of spiritual authority. They pay them therefore a greater deference on this account, than they would to laws, which they conceive to have been the production of the mere imagination, or will, of man.


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