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DECLARATION OF THE VIEWS
**. OF THE
society OF FEIENDS
IN RELATION TO
By the Meeting for Sufferings of New-England Yearly Meeting.
VIEWS ON CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
To the Quarterly, JMonthly and Preparative JMeetings and individual members of JNew England Yearly JMeeting of Friends,
IT is we trust under a feeling of religious concern and in gospel love that we are engaged to address you, and to express our earnest desire for your preservation and growth in the unchangeable truth.We would thankfully commemorate the name of Him who, for purposes of His wisdom, and by the fresh outpourings of His own Holy Spirit, first called and gathered us as a people, and who hath hitherto been pleased to preserve us—to Him be the praise.
But, dear friends, it is not for us to expect the continuance of this preservation and gracious help unless we abide faithful unto Him—looking unto Him as our Leader, our Bishop, and adorable High Priest, who is Head over all things unto His church.
It was, we believe, by the direct, immediate visitations of His spirit, and by a remarkable manifestation of His power, that our forefathers were led to take that spiritual view of the gospel dispensation, and to sustain it under much persecution, which we doubt not was designed by its author, and embraced by his immediate followers, and the primitive believers; and it is only as we are made partakers of the same Divine influence and abide under it, as we acknowledge it as they acknowledged it—as we yield unto it even as they did, that we shall be walking faithfully in the footsteps of those who were our predecessors and fathers in the truth. And it is with a view to encourage in faithful dedication and consistent walking as members of our religious Society, that we are now concerned briefly to revive some of the measures that were taken by our early Friends, under the guidance, as we fully believe, of best Wisdom, for the maintenance of right order in the Church, in the establishment of our Christian Discipline, and in the inculcation of that subordination which is due from inferior to superior meetings, and from individual members to the body.
From the history of our Society, it appears that at a very early period, George Fox was actively engaged to promote the establishment of men's and women's meetings for Discipline, and the power and authority in which he was concerned that they should be maintained, may be gathered from the emphatic words often repeated in his Epistles:— “Let all your men's and women's meetings be held in the power of the Lord.” And it should be instructively remembered that this concern of George Fox and other Friends for the introduction of a system of Church Discipline, was the cause of much disturbance to some, who claimed for themselves an extent of individual liberty inconsistent with that subordination which is essential to the prosperity of the body. It is thus noticed in the Book of Discipline and Advices of London Yearly Meeting:— “The persevering efforts of George Fox to establish a regular Discipline, a work in which he was assisted by nearly all those who had been instrumental in gathering the Society, proved a great trial of spirits: to a large proportion of the members the arrangements appear to have been quite satisfactory; there was, however, a considerable number of objectors— the self-willed and lawless opposed it with vehemence; and it must be admitted that not a few of a very different class were drawn aside by specious arguments, to oppose what was represented as an encroachment upon individual spiritual liberty. Certain it is that a schism to some extent took place on this occasion; which, however, there is reason to believe, left the Society in a more healthy state than
it found it. The general meeting of 1677 issued a
strong declaration on the subject. Robert Barclay wrote upon this occasion, his “Anarchy of the Ranters;” William Penn his “Liberty Spiritual,” and Stephen Crisp an excellent tract; all of them endeavoring to prove the necessity of established order and discipline in the Church of Christ. This very conflict, and the close examination to which it led of the true limits of Church authority, tended, there is reason to believe, under Divine direction, to establish the Discipline at once more firmly and safely throughout the Society than might otherwise have been the case. Thus was a system of order and government, in conformity with the spirit of christianity and the