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disturbance of the public peace, it ought to be fully free. Our Society in this country, though under some circumstances which bear rather hard upon it, has abundant cause for gratitude to the government, for the favours we enjoy ; and it is to be hoped, that we shall always conduct ourselves so as to merit the continuance, and even the extension of them :
“ being obliged, not only to demean ourselves as a grateful people, but, as a Christian society, to live peaceably and inoffensively under the present government ; as we have always done, under the various revolutions of government, ever since we were a people."-Yearly Meeting's Written Epistle, 1692.
But, notwithstanding our peaceable and submissive principles, in relation to those who are placed in authority over us, we are far from being insensible of the value of civil and religious liberty. When these are violated, we think it right to represent our grievances to those who oppress us, or who have it in their power to afford relief. If this were done in a Christian spirit, and in a language respectfully strong, it would be found, in general, a much more successful, and always a more proper means of obtaining redress, than any seditious and turbulent proceedings, or those bloody appeals to the sword, to which mankind are too apt to resort, as the relief of oppression or the gratification of revenge.
The necessity of discipline in religious societies.—Objections to it answered.- Particular objects of our discipline enumerated.-Different meetings in which it is transacted.- Importance of transacting it in a right spirit.
Whatever may be the inducement of any people to form themselves into a separate society, it must be on some principles which they assume, and on the preservation of which, their continuance as a particular society, must in a great measure depend. It is also the duty of every society formed upon religious principles, to support good morals ; without which its pretensions to religion are vain. These two considerations render Discipline, in a religious society, necessary to its reputable existence ; and when they are not attended to, confusion and disgrace must follow. However excellent any of our religious principles may be, we who profess them are all frail and fallible. We are all by nature prone to evil : and if we have even experienced some degree of redemption from the state of fallen nature, we are still liable, without watchfulness, to fall or to be drawn aside in principle or practice. Hence we find, in all religious societies, those who are a discredit to their profession ; and we are far from considering ourselves free from such disreputable members. But in order to remedy this evil as much as possible, we have a discipline established among us; the first object of which is, to labour in gospel love and by private advice, for the reformation of those who walk disorderly ; and if this cannot be effected, and the nature of the case require it, to disown such persons as members of our Society. The reasonableness of this discipline appears so evident, that it may seem unnecessary to enter into further arguments in favour of its propriety and utility; yet, as objections are advanced against our practice in this respect, it may be proper to take some notice of them.
The objections commonly advanced against the exercise of discipline, are, first, that it lays an unnecessary restraint on private judgment ; secondly, that it interferes with that attention to the dictates of the Spirit, to which we are individually recommended ; and, thirdly, that the disowning of members is a species of persecution.
The necessity of discipline, for the constitution and support of any religious society, has already been stated, so as; in a great measure, to obviate the first objection. It may however be proper to add, that in every society, civil or religious, submission to the regulations of that society is necessary, in order to prevent the licentiousness and confusion which would follow, if every member acted upon his own ideas, without any external restriction. If this be applicable to society in general, it is particularly so, with regard to those religious societies, which have separated from all others, on account of opinions and practices that appear to them not consistent with the nature of true religion, or unnecessarily attached to it. How shall a society retain its existence with any degree of propriety, if those who depart from or disavow its principles, are to remain members of it ? And how shall such a society be known to the world, if its members are permitted to profess and act differently, even on subjects which at first formed the foundation of their union ?
It has been said, that nothing except immorality and the fundamentals of religion, should be the subject of discipline. But, if we could be all of one mind on the application of the word immorality, we should find it very difficult to agree on the fundamentals of religion ; and the number of persons is, perhaps, not small, who would resolve these fundamentals into a belief of a God, and of the immortality of the soul. We may easily consider what a strange medley, the liberty contended for would admit into one society. The Jew, the Christian, the Mahomedan, and the Heathen, with their various subdivisions, might all be blended together in one body; in which we may suppose, if any right zeal for their respective religious sentiments should exist, there would be perpetual jarring and discord. Much more conducive is it to the peace of religious societies, that each should consistently maintain its own principles, and either suffer those who dissent from them quietly to withdraw ; or, after proper labour and waiting for restoration, to disown them as acknowledged members of the society. When this is done, as it ought to be, in a right spirit, it is no violation of true charity, nor of that liberty which all have, no doubt, a right to exercise with respect to private opinion.
The second objection is often urged in a manner, which may tend to mislead and captivate the unwary ; but it proceeds on a supposition, which is by no means admissible, namely, that a body of Christians, united in the belief of certain principles, is more likely to be misled, than some of the individuals constituting that body. It has always been the judgment of our Society, that the establishment of meetings for discipline was under the same Divine Influence, which originally formed our predecessors a distinct people. The subjects of the care of these meetings have varied very little from their first institution ; and, therefore, for any person now to pretend, that this discipline is an improper restraint on the leadings of the Spirit, so far as respects them, is to say, in effect, that they are not led by the same Spirit in which the Society professes to believe, and by which it desires ever to be led. 66 The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets ;" * and the individuals of a religious society must be subject to that society collectively; otherwise anarchy and confusion will ensue : and when it is considered that in our Society, a much greater proportion of its members concur in forming its rules, than in any other, there seems no room left for objections like this. They might have a more specious appearance, if the power of making rules and regulations were lodged in a few individuals : though, even in this case, they would be destitute of solidity, if the indi. viduals were properly delegated.
The comparison between persecution and the disownment of the members of a religious society, has been often zealously urged, by some of the advocates for unrestrained liberty of sentiment. To draw this comparison the stronger with respect to our Society, it has been urged, that they who are deprived of membership with us, lose not only the common privileges of membership, but, if reduced to poverty, are deprived of that provision for which the Society is peculiarly distinguished. But this argument, by proving too much, proves nothing: for even these latitudinarians would, I suppose, think it right to disown a member for idolatry or atheism ; and yet on such an one, it would not be proper to inflict what may be termed persecution. But are we, because we make extraordinary provision for our poor, to retain all that have been members, however they may differ from us in principle or practice? The absurdity of the argument appears to me too great to need further confutation. What is sometimes advanced with respect to degradation of char
* I Cor. xiv, 32.