THE DECLINE OF QUA.ICERISM.
IN the month of March, 18,58, a gentleman who lamented that,
while the population of the United Kingdom had more than doubled itself, the Society of Friends numbered fewer members
than at the commencement of the century, offered a prize of one hundred guineas for the best essay, and a prize of fifty guineas for the second best, that should be written on the subject of its decline. Three gentlemen, none of whom were of the Quaker persuasion, Reverend F. D. Maurice, Professor J. P. Nichol, and 11'..ev. E. S. Price agreed to act as asljudicators. The two essays "which appeared to them to have the superior claims" were Quakerism, Past and Present, by John Stephenson Rowntree ; and the Peculienn' by Thomas Hancock. Of these the former is, we think, the most successful in. its indication of the proximate causes of the decline of Quakerism' while the latter, in our opinion, exhibits "moat thought and. Christian earnestness" in its a priori exposition of the subject, and has a more literary finish and a more persuasive elocution. So nearly equal appeared to the adjudicators the merits of the two essays, that on the ex- pression of their perplexity "the donor of the prizes generously offered to make the second prize equal to the first." The essay to which the priority was finally adjudged is that written by Mr. Rowntree. The exact nature of Mr. Rowntree's ecclesiastical convictions we are unable to ascertain. Mr. Hancock is an ad- herent of the " Anglican " or High Church school of theology, as represented in the present day by the pious and much-abused Dr. Pusey.
Three hundred years after the birth of john Wyoliffe, Mr. Rowntree reminds us, was born George Fox, the last of the Reformers, as Wycliffe was "the morning star of the Reforma- tion." The Society of Friends dates its origin from the year 1617. Its founder was then twenty-three years of age. In Eng- land Catholicism had been conquered first by "Anglican," then by
• Quakerism, Past and Present: being an Inquiry into the Causes of its Decline in Great Britain and Ireland. By John Stephenson Bowntree. Published by
Smith, Elder, and Co.
The Peculium • an Bndeacour to throw light on some of the Causes of the De- cline of the Society of Friends, especially in regard to its Original Claim of being the Peculiar People of God. By Thomas Hancock. Published by Smith, Elder, and Co. Puritan Protestantism. Puritanism, however noble in some of its aspects, was narrow-minded and pedantic. It almost postponed Christianity to Judaism, asserting "that the judicial laws of Moses are binding on Christian princes," and examining the inspired volume as if it had been a statute-book. Religion became polemical, external, rigid, formal, and unsatisfying. Men began to withdraw, like Milton, into the "church communion" of their own souls ; or as Mr. Hancock expresses it, there was in all parts of England a great mass of Seekers. These seekers formed
the raw material which was afterwards built up into Quakerism by George Fox." In the midst of the disputatious religionism, the vanity and wickedness of the times, in which his lot was cast, Fox fell into gloom and despondency. In his anguish and be- wilderment he sought advice from noted religious professors ; he asked for a solution of some part of the great mystery of life. "The clergy of the neighbourhood," says our old friend TenielsdrOckh, "the ordained watchers and interpreters of that same holy mystery, listened with unaffected tedium to his con- sultations and advised him as the solution of such doubts to
drink beer and dance with the girls." Turning away from such "miserable comforters," this "youth with allying spirit be- longing to him" applied io the study of "an antique inspired volume," and found the sacred writings "very precious to him." They were his sole companions in "hollow trees and desolate places." Through them as through a window his soul could look upwards, subjoins Teufelsdrockh, and discern his celestial home. Finally "he was one of those to whom under ruder or purer form the Divine Idea of the universe is pleased to manifest itself." This Divine idea was, in less ethnic language, the doctrine that the true light, the WortLand Son of God, enlightens every man that comes into the world. The indwelling of a Personal, Human, yet Divine Spirit in the soul, the presence in every mortal of the Omniscient Man, Christ Jesus' for guidance into truth, loving nobleness in action, purity and simplicity in conduct, and the consecration of life, in its common as well as its more elevated aspects, was the central idea of the religion of the early Quakers.
While testifying to the influence of this great inward light, Quakerism was strong and prosperous. "In 1690, after forty years of incessant persecution, 'it' could point to an organized body of sixty or seventy thousand adherents in Great Britain and Ireland, to flourishing congregations in other parts of Europe, and to more than one great colony it had founded in the Western World." But the fine gold soon became dim. "The Society of Friends attained its numerical meridian in this island about the year 1680, and in the next one hundred and twenty years its decline was continuous, reducing its numbers by the year 1800 to one-half of what they had been at their highest point. During the present century this decline has progressed still further, and there are now not more than twenty-six thousand persons in Great Britain and Ireland professing with Friends. Within the last one hundred and. eighty years the population of the United Kingdom has trebled, but the Society of Friends has diminished nearly two-thirds."
What are the causes of this decline ? Let us state the proxi- mate causes first, those which in Mr. Rowntree's opinion, from whose pages we have just quoted, account for the actual abridg- ment of the Society by a self-diminishing process, rather than for its non-extension by discontinuance or failure of the assimi- lating function of proselytism. The resuscitation of the disciplinary system of Quakerism, in 1760, aggravating all its primary defects, and giving prominence to the principle of external separation' in narrowing the grounds of Church fellowship, contracted the numerical area of the Society. During the twenty years following this resuscitation numerous " Disownments " took place, not only for immoral acts, but for the payment of tithes, marriage contrary to rule, and the like violations of the Society's "testimonies." In consequence of the introduction of "Birthright Membership" in 1737, excommunications have been fatally frequent, so that "within a considerable proportion of the present century the Society of Friends in England has disowned nearly one-third of all its members who have married, a total of not less than four thousand persons." Nor is this all, but their removal has occasioned the deaths among the Friends to exceed their births by two thousand four hundred since 1810; while in the general population of England, during the same period, there have been three births to every two deaths. From considering the more proximate we pass to an examina- tion of the more general causes of the decay of Quakerism. These, according to Mr. Rowntree, are its disparagement of the human reason, its once inadequate estimate of the value of Holy Scripture' and its seclusive system of Church government. In re- ieeting a humanly appointed ministry and the symbolical rites of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, Quakerism placed itself in anta- gonism to the sentiments and requirements of nearly all existing Christian communities. From these special causes, from the general neglect of the culture of the understanding in connexion with re- ligion and the disregard of the insthetic element in man's mental constitution, the measure of Quakerism has become smaller than that of Christianity, its powers of adaptation have been limited, and its general diffusion restrained. It is in condemning the par- tial and oligarchical nature of Quakerism that we find the author of the second dissertation in most striking sympathy with his fellow-essayist. He regards George Fox as a pure single-hearted righteous man, dissatisfied with the belief in a historical Christ, complaining that "the faith of the sects stands on a Man who died at Jerusalem sixteen hundred years ago," and wanting "a
deliverer for that year, for that hour, a light for every moment" This deliverer, this light, was in man himself; neither condi- tioned by time place, creed, occupation, character, age, nor sex • and opposed only by sin and self-willed darkness. Strong in the persuasion of the universality of this light, Fox wrote to the Jews, to the Pope, to the Emperor, to the Kings of France and England, to Oliver Cromwell, to dharles II., to cleric and lay, of every sect and emplo eat, throughout Christendom, ap-
pealing to the Divine itness present in them all. This Quaker reproclamation of an eternal verity against the Church- men, separatists, and politicians of the time, was the glory and strength of the teaching of Fox and his followers. Quaker- ism prospered, because in the general forgetfulness of the "Divine Idea" it singled out for emphatic revival this universal truth, in which, however variously interpreted, all humanity has so deep and abiding an interest. Thus it asserted spirituality against ceremonialism, believing that the Creator and Inspirer of forms would provide them when they were wanted ; it stood for sim- plicity against insincerity in speech and elaborateness in dress; it taught the supreme love of man for the holy love within them gave them an awful sympathy with all men, a mighty hatred to all man's enemies. It witnessed against war, slavery, drunken- ness, because they obscure and insult the Divine light that dwells in every man. Such Mr. Hancock conceives the old Quaker idea to have been.
But Quakerism soon degenerated, and the Idea became lost in system; mechanism succeeded to vital action, and the sense of a hereditary vocation supplanted the living principle of duty Thus the modern Quakers retain the accidents not the essextiaa of their Church. They protest against forms and only show their formality ; they take up the calling of philanthropists, and menu- fieture brotherhood and charity by peace societies, abolition socie- ties, and temperance societies. Mr. Hancock attributes the decay of Quakerism not only to the growing degeneracy of its professors, but to its sectarian character. Quakerism is partial and exclusive. Its disciples from the very first claimed to be a Peculium' or peculiar people, repudiating all communion with Romanists, Puritans, or Anglicans ; it originated in the secularism or the spirit of the age of the seventeenth century; it degenerated with that of the eighteenth; it is now one-sided, commercial, or worldly, and anti-human. The Quaker Idea is lost. The Quaker system is hostile to the age ; hostile, because while every thoughtful man, theist or atheist, craves for unity of thought, sentiment, and action, Quakerism does not assist and forward this tendency; hostile, because there is a growing attachment to Ritualism and Quakerism refuses to ac-
knowledge this tendency ; hostile, the age is characterized by a strong sesthetic spirit or love of art, and Quaker discipline shuts out art as an. element of the world. It fights against God by its prohibitions, for the things it prohibits are parts of His dis- cipline. "Music, romances, the drama, dancing, outward signs of mourning, memorials to the beloved dead, these all arise out of our original constitution, 'and' wherever man is these things are." Elsewhere Mr. Hancock observes that our Divine Discipliner has given us arts, poetry, the drama, as preservatives from worldliness, and declares that, in its contempt of art and rejection of enthusi- asm, Modern Quakerism has taken money for its idol and is sign- ing away its life.
Such is Mr. Hancock's view of the decline of Quakerism ; view which in some respects is coincident with that of Mr. Rown- tree, and which is principally distinguished from that gentle- man's by its more abstract and deductive character, and also by what non-Anglicans would regard as in some degree vitiating the purity of his argument, the assumption ofCatholicity." for the communion to which he belongs. If Quakerism is declining, is not Church of Englandism declining also ? If a High. Churchman objects that the Society of Friends has decreased from 60,000 or 70,000 in 1690 to less than 15,000 in 1850, may not the Quaker retort that the Church of England, once we pre- sume that of the people of England contained, according to the Census of 1851, only 5,292,551 worshippers in England and Wales, out of a population of 18,000,000? May not he refer to the Report of the Commissioners on the Religious Condition of the Country, eight or nine years since, which testifies that while with the upper classes a regular church attendance is ranked amongst the recognized proprieties of life, "it is sadly certain that this vast intelligent and growingly important section of our country- men (the artisan population) is thoroughly- estranged from our religious institutions in their present aspect?" It is a fact that the Church of England is not the Church of England's people; it is a
question, why it is not, and a further question, how can it become so ? Is its denationality the consequence of defective Catho- licity, universality of truth, sentiment, and action? For we quite agree with Mr. Hancock, that no system that is partial and sec- tarian, no system that excludes truth in science, truth in art, truth in life, no system that shuts out any rays of the "Divine Light," or insults and mutilates any element in our common humanity, can be sovereign in its authority, Catholic in its in- clusiveness, or eternal in its duration. Every seat contains within itself the principle of its own decay, in its protestations and abridgments. Its schismatic and inexpensive character is its death-warrant." That English sectarianism is eventually doomed
to die out is a conclusion that all philosophical and historical speculation justifies. Will the Church of England verify the rule by becoming a splendid exception to the prevailing en- elusiveness? Can she make herself the Church of the nation by developing the spiritual life of the nation?