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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 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 ec, clesiastical 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 (t) 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."
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.
(t) Book of extracts.
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, to look up to the rich, but to look down upon the poor. We are apt to court the good will of the former, when we seem to care very little even whether we offend the latter. The rich themselves and the middle classes of men respect the rich more than the poor; and the poor shew more respect to the rich than to one another. Hence it is possible, that a poor man may find more reluctance in entering the doors of a rich man to admonish him, than one who is rich to enter the doors of the poor for the
same purpose, men, again, though they may be equally good, may not have all the same strength of character. Some overseers may be more timid than others, and this timidity may operate upon them more in the execution of their duty upon one class of individuals, than upon another. Hence a rich man may escape for a longer time without admonition, than a poorer member. But when the ice is once broken; when admonition is once begun; when respectable persons have been called in by overseers or others, those causes, which might be preventive of justice, will decrease; and, if the matter should be carried to a monthly or a quarterly meeting, they will wholly vanish. For in these courts it is a truth, that those, who are the most irreproachable for their lives, and the most likely of course to decide justly on any occasion, are the most attended to, or carry the most weight, when they speak publicly. Now these are to be found principally in the low and middle classes, and these, in all societies, contain the greatest number of individuals. As to the very rich, these are few indeed compared with the rest, and these may be subdivided into two classes forthe farther elucidation of the point. The first will consist of men, who rigidly follow the rules of the society, and are as exemplary as the very best of the members. The second will consist of those, who
are members according to the letter, but not accord. ing to the spirit, and who are content with walking in the shadow, that follows the substance of the body. Those of the first class will do justice, and they will have an equal influence with any. Those of the second, whatever may be their riches, or whatever they may say, are seldom if ever attended to in the administration of the discipline.
From hence it will appear, that if there be any partiality in the administration of this institution, it will consist principally in this, that a rich man may be suffered in particular cases, to go longer without admonition than a poorer member; but that after admonition has been begun, justice will be impartially administered; and that the charges of a preference, where disowning is concerned, has no solid foundation for its support,