By Thomas Clarkson (1806)
Religion of the Quakers—Invitation to a patient perusal
of this part of the work—No design, by this invitation, to proselyte to
Quakerism—All systems of Religion, that are founded on the principles of
Christianity, are capable, if heartily embraced, of producing present and future
happiness to man—No censure of another’s Creed warrantable, inasmuch as the
human understanding is finite—Object of this Invitation.
Having explained very diffusively the great subjects, the moral Education, Discipline, and Peculiar Customs, of the Quakers, I purpose to allot the remaining part of this volume to the consideration of their religion.
I know that persons, who are religiously disposed will follow me patiently through this division of my work, not only because religion is the most important of all subjects that can be agitated, but because, in the explanation of the religious systems of others, some light may arise, which, though it be not new to all, may yet be new and acceptable to many. I am aware, however, that there are some who direct their reading to light subjects, and to whom such as are serious may appear burthensome. If any such should have been induced, by any particular motive, to take this book into their hands, and to accompany me thus far, I entreat a continuation of their patience, till I have carried them through the different parts and divisions of the present subject.
I have no view, in thus soliciting the attention of those who are more, or of those who are less religiously disposed, to attempt to proselyte to Quakerism. If men do but fear God, and work righteousness, whatever their Christian denomination may be, it is sufficient. Every system of religion which is founded on the principles of Christianity, must be capable, if heartily embraced, of producing temporal and eternal happiness to man. At least, man with his limited understanding, cannot pronounce with any absolute certainty, that his own system is so far preferable to that of his neighbor, that it is positively the best, or that there will be any material difference in the future happiness of those who follow the one or the other; or that the pure professors of each shall not have their peculiar rewards. The truth is, that each system has its own merits. Each embraces great and sublime objects. And if good men have existed, as none can reasonably deny, before Christianity was known, it would be a libel on Christianity, to suppose either that good men had not existed since, or that good Christians would not be ultimately happy, though following systems differing from those of one another. Indeed, every Christian community has a great deal to say in the defense of its own tenets. Almost all Christian churches have produced great characters; and there are none, I should hope, that had not been the authors of religious good. The church of England, in attempting to purify herself at the reformation, effected a great work. Since that time she has produced at different periods, and continues to produce, both great and good men. By means of her Universities, she has given forth, and keeps up and disseminates, a considerable portion of knowledge; and though this, in the opinion of the Quakers, is not necessary for those who are to become ministers of the Gospel, it cannot be denied that it is a source of temporary happiness to man; that it enlarges the scope of his rational and moral understanding, and that it leads to great and sublime discoveries, which become eminently beneficial to mankind. Since that time she has also been an instrument of spreading over this kingdom a great portion of religious light, which has had its influence in the production of moral character.
But though I bestow this encomium upon the established church, I should be chargeable with partiality and injustice, if I were not to allow, that among the dissenters of various descriptions, learned, pious, and great men, had been regularly and successively produced. And it must be confessed, and reflected upon with pleasure, that these, in proportion to their numbers, have been no less instrumental in the dissemination of religions knowledge, and in the production of religious conduct. I might go to large and populous towns and villages in the kingdom, and fully prove my assertion in the reformed manners of the poor, many of whom, before these pious visitations, had been remarkable for the profaneness of their lives.
Let us then not talk but with great deference and humility; with great tenderness and charity; with great thankfulness to the author of every good gift,--when we speak of the different systems that actuate the Christian World. Why should we consider our neighbor as an alien, and load him with reproaches, because he happens to differ from us in opinion about an article of faith? As long as there are men, so long will there be different measures of talents and understanding; and so long will they view things in a different light, and come to different conclusions concerning them. The eye of one man can see farther than that of another: So can the human mind, on the subject of speculative truths. This consideration should teach us humility and forbearance in judging of the religion of others. For who is he, who can say that he sees the farthest, or that his own system is the best? If such men as Milton, Whiston, Boyle, Locke, and Newton, all agreeing in the profession of Christianity, did not all think precisely alike concerning it, who art thou, with thy inferior capacity, who settest up the standard of thine own judgment as infallible? If thou sendest thy neighbor to perdition in the other world, because he does not agree in his creed with thee, know that he judges according to the best of his abilities, and that no more will be required of him. Know also that thou thyself judgest like a worm of the earth; that thou dishonourest the Almighty by thy reptile notions of him; and that in making him accord with thee in condemning one of his creatures for what thou conceivest to be the misunderstanding of a speculative proposition, thou treatest him like a man, as thou thyself art, with corporeal organs; with irritable passions, and with a limited intelligence. But if, besides this, thou condemnest thy neighbor in this world also, and feelest the spirit of persecution towards him, know that, whatever thy pretensions may be to religion, thou art not a Christian. Thou art not possessed of that charity or love, without which thou art but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
Having therefore no religious prejudices myself, except in favor of Christianity, and holding no communion with the Quakers, as a religions society, it cannot be likely that I should attempt to proselyte to Quakerism. I wish only, as I stated in my introduction to this work, to make the Quakers better known to their countrymen than they are at present. In this I think I have already succeeded, for I believe I have communicated many facts concerning them, which have never been related by others. But no people can be thoroughly known, or at least the character of a people cannot be thoroughly understood, except we are acquainted with their religion; much less can that of the Quakers, who differ so materially, both in their appearance and practice, from the rest of their fellow-citizens.
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