[ATTENDANCE AT SPIRITUAL WORSHIP]
Taken From A Narrative of the Early Life, Travels, and Gospel Labors of Jessey Kersey, Late of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1851, pages 199-204.
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For their faithful maintenance of this testimony to the public social, and spiritual worship of Almighty God, they underwent severe trials and persecutions, being often stoned, mobbed, and dragged out of their meetings, at the instigation of the priests. They were also fined, imprisoned, and many were spoiled of their substance, and died in noisome jails and dungeons. But nothing could shake their confidence, or divert them from the performance of this reasonable duty, when at liberty and in health. Hence, when they were debarred from entering their meeting houses, by an [P. 201] armed force, or when these were demolished by the rude mobs,--they would meet in the streets or on the ruins, as near the appointed place as they could--such was their love one to another, and such was their zeal for the support of this righteous testimony that the declarations made by one of them to their persecutors, seemed applicable to them all--"You might as well think to hinder the sun from shining, or the tide from flowing, as to think to hinder the Lord's people from meeting to wait upon him, whilst but two of them are left together."
But what shall be said now in this day of outward ease and liberty? Is this testimony to the public and spiritual worship of our Almighty Benefactor, of less importance to individuals, and to the world of mankind, than it was formerly? Surely not. Then how is it that our religious meetings are neglected by so large a portion of those who consider themselves as members of the same Society, and profess the same principles and testimonies, that our predecessors did? This delinquency is complained of from year to year, in the Reports of the state of Society carried up to almost every Yearly Meeting from its constituent branches. Not only is this neglect continued from year to year, embracing a large portion of our members, more especially in relation to meetings held near the middle of the week; but a considerable number wholly neglect all our meetings; and another class of members, some of whom may be said to occupy conspicuous stations in society, do not hesitate to express their doubts of the usefulness of our religious meetings, and hold up the view that people may be as good at home.
[P. 202] Such being the present state of the society of Friends, it may well be queried whether we are the same people, holding the same principles, testimonies and views as were practically held and manifested by early Friends. It is evident that very many who claim a right of membership in the society are deficient in the practice of a due attendance of our religious meetings; and hence they fail of this evidence in support of the important testimony to the public worship of the Father of spirits. Social worship embraces the doctrine and principle of brotherly love. Must it therefore be inferred that those Who neglect' to attend :meetings for worship, are deficient in love to their brethren.
But, without entering into inquiries after the causes of delinquency, the fact is obvious and certain. And while this continues to be the state and condition of the society it cannot, in relation to this and other important testimonies, be as a light to the world, and a useful body in spreading the pure doctrines of the gospel among mankind. It therefore appears highly needful for livingly-concerned Friends to seek for Divine wisdom and right ability in the exercise of Christian discipline toward those members who neglect the due attendance of our religious meetings. We know there must be a defect of principle in these delinquents, and that they do not conform to the precepts and examples of our primitive Friends, or of the early Christians. Among the apostles, and the righteous in all ages, their appears to have been a living concern on this subject. They were convinced of the rectitude and benefit of frequently assembling together for the solemn purpose of Divine worship and mutual comfort and edification. Paul besought his brethren by the high [P. 203] and holy object of the mercies of God, that they would present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God; and this he declared to be their reasonable service.
So far as we have the evidence of facts and observation in relation to this subject, it goes to prove that those who neglect this important duty, seldom advance in their love to the Supreme or to their fellow creatures--but on the contrary, are deficient in the due support of other Christian testimonies. Thus, they fall away from the precious guidance of the Spirit of Truth in themselves;--they are not alive in the love of God and of the brotherhood, and their delinquency gives evidence of it; for where this love abounds in the heart, it leads those who possess it to love to be often together, and to enjoy the benefits of public, social worship. Hence we infer that those who neglect the attendance of our religious meetings, are lacking in the great Christian principle of love in themselves, and therefore they do not feel it toward others.
Now when a member of our society has let go this fundamental in religion, and given up the practice of attending meeting with his friends,--if after patient and continued labors for his restoration, he remains still negligent,--there can be no further use in his being continued a member of the society: but there may be, and doubtless often is a great injury and disadvantage sustained. For while the Society permits such delinquent members to continue violating or disregarding the important testimony of Truth, and the vital principles on which it exists, this connivance is noticed by others, and they are induced to conclude that while a person may be continued a member, and yet fail or be [P. 204] negligent in such important testimonies and consistency of conducts--there is little or no advantage in being a member of such a Society. Hence, sincere seeking minds may be discouraged, and a stumbling block be thrown in their way, by continuing those unsound members among us.
Again, much disadvantage may arise and weakness and declension ensue,--where
individuals who neglect the attendance of our religious meetings, particularly
near the middle of the week, and yet are regular in most other respects,--are
appointed to services in society, or placed in the station of clerk, overseers
and other offices. Now it is obvious, that when a monthly meeting sanctions
the appointment of such delinquent members, it is a tacit acknowledgement
that such meeting is in a state of weakness, and connives at the violation
of the testimonies of truth in or by its members. Such a monthly meeting
evidently needs the supervisory care of its quarterly meeting. It may be
stated that in all cases where the testimonies and principles of truth as
professed by the Society of Friends, are violated, or the judgment and
conclusions of the Body disregarded by any of our members and this is known
to be the fact, such individuals should be called to account, and labored
with in the spirit of meekness and love, in order for their restoration--and
if such labor should prove ineffectual, and the offender will not submit
to the sense and advice of his friends, the use and benefit of society to
such an one being thus at an end, it would be better for society and also
for the refractory member, that a separation should take place and a minute
of disownment be issued.