[SLAVERY AND DIVINE REVELATION TO MAN]
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 207-214.
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[P. 207] If there is any doctrine that is of greater value to mankind than another, it is the doctrine of Divine revelation to man. This is the fact, because this doctrine seems to support the opinion that it is a living, discerning, and ever-active principle, and is always present in the mind,--and has power in itself capable of keeping the mind sensible of its duty to God and also to man. Take away this active spiritual Monitor, and place out duties in written form, and in that case we may attend to the obligations that are written, just when it happens to fit out inclination. Under such circumstances we may readily see that duties which may be admitted to be of the first importance, would be very often neglected. But, according to the views of Friends, those who believe in Divine revelation have a teacher within them by which they are ever [P. 208] kept sensible of the will of God; and unless they wilfully rebel against the light that makes manifest their duties, they are walking in it, and therefore know that they are approved by it. These have the evidence of the Spirit itself bearing witness with their spirits, that they are the children of the Light and of the day.
The religion of these possessors is therefore not built upon a written dead testimony; but is a religion that is always kept alive in the soul by the presence of the spirit of God. Now the professor of this religion knows daily whether he is in an acceptable state with his Lord and Master, or not. If he is, it is because he has entered into the Divine mind, and it is his comfort to feel a peaceful quiet. Such are not beating the air, nor are they in any doubt about themselves. They have Christ the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and being in and under his government, they are his subjects, and therefore know that they are members of his church and kingdom.
It is in this state that the Saints of God can "rejoice evermore, and pray without ceasing." That is, they are always in that state which agrees with the Divine mind, and this is a state of prayer without ceasing: and hence also in everything they can give thanks. Now it is by this kind of spiritual and practical knowledge that the real followers of Christ become true Christians. They have entered into the New-covenant state, in which old things are done away, and all things become new, and all things of God. These are such Christians as cannot be satisfied with the mere externals of religion; because, having a living knowledge of the immortal and eternal life, any thing short of this is but as the shadow without the substance.
[P. 209] Such is the religious experience of the faithful sons of God. It was the happy state of the apostles of Jesus Christ; and hence they could say, "We know that the son of God is come, and that he hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true." Such is the religion of vital Christianity; and with these a knowledge of the will of God is ever present, and they need not that any man should teach them the knowledge of God, because the anointing which they have received abides with them, and is "Truth, and is no lie."
In viewing the present state of the Society of Friends, my mind has been deeply affected, and it appears to me that we are in danger of losing that state of unity and brotherly regard which once happily reigned in nearly all its departments. Some of the causes of this declension I shall endeavor to open for the consideration of others.
The Society of Friends has been made use of in the Divine hand, on the great subject of the enslaved Africans and their descendants. When this concern was first opened among Friends, it came from individual minds; and at that day many Friends had slaves. Hence it was found, that in attending to the subject, it was necessary that the condition of the master, as well as that of the slave, should receive proper consideration. Friends were therefore careful in all their labors, that the judgment of the claimant should be rightly informed upon the subject, as well as that the slave should obtain his freedom. Pursuing the concern with these feelings and views in relation to it, they were favored so to act, that an open door was [P. 210] kept with all; and therefore in the whole course of their labors for the redemption of the Society from the evil of slaveholding, the unity of the Society was preserved.
When through patient persevering labor, Friends had gained the important point of their own freedom from the evil, they were then prepared to hold up this subject to the notice of others. Being preserved in unity among themselves, this righteous testimony was held up with great care and judgment. It was not long before a law was obtained in Pennsylvania, declaring all colored persons born after the passing of the act, to be free after a stated period; the males at twenty eight years of age, if recorded within six months after birth, and the females at twenty-one years. But if not recorded within six months after birth, they were to be free, at twenty-one, the males, and the females at eighteen years. When this law was passed in Pennsylvania, it seemed like an entering wedge upon the subject; and it was followed by other laws that had an effect upon the great cause of freedom to the slave; and the important concern seemed to be gaining ground in the public mind.
In this state of the progress of this righteous testimony, it was seen that from emancipations which were taking place, and from various other causes, we were becoming surrounded by those people of color who were free by law. There were also some who would run away from servitude, and there were men who would take up others who were legally free, and claim them as slaves. It was from this state of things, that a protecting Society was formed in Philadelphia; the object of which was professedly to prevent kidnapping, [P. 211] and also to secure those colored people from being taken into bondage whose freedom took place, or was to take place by virtue of the law. For it was found that such as were born after the year 1780, and who would, even if recorded, be free at twenty-eight and twenty years, were liable to be sold by avaricious slave holders into interminable bondage. These were among the objects of the care of this Abolition Society; and by their watchful care, the freedom of many were secured, who would otherwise have been sold in distant places into endless slavery.
This Society was composed of Friends and other active and intelligent men: and in their engagements to protect and assist the colored people, it sometimes happened that they would get hold of a case where the claim to the slave would be supported. Whenever this occurred, there would follow a liberal amount of reflections upon Friends. They would be accused of disregarding all law, if they could gain the freedom of the slave. This Association continued in operation for a number of years; and at length, from the falling off of many of the members who were not Friends,--the Society was held up among the Southern members of Congress, as being exclusively made up of members who belonged to the Society of Friends. This opinion was so fixed that a member of the Senate came out in that body with a mass of reflections upon Friends, built upon a case which he stated as one that was managed by Quakers. This circumstance gave an opportunity to correct the error, and to inform the public that those persons who had been engaged in it, were not in that case acting as Friends, but were members of an Association composed of persons of different [P. 212] religious professions; and therefore it was not fair to charge the proceedings of that body upon Friends.
As before stated, Friends have always on the subject of slavery, thought it right for them to keep an open door with the slave holders. They have therefore in their movements on this subject endeavored to aim at letting them see that our object was their comfort and happiness,--that, being convinced in our experience of the great evil of the practice it has become with us a religious concern, that our fellow citizens should get clear of it. But although we believe that it would be for the good of our country to see an end to all the evils of this system of great injustice and cruelty,--it appears to us to be a concern that nothing short of Divine wisdom can rightly dispose of. In all the movements of Friends, it has been their concern to know that they are not acting in their own will as men, but that they are guided by the all wise Head of the church. Now it is believed that it is under the leadings of this pure principle alone that the great cause of the enslaved Africans and their descendants can ever be conducted to a proper and correct issue; and believing also, as Friends have always done that the masters are to be redeemed from the evils of slavery,--they have therefore uniformly had their minds turned to their situation, as well as to the operation of the system upon the slaves.
Hence, when we have been called to consider the subject, Friends have frequently avoided taking hold of it, because they did not see any course pointed out which would complete a general relief to both masters and slaves; and it has been left for further and more perfect openings to turn up in favor of their taking hold [P. 213] of the important subject. Under those circumstances, many of our members have believed that the concern has been left without the attention being given to it, which the suffering condition of those held in slavery calls for. Such individuals, supposing that they have seen something that could be done, have gone into activity in the business, and are blaming the society for having failed to come forward, and take hold with them and pursue the subject in their way. But as Friends do not see their way, the subject must be left.
In this state of things there has appeared to be danger of the unity and harmony of the society being much injured, and more or less ora dissension formed therein. Friends must, notwithstanding, abide, by and in their own principles,--the principles of Truth. They stand as a Society upon very important ground. To them is committed the momentous testimony of professing a practical belief m a divine gift to man; and they are bound in agreement with this profession, to stand opposed to every religious pretension, where the individuals can proceed to act, without the pure and blessed testimony of this Divine gift. They are also: bound by the solemnity of their profession, to reject, as contrary to the benign purposes of the Christian's duty, all movements under the character of religions, which are made in the will and wisdom of man. It being in their view, contrary to the great principles laid down by Christ and his apostles, for any step to be taken with a view to advance the cause of universal righteousness, that is not dictated by the immediate openings and leadings of the spirit of Christ.
Now as Friends are apparently the only people who [P. 214] make this
profession, they are in duty bound carefully to maintain this important ground.
To preserve the society in agreement with this high profession, it appears
very important that they should avoid mixing with others; and that they should
abide in a state of faithful attention to their religious principles. By
so doing, and conforming in practice to the clear openings of our religious
testimonies, we shall fulfil all that is required at our hands; and Friends
may thus expect to be preserved in unity one with another, and with the great
and glorious Head of the Church. As the society keeps on this ground, it
will be favored with the necessary qualifications to perform the duties unto
which it has been, or may be called. The work of our redemption and salvation
is a work that can never be carried on by our own powers alone. It must be
performed by the aid of the gift of God; and therefore we must learn to
understand its testimonies, before we can be numbered among the true followers
of Christ. It appears to me therefore, that if Friends continue to be useful
in the cause of righteousness, we must stand alone, and be faithful to the
precious gift which we have received from our gracious Helper. If at any
time we suffer our minds to wander from the proper abiding place, we may
expect to be caught and carried away into something that it would be better
for us to keep clear of. Oh! the concern and travail of my spirit, that the
society of Friends may be preserved in its proper place, and answer the great
end, for which I am persuaded it was raised up.