(Part of the Collection, Kersey's Essays)

Jesse Kersey

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 215-218.

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[P. 215] To understand the foundation and nature of the Discipline of Friends, it is necessary that we should take into view the government of the church in what may be called its more civil concerns. Among the apostles and primitive believers, it was found to be needful for the comfort and harmony of their society to adopt conclusions and regulations for the government and observance of the members in their more outward walking and conduct toward one another.

Hence at an early period we find that the body of the apostles and elders met at Jerusalem to deliberate upon, and determine what regulations should be made for the government of the social conduct of such Gentile converts as were added to the church. For this circumstance occasioned a diversity of opinion among the Jewish believers. Now it may be reasonably believed that when the church was met at Jerusalem for considering the important subject, that each member opened his views of the proper order to be observed, and that those opinions would be likely to be diverse and various at first. Such we find to have been the fact in that meeting. But we also find that after these various opinions and disputings on the question at issue, all the multitude were brought into a state of silence, listening to the views held up by Barnabas and Paul. After they had fully opened the case, an elder rose up and was the instrument of setting the subject of discipline before them, so that they all united in the conclusion, that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and [P. 216] to the church to prescribe only a few necessary things as rules of discipline in the case.

The discipline of the society of Friends had a similar origin. It arose from the necessity of cases that required the united conclusion of the body in order to preserve the harmony of the members. Thus, rules and regulations have been made from time to time, adapted to the circumstances and necessities of the Society. It is therefore obvious that the order and discipline of Friends from the beginning to the present time, have been established in the general unity of the body. If any member is not satisfied with any particular rule of discipline or custom of the society, he has the right and privilege of opening it in his own Monthly Meeting for consideration; and if his brethren unite with his objections, the case is next to be brought before a Quarterly Meeting; and thence, if approved, it goes to the Yearly Meeting. But if that meeting should not believe that it is necessary to make a change, it becomes the duty of the member who was dissatisfied, and all others, to submit to the conclusion of the body. But should he, or any other member refuse to submit to the judgment of the Yearly Meeting, such individuals could be no longer considered as sound members; because they stand opposed to the united judgment of their brethren in a case where every privilege has been allowed them, that is consistent with the existence and well-being of society.

Now we have cause to regret, that notwithstanding the liberality of our system, and the evidence we have that the harmony of society cannot be maintained, but by submitting to the judgment of the body,--there are those who publicly oppose the conclusions that have [P. 217] been agreed to by the Yearly Meeting. Of this class are some who have been approved as ministers and active members, and who continue to be appointed by Monthly Meetings to services in the Society. Now this subject appears to require deeper consideration; for if a member who manifestly does not unite with the order and disciple of the Society, should be appointed on a committee to deal with another member as an offender for a breach of order or discipline, it would be obviously inconsistent, and must tend to weakness.

From the first rise of the society it has been the practice of Friends to rise and uncover the head in the time of vocal prayer. Some difference of sentiment having occurred, this subject was brought before our Yearly Meeting not many years ago; and on deliberate consideration Friends did not approve of declining the practice. Now, as no member can reasonably expect the whole body of the Society to submit to his opinion, there appears no other way for the Society to remain united but for those who think differently from their friends patiently to bear their own burdens, and conform to the sense of the body: and if they would condescend to do so and have the truth on their side, it may confidently be believed that in due time the way will open for their views to obtain. But should any persist in a course of conduct manifesting their disunity with the order of society, and in opposition thereto--such showing a want of condescension, give proof to their Friends that it would be dangerous to themselves, as weft as prejudicial to the society, to countenance them in their present state of mind. For, notwithstanding such may allege that their deviation from the custom of rising in time of vocal prayer, is not from any opposition [P. 218] or dislike to the person appearing, yet it tends to produce disunity and confusion. And even those how plead a conscientious scruple in the case, would set a more honorable part if they were to withdraw from the Society.