(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 244-253..

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[P. 244] In reflecting upon the past and present condition of the society of Friends, and comparing the former with the latter there is much to indicate that Friends are on the decline. Formerly there was a great amount of love among them, and therefore it was their comfort and delight often to see one another: hence we find that religious meetings were carefully attended, and if at any time one of them was absent enquiry was made into the cause. By this means if any one was found to have neglected his or her duty the case was at once understood, and the individual received such help as was required and the society were prepared to help one another. But in proportion as the society fell away from this state they came into the condition of the Ephesian church, having left their first love. Thus the lively impressions and feeling of tender regard gradually declining there was not that care for one another that existed in the beginning, and members might be frequently absent from their religious meetings and none would feel sufficient concern to speak to him or her on the occasion. In this view of the decline of society it appears that in the first place a deficiencies of a two-fold character gradually gained ground until we [P. 245] now have abundant cause to mourn over the present state of things at large amongst us. But our mourning and complaining will do but little for us. It is time for measures to be taken that may have some proper effect. In the first place it seems so clear that we cannot kindle up again that ardent love of God and of one another that existed during the time of suffering under persecution. In that state of things there was much to awaken tender sympathy and engage Friends in considering the situation of the members and to administer relief. Those acts of kindness had a tendency to keep alive feelings of mutual regard, and hence we see that a change of situation has very much contributed to produce a change of character in the society. Since the spirit of persecution has subsided, Friends, as a body, have gone on in the pursuit of worldly concerns and being restrained by principle from indulging in the common extravagances of mankind they soon began to increase in the treasures of the world and thus as the occasions of suffering were removed the opportunities of seeing one another were not so frequent. By those changes in situation a change in habits and manners followed, and prosperity in their worldly pursuits has gradually introduced a selfish spirit; a spirit in its whole character differing from the generous and benign spirit of the gospel. In this way we may have the gradual but positive decline of many amongst us from that religious feeling which had so eminently attended the minds of Friends in the beginning. A worldly spirit having thus obtained a deep hold on the mind it is now necessary to consider how and by what means the society may be brought from under its influence and come to stand upon the original ground of [P. 246] love to God and to one another. If there is no alternative and we must go on as has been the case for more than fifty years it is almost a self-evident case that the Society will in this way suffer itself to be robbed of the spiritual and heavenly standing it once held and the meetings for the worship of Almighty God be held in a very neglected manner. We may observe that during this decline there has been in almost all the settlements of Friends those who have been concerned to attend all their meetings and it is by the zeal and faithfulness of such that the society has been kept from falling away and losing their standing as a religious body. By taking a view of the concern of this class we shall find that from year to year they have had the maintenance of our religious meetings for worship much at heart and have given testimony in the extracts from their different Yearly Meetings expressive of the travail of the church on this important subject. Many of those valuable productions have been read in the meetings of Friends and then laid by to receive no further attention. If those testimonies of deep-felt concern were examined it has been thought that some of them at least might be rendered more useful by being spread before our young friends. They would in this way come to see the concern of society for their religious improvement. In the present state of the subject there seems but little to hope and much to apprehend; but though there is reason to be impressed with discouragement there is also some cause to; believe Friends may be again revived and brought to feel our situation. If we were altogether a forsaken people we should find that the Lord answered no more either by vision or by prophecy. But this it is believed is [P. 247] not the case because we find that our meetings are still at times clothed with a happy and precious solemnity and there are preserved among us those who are at times raised up to bear a living and reaching testimony. It therefore remains for Friends to try to keep a firm hold of the right thing, and try as way opens to stir one another up to love and good works. The neglected state of our religious meetings particularly in or near the middle of the week should claim our care and attention. Let us endeavor to learn if possible what is the cause why members are so frequently absent and if it should be found on enquiry that some have embraced opinions opposed to the continuance of those meetings, if they cannot be convinced of their error their eases should be introduced to the Monthly Meeting and should they continue to oppose our meetings they should be disowned from the society. By this means if our number should be reduced for a time there is reason to believe that this would only be for a time, and as it would be manifest that those who remained in the society set a proper example and were themselves diligent attenders of our meeting this would be encouraging to honest enquirers nor would it be long before we should find many applications to become members. There would be some encouragement to unite with a society that were alive in the fulfilment of their religious duty; but if we remain as we are in a state of weakness there can be no occasion for the seriously thoughtful to connect themselves with us. It is therefore necessary for Friends to come out of the present mixed and disorderly state, and short of this there is no reason to expect that the society will be improved and come to take the proper hold of the [P. 248] important Christian testimonies we have been called to maintain in the world.

I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day--and again in this do I exercise myself daily to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and man. Notwithstanding St. Paul maintained this high standing, it does not appear that he had received from his education, which was doubtless liberal, correct views of his religious duty--and therefore his conscience prior to his conversion must have been conformed to the opinions received from his preceptors. This is probably no uncommon case--but on the contrary quite general, and therefore it would not be proper to consider conscience an infallible guide. But as I have frequently heard it placed in that point of light, and believe that many hold this opinion of it, I have apprehended it might be useful to take up some inquiries upon the subject, and try, if possible, to show in what degree of credit this faculty should be held. As I have already mentioned, the conscience of St. Paul before his conversion must have been in agreement with the opinions of his preceptors. After his conversion, as his mind was altered, and as he now saw that he had been grossly in error, we are not to believe that this very great change was dictated by his conscience consequently it must have been produced by the powerful operation of some other cause. By examining his own testimony upon the subject it will appear that he was convinced of his blindness by a supernatural light--by a light from Heaven--and being so convinced though the dictates of conscience were not changed yet the points of conscientious approbation and disapprobation were. Formerly he was [P. 249] supposing he was doing God service by persecuting the disciples of Christ, and he had a conscience which did not condemn him for his zeal in this business. Now he finds by the interference of a supernatural principle that he was in the transgressing nature, and doing those things that were contrary to the divine mind. He is brought to this important discovery not by conscience, but by the light of Christ. From those facts it may be perceived that before man is humbled by the power of Truth, and brought to see himself in the light of Christ--that light which enlightens every man that comes into the world--his best guide is a fallible principle; a principle which can possess no more perfection in itself--than his judgment and as that has been formed in agreement with his education, he will conform to its rudiments. He will be a Jew, a Christian, or a Mahometan, and conscientiously regard the doctrines and opinions in which he has been educated. Darkness therefore will cover his mind, and it cannot be possible for him under those circumstances to have an infallible guide--because he is living in the transgressing nature, and is the subject of a state in which the mind and conscience is defiled. Hence to call upon those who are so circumstanced to obey their conscience is not fulfilling the duty of a gospel minister--nay it may even be the means of inviting such to transgress against God--conscience then in the unregenerate man is not a safe religious guide. It was not sufficient to awaken St. Paul and lead him out: of error; nor is it a principle of any greater value in others--in the great concern of the soul's redemption. Before a conscience is to be relied upon in the protection of the soul from defilement is formed--the  [P. 250] individual must become subject to the divine visitation. He must be prostrated in a full conviction that he is a fallen and sinful creature--and that all his own acts, even his best acts are performed in conformity with a state of rebellion against God. After he has passed through this humbling view of himself and has come to see that he is undone without a Saviour--the foundation upon which he is engaged to build is changed. His mind obtains new views of itself--and those views being given by the presence of the light of Christ, a conscience is formed in him which is not built upon a human but upon a divine testimony. Now these are they that form the society of the multitude of believers who are of one heart and one soul--they consequently being led by an infallible guide out of darkness into the glorious light of the gospel, see eye to eye. And by keeping under the divine government, conscience in them compared to the light of the moon becomes as the light of the sun. Such witness great tenderness of spirit, and therefore enter deeply into the sufferings of Christ they are wounded by every appearance of evil either in themselves or others. They all therefore walk by the same rule and mind the same thing. In consequence of which they hold a united testimony, and are one in Christ. To them no duty is imposed by their own will or wisdom, but all is the immediate offspring of an infallible guide. If we go back into the history of these subjects of the kingdom of the Prince of Peace, we shall find that it never was the business of any of these to impose creeds and ceremonies upon the disciples of Christ. They have always aimed at maintaining obedience to the pure ,spirit, and contended that it is the letter that killeth, and the  [P. 251] Spirit only that giveth life. We are to look for the traditions of men and the imposition of rites and ceremonies from another class--and we shall find them among those of the Pharisaical order. There have been Pharisaical Jews and Pharisaical Christians--and the latter have been as numerous as the former. Through them there has been heaped upon the Christian profession a host of idolatrous duties, which are now contended for as conscientious obligations--and really are such upon the minds of those who are in the transgressing nature, and whom the Truth has never been permitted to set free. Those dark obligations of conscience have long tyrannized it over the children of God--and having set themselves up in the temple of God, they have assumed the prerogative of God;--and like Paul before his conversion, have supposed that in persecuting the true church they are doing God service. It therefore is important that the deceptions should be detected which have long been taking shelter under a supposed conscientious obligation, and which modern supposed charity seems willing to credit as belonging to the heritage of God. But it would be as easy to unite light with darkness, or Christ with Belial, as to bring those idolatrous devotees With all their indulgence of a transgressing nature into this glorious abode of harmony and of Truth.


After the foregoing observations it may be proper to show that a false conscience, or a conscience founded in delusion is as possible a case as a false or [P. 252] deluded judgment. When the advocates for the gospel of Jesus Christ who had been brought by the power of the Spirit of God out of darkness, engaged in the execution of their important mission, we do not find that they began their labors by taking hold of the learning and wisdom of man, nor did they lay it down as an essential in the Lord's work that men should become masters of the languages, or even that they should depend exclusively upon any outward means. On the contrary they came out with a plain testimony; they declared that all had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God--and therefore mankind were in bondage and held under chains of darkness. They proclaimed the necessity of repentance--that the old man with his deeds which are corruptible should be put off, and the new man put on--that the transgressing nature should be subdued, and a new and heavenly nature supply its place. Until this change was effected all was disorder--the mind and conscience defiled-and by no means prepared to judge in the great concerns of the church of Christ. But how does the case stand at present. Are we not informed of schools of divinity--theological students, fitting themselves up for the service of the church, and relying upon those endowments gained by study to prepare them to teach others the way in which they should go, while they are practically ignorant, and even enemies to the cross of the Redeemer. Walking in the pride and vanity of their own pompous imaginations, and daring to be judges of other men's consciences. Instead of themselves learning robe humble, and trusting to the shepherd of souls to instruct them and give them to see their blind and fallen state they are standing at a [P. 253] distance from the true ground, and as far as their influence extends keeping others also at a distance. From the commencement of those man-made ministers we may date the decline of vital Christianity, and find substituted in its room the decrees of, synods, and the dark and delusive doctrines of human wisdom supplying the place of the plain and precious precepts of the primitive ministers of Christ. Under those circumstances, the judgment is darkened, and of consequence, a conscience built upon it must be equally dark and ignorant. It is from those causes that the prosperity of the Messiah's kingdom is retarded.