(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 261-268.

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[P. 261] In the organization of religious society it is necessary that the members should unite in the principle by which they are to be governed. If they believe in the fundamental obligations of Christianity, they will of course conclude that they are to be under and subject to that measure of the Spirit which the apostle Paul has said is given to every man to profit withal. By those who believe in this doctrine, it has been understood to be a Spirit that takes its kingdom by entreaty, and keeps it by humility, and a lowly or passive state of mind. Such a society must therefore be brought to place their whole confidence in the power and wisdom of this heavenly guide. They will under all circumstances confide in it, let their trials as individuals or as a society be what they may. They will never have recourse to any mode of relief but what they are convinced is dictated by this eternal Spirit. Now as the Society of Friends profess to have full faith in this divine gift, they are necessarily to submit themselves to it in all that they have to meet with in the world. It would be turning away from the principle of their profession if they should have recourse to any system of human policy in order to gain any point. The fact is, to a society that professes as Friends do, there is no door which can be opened to any other wisdom and power for the preservation of themselves or that of the order of the Society, but the wisdom and power Of Truth. Now as it is understood that the Spirit they profess to embrace, acts not compulsively but by persuasion and a convincement of the judgment, so it is [P. 262]  clear that its purposes are never to be gained by the arm of flesh. Hence we may infer that if the Society should from any cause be led away from a state of entire dependence upon this gift, it must be on the downward course, and consequently fail to maintain a true testimony to the excellency of their religious profession. In taking a view of the present circumstances of the professors of Christianity, there has appeared much reason to believe that many amongst them have been ready to conclude, since the Society of Friends have become a divided people, they have proved to the rest of mankind that it is not in the nature of their profession to keep them in connection or united together; and that from necessity they will have to abandon their confidence in the doctrine which they have professed, and come under the regulating power of fixed laws and ruled of government. That the spiritual profession which they have held is incompatible with the nature of man, and that the party which they will prefer will be those who are called the "Orthodox" party. "Because," say they, "we can see in them something like an adoption of the doctrines and opinions of other religious professors." We are therefore placed under very serious circumstances, and it is highly necessary for Friends to endeavor clearly to understand the great responsibility that rests upon us; that so we may be found consistent with the fundamental principle of our profession. If we mean to take upon ourselves the same testimonies that were embraced and maintained by our worthy predecessors, it follows conclusively, that we must shut our eyes from the policy of the world, and turn away from any dependance upon the arm of flesh. We know that as to [P. 263] the past circumstances which we have witnessed, so far as they were distressing to many of us, they were the fruit of a departure from the true light that enlightens every man that comes into the world. Our early Friends having been convinced both of the power and wisdom of their heavenly guide, relied upon it in every trial; and being faithful to its manifestations, they became a body of people in perfect submission to the one eternal Spirit. In this happy state love reigned predominant among them, and hence they knew practically that as many as walked in this Light, as he the great author of it is light, had fellowship one with another. Now while Friends continued in this blessed state it was impossible for rents and divisions to take place. Hence they were an unconquerable body. But as they succeeded in convincing the world of their innocent lives and conduct, they were relieved from persecution, and soon became prosperous in the world. With the rise of character, and the increase of wealth, there was a gradual falling off from that state of watchfulness and devotion which had been maintained in the beginning; and from this cause men came to have a~ influence in the society, who had little more to recommend them than their wealth. Thus by a total change in the character and disposition of many of the leaders of Society, it followed that when difference of opinion arose on any subject, those high-minded individuals would not condescend to the views of their brethren. When therefore condescension was abandoned, strife succeeded; and a division was the consequence. But had the same spirit of brotherly regard been cherished which so eminently appeared among the founders of the Society, it would have been impossible for it to [P. 264] become divided. Our unhappy conflict and consequent separation must therefore not be charged to the profession, but to a want of individual faithfulness to the divine Spirit.

The same causes we must believe will produce the same effect: and therefore it is necessary for Friends to be on their guard, or otherwise strife and division may again take place. But in order to preserve the body from falling into this unhappy state, it is of vast importance that it should be grounded and settled in correct principles. On this subject the author has felt a deep concern. He is fully aware that at present we stand in a very critical situation, and he feels his fears lest there should be a want of just conceptions of the consequences which threaten to overtake us. He will therefore leave with his friends a testimony of his concern, and he believes it a duty to endeavor to call the attention of Friends to the alone ground of safety, and of prosperity to the great cause of universal peace and righteousness. It should never be forgotten by us that it is one thing to profess a belief in the Divine manifestation to man, and it is another thing to have a settled faith at all times and under all circumstances in the sufficiency of the wisdom and power of this gift. For want of this faith and patient awaiting the Lord's time, when trials and difficulties arise we may go to work in our own wisdom and strength in order to remove unpleasant cases when they occur. Thus by putting forth the hand unbidden to steady the ark we may bring death instead of life, and really retard the advancement of the good cause.: It has been occasion of mourning to find that we are not so fully settled in the belief of the all-sufficiency of the precious gift as should be the case  [P. 265] if Friends are not deeply attentive to the light and spirit of the great Head of the Church, they may introduce measures of human policy and be governed by them--the consequence of which must be that the society may again be landed much in the wilderness state. There was perhaps never a time when it was more important to the great cause of Christianity than the present time that all who profess with us should keep close to their proper places and duties, studying to show ourselves approved unto God. And as we believe that we live in an age when there is much enquiry in the minds of the people and when all the movements of those under our name are closely watched, much depends upon what we say and do in accordance with the witness for truth in the minds of enquirers. Our meetings for divine worship being held as they are with a profession of waiting in spirit upon the great Head of the Church to be instructed by him, it has appeared clear to me that if Friends were deep and weighty in their spirits they would be more often favored with the overshadowings of Divine love and thereby be refreshed together, as well as witness the power of truth to be raised into dominion, and thus, forward spirits that come among us, and often wound the spiritual life by running into words without life and power would be kept down. There is perhaps no circumstance which has a greater tendency to mar the work of righteousness in the earth than a lifeless ministry. Some there are who with a small gift would be favored to know the burden of the word give to them, and would be clear in what they had to deliver, but for want of keeping in the littleness, and by giving way to the desire to enlarge, are clouded in their [P. 266] testimony and judgment, and do not furnish anything like a certain sound, or learn to know their proper stopping places. Hence they remain in the mixture, and Friends are often at a loss to know whether there is a gift or not: and when some of these are at last from their weak appearances advised to desist and try to keep silent, they become troublesome to Friends.

Leaving the subject of the Ministry, it remains with me to remark, that in order to maintain the testimonies of truth on the true ground, there is no point more important than that of a strict regard to the peaceable nature of the gospel spirit. So long as we trust to any other means than that of the Divine Gift for the safety and well-being of the society, we shall be liable to weakness and error: but if we place our confidence exclusively in the Divine Gift and follow it, there will be nothing to fear. But it is to be feared that many among us are not in possession of the true and living faith,--a faith that overcometh the world. The society of Friends from their rise have been firmly of the judgment that the light of Christ inwardly manifested is the alone sure guide, and by it every individual may be instructed in all the subjects that pertain to the Kingdom of Heaven. They have therefore maintained this testimony, that with them it is the first and primary rule of faith and practice. We make the same profession, and therefore have no new doctrine to preach; but the same that has been from the beginning, and which is preached in every creature. In this we are different from other professors of Christianity, who consider that revelation has ceased, "because" (say they-) "God has committed his will to writing." If this doctrine was true, it would follow as a consequence that [P. 267] none could be saved but those who could read, and who had the book. We do not advert to this doctrine with any view to controversy, but simply to present a correct view of the profession of Friends from the beginning. Now as we have embraced the doctrine of a Divine manifestation to man, and do not believe that in this blessed gift there is any tendency to strife or contention, or that it is incompetent to the preservation of those individuals, or that society which live in subjection to its teachings--it is of great importance to us and to the cause of Truth, that we should in our practice conform to it. It never can be right for a people making this high profession, to have recourse to compulsory measures in defence of themselves or of the order of the society. On the contrary, when they are being taught under trials and diftieulties, they should manifest their full faith in the gift. Thus they Would be qualified to stop the mouths of gainsayers and all that should rise up against them. When a body of men are united in any one profession it is the duty of the individual members of that body to adopt the doctrine they have embraced. Hence it follows that as the Society of Friends wholly abandon all that kind of management which belongs to the children of this world, and to its policy,--they have only to trust to the pure and heavenly gift; and surely they have every reason to do so. When we look back into the trials and sufferings which our dear friends had to encounter, and observe with what meekness, patience, and fortitude, they endured those impositions,--looking to the Lord alone for deliverance--surely we might be both encouraged and instructed to trust to the same blessed power for deliverance from the comparatively  [P. 268] insignificant difficulties of our time. It is of great importance to the society of Friends that they should not only understand the fundamental principle of their profession, but that they should have full faith in the power and virtue of it: and having the example of our early Friends before us and finding from their case that they were happily sustained under all trials in consequence of their obedience to the principle of their profession we are left without excuse should we attempt to take any other ground or seek a deliverance from trials by the aid of the arm of flesh or the policy of the world. The whole power of the church of Christ is centered in love. Therefore in all eases where there is opposition, it is the business of the true believer to try to overcome by maintaining a meek and gentle spirit. But should any attempt to subdue and regulate disorderly spirits by the exercise of compulsory measures, they would only mar the work and wound themselves. From the commencement of the society, we may see that all the extreme cases, such as have ended with rendings, and division have been produced by a departure from the spirit of meekness, forbearance, and brotherly kindness. And we may always depend upon it, that if we cannot gain the desired point by the exercise of those Christian principles, that we should not resort to any other. The fact is if we do in any degree depart from the true ground, we may be sure of losing, by it.