A Beacon to the Society of Friends/Address
Society of Friends.
In contemplating that desolating heresy, which, in the United States of America, has lately swept thousands after thousands of our small section of the Christian Church, into the gulf of Hicksism and Deism,—a heresy, in proportion to our numbers, probably unparalleled in extent in the history of the Church of Christ,—it may be useful to bring before the view of our Society in this country, some of the errors that have led to such fatal results.
For, although we trust there is little danger of our being carried into such blasphemy as some of them were carried into; yet we cannot be too much aware of the errors which led to it: especially as these errors are a perversion of the truths of Christianity, and endanger the eternal salvation of man.
The great deception appears to have originated in the assumption, that we are authorised to expect to be taught the true knowledge of God and of his salvation,—our duty to him, and to our fellow-men, immediately by the Spirit, independently of his revelation through the Scriptures,—an assumption which is unsupported by Scripture, contradicted by fact, and one which renders its votaries a prey to many fatal delusions.
As a consequence of this assumption, the Hicksites denied the paramount authority of the Scriptures, even calling them a dead letter: and, whilst professing a high regard for the sacred writings, they gave many cautions against depending on them, under the pretext of a watchful care not to dishonour the Spirit.
They considered certain impressions made on their own minds, and on the minds of each other, to be the dictates of inspiration; and not bringing these impressions to the test of Scripture, they were plainly liable to mistake the convictions of conscience, the illusions of the imagination, or even the suggestions of Satan, for the blessed influence of the Holy Spirit.
By vainly attempting to compare the Scriptures with the Spirit, and asserting that the Spirit is a higher rule, they depreciated the attested revelation of the Spirit,—the only standard of religious truth. Yet this attempted comparison, whatever might be their view of it, was not between the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, (for these admit of no comparison,) but in reality, the comparison was between the true revelation of God by Holy Scripture, and impressions made on their own minds.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, and his influence in awakening, reproving, enlightening, guiding, teaching, comforting, and sanctifying the heart, is, indeed, a gracious evidence of divine love; and the doctrine ought to be held in all the fulness in which it is set forth in Scripture. The history of fanaticism, and the following extracts, however, too fully prove, that under the profession of honouring the Spirit, a specious but false doctrine with regard to spiritual influence may be held, which is wholly subversive of Christianity.
In publishing these extracts in the hope that they may prove a beacon to friends, it is important to draw their attention to the pernicious theory before alluded to, viz. that the revelation of the Spirit through the Scriptures is only a secondary rule—that the Spirit himself is a higher rule.
Now the Holy Spirit cannot, in any proper sense, be denominated a rule. Thus to have designated Him, has evidently arisen from misapprehension of terms, and has led to confusion of ideas; for whilst we reverently and thankfully acknowledge the Holy Spirit to be the great agent in the believer, through whom his sanctification is effected, it is plain that the rule must be that which proceeds from the Spirit, and not the Holy Spirit himself. To speak of the Holy Spirit as a rule, involves the same incongruity as to speak of God as a rule.
Assuming then (what is admitted by all,) that the Scriptures of the New Testament are of as high authority as the Scriptures of the Old, it is clear to demonstration, that there can be no higher rule than the Scriptures.
There can be no higher rule, than that which is given by inspiration of God.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." 2 Tim. iii. 16.
Therefore there can be no higher rule than the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, if the Holy Scriptures are "the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians; and that whatever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony may therefore justly be rejected as false;" if "all our doctrines and practices" are to "be tried by them, as the judge and test;"—and "that whatever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures," is to "be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the Devil,"—(Barclay's Apology)—we submit, that that which is the absolute test of all doctrines and practices, is, and cannot but be, the paramount rule.
To the constant and rigorous application of this rule and test, is the reader most earnestly recommended, not only as relates to the doctrines brought into view by the following extracts from the Sermons but also as regards the sentiments contained in the remarks upon them. We know that ignorance is the parent of presumption, and that it is maintained by an unwillingness to search for truth; whilst right investigation leads to the establishment of truth, and renders it dearer to those who love it. The truths of the Gospel invite the most careful investigation—the most diligent search; but bigotry and mysticism have ever been ready to suppress inquiry, because, by investigation, their dominion is overthrown.
In reviewing such subtle delusions, we cannot enough adore the wisdom and goodness of God, in addressing to our understanding a written revelation of his will, which we are bound to receive as the gracious message of God to us, to teach us the mind of the Spirit, as our sole appeal and ultimate rule of faith and duty, and as a guide to the Christian Church to the end of time.
Nor can we ever be sufficiently thankful to God, that by his Holy Spirit he applies these sacred truths to the enlightening of our understandings, and to the sanctification of our hearts.
How important, then, is it, that we do not reject this gracious revelation, by presuming that we can obtain the knowledge of the will of God, in any way different from that which His infinite wisdom has appointed.
Ardwick, near Manchester,
- 12th Month, 18th, 1834.
- "In order to prevent any misapprehension as to our views, we feel ourselves called upon at this time, to avow our belief in the inspiration and divine authority of the Old and New Testament."—Yearly Meeting, London, 1829.
- The meaning of the word "outward," as it stands in this place, is not very apparent: it is obvious that, for the decision of controversy, there can be none but an outward test.