Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Observations on Mingling with other Professors" - John Wilbur

Source: Wilbur, John, 1774-1856. Journal of the life of John Wilbur : a minister of the gospel in the Society of Friends (Kindle Locations 1914-1928). Providence : G. H. Whitney. 

4th Month 20th day in Godalming -- 1832

"On the following day, we visited a sick Friend and travelled to Godalming, where, on the following morning, we had a meeting with Friends, and much labor in it, and quietness followed. The state of things here is mournfully low; most of the children of Friends have left the Society ; divers of those from the first families have joined the Episcopalians, and some of those who have not, would not be suspected of belonging to the Society of Friends. In the evening we had a meeting with the town's-people, in which I was much opened and enlarged in declaring the practical doctrines of the gospel, and the meeting concluded with solemn supplication. We found that the principal Friends of this place did, some years ago, join with what was called the Bible Society, composed of bishops, priests, and people of divers denominations; and if the parents could cordially join with the hireling clergy and others, in an association for the purpose of promoting religion, by spreading the Scriptures, the children, not being able, as might be supposed, to distinguish  soberly between such an association, and one distinctly for the purpose of religious communion, were led away, as is believed, by a frequent association with such, and induced to join with other denominations. In the early time of the Bible Association, it appears that the clergy rather courted the favor of Friends made very free with them, and spoke very interestingly to them, and of them, and this naturally produced its like in Friends, and for want of being sufficiently guarded, it is to be feared that they were, in too many instances, pleased with these worldly dignitaries, who thus obligingly smiled upon them, and of course Friends were induced to speak well, yea, and to think well of them; hence the young people among Friends, who had not the maturity of judgment to make the right allowance and discrimination, were gradually prepared, by what seemed to them a kind of toleration, not only to embrace their parents' associate, the priest, but his principles, too. For the motto is true, " The better we like a man, the less we dislike his principles or conduct."

It is fully my belief that when Friends have joined with the clergy and others, in those religious and benevolent associations, it has had a very insidious tendency, to a compromise of principle, and to a dimming of the beauty, or lessening the estimation of our testimonies; if not to the quieting of the consciences, and allaying the convictions in their minds relative to that oppressive and wicked thing of forcing a maintenance from Friends and other dissenters, as well as from their own members. And I think Friends will not stand clear of iniquity in thus joining, unless they are plainly honest, and give them clearly to understand that by thus joining with them in a good thing, they will not be considered as conniving at their practice in other respects, nor partakers with thera in their deeds.

These observations, made on the state of things at Godal-ming, will, I apprehend, hold good if applied to many other places in England, and, although, as some Friends have suggested, this intercourse, by means of these associations, may have been of some apparent benefit to others, yet I am persuaded, from my observation and sense of the thing, that the unguarded usage and familiarity allowed in such intercourse have done a vast deal more harm to us, than good to them. And if by such an intercourse, they should one day be found in greater unison with us, in principle and practice, I suspect it will be owing not so much to their advancement as to our retrogression.

I am not able to discover any more safety in our mingling with other people, than there was for the Israelites under the law; The command to them was " thou shalt dwell alone," but we need not suppose that this was a prohibition tp others from joining with the Israelites or their peculiar testimonies. The restriction upon Israel, regarding an intercourse with other nations was far from a preclusion of all others iirom the favor of God. The Moabites, Edomites, and Ishmaelites were all the descendants of Abraham and Lot his friend, and, in their way, were religious people, especially the two former nations; nor do I remember to have seen any account that the Israelites were commanded to exterminate either. But now, in the present day, it may be argued that other sects are also professors of Christianity, as well as we ; and so it may also be said that some of those nations believed in, and worshipped the same God, and, like Israel, offered slain beasts upon their altars, by the hands of a priest; an undeniable representation of the office and offering of a mediator. And they were not probably farther behind the testimonies of their neighbors, than the generality of professors are, in the present day, in faith, behind the pure testimonies of the primitive Quakers. And, if needful, I should have no fear of losing anything by detailing a comparison of all the essential differences. Balaam had, undoubtedly, been a man highly favored, —a prophet,—and might have remained so to the end of his days, but for his giving way to love the wages of unrighteousness—the bane of religion then, and the bane of religion now!

If a union were to take place between our Society and others, it would evidently be a great loss, both to ourselves and the world at large, if we were to meet them upon any other ground than that premised by the gospel, in its exalted and pure state—the high mark aimed at, and, in an eminent degree, come to, by our predecessors. Below this, there is no object to be looked for, or obtained, that can possibly make amends for its loss or abandonment. If we, by joining with other professors, might contribute in any way to the bringing of the heathen to their standard, if, at the same time, it led to the levelling of our own, the loss would be vastly more to us, than the gain to them. But we cannot join them, in their way, in a missionary concern to the heathen, or to any other people, but at the expense of our noble testimonies.

It was undoubtedly because the Israelites had peculiar testimonies in advance of others, that the Almighty prohibited their intercourse with them. He who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins, knoweth the weakness of man, and his liability to assimilate to the opinions of those with whom he intimately associates ; therefore, lest the Israelites should imbibe the views and ways of their neighbors, to the loss of their own testimonies. He put a prohibition upon an intimacy with them. Human nature is the same now as it was then; hence it is as needful now on the part of our Society to maintain the boundary, or line of demarkation, as it was then for the Israelites, lest our doctrines and testimonies be lost in the common mass of formal and literal professors."