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YEARLY MEETING OF FRIENDS,
HELD IN LONDON,
QUARTERLY AND MONTHLY MEETINGS
GREAT BRITAIN, IRELAND, AND ELSEWHERE,
FROM 1681 TO 1857, INCLUSIVE :
WITH AN HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION,
AND A CHAPTER COMPRISING SOME OF THE EARLY EPISTLES AND RECORDS
OF THE YEARLY MEETING.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
AMONG the various means available by the Christian Church for the promotion of truth and righteousness is that of epistolary communication. The blessing to mankind in having such a means of communication cannot be too highly valued, and, under the guidance of heavenly wisdom, it is calculated powerfully to promote the hastening of that day when “ The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.”
At a very early period of our religious Society, epistolary exhortations were addressed to its members. Nor was the Society singular in this respect; other nonconforming bodies of that remarkable period in English history adopted a similar practice. Although Epistles had been issued from the Yearly Meeting of Friends held in the North of England, and occasionally from General Meetings held in other parts of the kingdom, it was not until the establishment of the Yearly Meeting in London that these documents partook more particularly of the character of General Epistles to the body at large, whether at home or abroad.
These communications of the exercises and travail of the Church in its collective capacity, for the spiritual welfare of its members wherever situated, adapted to the particular state of the body at the time they were respectively given forth, contain, in the aggregate, a large amount of deeply instructive matter, the reading of which, we cannot doubt, will be edifying to our members generally. Under this feeling, the present reprint, containing Epistles issued during the past two centuries of our history, has been undertaken.
In thus introducing these documents to our members, it may not be uninteresting briefly to notice the rise of our Society and the gradual organisation of our present system of church government. The rise of the Society may be dated from the year 1644, and is thus alluded to by George Fox :—“The truth sprang up first to us, so as to be a people to the Lord, in Leicestershire in 1644, in Warwickshire in 1645, in Nottinghamshire in 1646, in Derbyshire in 1647, and in the adjacent counties in 1648, 1649, and 1650, and in Yorkshire in 1651."* The year 1652 was marked by a very considerable enlargement of the new association, more particularly in the North of England, and many individuals, remarkable for their zeal and piety, were raised up to preach to their fellow-men the doctrines of the gospel of Christ. At this date the Society numbered about twenty-five ministers, by whom, says George Fox, "multitudes were convinced.” The ministry of these gospel messengers during 1652 and 1653, was, for the most part, confined to the northern and midland districts of England; in the following year, however, we find Friends travelling as ministers in nearly all the counties of England and Wales, and in parts of Scotland and Ireland, whilst the establishment of regular meetings for worship had taken place in most parts of the nation. At the latter date, there were engaged in the work of the ministry no fewer than sixty individuals, t whose labours were followed with signal success ; a convincing power attending their ministrations which awakened the slumbering consciences of their audience to an earnest solicitude for the salvation of their souls ; " Their preaching," says one of our historians, “was in the demonstration of the Spirit and with power; multitudes flocked to hear them, and many embraced their doctrines."* .
* Journal of George Fox, Leeds Ed., vol ii. p. 465.
+ Sewel's History.
Our Early Friends were deeply sensible of the importance of the views they had embraced, and convinced of their entire accordance with the doctrines and precepts of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles, and their hearts being warmed in gospel love to their fellow-men, they longed for their universal reception. The Lord did indeed largely pour forth of the gifts of his Holy Spirit upon these devoted men. He gave them a sight and a sense of the corruptions of professing Christendom, and of its wide departure from the primitive purity and simplicity of the religion of Christ, and having themselves felt the efficacy of his free teaching, they were drawn with great fervency of spirit, to invite others to the same blessed experience. A call from a dependence upon man in things spiritual to a single dependence on the Lord,—from resting in outward ceremonies and observances in religion to an experience of its present glorious realities of which those things were but typical, and from the shadows to the substance of heavenly things, was pre-eminently their gospel message to the people.
The new association consisted of pious individuals who had forsaken the lifeless forms and ceremonies of the day, and all dependence upon man in the great work of salvation, and who found, in the gospel, truths preached by George Fox and his associates, that rest and peace which their souls desired. As a gathered church they acknowledged Christ alone as its living and ever-present Head. He was felt to be “their all in all ;" “their Teacher to instruct them, their Counsellor to direct them, their Shepherd to
* Gough's History, vol. i. p. 143.