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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Friends

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or QUAKERS, a religious society which began to be distinguished about the middle of the seventeenth century. Their doctrines were first promulgated in England, by George Fox, about the year 1647; for which he was imprisoned at Nottingham, in the year 1649, and the year following at Derby. Fox evidently considered himself as acting under a divine commission, and went, not only to fairs and markets, but into courts of justice and "steeple houses," as he called the churches, warning all to obey the Holy Spirit, speaking by him. It is said, that the appellation of Quakers was given them in reproach by one of the magistrates, who, in 1650, committed Fox to prison, on account of his bidding him, and those about him, to quake at the word of the Lord. But they adopted among themselves, and still retain, the kind appellation of Friends.

From their first appearance, they suffered much persecution. In New- England they were treated with peculiar severity, imprisoned, scourged, (women as well as men,) and at Boston four of them were even hanged, among whom was one woman; and this was the more extraordinary and inexcusable, as the settlers themselves had but lately fled from persecution in the parent country! During these sufferings, they applied to King Charles II, for relief; who, in 1661, granted a mandamus, to put a stop to them. Neither were the good offices of this prince in their favour confined to the colonies; for, in 1672, he released, under the great seal, four hundred of these suffering people who were imprisoned in Great Britain. To what has been alleged against them, on account of James Naylor and his associates, they answer, that their extravagancies and blasphemies were disapproved at the time, and the parties disowned; nor was Naylor restored till he had given signs of a sincere repentance, and publicly condemned his errors.

In 1681, Charles II, granted to W. Penn the province of Pennsylvania. Penn's treaty with the Indians, and the liberty of conscience which he granted to all denominations, even those which had persecuted his own, do honour to his memory. In the reign of James II, the Friends, in common with other English Dissenters, were relieved by the suspension of the penal laws. But it was not till the reign of William and Mary that they obtained any thing like a proper legal protection. An act was passed in the year 1696, which, with a few exceptions, allowed to their affirmation the legal force of an oath, and provided a less oppressive mode for recovering tithes under a certain amount; which provisions, under the reign of George I, were made perpetual. For refusing to pay tithes, &c, however, they are still liable to suffer in the exchequer and ecclesiastical court, both in Great Britain and Ireland.

The true Friends are orthodox, as to the leading doctrines of Christianity, but express themselves in peculiar phrases. They hold special revelations of the Holy Spirit, yet not to the disparagement of the written word, which they regard as the infallible rule of faith and practice. They reject a salaried ministry, and interpret the sacraments mystically. They are advocates of the interior spiritual life of religion, to which, indeed, they have borne constant testimony; and they are distinguished by probity, philanthropy, and a public spirit. [In the United States, the Friends are divided into the Orthodox, (so called,) and Hicksites, or followers of the late Elias Hicks. The latter are considered as having departed from the original doctrines of the Friends, and very far from the leading doctrines of Christianity, as held by Protestant Christians in general.]

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Friends'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/f/friends.html. 1831-2.

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