Quaker Ministers


By Thomas Clarkson (1806)

George Fox Preaching in MarylandSECT. I.

Ministers—The Spirit of God alone can made a Minister of the Gospel—Hence no imposition of hands nor human knowledge can be effectual—This proposition not peculiarly adopted by George Fox, but by Justin the Martyr, Luther, Calvin, Wickliffe, Tyndal, Milton, and others—Way in which this call, by the Spirit, qualifies for the ministry—Women equally qualified with men—How a Quaker becomes acknowledged to be a Minister of the Gospel.

Having now detailed fully the operations of the Spirit of God, as far as the Quakers believe it to be concerned in the instruction and redemption of man, I shall consider its operations, as far as they believe it to be concerned in the services of the church. Upon this spirit they make both their worship and their ministry to depend. I shall therefore consider these subjects, before I proceed to any new order of tenets, which they may hold.

It is a doctrine of the Quakers that none can spiritually exercise, and that none ought to be allowed to exercise, the office of ministers, but such as the spirit of God has worked upon and called forth to discharge it, as well as that the same Spirit will never fail to raise up persons in succession for this end.

Conformably with this idea, no person, in the opinion of the Quakers, ought to be designed by his parents in early youth for the priesthood: for as the wind bloweth where it listeth, so no one can say which is the vessel that is to be made to honour.

Conformably with the same idea, no imposition of hands, or ordination, can avail any thing, in their opinion, in the formation of a minister of the Gospel; for no human power can communicate to the internal man the spiritual gifts of God.

Neither, in conformity with the same idea, can the acquisition of human learning, or the obtaining Academical degrees and honours, be essential qualifications for this office; for though the human intellect is so great, that it can dive as it were into the ocean and discover the laws of fluids, and rise again up to heaven, and measure the celestial motions, yet it is incapable of itself of penetrating into divine things, so as spiritually to know them; while, on the other hand, illiterate men appear often to have more knowledge on these subjects than the most learned. Indeed the Quakers have no notion of a human qualification for a divine calling. They reject all school divinity, as necessarily connected with the ministry. They believe that if a knowledge of Christianity had been attainable by the acquisition of the Greek and Roman languages, and through the medium of the Greek and Roman philosophers, then the Greeks and Romans themselves had been the best proficients in it; whereas, the Gospel was only foolishness to many of these. They say with St. Paul to the Colossians, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” And they say with the same Apostle to Timothy, “O Timothy! keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith.”

This notion of the Quakers, that human learning and academical honours are not necessary for the priesthood, is very ancient. Though George Fox introduced it into his new society, and this without any previous reading upon the subject, yet it had existed long before his time. In short, it was connected with the tenet, early disseminated in the church, that no person could know spiritual things but through the medium of the spirit of God, from whence it is not difficult to pass to the doctrine, that none could teach spiritually except they had been taught spiritually themselves. Hence we find Justin the Martyr, a Platonic philosopher, but who was afterwards one of the earliest Christian writers after the Apostles, and other learned men after him down to Chrysostom, laying aside their learning and their philosophy for the school of Christ. The first authors also of the reformation, contended for this doctrine. Luther and Calvin, both of them, supported it. Wickliffe, the first reformer of the English church, and Tyndal the Martyr, the first translator of the Bible into the English language, supported it also. In 1652, Sydrach Simpson, Master of Pembroke-Hall in Cambridge, preached a sermon before the University, contending that the Universities corresponded with the schools of the prophets, and that human learning was an essential qualification for the priesthood. This sermon, however, was answered by William Dell, Master of Caius College in the same University, in which he stated, after having argued the points in question, that the Universities did not correspond with the schools of the prophets, but with those of Heathen men; that Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, were more honoured there, than Moses or Christ; that grammar, rhetoric, logic, ethics, physics, metaphysics, and the mathematics, were not the instruments to be used in the promotion or the defence of the Gospel; that Christian schools had originally brought men from Heathenism to Christianity, but that the University schools were likely to carry men from Christianity to Heathenism again. This language of William Dell was indeed the general language of the divines and pious men in those times in which George Fox lived, though unquestionably the opposite doctrine had been started, and had been received by many. Thus the great John Milton, who lived in these very times, may be cited as speaking in a similar manner on the same subject.  “Next, says he, it is a fond error, though too much believed among us, to think that the University makes a minister of the gospel. What it may conduce to other arts and sciences, I dispute not now. But that, which makes fit a Minister, the Scripture can best inform us to be only from above; whence also we are bid to seek them. Thus St. Matthew says, ‘Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.’ Thus St. Luke: ‘The flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.’ Thus St. Paul: ‘How shall they preach, unless they be sent?’ But by whom sent? By the university, or by the magistrate? No, surely. But sent by God, and by him only.”

The Quakers then, rejecting school divinity, continue to think with Justin, Luther, Dell, Milton, and indeed with those of the church of England and others, that those only can be proper ministers of the church, who have witnessed within themselves a call from the spirit of God. If men would teach religion, they must, in the opinion of the Quakers, be first taught of God. They must go first to the school of Christ; must come under his discipline in their hearts; must mortify the deeds of the body; must crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof; must put off the old man which is corrupt; must put on the new man, “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness;” must be in fact, “Ministers of the sanctuary and true tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched, and not man.” And whether those who come forward as ministers are really acted upon by this Spirit, or by their own imagination only, so that they mistake the one for the other, the Quakers consider it to be essentially necessary, that they should experience such a call in their own feelings, and that purification of heart, which they can only judge of by their outward lives, should be perceived by themselves, before they presume to enter upon such an office.

The Quakers believe that men, qualified in this manner, are really fit for the ministry, and are likely to be useful instruments in it. For first, it becomes men to be changed themselves, before they can change others. Those again, who have been thus changed, have the advantage of being able to state from living experience what God has done for them; “what they have seen with their eyes; what they have looked upon; and what their hands have handled of the word of life.” Men also, who, by means of God’s Holy Spirit, have escaped the pollutions of the world, are in a fit state to understand the mysteries of God, and to carry with them the seal of their own commission. Thus men under sin can never discern spiritual things. But “to the disciples of Christ,” and to the doers of his will, “it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Thus, when the Jews marvelled at Christ, saying “How knoweth this man letters, (or the scriptures) having never learned?  Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Such ministers also are considered as better qualified to reach the inward state of the people, and to “preach liberty to the captives” of sin, than those who have merely the advantage of school divinity, or of academical learning. It is believed also of these, that they are capable of giving more solid and lasting instruction, when they deliver themselves at large: for those, who preach rather from intellectual abilities and from the suggestions of human learning, than from the spiritual life and power which they find within themselves, may be said to forsake Christ, who is the “living fountain, and to hew out broken cisterns which hold no water,” either for themselves or for others.

This qualification for the ministry being allowed to be the true one, it will follow, the Quakers believe, and it was Luther’s belief also, that women may be equally qualified to become ministers of the Gospel, as the men. For they believe that God has given his Holy Spirit, without exception, to all. They dare not therefore limit its operations in the office of the ministry, more than in any other of the sacred offices which it may hold. They dare not again say, that women cannot mortify the deeds of the flesh, or that they cannot be regenerated, and walk in newness of life. If women therefore believe they have a call to the ministry, and undergo the purification necessarily connected with it, and preach in consequence, and preach effectively, they dare not, under these circumstances, refuse to accept their preaching, as the fruits of the spirit, merely because it comes through the medium of the female sex.

Against this doctrine of the Quakers, that a female ministry is allowable under the Gospel dispensation, an objection has been started from the following words of the Apostle Paul: “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak”—“and if they will learn any thing, let them ask their Husbands at home.” but the Quakers conceive, that this charge of the Apostle has no allusion to preaching. In these early times, when the Gospel doctrines were new, and people were eager to understand them, some of the women, in the warmth of their feelings, interrupted the service of the church, by asking such questions as occurred to them on the subject of this new religion. These are they whom the Apostle desires to be silent, and to reserve their questions till they should return home. And that this was the case is evident, they conceive, from the meaning of the words, which the Apostle uses upon this occasion. For the word in the Greek tongue, which is translated “speak,” does not mean to preach or to pray, but to speak as in common discourse. And the words, which immediately follow this, do not relate to any evangelical instruction, which these women were desirous of communicating publicly, but which they were desirous of receiving themselves from others.

That the words quoted do not relate to praying or preaching is also equally obvious, in the opinion of the Quakers; for if they had related to these offices of the church, the word “prophesy” had been used instead of the word “speak.” Add to which that the Apostle, in the same epistle in which the preaching of women is considered to be forbidden, gives them a rule to which he expects them to conform, when they should either prophesy or pray: but to give women a rule to be observed during their preaching, and to forbid them to preach at the some time, is an absurdity too great to be fixed upon the most ordinary person, and much more upon an inspired Apostle.

That the objection has no foundation, the Quakers believe again, from the consideration that the ministry of women, in the days of the Apostles, is recognized in the New Testament, and is recognized also, in some instances, as an acceptable service.

Of the hundred and twenty persons who were assembled on the day of pentecost, it is said by St. Luke that some were women. That these received the Holy Spirit as well as the men, and that they received it also for the purpose of prophesying or preaching, is obvious from the same Evangelist. For first, he says, that “all were filled with the Holy Ghost.” And secondly, he says, that Peter stood up, and observed concerning the circumstance of inspiration having been given to the women upon this occasion, that Joel’s prophecy was then fulfilled, in which were to be found these words: “And it shall come to pass in the hist days, that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy—and on my servants and handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

That women preached afterwards, or in times subsequent to the day of pentecost, they collect from the same Evangelist. For he mentions Philip, who had four daughters, all of whom prophesied at Cæsarea. Now by prophesying, if we accept St. Paul’s interpretation of it, is meant a speaking to edification, and exhortation, and comfort, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was also a speaking to the church: it was also the speaking of one person to the church, while the others remained silent.

That women also preached or prophesied in the church of Corinth, the Quakers show from the testimony of St. Paul: for he states the manner in which they did it, or that they prayed and prophesied with their heads uncovered.

That women also were ministers of the Gospel in other places; and that they were highly serviceable to the church, St. Paul confesses with great satisfaction, in his Epistle to the Romans, in which he sends his salutation to different persons, for whom he professed an affection or an esteem: thus—“I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church, which is at Cenchrea.” Upon this passage the Quakers usually make two observations. The first is, that the Greek word, which is translated servant, should have been rendered minister.  It is translated minister, when applied by St. Paul to Timothy, to denote his office. It is also translated minister, when applied to St. Paul and Apollos. And there is no reason why a change should have been made in its meaning in the present case. The second is, that History has handed down Phoebe as a woman eminent for her Gospel labours. “She was celebrated, says Theodoret, throughout the world; for not only the Greeks and the Romans, but the Barbarians, knew her likewise.”

St. Paul also greets Priscilla and Aquila. He greets them under the title of fellow-helpers or fellow-labourers in Jesus Christ. But this is the same title which he bestows upon Timothy, to denote his usefulness in the church. Add to which, that Priscilla and Aquila were the persons of whom St. Luke says, “that they assisted Apollos in expounding to him the way of God more perfectly.”

In the same epistle he recognizes also other women, as having been useful to him in Gospel-labours. Thus—“Salute Tryphena, and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord.” “Salute the beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord.”

From these, and from other observations, which might be made upon this subject, the Quakers are of opinion that the ministry of the women was as acceptable, in the time of the Apostles, as the ministry of the men.  And as there is no prohibition against the preaching of women in the New Testament, they see no reason why they should not be equally admissible and equally useful as ministers at the present day.



Way in which Quakers are admitted into the ministry—When acknowledged, they preach, like other pastors, to their different congregations or meetings—They visit occasionally the different families in their own counties or quarterly meetings—Manner of these family-visits—Sometimes travel as ministers through particular counties or the kingdom at large—Sometimes into foreign parts—Women share in these labours—Expense of voyages on such occasions defrayed out of the national stock.

The way in which Quakers, whether men or women, who conceive themselves to be called to the office of the ministry, are admitted into it, so as to be acknowledged by the society to be ministers of the Quaker-church, is simply as follows.

Any member has a right to rise up in the meetings for worship, and to speak publicly. If any one therefore should rise up and preach, who has never done so before, he is heard. The congregation are all witnesses of his doctrine. The elders, however, who may be present, and to whose province it more immediately belongs to judge of the fitness of ministers, observe the tenour of his discourse. They watch over it for its authority; that is, they judge by its spiritual influence on the mind, whether it be such as corresponds with that which may be presumed to come from the spirit of God. If the new preacher delivers any thing that appears exceptionable, and continues to do so, it is the duty of the elders to speak to him in private, and to desire him to discontinue his services to the church. But if nothing exceptionable occurs, nothing is said to him, and he is allowed to deliver himself publicly at future meetings. In process of time, if, after repeated attempts in the office of the ministry, the new preacher should have given satisfactory proof of his gifts, he is reported to the monthly meeting to which he belongs.  And this meeting, if satisfied with his ministry, acknowledges him as a minister, and then recommends him to the meeting of ministers and elders belonging to the same. No other act than this is requisite. He receives no verbal or written appointment or power for the execution of the sacerdotal office. It may be observed also, that he neither gains any authority, nor loses any privilege, by thus becoming a minister of the Gospel. Except, while in the immediate exercise of his calling, he is only a common member. He receives no elevation by the assumption of any nominal title, to distinguish him from the rest. Nor is he elevated by the prospect of any increase to his wordly goods in consequence of his new office; for no minister in this society receives any pecuniary emolument for his spiritual labours.

When ministers are thus approved and acknowledged, they exercise the sacred office in public assemblies, as they immediately feel themselves influenced to that work. They may engage also, with the approbation of their own monthly meeting, in the work of visiting such Quaker families as reside in the county, or quarterly meeting to which they belong. In this case they are sometimes accompanied by one of the elders of the church. These visits have the name of family visits, and are conducted in the following manner:–

When a Quaker minister, after having commenced his journey, has entered the house of the first family, the individual members are collected to receive him. They then sit in silence for a time. As he believes himself concerned to speak, he delivers that which arises in his mind with religions freedom. The master, the wife, and the other branches of the family, are sometimes severally addressed. Does the minister feel that there is a departure in any of the persons present, from the principles or practice of the society, he speaks, if he believes it required of him, to these points. Is there any well disposed person under any inward discouragement; this person may be addressed in the language of consolation. All in fact are exhorted and advised as their several circumstances may seem to require. When the religious visit is over, the minister, if there be occasion, takes some little refreshment with the family, and converses with them; but no light or trifling subject is ever entered upon on these occasions. From one family he passes on to another, till he has visited all the families in the district, for which he had felt a concern.

Though Quaker ministers frequently confine their spiritual labours to the county or quarterly meeting in which they reside, yet some of them feel an engagement to go beyond these boundaries, and to visit the society in particular counties, or in the kingdom at large. They who feel a concern of this kind, must lay it before their own monthly meetings. These meetings, if they feel it right to countenance it, grant them certificates for the purpose. These certificates are necessary; first, because ministers might not he personally known as ministers out of their own district; and secondly, because Quakers, who were not ministers, and other persons who might counterfeit the dress of Quakers, might otherwise impose upon the society, as they travelled along.

Such persons, as thus travel in the work of the ministry, or public friends as they are called, seldom or never go to an inn at any town or village, where Quakers live. They go to the houses of the latter. While at these, they attend the weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings of the district, as they happen on their route. They call also extraordinary meetings of worship. At these houses they are visited by many of the members of the place and neighbourhood, who call upon and converse with them. During these times they appear to have their minds bent on the object of their mission, so that it would be difficult to divert their attention from the work in hand. When they have staid a sufficient time at a town or village, they depart. One or more guides are appointed by the particular meeting, belonging to it, to show them the way to the next place, where they propose to labour, and to convey them free of expense, and to conduct them to the house of some member there. From this house, when their work is finished, they are conveyed and conducted by new guides to another, and so on, till they return to their respective homes.

But the religious views of the Quaker ministers are not always confined even within the boundaries of the kingdom. Many of them believe it to be their duty to travel into foreign parts. These, as their journey is now extensive, must lay their concern not only before their own monthly meeting, but before their own quarterly meeting, and before the meeting of Ministers and Elders in London also. On receiving their certificates, they depart. Some of them visit the continent of Europe, but most of them the churches in America, where they diligently labour in the vineyard, probably for a year or two, at a distance from their families and friends. And here it may be observed, that, while Quaker ministers from England are thus visiting America on a religious errand, ministers from America, impelled by the same influence, are engaging in Apostolical missions to England. These foreign visits, on both sides, are not undertaken by such ministers only as are men. Women engage in them also. They cross the Atlantic, and labour in the vineyard in the same manner. It may be mentioned here, that though it be a principle in the Quaker society, that no minister of the Gospel ought to be paid for his religious labours, yet the expense of the voyage, on such occasions, is allowed to be defrayed out of the fund, which is denominated by the Quakers their national stock.