Eighteenth Century Quaker Testimonies

Whenever Randy visits England, he visits as many second-hand bookstores as he can find in search of early Quaker literature.  On one such trip he found a small book whose cover was so worn the title was not visible.  The title page was also missing, so the only information we have is that it was published in “London, the 8th of the Fifth Month 1774” and the author’s initials “T. W.” at the end of the Preface.  It appears to be the eighth volume of Memorials to persons who had “finished their course well” in the hopes that “others might be excited and encouraged to follow them as they followed Christ.”  Randy picked out five such testimonies to share with us.  Although some “weighty Quakers” are included in this volume (e.g., John Woolman), Randy chose the Memorials of more ordinary Quakers, such as those we might find in our own Meetings today.

[The transcript belows follows the book’s custom of of capitalizing nouns and retains the old spellings, grammar, abbreviations, and punctuation therein, in hopes of sharing some of the charm of the original.]

John Butcher, of the City of London, was born of religious Parents in the Seventh Month 1666, about two Weeks after the dreadful Conflagration; his Father lived to a great Age, dying about his eighty-eighth Year, and his Mother about her sixty-eighth Year; both leaving a sweet Memorial behind them.

He, the said John, was by them religiously educated in the Way of Truth, and through the Grace of God, early receiving it in the Love thereof, it pleased the Lord to endue him with a Degree of the Gospel Ministry, and to open his Mouth about the fifteenth Year of his Age, in a publick Testimony to the true Light Christ Jesus, not only in his outward, but also and more especially, in his inward Appearance by his Grace and Holy Spirit; and he gradually grew therein, and became an able Minister, not of the Letter, but of the Spirit.

He travelled into diverse Parts of this Nation, being well accepted therein, laboring for the Prosperity of Truth, a Love of Peace, Unity and  Concord; and being endued with a large Portion of Wisdom and Understanding in the Things of God, was enabled to speak to the States and Conditions of many.  He was a Peace-maker, endeavouring to heal Breaches and reconcile Differences among Brethren.

He retained unfeigned Love to his Brethren to the End of his Days, altho’ afflicted with great Weakness for some Time before his Death, which impaired his Memory; yet that True Love continued in him, was evident by his cheerful Countenance, friendly and courteous Deportment.  In a Visit of some Friends about a Year before his Decease, he expressed himself very sensibly, with respect to the Lord’s tender Dealings with him all along, and the Hope he had of Happiness through Christ.

George Whitehead and Gilbert Molleson, visiting him, he expressed his kind Acceptance thereof, and took it as a Token of the Love and Mercy of God to him; and signify’d the Lord’s tender Dealing with him, and helping him since he visited him in his young Years, and that the Lord was now with him; and after remembering his dear Love to Friends, as apprehensive his End drew near, he said, His Way was bright and clear before him, and that he was truly resigned to the Will of the Lord.

He died at Palmer’s Green near Edmondton, in Middlefox, the 16th of the Ninth Month 1721, and was buried on the 21st of the same in Friends Burial-ground near Bunhill-fields, after a Meeting at the Bull and Mouth Meeting-house, attended by a numerous Company of Friends and friendly People.  Aged about fifty-five Years.

 

Alice Hall, Wife of Isaac Hall, of Little Broughton in Cumberland, was born the 30th of the Eleventh Month 1708, at Blackhouse in Allendale in Northumberland, and Daughter of John and Isabella Fetherstone, who being religious Friends, carefully educated their Children in the Principles of Truth; she was early favoured with divine Visitations, and being obedient thereto, grew in religious Experience to a good Degree of Stability and Settlement therein; and having received a Gift in the Ministry, through an humble Attention to the Leading of the good Shepherd, she became skilful and serviceable in the Church, and freely gave up to that Service as she found her Mind engaged and drawn thereto.

In her unmarried State she was concerned to visit Friends twice in Ireland, most Parts of England, Wales and Scotland; was both a good Example in private Life, and in her publick Ministry, abiding under the seasoning Virtue, which rendred her Conversation edifying and agreeable.  After her Marriage, which was in the Year 1743, she remained zealous for the Cause of Truth, and was often concerned to travel in the Service thereof, visiting several Parts of her native Land, and Ireland a third Time.

In the Year 1760 she found an Engagement to visit the Churches in America, which proved a very close Trial, in parting from her Husband and Children; but after recommending them to the Protection of that Hand which is for ever sufficient, she proceeded on her Voyage, and landed in America in the Tenth Month 1761, and diligently set about her Services, visiting the Provinces generally, altho’ weak in Body, in Company of a Friend of Pennsylvania, named Ann Newland; and her Labours of Love through the different Provinces were to the general Satisfaction of Friends, as appears by divers Certificates transmitted from thence.

She was also enabled to visit many meetings in the Provinces of Pennsylvania and the Jerseys, altho’ under great bodily Weakness and great Exercise of Spirit; yet her meek, lowly and innocent Deportment, together with her lively and edifying Ministry, made lasting Impressions on many Minds, and rendred her Company very acceptable.

In the Course of her Visit, she was an Example of great Patience and Humility, steady in Attention to her own Business, and prudent in Conversation, discharging her Duty faithfully in her weighty Undertaking.

A little before she was confined by Illness, she expressed to some Friends after the last publick Meeting she was able to attend, which was at Chester in New Jersey, That she was clear; and altho’ the Yearly-meeting at Philadelphia was then to be held in a few Days, she said, She could not see she should be at it.

She got to her Lodging at Isaac Zane’s in Philadelphia, the 22 of the Ninth Month 1762, and her Distemper increasing, not withstanding all the tender Care Affection could dictate, she expired the 5th of the Tenth Month following.  She endured her last Illness, which was very sharp, without any Signs of murmuring, but in Lamb-like Patience expressed an entire Resignation in the divine Will, whether to live or die.

Her Body was carried to one of the Meeting-houses in Philadelphia, and after a large and solemn Meeting was decently interred in Friends Burial ground in that City, the 8th of the Tenth Month 1762.

 

Sarah Marsden, Wife of Caleb Marsden, of Highflatts, within the Compass of Pontefract Monthly-meeting, was born in the Year 1706, and being favoured with a religious Education, and the Visitations of Truth in her young Years, by yielding Obedience thereto she become a sober, grave, discreet young Woman, a diligent Attender of Meetings, and honestly labouring to improve her Time therein.

About the Year 1749, it pleased the Lord to call her into the Work of the Ministry, which she in great Fear and Tenderness gave up to, and altho’ never large in Testimony, yet she was plain, sound and edifying, rather backward in her publick Appearances, and afraid (as she said) to awake her Beloved till he pleased; but when she felt the holy Fire burn, then she offered her Gift, and was careful when that abated to sit down in Meetings, where too many are intent on Words; she was a diligent Labourer in Spirit, her very Countenance being awful and affecting, and like the worthy Elders and Nobles of the People, Numb. xxi.18, digging as with the Staff the Lord had given her, and sometimes broke forth in solemn Supplication to the great Law-giver, that the Well of Life might spring up, which at Times she was the happy Instrument of effecting to the Consolation of the Right-minded.

She was naturally of an affable, peaceable Disposition, an affectionate Wife, a tender Mother, and weightily concerned to train up her Children in the Nurture and Admonition of the Lord; kind to her Friends, charitable to the Poor, and an Example of Humility, Self-denial and Resignation to the divine Will, and also of Industry and a prudent Management of the Affairs of this Life.

Her last Illness was long and tedious, which she enduring with much Patience and Resignation; saying, My Body is full of Pain, yea, more than I can well bear; O the sad State of those in my weak Condition, who want Peace of Mind! But for ever blessed be my God, who now on my sick Bed answers the Desire of my Mind, in giving me an Evidence of my Peace with him, having nothing to do but to bear with Patience the painful Afflictions that are permitted to attend me…

At another Time, being very weak, she said to her Husband and Children, At the Time of my Departure be as still as you can, and feel for yourselves, and do not mourn to excess, for all will be well; Do not mourn for me; but rather rejoice when I am delivered from these Pains, for my Change will be a happy one.

One Evening lying very still, those that attended her thought she had been going to depart; but after some Time she opened her Eyes, and seeing her Relations standing by her, she raised her Voice in a surprizing Manner, and said, I am entirely sensible, and behold you every one, and glad I am to depart in Peace; and took her solemn Farewel of all present, in a very loving, affecting and cheerful Manner …

She died the 9th of the Eighth Month 1762, and was interred in Friends Burial-ground in High-flatts, the 11th of the same.  Aged fifty-six Years.

Joseph Milthrop, a Member of Parliament of Pontefract Monthly-meeting in Yorkshire, was educated in the Principles of the Church of England; but as he advanced towards Man’s Estate, being of a thoughtful Disposition, and unsatisfied with the Principles of his Education, he, after various Researches among the different Modes of Profession, join’d himself to the Romish Church, and for divers Years constantly attended their Worship, and strictly observed their ceremonial Institutions, for some Time firmly believing Christ Jesus to be the Author thereof; tho’ at Times he was led to believe there was a subduing of the Passions and a Renovation of Heart, which the truly Righteous experienced; also a Fruition of inward Peace, which they at Times possessed:  To all which he found himself, in great measure, a Stranger, which caused him many Times secretly to mourn and pour forth earnest Prayers to the Father of Mercies, that he might become a Partaker of the same happy Experience.

While he was thus exercised it came to his Mind to go to a Meeting of the People called Quakers, for an Account of which take his own Words, in a Letter, viz.

“I sat at Ease a long Time, yet earnestly desired that if the Lord had any particular Regard to that People, or approved of their Manner of Worship, that he would make me sensible of it; and being thus set and grown weary of silent Waiting, divine Power seized upon my Body, Soul and Spirit, which caused me to break out into abundance of Tears, and my Body greatly to tremble, then said I, O Lord! Why am I thus?  To which inward Cry of mine, something which till then I knew not (tho’ I had often felt a Measure of the same Power, tho’ never to that Degree) answer’d,  If thou did but Love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart, Mind and Soul, that Love would be so prevalent over thee, that it would teach thee what to do and what to eschew:  O the surprising State I then found myself in!  How was my Heart then filled with Love, Peace and Joy unspeakable and full of Glory!  Soon after an honest Friend stood up in Tears and much Trembling, and said, It is an excellent Thing, if we can say of a Truth, Jesus Christ lives in us:  These Words reached my State, I then bowed in my Mind, adoring the divine Power that then influenced me, and said, Dear Lord! if thou art be that I have long fought and mourn’d for, tell me, O thou that has ravished my Heart! what I should do to be saved, or to continue in thy Favour?  Upon which the humble Jesus, the divine Bridegroom of my Soul, affectionately answered, I require no Rite or ceremonial Worship of thee, but that thou give up thy Heart; it’s there I would reign, it’s there I would rule, and there, I would be worship’d in Spirit and Truth”

 

It was some Time before he could get from under the Prejudices he had in Favour of the Roman Church, but continued to frequent both the Mass House and Friends Meetings, until through a further Visitation by an instrumental Means, he was effectually reach’d, became a valuable and useful Member, exemplary in Conduct, careful to have the Discipline maintained, and at Times was concern’d in a short Testimony, which was very acceptable; a peaceable Neighbor, and being of extensive Knowledge, was capable of advising in many Cases, which he was always ready to do, demonstrating that the living divine Principle he had embraced, let him to the Exercise of every Christian Virtue.
For divers Years before his Death he was, at Times, sorely afflicted with the Stone and Gravel, the Acuteness of which he bore with exemplary Patience.  His last Ilness was short, and apparently attended with no Symptoms of Death till near the Time of his Departure, and though he was suddenly called, yet not unprepared, for being asked, a little before his Death, how he was, he expressed himself thus:  I am pretty easy, tho’ not without some bodily Pain, yet inward Comfort helps greatly: and added, I am weary, weary, of the World, if it would please Providence to take me to himself, O how acceptable it would be!

 

He departed this Life the 3d, and was interred the 5th of the Seventh Month 1766, in Friends Burial-ground at Burton.  Aged about fifty Years.

 

 

Elizabeth Atkinson, of Milden-Hall in Suffolk, was the Daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Peachy, of the same Place, Friends well esteemed, who gave this their Daughter a religious Education; and while very young she was favoured with a divine Visitation, and yielding Obedience to the heavenly Vision, she became qualified for her Master’s Use, and received a Gift in the Ministry about the twenty-second Year of her Age.  She was faithfully concerned to yield Obedience to the Manifestations of Duty, in which she experienced Peace.

 

When about thirty she joined in Marriage with Samuel Atkinson, a Friend of the same Meeting, and some few Years after it pleased the Lord to try her in a close Manner, by dissolving this very near and dear Connexion:  Thus being left a Widow with six young Children and in low Circumstances:  This Dispensation of Heaven was attended with Baptisms and Exercises on many Accounts, her Situation being such that she found it necessary to use unwearied Diligence for the Support of her Family, not willing to be burdensome, but having a few Things, was therewith content. It does not seem her Family, whose Necessity she ever appeared to have due Regard to, hindred her in her Gospel-Labours; but she was obedient to the Requirings and Manifestations of Duty, faithfully giving up to go on the Lord’s Errands.

 

At the awful Approach of the undeniable Messenger of Death, she possessed a quiet Composure of Soul, often wishing To be dissolved, to be with Christ; yet humbly waiting the Lord’s Time for the Accomplishment of his Will, and being full of Days and full of Peace, she was greatly favoured to very near the End of her Time, sensible and lively, and was frequently engaged to express, The Lord’s Goodness to her had been great and wonderful; earnestly recommending to those who visited her, To serve him faithfully, and in an especial Manner to the Youth, To dedicate the Bud and Blossom of their Days to him, for that they could not serve a better Master.

 

A short Time before her Death, finding her Mind very low, was fearful she had offended; earnest were her Cries unto the Lord, That she might not depart under a Cloud, which he graciously answered by the renewing of his Love, and lifting up of his glorious Countenance, so that she broke forth in the following Words, Glory, Honour and high Renown be given to him who wears the heavenly Crown.  The Lord is my Reward, and at his Right-hand are Rivers of Pleasure, and that for evermore.

She departed this Life the 3d of the Seventh Month 1770, and was buried in Friends Burial-ground at Milden Hall the 8th of the same.  Aged eighty-eight, a Minister sixty-six Years.

 

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