39: William Penn’s Advice to Ministers

William Penn’s preface to George Fox’s Journal, his counsel to ministers: Oh, feel life in the Ministry! Let life be your commission, your well-spring and treasury on all such occasions. It not our parts or memory, or repetitions of former openings in our will and time that will do God’s work. A dry, doctrinal ministry, however sound in words, can reach but the ear, and is but a dream at the best. 

William Penn’s Works, Vol. I, pp. 782–789, 885–887, “An Address to Protestants”: It’s the ignorance and idleness of the people that give the . . . clergy an opportunity to effect their designs . . . . For so mean-spirited are the people as to take all upon trust for their souls, that would not trust or take from an archbishop a brass shilling . . . . ‘Tis prodigious to think what veneration the priesthood have raised to themselves by their usurpt commission . . . and their clink-clank of extraordinary ordination. . . . Did the people examine their bottom—the ground of their religion and faith—it would not be in the power of their leaders to cause them to err. . . . What, doubt my minister? Arraign his doctrine? Put him to proof! By no means. But the consequence of not doing it has been the introduction of much false doctrine, superstition and formality—amongst the Quakers, as well as others—which gave just occasion for schism. For the Word has no hurt in itself, and implies only a separation, which may as well be right as wrong. 

William Penn mentions two men, Jacobus Acontius (Jacopo Aconcio) and John Hales of Eton, that were of the same mind, and does heartily beseech his readers to be more than ordinarily intent in reading what he cites of them. They write very much of people’s carelessness, in trusting too much pastors. 

Wherefore Jacopo Aconcio says we must obey the advice of a poet:

Principiis obsta, sero Medicina paratur, 
Cum mala per longas invaluere moras. 

Resist betimes that medicine stays too long
Which comes when age has made the grief too strong.  

Now there is need (he says) of a double caution, viz. that there be no change in the doctrine when it is pure; and if any change be made, that there be notice taken of it. 

Forasmuch as the profit will be very small if some private man shall discover or observe that an error is introduced, unless he discover that said error and lay it open—now there cannot be a more fitting way than that in 1 Corinthians 14, he says, and abundance more very excellent.

I could heartily wish The Address to the Protestants were reprinted, for the sake of my Friends called Quakers as well as others. I believe it might be of great service, for I think the matter therein contained belongs to us as much as to any people in the world.