Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

children in a godly manner, use, improve, and dispose of their property wisely, and manage their affairs according to their own discretion.

The second, or junior, class is composed of persons who, not having the charge of families, and being under no embarrassments to hinder them from uniting together in community, choose to enjoy the benefits of that situation. These (for mutual safety) enter into a contract to devote their services, freely, to support the interest of the family of which they are members, so long as they continue in that order; stipulating, at the same time, to claim no pecuniary compensation for their services. The property itself may be resumed at any time according to the contract, but no interest can be claimed for the use of it. Members of this class may retain the ownership of all their property as long as they think proper; but at any time, after having gained sufficient experience to be able to act deliberately, they may devote a part or the whole to the support of the institution. This, however, is a matter of free choice; no one is urged to do so; they are rather advised in such cases to consider the matter well, so as not to do it until they have a full understanding of its consequences, lest they should do it prematurely, and afterward repent.

The third, or senior, class is composed of such persons as have had sufficient time and opportunity practically to approve the faith and manner of life practised in the society, and are thus prepared to enter voluntarily into a united interest. These agree to dedicate themselves, body and mind, with all that they possess, to the service of God and the support of the Gospel forever. No person can be received into this order until he shall have settled all just and legal claims, both of creditors and filial heirs; so that whatever property he may possess may be justly and truly his own. Minors cannot be admitted as members of this order, yet they may be received under its immediate care and protection. And when they have arrived at lawful age, if they choose to continue in the society, and sign the covenant of the order, they are then admitted to all the privileges of members. The members of this order are all equally entitled to its benefits and privileges, without any difference on account of what any one may have contributed to the interest of the society. All are equally entitled to their support and maintenance, whether in health, sickness, or old age, so long as they continue to maintain the principles, and conform to the rules and regulations of the institution. They give their property and services for the most valuable of all temporal considerations : an ample security during life for every needful support, if they continue faithful to their contract and covenant, the nature of which they clearly understand before they enter into it.

On these principles the society has now been governed for more than half a century, with a constant increase of members, increase Vol. II.-K

7

of property, and no diminution in zeal or decline of purity in morals. The experiment, therefore, has lasted long enough, as they believe, to be considered free from all chances of failure; and although it has been repeatedly alleged that disputes have sprung up between them and seceding members as to claims of property, their answer to these imputations is given in the following paragraph:

During a period of more than fifty years since the permanent establishment of this society at New-Lebanon and Watervliet, there never has been a legal claiin entered by any person for the recovery of property brought into the society ; but all claims of that nature, if any have existed, have been amicably settled to the satisfaction of the parties concerned. Complaints and legal prosecutions have not hitherto come from persons who brought property into the institution, but from those who came destitute of property, and who, generally speaking, have been no benefit to the society in any way; but, on the contrary, after having enjoyed its hospitality, and brought no small share of trouble upon the people, have had the assurance to lay claim to wages which they never earned, or property to which they never had any just or legal claim."

The institution is, therefore, nearly as old as the American Union, having been planted only four years after the Declaration of Independence; and, as far as length of past duration can be received as a pledge of future stability, they think that they stand on as high ground as the republic, with the advantage of adding a Divine origin to self-preserving or conservative principles, which run through every part of their doctrine, discipline, and government.

For the practice of throwing all their property, whether much or little, into one common stock, and improving it for the benefit of the whole community, they cite the authority of Christ and his disciples, as well as the early Christians mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, iv., 32. They say:

“ It is doubtless generally understood that Jesus Christ and his little family of disciples all fared alike, being chiefly dependant on the contents of the same scrip for their temporal support. The primitive Church at Jerusalem was also founded on a united interest. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.'

“Thus they divested themselves of all selfishness, and, like a band of disinterested brethren and sisters, lived in love and harmony, and all fared alike. These amiable examples were designed as a pattern for Christians; and had all who have since professed that name been led by the true spirit of the Gospel, and carefully conformed to this pattern, what an amiable and harmonious band of Christian nations might, long ere this day, have existed upon earth!

** The advice of Jesus Christ to the rich man, who desired to know what he should do to inherit eternal lise, is an instructive lesson to the rich.* Origen, who lived in the latter part of the second century, has related this circumstance, as recorded in a book (now lost) entitled * The Gospel according to the Hebrews.' It is given by Origen in the Greek language, and quoted by Lardner, who gives the following translation :

* See Malt., xix., 21. Mark, x., 21, and Luke, xviii., 22.

SHAKER NEATNESS. -CO-OPERATION.

75

A certain rich man said to him, Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may live? He said unto him, Man, keep the law and the prophets. He answered him, That I have done. He said unto him, Go sell all that thou hast, and distribute among the poor, and come follow me. But the rich man began to scratch his head, and it did not please him. And the Lord said unto him, How sayest thou, I have kept the law and the proph. ets ? seeing it is written in the law, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; and, behold, many of thy brethren, sons of Abraham, are clothed with rags, ready to perish for hunger, while thy house is filled with all sorts of good things, and nothing goes out of it to them. And turning about, he said to his disciple Simon, who was sitting by him, Simon, son of Joanna, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.'*

“Let every professor of Christianity, and especially those who possess property, apply the case to himself, and then ask his own soul what reward he has a right to expect hereafter for his profession, without a real and actual devotion of substantial service, with all he possesses, to God. Can he expect a substantial reward for professed services, empty prayers, and formal ceremonies, which cost himn little or nothing, and which afford his poor neighbours, and even his fellow-Christians, no real benefit, temporal or spiritual, to soul or body ?"

As far as the history of the Shakers can establish the fact, it has certainly shown that, where property is held in community, and not individually, the disposition to bestow it in works of charity and benevolence to others is greatly increased. And that the property itself is better managed for accumulation and preservation, no one can doubt who has watched the progressive advancement which this society has made in the augmentation, as well as improvement, of its possessions, and in the neatness, order, and perfection by which everything they do or make is characterized: this is so much the case, that over all the United States, the seeds, plants, fruits, grain, cattle, and manufactures furnished by any set tlement of Shakers bears a premium in the market above the ordinary price of similar articles from other establishments. There being no idleness among them, all are productive. There being no intemperance among them, none are destructive. There being no misers among them, nothing is hoarded, or made to perish for want of use; so that while production and improvement are at their maximum, and waste and destruction at their minimum, the society must go on increasing the extent and value of its temporal possessions, and thus increase its means of doing good, first within, and then beyond its own circle.

In support of the soundness of the principle that co-operation is more productive of advantage to a community than competition, the history of the Shakers furnishes an irresistible proof; and if this doctrine had been unmixed with any peculiarities of moral or religious views, it would have spread more widely; for the principle is no doubt sound in itself, though often clouded and retarded in its progress, sometimes by having too little, and sometimes too much of religious belief mixed up with it by its respective advocates.

* See Lardner's Works, vol. ii., p. 505.

CHAPTER VIII.

Peculiar Opinions as to the original Sin of Adam and Eve.-Scriptural Authorities in

support of these Views.- Milton's Paradise Lost.- Curse denounced on Woman at the Fall.-Fulfilment of this in the Punishment of Child-bearing.--Peculiar Crimes of the antediluvian World.-Child-bearing of Sarah in her old Age.-- First Instance of a Child being conceived through Faith alone.- Examples and Mustrations from the Mosaic Law.--- Authority of Mr. Wilberforce quoted by the Shakers.-- Profligacy of the Sexes during the Reign of Antichrist. - Early Conduct of Church-reformers, Luther and Calvin. ---Authority of John Wesley in Support of Celibacy.-Birth and Example of the Saviour.-Opinions of the Apostles on the Subject of Marriage. — Re. ply of Jesus to the Sadducees touching Wives and Husbands. The chosen Saints in Heaven "not defiled with Women."- Answers of the Shakers to the Objections urged against them.--Admission of the utility of Marriage to the “World's People."Practice of clapping the Hands and Dancing, used in their Worship-Examples of Miriam, Jephthah, and David. -Scriptural Commands to clap the Hands, to sing, and dance.- Answer to the Objections made to these Practices.-General Reflections on the Sect and their Peculiarities.

On the subject of abstaining from marriage, the authorities and reasonings of the Shakers are very full. They seem to have thought that this was the most difficult part of their system to render intelligible and acceptable to the world, and they have accordingly laboured with corresponding diligence to justify their opinions and practices in this respect, by an abundant quotation of Scriptural authorities.

They begin by endeavouring to show that the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, consisted, not in the eating of the fruit which grew on the “ tree of knowledge,” but in that which the eating of this fruit excited them subsequently to acquire, namely, that criminal knowledge of each other, which they contend was the first act of sin and first cause of shame, as expressed in the book of Genesis, iii., 7. And, as an illustration of the process of the birth of sin from this communion, they quote the expressions of the apostle James, i., 14, 15.

On this subject, of the nature of the original sin committed by our first parents Adam and Eve, and by them transmitted to all their posterity, the following passages are selected from a large mass of others, as being those which are the most intelligible, and without which no just estimate could be conveyed, either of their own views on this subject, or of the reasonings and authorities on which they are founded :

“ While the man and the woman stood in uprightness and innocence, they were both naked, and were not ashamed,' Gen., ii., 25, which certainly implies not only that their nakedness was no just cause of shame, but that they never could have known it had their innocence continued.

" Before the fall they doubtless knew that they had no clothing; but now their eyes were opened, and they had acquired a criminal knowl

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

DOCTRINES OF THE SHAKERS.

77

edge, and became sensible of a passion to which they had ever before been strangers, namely, shame.

“ The origin of this will be easier to account for, if we suppose, with some, that the juice of this tree was inebriating, since we know from common observation that juices of such a quality will excite strange commotions in the animal frame, and give a strong predominance to the animal appetites.

"Under these circumstances we need not wonder at the subterfuges to which they ran, since it is never expected that the conduct of persons under the power of intoxication or the oppression of guilt should be perfectly consistent with the rules of cool reflection.

“ According to the above, shame was the effect of a criminal knowledge, which is most strictly true. By eating the forbidden fruit, they knew that they were naked: and hence that shameful act is so commonly expressed by the term knowing."*-Gen., iv., 1-25.

It is not assumed that the production of offspring was not intended by God to take place between Adam and Eve; but it is believed by the Shakers that this was to be under subjection to certain laws of times and seasons; to be considered as a solemn and religious duty, for the mere purpose of multiplying their race, and with feelings the most remote from those of mere concupiscence. They insist that this would have been the case in the fulness of time, if Adam and Eve had preserved their original innocence by obedience; but by transgressing the command of God, in eating of the fruit which he had forbidden, they yielded, in the language of Milton, to the “carnal desire” with which this fruit inflamed them, and thus sinned by a premature and guilty commission of an act which, if performed at a later period and with other motives, would have been innocent and honourable; just as, with the world at present, the giving birth to offspring before marriage is deemed guilty and degrading, though the same event after marriage is by the same persons regarded as perfectly innocent and honourable. Therefore it is they express themselves, as in the following paragraph:

" It must be granted by all that God formed the woman for the man, and gave her to him, and commanded them to be fruitful : at least, it was a natural law established in them by the order of creation. But how were they fruitful ? Did God own that for real fruit which they brought forth

“ 'The effect must be like its cause. 'A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.' Their first fruit was a murderer, which proved that the cause from which he sprang was something wholly different from the original and pure law of nature. As it is written, Cain was of that wicked one, and slew his brother;' hence it is certain that he was not

* Milton gives a striking description of the effects of the forbidden fruit on Adam and Eve in the following lines :

" But that false fruit
Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve
Began to cast lascivious eyes, she him
As wantonly repaid ; in lust they burn."

Paradise Lost, Book xi.

« ForrigeFortsett »