Elias Hicks

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Elias Hicks was a Quaker minister active in the late 18th and early 19th century. Hicks' preaching foreshadowed many of the developments of modern liberal Quakerism and led to a major schism among the Friends. Nonetheless, many of his teachings were a reflection of Quietist ideas which were widespread among friends through the 18th century.

Life

Hicks was born in Jericho, New York (on Long Island) in 1748 and converted to Quakerism at the age of 20. His wife, Jemima Seaman, came from an old Quaker family. Hicks and his wife were instrumental in the founding of many early Friends schools for girls, as the Quakers led the way for in providing education for women.

Ministry

Hicks held that obedience to the Inner Light was the foundation principle for the Quaker religion. This doctrine originated among early Friends including George Fox and the theologian Robert Barclay, but Hicks took it further, downplaying the importance of scripture relative to the guidance of the light. For more on the evolution of RSF teachings concerning the Bible, see Quakerism and the Bible. Hicks was also an early and ardent opponent of slavery, and one of the most important abolitionists of his time. An old story says that as Hicks lay on his deathbed, paralyzed and unable to speak, he appeared extremely uncomfortable for a reason none present could discern. When eventually a friend removed a slave-made cotton blanket from the dying man, Hicks smiled.

Influence

Hicks' teachings were at odds with those of Joseph John Gurney, who represented a continental branch of Quakerism closer in many ways to other Christian denominations. His emphasis on following the light, and apparent rejection of the divinity of Christ made many Friends nervous. Many meetinghouses refused to admit Hicks, fearful of his teachings, and the resulting divisions led to schisms in many of the major meetinghouses in the United States. The Hicksite and Gurneyite meetinghouses in Philadelphia were not reunited until the 1970s. Modern liberal Quakerism grew out of Hicksite groups. However, it is certain that Hicks would not have identified himself with the teachings of modern liberal Quakers, as he time and again reaffirmed that his beliefs were Christian, and indeed felt that he had come close to discovering Christianity in its truest form.

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