The Essential Elias Hicks

A Superb Little Book

The Essential Elias Hicks by Paul Buckley is a superb little book (132 pages) doing precisely what it claims to do, providing a clear picture of the essence of the Quaker minister who shook up the American Quaker movement splitting and repeatedly splitting the organizational structure down many lines without ever intending to do anything like that. To this day unprogrammed Quakers in the United States are known as “Hicksite Quakers,” a term although in vogue even in his day he formally eschewed in favor of “Tolerants” or a bit chauvinistically as “Real Quakers.” He vigorously preached the truth as he saw it, and the structure cracked because of that truth and other truths from other sources that gained vigor and necessity from the battle.

I have read Hicks’ journal and read his collected letters and while I would recommend doing that for anyone who wants to understand the man, while Buckley provides less text he provides the context which makes sense of the text. He is not shy about quoting Hicks and I in rereading found that I made more highlights of what Hicks said than what Buckley said yet it was Buckley’s information that made the words of Hicks lift themselves from the page with a fuller meaning.

Buckley insists that Hicks was a conservative not a liberal as most present day Quakers picture him. His toing the line to the quietism of his day, (Quakers withdrew from society growing a hedge around themselves of singular customs even to disowning those who married non-Quakers) and his persistence in the teachings of the founders that the Inward Light trumped all other sources of inspiration even the scriptures, were the acts of a conservative, conserving the founders’ intentions. That conservative reliance on the light was the doorway through which his liberal followers received their permission to establish new frontiers that at the least would have surprised Hicks, if not shocked him. His conserving resulted in their progression. Complicated though the thinking is, it makes sense out of a situation that I had found difficult to understand. How could one man be so anal about some rules that seemed to me silly and at the same time take a position on inspiration that is more liberal than most present day churches?

The Journal speaks of Hick’s constant travel. I paid little attention to the fact of his traveling while focusing on what happened when he arrived. After reading Buckley’s picture of what traveling meant in a horse and buggy, usually in the winter, (Hick’s farmed and farmers have their free time in the winter.) I came to understand the grind that this man endured before he even found the pulpit he was to preach in.

Having been trained as a celibate priest, it barely occurred to me that this enterprise of his must have depended a great deal on the woman of the house, and of the barn, and of the fields to keep the show running while the great man was trying to save The Society of Friends. Buckley made me think that one over. Jemima Hicks has risen in my estimate to a place even with Elias. And as to holiness itself, I suspect she has the edge. She not only had to be patient with the conditions, she had to be patient with Elias and his sense of call.

I could keep going, but then, Buckley already has written the book. Every page of which deserves your attention. No matter your present knowledge, I suspect you will come to respect the scholarship of Paul Buckley and most certainly respect his ability to lay the essentials of a man of stature’s life before you.

You want to know Hicks, read Buckley!