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Title: Quaker Strongholds
Author: Stephen, Caroline Emelia
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Quaker Strongholds" ***

                           QUAKER STRONGHOLDS

                        CAROLINE EMELIA STEPHEN



  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
   Introduction                                                        1
  I. Organization                                                      6
  II. The Inner Light                                                 20
  III. Worship                                                        51
  IV. Free Ministry                                                   91
  V. Special Testimonies                                             118
  VI. Our Calling                                                    157
   Appendix                                                          199

                          QUAKER STRONGHOLDS.


Whether Quakerism be, as some Friends believe, destined to any
considerable revival or not, it seems at least certain that any
important revival of religion must be the result of a fresh recognition
and acceptance of the very principles upon which the Society of Friends
is built. What these principles and the practices resulting from them
really are, is a subject on which there is a surprising amount of
ignorance amongst us, considering how widely spread is the connection
with and interest about Friends amongst the members of other
persuasions. One seldom meets any one who has not some link with the
Society, and yet it is rare to find any one not belonging to it at all
accurately informed as to its point of view or its organization. The
notorious disinclination of Friends to any attempts at proselytizing,
and perhaps some lingering effects of persecution, probably account for
the very common impression that Friends’ meetings are essentially
private—mysterious gatherings into which it would be intrusive to seek
admission. Many people, indeed, probably suppose (if they think about it
at all) that such meetings are no longer held; that the Society is fast
dying out, and the “silent worship” of tradition is a thing of the
past—impracticable, and hardly to be seriously mentioned in these days
of talk and of breathless activity.

Some such vague impression floated, I believe, over my own mind, when,
some seventeen years ago, I first found myself within reach of a
Friends’ meeting, and, somewhat to my surprise, cordially made welcome
to attend it. The invitation came at a moment of need, for I was
beginning to feel with dismay that I might not much longer be able
conscientiously to continue to join in the Church of England service;
not for want of appreciation of its unrivalled richness and beauty, but
from doubts of the truth of its doctrines, combined with a growing
recognition that to me it was as the armour of Saul in its elaboration
and in the sustained pitch of religious fervour for which it was meant
to provide an utterance. Whether true or not in its speculative and
theoretical assumptions, it was clear to me that it was far from true as
a periodical expression of my own experience, belief, or aspiration. The
more vividly one feels the force of its eloquence, the more, it seems to
me, one must hesitate to adopt it as the language of one’s own soul, and
the more unlikely it is that such heights and depths of feeling as it
demands should be ready to fill its magnificent channels every Sunday
morning at a given hour. The questionings with which at that period I
was painfully struggling were stirred into redoubled activity by the
dogmatic statements and assumptions with which the Liturgy abounds, and
its unbroken flow left no loophole for the utterance of my own less
disciplined, but to myself far more urgent, cries for help. Thus the
hour of public worship, which should have been a time of spiritual
strengthening and calming, became to me a time of renewed conflict, and
of occasional exaltation and excitement of emotion, leading but too
surely to reaction and apathy.

I do not attempt to pass any judgment on this mental condition. I have
described it at some length because I cannot believe it to be altogether
exceptional, or without significance. At any rate, it was fast leading
me to dread the moment when I should be unable either to find the help I
needed, or to offer my tribute of devotion in any place of worship
amongst my fellow-Christians. When lo, on one never-to-be-forgotten
Sunday morning, I found myself one of a small company of silent
worshippers, who were content to sit down together without words, that
each one might feel after and draw near to the Divine Presence,
unhindered at least, if not helped, by any human utterance. Utterance I
knew was free, should the words be given; and before the meeting was
over, a sentence or two were uttered in great simplicity by an old and
apparently untaught man, rising in his place amongst the rest of us. I
did not pay much attention to the words he spoke, and I have no
recollection of their purport. My whole soul was filled with the
unutterable peace of the undisturbed opportunity for communion with God,
with the sense that at last I had found a place where I might, without
the faintest suspicion of insincerity, join with others in simply
seeking His presence. To sit down in silence could at the least pledge
me to nothing; it might open to me (as it did that morning) the very
gate of heaven. And since that day, now more than seventeen years ago,
Friends’ meetings have indeed been to me the greatest of outward helps
to a fuller and fuller entrance into the spirit from which they have
sprung; the place of the most soul-subduing, faith-restoring,
strengthening, and peaceful communion, in feeding upon the bread of
life, that I have ever known. I cannot but believe that what has helped
me so unspeakably might be helpful to multitudes in this day of shaking
of all that can be shaken, and of restless inquiry after spiritual good.
It is in the hope of making more widely known the true source and nature
of such spiritual help that I am about to attempt to describe what I
have called our strongholds—those principles which cannot fail, whatever
may be the future of the Society which for more than two hundred years
has taken its stand upon them. I wish to trace, as far as my experience
as a “convinced Friend” enables me to do so, what is the true life and
strength of our Society; and the manner in which its principles, as
actually embodied in its practice, its organization, and, above all, its
manner of worship, are fitted to meet the special needs of an important
class in our own day.

  Mount Pleasant,
      West Malvern, 1890.

                               CHAPTER I.

The actual organization of the Society of Friends is, I believe, by no
means familiarly known outside its own borders, and a slight sketch of
it may be neither uninteresting in itself, nor out of place as a
preliminary to the endeavour to explain our general position. I propose,
therefore, to give such an outline of our constitution as a Society, so
far as I have become acquainted with it. The fullest details respecting
it are to be found in the “Book of Discipline,” which is the authorized
exponent of all such matters.

This book has been recently revised, and the edition of 1883[1] (a large
octavo volume) contains the latest regulations on all points of internal
government. The Yearly Meeting also publishes annually a volume of
Extracts from its proceedings, a full statement of accounts and
statistics, and a summary of the reports received from the subordinate
meetings all over the country.

Every “particular meeting,” that is, every congregation meeting
habitually for worship on the first (and generally also on one other)
day of the week, is one of a group of meetings for worship (usually
about five or six), which meet together once a month, for the
transaction of business and of discipline, and which together form what
is therefore called a Monthly Meeting. Each Monthly Meeting, again, is
one of a group of probably four or five Monthly Meetings, which in like
manner unite to form a Quarterly Meeting, at whose quarterly sittings
matters of larger importance are considered, and the eighteen Quarterly
Meetings of Great Britain form in their turn the London Yearly Meeting,
which is the supreme authority in the Society. It may in a certain sense
be said, indeed, that it _is_ the Society of Friends of Great Britain,
for every Friend is a member of the Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly
Meetings to which he or she belongs, and is entitled to a voice in all
their deliberations. The Yearly Meeting assembles in May, and its
sittings, which are held, as they have been from the first, in
Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street, last generally about a fortnight.
The actual attendance is, of course, small in comparison with the number
of members. At the present time the Society in Great Britain consists of
about fifteen thousand members, and the annual gatherings in Bishopsgate
Street number perhaps from twelve to fifteen hundred.

The men and women sit separately, or it would perhaps be more correct to
say that the men and the women Friends have each a separate Yearly
Meeting; the women’s Yearly Meeting being of considerably later date
than the men’s. It was established in 1790, and it deals in general with
matters of less importance, or at any rate of more restricted scope,
than the men’s meeting. It is, however, not unusual for men Friends,
“under religious concern,” to visit the women’s meeting, nor for women
Friends on a similar ground to visit that of the men.

“Joint sittings”—meetings, that is, of men and women Friends in one
body—are also held occasionally, when any question of special interest
to all the members is to be considered, and on these occasions the women
are free to take their full share in the discussions. These occasional
combinations are the more easily practicable, because, strange as it may
seem to most people, no question is ever put to the vote. From the
earliest times, all decisions have been arrived at by what may be called
a practical unanimity. The Yearly Meeting, like every other meeting for
“business” or “discipline,” has its clerk, who, with one or more
assistants, performs the combined functions of chairman and secretary.
When any question has been fully considered, it is the duty of the clerk
to interpret the sense of the meeting, and to prepare a minute
accordingly; which minute, being read to the meeting, often receives a
certain amount of verbal, or even of substantial modification, in
accordance with the suggestions of individual Friends; but, when entered
upon the books, is accepted as embodying the decision of the meeting.
Should there be any considerable division of judgment upon any important
question, it is usually, if possible, adjourned till the next Yearly
Meeting; and this plan has, I believe, been almost invariably found
sufficient to bring about the practical unanimity required for a final
settlement of the question. It is certainly a very remarkable fact that
so large a body should transact all its affairs without ever voting, to
the full satisfaction of the great majority of those concerned.

The Quarterly and Monthly Meetings are, in most respects, repetitions on
a smaller scale of the Yearly Meeting. The business of all these
subordinate meetings is transacted, like that of the Yearly Meeting,
without voting, and settled similarly through the action of the clerk
when a practical unanimity is arrived at. Each Monthly Meeting appoints
“representatives” to the next Quarterly Meeting, and the Quarterly
Meetings in like manner appoint “representatives” to the Yearly Meeting.
These Friends have no very definite function to perform, but their names
are called over, and their presence or absence noted at the opening of
each meeting to which they are sent; and they are expected to serve in a
general way as a special medium of communication between the larger and
the smaller meetings to which they belong.

In like manner, upon any subject affecting the Society at large, the
Yearly Meeting communicates with the Quarterly Meetings, who in their
turn diffuse the impulse through their own Monthly and particular
meetings, till it reaches every individual member; and, in return,
information respecting every meeting for worship is from time to time
given to the Monthly Meetings, to be by them in a condensed form
reported to the Quarterly Meetings, and so eventually presented to the
Yearly Meeting in London. All these ascending and descending processes
are carried on with minute accuracy and regularity, and are duly
recorded at every stage in the books of each meeting. There is thus a
complete system of circulation, as of veins and arteries, by which every
individual member is brought within reach of the Society at large, and
through which information, influence, and discipline are carried to and
from the centre and the extremities.

The “discipline” of the Society is a matter of extreme interest, as to
which I cannot venture to say with any confidence how far our recognized
ideal is actually carried out in practice. There is no doubt that of
late years considerable changes have taken place, mainly in the
direction of a relaxation of discipline with regard to comparatively
trivial matters. Certain “queries” have from the earliest times been
appointed by the authority of the Yearly Meeting, to be read and
considered at certain seasons in the subordinate meetings, and to most
of these queries (some relating to various branches of Christian
morality, and some to regularity in attendance at meetings and
conformity to established standards of simplicity in dress and language)
it was formerly the practice to require detailed answers from each
particular meeting, to be in due course transmitted in a summarized form
to the Yearly Meeting itself. In 1861, however, the Yearly Meeting
issued directions that a certain number of these queries should be
merely “considered,” but not answered. In 1875 this method was adopted
with regard to nearly all the queries, and at present those only which
relate to the regularity of attendance at meetings for worship and
business are answered.[2] This change has a very obvious significance,
and I believe that its effect is even more marked than would be
understood by any one not accustomed to the extreme care and gravity
with which these matters were formerly pondered and reported upon in
each “preparative meeting” (_i.e._ each particular meeting sitting
specially with a view to preparing the business to be transacted at any
approaching Monthly Meeting), and again at each stage of the progress of
the report towards its final presentation by the Quarterly to the Yearly
Meeting. Dress and language and other external matters are now
practically left entirely to the individual conscience, as is surely
wisest. With regard to weightier matters, such as strict integrity in
business, sobriety, and correctness of moral conduct, etc., there is
still, I hope and believe, a considerable reality of watchful care
exercised through specially appointed members. In every Monthly Meeting
there are Friends holding the offices of elder and overseer. The
business of the elders is to watch over the ministers in the exercise of
their gift; that of the overseers to see to the relief of the poorer
members, the care of the sick, and other such matters; to watch over the
members generally with regard to their Christian conduct, to warn
privately any who may be giving cause of offence or scandal, and in case
of need to bring the matter before the Monthly Meeting, to be dealt with
as it may require. Should the Monthly Meeting think it necessary to
disown a member for persisting in conduct not consistent with our
Christian profession, or for any other reason, the member in question
may appeal to the Quarterly Meeting, and from its decision to that of
the Yearly Meeting, which is in all cases final.

The London Yearly Meeting has two standing committees for the
transaction of such of its affairs as need attention more frequently
than once a year. One of these represents the Yearly Meeting at large,
and has charge of its money matters and other general business; it bears
the curious and suggestive title of the “Meeting for Sufferings,” from
having been originally occupied mainly in relieving Friends under
persecution. The other is a committee of the Yearly Meeting on Ministry
and Oversight, and is called the “Morning Meeting.”

Meetings on Ministry and Oversight are held in every Quarterly and
Monthly Meeting as well as at the Yearly Meeting. They are composed of
all the recorded ministers, the elders and overseers of each meeting,
together with (in some Quarterly Meetings) some Friends described as
associate members, who attend them as it were not officially, but by a
standing invitation. These meetings are concerned, of course, with
questions relating to the special offices exercised by their members.

The ministers are, as is well known, not appointed or set apart by any
human ordination, nor are any of them ever paid, or liable to be called
upon by any human authority, for any ministerial services. By the word
“ministers” we mean simply those, be they men or women, who have
received a gift and call to minister, that is to offer vocal service, in
meetings for worship. When any Friend has exercised such a gift for a
considerable time, in a manner which is recognized by the other members
as evincing a true vocation, the Monthly Meeting proceeds to record the
fact on the books of the meeting. This acknowledgment is made merely for
the sake of “good order,” and is not supposed to confer any additional
power or authority on the minister “recorded.” The ministers are
perfectly free to continue their ordinary occupations, and many of them
are, in fact, engaged in earning their own living in trades, business,
or professions.

When a minister, in the exercise of his or her gift, feels called to
travel to any distant place, it is thought right that the “concern”
should be laid before the Monthly Meeting, and, should it be an
important or distant concern, before the Quarterly and, in some cases,
even the Yearly Meeting also; when the meetings in question will, if
they feel “unity” with it, give the minister a minute or certificate to
that effect, which serves as an introduction and guarantee in whatever
meetings the minister may visit during that “service.” In such cases the
ministers’ travelling expenses are paid from one Monthly or Quarterly
Meeting to another, and it is usual for them to be welcomed into the
houses of some of the Friends belonging to the meetings visited. The
extent to which Friends do thus travel, both in England and abroad, “in
the service of Truth,” is something of which few people outside the
Society have any idea. Between England and America there is a continual
interchange of such visits, and the very copious biographical literature
of the Society teems with the records of journeys undertaken “under an
impression of religious duty,” and lasting sometimes for months, or even
years, before the Friend could “feel clear” of the work. No limit is
ever set beforehand to such work. It is felt to be work in which the
daily unfolding of the Divine ordering must be watched and waited for.

Such is a general outline of what may be called the machinery of the
Society. It remains to state briefly its distinguishing tenets before
proceeding to consider the spirit and inner spring from which these
outward developments have arisen, and from which they derive all their
significance and value.

I have already referred to the peculiarity which lies at the root of all
the rest; namely, our views as to the nature of the true gospel
ministry, as a call bestowed on men and women, on old and young, learned
and unlearned; bestowed directly from above, and not to be conferred by
any human authority, or hired for money; to be exercised under the sole
and immediate direction of the one Master, the only Head of the Church,
Christ the Lord. As a consequence of this view, Friends have, as is well
known, refused as a matter of conscience to pay tithes, or in any way to
contribute to the maintenance of a paid ministry, and of the services
prescribed by the Established Church.

Closely connected with these views on ministry, is our testimony against
the observance of any religious rites or ceremonies whatever. Neither
baptizing with water, nor the breaking of bread and drinking of wine,
are recognized by us as Divinely ordained institutions of permanent
obligation, and neither of these ceremonies is practised by us. We
believe that the coming of Christ put an end to the old dispensation of
outward observances, and that the whole drift of His teaching was
against the attaching of importance to such things. The passages
relating to His last supper with His disciples, and those in which He
speaks of His permanent influence upon them under the images of bread,
blood, etc., seem to us much more intelligible and impressive when
understood without reference to the sacramental theories which have been
engrafted upon them. The one baptism “with the Holy Ghost and with
fire,” and the continual spiritual communion to be enjoyed in feeding on
the bread of life, are felt by us to be of the very essence of true and
spiritual worship; but we believe them to be entirely independent of any
outward observances. We therefore feel that no other condition is needed
for the highest acts of worship than the presence and the right
spiritual disposition of the worshippers.

The rejection of any separate priesthood, and of all outward
observances, is the main divergence between us and other Christians. We
have always maintained a testimony against war as inconsistent with the
full acceptance of the spirit of Christ, and against oaths as distinctly
forbidden by Him. We have also been led to abandon the pursuit of
changing fashions, and to cherish a plainness in dress and language of a
marked character, now fast changing its type, but not, we trust, really
disappearing. These minor testimonies are probably more widely known
than the more fundamental ones; and though concerned with comparatively
trivial matters, they also spring from a deep root of principle. It is a
remarkable fact that from time to time religious bodies have sprung up
in various parts of the world who, without any communication with us,
have adopted similar views on many, if not all, of these points. This
fact, as well as the continuance and the widely spread influence of our
own Society, seems to show that its roots lie deep in some fundamental
principles of truth.

I am now about to attempt to deal with those principles, not in the way
of analysis or with any attempt at precision of language, but as a
record of their practical working, as gathered mainly from personal
experience. It is not, I confess, without some anxiety that I, as a
new-comer, enter upon this task. In the preceding sketch of matters of
fact, it has of course been easy to guard against any serious
misstatements; but in the following chapters I must deal with matters
less easily verifiable. It seems to me in some respects hardly possible
that any one not born and bred in the Society should be fully qualified
to unfold its principles and practices. There is, on the other hand, in
the very fact of having entered it from without, a special qualification
for the office of interpreting them to outsiders. It will, I hope, be
remembered that I have no kind of claim to speak in any sense in the
name of the Society. My object is to explain (so far as the experience
of ten years’ membership may enable me) the secret of its strength and
of its attraction for others; and for this attempt one brought up
outside its pale, and speaking in a purely individual capacity, may well
feel a special freedom. If I cannot pretend to possess the entirely
correct accent of a born Friend, I may be none the less intelligible to
those amongst whom my own Christian principles were imbibed and
nourished until the years of maturity.

                              CHAPTER II.
                            THE INNER LIGHT.

The one corner-stone of belief upon which the Society of Friends is
built is the conviction that God does indeed communicate with each one
of the spirits He has made, in a direct and living inbreathing of some
measure of the breath of His own life; that He never leaves Himself
without a witness in the heart as well as in the surroundings of man;
and that in order clearly to hear the Divine voice thus speaking to us
we need to be still; to be alone with Him in the secret place of His
presence; that all flesh should keep silence before Him.

This belief may be more precisely stated, explained, and as we think
justified, by those who are competent to deal with it in a philosophical
manner. The founders of our Society were not philosophers, but spoke of
these things from an intense and abundant personal experience, which led
them with confidence to appeal to the experience of all sorts and
conditions of men for confirmation of their doctrine as to the light
within. And they were not disappointed. The history of the sudden
gathering of the Society, of its rapid formation into a strongly
organized body, and of the extraordinary constancy, zeal, and integrity
displayed by its original members, is a most impressive proof of the
trueness of their aim.[3]

I have no ambition to clothe the fundamental doctrine of our Society in
any less popular language than that in which it was originally preached.
I would rather, even did necessity not compel me, be content to appeal,
as did the early Friends, to common experience. My aim is to explain for
practical purposes, and in modern as well as simple language, the way in
which our whole constitution as a Society, and our various special
testimonies, have resulted from this one main principle.

When questioned as to the reality and nature of the inner light, the
early Friends were accustomed in return to ask the questioners whether
they did not sometimes feel something within them that showed them their
sins; and to assure them that this same power, which _made manifest_,
and therefore was truly light, would also, if yielded to, lead them out
of sin. This assurance, that the light which revealed was also the power
which would heal sin, was George Fox’s gospel. The power itself was
described by him in many ways. Christ within, the hope of glory; the
light, life, Spirit, and grace of Christ; the seed, the new birth, the
power of God unto salvation, and many other such expressions, flow forth
in abundant streams of heartfelt eloquence. To “turn people to the light
within,” to “direct them to Christ, their free Teacher,” was his daily

For this purpose he and his friends travelled continually up and down
the country, holding meetings everywhere, and finding a never-failing
response to their appeal, as is proved by the bare numbers of those who,
within a very few years, were ready to encounter persecution, and to
maintain their testimony through long years of imprisonment and
sufferings. In the earlier days of the Society the doctrine of the inner
light was clearly one readily understood and accepted by the ordinary
English mind. In our own day it is usually spoken of as a mysterious
tenet, springing up now and again in the minds of isolated enthusiasts,
but indigenous only in Oriental countries, and naturally abhorrent to
the practical common sense of our own people.

The difference arises, I think, from the fact that there are circles
within circles, or spheres within spheres, and that the light to which
the early Friends bore witness was not confined to that innermost
sanctuary of whose very existence, perhaps, none but a few “mystics” are
conscious; but that, while proceeding from those deepest depths, it was
recognized as also lighting up conscience, and conduct, and all the
tangible outer framework of life; and that it was called “within” not
alone in the sense of lying nearer the centre of our being than anything
else, but also in the (to ordinary minds) more intelligible sense of
beginning at home—of being the reward of each man’s own faithfulness, of
being independent of priests and ordinances. The religion they preached
was one which enforced the individual responsibility of each one for his
own soul; it was a portable and verifiable religion—a religion which
required truth in word and deed, plain dealing and kindness and
self-control, and which did not require ceremonial observances or
priestly guarantees; a religion in which practice went for more than
theory, and all were expected to take their stand on one level, and
their share in the worship and the business of “the Church.” It is easy
to see how such preaching as this would commend itself to English
independence. It surely commends itself to the unchanging sense of truth
in the human heart, and will be welcomed whenever it is preached from
first-hand experience of its power.

“That which you seek without you have already within you.” The words
which changed the life of Madame Guyon will never lose their power while
human nature is occupied with the struggle for a state of stable
equilibrium. The perennial justification of Quakerism lies in its
energetic assertion that the kingdom of heaven is within us; that we are
not made dependent upon any outward organization for our spiritual
welfare. Its perennial difficulty lies in the inveterate disposition of
human beings to look to each other for spiritual help, in the feebleness
of their perception of that Divine Voice which speaks to each one in a
language no other ear can hear, and in the apathy which is content to go
through life without the attempt at any true individual communion with

“The kingdom of heaven is within us.” No Christian, surely, can dispute
the truth of this deep word of Christ Himself. But its interpretation
has a wide range. In his own lips it was used in opposition to the “Lo
here! and lo there!” for which he was preparing His disciples. They were
not to be hurried away into a search for Christ in all directions, but
were to remember that His kingdom (surely implying His living presence)
is in the hearts of His people. He Himself makes none of those abstruse
distinctions between consciousness and being, accident and essence,
subject and object, or even superficial and profound, and so forth,
which it has been the delight of many of His most devoted followers to
interweave with this simple expression “within you.”

I think it is inevitable that the more deeply we penetrate into the
recesses of the human mind, the more we should have a sense of
approaching an inner sanctuary, and that there is a very real and deep
sense in which this word “within you” may be understood as meaning
“above all in your inmost depths.” But this is not its original or its
obvious meaning. In the teaching of our Lord there is a frequent
reference to the distinction of inward or outward, but the distinction
is drawn in a broad and simple manner. It is oftenest a demand upon our
sincerity and thoroughness, not upon our powers of introspection—an
appeal on behalf of the weightier matters of the Law as compared with
trivial and ceremonial observances. It would scarcely, I think, be true
to say that the doctrine of an “inner light,” as we understand it, is
explicitly laid down in the Gospels, although, to my own mind, that
doctrine appears to be an almost inevitable inference from their
teaching. I am not, however, attempting to deal with the question on its
merits. I only wish to draw attention to the wide range of meaning
covered by such expressions as “the light within,” and “the inner

Both by our Master Himself, and by the Friends who originally preached
Him as the Light, the figure of light was used in a broad and popular
sense. Light is the most obvious and the most eternally satisfying
figure for Divine truth. It is, however, hardly more obvious or more
satisfying than the other figure so commonly, and almost
interchangeably, used by the same teachers, of breath—inspiration. I
scarcely know whether it would convey most truth to say that the
cornerstone of our Society was a belief in “the light within,” or in
“immediate inspiration.” I doubt whether the two ideas are in all
respects altogether distinguishable. Belief in the fact to which they
both refer, of an actual Divine influence communicated to every human
spirit, is our real corner-stone.[4]

The fact of inspiration is denied by no Christian—the full recognition
of its present and constant operation is in some degree a peculiarity of
Friends. It is not uncommon outside the Society to hear expressions
implying that Divine inspiration is a thing of the past; a quite
exceptional gift, familiar only in apostolic times. It seems to me that
this limitation of its range amounts almost to a denial of its reality.
I can hardly understand the idea that God did occasionally long ago
speak to human beings, but that He never does so now. It seems, at any
rate, inconsistent with any worthy sense of His unchangeableness.

Many of us have come to believe that one of the greatest hindrances to a
real belief in or recognition of inspiration has been the exceedingly
crude and mechanical conception of it as attributed to the letter of
Scripture. From this hard and shallow way of thinking about inspiration,
Friends have generally been preserved in proportion as they have held
firmly the old Quaker doctrine of the inner light. Some, no doubt, have
gone too far in the direction of transferring the idea of infallibility
from the Bible to themselves. But, on the whole, I believe the doctrine
of Fox and Barclay (_i.e._, briefly, that the “Word of God” is Christ,
not the Bible, and that the Scriptures are profitable in proportion as
they are read in the same spirit which gave them forth) to have been a
most valuable equipoise to the tendency of other Protestant sects to
transfer the idea of infallibility from the Church to the Bible.
Nothing, I believe, can really teach us the nature and meaning of
inspiration but personal experience of it. That we may all have such
experience if we will but attend to the Divine influences in our own
hearts, is the cardinal doctrine of Quakerism. Whether this belief,
honestly acted on, will manifest itself in the homespun and solid, but
only too sober morality of the typical everyday Quaker, or whether it
will land us in the mystical fervours of an Isaac Penington, or the
apostolic labours of a John Woolman or a Stephen Grellet, must depend
chiefly upon our natural temperament and special gifts. The range of the
different forms taken by the doctrine is as wide as the range of human
endowment and experience. A belief which is the common property of the
prophet and the babe will, of course, yield every variety of practical

It is a belief which it is hardly possible to inculcate by anything more
or less than a direct appeal to experience, to the witness within; and
there is the further difficulty, that the experience to which we can
appeal only as sharers in it, must be expressed in language very often
and very naturally misunderstood. The assertion, however guarded, that
one has actual experience of Divine inspiration in one’s own person, is
very apt to sound like a claim to personal infallibility. Yet in reality
nothing can be further from the mark. The first effect of the shining of
light within is to show what is amiss—to “convince of sin.” It is not
claiming any superiority to ordinary human conditions to say, in
response to such an appeal as that of the Friends just referred to,
“Yes, I have indeed been conscious of a power within making manifest to
me my sins and errors, and I have indeed experienced its healing and
emancipating power as well as its fiery purgings and bitter
condemnations. That which has shown me my fault has healed me; the light
has led and is leading me onwards and upwards out of the abyss, nearer
and nearer to its own eternal Source; and I know that, in so far as I am
obedient to it, I am safe.” What is such a reply but an acknowledgment
that “the light, the Spirit, and grace of Christ” have indeed been an
indwelling, inbreathing power in one’s own heart? If it be a claim to
inspiration, it is a claim which implies no merit and no eminence in him
who makes it; it is made on ground common to the publican, the prodigal,
and the sinner, to Magdalen and to Paul. It is the history of every
child returning to the Father’s house.

But it is not every one to whom it would be natural to describe this
experience in language so mystical as this, nor would the mystic’s
experience be likely to stop short at anything so simple and elementary
as the process just described. And here we are confronted with the real
“peculiarity” of Quakerism—its relation to mysticism. There is no doubt
that George Fox himself and the other fathers of the Society were of a
strongly mystical turn of mind, though not in the sense in which the
word is often used by the worshippers of “common sense,” as a mild term
of reproach, to convey a general vague dreaminess. Nothing, certainly,
could be less applicable to the early Friends than any such reproach as
this. They were fiery, dogmatic, pugnacious, and intensely practical and
sober-minded. But they were assuredly mystics in what I take to be the
more accurate sense of that word—people, that is, with a vivid
consciousness of the inwardness of the light of truth.

Mysticism in this sense is a well-known phenomenon, of which a multitude
of examples may be found in all religions. It is, indeed, rather a
personal peculiarity than a form of belief; and therefore, although from
time to time associations (our own, for one) have been based upon what
are called mystical tenets, there can scarcely be anything like a real
school of mysticism—at any rate, in Europe. Mysticism, as we know it, is
essentially individual. It refuses to be formulated or summed up. In one
sense it is common to all religious persuasions; in another, it equally
eludes them all. We can easily understand what constitutes a mystic, but
the peculiarity itself is incommunicable. Their belief is an open
secret. They themselves have ever desired to communicate it, though
continually feeling the impossibility of doing so by words alone. It is
the secret of light—an inward light clothing itself in life, and living
to bring all things to the light.

Mystics, as I understand the matter, are those whose minds, to their own
consciousness, are lighted from within; who feel themselves to be in
immediate communication with the central Fountain of light and life.
They have naturally a vivid sense both of the distinction and of the
harmony between the inward and the outward—a sense so vivid that it is
impossible for them to believe it to be unshared by others. A true
mystic believes that all men have, as he himself is conscious of having,
an inward life, into which, as into a secret chamber, he can retreat at
will.[5] In this inner chamber he finds a refuge from the ever-changing
aspects of outward existence; from the multitude of cares and pleasures
and agitations which belong to the life of the senses and the
affections; from human judgments; from all change, and chance, and
turmoil, and distraction. He finds there, first repose, then an awful
guidance; a light which burns and purifies; a voice which subdues; he
finds himself in the presence of his God. It is here, in this holy of
holies, that “deep calleth unto deep;” here that the imperishable,
unfathomable, unchanging elements of humanity meet and are one with the
Divine Fountain of life from whence they flow; here that the well of
living waters springeth up unto eternal life.

“The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Personal religion is a real and a
living thing only in proportion as it springs from this deep inward
root. The root itself is common to all true believers. The consciousness
of its “inwardness” is that which distinguishes the mystic. How it
should be that to some minds the words “inward and outward” express the
most vivid and continuous fact of consciousness, while to others they
appear to have no meaning at all; how it comes that some are born
mystics, while to others the report of the mystic concerning the inner
life is a thing impossible to be believed and hardly to be
understood;—these are psychological problems I cannot attempt to
unravel. If, however, a certain correspondence between the inward and
the outward do really exist (and this, I suppose, will hardly be denied,
whatever may be the most philosophically accurate way of expressing it),
the faculty of discerning it must needs be a gift. I believe, indeed,
that the power in this direction which distinguishes such mystics as,
_e.g._, Thomas à Kempis, Jacob Boehme, Tauler, Fénélon, Madame Guyon,
George Fox, William Law, St. Theresa, Molinos, and others, is
essentially the same gift which in a different form, or in combination
with a different temperament and gifts of another order, makes poets. It
is the gift of seeing truth at first-hand, the faculty of receiving a
direct revelation. To have it is to be assured that it is the common
inheritance, the “light which lighteth every man that cometh into the
world.” Preachers like those I have just mentioned always appeal to it
with confidence as to a witness to be found in every heart. And surely
experience confirms this conviction of theirs. It is in degree only that
their gift is exceptional. They may have the sight of the eagle, but
they see by the same light as the bat.

Now, the obvious tendency of a vivid first-hand perception of truth, or
light, is to render the possessor of it so far independent of external
teachers. And we all know that in point of fact such _illuminati_ always
have shown a disposition to go their own way, and to disregard, if not
to denounce, traditional teaching, which has brought them into frequent
collisions with ecclesiastical and other authorities. Those of the
Church of Rome have, with their wonted sagacity, as much as possible
sought to turn this strange power to account, while providing
safety-valves for the unmanageable residue.

It is the easier to do this because of the two marked characteristics of
mystics—quietness and independence. Mystics are naturally independent,
not only of ecclesiastical authority, but of each other. This is
necessarily implied in the very idea of first-hand reception of light.
While it must always constitute a strong bond of sympathy between those
who recognize it in themselves and in each other, it naturally
indisposes them to discipleship. They sit habitually at no man’s feet,
and do not as a rule greatly care to have any one sit at theirs.
Mysticism in this sense seems naturally opposed to tradition. No true
mystic would hold himself bound by the thoughts of others. He does not
feel the need of them, being assured of the sufficiency and conscious of
the possession of that inward guidance, whether called light, or voice,
or inspiration, which must be seen, heard, felt, by each one in his own
heart, or not at all. But the duty of looking for and of obeying this
guidance is a principle which may be inculcated and transmitted from
generation to generation like any other principle. Its hereditary
influence is very perceptible in old Quaker families, where a unique
type of Christian character resulting from it is still to be met with.

Quietness naturally accompanies the belief in this inward guidance, not
only because in the Divine presence all that is merely human necessarily
sinks into silent insignificance, but also because it is instinctively
felt that it is only in stillness that any perfect reflection from above
can be formed in the mirror of the human spirit. The natural fruit of
mysticism is quietism.

I have no means of estimating the actual prevalence of mystical and
quietist principles in the Society of Friends at the present time. But I
am sure that our Society is the natural home for the spirits of all
those who hold them, for it is the one successful embodiment of these
principles in a system of “Church government.” Every arrangement is made
to favour and to maintain the practice of looking for individual inward
guidance, and to give the freest scope to its results. Everything which
tends to hinder obedience to it is abandoned and discouraged. I shall
endeavour to trace the working of this aim in various special directions
hereafter. I must now endeavour to explain as well as I can what it is
precisely that I understand by that inward light, voice, or Divine
guidance which we Friends believe it our duty and our highest privilege
in all things to watch for.

I do not, indeed, claim that my own share in this deepest region of
human experience amounts to more than a faint and intermittent
glimmering of what I know to be possible. I earnestly desire to explain
to others what to myself has been especially blessed and helpful in the
deepest unfoldings, whether by word or in life, of Quaker principles;
but I feel that the task would demand for its full accomplishment not
only greater powers than mine, but also the assistance which can be
given only by something more than candour in the reader—by a real desire
to help out the stammering utterance, and to supply the gaps left by
individual shortcomings. To such a helpful auditor, therefore, I will in
imagination address myself.

Faithfulness to the light is the watchword of all who hunger and thirst
after righteousness—of all seekers after the kingdom of heaven. Is this
merely an equivalent for the more commonplace expression, “obedience to
conscience”? Surely not. Conscience, as we all know, is liable to
perversion, to morbid exaggerations, to partial insensibility, to twists
and crotchets of all sorts, and itself needs correction by various
external standards. Conscience, therefore, can never be our supreme and
absolute guide. Whether it can ever be right to disobey it, must depend
on the precise meaning we attach to the words “conscience” and “right,”
and into this puzzle I have no intention of entering. In a broad and
practical sense, we all know that if there were nothing above
conscience, conscience would assuredly lead many of us into the ditch;
nay, that, for want of enlightenment from above, it actually has led
many there. The light by which our consciences must be enlightened, the
light in obedience to which is our supreme good, must be something purer
than this fallible faculty itself. It must be that power within us, if
any such power there be, which is one with all the wisdom, all the
goodness, all the order and harmony, without us; one with “the power,
not ourselves, which makes for righteousness;” one with “the eternal
will towards all goodness.” It must be a power as all-pervading and
immanent in the spirit of man as is the power of gravity (or whatever
yet more elementary force gravity may be resolved into) in the outer
world he inhabits. It must be the power in which we live and move and
have our being—the power and the presence of God.

I do not attempt—idle indeed would be the attempt in such hands as
mine—to contribute anything towards the arguments in favour of Theism.
To those who do not believe in the existence of the living God, the
whole subject upon which I am engaged must be without interest or
significance. And I leave it to others to reconcile, or to show that we
need not attempt to reconcile, the existence of evil with the
omnipotence of God. The mystery in which all our searchings after a
complete theory concerning the Author of our being must needs lose
themselves need not perplex, though it may overshadow, those practical
questions as to our own right attitude towards Him with which alone I am
concerned. I assume faith in Him and allegiance to Him as the very
ground under our feet; if this be not granted, it is idle to go further.
My reason for going so far even as I have done in this direction (the
direction, I mean, of inquiring into our fundamental assumptions) is
that I cannot help thinking that our Quaker faith respecting immediate
Divine guidance rests upon a wider basis of common conviction than is
usually supposed. I believe it to be the legitimate, though by no means
the frequent, result of any sincere belief in God, however attained—not
merely an outgrowth from one peculiar form of Christianity. The coldest
and most cautious Theist can say no less than that God does in some
sense direct the course of this world and of all that is in it. The most
ecstatic mystic can bear witness to nothing beyond the fact that God
does in deed and in truth pervade and sway the inmost recesses of his
own being. Is not this the very same truth, seen under the magnifying
and amplifying power of first-hand experience?

To me it seems idle to attempt to find any resting-place between
convinced atheism on the one hand, and absolute self-surrender to the
indwelling influence of the Divine Spirit on the other; the barrier, if
there be any barrier, is surely not so much a logical as a moral
hindrance. Believing in God, and worshipping Him with one’s whole heart,
trusting Him absolutely and loving Him supremely, seem to me to be but
various stages in the growth of one seed. I know, alas! but too well,
that this growth is slow, and that it meets with obstacles and checks at
every moment. I know that our faith has not only to struggle, but to
struggle through the darkness, and that it may be challenged at every
step by difficulties which it cannot solve. But I cannot admit that
there is any consistency or reason in treading the path of faith
half-way. I cannot admit that it is reasonable to believe in God as the
Supreme Being, and unreasonable to seek His living presence and
direction in the minutest details of our everyday life. With Him,
surely, our distinctions of great and small disappear, and “the darkness
is no darkness at all.” “Whither shall I go then from Thy presence? If I
go down into hell, and remain in the uttermost parts of the earth, even
there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.”

But many will say, This may all be quite true, but how are we to
distinguish between the voice of God and the many other voices which
distract our attention from it? How, if God is everywhere, does the
practical result differ from His being nowhere? To the full extent of my
ability I recognize this great difficulty. It seems to throw us back for
guidance upon those very powers whose insufficiency we have just
recognized. If I reply, God is to be recognized in “whatsoever things
are true, whatsoever things are pure, and lovely, and of good report,”
you may well retort, And how, except through our fallible consciences,
shall we discern truth, purity, loveliness?

I believe that the difficulty of distinguishing between the will, or the
voice, or the light of God, and the wills and voices and lights of a
lower kind from which it is to be distinguished, is not only not to be
ignored, but that the very first step towards learning the lesson is to
recognize that it is a lesson, and a hard one—nay, a lifelong
discipline. But just as the child trusts instinctively, absolutely,
helplessly, before it has even begun to attempt to understand its
parents, so, surely, we may and must trust God first and unreservedly,
before we begin slowly and feebly, yet perseveringly, to acquaint
ourselves with Him. And as the trust of the full-grown son or daughter
is a nobler thing than the trust of the infant, so the experience of
wisdom and prudence has doubtless a revelation of its own—a precious
addition to that essential revelation which is made in the first place
to babes, and to the wise only in so far as they too have childlike
hearts. To have our senses exercised to discern between truth and
falsehood, light and darkness, order and disorder, the will of God and
the will of the flesh, is, I believe, the end and object of our training
in this world. There is no royal road to it. Yet can we honestly say
that it is impossible?

If, then, it is only by a slow and gradual process that we can rise to
anything like a true knowledge (even according to our human measure) of
God, must it not be by a slow and gradual process alone that He can make
His voice and His guiding touch distinguishable by us and intelligible
to us? Is it any wonder if those who do not attribute to Him so much as
the broad obvious laws by which we are all hedged in from gross
wrong-doing and error, should fail to recognize the reality or the
significance of those delicate restraining touches by which the spirits
which yield themselves to His care are moulded into some faint likeness
to the Son of His love? Must not the first step towards entering into
the meaning of that which is personal and individual be the acceptance
of what is equally applicable to all?[6]

That individual and immediate guidance, in which we recognize that “the
finger of God is come unto us,” seems to come in, as it were, to
complete and perfect the work rough-hewn by morality and conscience. We
may liken the laws of our country to the cliffs of our island, over
which we rarely feel ourselves in any danger of falling; the moral
standard of our social circle to the beaten highway road which we can
hardly miss. Our own conscience would then be represented by a fence, by
which some parts of the country are enclosed for each one, the road
itself at times barred or narrowed. And that Divine guidance of which I
am speaking could be typified only by the pressure of a hand upon ours,
leading us gently to step to the right or the left, to pause or to go
forward, in a manner intended for and understood by ourselves alone.[7]

When I say I have been “rightly guided” to this or that step, I mean
that, being well within the limits prescribed by morality, by personal
claims, by the closest attention to the voice of conscience, I have yet
felt that there was still a choice to be made as between things equally
innocent but probably not equally excellent—a choice, perhaps, between
different levels almost infinitely remote from each other—and that in
making that choice I have acted under an impelling or restraining power
not of my own exerting. I generally mean, further, that in making the
choice I have looked, and probably asked, for light from above, and that
the results of such choice have tended to confirm the belief that my
action has been prompted by One who could see the end from the
beginning, who knew things hidden from myself, and “understood my path
long before;” in short, that I have been led as the blind by a way I
knew not. Is not such experience as this witnessed to by multitudes of
Christians, especially as they advance in life? For it may take long
years of patience before the last pieces are fitted into the puzzle, so
as to enable us to judge of the intention of the whole.

I am well aware that I am speaking of a region of experience in which
there is abundant room for self-deception. I know that those who, out of
the abundance of the heart, speak very freely of these things with their
lips are apt not only to shock one’s sense of reverence, but to betray a
deplorable want of logic in the inferences they draw from trifling
facts—facts whose significance to themselves cannot possibly be conveyed
to others, and may indeed very likely be in large measure fanciful or
even distorted. I think that we are wrong when we attempt to found any
sort of proof or argument in favour of what is called “a particular
providence” exclusively upon the occurrences of our own lives. People
forget that what is most convincing to themselves, because it was within
the four walls of their own experience that it happened, is for that
very reason least convincing to others—that is, in the way of argument,
though the _impression_ may, of course, be sympathetically shared, and
may rightly have special weight with those who have reason to trust the
speaker. But, as a general rule, I believe that reverence and reason
combine to demand that the personal and intimate dealings of Divine
Providence with each one should be mainly reserved for personal and
intimate use and edification. Proof or argument as to the general truth
that God does guide His people individually must be founded upon a wider
basis than is afforded by any one person’s experience. I believe that
there are abundant reasons, of a far-reaching and deep kind, to justify
each one in looking for the minutest individual guidance. I cannot,
indeed, as I have already stated, understand how those who believe in a
providential order at all can limit it to the larger outlines, or, as is
so often done in practice, to the pleasing results of the Divine
government. If we believe, in any real and honest sense, that the
ordering of all human affairs is in the hands of one supreme Ruler, how
can we stop short of believing that the minutest trifle affecting any
one of us is under the same all-pervading care? It would, I think, be as
reasonable to say that God created animals, but left it to each one to
develop its own fur or feathers. And, again, if we attribute our
preservation from danger to Him, how can we flinch from the parallel
belief that by His ordinance also we were exposed to it; yes, and in
some cases doomed to suffer the worst it can wreak upon us “without

Therefore I believe that, before we can hope to enter into that intimate
and blessed communion with God which transfigures all life, two great
conditions must be fulfilled. We must have settled it in our hearts that
everything, from the least to the greatest, is to be taken as His
language—language which it is our main business here to learn to
interpret—and we must be willing to face all pain as His discipline.

I know, of course, that these two conditions can be perfectly fulfilled
only as the result of much discipline and much experience of the very
guidance in question. But their roots—docility and courage—are in some
measure implanted in us long before we begin to think about such
questions as the government of the world or the ordering of our lives.

It is, I believe, in the last of these two demands of logic, the demand
upon our courage, that the moral hindrance to a full belief in Divine
guidance mainly lies. People cannot bring themselves to _feel_ that the
infliction of pain can be the act of One whom they desire to know as
Love. Yet this is the very central demand of Christianity. What is
courage but the willingness to encounter suffering, the readiness to
take up the cross?

In the strength of the Spirit of Christ, the everlasting Son of the
Father, we _can_ rise to this victory of trust; we can meet life without
flinching, and read its darkest riddles in the light of the revelation
of Divine love which He has won for us by His own suffering and death.
Seen in that light, it is, according to the universal testimony of the
saints, a gentle, though often most severe, unfolding of depth within
depth of heavenly wisdom—gentle beyond words in its methods, yet
inexorable in its conditions. At every step the fiery baptism must be
encountered. The deep things of God cannot be reached except through the
very destruction of the perishing flesh. It is through death that we
enter into life. But as we do enter into it, we can truly look back and
say that His ordering has been better than our planning—that His
thoughts are high above our thoughts, as the heaven is above the earth.

Our goal must be a heavenly one if we are to judge truly of His
guidance. The home to which, if we trust Him, He will assuredly lead us,
is no earthly home; but Zion—the heavenly Jerusalem; the beautiful city
of peace, which can be entered only through much tribulation. Those who
are looking for smooth roads and luxurious resting-places, may well say
they perceive no sign of guidance at all. The Divine guidance is away
from self-indulgence, often away from outward success; through
humiliation and failure, and many snares and temptations; over rough
roads and against opposing forces—always uphill. Its evidence of success
is in the inmost, deepest, most spiritual part of our existence. It is
idle indeed to talk of it to those whose faces are not set Zion-wards.
It will bring them none of the results in which they have their reward.
Those who know the voice of the Divine Guide, and those who deny that it
can be heard, are not so much contradicting each other as speaking
different languages—or rather speaking in reference to different states
of existence.

I have been speaking of “light,” “voice,” “guidance,” as almost
equivalent and interchangeable expressions for our consciousness of the
presence of God with us and in us. In the expression “inspiration” we
have further the symbol of His power—of the upbearing, purifying,
energizing gift of His own Spirit. Here words almost fail; and fresh
care is needed, whether in speaking or in hearing, as we draw near to
those depths which “cannot be uttered.” I pause on the threshold of the
inner chamber of the heart, the holy place of true worship.

                              CHAPTER III.

Our manner of worship is the natural (as it seems to me even the
inevitable) result of the full recognition of the reality of Divine
inspiration—of the actual living present sufficient fulness of
intercourse between the human spirit and Him who is the Father of
spirits. Who that truly expects to hear the voice of God can do
otherwise than bow in silence before Him?

“Devotion,” says Bishop Butler in one of his sermons,[8] “is retirement
from the world He has made, to Him alone; it is to withdraw from the
avocations of sense, _to yield ourselves up to the influences of the
Divine presence_, and to give full scope to the affections of gratitude,
love, reverence, trust, and dependence; of which infinite Power, Wisdom,
and Goodness is the natural and only Object.” No words could more fully
or worthily express the intention of a Friends’ meeting—of one of those
“meetings for worship” which are, as is well known, “held on a basis of
silence,” but in which free course is allowed to whatever Divine
influence may prompt of vocal prayer, preaching, testimony, or prophecy;
those meetings in which each one, it is felt, should in the first place
enter into the inmost sanctuary of his own heart, and be alone with God;
being still, that His voice may be clearly heard within, before the lips
can be rightly opened to show forth His praise or His counsels to
others. From the depths of that stillness words do from time to time
arise—words uttered in simple obedience to the upspringing of the
fountain from within. This is what we mean by being “moved by the
Spirit,” and I do not see how a worthier or a truer expression could be
found for the perfect ideal of spiritual worship.

That mysterious diversity which is interwoven with all our likeness, and
belongs to the very nature common to us all, makes it impossible for one
to judge for another as to the manner of worship most likely to be
vitally helpful to him. I cannot tell how far my own feeling about
Friends’ meetings may arise from an idiosyncrasy. I do not pretend to
feel, as did some of the early Friends, that all pre-arrangement is in
itself unlawful or sinful. I can well understand the point of view of
those who believe that the majestic and time-hallowed words of such a
Liturgy as the Anglican afford the nearest possible approach to a worthy
manner of public worship. I can even understand, though with less of
sympathy, the feelings of those who dread lest the utterances of their
untutored fellow-worshippers should disturb their own endeavours to
attain to a devotional frame of mind. But though, for these and other
reasons, I am prepared to admit that the extreme of simplicity and
freedom maintained in our own meetings might not prove helpful to every
one, and though I have no desire to conceal the too obvious fact that we
continually fall very far short of our ideal, I yet must avow my own
conviction that that ideal of public worship is the purest which has
ever been recognized, and also that it is practically identical with
that which seems to have been recognized in the days of the apostles. I
further believe that there are many, in these days especially, to whom
it is the one manner of worship which is still practically possible, as
being absolutely free from anything entangling to the conscience, or
open to controversy. I have already[9] spoken of the indescribable
relief which it afforded to my own mind at a time when I was sorely
harassed by difficulties—common to how many in these days!—as to the
sincerity of appropriating for my own use forms which, however
beautiful, are open to so much and such serious question. What I felt I
wanted in a place of worship was a refuge, or at least the opening of a
doorway towards the refuge, from doubts and controversies—not a fresh
encounter with them. Yet it seems to me impossible that any one harassed
by the conflicting views of truth with which just now the air is thick
should be able to forget controversy while listening to such language as
that of the Book of Common Prayer. It seems to me that nothing but
silence can heal the wounds made by disputations in the region of the
unseen. No external help, at any rate, has ever in my own experience
proved so penetratingly efficacious as the habit of joining in a public
worship based upon silence. Its primary attraction for me was in the
fact that it pledged me to nothing, and left me altogether undisturbed
to seek for help in my own way. But before long I began to be aware that
the united and prolonged silences had a far more direct and powerful
effect than this. They soon began to exercise a strangely subduing and
softening effect upon my mind. There used, after a while, to come upon
me a deep sense of awe, as we sat together and waited—for what? In my
heart of hearts I knew in whose Name we were met together, and who was
truly in the midst of us. Never before had His influence revealed itself
to me with so much power as in those quiet assemblies.

And another result of the practice of silent waiting for the unseen
Presence proved to be a singularly effectual preparation of mind for the
willing reception of any words which might be offered “in the name of a
disciple.” The words spoken were indeed often feeble, and always
inadequate (as all words must be in relation to Divine things),
sometimes even entirely irrelevant to my own individual needs, though at
other times profoundly impressive and helpful; but, coming as they did
after the long silences which had fallen like dew upon the thirsty soil,
they went far deeper, and were received into a much less thorny region
than had ever been the case with the words I had listened to from the

In Friends’ meetings also, from the fact that every one is free to
speak, one hears harmonies and correspondences between very various
utterances such as are scarcely to be met with elsewhere. It is
sometimes as part-singing compared with unison. The free admission of
the ministry of women, of course, greatly enriches this harmony. I have
often wondered whether some of the motherly counsels I have listened to
in our meeting would not reach some hearts that might be closed to the
masculine preacher.

But it is not only the momentary effect of silence as a help in public
worship that constitutes its importance in Quaker estimation. The
silence we value is not the mere outward silence of the lips. It is a
deep quietness of heart and mind, a laying aside of all preoccupation
with passing things—yes, even with the workings of our own minds; a
resolute fixing of the heart upon that which is unchangeable and
eternal. This “silence of all flesh” appears to us to be the essential
preparation for any act of true worship. It is also, we believe, the
essential condition at all times of inward illumination. “Stand still in
the light,” says George Fox again and again, and then strength comes—and
peace and victory and deliverance, and all other good things. “Be still,
and know that I am God.” It is the experience, I believe, of all those
who have been most deeply conscious of His revelations of Himself, that
they are made emphatically to the “waiting” soul—to the spirit which is
most fully conscious of its own inability to do more than wait in
silence before Him. The possibilities of inward silence can be but
distantly referred to in words. The clearness of inward vision which
sometimes results from it must be experienced to be fully understood;
the things revealed to that vision are rather to be lived in than
uttered. But the fact that a strenuous endeavour to lay aside all
disturbing influences, and to allow all external vibrations to subside,
is an important, if not an essential, preparation for the reception of
eternal truth, seems to be indisputable. To be quiet must surely always
be a gain. To rule one’s own spirit, and to acquire the power of
proclaiming at least a truce within, must surely be recognized by the
least “mystical” as a rational and wholesome exercise of self-control.

It is, to my own mind, a singular confirmation of the depth of truth in
the Quaker ideal, that it embraces in its application such widely
varying degrees of spirituality. The “inward silence” which to the
mystic means the gateway of the unspeakable, the limpid calmness of the
mirror in which heaven’s glory is to be reflected, commends itself also
to the sternest rationalist as the beginning of fortitude. And the
experience of some of us (whom I may, perhaps, venture to describe as
rational mystics) proves the exceeding value of the habit of seeking
after inward silence as a real life-discipline. Not only at the times
set apart for definite acts of worship—though, whether in public or in
private, it is from the heart of this stillness that the voice of
deepest prayer and praise springs up—but also in all the daily warfare
of the Christian life, in encountering joy or sorrow, temptation or
perplexity, the first condition and the highest reward of victory is
equanimity. “Be not thou greatly moved;” “Fret not thyself, else shalt
thou be moved to do evil.” There is no need to multiply the words of the
wise on this head. We all surely have gone through times when “he opened
not his lips” expresses the only possible attitude in which we can hope
to win through. Silence and resolution, indeed, seem almost like
different aspects of the same thing. And silence is assuredly an art to
be acquired, a discipline to be steadily practised, before it can become
the instinctive habit and unfailing resource of the soul. The wise Roman
Catholic teachers all enjoin this discipline upon those who desire to
learn “perfection.” Friends inculcate it rather by example than by
precept, though abundant recognition of its importance is to be found in
Quaker writings. But I am specially concerned with the practical results
of our manner of worship; and I am bound to say that, to myself, the
practice of quietness in life is markedly facilitated by the habit of
joining in a worship “based on silence.”

The connection between our practice of silence and our belief in
inspiration is, I think, obvious. How can we listen if we do not cease
to speak? How can we receive while we maintain an incessant activity? It
is obvious that “a wise passiveness” is essential to the possibility of
serving as channels for any Divinely given utterance. On this subject of
being “moved by the Spirit,” there seems often to be the strangest
difficulty in people’s minds. They imagine that Friends claim the
possession of something like a miraculous gift—something as baffling to
ordinary reason as the speaking in unknown tongues of the Irvingites.
Speaking under correction, and with a sense that the matter reaches to
unknown depths, I should say that this was quite a mistake. What Friends
undoubtedly believe and maintain is that to the listening heart God does
speak intelligibly; and further, that some amongst His worshippers are
gifted with a special openness to receive, and power to transmit in
words, actual messages from Himself. Is this more than is necessarily
implied in the belief that real communion with Him is not only possible,
but is freely open to all?

We do not regard those who have the gift of “ministry” as infallible, or
even as necessarily closer to God than many of the silent worshippers
who form the great majority in every congregation. We feel that the gift
is from above, and that on all of us lies the responsibility of being
open to it, willing to receive it, should it be bestowed, and to use it
faithfully while entrusted with it. But we fully recognize that to do
this perfectly requires a continual submission of the will, and an
unceasing watchfulness. We know that to “keep close to the gift” is not
an easy thing. We know that the singleness of eye which alone can enable
any one always to discern between the immediate guidance of the Divine
Spirit and the mere promptings of our own hearts, is not attained
without much patience, and a diligent and persevering use of all the
means of instruction provided for us. We recognize the value of such
corrections even as may come through the minds of others; for, although
the servant is responsible only to his own Master, and we desire
earnestly to beware of any dependence on each other in such matters, yet
it has (as I have already mentioned) been thought right that some
Friends should be specially appointed to watch over the ministers in the
exercise of their gift. The “elders,” to whom this task is entrusted, do
in fact often offer not only encouragement or counsel, but at times
admonition and even rebuke, when they believe it to be needed. It is
thus clear that the Society has always held with the Apostle Paul that
“the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” The great
care and caution shown in all the arrangements of the Society with
respect to ministry bear witness to its recognition of the deep truth,
that, the more precious the treasure, the more serious the risks to
which the earthen vessels enclosing it are exposed.

The question is often asked, How can you distinguish between a message
from above and the suggestions of your own imagination?[10] The only
answer which can be given to this question is, that to do so for
practical purposes does indeed require all the heavenly wisdom and all
the humble sincerity of heart of which we are capable. Worship, to those
who believe that God is, and is indeed to be worshipped in spirit and in
truth, is surely the highest function of the human spirit. To attain to
such a transparency of heart and mind as shall admit of our serving as
channels for the worship of others, and for the Divine response to such
worship—ladders, as it were, on which the angels of God may ascend and
descend in the place of worship—is, indeed, an aim which must transcend
all merely human power. We need for it the continual renovation of Him
who is Light—“the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” But dare any, who call
themselves believers on Him, doubt that such renovation is open to us?

I can understand those who think all worship idle, or worse than idle; I
cannot understand those who think it can be acceptably performed without
the help of the Spirit Himself making intercession for us, and with us,
and in us, or that this help will fail any true worshipper. Yet, if we
do believe this help is given, are we not looking to be “moved by the
Spirit”? Is the expectation peculiar to any one body of Christians?
Surely not. What _is_ peculiar to us Friends is the dread of limiting or
interfering with the immediate influences of the Divine Spirit by the
use of fixed forms of words, and by outward observances or pressure of
any kind.

As I have already said, I do not feel that ours is the only lawful
manner of worship; I do not even think it at all clear that it would be
for all people and at all times the most helpful. But I do believe it to
be the purest conceivable. I am jealous for its preservation from any
admixture of adventitious “aids to devotion.” I believe that its
absolute freedom and flexibility, its unrivalled simplicity and gravity,
make it a vessel of honour prepared in an especial manner for the
conveyance of the pure water of life to many in these days who are
hindered from satisfying their souls’ thirst by questionable additions
to the essence of Divine worship.

I know that, in Friends’ meetings as elsewhere, one must be prepared to
meet with much human weakness and imperfection; many things may be heard
in them which are trying to the flesh—yes, and perhaps to the spirit
also. Certainly many things may be heard which are open to criticism,
from an intellectual and literary point of view. Let no one go to
Friends’ meetings with the expectation of finding everything to his
taste. Yet even mere taste, if duly cultivated, must recognize the value
of a certain weight and simplicity, arising, no doubt, from the habitual
practice of inward silence, by which they are often distinguished. This
is, however, a point upon which no one who is alive to the real
significance of such meetings as ours would care to dwell. Criticism
fades away abashed in the presence of what is felt to be a real, however
faltering, endeavour to open actual communication with the Father of
spirits, and with each other as in His presence and in His name. To my
own mind, any living utterance of a human voice pleading for itself and
for the objects of its love in words fresh from the heart, has a power
and a pathos infinitely beyond that of the most perfect expression of
devotion read or recited according to an appointed order.[11]

It is an important peculiarity of our meetings that the responsibility
for their character is felt to be shared by all. I do not mean that all
our members are in fact alive to their own share of this responsibility.
The service is, no doubt, often far too much left to one or more willing
speakers. But I do not believe that it would be possible amongst Friends
for anything like the sense of dependence on one individual to arise
which seems naturally to result from the idea of a priestly order. And,
at any rate, the idea is kept continually before us of a company coming
together on one level, each of whom is free and encouraged to bring his
individual offering of praise and prayer, whether silent or vocal. It is
a familiar thought amongst Friends that no one should expect in a
meeting for worship “to eat the bread of idleness.” And the practice
which is so frequent amongst us of ministering Friends travelling from
meeting to meeting in the exercise of their gift, causes a stirring of
the waters, and keeps up the sense of the freedom of all to take their
part whenever and wherever a word may be given them.

There is one other result of the absence of pre-arrangement in our
meetings which I cannot altogether pass over. It is that no shelter is
provided under cover of which one can remain in doubt whether one is or
is not actually engaged in worship on one’s own account. A liturgy or a
hymn may bear along in its current many a vague half-formed tendency
towards worship; and I dare not say that it may not thus sometimes fan
the spark into a flame, or save the smoking flax from being altogether
quenched. But it does seem to me that it also often prevents our
recognizing our own poverty, and stifles many an individual cry for
help, which the sense of that poverty would tend to awaken. At any rate,
the worst that can very well happen, if a silent meeting fails to help,
is that it is _nothing_. It would scarcely seem possible that it should
delude any one into a hollow sense of having been engaged in a religious
service. But here I am aware of being near the treacherous ground of
idiosyncrasy, and I do not wish to press the point.

Hitherto I have been speaking of our meetings for public worship. But,
as Friends love to say, our worship does not begin when we sit down
together in our public assemblies, nor end when we leave them. The
worship in spirit and in truth is in no way limited by time and place.
The same idea of a waiting “in the silence of all flesh” to hear the
voice of the Lord speaking within us, characterizes the Friends’ private
times of worship; or, as the more cautious expression is, of “religious
retirement.” Friends are so possessed with the sense of our inability to
offer acceptable prayer in our own time and will, that where others
speak of family prayers, and hours of prayer or devotion, Friends prefer
the expressions “family reading” and “religious retirement.”

And not only in name, but in method, are these times marked with the
same peculiar character as our public meetings. In Friends’ families of
the old-fashioned type (which are more numerous still, I fancy, than
many people suspect) the family meeting consists simply of the reading
of a portion of Scripture, and then a pause of silence, which may or may
not be broken by words of prayer or of testimony. Many Friends formerly
(and some, I believe, still feel the same) objected on conscientious
grounds to their children’s learning to use any form of prayer, even the
Lord’s Prayer. The children shared from the first in the united silence
of the family, and could not fail to know what it meant; but in some
families it was rarely or never broken by vocal prayer. A silent pause
before meals is the Friends’ equivalent for “saying grace”—a practice
which I own I think has much to recommend it. Here, again, there is, of
course, the opportunity for words, should words spontaneously rise to
the lips of any of those present.

When we penetrate into the inmost chamber of private worship differences
of method can no longer be traced by human eye. It is not possible for
any one to judge of the practice of others in this respect; nay, there
seems an impropriety in following individuals into this sacred region,
even in thought. Sectarian differences must here be left behind. But for
that very reason I may here appeal with the greater fulness of
confidence to the sympathy of all who pray, in the attempt, from which I
feel it impossible to refrain, to explain the way in which a belief in
present inspiration is, as I think, inseparable from belief in the
reality and the rightness of prayer.

I trust that I shall not be thought presumptuous for entering upon this
subject. There are many qualifications for it which I do not possess.
But on matters of common and urgent interest the very absence of
distinguishing power or knowledge may give a certain value to the
results of actual personal experience, as lessening the distance across
which the helping hand has to reach out.

I believe that the permanent effect for good or for evil of the present
shaking and upheaval of thought amongst us must be mainly determined by
its relation to prayer. No immediate result of the outbreak of free
discussion of all things in heaven and earth during the last thirty
years has been so agonizing to devout persons, nor so gravely threatens
spiritual health, as the paralysis which in many cases it has seemed to
bring upon the spirit of prayer. We meet daily with open denials of the
reasonableness of prayer—of the possibility of entering into any real
communication with the Divine Being. Few amongst us can have altogether
escaped the paralyzing influence of the flood of unsolved, and
apparently insoluble, moral problems, and at the same time of new and
absorbingly interesting views of material things, into which this
generation has been plunged. The mere demand on the attention is
powerful enough to drain away great part of the mental power formerly
employed in seeking after God.

              “It seems His newer will,
  We should not think of Him at all, but trudge it;
  And of the world He has assigned us make
  What best we can,”

says A. H. Clough; and he utters, I am sure, a widely spread feeling.
People’s very love of truth seems to themselves to be enlisted in
pursuing the streams which lead them away from the Fountain of truth.
And the pursuit of scientific truth is assuredly in its place a
contribution to our knowledge of God, though made by workers who may but
too easily themselves lose sight of Him in their engrossing
preoccupation with His works.

But the tendency to put prayer to silence is not merely thus indirect.
The one idea which seems at present more forcibly to have grasped the
popular imagination, is that of the universal and inexorable dominion of
unchanging law. And the inference is not unnatural, “Then it is useless
to pray.” The result is an awful silence—not of the flesh, indeed, but
of the spirit. Men and women have come to feel themselves alone in a new
and fearful sense—alone as in the valley of dry bones, with no
expectation of any Divine breath to cause them to stand up upon their
feet, a united host of living servants of the living God.

I trust that I shall not be suspected of any intention of grappling with
the problem of free-will and necessity. I know, at least, enough to be
aware that there is at the end of every avenue of human thought an
impenetrable mystery. But I also know that the region in which
philosophers join issue upon the question of necessity lies far beyond
the range of any such practical questions as I am engaged with. I know
that the controversy is not decided, and, so far as we can see, does not
visibly approach towards a decision; I know also that no conceivable
agreement of philosophers as to the most accurate way of stating facts
can alter the facts themselves with which we have to do. I do not hope
to express myself with philosophical accuracy; but I can, and will,
speak plainly and truly of my own experience in this matter of prayer.

There was a time when I myself was silenced by the paralyzing influences
of which I have spoken—when the heavens seemed as brass, and to ask for
anything seemed like flying in the face of one vast foregone conclusion;
as though a moth should dash itself against an iceberg. But I have come
to believe that the truth against which I had thus, so to speak,
stumbled in the dark, was not that prayer is unreasonable, but that my
ideas of prayer were unworthy.

That the will of God is unchangeable, is assuredly the very foundation
of all reasonable trust in Him, and is recognized by saints and
philosophers alike. But does not the imagination easily confound
unchangeableness with immovableness? Are not the laws of motion as fixed
as those of space? What can be more full of movement than the flames of
fire? Yet are they less unchangeable in their nature than a bar of iron?
Is it not through a reliance upon the unchangeable properties of
material things that we are able to change the whole face of the earth?
And should we not remember that the unchangeable order which all things,
visible and invisible, obey, includes the mystery of perpetual
“variation,” and even of life itself?

It seems to me that when our imagination smites everything with
rigidity, it is really playing us a trick. Those who are at all
competent to expound the theory of necessity are earnest to show that it
in no way contradicts the efficacy of effort in any possible direction.
They have need to be earnest about it, for the imagination is but too
ready for a pretext to hoist the flag of despair, and the will to throw
up the game of life, and to sink into the sleep of apathy.

If we are right in thinking of God as the Fountain of life and thought,
the Father of spirits—and to those who deny this it is idle for me to
address myself—it can surely not be unreasonable for the spirits He has
made to seek to hold communion with Him. What _is_ often unreasonable is
the nature of our requests, and our idea of the possibility of their
being granted. Here it is that I have had to recognize the unworthiness
of many of my own thoughts and expressions about prayer, and that I
continually meet with what seems to me unfit and inadequate in the
language of others. It cannot be an unimportant thing that we should
endeavour to sift out what is untenable and unbecoming from our thoughts
and words on this subject.

Two things have, as I believe, mainly tended to lower our idea of
prayer, until, in minds where it is but a theory, it has been shattered
against the hard facts of science. We have narrowed it to the idea of
asking for things, and we have thought of it chiefly as a means of
getting them.

This is surely a degradation of the idea of prayer, even though the
things asked for be what are called “spiritual blessings.” The word
“prayer” may, it is true, be used in the restricted sense of making
requests; but in that case let it be distinctly understood and kept in
mind that it is but a part—the lowest and least essential part—of
worship or communion with God. It is of prayer in the larger sense—not
request, but communion—that we may rightly and wisely speak as the very
breath of our spiritual life; as the power by which life is
transfigured; as that to which all things are possible. But this
distinction between request and communion is _not_ habitually kept in
mind by those who write and speak of prayer, nor even by all those who
practise it. It seems to me as if many even deeply experienced
Christians were using all their energy to encourage and stimulate above
all that part of prayer which has surely the most of the merely human
and carnal in it, rather than to show forth that nobler part to which
this should be but the innocent and natural prelude. If we fall back, as
we must perpetually do, upon our Lord’s own leading principle of using
the human relation of parent and child as the highest and most
instructive type of the relation between God and the human spirit, we
shall surely feel that the child, in learning to speak to its father and
to understand his voice, has far other and larger hopes and purposes
than that of getting things from him. The human parent may use the
child’s innocent and natural wishes as one means of attracting its
attention, but would surely be grievously disappointed if the child
never looked beyond the advantages to be reaped by the power of speaking
to its father—never rose to the perception that intercourse with him was
in itself the greatest of human joys, not a mere means to an end.

And in the same sort of sense I feel that, when people insist upon “the
efficacy of prayer,” they are insisting upon its very lowest use; and
that the concentration of attention upon this lowest use creates a
serious stumbling-block, which hinders faith in two ways.

1. It suggests a _test_ which is not and cannot be uniformly favourable.
Whatever the power of prayer may be—and words, I believe, must wholly
fail to express it—particular requests are certainly not always granted.
Our Lord explicitly prepares us for the refusal of blind requests, and
our own good sense and our daily experience combine to make it
abundantly clear that many requests are, and must always be, refused.

2. And more than this, there is, I believe, nobility enough in every
heart capable of real prayer to cause a recoil from the idea of using it
only for the purpose of obtaining advantages, be they of what kind they
may. I believe, that is, that the modern perplexity about prayer arises
not only from a difficulty in imagining God as One who can be influenced
by our desires, but largely also from a latent sense that, even if true
in fact, that is a very inadequate conception of Him to whom our worship
should be addressed, and who must assuredly know better than we do what
things we have need of—from a recoil, in short, against the low and
coarse and unworthy tone of much that is urged on the other side.

Therefore I think that in the long-run an immeasurable gain will result
to faith from modern outspokenness in recognizing the difficulties of
this subject. Prayer, if regarded as an attempt to wrest favours from
our heavenly Father by dint of mere importunity, is doomed to many
disappointments, and stands sorely in need of their purifying
discipline. Prayer is not really prayer—that is, it is not true
communion with God—till it rises above the region in which wilfulness is
possible, to the height of “Not my will, but Thine, be done.”

Importunity may, indeed, prevail to win attention from a reluctant or
drowsy human ear. Our Lord Himself reminds us of this fact to reprove
the faint-heartedness which would allow itself to be discouraged by
delay. But the ear of the Father is ever open to our prayers. We cannot
think that importunity is needed to rouse His attention. The hindrance
when He refuses, or delays to grant, our requests must be of a very
different kind. If once we recognize that He hears us always, and that
in everything that happens we may hear His voice answering us, we are
forced also to recognize that severe discipline is as truly a part of
His answer as tender indulgence. Both are welcomed by the childlike
heart; both are part of the language we have patiently to learn to

But then comes the question, What is there to convince us that we are
listened to at all, if the answer is everything equally? If it is in the
whole course of events that we are to look for the answer, and that
course is as often as not contrary to our prayer, how are we justified
in saying that prayer is ever answered?

It is the answer to this question, What is it that does, in fact,
produce a reasonable conviction that we are listened to? which, I think,
involves that theory of inspiration which Friends, more markedly than
any other body of Christians, have always avowed and acted upon. But, in
trying to reply to it, I wish it to be distinctly borne in mind that I
am giving, for what it is worth, the result of my own personal exercises
of mind, not undertaking to state recognized Quaker doctrine.[12]
Difficulties, though probably in essence the same from generation to
generation, come before each generation in a fresh form, and need to be
freshly met by individual experience.

That which produces a reasonable conviction that prayer is answered
must, surely, be the sense of Divine guidance of which I have already
spoken in the last chapter. The general grounds for our common belief in
God as the Father of spirits are too deep and too wide for me to set
forth. As I have already said, I assume such a belief as the groundwork
of all that I am attempting to unfold. That which enables each one of us
who believe in Him to discern His voice is, as already suggested, a
touch as of a hand upon our arm—a dealing with our own spirit and life
of so personal and individual and significant a nature as that we cannot
help feeling that “the finger of God is come unto us.”

If this be, indeed, the right direction in which to look for answers to
prayer, then the whole subject is withdrawn from the region in which
positive proof or disproof are possible. Our interpretation of such
individual experiences is that upon which the whole controversy turns,
and this must of necessity result from the nature of our previous belief
respecting much more general truths. It will always be open to those who
disbelieve in God to call His signs “mere coincidences.” It is surely
not therefore the less reasonable for those who do believe in Him to be
on the watch for every possible faintest indication of His pleasure.
There must be in this, as in all other matters, a preparation of heart
and mind before any sign, however eloquent, can take effect upon us. In
point of fact, we know that the sense of receiving a personal
communication from above is not always excited by the granting of a
petition. After we have asked and received, no less than when we have
asked and not received, we are sometimes inclined to say, “After all,
does my prayer make any difference? would not things have happened just
in the same way if I had not prayed?” This is a question to which, in
truth, I believe that we must be content (so far, at least, as regards
any particular instance) to remain without an answer. We can never
really know what would have happened if we had not prayed.

To say this is, of course, by no means to deny that our prayer has made
a real though unknown difference. It is, on the contrary, almost
positively to assert the action of unmeasured and unfathomable
influences. We cannot measure the whole results of any action, however
insignificant; but the whole tendency of modern “scientific” thought,
and of belief in “necessity,” at any rate, goes to show that all things
are so interdependent that an action without results is almost
inconceivable. Necessitarians, of all people, are bound to admit this.
The action of prayer cannot, however, be traced by human eyes, and the
longing to know precisely _what_ difference our prayer makes to the
course of events is, I believe, a longing which can never be gratified
in this world.

Yet a power which we cannot precisely measure may make itself
continually felt, and the power of prayer is in some lives a matter of
perpetually renewed if incommunicable experience. The testimony of those
who can thankfully and reverently say that their prayers are answered in
a manner that is wonderful in their own eyes, is too familiar and too
sacred to all of us to need insisting upon. Its weight is, I believe,
strictly speaking, immeasurable. But it is in a manner naturally veiled
from hasty or external observation, and is, therefore, easily
disregarded. When fully considered, it will be found to consist mainly
in combinations of circumstances by no means incredible in themselves.
It is not the accuracy of the facts recorded by those to whom prayer is
a reality, but the explanation of their combination, which is generally
in question. If I am right in supposing that we can never trace the
precise relation of cause and effect between prayer and the answer, this
difficulty—the difficulty, I mean, of exhaustively explaining
significant combinations of circumstances—is not surprising. It is the
natural result of our being out of our depth.

But although the whole region into which we plunge when we begin to
speak of the answer to our prayers is of necessity unfathomable by us,
we may with advantage remember that there are some special difficulties
besetting any attempt to share with others the experiences which have
naturally and rightly most weight with ourselves; and that by
disregarding these difficulties we convert them into stumbling-blocks.

One main difficulty of this kind lies in the fact that the outward
events of which we can speak most freely, which we can, as it were,
without impropriety call others to witness, must be more or less public
in their nature; such as, _e.g._, the preservation of lives dear to us,
political or national events, favourable changes of weather, and so
on—things as to which it is not upon any theory reasonable to suppose
that they can be determined with reference only to the wishes or the
prayers of any one individual. Even if they went according to my
personal wishes and prayers, there would be a manifest impropriety in
claiming them as having been thereby brought about. If I pray that the
sun may rise to-morrow morning, it does not need much faith to feel sure
I shall not be refused, but it would be grossly improper to claim that
the event had occurred “in answer to my prayers.” When the Prince of
Wales recovered from his fever, there were many who would have thought
it impious to doubt that his recovery was actually _caused_ by the many
prayers which were undoubtedly offered on his behalf. Other people were
and will remain convinced that he would equally have recovered in any
case. Who can attempt to decide between these opinions with any show of
authority? Indeed, it appears to me that both are presumptuous. Surely
it is enough for children to know that their desire is fulfilled,
without inquiring into the motives (if, indeed, we should dare to
attribute motives to God) by which the parents’ fulfilment of it was

In the case of many events (such as battles, weather, and so on) which
must necessarily be unfavourable to the wishes of one side and
favourable to the other, we know that some prayers must be granted while
some are refused. Who will attempt to trace the proportion between
request and result? or to treat the influence of prayer in such matters
as admitting of either proof or disproof?

But when we come to the circumstances of each individual life, the case
is very different. We do not get rid of mystery even here. Our
knowledge, even of our own lives, is altogether imperfect and
fragmentary; but to pretend to know no more about the ordering of them
than we do about the universe would be mere dishonesty. We _can_ trace a
correspondence between our desires and their accomplishment when it
occurs in our own lives, such as it would be mere impertinence to try to
trace between, _e.g._, our desires and the history of a nation. You may
call it superstition to say, “I prayed for strength and my request was
granted, for strength was given me;” but you cannot accuse me of gross
impropriety in thus associating my prayer and the event, as you would if
I said, “I prayed that the sun might rise, and my request has been
granted.” It is within our own personal experience that we must look for
the answer which we can rightly appropriate.

But, then, in proportion as the event is brought within the personal
sphere of one individual, it is necessarily removed from that of others.
Those parts of our personal and separate experience of which we can
speak freely are almost necessarily superficial. I do not doubt that
even trifles are a part of the Divine language to individuals, but
trifles cannot with propriety be appealed to for the purpose of
convincing others. Those personal experiences, on the other hand, which
are at once deep enough and individual enough to be the fittest subjects
of prayer (in the sense of special request), and to be met by responsive
“providences” of a peculiarly impressive kind, are almost always such
as, for a very different reason, we are unable to mention with much
freedom. The whole cogency of the reasoning which is rightly conclusive
to oneself, in short, generally depends upon facts of personal feeling,
and upon minute correspondences of events with intricate chains of
previous experience, such as human language would fail to transmit, even
did a right instinct of modesty not forbid the attempt. We are,
therefore, in this matter very much shut up (and I think there is in the
fact a beautiful fitness) to the individual and separate teaching of
life. I believe that we cannot (if it be true) too clearly and
unflinchingly make the assertion that our private experience has
convinced us of the reality of the Divine response to prayer; but also,
that we cannot be too cautious how we try to utter such experience
itself. Simple-minded people, who live much in the practice of prayer,
and whose habitual expectation of a Divine response is continually (and
to themselves often wonderfully) fulfilled, are often exposed to the
snare of making public what should be sacredly kept for themselves
alone, or at least shared only with those who “have ears to hear.” Much
mischief is, I fear, often done by the too free and ready communication,
especially in print, of “remarkable answers to prayer;” of incidents
which, overpoweringly eloquent as they may well be to those whom they
concern, are but an idle tale to strangers—a tale the telling of which
sometimes lends itself but too easily to the mere love of signs and
wonders. They also often lay bare the most painful effects of
unconscious self-importance—the most glaring tendency to refer
everything to oneself as the centre, and to ignore the legitimate share
of others in the events referred to. One is almost inclined to say of
such stories that, the more wonderful they are, the less edifying they
are likely to be.

For it is not in such outward and tangible events as these, not in the
things which can be passed from hand to hand like coins, that the real
power and soul-subduing influence of a Divine communication is most
unmistakably felt. It is the still small voice which overcomes; the
gentle combination of perhaps very ordinary circumstances, which, when
combined, acquire the significance of a distinct message. Just as when
we see letters brought together and placed under our eyes, which
together form a word replying to our thought, we infer that they have
been so arranged by some one who knew what was in our minds; so, to
those of us who habitually not only ask but watch for Divine
instruction, there occur again and again combinations of events,
adjustments even of the minutest details, which produce a quite
irresistible sense that the finger of God is pointing the lesson He
would have us learn.

It is idle to ask those who never listen whether and how God answers
prayer. The very possibility of discerning the answer implies docility
and willingness of heart. The High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity
dwells with him who is of an humble and contrite spirit, and such only
can learn to know His voice.

To those who in any degree do know His voice, it gradually becomes clear
that prayer and its answer are inseparable. The answer is as the answer
of the atmosphere to the lungs, of light to the eyes. The humble and
contrite heart opens its doors to its Maker, and is filled with His
presence. Then, indeed, the light shines within; then the very breath of
our life is breathed into us by the Spirit of God. Inspiration—the
inbreathing power from above, by which alone all that is heavenly in us
is brought about,—this is the other aspect of worship.

True worship, therefore, implies inspiration. It is the inspired prayer
which transfigures life—which is mighty with the might of the Fountain
from whence it flows. While we separate worship and inspiration we can
never think worthily of either. I do indeed believe that the very desire
of our heart is often granted to us in reply to our petition. I do not
venture to speak confidently as to the precise relation of cause and
effect which may exist between any petition and its fulfilment. There
must, I believe, be some such real relation; but to my own mind it often
seems more probable and more reverent to suppose, where the
correspondence is very marked, that the prayer has been in the nature of
a prophetic utterance, of a Divine foreshadowing, than that our wish
should have been allowed to become the efficient cause of the Divine
action. A prayer which has been answered by the perfect fulfilment of
its requests shows, I believe, that the offerer of it was so far under
Divine influence; that his will was to that extent at least in harmony
with the Divine will. This is a word of blessed encouragement for the
one to whom it comes, which it is not always wise or right to proclaim
from the housetop. “Upliftings unto prayer” (to quote one more of the
deep words of A. H. Clough) are surely among the sacred things of which
we should not lightly lift the veil. I do not think that those who have
any true and deep experience of what it is to hold communion, however
faltering and intermittent, with our God will be forward to attempt to
divest it of its mystery, while yet they must earnestly desire to set
forth to others what they have learnt of its power and its blessedness.
For the sake of the many who honestly desire to know the truth upon this
deepest and most urgent of all common interests, I think that we who
have some such experience are bound to seek to clothe it in fit and
worthy language.

Let us, therefore, recognize and avow, when occasion serves, that
prayer, worship, or communion with God is a larger, deeper, fuller thing
than mere asking and having. Let us acknowledge that the simplest and
most inarticulate cry for help—the voice of the “infant crying in the
night, and with no language but a cry”—is as sure to enter the ear of
the Father of spirits as the deepest prayer ever uttered by saint or
martyr. Let us remember that, according to the teaching of our Lord
Himself, the one voice which is more sure (if degrees of sureness there
can be) than any other of being listened to by the good Shepherd, is the
voice of the one who has strayed the furthest from the fold, and is the
most deeply conscious of being afar off—the voice of the lost sheep over
whose first turning towards home the very angels in heaven rejoice with
a special joy. But let us never forget that in the homeward path there
are heights beyond heights; that as any spirit is drawn upwards by the
Father’s love and care, it becomes more and more filled with the light
of His countenance, more interpenetrated by that light which shines
clearest in the dark places through which every upward-tending spirit
must assuredly pass. Let us not forget that the reward of faithfulness
in that which is least is the call to enter into that which is
greater—deeper and higher and fuller of Divine significance; that those
“influences of the Divine presence” to which it is the essence of true
worship to “yield ourselves” must penetrate into the inmost recesses of
our being, and bring every thought into subjection to the law of
Christ—that law of the Spirit of life, by which all that is of the flesh
is gradually purged away as by a consuming fire—and that to live in the
spirit of prayer is to live more and more continually and intimately in
the presence of Him before whom the angels veil their faces, and who is
of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. So that it may well be, or rather
it can only be, in fear and in trembling that this wonderful salvation
of entrance into His presence can be worked out. The prayers which are
owned by Him are not prayers which can be offered in the will of man, or
which can be used as a means of gratifying the desires of the flesh or
of the reason; they are the breathings of the spirit struggling to
return to Him who gave it, or rejoicing in the light of His countenance.
The spirit which is being made free from the law of sin and death cannot
look backwards towards the things of earth. Its path is onwards and
upwards, ever “into light,” and its breathings are the vibrations
communicated to it from the Source and Centre of light; they obey a law
as unchangeable as the laws of light itself, and their function is to
destroy and to consume away the perishing, worn-out raiment of the
spirit, to free it from defilements and hindrances, and to bring it
forth in the fulness of time “into the glorious liberty of the children
of God,” the rightful “inheritance of the saints in light.” Surely we
may with reverence say that, in a true and a deep sense, God Himself is
the Answer to prayer.

                              CHAPTER IV.
                             FREE MINISTRY.

Our ministry may be said to be free in several distinct senses.

1. It is open to all.

2. Its exercise is not subject to any pre-arrangement.

3. It is not paid.

We believe that the one essential qualification for the office of a
minister is the anointing of the Holy Spirit; and that this anointing is
poured out without respect of persons upon men and women, upon old and
young, upon learned and unlearned. The gift is, we believe, a purely
spiritual one, as much beyond our control as the rain from heaven; yet
as unfailing, as abundant, as necessary to fertility.

Our views of this matter differ from those of other Christians, not in
the fact that we recognize the free gift of this holy anointing, not
even in the fact that we repudiate the idea of its being purchasable by
money, but in the fact that our idea of ministry refers exclusively to
the offering of spontaneous spiritual ministrations. All would surely
agree that it is impossible for any one to offer acceptable prayer, or
to sow in other hearts the living seed of the kingdom, without a
distinct gift from above. It is obvious that we cannot give what we have
not received. It is also surely undeniable that what we have freely
received we should freely give; that the gift of God cannot be bought
for money, nor restricted in its exercise to humanly prepared channels.
No one who believes in the reality of the gift of “prophecy”—of
speaking, that is, from the immediate promptings of the Spirit of
Truth—would dare to seek either to purchase or to restrain such
utterances. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Our
doctrine of a free ministry, of course, supposes a real belief in the
continual inbreathing of that Divine Spirit, giving both light and
utterance through His own chosen vessels for the help of all. It also
goes a step further, and regards such spiritual ministrations as
all-sufficient. Here is the real point of divergence between us and our
fellow-Christians. The vast majority of them regard something more than
these purely spiritual ministrations as essential to a full allegiance
to our common Lord.

Other Christian bodies have from very early times recognized a
distinction between clergy and laity, and have regarded at least two
sacraments as having been instituted by Christ Himself, and as being in
some sense or other “necessary to salvation;” and the greater number, or
at any rate the largest, of these bodies have habitually adopted the use
of liturgical forms of public worship.

At the root of our abstinence from all these generally accepted
practices, there lies the one conviction of the all-sufficiency of
individual and immediate communication with the Father of our spirits;
and a profound belief that by His coming in the flesh our Lord Jesus
Christ did, in fact, open a new and living way of access to God, which
superseded and blotted out the former dispensation of rites and
ceremonies, investing all believers with the function of “kings and
priests” (calling them, that is, both to exercise dominion and to offer
acceptable sacrifices in His name), and enabling them to show forth the
nature and results of that worship in spirit and in truth, which was no
longer to be in any sense confined to temples made with hands, and of
that kingdom which is “not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace
and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

It was a bold thing indeed for the early Friends to break loose at once
from the whole ecclesiastical system, with its venerable and
long-established claim to be the divinely ordained channel of spiritual
nutriment. In doing so, they no doubt took up an attitude of hostility
towards the “hireling priests,” and their “steeple-houses” and
“so-called ordinances,” which, however comparatively intelligible it may
have been at the time, was yet not only highly obnoxious, but would even
seem to have led them into some degree of injustice.

After sixty or seventy years of severe persecution, however, borne with
extraordinary patience as well as constancy, their right to carry out
their own manner of worship was fully allowed; and by a strange result
of changes, partly within the Society itself and partly in the
surrounding mental atmosphere, Friends, from being regarded as
peculiarly pestilent heretics, came to be looked on as the most harmless
and least obnoxious of Nonconformists. I believe, however, that this can
be the case only as long as we are content to acquiesce in a purely
passive and dwindling state. Any attempt to promulgate our peculiar
views must necessarily give offence. We may, perhaps, no longer think it
a duty to denounce the institution of a separate clergy, and the
observance of “so-called ordinances,” as positively unlawful or sinful.
But to say plainly that we consider them as superfluous, requires hardly
less boldness, and is scarcely likely to be more palatable. The fact,
however, cannot be disguised; and in spite of the pain which, in these
days of free and lively interchange of sympathy, is involved in taking
up any clear ground of separation, no true Friend would desire in the
slightest degree to disguise or to veil our ancient testimony against
outward observances and their accompanying institution of a paid

It is, however, a great help in doing so to be able to point to the very
remarkable fact of the existence during more than two centuries of a
body of people whose lives bear abundant witness to the reality of their
Christian profession, amongst whom these “ordinances” have been
altogether disused.

For my own part, I would rather leave that fact to speak for itself than
attempt to trace all the inferences which may, I think, be fairly drawn
from it. Yet the question whether the clerical and sacramental system is
indeed an essential part of Christianity, or a human accretion, is too
profoundly important to the future of Christianity itself to be lightly
passed over. Are there not many, in these days especially, who would
willingly listen to the Christianity of Christ Himself, could they but
find it disentangled from the enormously “developed” Christianity of the
dominant Churches?

I am far from venturing to claim that the Society of Friends does
actually exhibit a perfect living instance of what has been called
“primitive Christianity revived,” but I do believe its ideal to be the
true, and the only true one; that of a Church, or “gathered people,”
living with the one object of obeying the teaching of Christ Himself to
the very uttermost—His own teaching, not that of those who have spoken
in His name, even though they be apostles, except in so far as they
speak in accordance with it. To _live_ the Sermon on the Mount, and the
rest of the gospel teaching, and in all things to listen for the living
voice of the good Shepherd, watching constantly that no human tradition
divert our attention from it,—this is our acknowledged aim and bond of
union as a Society. Our conviction of its sufficiency is the ground of
our existence as a separate body.

We believe that neither the division of Christian people into clergy and
laity, nor the use of sacramental ceremonies, were enjoined by Christ
Himself. It is clear that both these practices quickly arose amongst the
early Christians; but remembering that the early Christians were but
fallible human beings like ourselves, and that they were undeniably far
from clear what rites and ceremonies were to be observed, we do not feel
that their practice is to be our guide.

The institution of a separate clergy and that of the sacraments form, of
course, essentially one system. The early Friends went to the root of
the matter when they abandoned at once the whole of what they called
“mountain and Jerusalem worship,” as opposed to the worship in spirit
and in truth, which is not limited to any time or place.

I have not the slightest intention of taking upon myself the attempt to
show that they were right in doing so. The grounds of their action are
fully set forth and defended with undeniable vigour and ability by
Robert Barclay, in his famous “Apology.” My humbler endeavour will be to
describe the perplexities which prepared my own mind thankfully to
accept what to myself appears to be a thoroughly satisfactory
disentanglement of essential Christianity from whatever can be honestly
regarded as unintelligible, and unworthy of its lofty and spiritual

I must own at the outset that I have never been able clearly to
understand the grounds upon which the “ordinances” in question are
regarded as essential parts of Christianity, nor have I ever found it
possible to arrive at a thoroughly satisfactory explanation of their
precise (supposed) effects. I am, of course, not ignorant of the general
nature of those grounds or supposed results. But a broad space of
obscurity seems to separate the actual transactions out of which the
“ordinances” arose from the earliest known records of the institutions
themselves; and it is notorious that theologians differ very widely in
their views of the spiritual results produced either by ordination or by
a due participation in the sacraments, and also of the conditions
necessary to their “validity.”

It is here that the practical pinch of the system is felt. Were the
matter one of purely speculative interest, how gladly would I and other
unlearned people have left it in the hands of those better qualified to
deal with it! But it is a question of urgent practical importance,
which, as regards at least one of the sacraments, no devout person can
escape. Every adult member of the Church of England (every one, that is,
who is so in a religious sense) is confronted with a solemn challenge to
do, or to leave undone at his peril, an act involving vast and
mysterious consequences for good or for evil to his spiritual welfare.
No middle course is possible, and the Church Prayer-book promises no
safety either in its performance or omission. To “partake unworthily” is
represented as involving vague and awful dangers—dangers possibly,
though not clearly, greater than those which would be incurred by
omitting an act “generally necessary to salvation.” But how to be sure
of partaking worthily? “A true penitent heart and lively faith ... a
lively and steadfast faith in Christ our Saviour ... and perfect charity
with all men,”—if these are the necessary _preparations_ for being “meet
partakers of these holy mysteries,” failing in which we do but “eat and
drink our own damnation” by venturing to partake of them, is it any
wonder if the troubled heart is held in a state of continual uneasiness,
and shrinks almost equally from the act and from its omission?

Such, at least, was my own painful and long-continued experience. The
injunction to “examine one’s self” as a safeguard against unworthy
participation did but increase the perplexity and distress. For how can
self-examination fail to increase the sense of unworthiness? and how is
it possible for any one to imagine himself competent to be judge in his
own case?

I do not forget that the Prayer-book suggests (not to say prescribes) a
refuge from such perplexities in an application to “some discreet and
learned minister of God’s Word” for “absolution, and ghostly counsel and
advice.” I quite recognize the consistency of this suggestion, which
seems to me to confirm the obvious remark already made, that the
sacerdotal and sacramental system hangs together, and must be adopted or
rejected as a whole. In my own case, Protestantism was too strong to
allow of my accepting this legitimate corollary of the Church of England
doctrine respecting the Lord’s Supper. To have recourse to confession
and absolution was an impossibility to me, as I believe it to be even
yet to the great majority of Englishwomen, and as it is assuredly likely
always to be to Englishmen. But I doubt whether any satisfactory
resting-place short of it is to be found for those who fully adopt the
Anglican view of sacraments.

I do not mean to represent the perplexities and scruples I have spoken
of as having constituted the whole of my experience in this matter, or
to say that I was quite unable to meet them in a manner more or less
provisionally satisfactory to myself. It is true that out of
perplexities and scruples sprang doubts and questionings (with which,
indeed, the very air I breathed was thick), so that during the twenty
years in which I was a regular communicant in the Church of England, I
was never able to feel that my own practice was based upon thoroughly
clear and solid ground of ascertained truth. Yet in spite of, or rather
alongside of, all scruples and questionings as to the real intention of
our Lord—if, indeed, He had any intention at all—with regard to any
special commemoration of His death by the use of bread and wine, I did
earnestly, throughout those years, according to the measure of my
ability, endeavour to solve the problem in practice—to make the act of
outward “communion” a real occasion of renewed self-dedication, and of
inward and spiritual feeding on the bread of life. Such times were,
indeed, often occasions of deep spiritual blessing; but I never could
discern that they were so in any other sense than that in which every
real act of prayer, of penitence, of self-dedication, and of
thanksgiving must necessarily be so. The whole blessing appeared to me
to be of a spiritual kind, and due to spiritual causes. The connection
between the use of bread and wine and these spiritual sources of
blessing never became clear to me. The more profound the blessedness of
communion with Christ and with His people, the less conceivable did it
seem that it should depend upon the official performance of an elaborate

The Bible, to which in this Protestant country we are always referred
for the solution of the difficulties as to which Catholics consult their
priests, appeared to me to afford no help whatever in defining the
conditions necessary to a right participation, nor in directing one’s
choice between the various sacramental theories to be met with in our
days. All schools of theology equally appeal to it, and it is obvious
that a book cannot decide between rival interpretations of itself. It
did, however, distinctly help me towards the conclusion that there might
be no need to choose between these various theories at all. To my
unassisted reason it appeared that the effect of comparing any, even the
mildest, modern eucharistical theory with the accounts to be found in
the New Testament of our Lord’s parting supper with his disciples, was
chiefly to show that a vast and unexplained addition to, or at the least
development of, the original idea had taken place since these accounts
were written. The whole form of words used in the Communion Service
seems to me to convey meanings almost immeasurably different from
anything which I could myself have extracted from the one brief
expression, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Left to myself and to
Scripture, the Gospel narratives would never have suggested the idea of
any intention to institute a ceremony at all, far less to invest its
observance with possibilities so awful both for good and for evil, not
only in case of omission, but even in case of inadequate observance. To
my own mind, the narratives of the Last Supper in Matthew and Mark,
which contain no allusion to any possible repetition of the feast,
appeared quite as complete, quite as significant, as that of Luke, which
gives the addition, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The allusions in the
Epistle to the Corinthians to some disorderly practices in that Church
certainly make it clear that they had adopted a practice of meeting to
“show the Lord’s death till He come” by eating bread and drinking wine;
and the apostle’s reference to a Divine communication to himself of the
circumstances of the Last Supper certainly seems to show that he
believed them to have sufficient ground for doing so; but, on the other
hand, the words which he there ascribes to Christ, “Do this, _as oft as
ye drink it_, in remembrance of me,” have always seemed to me to be
distinctly incompatible with the idea of a command to eat bread and
drink wine _in order_ to commemorate His death, and would rather suggest
a reverent remembrance of Him on all social occasions, and perhaps
especially when meeting for the Passover or any other religious feasts.
I was thus fully ripe for the view so vigorously put forth in Barclay’s
“Apology,”[13] as held by Friends.

I have allowed my thoughts to fall into a somewhat autobiographical
form, because the appearance of egotism seems to me preferable to the
real presumption of going beyond one’s knowledge, and also because I am
anxious to show how unavoidably (and at the same time, I believe,
innocently) one may become entangled in questions too deep and too
perplexing for ordinary minds, in the mere honest endeavour to obey at
once the teachings of Jesus Christ and of the Church.

To myself it was the greatest relief, at a time when I had thus been
driven to choose between obedience to my own conscience on the one hand,
and outward communion with my fellow-Christians on the other, and when I
had for two years, with pain and grief, excommunicated myself
accordingly—it was at that moment the greatest relief to find a body of
Christians who held the simple, and, to my mind, the one worthy view of
Christianity, as a dispensation entirely spiritual in its nature; a
state of enlightenment and true worship in which forms and shadows had
passed away, and the substance alone was to be laboured for. It was in
the quiet meetings already described that I myself first learnt the full
meaning of the words, “baptizing into the Name ... and the communion of
the body of Christ.” The outward observances by which these “holy
mysteries” are typified in the devotions of other bodies had been to me
rather a hindrance than a help. I cannot help suspecting that they are
so to many.

For if not a help, they must be a hindrance. It may, to people in some
stages of education, or in some countries, be a natural and real way of
receiving or expressing truth, to perform ceremonial acts. I cannot
think that it is the spontaneous language of intelligent devotion in our
own time and country. To my own mind the great crowning lesson imparted
by our Divine Master, in the solemn farewell hours of His last evening
with His disciples, is lowered and eclipsed when considered as the
institution of a ceremony, and shines out again in its fulness of
majestic pathos when regarded as an embodied or acted parable. His
repeated warnings to His disciples against their inveterate tendency to
take His words literally, and to interpret them as referring to the meat
that perishes instead of as being spirit and life, sound in one’s ears
when one feels oppressed by what (forgive me the irrepressible truth) to
some of us seems the unintelligent practice of continually repeating a
form used by Christ once for all to show forth the central truth of His
life-giving life on earth.

It is the fear that, in wrapping the “words of eternal life” in a
garment of superstitious usage, they are being inevitably buried out of
the reach of those who need them the most, which prompts me to speak
thus boldly. Whatever lowers our religion to a matter of outward
observance, whatever seems to give to unreasoning participation in
outward acts a place on the same level with that inward continuance in
the Word of Christ which makes His disciples free, is surely a human and
a grievous barrier in the homeward path which He came to open to all.

Those who feel as we do about the meaning of our Lord on the occasion of
His last supper with His disciples, will naturally incline to take a
similar view of His meaning in the few references made by Him to the
subject of baptism. The word is obviously used in the New Testament in
several different senses. If we believe (as is at least suggested by the
words of the Apostle Paul) that there is but “one baptism,” we must
surely suppose it to be that baptism “with the Holy Ghost and with fire”
which John foretold as the office of Him for whom he himself, with his
“baptism with water,” was preparing the way;—He who was to increase as
John decreased, and who said of Himself, after He had “fulfilled all
righteousness” by submitting to John’s baptism, that He had yet “a
baptism to be baptized with”—assuredly not an outward one.

With the observance of rites and ceremonies, the need for a separate
priesthood passes away. It is, I believe, undisputed that the word
“priest” is used in the New Testament only with reference to the high
calling of all believers; the calling to offer themselves as living
sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God.

It appears to us that this priestly office of all believers is greatly
obscured, and the sense of religious responsibility weakened, by the
delegation to a separate and official class of persons of the function
of conducting the devotions of the congregation. The exclusive
employment of one man as spokesman for the whole congregation must of
necessity quench in others any impulse to offer vocal ministrations, at
any rate during the time of public worship; and in regard to daily life,
the idea of a “cure of souls” seems equally inconsistent with the Quaker
idea of “watching over one another for good,” as being a duty resting
more or less on all the members of a meeting.

There are, of course, many other Church offices besides the essentially
priestly one of offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which
are fulfilled, and often nobly fulfilled, by the clergy of the Church of
England. These other offices, such as teaching, visiting the sick,
attending to the relief of the poor, etc., are surely in no way
inseparable, though they are popularly undistinguished, from that claim
to the priesthood against which Friends have always protested. It may be
an open question whether all the civilizing, softening, philanthropic,
and beneficent influences exercised by the clergy could be brought to
bear with equal effect upon the population, especially of country
districts, if the idea of an essential distinction between them and the
laity were suddenly obliterated. The question what would be the
practical result of such an obliteration, or, in other words, of the
adoption of Friends’ principle of a free ministry, is at any rate
scarcely within the visible horizon. It would certainly be impossible to
any candid person in these days to speak without respect and admiration
of the clergy generally, and without deep reverence of many amongst
them. The days are long past when such phrases as a “hireling ministry”
could have been indiscriminately used concerning a body of men whose
lives are in innumerable instances so visibly and nobly disinterested.
It is an obvious, though too common mistake, to confound the conditions
of any service with the motives from which it is undertaken. But it is
nevertheless a very grave question what effect the fact that ordination
to the clerical office opens to any young man of ordinary abilities and
respectability the gates of an honourable profession, by which he may
lawfully earn his bread and maintain a family, is likely to have upon
the spiritual character of the ministerial office. Surely the Quaker
principle that no spiritual ministrations should ever be subject to
payment is at least one that must commend itself as ideally the highest.
It may, however, very naturally be asked whether in practice it admits
of a sufficient provision being made for the instruction and edification
of congregations.

And here there is, of course, a deep-seated divergence of feeling and
thought at the bottom of the difference in practice between Friends and
other Christian bodies. We Friends believe that it is not necessary that
each congregation should be placed under the spiritual care of a pastor.
We believe that it is the right and the duty of each individual
Christian to approach the Divine presence in his own way—to sit under
the immediate teaching of Christ Himself, and to be ready to take his
share, if at any time called upon by the one Head of the Church, in
offering prayer, praise, thanksgiving, or exhortation, for the help,
comfort, and edification of all. Should no vocal services be offered in
any meeting, we do not therefore feel that it has failed of its effect
as an occasion of united worship.

Some small meetings are frequently, if not habitually, held entirely in
silence; in all our meetings there is some space left for that worship
which is beyond words. The responsibility for the lively and healthy
state of each meeting is, or should be, felt to rest upon all its
members, both collectively and individually.

It is obvious that a ministry so jealously guarded as ours from all
external pressure can be kept in vigorous exercise only as the result of
a deep and widely diffused religious experience. Serious, though by no
means insuperable, difficulties do undoubtedly arise in the practical
application of this fundamental principle of our Society. Our
faithfulness to it is being severely tested by modern conditions; and
upon that faithfulness our very life as a Society must, I believe,
depend. There is in the comparatively aggressive attitude we have
assumed of late years, as well as in the great pressure upon time and
strength exerted by modern activities of all kinds, a constant
temptation to adopt methods less pure, less severely disinterested, than
those to which we are pledged by all our traditions. Unless we have
faith and patience enough to maintain the freedom of our ministry even
at the cost of some sacrifice of popularity, I believe that our light
must inevitably be extinguished just when it is most urgently

The admission of the ministry of women seems naturally to flow from the
disuse of all but spontaneous spiritual ministrations. For such
ministrations experience shows women to be often eminently qualified.

The whole of the Quaker view of ministry depends upon the frank
disregard of outward and visible signs in favour of the inward and
spiritual grace. To make both essential, or each essential to the other,
seems necessarily to land one in impenetrable intricacies, if not in a
vicious circle. If one of the two alone is essential, there can of
course be no question which it is. Whether inward and spiritual graces,
in other words, holiness, can flourish without the use of outward
observances, must ultimately be a question of experience and
observation. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” It might perhaps be
difficult for one born and bred in the Society to appeal explicitly to
this test. But having entered it within the last few years, I may
perhaps without impropriety say that Friends need surely not shrink from
the inquiry whether the practical standard of holiness amongst their
members is on a level with that of other Christians. If it be so—if
love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness,
and temperance be not lacking amongst us—surely we may well ask, Wherein
does our free ministry fail of its due effect?

“It fails,” some would no doubt reply, “not in the quality, but in the
quantity of its results. However excellent the results in the life and
conversation of Friends individually, they are not a growing body, and
therefore not a healthy branch of the Church at large.” I shall deal
elsewhere with the subject of our long dwindling in former times, and
our present slow increase in numbers. I will content myself here with
the obvious reply that the numerical increase or decrease of a
denomination can never afford a satisfactory test of the spiritual
fruitfulness of its ministry; mere numbers being always affected by many
other causes, some of which have but little connection with spiritual
health. It even gives but a very doubtful measure of the mere numbers to
whom the influence of the preaching in question may extend. It must, no
doubt, be admitted that the personal and the numerical tests are apt to
yield conflicting results; that the purest form of religion is rarely
the most popular, though it is likely to have the most lasting, and, in
the end, the most widely spread, influence. But if purity and popularity
are in any sense incompatible, can we hesitate as to the direction
towards which we should lean?[15]

I have said that our corner-stone and foundation is our belief that God
does indeed communicate with each one of the spirits He has made in a
direct and living inbreathing of some measure of the breath of His own
life. That belief is not peculiar to us. What is peculiar to us is our
testimony to the freedom and sufficiency of this immediate Divine
communication to each one. The ground of our existence as a separate
body is our witness to the independence of the true gospel ministry of
all forms and ceremonies, and of all humanly imposed limitations and
conditions. We desire to guard this supreme function of the human spirit
from all disturbing influences as jealously as the mariner guards his
compass from anything which might deflect the needle from the pole; and
for the same reason—that we believe the direct influence of the Divine
Mind upon our own to be our one unerring Guide in the voyage of life,
and that the faculty by which we discern it is but too easily drawn
aside by human influences. There is, surely, a very deep significance
and value in the Protestant instinct of independence in this deepest
region. The Quaker tradition of “non-resistance” has attracted a degree
of popular attention which is, I think, out of all proportion to that
bestowed on the profound and stubborn independence of Quakerism—its
resolute vindication of each man’s individual responsibility to his
Maker, and to Him alone. The supreme value assigned by Friends to
consistency of conduct—to strict veracity and integrity, and other plain
moral duties—has, I believe, an intimate connection with their
abandonment of all reliance upon outward observances, or official
support and absolution. “The answer of a good conscience” comes into
prominence when all extraneous means of purification are discarded. And
when outward ordination is seen to be insufficient to enable any one
effectually to minister to the deep needs of a troubled spirit, then
that ministry which is truly the outcome of the fiery “baptisms” of
Divinely appointed discipline assumes its true dignity in our eyes as
the only real qualification for reaching the witness in other hearts.

I doubt whether any other Protestant sect recognizes the preciousness of
the discipline of suffering as it is recognized by Friends. That it is
only through deep experience, both of inward exercises and of outward
sorrows, that any one can become fully qualified to hold forth the Word
of life to others, is signified by the familiar Quaker expression, “a
deeply baptized minister.” So strongly have some Friends felt this
necessity that they have come to distrust, if not to condemn, whatever
appears to them “superficial” or easily produced in ministry. A holy
awe, deepening at times, I believe, into even too anxious a restraint,
has ever surrounded the exercise of our emphatically “free”
ministry—free from all human and outward moulding, precisely in order
that it may be the more sacredly reserved to the Divine and inward
moulding and restraining as well as impelling power.

The danger of our profoundly “inward” ideal is, of course, in its
liability to generate scruples, and a degree of morbid
introspectiveness, especially in the exercise of this particular gift.
Recognizing fully the deep truth that many “baptisms” have to be passed
through by those to whom the priceless gift of ministry is entrusted,
and that peculiar trials are apt to precede every special replenishing
of the sacred vessel, Friends have sometimes gone on to hold it almost a
profanation to speak in meetings for worship except as the immediate
result of some such painful exercises. It is easy to see the danger of
any such limitation of the manner in which the Divine pleasure may be
intimated to individuals. It seems both probable and agreeable to
experience that a truly spiritual ministry should vary greatly both in
its form and in its degree of depth, in various minds. There is
obviously a childlike as well as a profound utterance of prayer and
praise, and surely of “testimony” or “prophecy” also. But to recognize
this diversity is not in the slightest degree to lower our idea of the
indispensableness of a Divine warrant for utterance. The scrupulous
jealousy which would limit all ministry to one type is a very different
thing from that spirit of holy fear which must in this matter, above
all, be the beginning of wisdom. I think that those who are the most
ready to accept with reverence whatever is offered in simple obedience,
the most desirous themselves to learn simply to obey, will also be the
first to feel that no one should venture to break the silence in which
inward prayer may be arising from other hearts except under the
influence (to use the time-honoured Quaker expression) of “a fresh
anointing from above.” The nearest approach to a description of what we
hold to be a right ministry would seem to be—words spoken during, and
arising from, actual communion with God.

                               CHAPTER V.
                          SPECIAL TESTIMONIES.

There are certain points of Christian practice upon which we have been
accustomed to lay a degree of stress amounting to peculiarity, although
our “testimony” in regard to them does not involve any opposition to the
beliefs of other Christian bodies, as does that which we have just been
considering respecting the freedom of the ministry and the disuse of
ordinances. The idea of “testimony,” or practical witness-bearing to a
stricter obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ than is thought
necessary by the mass of those who are called by His name, has been
strongly impressed upon Friends from the very outset, and the
persecutions which it brought upon them did but burn it irrevocably into
the Quaker mind.

The preaching of the early Friends was, above all things, a preaching of
righteousness. I think I cannot be wrong in saying that a greater value
has from the first been attached by Friends to practice, as compared
with doctrine, than is the case with most other Christian bodies.
Obedience to the light which convinces of sin was the sum and substance
of George Fox’s preaching, and through his epistles and other writings
there runs a vigorously practical tone which seems to have been
responded to with equal vigour by those whom he addressed.

The early Friends certainly did, as a rule, wonderfully practise what
they preached; and their character for integrity was very quickly, and
has been permanently, recognized. It seems to myself inevitable that the
appeal to the witness in each heart should reach deeper, and bring forth
correspondingly better fruit of obedience, when disentangled from all
reliance on external passports to Divine favour. Not only the idea of
any possible “efficacy of sacraments” as apart from righteousness of
life, but also the idea of “substitution” as distinguished from actual
experience of the transforming power of the righteousness of Christ,
were vigorously rejected by the early Friends; and in this insistence
upon the identity of righteousness with salvation lay, as I believe, the
main secret of their strength. At any rate, there has been a remarkably
steady endeavour to maintain a high and definite standard of Christian
morality, partly by means of the discipline of the Society, partly by
family tradition, discipline, and example. Certain “testimonies,” _i.e._
practices conscientiously adopted, inculcated, and watched over, have
been handed down from generation to generation with a jealous care
which, though sometimes overshooting its mark and tending to produce
reaction, has nevertheless moulded the very inmost springs of action,
and produced and maintained a distinct and somewhat singular type of
Christian character.

The essence of Quaker “testimony” is a practical witness-bearing—a
lifting up in practice of the highest possible standard of
uncompromising obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ, both as
recorded in the Gospels, and as inwardly experienced as the Light—the
Spirit of Truth. Friends have, as a matter of fact, felt certain things
to be inconsistent with this teaching which, by the great body of those
who profess and call themselves Christians, are not regarded as being
so. They have attacked these things not so much in words as by enjoining
and observing a strict abstinence from them at any cost, in a spirit not
unlike that of the Rechabites of old. The original Quaker idea was
before all things to have “clean hands;” to stand clear of evil in one’s
own person, but to abstain in silence unless specially called to

It is, of course, impossible to abstain on conscientious grounds from
what is freely practised by others without giving some offence. Any
singularity of this kind will inevitably be understood as casting some
shade of disapprobation, if not of actual blame, on the common practice.
I do not see how we can avoid this offence unless we are content to sink
to the level of least enlightenment. We must, I believe, nerve ourselves
to endure the giving of it, remembering that the disciple is not above
his Master, and that there was a time when our Master Himself had “no
honour in His own country.” If they have heard His word, they will hear
ours also. Meanwhile we may take heart from the knowledge that conduct
destined to have permanent influence must often displease for a time.

The early Friends, or “children of light,” as they sometimes called
themselves, seem to have been drawn together in a kind of spontaneous
unanimity on the main points in which their view of Christian duty
transcended that of those about them. The Yearly Meeting, which was not
constituted till 1672 (or twenty-four years from the date of George
Fox’s beginning to preach), finding the “testimonies” against war,
oaths, and superfluities already in full practice, expressly recognized
them as belonging to “our Christian profession,” and directed inquiry as
to the faithfulness of Friends in maintaining them to be made in certain
queries addressed from time to time to all the subordinate meetings.

The practice of addressing such queries to the subordinate meetings is
maintained to this day, although the queries themselves have from time
to time been altered, and of late years the greater number of them are
directed to be seriously considered, but not answered. This change in
our practice has probably not been without a balance of advantage and
disadvantage. The system of requiring answers to the queries was, in
truth, a very powerful engine of discipline, for they were considered
and answered with scrupulous care and precision, and, in case of an
unfavourable report, individuals who were regarded as failing to
maintain the testimonies of the Society were liable to be “put under
dealing,” and, in case of obstinacy, to eventual disownment. This
ultimate penalty of disobedience was in former times inflicted for much
slighter causes than would at the present day render any one liable to

It seems to me that there is a serious danger inherent in the very
nature of collective testimonies, especially those which imply the
lifting up of a standard of exceptional severity and purity, lest that
which is in some, perhaps even in the majority, sincere and spontaneous
should be adopted at second hand, and without personal warrant, by
others, and should thus become a mere hollow profession. For this reason
I am thankful that a much greater degree of freedom is now allowed to
our members in all matters as to which there is room for a conscientious
difference of opinion. Our strength seems to me to depend largely upon
our consistency in appealing to the gospel rather than to the law—in
trusting to the purifying power of an indwelling, informing Spirit,
rather than to any external framework of regulations. To do anything
which can stimulate the profession of more or higher enlightenment than
is actually possessed, is indeed a signal and a grievous departure from
our own avowed principles; and I believe that no surer method could be
devised for bringing our Society into disrepute and decay than the
attempt to require a pre-arranged uniformity with regard to those
special testimonies which imply special enlightenment.

The loftier and more delicate the ideal, the greater the risk of
formulating and attempting to impose it. It seems to me that our wisdom
is to insist more and more boldly upon obedience to the broad plain laws
of duty which all Christians recognize as laid down for us by those
recorded words of our Master Himself, which are our one supreme
standard; and at the same time to leave more and more scope for the
working out in detail of all the lovely and harmonious yet varying
results of individual faithfulness to the promptings of His Spirit in
each heart. Any distinct breach of the moral law, any falling below that
standard of “peaceable innocent life” which is acknowledged by all as
the test of the reality of light within, may and should surely be made a
matter of Church discipline—a matter, that is, in which brethren should
watch over one another for good, and obedience to which must be a
condition of sound fellowship. But when discipline descends to the
regulation of details whose whole significance and value depend upon
their being prompted by conscience, under the living and ever-present
guidance of the light, then surely the human is intruding upon the
province of the Divine, and we are checking and hampering and weakening
that very moulding from within which it is our chief object as a Society
to watch for and to yield to in all things.

But while all attempts at collective self-discipline must involve a
danger of hollowness, which means weakness, if not actual insincerity,
it is to be remembered, on the other hand, that there is in association
not only a well-known source of strength, but a very valuable shelter; a
protection to right instincts of modesty. In maintaining any
exceptionally high standard of action, especially in matters of detail,
there is a real safety as well as comfort in united action. While we are
treading in the steps of our honoured predecessors, however freely we
may have chosen our path, we are not tempted to claim that we discovered
it; nor need we anxiously vindicate it as though it were but the
prompting of some individual scruple or preference. In the practical
results of the collective exercises of a considerable body of
fellow-disciples, we do, I believe, in fact find, as we might reasonably
expect to find, a peculiar purity and propriety. It is not difficult to
justify the wisdom by which our special testimonies have been worked
out, though it is easy also to see the mischief of too rigid an
enforcement of them.

Our Society, like the United Kingdom, enjoys the elasticity resulting
from the absence of any written constitution, and the precise working of
its discipline is by no means easily traced. Its “testimonies,” though
clearly recognized and notorious, are not formulated or defended in any
authoritative document. The “Book of Discipline” consists, as I have
said, of extracts from “Epistles” and “Advices” circulated from time to
time by the Yearly Meeting. These are in the nature of brotherly
exhortations, which assume our principles as undisputed; and though
carefully worded, they do not deal in definitions or arguments. Our
testimonies are, in fact, to a degree which is, I think, hardly
understood outside the Society, the result of individual and spontaneous
obedience to the bidding of individual conscience, and to the guiding of
the Divine light shining in each heart, rather than of conformity to
rules enforced or even precisely laid down by any human authority. They
are collective, but unformulated; subjects for discipline, yet not
prescribed or regulated; familiar and even notorious peculiarities, yet
varying indefinitely in the degree in which they are maintained by

The traditional reverence for individual conscience is still so strong
that the precise nature of the obstacle felt by Friends to any
particular course of conduct is apt to be shrouded in some degree of
mystery. The phraseology of the Society, which is almost a separate
language, vividly conveys this sense of an insuperable but (to
outsiders) mysterious restraint. “Truth requires” that certain things
should be done or left undone. A Friend “feels a stop in his mind,” or
“is not easy to proceed with” some undertaking. Such and such a thing
“appears” (to John Woolman, for instance) “to be distinguishable from
pure wisdom.”

There are, as is well known, individual Friends who have abundantly
argued, on general grounds, the moral questions involved in our
“testimonies.” Friends have never been wanting in pugnacity, whatever
their scruples as to the use of “carnal weapons” or of violent language.
But yet their practice has in the main been felt out rather than thought
out; their testimonies are instances of problems solved by going forward
rather than of theories built up through any speculative process; and in
regard to each one of them every true Friend feels that to his own
Master he stands or falls, and that there is but one Example to which he
ought to look, and one Guide whom he desires to obey. As in regard of
our public ministry, so in the lesser matters of everyday life and
practice, we jealously guard our individual liberty from human
interference in order that it may be the more unreservedly subjected to
all Divine influences.

And not only do we guard our own liberty—we refrain from attempting to
limit that of others. If our conscientious abstinence from certain
practices is inevitably understood as in some sense casting a shadow of
reproach or blame upon those practices, we yet are careful to abstain
from condemning those who are acting in obedience to their own measure
of light. I believe we must with boldness and humility acknowledge that
such practical witness-bearing as we believe ourselves called to implies
that we are as “a city set on a hill.” We do not attempt to lay down
rules applicable at once and equally to all. The homeward road cannot be
altogether the same for dwellers on the hill and dwellers on the plain;
the goal alone is one.[18]

The most important and the best known of the special testimonies of
which I have now to speak is that which has been steadily borne by our
members against all war. Friends have ever maintained and acted upon the
belief that war and strife of all kinds are opposed to the spirit and
the teaching of Christ, and have felt themselves, as His disciples,
precluded from engaging in them. They have steadfastly refused to take
up arms at the bidding of any human authority, or in the presence of any
danger. This course of conduct has, of course, brought them into
frequent collision with the civil power, and needs for its
justification, as Friends are the first to acknowledge, the warrant of a
higher than any national authority.

It is, indeed, an awful position which we have thus been bold to take
up—the position of those who feel themselves called upon to act as the
salt of the earth, as leaders who refuse to be led. I do not hesitate to
confess that this attitude of possible resistance to the demands of our
country in the presence of a common danger was the one part of the
Quaker ideal which I for a time seriously hesitated to accept. So long
as I understood it to be accompanied by or based upon any condemnation
of those who conscientiously believe that their duty to God requires
them to yield unqualified obedience to the demands of their country for
military service, I was unable to accept it. But when I came to
understand that the Quaker testimony against all war did not take the
form of any ethical theory of universal application, but was simply the
acting out in one’s own person and at one’s own risk of obedience to
that which one’s own heart had been taught to recognize as Divine
authority, even where its commands transcended and came into collision
with those of the nation, I felt at once that the position was not only
perfectly tenable, but was the only one worthy of faithful disciples.

So long as our country is but very imperfectly Christianized, it is
impossible not to recognize that an insuperable contradiction may at any
time arise between the demands upon our loyalty and obedience which may
be made in its name, and those of the spirit of Christ. It would
assuredly not be acting in His spirit to make light of disobedience to
law; but neither can any Christian hesitate for a moment when called
upon to choose which Master he shall obey. It seems to me that if any
man be prepared in the true spirit of a martyr to rise above his
country’s sense of right, and to serve his country in the highest sense
by disobeying and withstanding such of its requirements as in his heart
he believes to be wrong and ungodly, it is impossible to withhold from
such a man the respect and the admiration which we all feel for the
martyrs of old. I do not see how the national standard of duty can be
raised—how, in other words, the nation can ever be thoroughly
Christianized—except through individual faithfulness, at all costs and
at all risks, to a higher view of duty than that held by the nation at

Here, of course, we are confronted with the question, _Is_ our view of
duty truly a higher one than that of the nation at large? Does the
teaching of Jesus Christ really call us to abstain from all warfare?

It seems to me that not only Friends’ testimony, but the teaching of our
Master Himself on this subject have been much, and in a sense
inevitably, misunderstood. The subject is profoundly complex, and much
of what is said and written about it sounds altogether unsubstantial and
unpractical, because neither the depth and intricacy of the evil, nor
the far-reaching and full significance of the principles opposed to it,
are sufficiently felt. “I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but
whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other
also.” Surely this does not point to an abject submission or a tame
indifference, but to an _undaunted_ persistence in blessing—a fearless
overcoming of evil with good. It is an appeal to an unchanging and
fundamental principle, rather than a mere rule of conduct. The whole
passage breathes a spirit of ardent confidence in the supremacy of
goodness; in the power of the Perfect One who makes His sun to shine
upon the just and the unjust, and sends rain upon the unthankful and the
evil; it is a call to us to be perfect, even as our Father is perfect;
not a suggestion that we should abandon or relax our conflict with evil,
but an assurance that we are not at its mercy—that He who is with us is
stronger than all they who can be against us, and that in His strength
we can and must meet evil with good and overcome it.

Those who would follow Him who thus spoke, must rise above all personal
considerations, and above every temptation to retaliate—not fall below
them. This, surely, was the spirit in which William Penn won his
victories in the early days of Pennsylvania—the bloodless victories
which make his name to this day a word of love and honour amongst the
Indians, with whom his treaty of peace was never broken. It was not by
lying down like sheep to be slaughtered by them, but by going forward to
meet them with open hands and a trusting heart, and by honourably and
generously recognizing their rights and paying them a fair price for
their lands, that he and his followers turned suspicion and hatred into
firm friendship.

We are called to rise above the level of fighting pagans, not to fall
below it. There is, indeed, a lower depth than that of the military
spirit—the depth of complacent mammon-worship. To our shame be it
confessed that this spirit may clothe itself under the profession of
“non-resistance.” When the salt so loses its savour, it is truly fit for
nothing but to be cast out and trodden underfoot. But we are concerned
here not with the deplorable caricature of that “testimony against all
war” which has for two hundred years been at once the boast and the
reproach of Quakerism, but with its essence and true significance. These
lie in the fact that Friends have, one by one, individually and
unitedly, been led by obedience to the spirit of Christ to abstain from
fighting and from all concern, so far as it has been possible to clear
themselves from it, in strife of any kind. This is surely clear and
solid ground to take, and quite distinct from any attempt or necessity
for laying down general and comprehensive formulæ of conduct applicable
to all cases, to all persons and all bodies. To formulate such general
rules is, in truth, foreign to the spirit of Quakerism. To yield one’s
self unreservedly to Divine guidance; resolutely, and at whatever cost,
to refuse to participate in that which one’s own conscience has been
taught to condemn;—this is the ancient and inestimable Quaker ideal. It
is surely the best, the most effectual, the most Christian way of
witnessing against evil, and of arousing the consciences of others.

There is not, I believe, any possibility of dispute, I will not say
amongst Christians, but amongst rational beings, as to the enormity of
the evil of strife and discord, whether between nations or between
individuals. The question upon which we Friends differ from other
Christians is not the question whether peace be desirable—whether it be
not, in fact, the goal of all political effort—but what are the means by
which it is to be attained or maintained. Other Christians do not deny
that quarrelling is contrary to the spirit of Christ, and we do not deny
that a holy warfare is to be continually maintained against evil in
every form. But we regard the opposing of violence by violence as a
suicidal and hopeless method of proceeding; we feel, as Christians, that
the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We cannot, by taking military
service, place ourselves at the absolute disposal of a power which may
at any time employ its soldiers for purposes so questionable and often
so unhallowed.

To abstain, on these grounds, from all participation in warfare is
surely a quite different thing from laying down any general theory as to
the “unlawfulness” of war. I own that it does not appear to me to be
right or wise to blame those who are acting in obedience to their own
views of duty, however much they may differ from our own. I do not think
it can serve any good purpose to ignore the force of the considerations
by which war appears to many people to be justified. I would even go
further, and admit that, under all the complicated circumstances of the
world (including historical facts and treaty obligations), there are
cases in which men may be actually bound to fight in what they believe
to be a just cause; although it does not, I believe, follow that every
individual would be justified in taking part in such warfare. Would any
one say that at the time of the Indian Mutiny the Governor-General of
India ought not to have permitted the use of arms for the protection of
the women and children? I doubt whether any Friend would be found to
maintain this. But it is equally to be remembered that no true Friend
could well have occupied the position of the Governor-General. No nation
which had from the beginning of its history been thoroughly Christian
could, I suppose, have found itself in the position which we occupied in
India in 1857. Were all the world, in the true and full sense of the
word, Christian, such events obviously would not occur. Had we been from
the first a thoroughly Christian nation, our whole history must have
been different, and would (as we Friends believe) have been infinitely

We do not profess to lay down any general rule, by obedience to which
war can be instantly dispensed with by nations in their unregenerate
state, and without a sacrifice. A fully Christian nation has never yet
been seen on earth. It may well be that such a nation, could it now come
suddenly into existence, would meet with national martyrdom. Meanwhile
it is the imperfection of our Christianity and the mixed and complex
nature of national affairs which make it so difficult to apply to
national action any pure principles of conduct. This is not to deny the
existence of such principles. To recognize the difficulty, nay, the
impossibility, of suddenly or sweepingly applying them to practice, is
not to deny their leavening power. When we Friends speak of what is
“right,” we refer not to any external and rigid rule of conduct, but to
that which in each individual case is truly the best and the highest
course open to the individual. To say this is not to say that right is
in itself variable. It is only to say what will, I think, be denied by
few, that the human ideal of right is progressive, not stationary.

We do, however, further say, what undoubtedly _is_ denied by many, that
the ideal revealed to us in the life and the words of Jesus Christ our
Lord, and gradually being worked out in His own people through His
ever-present inward influence, is the highest and the purest
conceivable; and that, therefore, all real progress must be an approach
towards Him. It is this Christian ideal which, as it gains possession of
the human mind, must extinguish the spirit which leads to strife and

It is commonly supposed that Friends have some special scruple about the
use of physical force in any case. This is, I believe, by no means true
of the Society at large, although the popular notion may very likely be
founded upon fact as regards individuals. As a body, Friends have always
recognized “the just authority of the civil magistracy,” and have, I
believe, never disputed the lawfulness of the use of “the sword”
(whatever may be meant by that expression) in maintaining that
authority.[19] George Fox himself repeatedly reminded magistrates that
they should not “bear the sword in vain,” but that they should use it
for the punishment of evil-doers, not of those who did well.

It is not, as I understand it, the use of physical force, or even the
suffering caused by the use of it, which really makes war hateful in
Christian eyes; but the evil passions, the “lusts” from which it
springs, and to which, alas! it so hideously ministers. The
dispassionate infliction of punishment by an impartial and a lawful
authority surely stands upon a quite different footing from that “biting
and devouring one another” which, whether between nations or between
individuals, it is the very aim and object of law to suppress. Suffering
inflicted for the purpose of maintaining peace cannot, I think, be
condemned by the advocates of peace unless it be on the ground of

I own that I personally cannot but recognize that upon this view certain
wars appear to be not only inevitable but justifiable, as partaking of
the nature of national police operations. I cannot, therefore, regard
all war as wholly and unmitigatedly blamable, although I can hardly
imagine any war which does not both come from evil and lead to evil.

Again, there are treaty obligations requiring us in certain cases to
take up arms for the protection of weaker nations, from which we could
not suddenly recede without a breach of national good faith. It surely
does not become us, in our zeal for peace, to make light of, or
overlook, such considerations as this. They should, I think, in the
first place lead us to abstain from sweeping generalizations, and from
blaming those who are ready to lay down their lives in obedience to
their country’s call and in our defence, or the defence of the oppressed
in other countries; while yet we resolutely maintain our own obedience
to that higher authority by which we have, as we believe, been taught a
better way—a way incompatible with outward strife—of giving our lives
for the common weal. We should be very careful how we call that a wicked
action which a good man may honestly do in obedience to his own sense of
duty; we should be still more careful lest, while professing to take
higher ground, we do in fact fall far short of such men in our lives;
but we must, for all that, be faithful to the light we have.

And, in the second place, it seems to me that the true inference from
the consideration of the complicated conditions of international affairs
is that the time is not yet ripe for the assumption of all offices of
public authority by thorough-going Christians. Our place surely still is
mainly to leaven, not to govern, the world.

The world must become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ before
wars and fightings will cease from amongst men. And the world is very
far as yet from acknowledging that dominion in anything but words. Yet
we do “profess and call ourselves Christians”; we do live in the full
light of the everlasting gospel; and however it may be rejected or
discarded, however far even those who profess it may be from entering
into its spirit, it has yet, in spite of ourselves, raised us out of the
possibility of consistent paganism. We cannot return to the old
condition of things, in which nations thought it no shame to strive each
for its own petty objects, and to be reckless of each other’s interests.
There is no satisfactory resting-place for us now on any lower level
than that which Christ has brought to light. Under the name of
“altruism,” this is recognized even by those who think of Christianity
as a worn-out superstition. We who believe it to be the power of God
unto salvation are surely bound to yield ourselves heart and soul to its
emancipating influence—to its indestructible, irresistible appeal to us
to “live as brethren.” As in the beginning it was felt by some at least
to be as clear as daylight that “Christians cannot fight,” so now, not
only amongst Friends, but in many another Christian body, the same
spirit is working, and consciences are awakening to the utter
incompatibility of strife and retaliation and reckless
self-aggrandizement with the spirit of brotherhood which lies at the
very foundation of Christianity. They had need to awake; now, at the
eleventh hour, with all Europe making itself ready for war, it may yet
be that the few in whom the fire of Christian zeal is burning in its
purity may see their cause and the cause of their Master begin to
prevail against overwhelming odds. But whether the nations will hear or
whether they will forbear, wherever two or three Christians meet
together, there still will be a protest against strife and selfishness.

A protest against strife and selfishness; not only against strife, but
against “the greedy spirit which leads to strife.” If we are willing to
go down to the root in this matter, if we truly desire to do what in us
lies towards ridding the earth not only of wars and fightings, but of
all forms of oppression and cruelty, must we not recognize that the very
first step is to be ourselves freed from covetousness?

For who can doubt that it is mainly about outward and material things
that nations or individuals are led into quarrels? Who will venture to
say that, if none of us desired either to get or to keep more than our
share of this world’s goods, there would be anything like the amount of
fighting, or of preparation for it, which now devastates the earth? We
may be skeptical about the possibility of any general acceptance of
arbitration or disarmament. To be skeptical about the possibility of
personal disinterestedness would imply a very different sort of
blindness. It seems to me that in struggling to rise and to raise others
more and more clearly above the greedy spirit which leads to war, is the
best hope for many of us of contributing in any real sense to the cause
of peace on earth.

It was long ago recognized by Friends that (to use the words of John
Woolman) “in every degree of luxury are the seeds of war and
oppression.” The connection between luxury and cruelty is, indeed,
almost a truism, but it is one of those truisms of which it is
unfortunately easy to lose sight; and I fear that even amongst Friends
the familiar testimonies against all war and against superfluities are
apt to be held without any vivid sense of their vital connection.

No one, surely, will deny that the selfish desire of mere pleasure, when
allowed to rule, will feed itself at the expense of suffering and
privation to others; that it does cause that scramble for gain in which
the weak are trampled upon, and every furious passion is stimulated.[20]
The difficulty in regard to bearing a practical testimony against
superfluities is not that which some of us feel in the case of war—that
we do not know where to take hold, that our personal and daily conduct
seems to have no immediate bearing upon questions of international
policy, and that the whole problem eludes our grasp by its very
vastness. It is, rather, that we do not _like_ to put our shoulder to
the wheel of simplifying life for ourselves and others; that we do not
see the beauty of severity; that we love softness, or yield to it for
want of any purifying fire of hope.

But yet, in one form or another, often extravagantly, foolishly, even
injuriously, an ineradicable instinct has prompted Christians in all
times to free themselves from luxurious and self-indulgent ways of
living; to walk as disciples of Him who “had not where to lay His head;”
to lay aside, not only every sin, but every weight, that so they may run
the race set before them, not as beating the air, but as those who
strive for the victory.

It is, indeed, not easy to define the precise kind or amount of luxury
which is incompatible with Christian simplicity; or rather it must of
necessity vary. But the principle is, I think, clear. In life, as in
art, whatever does not help, hinders. All that is superfluous to the
main object of life must be cleared away, if that object is to be fully
attained. In all kinds of effort, whether moral, intellectual, or
physical, the essential condition of vigour is a severe pruning away of
redundance. Is it likely that the highest life, the life of the
Christian body, can be carried on upon easier terms?

The higher our ideal of life, the greater, indeed, must be the
sacrifices which it will require from us. As we rise from the lower to
the higher objects of life, many things of necessity become superfluous
to us—in other words, we become independent of them, or outgrow them.
This is a widely different idea from that of ascetic self-discipline or
self-mortification; and it is surely a sounder and a worthier idea.

The Quaker ideal, as I understand it, requires a continual weighing of
one thing against another—a continual preference of the lasting and deep
over the transient and superficial. “Weightiness” is one of the Friends’
characteristic and emphatic forms of commendation. To sacrifice any deep
and substantial advantage to outward show is abhorrent to the Quaker
instinct. To “stretch beyond one’s compass” grasping at shadows, and
encumbering oneself with more than is needed for simple, wholesome
living, is at variance with all our best traditions.

If we bear in mind the essentially relative meaning of the word
“superfluous,” it is obvious that such a testimony against
“superfluities” does not require any rigid or niggardly rule as to
outward things. To my own mind, indeed, this view of the matter seems to
require at least as clearly the liberal use of whatever is truly helpful
to “our best life” as the abandonment of obstructing superfluities. No
doubt a testimony against superfluities is very liable to degenerate
into formality, and to be so misapplied as to cut off much that is in
reality wholesome, innocent, and beautiful. Art has to a great extent
been banished from many Quaker homes; and a considerable amount of
injury has no doubt been done by such rigid severity, and perhaps still
more by the very natural consequent reaction. But it would, I believe,
be quite a mistake to suppose that the extreme plainness in dress and
other surroundings adopted by the stricter Friends, and formerly made a
matter of discipline by the Society, was originally adopted with any
intention of self-mortification or asceticism.[21]

I believe that asceticism is in a very deep sense contrary to the real
Quaker spirit, which desires in all things to abstain from any
interference “in the will of man” with Divine discipline and guidance,
and which would, I believe, regard the idea of self-chosen exercises in
mortification of the flesh with the same aversion as it entertains for
pre-arranged forms of worship. Friends, no doubt, have often believed
themselves required to submit to the adoption of the plain dress “in the
cross” to natural inclination, and have felt it a valuable exercise to
do so; but the plainness was not devised for that purpose, but chosen
(or rather, as Friends would say, they were led into it by Truth)
because of its inherent suitableness and rightness. It is an outcome of
the instinctively felt necessity of subordinating everything to
principle. Its chief significance is that of a protest against bondage
to passing fashions, and for this reason it is a settled costume. It is
also felt that our very dress should show forth that inward quietness of
spirit which does not naturally tend towards outward adornment, and the
Friends’ recognized dress is therefore one of extreme sobriety in colour
and simplicity in form.

It is a significant fact that there is really no such thing as a
precisely defined Quaker costume. The dress is certainly precise enough
in itself, and to the naked eye of the outside observer it may appear to
present an undeviating uniformity; but it is really not a uniform in the
sense in which a nun’s or a soldier’s dress is a uniform. It is in all
respects a growth, a tradition, a language; and it is subject to
constant though slow modification. Any perfectly unadorned dress of
quiet colour, without ornament or trimming, if habitually worn, is in
fact, to all intents and purposes, the Quaker costume, though one or two
details have by a sort of accident acquired a traditional meaning as a
badge, which one may adopt or not according to one’s feeling about
badges. Some Friends nowadays object on principle to anything of the
kind. Others still see a “hedge” or shelter in them. Others, again, feel
that they serve a useful and innocent purpose in enabling Friends
readily to recognize one another, and that it is not amiss for them to
be easily recognized even by outsiders. But the one important matter of
principle which the Society as a body have recognized, is that it is a
waste of time and money for which Christian women can hardly fail to
find better employment, to condescend to be perpetually changing the
fashion of one’s garments in obedience to the caprice or the
restlessness of the multitude. “Plain Friends” are those who are
resolved to dress according to the settled principles which commend
themselves to their own mind, not enslaving themselves to passing

It is easy to say that they do but exchange one bondage for another.
That may, indeed, have been the case at times, and may even still be so
in some families or meetings. But the crystallizing into rigid
formality, though a possible tendency, is no real part of the true
Quaker ideal. My own strong feeling is that the adoption of a settled
costume, at any rate in mature life and from conviction, is not only the
right and most dignified course on moral grounds, but also that it has
in actual experience afforded one more proof of the truth that the lower
aims of life can thrive only in proportion as they are kept in
subordination to the higher. The freedom from the necessity of perpetual
changes, which commends itself to Friends as suitable to the dignity of
“women professing godliness,” has also the lower advantage of admitting
a gradual bringing to perfection of the settled costume itself. We all
know how exquisite, within its severely limited range, can be the
result. The spotless delicacy, the precision and perfection of plain
fine needlework, the repose of the soft tints, combine, in the dress of
some still lingering representatives of the old school of Quakerism, to
produce a result whose quiet beauty appeals to both the mind and the eye
with a peculiar charm. I cannot think that such mute eloquence is to be
despised; or that it is unworthy of Christian women to be careful that
their very dress shall speak a language of quietness, gentleness, and
purity—that it shall be impressive even with a touch of eternity.

This principle of Christian simplicity should, in our view, run through
everything—dress, furniture, habits of life, and forms of speech; all
should be severely purged from redundance, and from mere imitation and
conventionality. The “plain language,” best known as leading to the use
of _thee_ and _thou_ for _you_ in speaking to one person, and of first,
second, etc., for the days of the week and the months, instead of the
ordinary names “derived from heathen deities,” was an instance of this
endeavour to winnow away every superfluity and every taint of flattery
and superstition from our speech. These special peculiarities of speech
are, as is well known, completely dropped by many of the present
generation of Friends. The changes which have taken place in two hundred
years in our language and habits have deprived these expressions of much
of their original significance, and the tendency of the present time is
no doubt towards the effacing of all peculiarities. But some special
attention is still paid amongst us to simplicity and guardedness of
language in a wider sense, and surely this is an object well worthy of
attention on the highest as well as the lowest grounds.

The idea of a scrupulous guard over the lips, which is so strongly
characteristic of all Friends at all worthy of the name, culminates in
their united testimony against oaths. This has, indeed, been always
regarded by Friends as a matter of simple obedience to a plain command
of Jesus Christ; and I think that nothing but long habit could reconcile
any sincere disciple to the ordinary interpretation of His words as
intended to forbid “profane swearing” only.[22] Many others besides
Friends have felt this scruple; but to our Society belongs the
indisputable credit of having, through a long and severe course of
suffering for their “testimony,” obtained a distinct recognition of the
sufficiency in their case of a plain affirmation, thereby vindicating a
principle which is beginning to be generally recognized—the principle of
having but one rule for all cases, that of plain truth; of being as much
bound by one’s word as one’s bond. I think it can hardly be questioned
that, through this simple and unflinching course of obedience to the
plain injunction of Jesus Christ, Friends have done much to raise the
standard of veracity in our country.[23]

The refusal to pay tithes is a part of the testimony against a paid
ministry, of which I have sufficiently spoken in the last chapter; and I
need here only say that in all these cases of resistance to the demands
of authority, for military service, for oaths, or for tithes, the idea
has been that of witnessing at one’s own cost against unjust or
unrighteous demands. It is, I think, fair to claim that it is at one’s
own cost that one refuses a demand even for money when it is made by
those who have the power to take the money or its equivalent by force,
and when no resistance is ever offered to their doing so. Friends have
again and again submitted patiently to the levying of much larger sums
than those originally claimed, as well as to severe and sometimes
lifelong imprisonments, and other penalties, rather than by any act of
their own give consent to exactions which they believed to be
unrighteous in their origin or purpose. While such unmistakable proofs
of disinterestedness were given, the motive for withholding money could
hardly be misunderstood. With regard to tithes, however, the
circumstances have, since the Tithes Commutation Act, become so
complicated, that few Friends now feel a refusal to pay them a suitable
method of testifying against a paid ministry, and the Yearly Meeting has
placed on record this sense of the alteration of the state of the case
in a minute dated 1875:[24] “This meeting believes that the time has
arrived when the mode of bearing this testimony must be left to the
individual consciences of Friends.”

Amongst lesser matters as to which Friends have made a stand upon
principle against prevailing customs, may be mentioned “the
superstitious observance of days,” especially that of fasts or
thanksgivings prescribed by the civil government (a power which we do
not regard as competent to prescribe religious exercises), and the
practice of wearing mourning, and placing “inscriptions of a eulogistic
character” on tombstones. In Friends’ burial-grounds nothing beyond the
name, and the dates of birth and death, is permitted. The objections to
wearing mourning are obvious, both on the ground of unnecessary expense
and trouble at a time when the mind should surely be left as much as
possible undisturbed, and also on that of its being an expression (and
an expression so formal as to be of doubtful sincerity) of grief and
gloom in regard to providential dispensations which, however painful, we
should desire to accept with cheerful submission. There is obviously
much to be said for this application of the principle of simplifying our
customs, and adjusting our dress and other surroundings to the permanent
rather than the transient circumstances of our lives.

To simplify life to the very uttermost—is not this truly in itself a
worthy aim; nay, the one inexorable condition of excellence?

We have just now been engaged with comparatively trivial matters—straws
which show as no more solid thing can do which way the wind blows. These
things are important, not in themselves, but in relation to the
principles in honest obedience to which they have been worked out.
Simplicity—“the simplicity which is in Christ”—the simplicity, not of
exclusion, but of Divine all-subduing supremacy—this is the keynote of
our ideal; and it is a keynote to which the human heart must always in
some degree respond. At the bottom of all art, of all beauty, and
surely, we may say, of all goodness, lies the principle of
subordination—the necessity of a perpetual choice between the permanent
and the transient, the essential and the superficial. Quakerism is an
honest endeavour to carry out this principle in the Christian life; to
weigh “in the balance of the sanctuary” the meat that endureth against
the meat that perisheth; to cleave to the eternal at the sacrifice, if
necessary, of all that is temporal.

I am, of course, not absurd enough to claim that this endeavour is
peculiar to Quakerism. My object throughout is to show what are the
eternal and unassailable principles of truth to which Quakerism appeals,
to which it clings as to its strongholds. And I believe that the severe
sifting away of non-essentials which lies at the foundation of our
revolt from accepted ecclesiastical practices, and which has ramified in
detail into these minor testimonies, often rigidly and at times even
laughably worked out by individuals, is a process more and more urgently
needed in these days of rapid growth in all material and intellectual

The permanent danger of giving our labour and our lives “for that which
satisfieth not” was surely never more desperate than in these days of
hurry and fulness, when merely to stand still needs a resolute effort of
will. Are not half the lives we know carried along in a current they
know not how to resist towards objects they but vaguely recognize, and
in their heart of hearts do not value? Was the bondage of outward things
ever more oppressive than it is to many of those who are ostensibly, and
ought to be really, in a position of entire outward independence? How
many of us have attained to the unspeakable repose of having our centre
of gravity in the right place, of leaning upon nothing that can fail?

There is no royal road to ridding ourselves of superfluities. It is a
lifelong process of severe purification, which at every turn demands the
sacrifice of the lower to the higher. But as this severity is the
necessary price of attaining what is highest, so also it is the one
spell by which life and significance and value can be given to what is
lower. If it burns it also brightens; while it destroys it irradiates. I
believe it to be in all things true that nothing can have its full value
except when rightly subordinated to that which is of more importance
than itself. If you sacrifice the higher to the lower, you not only make
a bad bargain, but you injure the very object which you thus purchase.
That of which you make an idol turns to dust in the process. The idol
which you have the courage to pluck from its throne may come to life
through that very act. From the closest human affection down to the most
trivial outward adornment, all lovely things owe their perfection of
loveliness to being held in their due subordination to what is yet
higher. “He that will lose his life shall save it;” a hard saying,
indeed,—with the hardness of the imperishable rock in which is our
fortress and our stronghold.

                              CHAPTER VI.
                              OUR CALLING.

I have endeavoured to explain what are those principles and practices
into which we as a body have been led through what we believe to be
obedience to the Spirit of Truth. I know that in some respects we seem
to our fellow-Christians to have mistaken the voice of our Guide, and to
be, through ignorance perhaps, but yet lamentably, excluding ourselves
from the most precious privileges, if not consciously disregarding the
most sacred injunctions. It is a very solemn question upon which we thus
join issue with almost all the Churches of Christendom;—What is, in
fact, essential Christianity?

“By their fruits ye shall know them.” It would ill become me to attempt
any estimate of the fruitfulness of that branch of the Christian Church
which I have joined as compared with the branch of it in which I was
brought up. I have been occupied throughout with our ideal, not with the
degree of our fulfilment or failure to fulfil it. I feel bound, however,
to say that I cannot reconcile the fact of the signs of life and
spiritual energy which I find within as well as without the Society with
the idea that either branch of the Church is really cut off from the
root of the living Vine. Does it follow that our peculiar principles and
practices are of no consequence?

I cannot myself believe that this is a legitimate conclusion from the
admitted fact that undeniably holy and Christian lives are led within as
well as without our borders. That fact does, I think, show at least that
everything does not depend either upon the observance or the disuse of
outward ordinances—it shows that either course may be pursued in good
faith and without destruction to the Christian life; but it is not
inconsistent with the belief that results of profound importance to the
character of our Christianity are involved in this question of
ordinances and orders, and that it therefore behoves us to seek the
utmost clearness with regard to it.

This question is the very key of the position of the Society of Friends
as a separate body. It is as witnesses to the independence of spiritual
life upon outward ordinances that we believe ourselves especially called
to maintain our place in the universal Church in the present day.

The importance of our separate position is perhaps somewhat obscured in
the eyes of some amongst us by the fact that we can no longer assume the
vehemently aggressive attitude of the early Friends, as against
Christians of other denominations. They believed it to be their duty to
attack the “hireling priests” of their day as guilty of “apostasy,” and
upholders of the mysterious powers of darkness. In our own day such
judgments would imply either the grossest ignorance or else downright
insanity. We cannot help knowing, and rejoicing to know, that a large
proportion of the clergy are amongst the most devoted and disinterested
of the children of light, using their official position, as well as
every other power of body and mind, for the promotion of the kingdom of
God and the spread of the gospel. We desire nothing better than to fight
beside them, shoulder to shoulder, against the common enemy; and we are,
in fact, often associated with them in efforts of this kind.

In like manner, it would be impossible for Friends in these days to
speak in the tone of the founders of the Society, as though we possessed
a degree of light in comparison of which all other Christians must be
considered as groping in thick darkness. The early Friends sometimes
spoke of the “breaking forth of the gospel day” through the revelation
made to them as of an event almost equal in importance to its original
promulgation sixteen hundred years before. In these days we could not
with any kind of honesty or justice claim a position so enormously in
advance of our neighbours. On all hands we see evidences of fidelity and
fruitfulness, and the shining of examples which we rejoice to admire,
and desire to emulate.

There is thus, I think, a certain perplexity as to our relative position
in the Christian Church which is a cause of some weakness amongst
Friends. It is in some respects easier to maintain an aggressive
attitude than one of mere quiet separateness; and it would be no wonder
if some, especially of our younger members, in these days of free
interchange of sympathy, should begin to falter a little as to the
importance of our separate position. It is, indeed, one which will not
be maintained except as the result of deep and searching spiritual
discipline. The testimony against dependence on what is outward cannot
be borne to any purpose at second hand. We must ourselves be weaned from
all hankering after what is outward and tangible before we can
appreciate the value of a testimony to the sufficiency of the purely
spiritual; and that weaning is not an easy process, nor one that can be
transmitted from generation to generation. Unless our younger Friends be
taught in the same stern school as their forefathers, they will
assuredly not maintain the vantage-ground won by the faithfulness of a
former generation.

Some other causes have, I believe, tended to confuse our relation to the
outer world, and make it important that Friends should look well to
their path, and consider whither it is tending; whether we are really
guarding the position which it is specially our business to defend, or
allowing ourselves to be drawn off into the pursuit of less important
matters. There are in the main stream of the Society many currents and
counter-currents, and its recent history has been one of change and
reaction, so that it would be dangerous and presumptuous for a new-comer
to attempt to foretell its course; but I may venture to point out some
of the tendencies which are and have been at work amongst us, preparing
the conditions under which our future work must be done.

It is well known that the Society, which sprang very rapidly into
existence in the middle of the seventeenth century, began during the
eighteenth to diminish in numbers, and was for many years a steadily
dwindling body. Closed meeting-houses and empty benches are now to be
found in all parts of the country where, in former days, the difficulty
was to find room for all who came. Within the last thirty or forty years
our numbers have, however, begun slowly to increase, although the
increase is so far from being equal to the rate of increase of the
population at large, that in proportion to other denominations we may
still be considered as in a certain sense losing ground. The actual
increase, small as it is, is nevertheless a significant fact.[25]

The great falling-off in numbers during the eighteenth and part of the
nineteenth centuries was probably caused, in part at least, by the fact
that after the early days of growth and persecution there followed a
time of outward quietness, in which the value attached to what one may
call Quaker tradition became excessive, and resulted in too rigid a
discipline. The actual discipline of the Society was applied with a
strictness which surely was not altogether wise or wholesome; and the
less tangible restraint of public opinion within the borders of a small
and very exclusive sect was probably even more oppressive in its
rigidity and minuteness of supervision. Until within the last thirty
years or thereabouts, it was the almost invariable practice to disown
all members who married “out of the Society;” and this restriction must
obviously have done much not only to diminish the numbers, but probably
also to alienate the affections of successive rising generations. So
many of the young people lost or resigned their membership for this and
other causes, that, had no change taken place, the days of the Society
must to all appearance have been numbered.

But in the early part of this century, owing, in a great measure, to the
influence of Joseph John Gurney and his sister, Elizabeth Fry, a new
wave of religious and benevolent activity arose; and about the same
time, though with what degree of connection with this impulse I do not
know, a considerable relaxation of discipline took place. Not only was
the practice with regard to marriages out of the Society relaxed, but
many minor matters, in which an irksome and, no doubt, often hurtful
rigidity had prevailed, began to be deliberately left to the judgment of
individuals. In 1861 a revision of the “Book of Discipline” took place,
which reflected and sanctioned the relaxation of supervision in regard
to these matters. In that year the latter part of the fourth query
relating to “plainness of speech, behaviour, and apparel,” was dropped,
and other changes were made in the queries then in use. The Yearly
Meeting, as has been already mentioned, no longer requires that any of
the queries should be answered, except those which regard the regularity
with which meetings are held and attended. These changes have meant in
practice that the maintenance of all our special “testimonies” is now
(like that against tithes) “left to the individual conscience,” and not
inquired into by the meetings for discipline; and the immediate result
has, of course, been a great outward and visible alteration—a rapid
disappearance of distinguishing peculiarities, and no doubt an immense
relief to the younger members.

A more direct result of the “evangelical” influence of the Gurneys, and
others like-minded, was the setting-in of a current of activity in all
sorts of benevolent, philanthropic, and missionary directions. The old
dread of “creaturely activity,”—of moving in any kind of religious work
without an immediate prompting and even constraining influence from
above,—seems to have in some degree given place to a fear of burying our
talent. The Christian duty of going forth to seek and to save, of
holding forth the word of life, and letting our light shine before men,
had been beautifully exemplified by some eminent men and women in the
Society. Many of the younger Friends caught the flame of their zeal, and
from all quarters, in these modern days, influences combine to make that
“sitting still,” in which an earlier generation of Friends had found
their strength, appear almost an impossibility.

With the new rising tide of fervent zeal and benevolence came a great
change in the prevailing tone of religious feeling. The Bible, which, in
their dread lest the letter should usurp the place of the spirit, had
amongst Friends been almost put under a bushel, was brought into new
prominence, and so-called “evangelical” views respecting the unique or
exceptional nature of its inspiration began to be entertained. Gradually
the idea of the necessity of teaching “sound doctrine” assumed an
importance which had formerly been reserved for that of looking for
“right guidance;” and in some quarters a visible tendency has, of late
years, been manifest towards more definition of doctrines and
popularizing of methods than would have been tolerated half a century

Although these modern tendencies have undoubtedly been accompanied by,
and have probably in some degree led to, an increase in our numbers, a
strong protest has from time to time been raised against them by those
who feel that Quakerism had its root and its strength in a deep inward
and spiritual experience which frees from all dependence upon outward
things. In America the protest against (or, as those who protest would
no doubt rather say, the introduction of) this modern phase of
comparatively superficial religious activity has caused grievous schisms
and troubles. About the year 1826, a large party, under the leadership
of one Elias Hicks, in that country broke off altogether from the main
body of Friends, and is suspected by the “orthodox” of having, under
professed obedience to the inner light, become practically a Unitarian
or rationalist body. In England, however, the two main currents have
flowed side by side, and have not resulted in any considerable division
of the stream.

Both parties claim to be taking their stand upon the original principles
of the early Friends. Those who uphold above all things the doctrine of
the inner light, and the primary necessity of immediate inspiration and
guidance to the bringing forth of any good word or work, and especially
to the performance of any acceptable worship, have abundant evidence to
produce, in the writings of Fox, Barclay, Penn, Penington, and other
fathers of the Society, that this was the foundation and the constant
burden of all their teaching. Those, on the other hand, who are throwing
themselves heart and soul into missionary and “evangelistic” efforts,
say truly enough that the early Friends did not so “wait for guidance”
as to be content to sit still and make no effort to lighten the darkness
around them, and that it was the intermediate or “mediæval,” not the
“primitive” teaching of the Society which exalted the individual
consciousness into the supreme authority, thus developing, in fact, a
claim to something approaching personal infallibility.

There are, of course, dangers in either extreme—in the over-valuation of
visible and tangible activity, and in the undue intensity of
introspective quietism. Too much “inwardness” seems to develop an
extraordinary bitterness and spirit of judgment, under the shadow of
which no fresh growth would be possible. It is obviously dangerous to
sanity. Too much “outwardness” dilutes and destroys the very essence of
our testimony, encourages a worthless growth of human dependence, and
can hardly fail to be dangerous to sincerity. But yet the divergence is,
I believe, a case rather of diversity of gifts and functions than of
contradiction in principle. Both functions are surely needed. Where a
living fountain is really springing up within, it must needs tend to
overflow. The leaves and blossoms are as essential to the health and
fruitfulness of a tree as its root. The secret, as I believe, of the
strength of our Society, its peculiar qualification for service in these
days, lies in its strong grasp of the oneness of the inward and the
outward, as well as in the deep and pure spirituality of its aim in
regard to both.

There is, I believe and am sure, a special and urgent need in these days
for that witness to the light—light both within and without—which was
the special office of early Quakerism. I am not equally sure that
Quakerism, as it is, is the vehicle best adapted to convey that
testimony to the present generation. If it be not so, it is largely the
fault of our degeneracy as a body; of the lapse of our Society into a
rigid formalism during the eighteenth century, and into a shallow
seeking for popularity in the nineteenth. But, in spite of all such
right-hand and left-hand defections it seems to me that there is life
enough yet in the old tree for a fresh growth of fruit-bearing branches.
It seems to me that the framework of the Society has vigour and
elasticity enough yet to be used as an invaluable instrument by a new
generation of fully convinced Friends, were our younger members but
fully willing and resolved to submit to the necessary Divine discipline.
It is no new wave of “creaturely activity,” no judicious adapting of
Quakerism to modern tastes, that will revive its power in the midst of
the present generation. It is a fresh breaking forth of the old power,
the unchanging and unchangeable power of light and truth itself, met and
invited by a fresh submission of heart in each one of us, which can
alone invigorate what is languishing amongst us, and make us more than
ever a blessing to the nation.

Had this power ever wholly disappeared from amongst us, there would be
little use in dwelling fondly upon its deserted tenement. It is because
a measure of the ancient spirit is still to be recognized amongst our
now widely scattered remnant that I would fain stir it up, amongst our
own members especially, and if possible also amongst others, by means of
the experience actually acquired by our Society of the power of an
exclusively spiritual religion.

It is, I hope, hardly necessary to repeat that it is not Quakerism, but
Truth, that I desire to serve and to promote; the sect may no longer be
what is needed, and may be destined to extinction, for aught I know. But
that view of Truth which has found in Quakerism its most emphatic
assertion,—that purely spiritual worship and that supremacy of the light
within which were set forth with power by Fox and Barclay and
Penington,—these things are of perennial value and efficacy, and the
need for their fresh recognition seems to be in our own day peculiarly

There can, indeed, be no rivalry between inward and outward light.
Light, we know, is one, and there can be no contradiction between its
various manifestations, although there may, of course, be any amount of
contradiction between the respective visions of different people. It
seems, indeed, as idle to look for an absolutely colourless medium
within as without, in our own hearts as in the Bible or the Church; and
upon each one lies the responsibility of accepting correction from all
quarters. Yet for each one of us there must be a final authority; and I
do not see how that authority can be found elsewhere than in the inmost
chamber of our own hearts, for it is by that authority alone that we can
be justified even in choosing any external guide. It is, indeed,
impossible for any one who recognizes the shining of light within to
doubt its supreme authority.

To speak of light shining in one’s own heart as something not conclusive
for oneself would be almost a contradiction in terms. But just because
it _is_ within one’s own heart, its range is strictly limited. My inner
light can be no rule (though in a sense it may be as a lamp) for any one
else, for the very reason which forbids me to dispute it. Each one
surely owes an exclusive allegiance to that ray of Divine light which
shines straight into his own inmost sanctuary.

It is, therefore, no disloyalty to the light within to acknowledge the
need of an outward standard for purposes of united action or mutual
judgment, or to accept an outward test of the reality of our possession
of inward light. Those who have learnt to recognize in the light within
the radiance of the Divine Word will acknowledge no lower voice as the
supreme authority without; and will accept no other test of its reality
than that assigned by Christ Himself—righteousness of life.

Friends have always without hesitation accepted the Bible as the one
common standard by which their practice and their teaching should be
tried,[27] and have acknowledged from the first that no claim to Divine
inspiration could be justified except by the actual possession of the
righteousness taught by Christ Himself in word and in deed—a
righteousness “exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

And here we come upon the fact, not always sufficiently remembered, that
the indispensable words “inward” and “outward” need care in the
handling. It is of great importance to my whole subject that the
different senses in which they may be applied should be kept in mind. I
have already[28] pointed out that the mystical meaning of “within” or
“inwardness” is not the only one upon which we insist.

This well-known Quaker watchword must always be understood as asserting
not only that light is to be found by retiring into the inmost chamber
of one’s own heart, but also that it is intrinsic, essential, original;
that, coming from within, it must, if real, illuminate the whole being.
Righteousness, the fruit and result of obedience to light, is in this
sense both inward and outward; it is external, but not extraneous;
outward in the sense of being visible, tangible, open to the light of
day—a thing which, however it may be defined or accounted for, is
universally recognizable, and is acknowledged by all as justifying the
teaching which produces it; it is not outward in the sense of coming
from without, or of being in any degree arbitrary, or accidental, or
dependent upon the judgment of our fellow-creatures; it is a natural,
not an artificial, test and result of the inward state. Neither is it
outward in the sense of appertaining only to what is visible. It does,
indeed, impress its stamp even upon the very frame, and of course it
consists largely in a visible and real dominion of the mind over the
body; but it is, in its origin and essence, of the spirit, not of the

It was the constant and vigorous seeking for and application of this
test of righteousness which distinguished the early Friends from mere
mystics. Those “Friends of the Light” were not content to brood over a
light shut in to their own hearts. They let it shine freely before men,
boldly proclaiming its universality, and calling all men to walk in it.
They stoutly claimed that it was the light of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
the very Sun of Righteousness, and that the light, spirit, and grace of
Christ in their own hearts was one with the spirit in which the
Scriptures were given forth. Above all, they insisted that the light was
the Spirit of Truth, and must lead into all truth; not into omniscience
or infallibility, but into truth in the inmost parts—truth in word, in
thought, and in deed. Thus they recognized the great truth that the
light within and the light without are alike aspects of the Eternal Word
of God—that Word which, abiding in us, is our Eternal Life.

Light within—not the vision of the mystic alone, but cleanness of heart,
uprightness, sincerity, singleness of mind—of this light they affirmed
that every living soul had some germ, which, as it was attended to,
would lead out of the evil it condemned. And the glory of their teaching
was that it summoned each human spirit to work out its own salvation—in
fear and in trembling truly, and in the strength of God working with and
in it, but without dependence on any human being, or on anything
perishable, or disputable, or accidental; to repent, and to bring forth
fruits meet for repentance; to walk soberly, as children of the day.

This is what I mean by the pure spirituality of the _aim_ of Friends
both as to the inward and the outward. The inner light they desire to
walk in is not an intellectual but a purifying light; it consists not in
rapture, ecstasy, sensation, but in clear insight into the deepest kind
of truth; it leads not to knowledge, but to holiness,—which is, indeed,
knowledge of the truth. It shines in quietness; and in order to cherish
it we must lay aside our preoccupation with the vivid and clamorous and
transitory things that are without, dwelling in stillness upon what is
eternal, that all things may be revealed in their true proportions. It
courts and acknowledges an outward test; but that test consists in the
quality of its own outward results, as commending themselves to every
man’s conscience, and reveals itself not in a conformity to other
people’s teaching, but in a transforming power. The outward stamp we
value is not a stamp or sign applied or administered from without and by
material means, but the outward and visible radiance of the flame
kindled within. The supremacy of the inner light as recognized by us is
the supremacy of the fountain over the stream, and the cleanness and
cleansing power of the stream is the proof of the purity of the
fountain. It is in fixing attention upon moral and spiritual results,
rather than upon precision of doctrine or correctness of ceremonial
observance, that Friends have, I believe, hit the right nail on the
head. In our own day, as in George Fox’s day, this direct appeal to
conscience is surely the one unfailing means by which men and women can
be “turned to the light,” brought to recognize Him who is the Light, and
taught to find in Him their everlasting rest—the rest which is the
beginning of power and of victory.

If we be right in our belief that the salvation of Jesus Christ is a
purely spiritual influence, a flame which finds in every human heart
some prepared fuel, and which is to be spread from heart to heart as
fire is kindled from torch to torch; which is to be maintained not by
rites and ceremonies, and “the apostolical succession” of outward
ordination, but by that turning from dead works to serve the living God
which is in the power of every living soul, and which no one can perform
for another;—if this view be true, then Friends have yet a great work to
do in promulgating it, and a great responsibility in having received it
as an inheritance.

For this is not yet the commonly accepted view. The Christianity which
has spread and flourished is still deeply saturated with reliance upon
outward rites and outward ordinances, and deeply entangled with rigid
formularies. It is largely composed of creeds and doctrines, which,
whether theoretically true or false, are yet capable of being held in
unrighteousness, and incapable, therefore, of truly redeeming the souls
who trust in them.

Most Christians say or assume that these things are vitally helpful to
them. I dare not presume to say that they are wrong, though I own that I
think the assumption too conventional to be conclusive. But of one thing
I am quite sure. There is a great and increasing multitude amongst us
who cannot accept outward rites or clerical teaching. We see by the
experience of Roman Catholic countries how inevitably the spread of
priestly influence amongst devout women is accompanied by the utter
alienation of thinking men from religion itself. I fear that a tendency
of the same kind is visible in England now. What is the proportion of
men to women to be seen in the congregations of London churches? Is it
not obvious even to our outward senses that there is something in modern
Christianity which the masculine mind rejects? We have, indeed, abundant
proof in the literature of our day that this is the case. Are we driven
to conclude that it is the essence of the religion of Jesus Christ which
is rejected by masculine thought; or does the stumbling-block lie in
human additions to the teaching of Christ Himself?

I cannot doubt, and I believe few of the worthiest representatives of
masculine thought would deny that His own teaching, as we have it in the
Gospels, is eternal truth; as secure against every storm of doubt and
revolt as the sun in heaven is secure against the whirlwind. The
Christianity of Jesus Christ Himself is the Christianity upon which
Friends alone, or almost alone, have boldly taken their stand as
all-sufficient. In preaching this essential Christianity we can appeal
with boldness to the witness in every human heart; and I venture to say
that it is not a religion for women and children only, but one which
appeals to and fortifies the best instincts of manly independence.[29]

Let it not be supposed that I attribute the whole of the modern revolt
from religion to the engrafting of ecclesiastical “developments” upon
the simplicity which is in Christ. I know, of course, that many other
forces tend to alienate men (and women too) from God, and that there is
much in the progress of scientific discovery which it is difficult to
reconcile quickly with even the very essence of religion. It is because
the ship of faith is in danger that I long to see it lightened of
unnecessary burdens. It is because men are ready enough to cast from
them all thought of the things which belong to their peace, and to
abandon in despair the hope which alone can purify their lives, that I
long to see that hope disentangled from whatever is worn out and
cumbersome and unreasonable.

Quakerism in its origin was a bold and successful struggle to do this.
The glory of early Quakerism was in its integrity, in its
uncompromising, unflinching requirement that the life should bear
witness to the truth, and its resolute stand against any other
requirement. The “inner light” was not only a word of the deepest
poetical and mystical significance; it was a doctrine of sternest
righteousness, and at the same time an assertion of resolute
independence. Those who were conscious of the shining of Divine light
into their own hearts needed no priestly absolution or interposition.
They were willing to stand or fall by their innocence in the sight of
all men. Their very gaolers often trusted them to convey themselves to
their distant prisons if they had but promised. It was well known in
those early days that a Friend’s word was as good as his bond; and to
this very day a reputation for special truthfulness and sobriety clings
to them, and not, I believe, without reason.

I am anxious to insist upon the resolution to maintain a high moral
standard amongst us, not only because of the supreme intrinsic
importance of righteousness; not only because I believe that as religion
is cleared of outward and ceremonial and perishable elements this
indestructible growth of holiness has more room to expand; but also
because it cannot be denied, and should, indeed, never be forgotten,
that there is a very real ground for the suspicion, or, at any rate, the
jealous scrutiny, with which any peculiarly exalted spiritual
aspirations are apt to be regarded.

There is a well-known and very awful connection between religious
emotion and emotions arising from sources less pure. There is an
ever-present danger lest in any endeavour to stimulate the one we should
rouse the other, and a still worse danger lest the lower should assume
the garb and appearance of the higher. The history of religious revivals
affords abundant warning of the dangers inseparable from all sudden
outbursts of feeling, even where much of it is deep and true and

No doubt the founders of the Society of Friends had their share of such
instructive and at times mortifying experience.[30] They were brave men,
and knew the reality of their own deep experience, and were not easily
discouraged by a few extravagances (they appear, indeed, to have been
remarkably few) amongst their followers. But there is reason to think
that they were strongly impressed with the importance of specially
guarding the sobriety becoming the children of the day, at a time when
their own preaching was working in men’s minds like new wine. Besides
the one great and invariable safeguard of their constant preaching of
righteousness, and appeal to the light without as the test of the
reality of the light within, there were two special precautions which
they consciously or unconsciously took against the danger of spiritual,
or _quasi_-spiritual, excitement.

One of these was the full recognition that the action of the Spirit of
God upon the heart consisted not only in impulse but in restraint, and
that for its right interpretation the part of the creature was to be
quiet. “Stand still in the light” is one of the familiar burdens of
George Fox’s advice. Friends were, and are still, as carefully taught to
submit to the restraints as to yield to the impulses of “best wisdom.”
To “dwell deep,” to “pause upon it,” not to proceed unless “way opens,”
nor on any account to disregard a “stop in one’s mind,”—these and many
such familiar Quaker admonitions show by how much “holy fear” their zeal
has habitually been tempered.

“Quietism” is, indeed, the natural accompaniment of “mysticism” (of
mysticism, that is, in the sense of belief in the inner light). That a
vivid sense of the presence of the Creator should bring stillness to the
creature is inevitable. And only under the restraining and controlling
power of the deep awe thus inspired can it be safe or wholesome for the
human spirit to stand in the immediate presence of its own Divine
Source. There was surely a deep truth in the old Hebrew feeling, “Shall
man see God and live?” Religious emotion need not be unreal to be
unwholesome. The deeper the chord stirred, the more awful the danger
arising from any jarring or deviation from the due and steady amount of

Another precaution against the danger of yielding to excitement or to
immature or unguarded impulse, is provided in our whole system of
“Church government” and oversight, and especially in the importance
attached to ascertaining “Friends’ unity” with any proposed religious
service before proceeding in it. This is a curious and beautifully
adapted sheath provided for the buddings of a ministry which is free in
the sense of being entirely spontaneous, prompted only by an impulse
believed to be from above. It is by no means an unknown thing, perhaps
not even an uncommon thing (but of this I speak from but scanty
opportunities of observation), for Friends in their business meetings to
discourage “concerns” which do not appear to them to be justified by
reasons sufficiently weighty, or which in some other way fail to commend
themselves to the judgment of the meeting.

Not only directly, but also by the indirect effect of the value thus
collectively and traditionally assigned to care and caution in handling
spiritual things, do these recognized practices tend to inculcate
sobriety and patience. And above all it is a deeply ingrained feeling in
the Quaker mind that every vessel to be used for sacred purposes must
before all things be clean. Every one coming forward as a minister of
the gospel especially must approve himself, or herself, in the full
light of day as not only preaching, but living, according to the Spirit
of Truth.

And these “ministers,” be it remembered, are not people leading a
sheltered and separate life; but men and women engaged in the ordinary
business of life, following trades and professions, and sharing in all
the daily experiences of those to whom they minister. Is there not
something peculiarly adapted to the needs of our day in the combination
of matter-of-fact, wholesome, sober independence with the thorough-going
and unreserved spirituality and purity of our acknowledged aim—that,
namely, of living under the immediate guidance of the Spirit of Truth?

It is here that I see in the ideal of Quakerism the one perennially
right and fruitful ideal of Christian life—obedience to truth in the
fullest and highest sense; the living truth—not truth in the sense of
accurate or orthodox belief about Christ, but of an actual partaking of
His Spirit, who Himself _is_ the Way, the Truth, and the Life; a
learning through obedience to know His voice, and a continual
witness-bearing to others of the reality and the power of His living
presence and teaching. We can bear this witness in one, and only in one,
way; our lives must be penetrated by the light—the light which lighteth
every man that cometh into the world—penetrated and kindled and
purified, till they too shine both inwardly and outwardly. The life is
the light of men.

In our days faith is challenged at every point and at every turn, with a
freedom and a violence which was unknown fifty years ago. All that can
be shaken is being shaken, to its very foundations. My own firm belief
is that, though full of danger, this is on the whole a natural, a
necessary, and, in the main, a beneficial process. Throw a large load of
fuel on a clear fire, and for a time it may seem doubtful whether it is
not extinguished; but if the flame be strong enough, it will rise again
through the smoke and dust, and burn the stronger for what it has
mastered. And so assuredly will faith in whatever is truly eternal rise
above all present confusions and darkenings of counsel, and burn with
fresh power in those hearts which have steadfastly cleaved to truth, be
its requirements what they may.

The Society of Friends has always refused to require adhesion to any
formularies as an express or even implied condition of membership; and
surely it has done wisely.[31] It has frankly and steadily accepted the
Bible as the one common standard and storehouse of written doctrine, but
it has always had the courage to trust unreservedly to the immediate
teaching of “the Spirit which gave forth the Scriptures” for their
interpretation, and for the leading of each one “into all truth;” it has
hitherto been true to its belief in the living Guide. And this, I am
convinced, is the only belief which will meet the needs of the free
thought of our day.

If thought is to be truly free, in the sense of fearless and unbiased,
it must not only be open to the whole range of experience, but it must
be subject to the correction of central and unchanging principles;
freedom requires stability as well as openness. I believe that those of
us who have learned to submit to correction both from without and from
within, who dare to face at once every real fact, and every necessary
process of mental discipline, within their reach, have a most weighty
office to fill amidst the troubled thoughts and lives of our day. For
while human nature is what it is, it must recognize, however dimly, that
it needs not only to be fed with knowledge, but to be strengthened with
might in the inner man.

People want, and must have if they are to be spiritually helped at all,
two things mainly at this moment, as I believe. They want a higher,
purer, worthier form of faith and worship than they have been accustomed
to find provided for them; and they want stronger proof of the reality
of the objects of faith than is commonly offered.

By a higher, purer, worthier form of faith and worship, I do not mean
improved formularies or liturgies; I mean rather that openness to
improvement which is precluded by fixed forms, and which the very beauty
and dignity of the Anglican Liturgy tends to impede. They want, I
believe, a manner of worship which shall be simpler, more living and
actual—truly higher and purer because less intellectually ambitious, and
more freshly inspired by human needs and Divine help; and a manner of
speaking about Divine things less conventional, less technical and
artificial, arising more visibly from actual experience, and based more
solidly upon common ground. They want not authorized teachers, but
competent witnesses; not to listen to sermons and religious “services,”
however admirable, which are delivered in fulfilment of a professional
engagement, within prescribed bounds of orthodoxy, at stated times and
in regular amount; but to come into personal contact with those who have
seen, felt, encountered, the things of which they speak; and who speak
not because they are officially appointed to speak, but out of the
fulness of the heart because they must—people who dare to be silent when
they have nothing to say, and who are not afraid to acknowledge their
ignorance, their doubts, or their perplexities. We are becoming critical
and impatient of conventionalities, not only, as I believe, because
education is spreading, but also because we are hungry for reality,
because we are brought face to face (by the astonishing circulation of
everything) with all manner of problems which are awful enough for us
all, and doubly awful for those whose foundation is in any way insecure.
In the presence—and in these days every corner of the land, not to say
of the world, is in a sense present to our mental vision—in the presence
of every variety of human (and animal) misery, of vice and crime and
violence, and inherited degradation and disease, of changes and dangers
and crumblings away of every refuge, who can wonder if men and women
refuse to be satisfied with shallow or conventional explanations of the
fearful problems confronting them and challenging their faith? The
glibness, the exasperating completeness, the unconscious blasphemy, of
many “orthodox” vindications of Providence, are enough to disgust people
with mere orthodoxy.

We Christians have been roughly awakened by the storm, and are beginning
to recognize that we needed such a correcting and sifting of our thought
and language as modern attacks are abundantly supplying. At such a
moment it is surely an unspeakable privilege for any religious body to
be entirely unshackled by creeds and formularies; to have nothing in its
tradition or practices to hinder it from profiting by this process of
correction, or from uttering its perennial and unalterable testimony in
the freshest and most flexible and modern language it can command. And
perhaps it is a still greater privilege, in the midst of this Babel, to
have learned the thrice-blessed power of silence; to have secured both
in private and in public the opportunity and the practice of dwelling
silently upon that which is unspeakable and unchangeable; of witnessing
to the light in that stillness which most clearly reflects the Divine
glory, in which the accusations of the enemy are most effectually

And not only do people in these days want purer expressions of faith;
they need also stronger proofs of the reality of its objects. I do not,
of course, mean new proofs; I do not mean that really new evidence can
ever be forthcoming in favour of eternal truth, though fresh aspects and
illustrations and revelations of it are indeed crowding upon us day by
day. I mean rather that the battle which was formerly fought by single
champions here and there has now broken forth along the whole line; that
in these days, whether we will or no, we are all in the thick of the
fight; that no one can help hearing the deepest of all truths called in
question at every turn; and that we need weapons, if not of tougher
quality, yet of readier use and more thoroughly proved, more honestly
our own, than those which may have sufficed in former times. We need, I
believe, moral and spiritual rather than merely intellectual proof of
the reality of that which alone can satisfy the human spirit in its
deepest needs. Let creeds, like all other beliefs, be sifted, and
tested, and corrected, and proved or disproved, and in every way dealt
with as truth may require. Those whose one object is truth can have
nothing to dread from any serious and legitimate handling of any
question whatever. But, when all is said and thought, it remains for
ever true that man cannot by searching find out God; while yet without
Him what good shall our lives do us? It is not by supplying people with
the wisest and truest replies to their difficulties that they can be
effectually armed against them. Second-hand belief is poor comfort in
days when authority of all kinds is so freely discredited. And at all
times and under all circumstances something more than theory is required
for victory.

For what, after all, is this “faith,” which above all things we who have
even a grain of it must desire to hold forth to others? “This is the
victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.” It is a power, not
a mere belief; and power can be shown only in action, only in overcoming
resistance. Power that shall lift us one by one above temptations, above
cares, above selfishness; power that shall make all things new, and
subdue all things unto itself; power by which loss is transmuted into
gain, tribulation into rejoicing, death itself into the gate of
everlasting life;—is not this the true meaning of faith?

I see no possible means of spreading such faith as this but to exercise
it; in our own persons, as the way is prepared for us, to work
righteousness, to obtain promises, out of weakness to be made strong, to
wax valiant in fight—yes, and to receive our dead raised to life again.
These are the proofs which will convince the world “of sin, of
righteousness, and of judgment;” these, not reasonings, are the proofs
of a Divine Fountain of life and power to which Friends have been taught
to attach weight. Formularies, even the most perfect in their day, and
the most venerable in their origin, will wear out. The meaning of
language shifts, and the changing lights of knowledge distort whatever
forms do not change with them; but the power of an endless life will
never lose its hold on human hearts; and the need for help from the
cloud of witnesses compassing us about was never sorer than in our own

Around us from all sides comes the cry, spoken or unspoken, “Give us of
your oil.” But we who are not unsupplied are being sternly taught to
reply, “Not so; but go ye to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.”

“To them that sell.” The “water of life” is for all that are athirst;
the “wine and milk” are without money and without price. But the oil,
the supply of light for other lives, this must truly be bought with a
price. Not at second-hand, not by sitting at our ease and absorbing the
thoughts of others, can we become as lamps to show forth the path of
life. Our own hearts must first be baptized with fire, and our knowledge
bought at the cost of suffering. It is such dearly-bought knowledge
alone which can enable any one to raise a standard round which others
will rally in fighting the good fight of faith.

The special struggle of our day is a struggle for truth. We who have
been bold to call ourselves children of light, shall we not boldly join
hands with all who are struggling towards the light? Shall we not be
willing and ready to lay aside every weight,—not only every hindering
possession or habit, but every vain endeavour to bind in the truth of
God by human formularies and definitions,—and unreservedly trust to the
living teaching of the Spirit for ourselves and others, “looking for God
_in holiness_, that we may behold His power and glory?”

Holiness—that is, obedience—is surely the rock upon which alone we can
build any faith that will endure. Standing firmly on that rock, and on
that only, we may hope to catch some glimpses of the Divine mysteries.
“Clouds and darkness are round about Thee, but righteousness and truth
are the habitation of Thy throne.” It ill becomes us to attempt to
explain all the dealings of God with man, still more the mysteries of
the Divine Being and Nature; and that which must for ever remain a
mystery to the most faithful of His children it is idle indeed to
undertake to explain to others. Yet let us never flinch from bearing
witness to that of which through these awful clouds we have from time to
time been permitted to obtain some broken vision. Let us never cease to
do what in us lies to persuade our fellows to lift their eyes also to
the heavens, and though the vision may tarry, to wait for it in
steadfast patience. They may call us dreamers, and we may think them
blind. When we speak of the stars, they may say we are idly romancing
about a mere painted ceiling. But the end is not yet. No roof of human
workmanship will endure for ever. Sooner or later all that is of earth
must perish and crumble away. Then is the time for the children of light
to “lift up their heads,” knowing that “their redemption draweth nigh.”

For beyond all words and all proofs lies the true anchorage of the
spirit, to which every firmly rooted life bears a witness neither
needing nor admitting of utterance. Deeper than all need of mere
conviction is the need of rest and stability. We must be at rest before
we can be free. In quietness and in confidence is our strength. While
our hearts are tossed and agitated by every wave of this troublesome
world, while the shadows of passing things have power to distract and
confuse our vision, we cannot clearly discern that truth which alone can
make us free.

Truly “there remaineth a rest for the people of God;” a satisfying,
soul-restoring fulness of rest of which some of us have begun to taste.
Some of us know assuredly that nothing perishable is the habitation of
our spirits. Some of us know what it is to be willingly brought into an
order flowing perceptibly and perpetually from the one unchangeable will
of God, in which alone can our own will be harmonized and made
steadfast. Some of us are learning ever more and more fully to accept
the Father’s will because it _is_ the will of the Father, entering more
and more truly day by day into the spirit of sonship. To experience in
our own hearts the harmonizing, purifying, invigorating power of the
Divine will is to be at rest for ourselves and for others; not to be set
free from suffering or to become indifferent to it, but to be
undisturbed by it—to know that underneath all the agitations of the
creatures are the everlasting arms; to receive strength to consent to
whatever is ordained by that blessed will, and to resist whatever is
opposed to it.

In thus taking up the cross, we begin to see something of its glory, to
experience something of its redeeming power. When we have ourselves
passed from death unto life, having been led through “sundry kinds of
death” into ever fuller and more abundant life, then indeed we can bear
witness to the redeeming power of Christ; then we speak of what we do
know, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; then we are on
our own ground.

It has ever been our belief that the light of Christ, the brightness of
the Father’s glory, is (through obedience to light, even while in
ignorance of its source) purifying the hearts of many who name not His
Name—who are not yet able to recognize the blessed Face from which the
light shines. But the fulness of “the light which no man can approach
unto” is surely reserved for those who stand before the throne of God
and of the Lamb, and with full purpose of heart bow in adoration before
Him that sitteth thereon.

We claim to be a people who have found rest in God; a people building
our house upon the rock, through obedience to those “words of eternal
life” given forth by Christ, the Word. We recognize His Voice as
speaking to us, not only in the pages of Scripture, but also in the
whole course of life as ordered by Him; and yet more closely in the
inmost chamber of our own hearts; and we desire to yield to it an
undivided allegiance.

Our calling is, as branches of the living Vine, to let the working of
that Voice, Light, Spirit, and Grace of Christ be shown forth in our own
lives; and, as power may be given us, to bear witness of it also in
words; baptizing and being baptized into the one Name in which alone is

If, therefore, we have so unassailable a stronghold, so deep and
immovable a foundation, let us never cease to look up steadfastly into
heaven, if so be we may “see the heavens opened;” that we may receive
into our hearts, and reflect with ever-increasing fulness in our lives,
the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. The vision may indeed be
intercepted again and again by the driving clouds; our sight may fail or
falter; but the glory itself is unchangeable, and it is in reflecting
that glory alone that any human face can be, to those that stand by, “as
the face of an angel”—of a Divinely appointed messenger of glad tidings.


                                NOTE A.

The following are the twelve queries now read, “at least once in the
year,” in all our meetings. The parts of the second and tenth, to which
alone answers are required, are printed in italics. It should, however,
be observed that, “with regard to those queries to which no answer is
required, Monthly Meetings are encouraged to report to their Quarterly
Meetings, from time to time, on such of the subjects comprised in them,
as they may think desirable. Quarterly Meetings are recommended to
transmit such reports, or a summary of them, to the Yearly Meeting.”[32]


1. What is the religious state of your meeting? Are you individually
giving evidence of true conversion of heart, and of loving devotedness
to Christ?

2. _Are your meetings for worship regularly held; and how are they
attended?_ Are they occasions of religious solemnity and edification, in
which, through Christ, our ever-living High Priest and Intercessor, the
Father is worshipped in spirit and in truth?

3. Do you “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us”? Do you cherish a
forgiving spirit? Are you careful of the reputation of others; and do
you avoid and discourage tale-bearing and detraction?

4. Are you individually frequent in reading, and diligent in meditating
upon, the Holy Scriptures? And are parents and heads of households in
the practice of reading them in their families in a devotional spirit,
encouraging any right utterance of prayer or praise?

5. Are you in the practice of private retirement and waiting upon the
Lord; in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,
making your requests known unto Him? And do you live in habitual
dependence upon the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit?

6. Do you maintain a religious life and conversation as becometh the
gospel? Are you watchful against conformity to the world; against the
love of ease and self-indulgence; or being unduly absorbed by your
outward concerns to the hindrance of your religious progress and your
service for Christ? And do those who have children or others under their
care endeavour, by example and precept, to train them up as self-denying
followers of the Lord Jesus?

7. Do you maintain a faithful allegiance to the authority of our Lord
Jesus Christ as the one Head of the Church, and the Shepherd and Bishop
of souls, from whom alone must come the true call and qualification for
the ministry of the Word? And are you faithful in your testimony to the
freeness and spirituality of the gospel dispensation?

8. Are you faithful in maintaining our Christian testimony against all
war, as inconsistent with the precepts and spirit of the gospel?

9. Do you maintain strict integrity in all your transactions in trade,
and in your other outward concerns; and are you careful not to defraud
the public revenue?

10. _Are your meetings for Church affairs regularly held; and how are
they attended?_ Are these meetings vigilant in the discharge of their
duties towards their subordinate meetings, and in watching over the
flock in the love of Christ? When delinquencies occur, are they treated
timely, impartially, and in a Christian spirit? And do you individually
take your right share in the attendance and service of these meetings?

11. Do you, as a Church, exercise a loving and watchful care over your
younger members; promoting their instruction in fundamental Christian
truth, and in the scriptural grounds of our religious principles; and
manifesting an earnest desire that, through the power of Divine grace,
they may all become established in the faith and hope of the gospel?

12. Do you fulfil your part as a Church, and as individuals, in
promoting the cause of truth and righteousness, and the spread of the
Redeemer’s kingdom, at home and abroad? (1875.)

                                NOTE B.
             Home Mission Committee of the Yearly Meeting.

The desire felt by many Friends that the Society should, in a more
systematic manner than was formerly thought necessary, recognize and
provide for what is called “evangelistic” and “pastoral” work, led, in
1882, to the appointment of a Committee of the Yearly Meeting on “Home
Missions.” This Committee began its work by inviting the co-operation of
the Monthly and Quarterly Meetings, and in its first Annual Report it
mentions that ten of the Quarterly Meetings had appointed Committees to
correspond with it; in the next year thirteen of the Quarterly Meetings
were thus in correspondence with the Home Mission Committee; and in 1887
the Report states that the Home Mission Committee itself includes
members of every Quarterly Meeting except one.

In 1888, the number of Friends working in connection with the Home
Mission Committee was nineteen. The Report of 1889 speaks of a
considerable extension of the work of the Committee, but does not give
the number of workers.

The donations and subscriptions received by the Committee in the year
ending May, 1889, amounted to £2333.

The work undertaken by “Home Mission Friends” is of various kinds; such
as conducting first day schools, Bible classes, temperance meetings,
lecturing on Friends’ principles, in some neighbourhoods visiting the
sick and the poor, and in various ways endeavouring to build up and
strengthen meetings which seem to be in need of help.

Notwithstanding the large measure of support which the Committee has met
with, there are many Friends who feel very serious hesitation about this
practice of providing “pastoral care,” and who fear lest it should tend
to weaken, if not to destroy, the force of our testimony against a paid
or humanly appointed ministry. The danger is obvious; and I shall not
attempt to estimate the degree in which it can be averted, or the force
of the reasons for encountering it. I will content myself with making
from the Reports of the Committee a few extracts bearing upon this

“We have been forcibly impressed with the extent and variety of openings
for service which have presented themselves to us. Much of this work is
of a character which can, we believe, be more effectually performed by
the Society of Friends than by any other religious body.... In two
instances we have deemed it right to give pecuniary assistance to
Friends who felt it laid upon them, as a religious duty, to give the
whole or a greater part of their time to the work.... These arrangements
involve no bargain or understanding whatsoever for the preaching of the
gospel, and their work has been largely of an organizing character.”

“It is found that Friends in all parts of the country are watchful lest
a separate class of supported ministers should be set up, and this is a
matter which has from the first received our very serious attention. It
is our practice, when a Friend has offered his services to this
Committee, not to enter upon the question of the amount or manner of
support to be granted him until after he has been accepted by us. We
have carefully avoided the establishment of any scale of maintenance,
each case being separately considered on the basis of the actual needs
and circumstances of the Friend in question; and we have encouraged
Friends, where practicable, to contribute by their labour to their own
support.” (1886.)

“We are glad to report an increase in the number of those who require no
pecuniary assistance beyond necessary expenses when actually on
religious service. About half the workers are living on their private
means, or partially maintaining themselves by their labour. About half
of the number may also be considered as stationed more or less in one
place, and the remainder as engaged in evangelistic visits to various
towns as way may open. Of the resident workers, several have travelled
with minutes from their Monthly Meetings, or have rendered temporary
assistance to particular meetings by request of other Monthly Meetings
than their own.... In the meetings where our workers are resident, the
voices of many new members are frequently heard in exhortation and
prayer. In one of them a visiting Friend desired a meeting with all
those who took vocal part in meetings. No fewer than thirteen responded
to his invitation, while three or four more were prevented by other
engagements.... We believe our workers are, without exception, loyal to
the testimony of the Society against the establishment directly or
indirectly, of a ‘one-man ministry.’... Since the formation of this
Committee there is hardly a Quarterly Meeting in which they” (the
Friends engaged in “evangelistic” work) “have not travelled, in several
of them many times and for many weeks together.... Some of these visits
have originated in concerns of the Friends themselves. In other cases
the way has been made for them by an invitation of a Quarterly, Monthly,
or particular Meeting, or the Committee of some Friends’ mission or
adult school. In no case has this Committee deemed it consistent to SEND
any worker anywhere, or to do more than lay such invitation before him,
leaving it to his own conviction of duty as to whether he can see his
way to accept it or not.” (1888.)

“With one exception, every Friend in connection with us has been engaged
during the year to a greater or less extent in work outside the meeting
in which he resides.” (1889.)

                                NOTE C.

In the introduction by J. G. Whittier to a recent edition of John
Woolman’s “Journal,”[33] there is a remarkable account of the manner in
which our Society in America was gradually freed from all complicity
with slavery, long before the struggle for its abolition was begun
elsewhere; from which I venture to make some extracts, for the sake of
the illustration it affords of the working both of our principles and of
our machinery.

From the time of George Fox himself, who in 1671 visited Barbadoes, and
admonished those who held slaves there to bear in mind that they were
brethren, and that “after certain years of servitude they should make
them free,” voices had been raised again and again in several of the
American meetings to witness against the buying and keeping of slaves.

In 1742, John Woolman, then in the employment of a small storekeeper in
New Jersey, was desired by his master to make out a bill of sale of a
negro slave-woman. “On taking up his pen,” says Whittier, “the young
clerk felt a sudden and strong scruple in his mind. The thought of
writing an instrument of slavery for one of his fellow-creatures
oppressed him. God’s voice against the desecration of His image spoke in
his soul. He yielded to the will of his employer, but while writing the
instrument he was constrained to declare, both to the buyer and the
seller, that he believed slave-keeping inconsistent with the Christian
religion.” This circumstance “was the starting-point of a lifelong
testimony against slavery.

“In the year 1746, he visited Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. He
was afflicted by the prevalence of slavery. It appeared to him, in his
own words, ‘as a dark gloominess overhanging the land.’ On his return,
he wrote an essay on the subject, which was published in 1754. Three
years after, he made a second visit to the Southern meetings of Friends.
Travelling as a minister of the gospel, he was compelled to sit down at
the tables of slave-holding planters, who were accustomed to entertain
their friends free of cost, and who could not comprehend the scruples of
their guest against receiving as a gift food and lodging which he
regarded as the gains of oppression. He was a poor man, but he loved
truth more than money. He therefore placed the pay for his entertainment
in the hands of some member of the family, for the benefit of the
slaves, or gave it directly to them, as he had opportunity....

“The annual assemblage of the Yearly Meeting in 1758 at Philadelphia[34]
must ever be regarded as one of the most important religious
convocations in the history of the Christian Church. The labours of
Woolman and his few but earnest associates had not been in vain. A deep
and tender interest had been awakened, and this meeting was looked
forward to with varied feelings of solicitude by all parties. All felt
that the time had come for some definite action.... At length,” after a
“solemn and weighty appeal” from John Woolman, “the truth in a great
measure triumphed over opposition; and, without any public dissent, the
meeting agreed that the injunction of our Lord and Saviour, to do to
others as we would that others should do to us, should induce Friends
who held slaves ‘to set them at liberty, making a Christian provision
for them;’ and four Friends” (of whom John Woolman was one) “were
approved of as suitable persons to visit and treat with such as kept
slaves, within the limits of the meeting.

“This painful and difficult duty was faithfully performed.... These
labours were attended with the blessing of the God of the poor and
oppressed. Dealing in slaves was almost entirely abandoned, and many who
held slaves set them at liberty. But many members still continuing the
practice, a more emphatic testimony against it was issued by the Yearly
Meeting in 1774; and two years after, the subordinate meetings were
directed to deny the right of membership to such as persisted in holding
their fellow-men as property.... In the year 1760, John Woolman, in the
course of a religious visit to New England,” attended their Yearly
Meeting, where “the London Epistle for 1758, condemning the unrighteous
traffic in men, was read, and the substance of it embodied in the
discipline of the meeting; and the following query was adopted, to be
answered by the subordinate meetings: ‘Are Friends clear of importing
negroes, or buying them when imported; and do they use those well where
they are possessed by inheritance or otherwise, endeavouring to train
them up in principles of religion?’ ... In 1769, at the suggestion of
the Rhode Island Quarterly Meeting, the Yearly Meeting expressed its
sense of the wrongfulness of holding slaves, and appointed a large
committee to visit those members who were implicated in the practice....
It was stated, in the Epistle to London Yearly Meeting of the year 1772,
that a few Friends had freed their slaves from bondage, but that others
‘have been so reluctant thereto, that they _have been disowned_[35] for
not complying with the advice of this meeting.’

“In 1773, the following minute was made: ‘It is our sense that truth not
only requires the young of capacity and ability, but likewise the aged
and impotent, and also all in a state of infancy and nonage, among
Friends, to be discharged and set free from a state of slavery; that we
do no more claim property in the human race, as we do in the beasts that

“In 1782, no slaves were known to be held in the New England Yearly
Meeting. The next year, it was recommended to the subordinate meetings
to appoint committees to effect a proper and just _settlement between
the manumitted slaves and their former masters for their past services_.
In 1784, it was concluded by the Yearly Meeting that any slaveholder who
refused to comply with the award of these committees should, after due
care and labour with him, be disowned from the Society. This was
effectual; settlements without disownment were made to the satisfaction
of all parties, and every case was disposed of previous to the year

“In the New York Yearly Meeting, slave-trading was prohibited about the
middle of the last century. In 1771, in consequence of an epistle from
the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, a committee was appointed to visit
those who held slaves, and to advise with them in relation to
emancipation. In 1776, it was made a disciplinary offence to buy, sell,
or hold slaves upon any condition. In 1784, but one slave was to be
found in the limits of the meeting. In the same year, by answers from
the several subordinate meetings, it was ascertained that an equitable
settlement for past services had been effected between the emancipated
negroes and their masters in all but three cases.

“In the Virginia Yearly Meeting slavery had its strongest hold.” In
1757, it “condemned the foreign slave trade. In 1764, it enjoined upon
its members the duty of kindness towards their servants, of educating
them, and carefully providing for their food and clothing. Four years
after, its members were strictly prohibited from purchasing any more
slaves. In 1773, it earnestly recommended the immediate manumission of
all slaves held in bondage, after the females had reached eighteen and
the males twenty-one years of age. At the same time it was advised that
committees should be appointed for the purpose of instructing the
emancipated persons in the principles of morality and of religion, and
for advising and aiding them in their temporal concerns....

“In 1784, the different Quarterly Meetings having reported that many
still held slaves, notwithstanding the advice and entreaties of their
friends, the Yearly Meeting directed that, where _endeavours_ to
convince those offenders of their error proved ineffectual, the Monthly
Meeting should proceed to disown them. We have no means of ascertaining
the precise number of those actually disowned for slave-holding in the
Virginia Yearly Meeting, but it is well known to have been very small.
In almost all cases the care and assiduous labours of those who had the
welfare of the Society and of humanity at heart were successful in
inducing offenders to manumit their slaves, and confess their error in
resisting the wishes of their friends, and bringing reproach upon the
cause of truth.

So ended slavery in the Society of Friends. For three-quarters of a
century the advice put forth in the meetings of the Society at stated
intervals, that Friends should be ‘careful to maintain their testimony
against slavery,’ has been adhered to, so far as owning, or even hiring,
a slave is concerned. Apart from its first fruits of emancipation, there
is a perennial value in the example exhibited of the power of truth,
urged patiently and in earnest love, to overcome the difficulties in the
way of the eradication of an evil system, strengthened by long habit,
entangled with all the complex relations of society, and closely allied
with the love of power, the pride of family, and the lust of gain.’

I need hardly remind my readers of the singular interest of John
Woolman’s own account of his experiences in this and other matters,
which would scarcely admit of abridgment. I have, therefore, been
obliged, though unwillingly, to content myself with the above bare
enumeration of the actual steps taken by the various meetings, without
making any attempt to show to what an extent John Woolman’s own deep
exercises of mind contributed to bring them about. For a study of Quaker
experience, in its purest and most impressive form, the “Journal” itself
is perhaps unrivalled.


[1]“Book of Christian Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends in
    Great Britain; consisting of Extracts on Doctrine, Practice, and
    Church Government, from the Epistles and other Documents issued
    under the sanction of the Yearly Meeting held in London from its
    first institution in 1672 to 1883.” London: Samuel Harris and Co.,
    5, Bishopsgate Street Without. 1883.

[2]The queries now in use are given at length in the Appendix, Note A.

[3]It is estimated that in 1680 (or thirty-two years from the beginning
    of George Fox’s ministry) the number of Friends was about 40,000.
    “In 1656 Fox computed that there were seldom less than 1000 in
    prison; and it has been asserted that, between 1661 and 1697, 13,562
    Quakers were imprisoned, 152 were transported, and 338 died in
    prison or of their wounds” (“Encycl. Brit.,” 9th edit., art.

[4]I may, perhaps, here be allowed to point out the ambiguity of the
    expression “immediate inspiration.” The word “immediate” may be
    understood to mean direct, and in this sense it is, I think,
    superfluous; for it is surely impossible to conceive of inspiration
    as indirect, although revelation may easily be so. But it may also,
    in reference to any particular thought communicated, be understood
    as meaning “instantaneous;” and in this sense a special importance
    has been attached to it by some Friends, which is, I believe,
    deprecated by others, as restricting “ministry” to the utterance of
    words believed to be at the moment given for utterance, under what
    is called a “fresh anointing” from above. I would, therefore, rather
    avoid at present the use of the expression “immediate inspiration,”
    when speaking of our belief that there is in every heart a witness
    for the truth, which is, so to speak, radiated from the central
    truth. The “light” seems, on the whole, to be the figure least open
    to any possible misinterpretation.

[5]Let me not be understood to mean that the process of “keeping the
    mind” (in Quaker phrase) “retired to the Lord” is an easy one. On
    the contrary, it may need strenuous effort. But the _effort_ can be
    made at will and even the mere effort thus to retire from the
    surface to the depths of life is sure to bring help and
    strengthening—is in itself a strengthening, steadying process.

[6]“If ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who
    shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke XVI. 12).

[7]I do not, of course, forget that, going to the imperfection of human
    laws and human faculties, cases may and do occur in which Divine
    guidance must lead us in ways which run counter to them. The figure
    used above is intended only to illustrate the general correspondence
    between the map, as it were, which can be laid down by the reason of
    man, and that individual and immediate guidance which alone can show
    us a higher and a narrower, but yet freer, pathway—the pathway of
    that highest service which is perfect freedom. When, in exceptional
    cases, any contrariety really emerges between the human and the
    Divine guiding lines, we may surely still, without too much
    straining of our figure, say that it is a living power only which
    can free any human spirit from the too narrow fencing in of a morbid
    or unenlightened conscience, and guide it by paths running counter
    to the beaten track of conventional morality, or even in some rare
    instances authorize and enable and require it to overleap even the
    cliffs of actual law, trusting that in such cases, as experience has
    already taught us, the blood of the martyrs will still be the seed
    of the Church.

[8]Sermon XIV., “On the Love of God,” Butler’s “Sermons,” p. 278
    (London, 1726). And in his charge to the clergy of Durham, published
    with the “Analogy” (London, 1802), he repeats the words which I have
    printed above in italics, and speaks of public worship as “a time of
    devotion, when we are assembled to yield ourselves up to the full
    influence of the Divine presence.”

[9]See Introduction.

[10]It is, I think, in this connection important to distinguish between
    the question, How do you in practice distinguish between a true and
    a false message? and the quite separate inquiry, How do you in
    theory distinguish between the human faculty of imagination and the
    Divine action signified by the word “inspiration”? It is with the
    first question only that I have been concerned in the text, as it
    is, I believe, the only question with which honesty requires us to
    grapple. Any attempt to give a full answer to the second question
    would require a degree of psychological skill to which I have no
    claim; and I doubt whether the very terms of the question do not
    lead us beyond the province even of psychology. But, speaking in a
    popular and trustful way, I should reply that we are not concerned
    to discern the precise limits of the Divine and the human; only to
    throw open the deepest human powers to the purest Divine influences;
    that the result we look for is the fruit of a devout intelligence,
    first purified, and then swayed, by the immediate action of Divine
    power. It surely involves something like a contradiction in terms to
    inquire at what precise line a distinction is obliterated?

[11]People have said to me again and again, If you want to be silent,
    why cannot you be silent at home? Such an objection seems hardly
    intended to be seriously answered, yet I have heard it so often that
    I cannot but notice it. Surely it need hardly be pointed out that it
    applies at least equally strongly to the practice of meeting
    together to join in prayers, which, being already in print and
    chosen according to the calendar, each of us might read at home. But
    the worthier answer is that, whether our utterance be prearranged or
    spontaneous, we meet in order to kindle in each other the flame of
    true worship, and also to show forth our allegiance to the Master,
    to whom we are so united as to feel our need of each other’s
    sympathy in drawing near to Him.

[12]In what follows there is, indeed, no “doctrine” of any kind; no
    attempt, I mean, to offer formulated or authorized teaching. I have
    endeavoured to show how in my own experience the intellectual
    difficulties with which the subject is surrounded did, when honestly
    and patiently faced, prove in due time the means of purifying, not
    of quenching, that true spirit of prayer which is indeed the very
    breath of our inner life. I trust that none will misunderstand my
    outspokenness in stating those difficulties. They are, and in these
    days must be, freely recognized. Unless we who have a witness to
    bear for the Author of spiritual worship are willing to face them,
    our witness will fail to reach those who most sorely need it. I am
    driven once more to appeal to “something more than candour” in my
    readers for a right interpretation of my struggle to unfold thoughts
    which tax my powers of utterance to the uttermost, and which I yet
    dare not withhold.

[13]“Apology,” Prop. xiii.

[14]See Appendix, Note B, for a short account of the “Home Mission

[15]I believe, as I have already said, that few people outside the
    Society are aware of the extent to which the practice is still
    continued of Friends who feel themselves called to the ministry
    travelling, as we say, “in the service of truth,” or “under a sense
    of religious concern,” not only from place to place in England, but
    also all over the world. A remarkable variety of “services” are in
    this way spontaneously undertaken, and carried out, sometimes quite
    alone, sometimes with the help of one or more Friends “liberated” to
    accompany the minister. And those small meetings where there is but
    little vocal ministry are objects of special care and concern to the
    larger meetings, of which they form a part; and many Friends make a
    practice of visiting them from time to time.

    There was also a special service to which ministering Friends
    formerly often felt themselves called, and which, though much
    disused of late years, is not altogether extinct—that of paying
    “religious visits to families” in particular districts or, in other
    words, of holding meetings for worship and mutual edification from
    house to house—generally, but not invariably, amongst our own
    members only. These visits were occasions specially adapted and felt
    suitable for the exercise of that peculiar gift of “speaking to the
    condition of” individuals which some Friends (especially in former
    times) seem to have possessed in a remarkable degree. I believe them
    to have been of deep value when rightly conducted by the few
    possessing a real qualification for such delicate and at times
    searching services, but perhaps peculiarly liable to degenerate into
    what was neither edifying nor acceptable.

[16]For a short account of the manner in which, before the end of the
    eighteenth century, the Society in America freed itself from all
    complicity with slavery, as illustrating the working both of our
    principles and of our organization, see Appendix, Note C.

[17]The expression “put under dealing” describes the prescribed
    preliminary to disownment. When an overseer, having found private
    remonstrance unavailing, is obliged to bring a case of wrong-doing
    before the Monthly Meeting, that Meeting appoints one or two Friends
    to visit and “deal with” the offender, in the way of exhortation and
    counsel, with a view to induce him to acknowledge and condemn or
    “disown” his own fault, and thus to avert the penalty of the
    Society’s disownment of himself.

[18]I hope it will be remembered that my object throughout is to unfold
    the meaning of our ideal, not at all to estimate the degree in which
    we actually live according to it. I am not in a position to form any
    opinion worth having as to the actual state of the Society, nor if I
    had any such opinion should I wish to publish it. My desire is to
    explain the secret of our strength, not of our weakness.

[19]I believe that scarcely any Friend would be found to consider the
    office of the policeman as an unlawful one, or to entertain scruples
    about the use of physical force in maintaining order. I am told that
    Friends have often, and without censure, acted as special

    With regard to the subject of capital punishment, the Yearly Meeting
    has, indeed, during the last fifty years, expressed very serious
    doubts of its being justifiable; but the matter is treated as one
    “needing prayerful consideration” by those whom it may concern, not
    as beyond all question clear.

[20]It is, I believe, notorious that many of the panics which often
    actually lead to war, and which tend to keep up the enormous and
    demoralizing burdens of an “armed peace,” are largely brought about
    by those who have a pecuniary interest in them, either for
    stock-jobbing or for newspaper-selling interests.

[21]I mean by “asceticism” the practice of any humanly devised religious
    or spiritual discipline, whether self-chosen or prescribed by

[22]“But I say unto you, Swear not at all.... But let your communication
    be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of
    evil” (Matt. v. 34-37).

[23]The victory thus won by Friends has paved the way for greater
    liberty for all; and at the present time any one (whether
    “professing with us” or not) who objects on the ground of religion
    to the taking of an oath is equally at liberty to affirm.

[24]“Book of Discipline,” p. 141.

[25]The number of members was reported in 1862 as 13,844; in 1889 as
    15,574. Before 1862 no returns were made.

[26]Many other causes have, no doubt, been at work in bringing about the
    changes referred to in the text. I am, indeed, not qualified to
    attempt anything like an adequate account, on however slight a
    scale, of the recent history of the Society, and have desired in
    this passage only to indicate the general direction of the principal
    division of parties amongst us.

[27]Robert Barclay, who was for generation after generation regarded as
    the main pillar of theoretic Quakerism, plainly declares the
    Scriptures to be “a secondary rule”—subordinate, that is, to the
    teaching of the Spirit by which they were given forth. He
    anticipates many now familiar reflections about the inherent
    uncertainties of interpretation and application which preclude the
    possibility of our finding in any written words a sufficient guide
    in the infinite variety of individual circumstances; and also
    recognizes fully the many sources of error appertaining to writings
    so ancient, and derived through so many differing versions and
    translations. He declares, however, that “because they are commonly
    acknowledged by all to have been written by the dictates of the Holy
    Spirit, and that the errors which may be supposed by the injury of
    Times to have slipt in are not such but that there is a sufficient
    clear Testimony left to all the essentials of the Christian faith,
    we do look upon them as the only fit outward judge of controversies
    amongst Christians,” and adds that “we are very willing that all our
    doctrines and practices shall be tried by them;” and that “we shall
    also be very willing to admit, as a positive certain maxim, _That
    whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to
    the Scriptures, be accounted and reckoned a Delusion of the Devil._
    For as we never lay claim to the Spirit’s leadings that we may cover
    ourselves in anything that is evil; so we know, that as every evil
    contradicts the Scriptures, so it doth also the Spirit in the first
    place, from which the Scriptures came” (Barclay’s “Apology,” p. 86:
    London, 1736).

[28]“The Inner Light,” pp. 23-26.

[29]It may be worth while to mention in this connection that there is
    not, so far as I have observed, any habitual preponderance of women
    in Friends’ meetings. This impression is confirmed by the fact that
    the number of habitual “attenders” (non-members) at our meetings is
    given (in the tabular statement prepared for the Yearly Meeting of
    1889) as follows:—

          Males            2,962
          Females          3,086

    The rapid growth of Friends’ First Day Adult Schools is another
    significant fact, as showing the openness to the teaching and
    influence of Friends amongst working men, and at the same time the
    energetic way in which that influence is being used. This movement
    began, at the suggestion of the late Joseph Sturge, in Birmingham in
    1845; and it appears, from the annual report of the Friends’ First
    Day School Association, that the number of adult scholars was in
    March, 1889, as follows:—

          Men             17,591
          Women            5,535

    The Society of Friends, it should be remembered, numbers (including
    children) only 15,574 members, yet the teaching in these schools is
    entirely undertaken by Friends personally, and is, I believe, done
    altogether without paid help, though valuable assistance is in many
    cases given by former scholars.

[30]The history of James Naylor is the best-known case in point.

[31]When any person applies for membership, the Monthly Meeting appoints
    one or more Friends to visit the applicant, and to report to the
    meeting the result of the interview, before a reply is given. The
    precise conditions to be fulfilled in such cases are nowhere laid
    down, but the object is understood, in a general way, to be to
    ascertain that the applicant is fully “convinced of Friends’
    principles.” The test is thus a purely personal and individual one,
    and partakes of the elasticity which characterizes all our
    arrangements, and which is felt to favour the fullest dependence
    upon Divine guidance.

[32]“Book of Discipline,” p. 229.

[33]Published by Robert Smeal, Glasgow, 1883.

[34]It must be remembered that the Society of Friends in America
    consists of many Yearly Meetings, each of which is supreme and
    independent within its own compass. Their number has considerably
    increased since John Woolman’s time; and in the Western States there
    is also a rapid increase in the number of members.

[35]The italics are throughout Whittier’s.

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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