FRIENDS GENERAL CONFERENCE, FOUNDING GATHERING
TWO OPENING ADDRESSES
Eighth Month 21, 1900
ADDRESS OF THE CHAIRMAN -- Howard M. Jenkins
It will not be questioned, I think, that with respect to religion, a great change, a profound change, has been coming over the English-speaking world-over that at least within the century now closing. Many of us here, not yet so very old, must realize, upon reflection, how far this change has progressed within our own time.
For more than a thousand years the system of religion which was called Christian, and which in a dark and imperfect way paid some regard to the teaching of Jesus, tended to nothing so much as to the upbuilding of a compact and effective organization of the priesthood-what is called " The Church." All that had been known in the little Jewish land of a priestly order, a sacred temple, a rigid rule over religion, was surpassed a hundred times by the vast outreach, vigor and power of the papal system. Nothing at Jerusalem, in any day of the greatest strength of the priest-hood, could compare with the confident and aggressive authority which has centered at Rome in the hands of able and ambitious pontiffs
During all that long period the professed followers of Christ were bound, the world over, to the Church. There were sonic who struggled and protested, but in vain. There were, from the sad time of the Persecuted Albigenses in southern France, early in the thirteenth century, down to the time of Luther, individuals. and companies, and sects, who in one way or another manifested their dissent from Rome, but who in the end were silenced or exterminated. The Church ruled with a rod of iron. Its control was absolute. Its decisions were final. It was not any private conviction, however strong; not any individual moving of conscience, however sincere; not any respect for teacher, preacher, or Scripture, which might direct the life of a professed follower of the Master, but in every detail, even the most minute, of thought, of opinion, of action, the dictum of the Church, expressed by the pope or by a great council, was conclusive.
And so the Christian world was and remained until the Reformation.
Luther established a new seat of authority. The Bible had been a book for the priests only. Luther caused it to be opened and read. He did more; he insisted that to it, not to the Church at Rome, must all questions of faith and practice be referred. This was the new rule of the Protestant churches. The seat of authority was transferred from Holy Church to Holy Book. And yet the break was not absolute. It remained, under the new system, that something should still intervene between the Book and its reader. Pious pastors, learned men, trained theologians, must explain and interpret it, must collect and arrange the texts which were to be regarded, and must place upon the whole that construction which the new churches required. The Bible was opined to be freely read-a vast and a noble step, indeed!-but it was not opened to be freely understood. The Lutheran must understand it as the Augsburg Confession prescribed, the Dutch Calvinist according to the Synod of Dort, the English Protestant as the bishops or the Westminster Assembly should decide for him. However he might nominally be accorded a right of private judgment, a right to draw from the Bible his own religious formula, no Protestant could challenge or disregard the "orthodox interpretation of the Scripture without incurring condemnation as a heretic, and possibly the fate of Servetus at Geneva, or the Quaker martyrs at Boston.
The second system of the Christian world was thus an evolution from the first. It marked a step, a great step, forward, but it was an adaptation of the older system. Luther broke away from Rome, but he did not altogether renounce the Roman plan. He appealed from the absolutism of the old priesthood, but it was to the Bible as construed and interpreted by a new priesthood. And on this ground the great body of Protestantism stood, or seemed to stand, until our own day.
Yet the change that has come to us is not sudden, nor has it been unheralded. As there were reformers before Luther, there were prophets tong ago, of twentieth century freedom. We dare, and we must, recur to the story of our own beginnings, when George Fox declared the truth as he saw it, a century after Luther's death. Passing up and down in the island of his birth, seeing on one hand an alleged infallible Church, and on the other an alleged infallible Book, Fox cried, as others had done before him-but none so opportunely or so effectively-" Turn within!" " He saw, as he believed, with an eye divinely anointed, that the final authority as to religion could not be held by men at Rome, or other men at Geneva or Westminster, but that it was and must be, in the fountain of religion itself-in the spiritual manifestation to the human soul of the Divine will and purpose. He saw, as he believed, that the church might have a true function of gathering, encouraging, and helping forward the flock of believers. He saw, also, that the Bible bore unique wit-ness of the dealings of the Most High with his children; but he could not yield himself a bond-slave to either Holy Church or Holy Book-he maintained his allegiance in spirit and in truth to the voice of God itself.
It is quite true that what George Fox believed he had spiritually discerned had been claimed in a degree by the older systems, by Rome, by Luther, by Calvin. They, too, claimed a Divine authority, a direct connection with Divine promptings. But each system claimed this for itself, claimed it finally and exclusively. To Peter, the Jewish fisherman, his Master had presented the "keys of the church," a supreme and perpetual head- ship which the Popes inherited; to the heads of the Protestant Reformation had been given discernment, and authority, that would serve mankind for a final understanding of truth, a. plenary com- mission to renew the Christian Church and to prescribe its bounds and limits. To them-to Roman Church and to Protestant Reformer-the divine authority thus came, but not to the mass of men. In both these systems of religion there was no thought that the divine mind would flow out to all, to peasant as well as patrician, to the common man as well as the great. The people, the "laity," must repair for knowledge of God to the clergy. In the Church of Rome the Bible was in a dead language; in the Protestant bodies it was to be opened to the common understanding by clerical keys. It was, then, a new and bold thought of the Quaker reformers that revelation had not ceased, and that the Bible would open itself to the reverent reader-that the substance of truth which it contains, appealing to the Witness for Truth, the spiritual apprehension, within him, would thus be known, and recognized, and appropriated.
Thus in the Quaker movement of the seventeenth century there was promise and no small potency of a new system, an evolution from Luther's system, as that had been an evolution from the Papal system. The Reformation had opened the way when it appealed from the Pope and his tradition to the Book with its definite record, but the reformers themselves had closed up the way beyond their own position when, having made the Book the sole rule of faith and practice, they reserved to their Church-to themselves and their successors-the right of scriptural interpretation. From that position George Fox and Robert Barclay set out on a new pilgrimage by declaring that God is the teacher of his people, himself; that he reveals himself now, as of old; in all lands, as well as in Palestine; and that in harmony with him spiritually must be sought the first, the original, the supreme Source of all human cognition of divine things.
It is into the liberty of this conception of the Truth, old but ever new, that we are on the point of coming. We are not in full possession, not in the complete enjoyment of it, but the prospect opens before us. It is no longer a dangerous heresy to declare convictions like those of Fox and Barclay.
This liberty has come, let us be frank to say, not entirely, not perhaps in large measure, through Quaker prophecy or persuasion. The fathers and mothers of our Zion have been but as voices crying in the world's vast and thorny wilderness. No small part of the change we now see is due to the courage and devotion of those scholars in the churches who have established the free study of the Scriptures, and who have insisted on giving them their right place-not as something miraculously dropped out of Heaven, but as a unique record of revealed Truth, made and preserved by human hands. The formula of Robert Barclay becomes a common thought-if not in his words then in sub-stance: that the Scriptures are a stream from the fountain, but not the Fountain itself. To approach the study of the Bible with due reverence, but with catholic candor and courage; to search its pages with an open mind, but not a superstitious awe; to appeal to it, not as the old pagans to their oracle, but as a Christian consulting the experience and the testimony of good men gone before; to desire its comfort, its support, its help, but not to ask of it what must be asked of the All-Father himself- this is something of what has been gained by the Biblical study movement of the last half of the nineteenth century, a movement foreshadowed by Robert Barclay two hundred years before, and to which the Society of Friends was in principle committed from its birth.
And now where will this change bring and leave us? What does it imply? Obviously it means new and great responsibilities. It places these on the individual. The enlargement of the right of private judgment means the increase of individual relation to duty. If we are not to yield our conscience to the Church, nor to the clerically-interpreted Book, we must keep it clean be-fore Him who is the light and life of conscience. If we cast aside old bonds we are not set free from the law of the spirit of life. If our outlook is widened, our field of action enlarged, it is not for us to think that all ties are loosened, all duties cast aside, all ser-vices renounced, and the world returned to the paganism from which Christianity drew it out. The new liberty has its own metes and bounds, its own terms and conditions. It is not yet the millennial day, but, a day of new proving, new sifting, new endeavor, and so we trust of new advancement. If we say we live by the Spirit, the evidence must be that by the Spirit we walk, and that our steps follow his who was and is the Pattern and the Exemplar of the faith which we profess.
Chairman: The first upon our program this morning will be an address by William W. Birdsall, of Swarthmore College, on "What Quakerism Stands For."
William W. Birdsall: Whoever would undertake to say what Quakerism stands for must couch his phrases in the language of reserve. The faith which stands first for individualism must never be dogmatical and set, and no attempt must be made to formulate completely and exactly. In my attempt, therefore, to say "What Quakerism Stands For" to me, I have made no such attempt-no attempt to follow out systematically, or with any degree of completeness, the testimonies to which the fundamental doctrines lead, but only to state, so far as I am able, what that doctrine is, and to point out some of its consequences, which to me as an individual seem most important.
WHAT QUAKERISM STANDS FOR.
BY WILLIAM w. BIRDSALL.
The philosophy of our time tends to deal with man in the mass. The individual it is prone to consider only as a member of a group. It is out of this doctrine that we have our modern science of sociology and as affecting a large part of the interests of mankind the point of view is right, the philosophy is sound. But the deepest things of life concern the individual. We may talk as we will of our social self, of our civic self; we may magnify the importance of the group and relegate the individual to obscurity as an invisible molecule in the mass with which we have to do; but after all it is the character of the molecule which determines the properties of the mass. We merge our individual wishes in deference to public opinion; we unite our efforts for the common good ; but after all each of us lives his own life, and in the last analysis he lives his life alone. We depend upon each other for support, assistance, guidance, sympathy; we influence each other -sometimes more, sometimes less-but there is a final barrier beyond which the outside force may never penetrate. Even in those human natures which most resemble an open temple inviting all to enter, there is a certain holy of holies whose veil is never parted, within which there is no intrusion. What occurs within this citadel of the soul may be known to others only partially and indirectly; but out of it are the issues of life. This is the fountainhead from which the waters flow, making the stream of life bitter or sweet; the stream may wander through broad and pleasant meadows, fair and smiling; it may be harnessed to useful work, defiled by vileness from without; it may be changed beyond recognition by the influence of external forces; but the water retains forever a character which it owes to the source from which it sprung.
More than any other thing, Quakerism maintains the importance of the individual. "The Kingdom of God," declared the Master, "is within you," and the Quaker accepts this declaration as constituting every individual a citizen of that kingdom. He may be unfaithful, he may, if he will, fling away his birthright and abandon the privileges of his citizenship, but it is a possession of which no man can rob him.
But the individualism of the Friend goes further than this. The sixty evangelists who, in 1654, went out of the north of England to preach a spiritual religion, proclaimed a single great spiritual truth. Upon it they based their religious system; it has been from the time of George Fox to the present the fundamental doctrine of Quakerism. It pronounces the worth of the individual to be supreme, holding that each human soul is imbued with the divine, and that every human being may drink for himself of the water of life.
This doctrine of the Quaker cannot, perhaps, be better stated than in the words of William Dewsbury. Certainly the man who spent nineteen years of his life in the foul British gaols of the seventeenth century, may have some right to speak for the faith for which he suffered; of which he was one of the foremost champions. Take this brief epistle which he addressed "To all the inhabitants of England and to all that dwell upon the earth,"
"God alone," said William Dewsbury, "is the Teacher of his people. He hath given to every one a measure of grace, which is the Light that comes from Christ. It checks and reproves for sin. All who wait in Light come to know the only true God and Father of light, in Christ Jesus, who is the way to him. This I witness to all the sons of men; that I came not to the knowledge of Eternal Life by the letter of the Scripture, nor by hearing men speak of the name of God. I came to true knowledge of the Scriptures and to the eternal rest of Christ, of which they testify, by the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who alone is worthy to open the seals of the book."
If one would sum up in the fewest words the fundamentals of Quakerism he must, of course, adopt some such language as these first two sentences: " God alone is the teacher of his people. He hath given to every one a measure of grace, which is the Light that comes from Christ." This, as Baricroft well says, is the single word of the Quaker: the Inner Light. He needs no other, for all necessary help, guidance, strength, support, comes from a single source, the fount of all good, the origin of all truth, and a sufficient measure of his spirit is implanted in every human breast. The doctrine of the Inner Light was not new in the time of George Fox. Other bodies of Christian professors had formulated it with greater or less clearness, and individuals since history began have made the divine witness within their souls the final test of truth, the ultimate authority. In every age some men have been divinely favored with a recognition of truth in some form not yet acceptable to the people of their time; some in every age have not been disobedient to the heavenly vision. They have tested the truth by the written word, by the traditions and canons of the church, by the judgment of their fellows, but the final imperative authority was something with them; a divine command sounding sweet and clear and imperative; a voice speaking in the stillness which they could not mistake, and which to disobey were treason, spiritual death. And so they have nailed their theses to the door of received opinion, which is popularity; of traditional belief, which is orthodoxy; declaring in all humility,
"Here I stand; I can do no other; God help me!"
So far, then, as Quakerism stands for a distinct school of religious thought, its position may be thus briefly stated; this is the communion which sums its requirements in a single simple beautiful article of faith; leaves the individual free to build upon this foundation a superstructure of private theological opinion; but holds him responsible for the measure of light which shines into his own soul.
The early Friends, after the manner of the seventeenth century, discoursed much of the nature of the Inner Light, distinguishing it from the " natural light" of reason, and from con-science. Into their subtleties upon these and other questions, we need not follow; their psychology and metaphysics would not satisfy contemporary requirements, and we are more nearly concerned with the more vital elements of their ministry. They affirmed the doctrine proclaimed by William Dewsbury in the passage we have quoted, namely, the self-evident character of spiritual truth. "I came not," says Dewsbury, "to the knowledge of Eternal Life by the letter of the Scripture, nor by hearing men speak of the name of God. I came to the true knowledge of the Scriptures, and to the eternal rest in Christ of which they testify, by the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus." For the verification of this principle they appealed as we may now and here appeal to the spiritual experience of every human being. If we ask ourselves whether it is true that spiritual truth is thus manifested, there can be no escape from the affirmative answer. The doctrine does not deny the contributory value of other agencies; on the contrary, it is held that as all knowledge and power is of God, its various elements and the forms in which it is manifested, however they may appear to be mutually contradictory, must,. in the nature of things, be essentially harmonious.
This was the view of the early Friends as to the Scriptures. They acknowledged them to be the work of divinely inspired minds, and as the spirit of truth cannot contradict itself it follows that the Scriptures rightly understood and interpreted will not be found in conflict with the movings of the same Spirit whenever manifested. The Bible, indeed, was held in the greatest esteem among them, and their discourses as well as their writings were filled with quotations from it. The Scriptures were profitable, however, only as the written word appealed to a spirit at one with that which gave them forth, and so William Dewsbury says, as any other Friend would say, that he came to the knowledge of eternal life by the inspiration of the Spirit. How is it that we recognize truth, if not by appeal to the inward witness? It was to no other test that the prophets appealed-Moses, formulating the law; David, leading the hosts of Israel; Daniel, worshiping steadfastly with his face turned toward the City of God. By this test James and Peter and John recognized the voice of the Master and the divine authority of the call to follow him; by this test the woman of Samaria perceived that she conversed with a prophet; by this test Peter recognized the voice which declared the great truth that God is no respecter of persons; it was this inward voice, long neglected, against whose upbraiding-sharper than goad pricks-Saul of Tarsus could no longer close his ears; it is to this inward monitor, this divine spirit within us, this light shining within our souls, which, indeed, has lightened every man that has come into the world, that you and I must turn at every moment if we would be of the company of those who know and understand the word of God. But the cry of the early Friends, "Turn within," " Mind the Light," was not a call to mysticism, not a signal for withdrawal from the world. Barclay writing his "Apology," Ellwood studying Latin with Milton, Fox himself securing a Hebrew grammar, that he might have more light by which to search the Scriptures of truth, abundantly testify that the early Friends held the voice of God in the soul to be a precious gift, carrying with it the obligation not only to listen, but to use every means by which they might better understand. The schools set up by them; the orderly institution of their meetings; their activity in the reform of the penal code, the management of prisons, the laws respecting marriage and the rules of evidence in the courts of law; their diligence in business-these testify that they found the law of God a rule of life, requiring them not to withdraw from the world, but to live and labor in it. Thus it came that they refused to divide the activities of life into two parts, the worldly and the other-worldly, but held that every commonplace detail of sowing or reaping or buying, or going on a journey, should he ordered by the same law which governed the conduct of the meeting for worship. If every man is indeed a citizen of God's kingdom, then every act must be related to that citizenship, and the consciousness of the divine indwelling will make the drudgery of life become the conscious service of the Most High.
Indeed, it was not for doctrine that the early Friends were chiefly remarkable. Professor Masson, the great historian of the Commonwealth, declares that their chief claim to distinction and the great cause of their persecution was not peculiarity of religious belief, hut resolute application of belief to the business of life. If it is a matter of experience that every human soul is blessed with immediate access to the Divine, then men are in very deed brothers, endowed with the same high privilege. Let this principle once govern in the hearts of men, certain inevitable results must follow. There is at once an end of the priesthood. If this be the proper view of the relations of men to each other and to God, there can be no class privileged to minister for and instead of their fellows, for every man is a priest of God, and they can be helpful one to another only in the degree in which some have been favored with clearer vision, or have been more faithful to walk where the light was seen to shine. And so the ministry could in no wise be a profession, to be adopted as a means of livelihood or advancement, but must ever be regarded as a gift, to be freely shared as it had been freely received. This law of God, written in the hearts, puts the relations of men in business and society upon a new and better basis. Confidence takes the place of suspicion; mutual helpfulness replaces rivalry; ostentation and dis-play can find no motive when brotherly kindness prevails; directness and simplicity of speech are the natural course when there is no desire to flatter or deceive; the peace of the world is the natural result of peace in the individual heart. These testimonies the early Friends maintained as individuals. They could not pay tithes-that were to support what they believed to be an hireling ministry; they could not take judicial oaths-that were to disobey what they understood to be a direct command of Jesus, and to imply that their statement of fact required some such confirmation; they could not adopt the flattering speech of their time-to say "you" to one and "thou" to another, or to bow their heads in salutation was not consistent with their faith, that all men are alike the children of a heavenly Father; they could not do aught to injure a fellow mortal, and hence could not take arms or support in any way the waging of war; in buying and selling they could not ask one price expecting to receive another, nor could they reap a profit from making or dealing in the wares of fashion and foppery. "Quakerism in its kernel," says Professor Masson, "was but the revived Christian morality of meekness, piety, benevolence, purity, truthfulness, peacefulness, and passivity."
Certain of these testimonies presently resulted in peculiarities. Plainness of dress became " the plain dress," and finally almost a uniform; plainness of speech, originally simplicity, directness, truthfulness, became "the plain language," and at last almost a dialect; the informal methods of the meetings for worship or for business hardened at last into a system not always free from excessive formality. But Quakerism itself is independent of the form in which its testimonies have been expressed. The early Quakers were distinguished, as Professor Masson says, first "by the thorough form of their apprehension of that doctrine of the Inner Light," or immediate revelation of the Spirit; and in the second place, and chiefly, as he elsewhere says, "by their courage and tenacity in carrying out the influences from that doctrine in every sentence of their own speech and every hour of their conduct." Such faith and such practice must always take account of small things; indeed, such faith must not infrequently be manifested by the absolute refusal to concede what seems the merest punctilio of indifferent practice. The moral quality of actions, like the size of objects in the material world, seems different from different standpoints. A particular deed, trifling in itself, sometimes comes to stand for a principle, a life, for faith itself. It may be like those little figures which the mathematicians name exponents-insignificant in themselves, but by their position and relation assuming tremendous importance. William Penn would rather be driven from home than pay "hat service" to his father, but Penn's Quakerism did not concern itself first or chiefly with clothing or with manners. When the young con-vert from the fashionable world was puzzling over the demands of his new religion, he asked George Fox if he should continue to wear his sword. The answer lays down with great simplicity the Quaker law: " Wear thy sword," said he, " as long as thou canst." Quakerism, Christianity, as it is understood by the Society of Friends, makes no light demand; it requires faithfulness, not to a standard set up by authority from without, but faithfulness in the erection and maintenance and development of a standard for which the individual is responsible. There could be no greater treason to its vital principle than to make it consist in particular external acts or practices, however important these may have been in the testimony bearing of a particular time. In this view the life must always be more than meat, the body than the raiment in which it is, for the time, most suitably clad.
As Professor Masson testifies of the early Friends, "The ministry was to be as the spirit moved; all equally might speak or be silent; poor as well as rich, unlearned as well as learned, women as well as men. Yet with all this liberty among themselves, what unanimity in the moral purport of their teachings! Their restless dissatisfaction with the established church and with all known varieties of dissent, their passion for a full reception of Christ as the fountain head, their searchings of the Scriptures, their private raptures and meditations, their prayers and consultations in public, had resulted in a simple reissue of the Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount." Is there not continued need for this Christianity? " Quakerism," it has been said, " stands for what is right; not what is expedient." For courage of conviction; not weak submission to incipient evil. For love and forbearance; not hatred and strife. For cheerful obedience to those in authority; not rebellion to wholesome rule. For good taste and simplicity; not dead conformity and display. For neat, tasteful homes; not ostentatious mansions. For wholesome recreations; not corrupting diversions. For cordial hospitality; not elaborate entertainments. For fair and honest dealing; not injustice and avarice. For moderation in all things; not extravagance in many things. For pure, every-day living; not spasmodic goodness. For broad, cultured minds; not selfish intellectualism and coldness. For wise aid to charity; not demoralizing charity. For simplicity in worship; not formality and grandeur. For sincerity and freedom in belief; not cant and narrowness. For toleration; not assuming judgment. For the inward revelation of truth; not
dogmatic theology. For faith in God and Divine Christ in men; not faith alone, nor works alone, but works because of faith." Is it not the Christianity of the Sermon on the Mount to which we must look for the solution of the present difficulties, for confidence in the future? Where else may we seek with hope of finding a principle adequate to the problems which confront society?
The individualism of the Quaker is not a selfish withdrawal from social service; on the contrary, it requires of him his full share of such service, and insists that he must bring to it a sense of individual duty and a purpose to fulfill that duty to the uttermost. Is not this the way, for instance, to every social reform. The Quakers made a law against slavery-after their individual sense of duty had been so cultivated as to make them practically clear of the evil. They made a law against dealing in intoxicants, when they might almost be said to be already free from participation in it, and when they might almost have been described as a body of total abstainers.
Certain evils in our social body are doubtless the result of unwise legislation; doubtless as time goes on we shall learn better bow to promote the good of humanity by the enactment and enforcement of judicious laws; but the hope of every reform, the hope of the world, is not in legislation, nor in any dealing with mankind in the mass. It must ever and always be in that voice of God speaking in the individual heart, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." That was a wise saying of William Penn, "Let men be good and the government will not be bad. If it be ill they will cure it. But if the men be bad, let the government be ever so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn." "Let men be good." Here, indeed, is a principle adequate to the necessities of the individual and of society. "No evil," said Socrates, "can befall a good man, living or dead." We may, indeed, effect great changes in form or appearance by mechanical means; we may smooth and carve and polish or transport, we may change in a thousand ways the external form or position; but a change of the character of the substance must be within the molecule. In the mass of human society, the atomic force to which we must look for regeneration, for salvation, acts upon the heart of the individual, and it proceeds immediately from the Divine.
As in its inception, so at the present time, the Society of Friends can claim no monopoly of the doctrine of the Divine Immanence; indeed, it may fairly be said to underlie and inform the working faith, if not the formal creeds of the aggressive, liberal Christianity of our day. It would not be asserted, either, that the practice of Friends in our day is in any marked degree better than that of the Christian people about them, but Quakerism still stands for a noble individualism; it, better than any other faith, so far as I have knowledge, best represents and exemplifies that liberty of conscience which, since the organization of the Christian church, has been the goal of all progress in religion. It sets the individual free; it stands for the brotherhood of men because it realizes the fatherhood of God. In the measure in which he is true to his high calling, the Quaker still maintains belief in the authority and guiding power of the immanent Spirit of God, by the resolute-say rather the faithful-application of the practical inferences and obligations of that doctrine in every sentence of his speech and every hour of his conduct.
Chairman: I am sure I can say we are all very much obliged to our friend for his excellent statement of what Friends stand for.