By Thomas Clarkson (1806)
Worship—Consists of prayer and preaching—Neither of
these effectual but by the Spirit—Hence no liturgy or form of words, or studied
sermons, in the Quaker-church—Singular manner of delivering sermons—Tone of the
voice usually censured—This may arise from the difference between nature and
art—Objected, that there is little variety of subject in these sermons—Variety
not so necessary to Quakers—Other objections—Replies—Observations of Francis
Lambert, of Avignon.
As no person, in the opinion of the Quakers, can be a true minister of the gospel, unless he feel himself called or appointed by the spirit of God, so there can be no true or effectual worship, except it come through the aid of the same spirit.
The public worship of God is usually made to consist of prayer and preaching.
Prayer is a solemn address of the soul to God. It is a solemn confession of some weakness, or thanksgiving for some benefit, or petition for some favor. But the Quakers consider such an address as deprived of its life and power, except it be spiritually conceived. “For the spirit helpeth our infirmities. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought. But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Preaching, on the other hand, is an address of man to men, that their attention may be turned towards God, and their minds be prepared for the secret and heavenly touches of his spirit. But this preaching, again, cannot be effectually performed, except the spirit of God accompany it. Thus St. Paul, in speaking of himself, says, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and with power, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” So the Quakers believe that no words, however excellent, which men may deliver now, will avail, or will produce that faith which is to stand, except they be accompanied by that power which shall demonstrate them to be of God.
From hence it appears to be the opinion of the Quakers, that the whole worship of God, whether it consist of prayer or of preaching, must be spiritual. Jesus Christ has also, they say, left this declaration upon record, that “God is a spirit, and that they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” By worshipping him in truth, they mean, that men are to worship him only when they feel a right disposition to do it, and in such a manner as they judge, from their own internal feelings, to be the manner which the spirit of God then signifies.
For these reasons, when the Quakers enter into their meetings, they use no liturgy or form of prayer. Such a form would be made up of the words of man’s wisdom. Neither do they deliver any sermons that have been previously conceived or written down. Neither do they begin their service immediately after they are seated. But when they sit down, they wait in silence, as the Apostles were commanded to do. They endeavor to be calm and composed. They take no thought as to what they shall say. They avoid, on the other hand, all activity of the imagination, and every thing that arises from the will of man. The creature is thus brought to be passive, and the spiritual faculty to be disencumbered, so that it can receive and attend to the spiritual language of the Creator. If, during this vacation from all mental activity, no impressions should be given to them, they say nothing. If impressions should be afforded to them, but no impulse to oral delivery, they remain equally silent. But if, on the other hand, impressions are given them, with an impulse to utterance, they deliver to the congregation as faithfully as they can, the copies of the several images, which they conceive to be painted upon their minds.
This utterance, when it manifests itself, is resolvable into prayer or preaching. If the minister engages in prayer, the whole company rise up, and the men with the minister take off their hats, that is, uncover their heads. If he preaches only, they do not rise, but remain upon their seats as before, with their heads covered. The preacher, however, uncovers his own head upon this occasion.
There is something singular in the manner in which the Quakers deliver themselves when they preach. In the beginning of their discourses, they generally utter their words with slowness; indeed, with a slowness, which sometimes renders their meaning almost unintelligible to persons unaccustomed to such a mode of delivery; for seconds sometimes elapse between the sounding of short sentences or single words, so that the mind cannot always easily carry the first words, and join them to the intermediate, and connect them with the last. As they proceed, they communicate their impressions in a brisker manner; till, at length, getting beyond the quickness of ordinary delivery, they may be said to utter them rapidly. At this time, some of them appear to be much affected, and even agitated by their subject. This method of a very slow and deliberate pronunciation at first, and of an accelerated one afterwards, appears to me, as far as I have seen or heard, to be universal: for though undoubtedly some may make less pauses between the introductory words and sentences than others, yet all begin slower than they afterwards proceed.
This singular custom may be probably accounted for in the following manner. The Quakers certainly believe that the spirit of God furnishes them with impressions on these occasions, but that the description of these is left to themselves Hence a faithful watch must be kept, that these may be delivered to their hearers conformably to what is delivered to them. But if so, it may perhaps be necessary to be more watchful, at the outset, in order to ascertain the dimensions as it were of these impressions, and of their several tendencies and bearings, than afterwards, when such a knowledge of them has been obtained. Or it may be that ministers, who go wholly unprepared to preach, have but a small view of the subject at first. Hence they speak slowly. But as their views are enlarged, their speech becomes quickened, and their feelings become interested with it. These, for any thing I know, may be solutions, upon Quaker principles, of this extraordinary practice.
Against the preaching of the Quakers, an objection is usually made by the world, namely, that their ministers generally deliver their doctrines with an unpleasant tone. But it may be observed that this, which is considered to be a defect, is by no means confined to the Quakers. Persons of other religious denominations, who exert themselves in the ministry, are liable to the same charge. It may be observed also, that the difference between the accent of the Quakers, and that of the speakers of the world, may arise in the difference between art and nature. The person who prepares his lecture for the lecture-room, or his sermon for the pulpit, studies the formation of his sentences, which are to be accompanied by a modulation of the voice. This modulation is artificial, for it is usually taught. The Quakers, on, the other hand, neither prepare their discourses, nor vary their voices purposely, according to the rules of art. The tone which comes out, and which appears disagreeable to those who are not used to it, is nevertheless not unnatural. It is rather the mode of speaking which nature imposes, in any violent exertion of the voice, to save the lungs. Hence persons who have their wares to cry, and this almost every other minute, in the streets, are obliged to adopt a tone. Hence persons with disordered lungs, can sing words with more ease to themselves than they can utter them, with a similar pitch of the voice. Hence Quaker women, when they preach, have generally more of this tone than the Quaker men, for the lungs of the female are generally weaker than those of the other sex.
Against the sermons of the Quakers two objections are usually made; the first of which is, that they contain but little variety of subject. Among dissenters, it is said, but more particularly in the establishment, that you may hear fifty sermons following each other, where the subject of each is different. Hence a man, ignorant of letters, may collect all his moral and religious duties from the pulpit in the course of the year. But this variety, it is contended, is not to be found in the Quaker church.
That there is less variety in the Quaker sermons than in those of others, there can be no doubt. But such variety is not so necessary to Quakers, on account of their peculiar tenets, and the universality of their education, as to others. For it is believed, as I have explained before, that the spirit of God, if duly attended to, is a spiritual guide to man, and that it leads him into all truth; that it redeems him; and that it qualifies him therefore for happiness in a future state. Thus an injunction to attend to the teachings of the spirit, supersedes, in some measure, the necessity of detailing the moral and religious obligations of individuals. And this necessity is still farther superseded by the consideration, that, as all the members of the Quaker society can read, they can collect their Christian duty from the scriptures, independently of their own ministers; or that they can collect those duties for themselves, which others, who are illiterate, are obliged to collect from the church.
The second objection is, that the Quaker discourses have generally less in them, and are occasionally less connected or more confused than those of others.
It must be obvious, when we consider that the Quaker ministers are often persons of but little erudition, and that their principles forbid them to premeditate on these occasions, that we can hardly expect to find the same logical division of the subject, or the same logical provings of given points, as in the sermons of those who spend hours, or even days together, in composing them.
With respect to the apparent barrenness, or the little matter sometimes discoverable in their sermons, they would reply, that God has not given to every man a similar or equal gift. To some he has given largely; to others in a less degree. Upon some he has bestowed gifts, that may edify the learned; upon others such as may edify the illiterate. Men are not to limit his spirit by their own notions of qualification. Like the wind, it bloweth not only where it listeth, but as it listeth. Thus preaching, which may appear to a scholar as below the ordinary standard, may be more edifying to the simple hearted, than a discourse better delivered, or more eruditely expressed. Thus again, preaching, which may be made up of high sounding words, and of a mechanical manner and an affected tone, and which may, on these accounts, please the man of learning and taste, may be looked upon as dross by a man of moderate abilities or acquirements. And thus it has happened, that many have left the orators of the world and joined the Quaker society, on account of the barrenness of the discourses which they have heard among them.
With respect to Quaker sermons being sometimes less connected or more confused than those of others, they would admit that this might apparently happen; and they would explain it in the following manner. Their ministers, they would say, when they sit among the congregation, are often given to feel and discern the spiritual states of individuals then present, and sometimes to believe it necessary to describe such states, and to add such advice as these may seem to require. Now these states being frequently different from each other, the description of them, in consequence of an abrupt transition from one to the other, may sometimes occasion an apparent inconsistency in their discourses on such occasions. The Quakers, however, consider all such discourses, or those in which states are described, as among the most efficacious and useful of those delivered.
But whatever may be the merits of the Quaker sermons, there are circumstances worthy of notice with respect to the Quaker preachers. In the first place, they always deliver their discourses with great seriousness. They are also singularly bold and honest, when they feel it to be their duty, in the censure of the vices of individuals, whatever may be the riches they enjoy. They are reported also from unquestionable authority, to have extraordinary skill in discerning the internal condition of those who attend their ministry, so that many, feeling the advice to be addressed to themselves, have resolved upon their amendment in the several cases to which their preaching seemed to have been applied.
As I am speaking of the subject of ministers, I will answer one or two questions, which I have often heard asked concerning it.
The first of these is, do the Quakers believe that their ministers are uniformly moved, when they preach, by the spirit of God?
I answer—the Quakers believe they may be so moved, and that they ought to be so moved. They believe also that they are often so moved. But they believe again, that except their ministers are peculiarly cautious, and keep particularly on their watch, they may mistake their own imaginations for the agency of this spirit. And upon this latter belief it is, in part, that the office of elders is founded, as before described.
The second is, as there are no defined boundaries between the reason of man and the revelation of God, how do the Quakers know that they are favored at any particular time, either when they preach or when they do not preach, with the visitation of this spirit, or that it is, at any particular time, resident within them?
Richard Claridge, a learned and pious clergyman of the Church of England in the last century, but who gave up his benefices and joined the society of the Quakers, has said a few words in his Tractatus Hierographicus, upon this subject, a part of which I shall transcribe as an answer to this latter question.
“Men, says he, may certainly know, that they do believe on the Son of God, with that faith that is unfeigned, and by which the heart is purified: for this faith is evidential and assuring, and consequently the knowledge of it is certain. Now they, who certainly know that they have this knowledge, may be certain also of the spirit of Christ dwelling in them; for ‘he that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself;’ and this witness is the spirit; for it is ‘the spirit that beareth witness,’ of whose testimony they may be as certain, as of that faith the spirit beareth witness to.”
Again—“They may certainly know that they love the Lord above all, and their neighbor as themselves. For the command implies not only a possibility of knowing it in general, but also of such a knowledge as respects their own immediate concernment therein, and personal benefit arising from a sense of their conformity and obedience thereunto. And seeing they may certainly know this, they may also as certainly know, that the spirit of Christ dwelleth in them; for ‘God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ And ‘if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.’” In the same manner he goes on to enumerate many other marks from texts of scripture, by which he conceives this question may be determined.
I shall conclude this chapter on the subject of the Quaker preaching, by an extract from Francis Lambert of Avignon, whose book was published in the year 1516, long before the society of the Quakers took its rise in the world. “Beware, says he, that thou determine not precisely to speak what before thou hast meditated, whatsoever it be; for though it be lawful to determine the text which thou art to expound, yet not at all the interpretation; lest, if thou doest so, thou takest from the Holy Spirit that which is his, namely, to direct thy speech that thou mayest preach in the name of the Lord, void of all learning, meditation, and experience; and as if thou hadst studied nothing at all, committing thy heart, thy tongue, and thyself, wholly unto his spirit; and trusting nothing to thy former studying or meditation, but saying to thyself in great confidence of the divine promise, the Lord will give a word with much power unto those that preach the Gospel.”
But besides oral or vocal, there is silent worship among
the Quakers—Many meetings where not a word is said, and yet worship is
considered to have begun, and to be proceeding—Worship not necessarily connected
with words—This the opinion of other pious men besides Quakers—Of
Howe—Hales—Gell—Smaldridge, bishop of Bristol—Monro--Advantages which the
Quakers attach to their silent worship.
I have hitherto confined myself to those meetings of the Quakers, where the minister is said to have received impressions from the Spirit of God, with a desire of expressing them, and where, if he expresses them, he ought to deliver them to the congregation as the pictures of his will; and this, as accurately as the mirror represents the object that is set before it. There are times, however, as I mentioned in the last section, when either no impressions may be said to be felt, or, if any are felt, there is no concomitant impulse to utter them. In this case no person attempts to speak: for to speak or to pray, where the heart feels no impulse to do it, would be, in the opinion of the Quakers, to mock God, and not to worship him in spirit and in truth. They sit therefore in silence, and worship in silence; and they not only remain silent the whole time of their meetings, but many meetings take place, and these sometimes in succession, when not a word is uttered.
Michael de Molinos, who was chief of the sect of the Quietists, and whose “Spiritual Guide” was printed at Venice in 1685, speaks thus:
“There are three kinds of silence; the first is of words, the second of desires, and the third of thoughts. The first is perfect; the second is more perfect; and the third is most perfect. In the first, that is, of words, virtue is acquired. In the second, namely, of desires, quietness is attained. In the third, of thoughts, internal recollection is gained. By not speaking, not desiring, and not thinking, one arrives at the true and perfect mystical silence, where God speaks with the soul, communicates himself to it, and in the abyss of its own depth, teaches it the most perfect and exalted wisdom.”
Many people of other religious societies, if they were to visit the meetings of the Quakers while under their silent worship, would be apt to consider the congregation as little better than stocks or stones, or at any rate as destitute of that life and animation which constitute the essence of religion. They would have no idea that a people were worshipping God, whom they observed to deliver nothing from their lips. It does not follow, however, because nothing is said, that God is not worshipped. The Quakers, on the other hand, contend, that these silent meetings form the sublimest part of their worship. The soul, they say, can have intercourse with God. It can feel refreshment, joy, and comfort, in him. It can praise and adore him; and all this, without the intervention of a word.
This power of the soul is owing to its constitution or nature. “It follows, says the learned Howe, in his ‘Living Temple,’ that having formed this his more excellent creature according to his own more express likeness; stampt it with the more glorious characters of his living image; given it a nature suitable to his own, and thereby made it capable of rational and intelligent converse with him, he hath it even in his power to maintain a continual converse with this creature, by agreeable communications, by letting in upon it the vital beams and influences of his own light and love, and receiving back the return of its grateful acknowledgments and praises: wherein it is manifest he should do no greater thing than he hath done. For who sees not that it is a matter of no greater difficulty to converse with, than to make a reasonable creature? Or who would not be ashamed to deny, that he who hath been the only author of the soul of man, and of the excellent powers and faculties belonging to it, can more easily sustain that which he hath made, and converse with his creature suitably to the way, wherein he hath made it capable of his converse?”
That worship may exist without the intervention of words, on account of this constitution of the soul, is a sentiment which has been espoused by many pious persons who were not Quakers. Thus, the ever memorable John Hales, in his Golden Remains, expresses himself: “Nay, one thing I know more, that the prayer which is the most forcible, transcends, and far exceeds, all power of words. For St. Paul, speaking unto us of the most effectual kind of prayer, calls it sighs and groans, that cannot be expressed. Nothing cries so loud in the ears of God, as the sighing of a contrite and earnest heart.”
“It requires not the voice, but the mind; not the stretching of the hands, but the intention of the heart; not any outward shape or carriage of the body, but the inward behavior of the understanding. How then can it slacken your worldly business and occasions, to mix them with sighs and groans, which are the most effectual prayer?”
Dr. Gell, before quoted, says—“Words conceived only in an earthly mind, and uttered out of the memory by man’s voice, which make a noise in the ears of flesh and blood, are not, nor can be accounted a prayer, before our father which is in Heaven.”
Dr. Smaldridge, bishop of Bristol, has the following expressions in his sermons: “Prayer doth not consist either in the bending of our knees, or the service of our lips, or the lifting up of our hands or eyes to heaven, but in the elevation of our souls towards God. These outward expressions of our inward thoughts are necessary in our public, and often expedient in our private devotions; but they do not make up the essence of prayer, which may truly and acceptably be performed, where these are wanting.”
And he says afterwards, in other parts of his work—“Devotion of mind is itself a silent prayer, which wants not to be clothed in words, that God may better know our desires. He regards not the service of our lips, but the inward disposition of our hearts.”
Monro, before quoted, speaks to the same effect, in his Just Measures of the Pious Institutions of Youth. “The breathings of a recollected soul are not noise or clamor. The language in which devotion loves to vent itself, is that of the inward man, which is secret and silent, but yet God hears it, and makes gracious returns unto it. Sometimes the pious ardors and sensations of good souls are such as they cannot clothe with words. They feel what they cannot express. I would not, however, be thought to insinuate, that the voice and words are not to be used at all. It is certain that public and common devotions cannot be performed without them; and that even in private, they are not only very profitable, but sometimes necessary. What I here aim at is, that the youth should be made sensible, that words are not otherwise valuable than as they are images and copies of what passes in the hidden man of the heart; especially considering that a great many, who appear very angelical in their devotions, if we take our measures of them from their voice and tone, do soon, after these intervals of seeming seriousness are over, return with the dog to the vomit, and give palpable evidences of their earthliness and sensuality; their passion and their pride.”
Again—“I am persuaded, says he, that it would be vastly advantageous for the youth, if care were taken to train them up to this method of prayer; that is, if they were taught frequently to place themselves in the divine presence, and there silently to adore their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. For hereby they would become habitually recollected. Devotion would be their element; and they would know, by experience, what our blessed Savior and his great Apostle meant, when they enjoin us to pray without ceasing. It was, I suppose, by some such method of devotion as I am now speaking of, that Enoch walked with God; that Moses saw him that is invisible; that the royal Psalmist set the Lord always before him; and that our Lord Jesus himself continued whole nights in prayer to God. No man, I believe, will imagine that his prayer, during all the space in which it is said to have continued, was altogether vocal. When he was in his agony in the garden, he used but a few words. His vocal prayer then consisted only of one petition, and an act of pure resignation thrice repeated. But I hope all will allow, that his devotion lasted longer than while he was employed in the uttering a few sentences.”
These meetings then, which are usually denominated silent, and in which, though not a word be spoken, it appears from the testimony of others that God may be truly worshipped, the Quakers consider as an important and sublime part of their church service, and as possessing advantages which are not to be found in the worship which proceeds solely through the medium of the mouth.
For in the first place it must be obvious that, in these silent meetings, men cannot become chargeable before God, either with hypocrisy or falsehood, by pretending to worship him with their lips, when their affections are far from him, or by uttering a language that is inconsistent with the feelings of the heart.
It must be obvious, again, that every man’s devotion, in these silent meetings, is made, as it ought to be, to depend upon himself; for no man can work out the salvation of another for him. A man does not depend at these times on the words of a minister, or of any other person present; but his own soul, worked upon by the divine influence, pleads in silence with the Almighty its own cause. And thus, by extending this idea to the congregation at large, we shall find a number of individuals offering up at the same time their own several confessions; pouring out their own several petitions; giving their own thanks severally, or praising and adoring; all of them in different languages, adapted to their several conditions, and yet not interrupting one another.
Nor is it the least recommendation of this worship, in the opinion of the Quakers, that, being thus wholly spiritual, it is out of the power of the natural man to obstruct it. No man can break the chains that thus binds the spirit of man to the spirit of God; for this chain, which is spiritual, is invisible. But this is not the case, the Quakers say, with any oral worship. “For how, says Barclay, alluding to his own times, can the Papists say their mass, if there be any there to disturb and interrupt them? Do but take away the mass-book, the chalice, the host, or the priest’s garments; yea, do but spill the water, or the wine, or blow out the candles, (a thing quickly to be done,) and the whole business is marred, and no sacrifice can be offered. Take from the Lutherans and Episcopalians their liturgy or common prayer-book, and no service can be said. Remove from the Calvinists, Arminians, Socinians, Independents, or Anabaptists, the pulpit, the bible, and the hourglass, or make but such a noise as the voice of the preacher cannot be heard, or disturb him but so before he come, or strip him of his bible or his books, and he must be dumb: for they all think it an heresy to wait to speak, as the spirit of God giveth utterance; and thus easily their whole worship may be marred.”
Quakers reject every thing formal, ostentatious, and
spiritless, from their worship—Ground on which their Meeting-houses stand, not
consecrated—The latter plain—Women sit apart from the men—No Pews—nor priest’s
garments—nor psalmody—No one day thought more holy than another—But as public
worship is necessary, days have been fixed upon for that purpose.
Jesus Christ, as he was sitting at Jacob’s well, and talking with the woman of Samaria, made use of the following, among other expressions, in his discourse: “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither, in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
These expressions the Quakers generally render thus: I tell you that a new dispensation is at hand. Men will no longer worship at Jerusalem more acceptably than in any other place. Neither will it be expected of them, that they shall worship in temples, like the temple there. Neither the glory, nor the ornaments of gold and silver and precious stones, nor the splendid garments of the High Priest, will be any parts of the new worship that is approaching. All ceremonies will be done away, and men’s religion will be reduced simply to the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth. In short, the Quakers believe, that, when Jesus came, he ended the temple, its ornaments, its music, its Levitical priesthood, its tithes, its new moons, and sabbaths, and the various ceremonial ordinances that had been engrafted into the religion of the Jews.
The Quakers reject every thing that appears to them to be superstitious, or formal, or ceremonious, or ostentatious, or spiritless, from their worship.
They believe that no ground can be made holy; and therefore they do not allow the places on which their Meeting-houses are built to be consecrated by the use of any human forms.
Their Meeting-houses are singularly plain. There is nothing of decoration in the interior of them. They consist of a number of plain long benches with backs to them; There is one elevated seat at the end of these. This is for their ministers. It is elevated for no other reason, than that their ministers may be the better heard. The women occupy one half of these benches, and sit apart from the men.
These benches are not intersected by partitions. Hence there are no distinct pews for the families of the rich, or of such as can afford to pay for them: for in the first place, the Quakers pay nothing for their seats in their Meeting-houses; and, in the second, they pay no respect to the outward condition of one another. If they consider themselves, when out of doors, as all equal to one another in point of privileges, much more do they abolish all distinctions, when professedly assembled in a place of worship. They sit therefore in their Meeting-houses undistinguished with respect to their outward circumstances, as the children of the same great parent, who stand equally in need of his assistance; and as in the sight of Him who is no respecter of persons, but who made of one blood all the nations of men who dwell on all the face of the earth.
The Quaker ministers are not distinguishable, when in their places of worship, by their dress. They wear neither black clothes, nor surplices, nor gowns, nor bands. Jesus Christ, when he preached to the multitude, is not recorded to have put on a dress different from that which he wore on other occasions. Neither do the Quakers believe that ministers of the church ought, under the new dispensation, to be a separate people, as the Levites were, or to be distinguished on account of their office from other men.
The Quakers differ from other Christians in the rejection of psalmody, as a service of the church. If persons feel themselves so influenced in their private devotions, that they can sing, as the Apostle says, “with the spirit and the understanding,” or “can sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord,” the Quakers have no objection to this as an act of worship. But they conceive that music and psalmody, though they might have been adapted to the ceremonial religion of the Jews, are not congenial with the new dispensation that has followed; because this dispensation requires, that all worship should be performed in spirit and in truth. It requires that no act of religion should take place, unless the spirit influences an utterance, and that no words should be used, except they are in unison with the heart. Now this coincidence of spiritual impulse and feeling with this act, is not likely to happen, in the opinion of the Quakers, with public psalmody. It is not likely that all in the congregation will be impelled, in the same moment, to a spiritual song, or that all will be in the state of mind or spirit which the words of the psalm describe. Thus how few will be able to sing truly with David, if the following verse should be brought before them: “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” To this it may be added, that where men think about musical harmony or vocal tunes in their worship, the amusement of the creature will be so mixed with it, that it cannot be a pure oblation of the Spirit, and that those who think they can please the Divine Being by musical instruments, or the varied modulations of their own voices, must look upon him as a Being with corporeal organs, sensible, like a man, of fleshly delights, and not as a Spirit, who can only be pleased with the worship that is in spirit and in truth.
The Quakers reject also the consecration and solemnization of particular days and times. As the Jews, when they became Christians, were enjoined by the Apostle Paul, not to put too great a value upon “days, and months, and times, and years;” so the Quakers think it their duty as Christians to attend to the same injunction. They never meet upon saints days, as such, that is, as days demanding the religious assemblings of men, more than others; first, because they conceive this would be giving into popish superstition; and secondly, because these days were originally the appointment of men and not of God, and no human appointment, they believe, can make one day holier than another.
For the latter reason also they do not assemble for worship on those days which their own government, though they are greatly attached to it, appoint as fasts. They are influenced also by another reason in this latter case. They conceive as religion is of a spiritual nature, and must depend upon the spirit of God, that true devotion cannot be excited for given purposes or at a given time. They are influenced again by the consideration, that the real fast is of a different nature from that required. “Is not this the fast, says Isaiah, that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out, to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thy own flesh?” This the Quakers believe to be the true fast, and not the work of a particular day, but to be the daily work of every real Christian.
Indeed no one day, in the estimation of the Quakers, can be made by human appointment either more holy or more proper for worship than another. They do not even believe that the Jewish Sabbath, which was by the appointment of God, continues in Gospel times, or that it has been handed down by divine authority as the true Sabbath for Christians. All days with the Quakers are equally holy, and all equally proper for the worship of God. In this opinion they coincide with the ever memorable John Hales. “For prayer, indeed, says this venerable man, was the Sabbath ordained: yet prayer itself is Sabbathless, and admits of no rest, no intermission at all. If our hands be clean, we must, as our Apostle commands us, lift them up every where, at all times, and make every place a church, every day a Sabbath-day, every hour canonical. As you go to the market; as you stand in the streets; as you walk in the fields—in all these places, you may pray as well, and with as good acceptance, as in the church: for you yourselves are temples of the Holy Ghost, if the grace of God be in you, more precious than any of those which are made with hands.”
Though, however, the Quakers believe no one day in the sight of God to be holier than another, and no one capable of being rendered so by human authority, yet they think that Christians ought to assemble for the public worship of God. They think they ought to bear an outward and public testimony for God; and this can only be done by becoming members of a visible church, where they may be seen to acknowledge him publicly in the face of men. They think also, that the public worship of God increases, as it were, the fire of devotion, and enlarges the sphere of spiritual life in the souls of men. “God causes the inward life, says Barclay, the more to abound when his children assemble themselves diligently together, to wait upon him; so that as iron sharpeneth iron, the seeing the faces of one another, when both are inwardly gathered unto the life, giveth occasion for the life secretly to rise, and to pass from vessel to vessel: and as many candles lighted and put in one place, do greatly augment the light and make it more to shine forth, so when many are gathered together into the same life, there is more of the glory of God, and his power appears to the refreshment of each individual; for that he partakes not only of the light and life raised in himself, but in all the rest. And therefore Christ hath particularly promised a blessing to such as assemble in his name, seeing he will be in the midst of them.” For these and other reasons, the Quakers think it proper, that men should be drawn together to the public worship of God: but if so, they must be drawn together at certain times. Now as one day has never been, in the eyes of the Quakers, more desirable for such an object than another, their ancestors chose the first day in the week, because the Apostles had chosen it for the religious assembling of themselves and their followers. And in addition to this, that more frequent opportunities might be afforded them of bearing their outward testimony publicly for God, and of enlarging the sphere of their spiritual life, they appointed a meeting on one other day in the week in most places, and two in some others, for the same purpose.
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