Friends for 300 Years
Howard H. Brinton, 1952 (republished in 2002 as Friends for 350 Years, available from Quakerbooks.org)
We are having a multi-part discussion series on Quaker History, using Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years as the starting point for discussion. For the schedule for future sessions, see our calendar. Reading the book is not necessary, but you may enjoy it. Below is the content of the handout for the second session on 5/20/2012. It provides notable excerpts along with queries for discussion.
Discussion of Chapters 1-2: – The Light: in Worship, as Experienced
Facilitated by Ken Stockbridge, 5/20/2012
If not resisted, the … Spirit is able to overcome all disunity everywhere among and within men, and between man and God. [p xiv]
The Power of Worship
…Small groups of men and women gathered in town and country homes and sat together in silence “to wait upon the Lord.” In their countenances and bearing there was awe and reverence, as if they were gathered, not in a simple living room, but in a holy temple. Expectancy pervaded the group like that felt by those who await the coming of a great person or the occurrence of an important event, yet it was obvious from the expression of their faces that attention was directed not without but within. Some heads were bowed in wordless prayer, others uplifted as if gazing at supernal light…
…Those who “embraced the Truth for the love of it” found themselves possessed of a spiritual vitality and holy energy which sent them to all accessible lands to tell others of their great discovery and to endure, with inward serenity and peace, years of relentless and cruel persecution. [p. 1]
…The Truth was not so much a new doctrine as a new life. It gave a feeling of heightened power and insight, an uplift of the soul to a higher existence, which in some mysterious way was generated in the group waiting in silence upon the Lord. [p. 2]
…For example, Richard Davies has this to say of a meeting in 1657:
Though it was silent from words, yet the Word of the Lord God was among us; it was as a hammer and a fire; it was sharper than any two-edged sword; it pierced through our inward parts; it melted and brought us into tears that there was scarcely a dry eye among us…. [p. 6]
How would you describe the phenomenon that you experience in worship? Awe? Reverence? Expectancy? Are you “possessed of a spiritual vitality and holy energy?” Are you melted and brought to tears? Does it prepare you to endure “years of relentless and cruel persecution?” Well, what is it that keeps bringing you back for more?
Vocal ministry and the Power
…he sat silent waiting upon God about half an hour, in which time of silence Francis Howgill seemed uneasy and pulled out his Bible, and opened it and stood up several times, sitting down again and closing his book, a dread and fear being upon him yet he dared not begin to preach. After the said silence and waiting, George [Fox] stood up in the mighty power of God and in the demonstration thereof was his mouth opened to preach Christ Jesus, the Light of Life and the way to God, and Saviour of all that believe and obey him, which was delivered in that power and Authority that most of the auditory which were several hundreds, were effectually reached to the heart, and convinced of the truth that very day, for it was the day of God’s power. [p. 9]
How do you feel when discerning whether to speak from the silence? Are you uneasy? Do you start and stop? Do you dread and fear whether you dare to preach? Do you stand up in the mighty power of God? Do your words show the way to God in power and Authority? If such may be a tall order, then how do you discern when to speak?
Shared experience of the Light forms community
…But there was a vital difference between the lonely listener to the divine voice within and the member of a gathered meeting into which there flowed through many separate channels the converging currents of spiritual life. … For them Quakerism added something new, whereas Puritanism had resulted largely from a process of subtraction. This new element was a doctrine about an experience of the one root out of which all else grew. The energizing Center of the whole movement was the Inward Light, the Inward Christ, that of God in every man… The Society of Friends escaped anarchism because its members realized that this Light was a superindividual Light which created peace and unity among all persons who responded to it… The presence of the Light of Christ enabled the meeting to become the Body of Christ… [p. 14]
When and how have you felt bonding to others through worship? How would you describe the phenomenon that had that effect? The Quaker Way, including worship, leaves a lot of room for individuality. Is that what draws you? To what extent do you want to be drawn into the Body of Christ, or the Body of God, or the Body of Creation? What words would you use?
Children of the Light … or of empty forms
… Margaret Fell’s account of her convincement by George Fox … [who] said, “You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this,’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?” &c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.” [p. 15-16]
So, what canst thou say? … that the Spirit gives you? is it inwardly from God? What have you taken from the scriptures, or from Truth, not only in words but from knowing them in yourself, through the power of the Spirit? What empty forms or empty words do you find yourself fall into from time to time? Is worship ever an empty form? How can we avoid that?
Concepts of the Light
Seed: …Barclay wrote: By this seed, grace, and word of God and light wherewith we say everyone is enlightened… we understand a spiritual, heavenly, invisible principle in which God as Father, Son and Spirit dwells, a measure of which divine and glorious life is in all men as a seed which of its own nature draws, invites and inclines to God. [p. 18]
Peace: [The Light is] the Word of Life, the Word of Peace, the Word of Reconciliation which makes of twain one new man and if ye do abide there, there is no division but unity in the life…Therefore in the Light wait where the Unity is, where the peace is, where the Oneness with the Father and Son is, where there is no Rent nor Division. [Ep. 115, 1656] … This is the whole basis of the peace doctrine… [p. 20]
Good Raised Up: … [Fox] had more of a philosophy than a theology, though his philosophy was arrived at by feeling and intuition rather than by systematic thinking. To Fox, the universe apparently consisted of two kinds of existences, variously designated–Substance and Shadow, Eternity and Time, Unity and Multiplicity, or Life and Form. The object of religion was to bring men out of the second into the first… [p. 20-21]
One Light: …”The Light of God is but one” (Ep. 25, 1653). Friends never used the term “spark” for the Inward Light as some other mystics have done. Spark or Sparkle might imply that the Light was divided, a part being in one person and part in another. There was but one Light. The nearer all come to it, the nearer they come to one another… [p. 21-22]
Unchanging: Ye that be turned to the Light walk in the Light… that never changeth, ye may come to see that which was in the beginning before the world was, where there is no shadow nor darkness. [Ep. 105, 1655] [p. 23]
Opposing Dark: The Dark World is beneath the World of Light…Throughout Fox’s writings there appears a constant reference to that which is contrary to the Light, a real opposing power which man is free to choose instead of choosing the Power which comes from God. [p. 24]
Opposing Deceit: And ye all walking in this Light, it will bring you to all plainness and singleness of speech which will make the Deceit to tremble. [Ep. 111, 1656] … Deceit is a state of form without power. … To wait upon the Lord in silence can, of course, become formal, but silent waiting commits no one to any action or expression which is not a sincere outcome of inward life and thought. [p. 25-26]
Which concepts of the Light ring true based on your own experience? What experience? Which do not, and based on what experience? What other concepts of the Light do you feel drawn to? Are they consistent with these concepts of early Friends?