Christopher E. Stern
(Printed with Permission of the author)
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
Our subject this morning is "convincement." This is an extremely important subject for us as
Quakers today. This is why it has been chosen as the overall title of this series as well as the title
for this lecture.
The call to convincement is just as important to our lives as it was for the first Quakers. Yet this
call has been all but lost. The experience of being convinced, which was the starting point of the
early Quaker faith is rarely talked about. The call to a living encounter with the one who walked
the streets of Jerusalem is rarely heard. The call to discipleship, to take up the cross and follow
our Lord is rarely seen.
These essential parts of our faith have been removed. Yet we are finding that the philosophies
that have replaced them lack the power to sustain our meetings and our lives. It is clear that the
phrase, "There is that of God in every person", has become the central belief of Quakerism. This
cannot replace the life changing experience of being convinced. It cannot replace the call to a
living encounter with Christ. It cannot replace the call to discipleship.
We are all called to be convinced. This morning we will be looking at what this means.
1. When you read the early Quaker journals, they are full of references of both individuals and
groups of people being convinced. We can also see from the personal accounts of many of their
journals, that this was not an easy experience. A persons life was often completely turned upside
down or maybe we should say right side up for the first time.
Margaret Fell's account:
"And so he (George Fox) went on and said, How that Christ was the Light of the
world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this
Light they might be gathered to God, etc. And I stood up in my pew and I
wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went
on, and opened the Scriptures, and said, 'The Scriptures were the prophets'
words and Christ's and the apostles' words, and what they spoke they enjoyed
and possessed and [they] had it from the Lord'. And said, 'what had any to do
with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth. You
will say, Christ says this, and the apostles say this; but what can you say?
Are you a child of Light and have you walked in the Light, and what you speak
is it inwardly from God?'This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and I
saw clearly that we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again and I
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
That night George Fox came over to the house and spoke to the entire household, minus Judge
Fell who is away on business.
Margaret Fell continues her account:
And he spoke in the family amongst the servants; and they were all generallyconvinced, as William Caton, Thomas Salthouse, Mary Askew, Anne Clayton and several other servants. And I was stricken into such a sadness I knew not what to do, my husband being from home. I saw it was the truth and could not deny it; and I did as the apostle said, I 'received the truth in the love of it'. And it was opened to me so clear that I had never a word in my heart against it; but I desired the Lord that I may be kept in it, and then I desired no greater portion. (talk about the husband returning and the first Quaker meeting...the husband goes to church by himself)
What an extraordinary experience. Can you imagine? This stranger comes to speak in your church
or Meeting. This speaker challenges everything you believe in. Everything that you have
understood religion to be. The speaker's words reach so directly to you it is as though your ears
are opened for the first time. Everything is different than the way you saw it before. You break
down and cry, asking God to help you.
Now it is important to point out here that it was not just the words that were spoken by Fox that
reached Margaret Fell. GOD HAD PREPARED HER HEART TO HEAR. There were many
others in the church that day that did not hear. In fact some of them tried to throw George out by
So when we are convinced it is not just a matter of what we hear or read, it is not just a matter of
the words. It is part of a long process of preparation that has been going on within us whether we
know it or not. God is the preparer of our hearts that we may truly hear and truly believe.
I would like to say this morning that convincement is a gift and has little to do with our own
ability. When we talk about convincement, we are talking about something that happens to us that
is greater than our own ability and strength and often happens in spite of ourselves. Convincement
is a gift that comes from God, often in a moment of great need and can be the basis for changing
It is my hope that our hearts are being prepared today, even now as we meet here together that
we might like Margaret, "receive the truth in the love of it.
2.One of the many Biblical calls to convincement is issued by Isaiah when he proclaimed:
A Voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the dessert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and every hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become. And the glory o level, and the rough places plain if the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.(Is 40.3-5)
This call was later repeated in the famous message of John the Baptist. The early Friends referred
to this passage as a call to prepare our hearts so that we may receive newness of life.
This call continues to each of us today at different times and in different circumstances, but it still
comes. It is a message of Life. In the midst of our own emptiness, God will fill us. In the midst of
our loneliness, Christ will be our faithful companion, In the midst of our despair, God will raise
up a new hope within us. God is even at this time working in our hearts preparing a way. This is
how strong the love of God is toward each of us.
Let me read from an account of a twentieth century Friend who experienced his convincement in a
Friends Meeting outside of Chicago. He had attended for many years out of family duty but
showed little interest in Meeting. During a meeting, a recorded minister knelt down and began to
pray...(excerpt from Reynolds)
3.My own convincement came out of a sense of emptiness --a deep emptiness inside of me that
nothing seemed able to fill. I grew up in a Quaker meeting and was taught all the principles of
Quakerism, the sermon on the mount and good will toward all peoples. Yet often in the midst of
trying to learn these principles and apply them to my life, I still felt empty and powerless, unable
to live my life according to these teachings. I thought there must be something wrong with me.
After all a Quaker should be able to live according to these principles, right?
Later on, after leaving Friends, I was given the Journal of George Fox to read. This happened while I was in college. I was deeply affected by this account of George Fox's life. As I read I began to see that he had struggled with some of the same things that I had. Fox made an amazing discovery. He found that the same Jesus who taught his disciples is alive and can teach us in our hearts. This same Jesus is present within us to help us to live as his disciples today.
A great weight was lifted from my shoulders and I cried. It was not my fault, Its not my fault that
I cannot follow these principles on my own. I saw for the first time, that we need God's help, and
this help is available. This was the beginning of my convincement.
WE CANNOT DO IT ON OUR OWN WE NEED THE HELP OF GOD AND CHRIST TO LIVE
OUR LIVES AS WE ARE CALLED TO LIVE. That emptiness that I felt so strongly was there for
a reason, SO THAT CHRIST MIGHT FILL IT.
We are not made to live out our own existence as best we can. We are made in God's image to
listen and follow the Word of God.The promise proclaimed by the prophet Isiah is fulfilled in our
hearts today, " Yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, butyour eyes shall see your
Teacher, and your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in
it...(Is.30.20)Do you hear his word?
And again the promise from the letter of John, "but the anointing which you received from him
abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you, as his anointing teaches you
about everything that is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him." (1Jn.1.26) Do
you feel his presence within you?
Now, as we have seen so far, convincement comes through a living encounter with Christ. It
includes a call to discipleship. This means a radical call to put our own agendas down and seek
God's agenda for our lives. This is true for us as individuals and as Meetings. It is the most
important call of our lives.
Convincement is not finding the outward words of Christ in the external doctrines of religion but
finding them and him within you. It is an inward recognition that ALL ALONG Christ has been at
work in our hearts. Yes, even when we have found ourselves unable or unwilling to listen.
The first Friends were convinced of the living presence of Christ as Guide and Teacher. Their
whole lives revolved around this convincement. As they became convinced they came away from
their man made teachers to gather together to listen to Christ. This meant leaving their former
places of worship and all their priests and ministers to gather together to wait upon the Lord.
Has our religion as Friends become based on a system of philosophy and religious rituals or
observations instead of convincement?
Has our faith become based on our own ability to master a set of religious principles or doctrines,
Quaker processes? Is it based on our own ability?
The call to convincement is a call out of these, empty tombs of religion. "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Lk. 24.5) We must then find our living faith anew. Jesus said, "you are my Friends if you do what I command you." (Jn 15.14).We become his Friends when we find him alive in our hearts and in our midst. We become his Friends when we listen to him and follow him in our lives and as a community of faith. This is the true work of a Friends Meeting.