UNITY UNDER THE SPIRIT
(Part of the Collection, Kersey's Essays)
Taken From A Narrative of the Early Life, Travels, and Gospel Labors of Jessey Kersey, Late of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1851, pages 261-268.
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The same causes we must believe will produce the same effect: and therefore it is necessary for Friends to be on their guard, or otherwise strife and division may again take place. But in order to preserve the body from falling into this unhappy state, it is of vast importance that it should be grounded and settled in correct principles. On this subject the author has felt a deep concern. He is fully aware that at present we stand in a very critical situation, and he feels his fears lest there should be a want of just conceptions of the consequences which threaten to overtake us. He will therefore leave with his friends a testimony of his concern, and he believes it a duty to endeavor to call the attention of Friends to the alone ground of safety, and of prosperity to the great cause of universal peace and righteousness. It should never be forgotten by us that it is one thing to profess a belief in the Divine manifestation to man, and it is another thing to have a settled faith at all times and under all circumstances in the sufficiency of the wisdom and power of this gift. For want of this faith and patient awaiting the Lord's time, when trials and difficulties arise we may go to work in our own wisdom and strength in order to remove unpleasant cases when they occur. Thus by putting forth the hand unbidden to steady the ark we may bring death instead of life, and really retard the advancement of the good cause.: It has been occasion of mourning to find that we are not so fully settled in the belief of the all-sufficiency of the precious gift as should be the case [P. 265] if Friends are not deeply attentive to the light and spirit of the great Head of the Church, they may introduce measures of human policy and be governed by them--the consequence of which must be that the society may again be landed much in the wilderness state. There was perhaps never a time when it was more important to the great cause of Christianity than the present time that all who profess with us should keep close to their proper places and duties, studying to show ourselves approved unto God. And as we believe that we live in an age when there is much enquiry in the minds of the people and when all the movements of those under our name are closely watched, much depends upon what we say and do in accordance with the witness for truth in the minds of enquirers. Our meetings for divine worship being held as they are with a profession of waiting in spirit upon the great Head of the Church to be instructed by him, it has appeared clear to me that if Friends were deep and weighty in their spirits they would be more often favored with the overshadowings of Divine love and thereby be refreshed together, as well as witness the power of truth to be raised into dominion, and thus, forward spirits that come among us, and often wound the spiritual life by running into words without life and power would be kept down. There is perhaps no circumstance which has a greater tendency to mar the work of righteousness in the earth than a lifeless ministry. Some there are who with a small gift would be favored to know the burden of the word give to them, and would be clear in what they had to deliver, but for want of keeping in the littleness, and by giving way to the desire to enlarge, are clouded in their [P. 266] testimony and judgment, and do not furnish anything like a certain sound, or learn to know their proper stopping places. Hence they remain in the mixture, and Friends are often at a loss to know whether there is a gift or not: and when some of these are at last from their weak appearances advised to desist and try to keep silent, they become troublesome to Friends.
Leaving the subject of the Ministry, it remains with me to remark, that in
order to maintain the testimonies of truth on the true ground, there is no
point more important than that of a strict regard to the peaceable nature
of the gospel spirit. So long as we trust to any other means than that of
the Divine Gift for the safety and well-being of the society, we shall be
liable to weakness and error: but if we place our confidence exclusively
in the Divine Gift and follow it, there will be nothing to fear. But it is
to be feared that many among us are not in possession of the true and living
faith,--a faith that overcometh the world. The society of Friends from their
rise have been firmly of the judgment that the light of Christ inwardly
manifested is the alone sure guide, and by it every individual may be instructed
in all the subjects that pertain to the Kingdom of Heaven. They have therefore
maintained this testimony, that with them it is the first and primary rule
of faith and practice. We make the same profession, and therefore have no
new doctrine to preach; but the same that has been from the beginning, and
which is preached in every creature. In this we are different from other
professors of Christianity, who consider that revelation has ceased, "because"
(say they-) "God has committed his will to writing." If this doctrine was
true, it would follow as a consequence that [P. 267] none could be saved
but those who could read, and who had the book. We do not advert to this
doctrine with any view to controversy, but simply to present a correct view
of the profession of Friends from the beginning. Now as we have embraced
the doctrine of a Divine manifestation to man, and do not believe that in
this blessed gift there is any tendency to strife or contention, or that
it is incompetent to the preservation of those individuals, or that society
which live in subjection to its teachings--it is of great importance to us
and to the cause of Truth, that we should in our practice conform to it.
It never can be right for a people making this high profession, to have recourse
to compulsory measures in defence of themselves or of the order of the society.
On the contrary, when they are being taught under trials and diftieulties,
they should manifest their full faith in the gift. Thus they Would be qualified
to stop the mouths of gainsayers and all that should rise up against them.
When a body of men are united in any one profession it is the duty of the
individual members of that body to adopt the doctrine they have embraced.
Hence it follows that as the Society of Friends wholly abandon all that kind
of management which belongs to the children of this world, and to its
policy,--they have only to trust to the pure and heavenly gift; and surely
they have every reason to do so. When we look back into the trials and sufferings
which our dear friends had to encounter, and observe with what meekness,
patience, and fortitude, they endured those impositions,--looking to the
Lord alone for deliverance--surely we might be both encouraged and instructed
to trust to the same blessed power for deliverance from the comparatively
[P. 268] insignificant difficulties of our time. It is of great importance
to the society of Friends that they should not only understand the fundamental
principle of their profession, but that they should have full faith in the
power and virtue of it: and having the example of our early Friends before
us and finding from their case that they were happily sustained under all
trials in consequence of their obedience to the principle of their profession
we are left without excuse should we attempt to take any other ground or
seek a deliverance from trials by the aid of the arm of flesh or the policy
of the world. The whole power of the church of Christ is centered in love.
Therefore in all eases where there is opposition, it is the business of the
true believer to try to overcome by maintaining a meek and gentle spirit.
But should any attempt to subdue and regulate disorderly spirits by the exercise
of compulsory measures, they would only mar the work and wound themselves.
From the commencement of the society, we may see that all the extreme cases,
such as have ended with rendings, and division have been produced by a departure
from the spirit of meekness, forbearance, and brotherly kindness. And we
may always depend upon it, that if we cannot gain the desired point by the
exercise of those Christian principles, that we should not resort to any
other. The fact is if we do in any degree depart from the true ground, we
may be sure of losing, by it.