San Jose, CA: Press of Smith and Eaton, 1894.
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
Preface: - Something like a year ago two prizes were offered through the "Friends Review" for the two best essays answering the question, "Why am I a Friend?" Joel Bean of San Jose wrote a pater, not for the sake of the prize, but simply to answer the question for himself. The Judges were all men of thoroughly impartial minds, and deep Christian experience. Each one belonged to a different Yearly Meeting, and the essays were given to them without signatures, that is, with the identity concealed. There has been a marked uniformity of judgment. The judges know nothing of the conclusion of those who had given judgment before them, and yet the decision was almost unanimous. They sought choose the essay which distinguished Quakerism from everything else in history and set it forth as the supreme expression of Christianity yet reached. They looked for the paper which would explain to those not Friends the essence of our faith and the reason for our peculiarities. Their decision gives the first place to the essay of Joel Bean.
I am thankful to have had a birthright in the Society of Friends. The kind of education and reading, the Christian associations and privileges secured by that providence, are among the peculiar blessings that have fallen to my lot.
The home of my childhood was eight miles from the nearest neighborhood of Friends. The road over this distance to our own meeting was up and down steep hills. Only a part of the family could attend at a time, and those left behind attended metings near us, of other denominations, with whom we mingled freely, both socially and religiously.
And yet the assemblies in whose silent worship I felt the nearness of God, and of holy angles; the ministry in trembling accepts or in tendering power that came as messages for the Lord; the fathers and mothers of New England Yearly Meting who inspired my reverence and gained my love, are among the most sacred memories of my early years.
These predisposing influences had, no doubt, much to do in swaying my choice when, as youth was merging into manhood, the question had to be met as to my right place in the church.
But other and deeper considerations entered into the decision of that important question. And when it had been examined in all the points then perceived, with all the knowledge possessed, and all the light permitted, it could be finally settled by nothing short of an assured evidence of Divine guidance.
Here I come at once to the principles which differentiated this branch of the church.
It is not that Friends (or any other section) hold doctrines altogether different from the others.
It is rather a difference of proportion in the relative importance placed upon doctrines common to all, that distinguishes each section from the others.
All Christians would admit the Holy Spirit's influence upon the souls of men.
But it is the distinction of Friends to have borne a more practical testimony to the immediateness and the universality of the Divine Presence, as "the Light that lighteth every man," the "Grace that hath appeared to all"; convincing the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; teaching the attentive, and guiding the obedient "into all truth."
This testimony is an essential part, but a part only, of their witness to Christ.
None have had fuller faith in the Incarnation as the source and surety of the world's hopes.
But while acknowledging our dependence for salvation upon the outward coming and serving and suffering of Christ, as God made manifest in the flesh," they have dwelt with more emphasis than others on the complementary fact and doctrine of His coming and work in the Spirit. Out of this view has come as a necessary result a more spiritual conception of the church.
The rise of the Society in the Seventeenth Century marks the highest ground reaches by Protestantism in the direction of spiritual Christianity. It was the farthest removed for hierarchy. The ideal of Friend seems in some respects the very antithesis of the Roman Catholic Church. And yet, in essence, they have much in common.
They alike regard the true Church as the Body of Christ. It is clothed with His authority. There is in it a perpetual Priesthood. There is in it the Apostolic succession. There is in it Infallibility of Judgment. There is no Salvation outside of it. It is the divinely appointed and commissioned instrumentality for the preaching of the Gospel, the conversion of sinners, the extension of the kingdom of heaven upon earth.
But Friends believe this to be true only of such a body as is in vital union with Christ, and actuated by His spirit. It cannot be identical with, nor limited to, any outward organization.
The Romanist, on the other hand, identifies it with his own church, and believe the visitable body must have a visible Head. Hence the necessity for a corresponding system of administration, through an unbroken line of human priesthood and outward ordinances. He claims that the Church of Rome is the only visible church, which is the Body of Christ. The Friends conceives the true Church, the body of Christ, to include all in whose live the Spirit of Christ is embodies and expressed. It comprehends and combines all agencies where in He works and rules. It is confined to no nation or denomination,and none are excluded from it. In it there is no schism. All is harmonized and unified in one life. All is subject to one Head.
It is because I accept this general view of the church that I am a Friend.
The alternative which is said to have engaged at one time the serious thought of John Henry Newman, whether he should go to the Church of Rome or to Friends, is one which I can easily believe would be presented to such a mind, as he sought to define to himself, "What is the Church, which is founded upon Christ and built up in Him?"
Is it a visible hierarchy or a spiritually compacted body?
Are its sacraments outwardly or inwardly partaken of?
For its worship and government, do the authority and direction descend only through an historic Episcopate, or the present inspiration of an ever-present Lord?
If it be concluded that the outward organization is the necessary channel for the grace of God, then we meet the question, Which amo ng them all presents most satisfying proof of unbroken ecclesiastical connection with the apostolic church? To Cardinal Newman it appeared to be the Roman Catholic Christ, and thither he went to seek for the rest from strife of sect and schism, the permanent stability, the final authority, the inclusiveness and the unity that he felt must belong to the true church. On the other side is the spiritual, as represented by Friends. Regarding the church universal as subject to an invisible Head, they accepted, practically as well as theoretically, the conclusion that it must be subject, in all its parts, and that every single gathering of disciples "in His name," where He is in the midst, may trust to His headship.
This is high ground, but it seems to me no higher than faith in a living and present Christ requires.
Every meting together for public worship, every prayer we utter, is a testimony to our dependence upon and our belief in the presence of an unseen God.
It was in the attitude of this faith that worship in the Society of Friends took its form,and ministry had its spring. They felt that the worship our Father seeks, in spirit and in truth, cannot consist in performances and words. To them it seemed unbefitting to come into the presence of our King only to speak to Him, or to speak of Him, or to offer HIm our songs of praise, without first letting Him speak to us.
The common modes of worship are shaped to the idea that the world of the Lord to us must come through a prescribed human channel, the priest, the clergyman, or the minister.
Friends, in keeping with their view of the Church, recognize in the Lord Jesus Christ the only essential medium,, though whom every soul may come directly to the Father, and the Father may speak directly to every soul.
Our Saviour is out teacher. - This Gospel brings men to Christ. Anything short of this leaves the people depending upon human help, human leadership, human teaching.
Friends recognize the needs of "helps" in the church, and of "governments," of under-shepherds to feed the flock, of ministers, and elders, and overseers. But these are supplied through spiritual gifts and qualifications immediately conferred by the Master Himself.
For the free and full exercise of these varied gifts, they held their meetings in the most simple manner. They were not "conducted" by any human leader. No pre-arrangement of exercises was suffered to intrude upon the liberty to speak, or to be silent, under the presidency and power of the Holy Spirit.
I have endeavoured to point out what I regard as the fundamental distinction which justifies the separate existence of the Society of Friends. All other doctrines and testimonies peculiar to them are traceable to this ground, and tenable only in connection with it.
The Baptism of Christ is a spiritual baptism. The supper of the Lord is a spiritual communion.
Wars and fightings (with carnal weapons) are opposed to the spirit of Christ and to the principles of the Gospel Dispensation. Simplicity, sincerity, and truthfulness in conduct and speech, are stamped upon the type of character these principles have produced.
I am a Friend because my Christian life has been nurtured in these principles, and I love their fruits.
They enlist my loyalty, because in them it seems to me, the problems of our time may find their solution, and our holiest aspirations their fulfillment.
They refer us to an Infallibility, which no criticism can invalidate, since it is committed to no claim of perfection for the human element in the letter of Scripture, or the decrees of a Pope.
They assure us the largest freedom in unhindered service to God.
They unite us to a fellowship with all the good in every religion, and every race of mankind.
No other conception of Christianity has inspired deeper faith, or broader hope or purer love to God and man.
No higher standard has been illustrated by holy lives in any other portion of the Church.
And yet my claim for the Society of Friends is only, that so far as it is in vital union with Christ, it is a branch of the true Church.
It is liable to defects and mistakes of judgment, like other organizations.
It is liable, through loss of faith and faithfulness to have it candlestick removed out of its place.
And for the principles of the Society, I would claim no inflexible, invariable form of manifestation. They are principles of life, and in life there is growth,and variety, and adaptation to time and place.
I think we have no right to say that in metings for worship the Holy Spirit may not dictate the reading of a portion of Scriptur, or the singing of a hymn, as well as preaching and prayer. I would not confound simplicity of dress with a certain pattern or color.
I would not deny the use of what our Father has made of beauty for the eye, or music for the ear, because of its misuse.
It is not to bear testimony against other Christians that I am a Friend. It is not to condemn modes of worship by other denomination, in which so many of our brethren and sisters in Christ find comfort and strength.
It is not to brand as "hireling" the ministry of faithful ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, who in all the churches are gathering wanderers to the Saviour, and building up believers in the most holy faith.
It is rather in the spirit of comprehension, rather than of exclusiveness, that I am a Friend.
Sincerely do I honor all the ranks of the Lord's Army. The reason for my attachment to this division of it is the feeling that the place and work assigned me by the Master is beneath the banner He has given to this people to be "displayed because of the Truth." Not simply for the negative testimonies, but for the positive truth which that banner represents. Not mainly for non-participation in that which is symbolic and ceremonial, but to witness to the spiritual verities of the new and everlasting Covenant.
The early Friends were pioneers through bitter opposition and persecution, to lead the Church of God to higher ground and to a larger place. For such a purpose the Society bore divinely certified credentials of it reason and right to be.
In view of its recent history and present condition, the question, - "Why am I a Friend?" calls for an answer forged anew in the fires where Faith has had its trial.
There still continues to be a Society of Friends, and their principles are suffering no wane.
All in them that is true will endure forever. Whatever may perish of the earthen vessel, the treasure abides secure. Whatever may pass away of the temporal embodiment, the Life lives on, and God will give it to a renewed body "as it pleaseth Him."
Witnesses will not be wanting in the coming time to herald the larger announcement of the infinite truth and love of God for which the world is preparing.
The Good Tidings that shall bring joy to the struggling and the suffering in future days, will, I cannot doubt, be largely found in the spirit and the substance of that message which Friends have borne to the church and the world.
I desire to be a Friend, not only in the Faith and Hope, but also in the Love, greatest of the three, which will abide when that which is "in part" "shall be done away in the coming of that which is perfect."