John Greenleaf Whittier
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"They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they."
Differing, as we do, more or less as to the means and methods, if we indeed have the "mind of
Christ," we shall rejoice in whatever of good is really accomplished, although by somewhat
different instrumentalities than those which we feel ourselves free to make use of, remembering
that our Lord rebuked the narrowness and partisanship of His disciples by assuring them that
they that were not against Him were for Him.
It would, nevertheless, give me great satisfaction to know, as thy kindly expressed editorial comments seem to intimate, that I have somewhat overestimated the tendencies of things in our Society. I have no pride of opinion which would prevent me from confessing with thankfulness my error of judgment. In any even, it can, I think, do no harm to repeat my deep conviction that we mall all labor, in the ability given us, for our own moral and spiritual well-being, and that of our fellow-creatures, without laying aside the principles and practice of our religious Society. I believe so much of liberty is our right as well as our privilege, and that we need not really overstep our bounds for the performance of any duty which may be required of us. When truly called to contemplate broader fields of labor, we shall find the walls about us, like the horizon seen from higher levels, expanding indeed, but nowhere broken.
I believe that the world needs the Society of Friends as a testimony and a standard. I know that
this is the opinion of some of the best and most thoughtful members of other Christian sects. I
know than any serious departure from the original foundation of our Society would give pain to
may who, outside of our communion, deeply realize the importance of our testimonies. They fail
to read clearly the signs of the times who do not see that the hour is coming when, under the
searching eye of philosophy and the terrible analysis of science, the letter and the outward
evidence will not altogether avail us; when the surest dependence must be upon the Light of
Christ within, disclosing the law and the prophets in our own souls, and confirming the truth of
outward Scripture by inward experience; when smooth stones from the brook of present
revelation shall prove mightier than the weapons of Saul; when the doctrine of the Holy Spirit,
as proclaimed by George Fox and lived by John Woolman, shall be recognized as the only
efficient solvent of doubts raise by an age of restless inquiry. I am sorry it did not fall to the lot of
a more fitting hand; and can only hope that no consideration of lack of qualification on the part
of its writer may lessen the value of whatever testimony to truth shall be found in it.
Amesbury, 3d mo., 1870
P.S. I may mention that I have been somewhat encouraged by a perusal of the Proceedings of the
late First-day School Conference in Philadelphia, where, with some things I am compelled to
pause over, and regret, I find much with which I cordially unite, and which seems to indicate a
providential opening for good. I confess to a lively and tender sympathy with my younger
brethren and sisters who, in the name of Him who "went about doing good," go forth into the
highways and byways to gather up the lost, feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, and point the
sin-sick and suffering to the hopes and consolations of Christian faith, even if, at times, their zeal
goes beyond "reasonable service," and although the importance of a particular instrumentality
may be exaggerated, and love lose sight of its needful companion humility, and he that putteth
on his armour boast like him who layeth it off. Any movement, however irregular, which
indicates life, is better than the quiet of death. In the overruling providence of God, the troubling
may prepare the way for healing. Some of us may have erred on one hand and some on the other,
and this shaking of the balance may adjust it.