A lecture delivered at Twelfth Street Meeting House

Philadelphia, 1 Mo. 24th, 1908

James Wood

Friends' Book and Tract Committee, 144 East 20th Street, New York

This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.

As members of the Religious Society of Friends, we should approach the consideration of our distinguishing doctrines with sentiments of deep regard for all our brethren in Christ who belong to other denominations and whose doctrinal view vary from our own. Toward them we should ever entertain that feeling of Christian love which is kind, which "vaunteth not itself" and which "thinketh no evil." Indeed, the very name of our denomination should constantly remind of this, because it implies a recognition of other branches of the church that is unique, and is remarkable for the breadth of its liberality. The name "Friends" was chosen in recognition of the declaration of our Lord, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you"; and it further recognizes the relations that should exist between those of the same household of faith. This word stands for the teaching of the two great commandments.

The term "Society" was chosen because it was recognized that the word "church" stood for all true believers of every name who belong to Christ's Kingdom on earth, and that no branch of the church has any right to assume for itself a name that implies, in any way, the exclusion, or want of recognition, of others. The term "Society," applied to a branch of the church, is similar to its use by the Society of Jesuits and other orders in the Church of Rome. The Founders of the Society of Friends in the selection of its name manifested a breadth of consideration, and a liberal regard for others, that stand without precedent in the history of the church.


Before speaking of our distinguishing doctrines it may be well to refer to the historic fact that there was a development of doctrine in the progress of the Protestant Reformation in England that was unlike anything that occurred in any of the continental countries. In the latter, there was definite time when the old doctrines and practices were rejected and the new were embraced. There was no such time in England. The passage by parliament of the "Act of the Royal Supremacy" was merely a substitution of the authority of the king for that of the Pope. It in no wise touched the Catholic doctrines. Henry VIII. lived and died in Roman faith. During the reign of Edward VI. considerable progress in the Reformed faith was made. This was checked and much of it lost during all the reign of Mary, and was very cautiously revived and advanced under Elizabeth and James, but during all that period the advances were but different degrees of compromise with Rome. The true understanding of this requires some definite test as to what is the fundamental difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The formula of Schleiermacher is generally accepted by both sides as a correct statement of this. "Catholicism makes the believer's relation to Christ depend upon his relation to the church; Protestantism make the believer's relation to the church depend on his relation to Christ." It follows from this that if the believer's relation to Christ is made, in any degree, dependent upon his observance of any ordinance or ceremony of the church, or upon any exercise of sacerdotal authority by its priests or ministers, in so far, the fundamental principle of Protestantism is violated and the principle of Catholicism is maintained.

In the protracted discussions of the period in reference to the adoption and revision of the Prayer Book of the Church of England and its thirty-nine Articles, the vestments of the clergy and the administration of ordinances, these were the questions involved. Notwithstanding all this discussion, both in the Church of England and among the numerous bodies of dissenters that arose, some upon one point of doctrine or practice and some on another, there was continually some recognition of the Catholic principle, and it was not until a hundred years had passed after the Reformation began that a body arose that clearly and unequivocally took the position that the believer's relation to Christ does not depend upon his relation to the church, and which brought the Reformation to its logical conclusion, That body was the Society of Friends.


During this period of violent discussion there was a substantial agreement upon the great fundamental doctrines of the church at large, as expressed in the two ancient creeds, known as the "Apostles' Creed" and the "Nicene Creed." In a general way the "Athanasian Creed" was accepted also. These great, general doctrines were not then called in question and therefore but little was said upon them. These the founders of the Society of Friends accepted, as did the other bodies, and therefore, in their writings, which were mostly controversial in their character, particular stress was not laid upon them. It is a great injustice for anyone to claim that, because of this, Friends were in any way wanting in their allegiance to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion which stamp a true evangelical character upon those would hold them.


The Society of Friends was founded by George Fox. He was born in 1624. While yet a very young man he was brought into very great anxiety of mind in reference to his spiritual condition. His feelings were deeper and stronger than the most of us are capable of, because he was a very deep and strong young man. In his distress of mind he sought advice and help from those who professed to be able to give these. He went to ministers of the church of England and to those of the Dissenters, often traveling great distances to visit a minister of reputation. In answer to his inquiries they gave him marvellous advice. The ignorance of the clergy of that time is strikingly displayed in what they said to him. Finding no help he was brought to the verge of despair. At length when he cried "There is none to help," he heard a voice that said to him "There is one who can speak to thy condition, even Jesus Christ." He took his attention and his expectation away from men and turned unreservedly to Him, who is "mighty to save and able to deliver all those who come unto God by Him." Then there was mercifully granted to him a precious sense of acceptance and of union with God. Then darkness and despair vanished and his soul was filled with light and life and joy. He became conscious that the light of life was shed in his soul by the Lord Jesus Christ who had come to abide there by the Holy Spirit. The longing of his soul was satisfied and his own perfect peace and rest he found a call to labor for others.


George Fox had but one book, his Bible, and this he studied diligently. He found that his most blessed experience was but what was clearly taught in the New Testament, that he who believes in Christ "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." "If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him and He will come unto him and make an abode with him." "I will pray the Father and He shall give you another comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth; whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him, for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you." "When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." George Fox saw that the Saviour's words conveyed a teaching that was a great practical reality, and he began at once to proclaim it to the Church and the world as the most exalting truth pertaining to man's existence here, and it became the corner-stone of what is known as Quakerism. By it all Quakerism is to be interpreted. This was no new revelation of divine truth. It had been held by the Church theoretically, but not as a practical reality. It was a new apprehension of truth.


From this experience of George Fox, and from this apprehension of truth, many things necessarily followed. George Fox had obtained the experience without the aid of any priest; it may be said he obtained it in spite of the priests. Naturally he examined the New Testament to find what he could about the priesthood. He found there was no such order or class in the Church. Nowhere was there any reference to the division of the Church into so-called clergy and laity. He found very clearly taught the high-priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ and the priesthood of all true believers. Filled with the realization of the Divine Presence in the soul there was a consciousness of such a nearness of touch and closeness of relationship that by no possibility could any human being come between a believing soul and the High Priest of his salvation. Then it was seen that this had been prophesied to Israel on coming out of Egypt, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests," and had been declared as having come to pass the words, "He hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father." With this there necessarily followed a sweeping denial of all the claims to sacerdotalism in whatever form or degree they may be asserted. The doctrine of the high-priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ and the priesthood of all believers, who offer spiritual sacrifices and have free access to God through Him, without the intervention of any human instrumentality whatsoever, lies next to the corner-stone of distinctive Quakerism.


Manifestly these considerations have a direct bearing upon public worship which until then had been conducted by the clergy and was considered impossible without human leadership. "The first covenant had ordinances of divine service and worldly sanctuary," and of course there were persons ordained for the service. But while the worship under the old dispensation was carefully and explicitly provided for, with full directions for its conduct, the New Testament, in striking contrast, has no directions whatever. There is a broad general statement of principle that wherever or however performed it must have one indispensable characteristic - it must be "in spirit and in truth."

There is also one very explicit declaration regarding it, also made by the Lord Himself; "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." These two declarations, carried to their practical conclusions, cover the whole ground of public worship, so that anything more would have hampered that freedom of the Spirit and of the individual conscience which are necessary to true worship. George Fox realized that the promise of our Lord to be present in the assemblies of His people was practical and real. The people came into His presence as their King. So coming, they prostrate themselves before Him, as all subjects do when coming into the presence of their earthly sovereign. Formerly, they did this by throwing their bodies prone before Him. To-day, kneeling or bending the body means the same thing. Thus prostrating themselves, a subject dare not speak until the sovereign by word or gesture bids him speak. So true worshippers, who must worship in spirit, prostrate their spirits before their Sovereign, and they remain still before Him until He makes His will known to them. None deems this unreasonable before earthly sovereigns, and how can it be so before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? This must be in silence, or otherwise it cannot be complete prostration. Here we have the silence of Friends' meeting, and this is its true and only meaning. How simple a thing it is, how beautiful, how grand! Such prostration is the fundamental idea of worship as referred to in the Scriptures.

This prostration is most fit and favorable for adoration which is the chief element of worship. But how long shall this continue? Just as long as the Master and Sovereign may please. He may, perhaps see that it is best for the congregation to thus continue during the whole hour of the meeting, or he may choose to have the silence continue but one minute. He who knows the thoughts and intents of every heart can alone determine this. And what shall be done when the silence is to be broken?

Whatever He may please. He may make His will known to the consciousness of some individual whose spiritual ear is trained to hear "His still small voice" that he should supplicate for mercy and grace. Then prayer must be offered. Or He may require of another that a portion of the Scripture must be read, or the word expounded by preaching, or testimony given to the goodness and love of God. Whatever the will of the Master is must be done, if the full measure of blessing is to be experienced. No man can say beforehand what it will be, and therefore there cannot be any formal prearrangement of these services. It necessarily follows that no man can say what shall be done or what shall not be done in a meeting for worship. This presupposes a faithful obedience on the part of the worshippers to the Master's will.

When obedience in this keeps pace with the knowledge given, there is granted a blessed communion with the Master which nourishes the souls of the believers, builds them up in faith, and causes them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. This idea of public worship is the simplest and grandest ever practiced since the gatherings of the early Church, and it is believed to be nearly identical with that observed for two or more centuries after the Church's establishment.

We readily see that a meeting for worship is not, primarily, the coming together of the congregation, as persons come together for other meetings, but it is their meeting with the Lord. The congregation is always the congregation of the Lord. This explains why a Friends' meeting may be held, and many times has been regularly held, with but one human being present - a thing quite impossible upon any other basis of public worship.


The consideration of public worship has led us naturally to the consideration of the ministry. While the Master of an assembly selects whom He will and qualifies them for His service, He is pleased to confer divers special gifts upon His servants, all by the same Spirit. "Every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that."

When a member is frequently commissioned to speak in preaching, or exhortation, or in offering prayer, and he does so to the edification of the hearers, the body recognizes that he has received the gift of ministry, and this recognition is officially made and the individual is duly recorded a minister. This ministry is the exercise of a gift received from the Lord, and it is to be freely exercised as unto Him and His service, without any consideration of human compensation. Friends have ever held that the gifts of God can neither be purchased with nor sold for money, and, in this respect the exercise of the gift cannot be separated from the gift itself.

This recognition of a gift of the ministry is not an appointment to an office of the Church and has no relation to what is called "ordination." Neither does this recognition separate the minister from the body of the membership and place him in a class. All are equal, according to their faith and obedience, before the Lord. But the minister should receive the respect due to the Lord's servant, while the power accompanying his service demonstrates the authority with which He speaks.


Among the other gifts bestowed by the Master is that of spiritual discernment, by which its recipient is enabled to know whether a communication is accompanied by the evidence of its authority, and whether it tends to spiritual edification of the hearers. Under a system of public worship which recognizes that any member may receive a message for the people, the exercise of this gift of spiritual discernment is of very great importance, lest the liberty of speaking may be abused. When it is recognized that this gift has been received by an individual of sound judgement, he or she is appointed to the exercise of the gift under the name of elder. Elders watch over and encourage those who have received a gift in the ministry and provide suitable opportunities for its exercise, while they are to caution or restrain those who do not give evidence of having received the divine commission.

Others receive gifts which specially qualify them to watch over membership in respect to their moral conduct and their daily walk in life, and they are appointed to this service under the name of overseers.


Friends find nowhere in the New Testament any statement whose true meaning denies the reception of these gifts and the right of their exercise to women equally with men. It was prophesied of old that spiritual gifts should be conferred upon both in the new dispensation, and practical experience has proven that this is done. Friends therefore make no distinction in the rights, privileges and responsibilities of the Church because of sex.

It is a grave matter that should receive our most serious consideration, that we have each of us received a gift from the Lord which we are to occupy till He comes to call us to the great day of judgement. How weighty is the responsibility!


The position of the Society of Friends upon the subjects of the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the priesthood of believers, bears directly upon the subject of ordinances in the Christian dispensation. The dispensation that preceded it was called "the dispensation of ordinances." Under it Jesus of Nazereth lived and died. As a Jew, he ate the last Passover supper.

By His perfect obedience He fulfilled all the righteousness of the law and made possible the dispensation of grace which in due time was inaugurated. Jesus taught, as did John the Baptist, that the Kingdom of Heaven was about to be ushered in. Just before His transfiguration He said that some of those present would live to see it; and just before His ascension He told them that it would come "not many days hence." It came ten days after His ascension, when the Holy Ghost was given the spiritual dispensation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ began. As our Lord Himself lived and died a Jew, so His disciples were Jews until His Kingdom was established in the earth. The ordinances of the old Covenant had served all the purposes of which they were capable when in the fullness of time Christ came and suffered and died, and thereafter there was no further use for them. Therefore it was that Christ blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross." When He "abolished the law of commandments contained in the ordinances," these ended in that which was their fulfillment. This is so emphatic in its character and so broad in its application that it precludes the possibility of any ordinance being continued in the Christian dispensation, unless we find positive and undeniable evidence of its establishment therein. The Society of Friends has not found any such evidence.

The whole question of ordinances in the church was fully met and determined by the first Council at Jerusalem, presided over by James, the brother of the Lord. The issue was distinctly presented in the question of what should be required of the Gentile converts. The decision under the direct teaching of the Holy Spirit, as was claimed, was that they should avoid every form of idolatry and lead moral lives. Nothing was required of them beyond these necessary things. As the issue was upon ordinances and Jewish observances, the decision was sweeping and emphatic. Thereafter there should have been no room for any question regarding them.


We search in vain for any evidence that an ordinance of water baptism was established by our Lord. Baptism is a many-sided word and means that which is capable of producing change of condition. This must result directly or indirectly from the touch of that with which the person is baptized. If the touch is by that which has sufficient inherent power, the change is direct, but otherwise it must be indirect. Where the term "baptize" is used without a specific mention of the thing baptized with, the presumption is always in favor of a direct rather than indirect operation. The Holy Spirit has all power for working all the changes of condition referred to, while water has not, and therefore in all such cases the presumption is in favor of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. Again, where no specific mention is made of the thing baptized with, the presumption is always in favor of the greater rather than the less. If this reasoning is correct we have the ground cleared of every reference to baptism, except such as mention the agency of water. Again, we know that water was a favorite symbol, both in the Old and the New Testament Scriptures for the illustration of spiritual truth, alike as to the refreshment of the thirsty soul and the cleansing from all defilement. This is strikingly illustrated in the passage, "verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, says of it: "Christ here meant to say, Except a man be cleansed and receive a new influence, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."

Often water was used as a symbol of the Spirit. In all cases of such symbolic use we must dismiss water for that which it represents. But after elimination of all these there still remains undoubted evidence that water baptism was practiced by the Apostles after the coming of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. But they also continued Jewish customs which no one now claims to be binding. When Paul went up to Jerusalem "to rehearse one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry," the Elders said to him, "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them which believe and they are all jealous for the law." Some were especially emphatic on the necessity of the rite of circumcision. Their Jewish education had been too strong in its influence for it to be possible for them to discard it at once, and therefore the Lord said to them, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." As our Saviour baptized not so also Paul "came not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." When we come to consider what Christian baptism really is we find no uncertainty. The one baptism of The Christian dispensation is that of Christ who baptizes His people with the Holy Ghost. This baptism is not a theory; it is not a figure, it represents nothing but itself; it is the great reality of the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. The establishment of that Kingdom was made possible by the death and resurrection and mediation of its glorious Head, while the coming of the Holy Spirit and His dwelling in the hearts of its subjects is the means by which their entrance into the kingdom is effected and it administration is carried on.


The remarks made upon the general subject of ordinances apply with peculiar force to the so-called "Supper of the Lord." But since various branches of the church have for centuries given so much attention to this ordinance it is well for us to examine the subject afresh for ourselves.

Did our Lord on the night before His crucifixion institute a new ordinance of perpetual obligation upon the church? He ate the Passover with His disciples. In almost identical words Matthew and Mark state how He explained the reference of the ceremony to Himself. John simply mentions the fact of their having kept the feast. Luke alone adds, "this do in remembrance of me." Upon these words the authority of the institution rests. We will not stop to consider the fact that some critical scholars believe that these words have been inserted since the original text was written, for George Fox knew nothing of this and reached his conclusions upon other grounds.

The Lord knew that his disciples would continue to keep the Passover, as also they would observe other Jewish customs. It was important that so long as they did this they should do it in its true meaning, in remembrance of Him, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." What could be more natural than these words, what more simple, what less authoritative of a perpetual institution? No word occurs in the history of the Acts of the Apostles which expresses or implies the existence of a ritualistic ordinance in the church of that


In the Apostolic Epistles there are numerous references to the Passover supper, and to the agape or love feast of the Gentiles, and to the union of the two, which resulted from a closer association of these two branches of the church, and to the proper observance of these, so that disgrace should not come upon the membership. But we find nothing that conflicts with the broad general teaching already stated. "Behold! I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and will sup with him and he with me." "I am the bread of life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life...It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life." The true communion is the spiritual partaking of the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ by faith.


If a person believes that he must be baptized with water he is at once confronted with serious difficulties. How and by whom shall he be baptized? Shall it be by immersion or by sprinkling? Shall it be performed by an official ordained through the apostolic succession, or by one who claims to be empowered in some other way to perform the ceremony? Does regeneration come by baptism by water? Shall infants be baptized, or only such as make profession of faith in Christ? If any doubt as to method exists, to what age shall we look for authority? The Apostle Peter wrote the baptism which saves us, is "not putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God." Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century wrote: "The only baptism that can heal us is repentance and the knowledge of God. What is need is there of that baptism, that can only cleanse the flesh and the body?" But in the third century water baptism was considered necessary to salvation. It was then performed after a rite of exorcism by which it was claimed that evil spirits were expelled. Dean Stanley says: "In the patristic age there was but one baptistry in each city, and that apart from the church. There was but one time of the year in which it was administered, viz., between Easter and Pentecost. There was but one person who could administer it, the Bishop. There was but one hour for the ceremony, it was midnight."

Is there any authority for the practice of today beyond that of former times? At the meeting of the Evangelical Alliance, held some years ago in the City of Washington, a noted missionary, himself a Presbyterian, who had great experience in foreign fields, made a forcible statement of the difficulties of the ordinances in missionary work, and how the various claims of the authority of this or that method, were most serious stumbling blocks to the converts; and he boldly declared that "in mission work we must go back to the decision of the council of Jerusalem, and the position held by the Society of Friends, and abandon the ordinances altogether." The organizers of the modern Salvation Army reached that same conclusion.

There are similar difficulties with the Eucharist. Shall we believe the Romanist's doctrine of transubstantiation, or Luther's doctrine of consubstantiation, or Calvin's mysterious accompaniment of spiritual reality with the elements, or Zwingli's simple commemorative ceremony? And how shall it be partaken? Dean Stanley in his "Christian Institutions," shows how the rite, as now administered, differ from that of former times. Infant communion, once universal throughout the church, and still retained in the East, has been forbidden throughout the whole Western Church, Catholic and Protestant alike. Daily communion, universal in the primitive church, has, for the vast majority of Christians, been discontinued, both in East and West. Evening communion, the original time of the ordinance, has been forbidden in the English Church. Solitary communion has been forbidden by the English Church. Death-bed communion has been forbidden by the Scottish Church. He says: "It is difficult to imagine changes, short of total abolition, more sweeping than these."

And by whom shall the Eucharist be administered? It is told of one of the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, that he was forced to remain over Sabbath in a little town in which the only place of public worship belonged to the so-called "Close Communion Baptists." Being liberal in his views, he attended their meeting, and it happened to be their "Communion Sunday." The minister was embarrassed and came to the Bishop, before Sacrament was administered, and said: "While I am always glad to see you, your presence here to-day places me in a very awkward position. You know I cannot offer communion to you because you haven't been baptized." The Bishop answered: "Don't trouble yourself about that, for I could not take it from you since you haven't been ordained."

The history of the church shows centuries of disputes and bitterness over these ordinances. Can we believe that the Lord who commanded His followers to love one another, ever threw these apples of perpetual discord among them?

Verily, "the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." We cannot help asking the question why have these ordinances continued so long in the Christian Church? We believe it is because of the priesthood. If there is to be an order maintained in the church there must be some reason for its existence. If ordinances can be held necessary, then there must be persons ordained to administer them Sacerdotalism in its varied forms has continued these ordinances in the church, changing them at will, but never allowing them to be discontinued, for then there would be no reason for its continued existence.

We believe they were intended to disappear soon after the establishment of Christ's kingdom. When He had fulfilled them they became old and ready to vanish away. This was to be gradually, but speedily, accomplished. A recent English writer has illustrated this by a common process in nature. "In early spring you see the horse chestnut's buds have a thick dark envelope which covers them from the cutting winds. When the days come warmer this opens and the beautiful, delicate cluster of green leaves pushes through; and later the blossom spike uncurls. What becomes of the beautiful red covering that looked so lovely in its time? It has shrivelled up and hangs useless and dead on the stem. Its work is done. So those types wrapped up in the living truths which are to endure for all time. They themselves fall off and die." "That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away."

Dr. Cumming, the eminent Scotch minister, remarked: "To bring man directly to Christ, just as he is, is the grand characteristic of the true religion. To keep man from God, and detain him with the priest, the sacrament, is the grand effort of false religion. There is no regenerative virtue inherent in or inseparable from baptism, for baptism is not the Holy Spirit. There is no saving, expiatory virtue in the Lord's supper, for the Lord's supper is not the Lord Jesus Christ. We may not put baptism in the room of the Holy Spirit, nor the Eucharist in the place of Jesus Christ. We must look far above and beyond them both."

There are other distinguishing doctrines and practices of the Society of Friends which grow out of these we have been considering and which have tended to make us peculiar people among the denominations of the Christian Church. And there are important testimonies which have been born in obedience to the divine commands. Those in reference to war and oaths have been unique. In whatever branch of the Church we are placed in the providence of God, it is well for us to have an active faith in its doctrines, practices and testimonies, if we find then based upon divine truth, for upon this our efficiency in the service of the Church will largely depend. The true soldier stands by the colors, not only of the army but of his own division, brigade, regiment and company, and it is under his company's guidon that he finds his place of service. This apprehension of truth that we have been favored to have must guide us as we march under the banner of the great Captain of our Salvation.

James Wood of New York Yearly Meeting was a member of the Committee to Prepare a Statement of Faith at the conference of 1887 at Richmond. He was Clerk of New York Men's Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) in 1882 and Clerk of New York Joint (ambigender) Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) in 1892, 1894-5 and 1897-1925.