Joel Bean.

[The British Friend, Vol. XXXIX, No. III (3rd Month 1st, 1881.]

This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.

The issues pending in the Society of Friends today are grave. They involve both doctrinal roots and practical points.

If I attempt to point out some of them as they are developed in America at least, it is not to indulge nor to provoke controversy, but because I feel sure the real points in question need to be more clearly defined and apprehended before the judgment of a generally enlightened understanding can be brought to bear decisively upon them.

The tendencies of many years have now acquired a power which is fruitful in results; and by results their real character is more fully revealed.

It is always difficult for those how are carried along by an almost imperceptible current, to realize where it is taking them. If it be upon the sea, and the attention is directed only to the ship, and its progress, and its mission, some sad disappointment in the landing place, or some fearful danger may awaken the busy crew to their mistake or their danger.

The wisdom of the mariner and the safety of the ship consist in constantly consulting, for its guidance, the stable sun and stars above and the sure needle within the vessel.

The present condition of our Society shows how far we have drifted out of our first course, and how radical are the changes into which we have been swept. A great movement has set in, and born the masses of our people along to consequences which they little anticipated, and which few of them see with entire satisfaction.

It has been common to call it the "Revival Movement," and to denounce those who demur at any excesses with it as as opposed to revivals and "opposed to the Lord's work."

None like such a brand as this, and it requires no little strength of conviction and firmness of character to refuse to sanction some admitted evils or inconsistencies in the means employed in the work for the sake of the apparent good it is doing. Thus (recurring to our illustration) we can imagine the inexperienced and infatuated ship's crew taking its management into their own hands, and satisfied and delighted with present employment and enjoyment, might repel the suggestion from the one or the few of possible danger, or of the necessity of careful observations and reckoning by unchangeable standards.

The absurdity would be no less in the one case than in the other.

Many who were amongst the readies to welcome signs of revival in our Society (using the word in its truest sense), and who laboured earnestly and devotedly to promote, have had to stand aloof from the movement, where it has adopted means which they felt to be hazardous and scattering to the Church and defeating to the very object desired.

How far that feeling has been justified by results will be noticed further in this paper. The charge than any earnest Friends are opposed to revival work is unjust and unkind. It is one of the many instances in which the real point of difference is avoided, and another, in which all agree, is put forward as the real issue. The untruthfulness of such a mode of treating one another needs only to be unmasked.

Those who saw the nature of the foreign elements introduced into the work, and the effects they must produce, when their cautions were unavailing and their judgment set aside, have had not only to grieve in consequence of the widening breach, but to find their influence narrowed and to feel that there was scarcely any place for them in the Church so dear to them. They did not doubt that the renewed interest and quickened life of many had been begun by the Lord's Spirit, as He had caused the north wind and the south to blow upon His garden. But again, as of old,wild grapes were brought forth where a right vine had been planted and the blessing of heaven had been poured out. And what would be more certain than that the Enemy would obtain a place and part in such a movement without the combined vigilance of all the watchmen? The very spirit which repelled the care and caution of concerned brethren made no small inlet for his entrance.

Let me now refer to some facts as they stand before us, and to principles which underlie them. In four or more of our Yearly Meetings considerable numbers have separated and organized meetings in which they assure us they are permitted to realise the fellowship of united hearts and the sensible favour of the Lord, apart from distractions which they had deemed it best to withdraw from. Those remaining in the body, who know most of the trials to which these Friends have been subjected will doubtless be least disposed to blame them. Yet the question of separation is a deep one.

When a portion of the body, whom we may suppose steadfast in the truth of the gospel, and faithful in their testimony to it in word and life, find themselves and their message rejected, their counsel set at naught, and their meetings almost entirely changed in the manner of holding them, the question becomes a serious one - Whether their own edification and the honour of the truth as they believe it it would not require a withdrawal from such a state of tings and a re-organization?

On the other hand it should be considered that we have been set in our places in the providence of God. Can we best serve Him be remaining at our posts of duty, or by abandoning them? The body is diseased, but not dead. Many children of the Lord are included in it.

It may be ours within it to contend for the faith, and to suffer for it, even to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The paramount consideration is not our own ease and comfort, but what amid the commotions and conflicts of our day is our duty? The Lord alone can show it to His depending children. Very clear, it seems to me, should be the evidence of His will, to authorise us to sunder our own relations with the family, or the Church, where He has placed us. Pending this question, many who are constrained to come out and be separate from what they feel to be wrong, and to bear their testimony steadily against it, have not yet seen the leading clear to voluntary separation from the great body of Friends.

These have have a portion in suffering, as they see devastations which error and wrong are working in the Church, neutralizing more or less her power for good, and scattering from her folds.

The movement of which I have spoken, in its present phase, as exhibited in many of our meetings, is utterly diverse from essential Quakerism in almost every feature. Silent worship and silent prayer are treated as of questionable or doubtful reality, or sometimes with ridicule. The necessity of regular ministry is therefore, of course, taught. The singing of hymns by companies and Bible reading fill most of the space between other vocal exercises in many meetings. The duty to move in ministry or prayer, or singing, is urged upon all as enjoined by the Bible. What effects have followed these changes? Let us seek to ascertain them by substantial tests. Is the Church built up? Is it strongest in support of sustained Christian enterprises, and most influential as a light in the world, where these changes have had the fullest sweep, and the least resistance?

Do faithful answers to our Queries denote a healthier state?

Is the standard of practical righteousness raised higher?

Are our Mid-week Meetings more fully attended?

Are the Meetings for Discipline increasing in interest?

Are our young people more attached to the Society, or better informed as to its doctrines and history?

Are reverence, conscientiousness, and humility more inculcated?

Are children better trained?

Are the professors of Christianity more evidently stamped and subdued by its spirit than formerly?

To all these questions I think a very universal negative answer would have to be given. Very generally it would doubtless be acknowledged the reverse is true!

Disorganization and disintegration are confessedly making rapid progress, and most rapid whee protest is most silenced and conservatism most inert. And how can it fail to be otherwise, as much of the teaching which is embraced bears it own proper fruit?

A theory of salvation is widely taught and accepted in which repentance and works of any kind seem to have no necessary part.

Salvation, "full and free;" i.e., not only from the guilt of sin, but to the fullness of Christian perfection, seems perpetually to be taught as a thing fully wrought out and purchased for us by the blood of Christ, and offered for our simple acceptance by faith alone.

Complete sanctification is claimed as a define experience, instantaneously received, and defined to be "the eradication, not merely the subjugation, of the disposition to sin," (1) in which our bodily propensities are restored to their normal healthful action.

"All sinful perversion is to be eliminated; the diseased and distorted members are restored to perfect health and normal action; all the affections, and appetites,and desires and propensities, are purified, and brought back to a normal state. And this is an experience to be entered into at once. Thus comes the experience of the eradication of sin, and being filled with all the fulness of God, entered into by a single definite act of faith." (2)

I give these quotations and references to guard against any charge of misrepresenting doctrines which are preached and taught sedulously by a considerable class of our ministers, in common with a school outside.

The above is represented as the state in which "there is no condemnation." There is no more warfare nor temptation within. All are henceforth without. Mistakes will yet be made, but they are "errors of the head, not of the heart. And when the errors are discovered we are pained, not condemned - pained, that we know so little, justified freely because we did the best we know." (3)

In this condition of perfect restoration of soul and body to "healthy normal action," and filled, moreover, with all the fullness of God," it is taught, as must necessarily be inferred, that all impulses from within must be right, and hence the full equipment, and authority for public praise, and prayer, and exhortation, and teaching, and song, whenever one is inclined to do it.

The one condition urged is faith; the one essential duty urged is confession with thanksgiving.

It is not difficult to conceive what type of character such a creed will evolve, apart form the ethical teaching which it contravened. It requires but little insight to perceive how inefficient and superficial such a work must prove for the world's regeneration.

And yet, the thousands won to our Society, and the wonderful revivals reported from month to month are adduced as argument to prove that all these distortions of truth, and excesses which scarcely befit the crudest forms of religious activity, are, must be, "the work of the Lord."

A reaction must come, when thinking minds will weigh and measure these extolled result by rational tests. The fact that, in not a few localities, of scores gathered in to the Society some years ago, scarcely as many units remain now as interested members; and this, too, where the agencies that brought them in have been allowed untrammeled operation ever since, will have to be accorded some little influence, at least, upon our estimates of these harvests.

The statement of these facts might seem no better than detraction, if it were only to expose our condition, and I totally disclaim do ignoble a motive. It is to plead on their behalf the thoughtful consider of judicial minds that I venture to array them to our notice. Let them not be summarily repulsed as overdrawn or untrue. We have had enough of such disposal of wisest warning and expostulation.

Whatever some in blind zeal may say, I trust the great body of candid Friends in America will regard the picture I have drawn as altogether within the bounds of truth.

In conclusion I would re-affirm my deepening faith in the principles of ancient Quakerism, in which all my Christian life has been nourished and sustained. And all who hold them in their heart-transforming and life-enobling vitality, whether in scattered remnants or in larger bodies, whether in high places of influence or in obscurer walk, whether called to publish or to defend them, to witness to them or suffer for them, I would greet in heartfelt fellowship, and encourage the, "to be" (as Ellwood testified of Fox) "valiant for the truth, bold in asserting it, patient in suffering for it, unwearied in labouring for it, steady in testimony to it, immovable as a rock."

(1) Luke Woodward in Christian Worker, Vol. iv., p. 345.

(2) D.B. Updegraff in Christian Worker, Vol. v. p. 65.

(3) See Article copied in a 12th Mo., 1880, Christian Worker.