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Quaker Strongholds

260 pages
Library of Alexandria
Whether Quakerism be, as some Friends believe, destined to any considerable revival or not, it seems at least certain that any important revival of religion must be the result of a fresh recognition and acceptance of the very principles upon which the Society of Friends is built. What these principles and the practices resulting from them really are, is a subject on which there is a surprising amount of ignorance amongst us, considering how widely spread is the connection with and interest about Friends amongst the members of other persuasions. One seldom meets any one who has not some link with the Society, and yet it is rare to find any one not belonging to it at all accurately informed as to its point of view or its organization. The notorious disinclination of Friends to any attempts at proselytizing, and perhaps some lingering effects of persecution, probably account for the very common impression that Friends’ meetings are essentially private—mysterious gatherings into which it would be intrusive to seek admission. Many people, indeed, probably suppose (if they think about it at all) that such meetings are no longer held; that the Society is fast dying out, and the “silent worship” of tradition is a thing of the past—impracticable, and hardly to be seriously mentioned in these days of talk and of breathless activity. Some such vague impression floated, I believe, over my own mind, when, some seventeen years ago, I first found myself within reach of a Friends’ meeting, and, somewhat to my surprise, cordially made welcome to attend it. The invitation came at a moment of need, for I was beginning to feel with dismay that I might not much longer be able conscientiously to continue to join in the Church of England service; not for want of appreciation of its unrivalled richness and beauty, but from doubts of the truth of its doctrines, combined with a growing recognition that to me it was as the armour of Saul in its elaboration and in the sustained pitch of religious fervour for which it was meant to provide an utterance. Whether true or not in its speculative and theoretical assumptions, it was clear to me that it was far from true as a periodical expression of my own experience, belief, or aspiration. The more vividly one feels the force of its eloquence, the more, it seems to me, one must hesitate to adopt it as the language of one’s own soul, and the more unlikely it is that such heights and depths of feeling as it demands should be ready to fill its magnificent channels every Sunday morning at a given hour. The questionings with which at that period I was painfully struggling were stirred into redoubled activity by the dogmatic statements and assumptions with which the Liturgy abounds, and its unbroken flow left no loophole for the utterance of my own less disciplined, but to myself far more urgent, cries for help. Thus the hour of public worship, which should have been a time of spiritual strengthening and calming, became to me a time of renewed conflict, and of occasional exaltation and excitement of emotion, leading but too surely to reaction and apathy.