THE LIFE OF FAITH, QUAKER DOCTRINE
AMONG those who were especially interested in these new discoveries were the Friends. As I said in my last chapter, one of their members, on hearing what I had to tell, had expressed surprise at its being new to me, as it was, she declared, what the Quakers had always taught. This seemed to throw a light upon Quakerism that I had never dreamed of. My mother also said to me one day, after I had been speaking on the subject, “But, Hannah, why does thee call this doctrine new? Thee is only preaching what all the old Friends have always preached.” “Yes,” I answered, “I begin to see that this is the case. But they have never preached it in such a way that ordinary people could know what they were talking about. It seems to me that nobody, who did not know it already, could possibly get hold of it from their preaching. Certainly I never did, although I have been listening to their preaching all my life. And for my part,” I added, “I am determined to say it out so plain that no one can help understanding it.”
But I came to the conclusion that my mother and my friend were right. It was true Quaker doctrine that we had discovered. For I found, when, with my understanding enlightened on the subject, I reread their writings and listened afresh to their preaching, that the secret of true Quakerism was in reality this “life hid with Christ in God;” and their fundamental teaching was that Christ was a present and complete Saviour, and that He did, as He had promised, keep the feet of His saints, and make them more than conquerors through His strength. I saw that a life of absolute consecration, and entire obedience, and simple trust, was the life to which they had always been exhorting us, and that I had not understood them because I had never realized that they were preaching about the building up of the Christian life, while I was seeking to know what were the foundations of that life. Alexander Knox says there are foundation truths and superstructure truths in the religion of Christ, and that both are needed for a complete whole. They are necessarily different, as different as the foundations of a building are different from the superstructure that is reared upon them. But it is a difference of harmony and not of discord. Each one is necessary to the other, if we would have completeness.
Foundation truths deal with the beginnings of things, superstructure truths deal with their development. The first show the entrance to the divine life, the last teach how to live and walk after we are in that life. Without the superstructure truths, the foundations remain bare and crude; without the foundation truths, the superstructure will be tottering and unsafe.
The Friends were in the beginning a society for building up the superstructure. Their message was a message to Christians, and they preached chiefly to such. A study of their early history reveals the fact that they themselves were nearly all religious men and women, who had been earnest members of the various denominations of their day, but who had failed to find in any of them that which fully satisfied their souls.
George Fox says of them:—“It is now about seven years since the Lord raised us up in the North of England, and opened our mouths in this His Spirit; and what we were before in our religion, profession and practices is well known to that part of the country; that generally we were men of the strictest sect, and of the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness, and went through and tried all sorts of teachers, and ran from mountain to mountain, and from man to man, and from one form to another.
“... And such were we (to say no more of us) that sought the Lord, and desired the knowledge of His ways more than anything beside.”
Isaac Pennington also says:—“We are a people of God’s gathering. We wanted the presence and power of His Spirit, to be inwardly manifested in our spirits. We had (as I may say) what we could gather from the letter, and endeavoured to practice what we could read in the letter, but we wanted the ‘power from on high,’ we wanted life, we wanted the presence and fellowship of our Beloved, we wanted the knowledge of the heavenly Seed and Kingdom, and an entrance into it, and the holy dominion and reign of the Lord of Life over the flesh, over sin, and over death in us.
“... And who can utter what the glory of the Light was in its shining and breaking forth in our hearts! How welcome to our weary souls, how demonstrative and satisfactory to our hearts! Oh the joy of that day (surely it can never be forgotten by us), wherein we sensibly felt the pouring down of the Spirit of Life upon us, and our hearts gathered into the bosom of eternal rest, and our souls and bodies sanctified and set apart for the Lord and His service.”
My dear father, who was a genuine Quaker, as well as a most delightful one, realized in his own experience this early Quaker teaching, and knew something of this Quaker deliverance. We had always known that he lived a life of unfailing trust and simple obedience, but we had not, in our very evangelical days, found him particularly clear in the doctrines of “justification by faith” or the “judicial standing of the believer;” and we often laughingly told him that, though we knew he was good, yet we considered him most “unsound.” But now that we had discovered the secret of the life of faith, we felt sure that this must be the secret of our father’s life, and at the earliest opportunity I told him of our new discovery, and said, “Now, father, is not this the secret of thy life, and the source of thy strength? Is not this the way thee has always lived?”
I shall never forget his reply. “Why of course it is, daughter,” he said with a joyous ring of triumph in his voice; “I know of no other way to live. And I do know,” he added reverently, “what it is, when the enemy comes in like a flood, for the Lord to lift up His standard against him, and drive him away.”
It seems very plain to me therefore that Friends were primarily meant to be superstructure workers, and in my day they certainly preached very little else. It was most valuable preaching for those who were already in the kingdom, but it failed to tell seeking souls how to get in. It left the foundation facts of the relationship between the soul and God uncertain, and put a trembling hope in the place of assured possession. It urged holiness of life, but failed to tell the secret by which this holiness was to be attained. It emphasized the word “ought” but overlooked the word “how.” And hungry souls, reaching out after the beautiful ideal of a holy life which was set before them, were left without any definite teaching of how to reach it. The one foundation need of “How” remained unanswered. I remember how eagerly, through the early days of my awakening, I watched and waited to be told “How,” but was continually disappointed; and I do not think, when I came to preach myself, that any commendation ever pleased me quite so much, as when a friend said to me once, “Do you know, Hannah, that we always call you ‘The woman who tells us “How.”’”
I remember well once in my perplexity asking one of our principal Quaker preachers why they always preached to one another, and did not sometimes preach to us poor sinners. “You might,” I said, “make all the Christians sit in one part of the Meeting House, and all the sinners in another part, and then you could turn to one set and say: ‘Now I am preaching to you,’ or turn to the other set and say, ‘Now I am preaching to you.’” His reply I shall never forget. He said, “But that would never do, my dear child, because there would be a continual running backwards and forwards from one part to another; for at one moment some of those on the Christians’ benches would have bad thoughts, and would have to go over to the sinners’ part, and the next moment they would have good thoughts, and would have to go back to the good benches.” No wonder that, after this reply, I felt in a worse confusion than ever.
But now at last I had got the clue, and the true inner meaning of Quakerism dawned upon me more and more fully day by day. It was the “way of holiness” in which they were seeking to walk. They preached a deliverance from sin, a victory over the cares and worries of life, a peace that passes all understanding, a continual being made “more than conquerors” through Christ. They were in short “Higher Life” people, and at last I understood them; and now the old preaching, which once had been so confusing, became marrow and fatness to my soul. The preaching had not changed, but I had changed. I had discovered the missing link, and had reached that stage in my soul’s experience to which such preaching ministered.
But all this has given me a conviction that Quakerism was meant to be what might be called an “Interior Life” Society; not one to convert sinners so much, as one to lead those who are already converted into a closer walk with God, and into a life of abiding trust in Him. I cannot help feeling that in these latter days they have somewhat lost sight of their especial mission, in their desire to do foundation work rather than superstructure work. Their traditions and their machinery, while fitted for the last, seem to me hardly so well fitted for the first, and the result is not as satisfactory as in denominations where the foundation work has always been one of the chief aims. A very wise thinker among them said to me lately that in his opinion Friends were meant to be a strong mystic society, but he feared they were degenerating into a weak evangelical one; and I could not but feel there was too much truth in his words. Were the Quakers but prepared to sound forth again, in the trumpet tones of old, that glorious message of a present full and complete salvation in Christ, here and now, with which they were first entrusted, no one can tell what a blessing it would confer upon thousands of needy and hungry souls.
“I have good news to bring you,” said one of their preachers; “not that the day of your redemption draws nigh, but that it is already come; and there are a great many blessing and glorifying the name of God that they are redeemed and delivered from the bondage of corruption, and have more joy and delight in the service of God than ever they had in the service of this world. ... Oh, the conquering faith, the overcoming life and power of the spirit. We cannot but speak of these things, and cry up the perfect gift and power of Him who is not only able to perfect His work in the heart, but delights to do so; and even to tread down Satan under the feet of those who trust Him.”
However vague and indefinite this preaching had become in my day, the early Quakers gave no uncertain sound; and it is not to be wondered at that the truths they declared found such a wide-spread entrance into people’s hearts. Did the Quakers of the present day declare the same truths with the same definiteness and clearness, I believe thousands would flock to their standard. For the souls of God’s children are as hungry now as they were then, to know the fullness of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
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