By Rufus Jones
The Quakers in their quiet way of work and worship have been influencing the members of a great many communities with their central faith and practices. There are a great many persons in these communities who ought to have a closer fellowship with us.
In 1652, George Fox discovered all over England, especially in the Yorkshire Dales and around Pendle Hill, there were hosts of seekers waiting to be “found.” He found them and gathered them, and out of them formed the Society of Friends, which became something like 60,000 members in his life time. There are twice as many unattached seekers in our day as there were in his day, waiting to be gathered and brought into a live spiritual fellowship. Why don’t we undertake the important business of gathering them and making them “happy finders”?
Only Spiritual Recovery Can Heal the World
We need to realize more clearly than most of us do realize that our world is desperately sick, and the political physicians do not know the remedy. They cannot heal the hurt from which the world is suffering. Nothing but spiritual recovery will do now. This means one clear call to us Quakers to wake up and take up our divinely given task in this critical hour of human history. We must flame out once more with high power caloric. I do not mean, of course, to suggest or to imply that the rebuilding of the world depends on Quakers. Not that. But it is fundamentally a spiritual task and all of us who compose the universal Church of Christ must be in the front line for this immense job. It has somehow got into our Quaker blood that it is our divinely given business to take up the burden of the world’s suffering. This discovery of the release of atomic energy marks a distinct epoch in human history, and now more than ever before in the history of our race there must be a corresponding resurgence of moral and spiritual insight and power to guide mankind in the use of this amazing energy.
We are at the turning point either of a new era of constructive power or of a new stage of barbarism, and the issue rests largely with the rise or fall of the guiding powers of the beloved communities of the church.
George Fox said in the early days of his mission, “If one man were raised up to live and stand in the life and power of those who gave forth the Scriptures he would shake the world in its profession for ten miles around.” I estimate that there were 25,000 Quakers in the Colonies when George Fox died in 1691. Take it any way you like, this man was an earth-Quaker and he shook the earth in its profession not ten miles around, but all over the British Isles and over Colonial America.
The secret of this power to shake the world was the steady refusal of these first Quakers to stop ever with formal, or traditional religion. That is what George Fox means by “profession” which he was out to shake. The “professor,” as he viewed him, is the person who is satisfied with canned phrases, congealed expressions, static religion — what Bergson has called “closed religion” words somebody else has coined, forms somebody else has fashioned. These things have dropped to the stage of habit and so are gone through mechanically and with slight effort. There is little freshness, little joy or wonder, little creative thought, and consequently little kindling power, and very slender world shaking results with habitual performances.
Quakerism Ought To Be Fresh Spiritual Experiment
The main trouble is that there is no expectation that anything unique is going to break forth. Quakerism always ought to be a fresh experiment in spiritual religion. We must once again be thrilled and stirred to our depths by a great sense of mission — “for this cause was I born and to this end came I into the world.” I wish we could say-with Rupert Brooke: “Now God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour.”
One trouble with us now is that we move for the most part in the grooves of habit. We go on doing what has been done before. We lack freshness and creative power. We do not expect anything unique to happen and we are unaware that the times call loudly for breakers of new paths. I see nothing for it but that we must once more become inwardly alive, freshly creative, quick with expectation, beating out new paths and new trails for the souls of men, weary of the old world and its deadly forms and its habit of staggering on from one war into another one.
Our meetings ought to be centers of spiritual worship, where the Divine Presence is felt as distinctly and with the same awe and wonder which the devout Catholic feels at the saying of the Mass. That experience alone would draw kindred souls for those high occasions. In the early days of the Society what drew the large numbers was the fact that the times of meeting were ‘”occasions of deep spiritual refreshment and joy.” Besides that, these meetings of ours ought to be times when the ideals of our faith and our way of life receive effective interpretation, as always happened in the days of the first Publishers of Truth.
If my own vision of a great ingathering is to be realized — for I have such a vision — something unusual must happen. First of all, a great expectation must come to birth in our souls, for all victories are won within before they are achieved in the outside ways to fit the new times. We do not use stylographic pens; we do not drive a horse and buggy, or even a Model T-Ford. They are like what St. Paul called “castaway’’, things left behind in the onward progress of events. We may as well take note of the date in which our lives lie and plan our way of publishing truth to fit the date of our calendars.
Wise Planning, Careful Thought Are Required
If we are to revive the Society of Friends in our time and extend its range, we must do it by careful thought and wise planning. That means that we must have a new era of visitation, a fresh epoch of “circuit riders” who go out under wise guidance. The resources are within us. The invisible means of support are in the soul. Man himself can be fortified and in a surprising way can “do what he couldn’t.” He can shake the world in its profession.
There is a story of an African explorer engaged in a long, rapid forced march. One day his native porters were found squatted on their haunches, refusing to move. They could not be made to stir. They explained through an interpreter that their bodies had got too far ahead of their minds, and they had to wait until their minds caught up with their bodies. We have been rushing about in an over-busy world and our bodies have been hurried on ahead of our spirits. We must take time out at whatever cost to worldly affairs for our spirits to be refreshed and to match up with the divine call to get ready for great things.
There never has been any period in Quaker history when the whole Society of Friends was on a high level. It has always been the splendid remnant that has saved the day and carried us forward. We have a noble remnant today, and that remnant may do wonders. It may take us out of the bogs and carry us on to the hills of God. Our first task is to get together become once more a unified people, pulling together. Then, with God, we can do what before we couldn’t. But the first call is for great expectations.
Editor’s Note: This article appeared in The American Friend on July 8, 1948. This article was the last contribution made to the publication by Rufus M. Jones. Although he does not mention it, his words express a passionate appeal for Quakers to be good stewards of the spirit and its leadings. Jones writes at a time similar to today and states, “Nothing but spiritual recovery will do now.” His writing implores readers to be at the front lines of endeavors toward peace. To him, Quakers need to be “quaking” the world, shaking it up for peace and justice through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The work we do is an act of stewardship — an act of care due to the relationship we have with the divine. Jones asserts we are to expect great power, to do the unique. The winds of the spirit are fresh and need not be contained in “grooves of habit”. “Freshness and creative power” is what we should expect in all parts of our life. Whatever we are called to do, “the invisible means of support are in our soul”.
As we reach the end of 40 Days of Prayer, may you be inspired to respond to the promptings of the still small voice and follow its direction as your own personal act of stewardship.