Addressing the queries and advices

Let us leap ahead briefly to the exercise of queries and advices, which are such an integral part of our Quaker discipline. (Keep in mind, too, that what we refer to as our Book of Faith and Practice was previously known as our Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline, a term some other Yearly Meetings continue to use.) An assiduous application of queries and advices led to The Reformation of American Quakerism, 1748-1783 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), which Jack D. Marietta argues preserved the integrity of Friends’ testimonies but at the expense of closing our ranks, into sect rather than expanding as a denomination. This sect/denomination dichotomy, incidentally, arises from Max Weber’s sociological model, which unlike the popular usage does not have a negative connotation. It merely refers to the ways in which religious groups organize themselves. Donald B. Kraybill and Donald R. Fitzkee, both of the Church of the Brethren, write: “Sects often emerge as a protest movement within a larger religious body in a quest to renew the original vision of the group’s religious heritage. Sectarian groups typically establish exclusive membership requirements, reject hierarchial levels of authority, emphasize voluntary membership, protest dominant social values, disdain professionally trained leadership, encourage high levels of lay involvement, prefer small-scale organization, and censure deviant members. The list of sectarian traits varies by theorist. … Observers of the so-called ‘sect cycle’ have noted that over time sectarian religious groups tend to ‘grow up’ organizationally and become sects.” This sectarian process, applied to the Society of Friends, encouraged an exercise of applying the queries stringently; without it, the peace testimony would have no doubt fallen in the Revolutionary War and our stand against slavery likely would have not taken shape. And yet, the very process of strengthening our group discipline and unique identity may have set the stage for calcification that made the separations and splinterings of the next century inevitable. A central question for us today, then, is what are our testimonies in this age – and how strongly do we hold them?

A confession of faith

Just listen to Elizabeth Bathurst (1655?-1685):


Read here now what this Principle is, in which the Lord hath given a Remnant to believe.

‘Tis the Grace of God, ’tis the Light of Jesus, ’tis a Manifestation of the Spirit, ’tis the Glad tidings of Salvation, ’tis the Word of Reconciliation, ’tis the Law written in the Heart, ’tis the Word of Faith, ’tis the Seed of the Kingdom, ’tis that Stone which hath been rejected by many a foolish Builder, but now it is become the Head of Sion’s Corner.

These are all significant Expressions of that excellent Principle, which I have undertaken to treat on. But if any shall say They are Expressions of so different a Nature, that they know not how to reconcile them, and make them one together.

To such I answer, they might as well confess, they cannot understand how the Lamb of God can be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, nor how the Shepherd of Israel can be the Bishop of his Peoples Souls; there seeming as much Difference

in these latter, as in any of the former; yet do they all speak of one Thing, altho’ it be exprest by divers Names: For it will admit of a manifold Description; tho’, as I said before, ’tis still but one Thing, if rightly understood in its true Notions: And thus I chose to express it, because thus I have found it, viz. A Principle of Divine Light and Life in Christ Jesus, placed in the Conscience, which discovers both Sin and Duty to us; and not only so, but it reproves the one, and enables to perform the other: And this I know, that a Measure of the same is placed in the Consciences of all Mankind, by which they might see the right Way, were but their Minds turned thereunto. Therefore let none slight or undervalue this Light of Jesus, manifest in their Consciences, by calling it, as some have done, A natural, created, insufficient Light, which will lead Men down to utter Darkness. Tho’ sometimes again these very Persons will confess, That the Light of Nature (as they call it) ought to be followed, as far as it will lead; for (say they) though the obeying of its Dictates will never bring Men to Heaven; yet the disobeying them will certainly sink them down to Hell. Hereby rendring the Lord cruel to his Creatures, as if he required them to follow a Guide that would certainly lead them amiss, or leave them short of the Place of Rest; and then would punish them for being misled, or for sitting down when they had no Guide to shew them the Way to walk in; and that from a Purpose in himself, to leave the greatest Part of Mankind without any other Guide to direct them in Matters of Salvation, but that that is so insufficient, that it must be a Miracle if it shew them the Way to Heaven, according to their common Answer, when asked, How those must be saved who have not the Scriptures amongst them? (which these account the only Rule to guide Men) Why, we leave them to the Mercy of God, (say they) the Lord may in an extraordinary Manner bring some to Heaven, if he have any Elect amongst them; but whether any of them shall be saved or not, ’tis hard for us to determine.

Thus they darken Counsel, by uttering Words without Knowledge: They say, The Grace of God is free; and yet they make it a Monopoly, so it shall not be free to all, nor must all be Sharers in it; neither will they allow the Lord himself to dispense it, nor yet to inspire his Servants to go forth and preach it; but arrogate to themselves a kind of Sacerdotal Right to be Dispensers of the Grace of God, and Ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because of some outward Qualifications atchieved by them, as external Parts, or human Learning, altho’ they never were called of God to the Work of the Ministry, nor never had the Word of Reconciliation committed to them; yet would they have People come to enquire of them the Way to the Kingdom, though they are so narrow-spirited, as to shut out the greatest Number of Mankind, by absolute Predestination, not sticking to affirm, that God nor Christ never …