Monday, June 15, 2009

Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 6

This is a contination of a previous post.

One of the most fascinating experiences of Friends has been that of leadings – especially those that seem unexpected or out of place. George Fox relates a story in which he was led to take off his shoes in the middle of winter and proclaim against the city of Lichfield until he felt clear and was able to leave:

As soon as they were gone I stept away, and went by my eye over hedge and ditch till I came within a mile of Lichfield; where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their sheep. Then I was commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still for it was winter; and the word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put off my shoes, and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished. Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within the city, the word of the Lord came to me again, saying, “Cry, wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!” So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, “wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!” It being market day, I went into the market place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands, crying as before, “wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!” And no one laid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market place appeared like a pool of blood. When I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace;

Stephen Grellet relates a well-known story of a man who felt led to worship alone in an abandoned meeting house:

The following interesting circumstance was there related to me by John Carter, a near relative of the Friend who had been an instrument in raising up that meeting from a decayed state, and on that account had called it Spring meeting. A number of years ago, it had become much reduced, through the unfaithfulness of some of its members, and the death of others. A young man of the name of Carter became religiously inclined, so as to feel disposed to open the meeting house, and to repair there, though alone, on meeting days. He had continued to do so for some time, when one day, a great exercise came upon him, to stand up and audibly to proclaim what he then felt to be on his mind, of the love of God, through Jesus Christ, towards poor sinful man. It was a great trial of his faith, for nothing but empty benches were before him. He yielded, however, to the apprehended duty, when, shortly after having again taken his seat, several young men came into the house, in a serious manner, and sat down in silence by him. Some of them evincing brokenness of heart. After the meeting closed, he found that these young men, his former associates, wondering what could induce him thus to come alone to that house, had come softly to look through the cracks of the door at what he was doing, when they were so reached by what he loudly declared, that they came in. Some of them continued to meet with him, and became valuable Friends. The meeting increased by degrees to the size it now is.

While Friends were often led by immediate insights, at other times they felt a concern pressing upon them as a weight, which seemed to grow heavier. This was often referred to as being under the “weight of a concern”. If Friends ignored this concern, or willfully disobeyed it, the weight would continue to increase until they could bear it no longer. David Hall writes of one such incident of unfaithfulness in his journal:

For on the 22nd of the same ninth month, a great weight seized me, to go through the town of Skipton, and call the inhabitants thereof to repentance, which concern and burthen grew heavier and heavier towards the middle part of that day, so that I could rest in no place; however, keeping it to myself, I went to meeting, it being our week-day meeting, where I was in great distress, having not given up to the concern. After meeting I returned home, and remained under the same anxiety of soul. Next morning came, and the same concern fell again weightily upon me, growing heavier and heavier, as before, insomuch, that I went out of the school into a place apart to crave the Lord’s assistance in the discharge of my duty. The weight growing intolerable, I privately laid the matter before my father, who, at the hearing thereof, broke out into tears, and calling my mother into the parlour, acquainted her therewith, whereupon she fell upon her knees in humiliation before the Lord, to implore his aid; and at her rising up she encouraged me, saying, – Be not cast down. We all three wept.

Friends often found that they had insights into another’s spiritual condition. As George Fox described it: “The Lord hath given me a spirit of discerning, by which I many times saw the states and conditions of people, and could try their spirits.” He relates many of these kinds of experiences in his journal, such as this one:

There came also at another time a woman, and stood at a distance from me. I cast mine eye upon her, and said, “Thou hast been a harlot,” for I perfectly saw the condition and life of the woman. She answered, many could tell her of her outward sins, but none could tell her of her inward. Then I told her, her heart was not right before the Lord; and that from the inward came the outward. This woman was afterwards convinced of God’s truth, and became a Friend.

Stephen Grellet relates the story of Comfort Hoag, who, in the midst of sailing for Europe, had a revelation that they would be returning to America:

About forty years ago, Comfort Collins, then a Hoag, having surrendered herself and her all to the Divine will, under a sense of duty to go to England on religious service, with the unity of her friends, embarked for Europe, accompanied by Sarah Barney. After they had been out at sea about a week, as they were sitting together in the cabin, in solemn silence before the Lord, Comfort said to Sarah, “The Lord has accepted my free-will offering to his Divine will to go to Europe, and now he releases me from this service; and, as a proof of it, he will bring us back again to the American shores.” Sarah Barney told me that the communication was attended with so much solemnity, that she could not doubt that it was of the Lord. Without exchanging a word with one another, they continued a considerable time in silence, when they heard the captain of the ship speaking with his trumpet to another ship, stating that he was under the necessity of returning to port, as his vessel had sprung a leak, which the Friends knew not before. Thus were these women brought back, and from that time they felt themselves entirely released from the service of travelling in Europe.

William Edmundson received a revelation that he was going to be robbed:

About this time a singular exercise fell upon William Edmundson, as he was attending a fair on business at Antrim; by which he was instructed in the benefit of faithfully attending to the secret intimations of the divine Monitor, saying, “this is the way, walk in it,” even when he might not see immediately the intention of the Almighty in thus leading him by a way that he knew not. Returning with his brother late from the fair, they proposed to lodge at Glenavy, six miles on their way homeward; but before they arrived there, William was introduced into a great exercise of mind, accompanied with an intimation, the source of which he believed to be the divine Spirit, that his shop was in danger of being robbed that night, but that he was to go back towards Clough; and being much perplexed under the apprehension of danger to his property on the one hand if he went not home, and on the other hand not knowing wherefore he should be required to go back to Clough, he cried earnestly to the Lord, to be preserved from following a delusive spirit, and that he might be directed what course to pursue. On which he received a clear intimation, that the same power which required him to go back, would preserve his property from harm. Lodging at Glenavy, he slept but little; but in the morning, not daring to disobey so clear a command, he let his brother proceed homewards, while he went himself to Clough. On reaching his home, he found that on the night when the foregoing exercise came upon him, the shop-window was broken down by robbers, and fell with such violence on the counter as to awaken his family, and the thieves being frightened ran away. “So,” says he, “I was confirmed that it was the word of the Lord, that said, ‘that which drew me back should preserve my shop;’ and I was greatly strengthened to obey the Lord in what he required; for I was much afraid, lest at any time my understanding should be betrayed by a wrong spirit; not fearing the loss of goods, nor sufferings for the truth, its testimony being more to me than all other things.”

Continued in Part 7.

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