Monday, June 15, 2009

Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 5

This is a continuation of a previous post.

While unity is the foundation of Quaker business meetings, it is hard to understand the idea without experiencing it. Friends wrote of “being of one mind” or being united. George Fox and others would say that their hearts had been knitted together, echoing a theme found several times in the bible. William Hunt wrote of a moving experience that evokes both tendering and unity in a way that suggests that hearts are broken in order to be united:

“sat under a cloud of thick darkness, in which he felt the mystery of iniquity work in a wonderful manner; after which the Lord, in everlasting kindness to his pained children, was pleased to raise the seed of Zion and exalt her horn in the midst of her enemies, so that we had many comfortable meetings, and our hearts were much broken and sweetly united."

Isaac Penington spoke of being knit together, and the experience of the meeting being of “one mind”:

Unity in the spiritual body, which is gathered into and knit together in the pure life, is a most natural and comely thing. Yea, it is exceeding lovely, to find all that are of the Lord of one heart, of one mind, of one judgment, in one way of practice and order in all things,

John Burnyeat wrote of the power in meeting and how it united every one:

Thus growing into this experience of the goodness of the Lord, and of the sweetness, glory, and excellency of his power in our assemblies, we grew in strength and zeal for our meetings more and more, and valued the benefit thereof more than any worldly gain; yea, it was unto some more than our appointed food. Thus continuing, we grew more and more into an understanding of divine things and heavenly mysteries, through the openings of the power which was daily amongst us, which wrought sweetly in our hearts, which united us more and more unto God, and knit us together in the perfect bond of love, of fellowship and membership.

Appearing before a New Jersey court in 1830, Samuel Bettle testified about the Quaker way of business and the unity experienced by Friends:

Our mode of deciding questions is peculiar. It is intimately connected with our religious principles and doctrines; when an individual or a religious assembly is gathered into a reverent, inward, waiting state of mind, that we are sensible at times of the presence of the invisible and omnipresent One – qualifying the heart for secret communion and approach unto God. Hence, the Society believe, and it is one of their peculiar and distinguishing doctrines that there may be secret approach to and worship of God, without any ceremonial outward act or service; and in our meetings for business, we also hold that it is needful to experience the same power to qualify us for right discernment and to restrain our own spirit and will; and we do believe that when our meetings have been thus in degree influenced, there have been wisdom and judgment better than our own; consistent with the prophetic declaration respecting the blessed Head of the Church, that “He should be a Spirit of judgment to those who sit in judgment.” With these views, and a corresponding practice, our Society has been favored to come to its decisions and conclusions at its various meetings, with a remarkable degree of harmony and unity. These conclusions, thus prevailing in a meeting, or, in other words, this sense of the meeting, is often attained to with very little expression; and the member acting in the capacity of clerk records this sense, feeling or conclusion of the meeting. And it has never been come to by a vote, or the opinion of the majority; no question is ever taken by a reference to numbers, or votes, or a ma jority, or anything like that. It is obtained upon religious principles, which we understand very well, but which it is difficult to explain. We have got along in this way for near two centuries very well.

Continued in Part 6.

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