Friday, June 5, 2009

Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 4

This is a continuation of a previous post.

Friends frequently wrote of being humbled by the Spirit, or that their hearts were made tender. While being humbled can be part of one’s individual transformation, it was also something that was experienced as a community. Friends frequently wrote of being humbled, tendered, or brought low, sometimes accompanied by tears.

John Churchman shared a typical description of being humbled:

That humbling time had at Flushing was of singular service to me, being thereby made willingly subject to the divine openings of truth, the motion of the eternal Spirit and pure word of life, in speaking to the several states of those who were present in the meetings, and life came into dominion, and the power thereof overshadowed at times, to my humble admiration;

John Woolman wrote often of being humbled, tendered, or brought low, and in this instance, he gives a hint of the struggles he went through:

At length, through the merciful continuance of heavenly visitations, I was made to bow down in spirit before the Lord. One evening I had spent some time in reading a pious author, and walking out alone I humbly prayed to the Lord for his help, that I might be delivered from all those vanities which so ensnared me. Thus being brought low, he helped me, and as I learned to bear the cross I felt refreshment to come from his presence, but not keeping in that strength which gave victory I lost ground again, the sense of which greatly affected me.

William Savery writes of humbling in relation to the convincement of a young man:

30th. Had a meeting at George Dillwyn’s lodgings: about thirty attended, among whom were two candidates for the priest’s office; it was a humbling time, and one of these young men was much broken, and all his former fabric destroyed; he seemed like a man in amazement, that he should have found the truth in so simple a way and so unlocked for, and we endeavoured to strengthen his exercised mind.

Tears often accompanied this humbling and tendering. In his journal, Samuel Bownas wrote of observing these tears as a child:

Many Friends were in prison at Appleby for attending that meeting, whom my dear mother went to visit, taking me along with her, and we had a meeting with the prisoners, several Friends from other places being likewise there by appointment. I observed, though very young, how tender and broken they were; and I was very inquisitive of my mother, why they cried so much, and thee too, said I, why did thee? She told me that I could not understand the reason of it then, but when I grew up more to man’s estate I might.

William Sewel wrote of another account of tears, and also of the trembling and shaking, and that although some did experience trembling and shaking, Friends did not think of it as something everyone should do:

Now because in those early times, among the many adherents of this persuasion, there were some that having been people of a rude and dissolute life, came so to be pricked to the heart, that they grew true penitents, with real sorrow for their former transgressions; it happened that they at meetings did not only burst out into tears, but also were affected with such a singular commotion of the mind, that some shakings of their bodies were perceived; some people naturally being more affected with the passions of the mind, than others: for even anger doth transport some men so violently, that it makes them tremble; whereas others will quake with fear: and what wonder then, if some being struck with the terrors of God did tremble? But this being seen by envious men, they took occasion from thence to tell, that these professors of the light performed their worship with shaking; yet they themselves never asserted that trembling of the body was an essential part of their religion, but have occasionally said the contrary; though they did not deny themselves to be such as trembled before God; and they also did not stick to say, that all people ought to do so, however thereby not enjoining a bodily shaking.

Thomas Shilltoe writes of many being moved to tears at the close of yearly meeting:

after which the Yearly Meeting was adjourned to Short-creek meeting-house, in which not a few of our company on this solemn occasion were bathed in tears; some of the youth amongst others.

Continued in Part 5.

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