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dren of ignorance and idolatry; that it shines "in a dark place," and that the darkness comprehends it not; but they also knew that it is pure and unchanging in its character. Never did they dare to consider it as a part of fallen man's corrupt nature; never did they hesitate to ascribe it to the free and universal grace of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The view which our early Friends took of this great doctrine, appears never to have suggested to them a single doubt of the importance of spreading a knowledge of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the contrary, many of them were diligently engaged in this work, and laboured for the diffusion of true Christianity, not only in their own land, but when they ran to and fro in the earth, and in the distant isles of the sea. George Fox in particular was a zealous promoter of the knowledge of Christ, and laboured for its dissemination among the negroes of the West Indies. The same faithful elder fervently exhorted his friends in North America to teach the native Indians in that country, that Christ had tasted death for every man; and he freely told them, that the gospel of life and salvation must be preached to every creature under heaven.'
It is, indeed, only the abuse of the doctrine of a universal light, which could lead any man to set at naught any Christian effort for so holy a purpose. The doctrine itself affords a delightful encouragement to all such labours of love. Who that is engaged in preaching the gospel, either at home or abroad, can deny the advantage of being able to appeal to the light of God's law appearing in the hearts of his hearers? By such an appeal, he may, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, convince them of sin, and may thus prepare the way of Christ; and although this light may not always shine brightly, yet according to its measure, it will still be a sure ally to the word preached; it will be found invariably on the side of truth, and holiness, and God.
That there is a vast difference, in point of morals and religion, between the condition of the heathen world and that of Christian nations, no well-informed person will pretend to deny; and the more we are aware of our superior advantages in these respects, the more zealous we ought to be in diffusing the benefits which we
1 Epistles, 1679.
ourselves enjoy, among our benighted fellow-men. But of what permanent use to us will be the knowledge of the gospel, if we do not give way to the influence of that divine Spirit, who strives, in much long suffering, with unregenerate man ?1
There is a work of God upon the soul, which precedes conversion, as well as one which follows it; and the former, though sometimes rapid, or even sudden, is, for the most part, like the latter, extremely gradual. This preparatory work of the Spirit, especially in the minds of young people, when he visits them at unexpected moments, reproves them for sin, brings them into tenderness, and allures them into the love and fear of God, is one branch of the great plan of redemption, on which Friends have at all times loved to dwell. They have never failed to insist on the necessity of obedience to the still small voice of the inward Teacher; and they have always maintained that this obedience is of primary importance to a right knowledge of the truth. The more use we make of the light bestowed upon us, the more will that light be increased; it will set our sins in order before us; it will humble us in a clear view of our own unworthiness; it will lead us to the foot of the Saviour's cross. It is the influence of the Spirit of the Father, operating on the willing soul, which can alone bring us to a real and practical acquaintance with the Son of his love.
Yet nothing could be farther from the minds of our early Friends, than so to misapply this truth, as in any degree to justify the disuse of the Holy Scriptures. They were themselves diligent readers of the Bible; and they well knew that it was in the use and not in the neglect of this blessed means appointed by Providence for our instruction, that we are to expect the more abundant light and influence of the Holy Spirit.
There is probably no body of Christians who have taken more pains than Friends have done, to enjoin upon their members a frequent perusal of the Scriptures of Truth. It is one of those duties which is annually brought home to us by a public inquiry addressed to all our inferior meetings; and it has been the subject of many a warm exhortation, and many a strong advice, issued by our yearly meeting itself. Nothing can have been more clear than the testimony of the Society to the divine origin of the book. Friends
1 See Gen. vi. 3.
have always asserted that it was given by inspiration of God; and when our forefathers were defamed by their adversaries, and falsely accused of unsound principles, they always appealed to Scripture as the ONLY authoritative test by which their sentiments could be tried. They boldly invited their hearers and readers to imitate the example of the noble Beræans-to search the Scriptures daily, that they might know "whether these things were so."
On this important subject I apprehend that the views of Friends are in accordance with those of other sound and reflecting Christians, although there may prevail between them and ourselves some difference in phraseology. If we object to call the Scriptures the Word, or the Word of God, it is not because we entertain the smallest doubt that they are given by inspiration of God; it is only because the Scriptures themselves teach us that this name, considered as a title of pre-eminence, properly belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ. If we assert the essential superiority of the Holy Spirit, it is not that we regard the sacred writings as a fallible standard, or do not truly reverence them; but only that we are anxious to distinguish between that which is produced, and the power which produces it; between the work which we can see, and handle, and its divine, unchangeable Author.
That the Holy Scriptures, like other ancient writings, have in some degree suffered by passing through the hands of men, is evident from the numerous various readings, both in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Greek Testament. But although the sacred volume thus partakes of the imperfection which attaches to all material objects, Friends have ever been ready, in unison with their fellowchristians, to adore that especial providence which has so signally preserved it from essential harm. They joyfully confess that the lapse of time, and the carelessness of transcribers, have not been permitted to deprive the Scriptures of a single doctrinal truth, or a single moral principle; that the wisdom, richness, and harmony of their contents, afford abundant proof that they came from God; and that, as the original record of all religious truth, they stand, and ever must stand, unrivalled and alone.
Many of the early members of the society were persons of considerable learning, and they never scrupled to make use of their literature, for the elucidation of religious subjects-a remark which applies with peculiar force to Barclay the apologist. Certainly
there is nothing in our genuine principles which need discourage any one from a critical study of the Bible in an humble and teachable spirit. It is surely both a duty and a privilege, as opportunity is afforded, to make use of those various sources of information, from which so much light has been thrown, not merely on its historical and descriptive parts, but even on its docrines and precepts. Yet Friends have always regarded it as an especial duty to insist on the great principle, that "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God;" and that we cannot possibly obtain a saving knowledge of the truths revealed in the Bible, except by the gracious aid of its omnipotent Author.
They are not ashamed to exhort one another, earnestly to seek for that divine influence, in the perusal of Scripture, which can alone present its precious contents in their true light to the understanding, and impress them with power on the heart. It has been well said by a learned and pious man, that to the spirituallyminded reader, and to him alone, the Bible is a book full of illuminated characters. But even when the book is not before us, how often does the good remembrancer remind us of passages suited to the various turns of our experience, and arrayed for the occasion in new brightness and beauty!
Having offered these remarks on the views of Friends respecting the sacred volume, I must revert, for a short time, to the doctrine of the Spirit. I conceive that there is nothing to which the Scriptures bear a stronger testimony than to the divine character, and free and unfettered influences, of the Holy Ghost. As it is by the Spirit alone that we are brought to Christ, and become, through faith in the Saviour, the reconciled children of God; so the Spirit alone can lead us onward in the way of holiness, cleanse the inward recesses of our hearts, and prepare us for an entrance into perfect purity. Thus it is, as Friends have always believed, that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day"-thus only, that we can obey the awful precept-" Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven, is perfect."
The pre-eminent grace, and peculiar office, of the Holy Spirit in
believers, as well as his general and preparatory influences, are indeed subjects which have always been prominent in the religious views of Friends. From their first rise as a society, they were led to testify of the utter vanity of the most orthodox creed, without the possession of the life which is in Christ; and while they spake with deep reverence of the atoning blood of the Lamb, they assured their hearers that it would be impossible for them to partake of its benefit, unless their hearts were given up to the cleansing work, and inward government, of the Spirit of their Redeemer. They boldly declared that justification by faith in Christ crucified, and sanctification by his Spirit, went hand in hand, and could never be separated. Christ "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." He "bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."2
The comprehensive nature of the promises of God respecting the Holy Spirit, is a point to which the attention of our religious society has always been directed with peculiar force. They believe them to be addressed to the whole church of Christ in all ages, for they read that the Comforter was to continue with the disciples of Jesus "for ever"—that His influence was to be bestowed not merely on the earliest converts to Christianity, but on their children also, and on all that are afar off, even 66 as many" as the Lord our God should "call."
And what are these promises? Large and various indeed! That the Spirit should be poured forth from on high, and convert the wilderness into a fruitful field; so that the work of righteousness should be peace, and the effect thereof quietness and assurance for ever; that God should write his law on the hearts of his people, and that all should know him, from the least to the greatest; that He should sprinkle clean water upon them, give them new hearts and new spirits, and cleanse them from all their filthiness and all their idolatry; that He should pour forth his Spirit upon all flesh, and that the sons and the daughters, the servants and the
1 Tit. ii. 14.
4 Acts. ii. 39.
7 Ezek. xxxvi. 25.
2 1 Pet. ii. 24.
Isa. xxxii. 15-17.
3 John xiv. xv. & xvi.
6 Jer. xxxi. 33.