Letters concerning the English Nation/Letter II
Such was the substance of the conversation I had with this very singular person; but I was greatly surpriz'd to see him come the Sunday following, and take me with him to the Quaker's meeting. There are several of these in London but that which he carried me to stands near the famous pillar call'd the monument. The brethren were already assembled at my entring it with my guide. There might be about four hundred men and three hundred women in the meeting. The women hid their faces behind their fans, and the men were cover'd with their broad-brimm'd hats; all were seated, and the silence was universal. I past through them, but did not perceive so much as one lift up his eyes to look at me. This silence lasted a quarter of an hour, when at last one of them rose up, took off his hat, and after making a variety of wry faces, and groaning in a most lamentable manner, he partly from his nose, and partly from his mouth, threw out a strange confus'd jumble of words, (borrow'd as he imagin'd from the Gospel) which neither himself nor any of his bearers understood. When this distorter had ended his beautiful soliloquy, and that the stupid, but greatly edified, congregation were separated, I ask'd my friend how it was possible for the judicious part of their assembly to suffer such a babbling. We are oblig'd, says he, to suffer it, because no one knows when a man rises up to hold forth, whether he will be mov'd by the spirit or by folly. In this doubt and uncertainty we listen patiently to every one, we even allow our women to hold forth; two or three of these are often inspir'd at one and the same time, and 'tis then that a most charming noise is heard in the Lord's house. You have then no priests, says I to him. No, no, friend, replies the Quaker, to our great happiness. Then opening one of the friend's books, as he call'd it, he read the following words in an emphatic tone: God forbid we should presume to ordain any one to receive the holy spirit on the Lord's day, to the prejudice of the rest of the brethren. Thanks to the almighty, we are the only people upon earth that have no priests. Wouldest thou deprive us of so happy a distinction? Why shou'd we abandon our babe to mercenary nurses, when we our selves have milk enough for it? These mercenary creatures wou'd soon domineer in our houses, and destroy both the mother and the babe. God has said, freely you have receiv'd, freely give. Shall we after these words cheapen, as it were, the Gospel; sell the Holy Ghost, and make of an assembly of Christians a mere shop of traders. We don't pay a sect of men cloath'd in black, to assist our poor, to bury our dead, or to preach to the brethren; these offices are all of too tender a nature, for us ever to entrust them to others. But how is it possible for you, says I, with some warmth, to know whether your discourse is really inspir'd by the Almighty? Whosoever, says he, shall implore Christ to enlighten him, and shall publish the Gospel truths, he may feel inwardly, such an one may be assur'd that he is inspir'd by the Lord. He then pour'd forth a numberless multitude of Scripture-texts, which prov'd, as he imagin'd, that there is no such thing as Christianity without an immediate revelation, and added these remarkable words: When thou movest one of thy limbs, is it mov'd by thy own power? Certainly not, for this limb is often sensible to involuntary motions; consequently he who created thy body, gives motion to this earthly tabernacle. And are the several ideas of which thy soul receives the impression form'd by thy self ? Much less are they, since these pour in upon thy mind whether thou wilt or no; consequently thou receivest thy ideas from him who created thy soul: But as he leaves thy affections at full liberty, he gives thy mind such ideas as thy affections may deserve; if thou livest in God, thou actest, thou thinkest in God. After this thou needest only but open thine eyes to that light which enlightens all mankind, and 'tis then thou wilt perceive the truth, and make others perceive it. Why this, says I, is Malbranche's doctrine to a tittle. I am acquainted with thy Malbranche says he; he had something of the friend in him, but was not enough sb. These are the most considerable particulars I learnt concerning the doctrine of the Quakers; in my next letter I shall acquaint you with their history, which you will find more singular than their opinions.