Letters on England HTML version

2. On The Quakers
Such was the substance of the conversation I had with this very singular person;
but I was greatly surprised to see him come the Sunday following and take me
with him to the Quakers' meeting. There are several of these in London, but that
which he carried me to stands near the famous pillar called The Monument. The
brethren were already assembled at my entering 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 covered with their broad-
brimmed hats. All were seated, and the silence was universal. I passed 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,
confused jumble of words (borrowed, as he imagined, from the Gospel) which
neither himself nor any of his hearers understood. When this distorter had ended
his beautiful soliloquy, and that the stupid, but greatly edified, congregation were
separated, I asked my friend how it was possible for the judicious part of their
assembly to suffer such a babbling? "We are obliged," says he, "to suffer it,
because no one knows when a man rises up to hold forth whether he will be
moved by the Spirit or by folly. In this doubt and uncertainty we listen patiently to
everyone; we even allow our women to hold forth. Two or three of these are often
inspired at one and the same time, and it is then that a most charming noise is
heard in the Lord's house." "You have, then, no priests?" say I to him. "No, no,
friend," replies the Quaker, "to our great happiness." Then opening one of the
Friends' books, as he called it, he read the following words in an emphatic tone:-
"'God forbid we should presume to ordain anyone 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. Wouldst thou
deprive us of so happy a distinction? Why should we abandon our babe to
mercenary nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough for it? These
mercenary creatures would soon domineer in our houses and destroy both the
mother and the babe. God has said, 'Freely you have received, 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 set of
men clothed 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," said I, with some warmth, "to know
whether your discourse is really inspired 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 assured that he is inspired by the Lord."
He then poured forth a numberless multitude of Scripture texts which proved, as
he imagined, 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 moved by thy own power? Certainly not; for this limb is often sensible