A Sermon Delivered by JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY, At Bishipsgate Street Meeting House, 25th December, 1833.
Addresses Delivered by Messrs. Allen, Bates, Gurney, Tuke, Wheeler; Mrs. Braithwaite, Grubb, Jones, and Other Ministers of the Society of Friends. London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co.; E. Fry; Bristol: Bristol, 1834, pages 151-170.

This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 3: The 19th Century.

The inspired Apostle never wrote a more important precept, than when he said, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good;" and I may acknowledge that, although I rise among my friends, with more of fear and trembling than I know how to express, yet I dare not withhold the expression of my deep concern, that, as a religious body, we should prove all things, and hold fast that which is good; we do know that there are certain fixed principles in religion and morals, which are above, or rather, I might almost say, below proof, as are the axioms of mathematics, which no man ever did prove or can prove;--so also, my beloved friends, it is true that the great principle of one Lord God Almighty, is written, as I believe, on every soul, by the finger of God's Holy Spirit; these truths shine in their own immortal and immutable light; no man ever required proof to show that justice is right, that truth is right, and that charity is right; and that injustice; and falsehood, and fraud, are wrong; these are the fundamental and intuitive principles of God's moral law, by which we must test all our actions and all our words; we do not require even Scripture to prove these things;--we search the scriptures, not to prove them but to enforce them, and I trust that we shall all be more and more bowed before the Lord God Almighty, under a sense of our moral responsibility, in the sight of that glorious God, whose laws are written on the heart, which no man living can dispute; and unless we are brought to a true allegiance to our Almighty Sovereign, and to a willing obedience to the dictates of his law, we are wrong at the very foundation of all things. But, my beloved friends, in the order of divine providence, God, who is rich in mercy, and truth, and loving kindness, has ordained for the benefit of his rational creatures, that all special revelation, or all pretences to special revelation, should be tested and proved;--and these, I am bold to assert, are the plain principles which were set forth by our forefathers in the truth, and to which our religious society, in every age of its history, has borne its willing testimony. Now, my beloved friends, we know that immediate revelation is the very ground and root of all the information of which man is in possession, respecting the things of God; but the prophets and apostles were enabled to promulgate an outward revelation, or rather that Holy Spirit who is the author of all true light which is to be found in the mind of men, or which comes to one man through the instrumentality of another. I believe that we are a fallen race; the scriptures declare it, and experience proves it;--I believe that in the fall we are utterly dead, and utterly dark, and that whatsoever is bestowed on our species of moral, or of spiritual light, must be ascribed, not to the perverted process of man's fallible reason, but either instrumentally or immediately, always originally to the revelation which comes from God. I rejoice, my beloved friends, in these great and fundamental truths, and I hope we shall always adhere to them as a people, with unbroken and invariable tenacity; but, my beloved friends, even that revelation of divine truth, which was made to mankind by our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles, in the order of God's providence and grace, was tested and proved; the work of God was the test and the proof of the words--the written and spoken words of the Lord; so it was under the old dispensation--when Moses gave forth the law, he appealed to the test of miracles; and our Lord himself, made mention of his almighty works, as-a proof that his message to mankind by his prophets and patriarchs in days of old, did indeed come from himself; and we know how often the blessed Jesus appealed to his works, "If ye will not believe my words," said he, "believe the works;" the works were proofs which no man living could deny,-that his doctrine was of God; and so also it was with the apostles, when they were commissioned, under the plenary effusion of the Holy Ghost, to promulgate the doctrines of Christianity, which were new to a great extent, both to Jews and Gentiles; their words were tested by their works by which their preaching, under the plenary effusion of the Spirit, and their writings, also under the same influence, were proved to come from God;--and, my friends, let us search the foundation of our faith, we need not be afraid of facing the infidel; God enables us to prove all things, and we are sure that the glorious doctrines of the gospel of Christ are true, and come from God, because the promulgation of them was attested by those wonderful works which came from God himself; and let it be observed, that in the process of conversion to God, in regeneration, in that vital change which takes place in the heart of a believer, we have the evidence, every man in himself, of a mighty miracle--by which revealed truth is indeed tested, and by which it is abundantly proved to come from God. Now, my beloved friends,-there is not only revelation given of the coming of Christ, when the angels were sent forth to declare it; but from season to season, effusions of the Holy Spirit are given, not for the purpose of revealing any new truth, for we do believe that the whole truth-necessary to man's salvation is revealed in the gospel, and that nothing can be added to it; and that if angel from heaven were to bring his-certificate with him to preach a new gospel, let him be accursed; but my beloved friends, in every age of the church, or at least on several notable occasions, there have been powerful revelations of the old doctrine; that is quite another thing, and the great truths of- primitive Christianity have been as it were poured forth again and again on mankind, under ,very special marked, effusions of the Holy Spirit; I believe it was so in a very eminent degree in very early times, among many who were little known in. the history of man; but who were known to God, and knew God; I believe that amongst the snowy Alps and the mountains of Savoy, and parts of France especially, there was raised up, in very early times, a spiritual people-for the Lord; by a new effusion of the Holy Ghost, a new revelation of the old doctrine. I believe it- was so in the time of Luther, when that valiant for the truth, as far as he was enlightened, went forth, not in his own power, but in the strength of the Lord, to bring to light the dark and corrupt places of the hierarchy, which then was; and I believe it was so when our worthy forefather in the truth, George Fox, was brought under the baptism of the Holy Ghost, under which he had to suffer very .deeply for many long years; and when he came forth afterwards under a very remarkable power, by which he was enabled to gather thousands and tens of thousands, and to proclaim--what?--Certainly no-new doctrine, certainly no new gospel; if he had attempted to preach a new gospel, the curse would have been upon him, and on his people. No friends, my firm belief, is that he was, sent forth to proclaim the good old gospel in its primitive simplicity, and I am quite sure that whatsoever we have in our systems, or in our practice, or in our minds, which is part and parcel of the good old gospel, will stand, my beloved friends; and that whatsoever we have in our. minds, or system, which doth not belong to primitive Christianity, but is the fruit of our own fallacious wisdom or imagination, that will perish; and I hope we shall all unite in the sentiment, that the sooner it perishes, the better, as it comes not from God, and cannot lead to him. Now my beloved. friends, do not you perceive, that where there is the promulgation, or pretence-to promulgate the old doctrines, under a new effusion of the Holy Ghost, that the written records of that gospel, are the text by which our doctrine is to be tried, because, it is utterly impossible that the work of God can contradict the word of God; it is utterly impossible that the Spirit of his Truth should say one thing on one occasion, and another on another occasion; opposite to one another; this .would confuse all morals, and all religion, and principle, and reduce the moral world to a chaos, like that which was formerly reduced-to order, when the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters; and I own I am ashamed, I am afflicted, I am astonished, when I hear any one under the profession of Quakerism, refusing to test his doctrines by the holy scripture; I believe such cases are very rare, very rare in, deed, but there are such among us, and now and then I see a little symptom of it; it is one of the very natural fruits of the corruption of human nature; but so said not our forefathers in the truth, they were ever willing that their doctrines should be brought to this test, and tried by it, so that if any thing in their doctrine could be discovered contrary to the holy scriptures, they were always willing to give that up; but we do know, how triumphantly they were enabled to establish their doctrine, by the authority of holy writ, and more than this, they also acknowledged that any new doctrine, which was beyond the scripture, must fall by the weight of its own fallacy; and they embraced, cordially, the principle which is so plainly stated in the last verses of the book of Revelations, and which, as a principle, they believed to apply to the whole volume; "That if any man add to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man take away from these things, God will take away from him his part in the book of life, and from the things that are written in that book;" and I think this is a principle of awful importance, because while we adhere to it, as our forefathers did, we are protected by it, under the grace of God, from all that can be fairly called mystical or enthusiastic. O, friends, I hope you will bear with an unworthy brother, in speaking very plain things, in very plain language, I know that there is a tendency in the corrupt mind of man, for what is mystical and enthusiastic, and there may be a little leaven of it amongst ourselves, but as long as we keep firm to this great principle, so long we undermine this tendency at its very roots; and we may depend upon it, that all that is not of God, and all that will not bear the truth, which God, in his infinite mercy has provided us with, will never be productive of those fruits which will afford our second great test. "Beware of false prophets," said our dear Lord and Master to his disciples, "who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves, but by their fruits ye shall know them; do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? a corrupt tree bringeth forth bad fruit, and a good tree bringeth forth good fruit." And I dare not omit it, that according to my apprehension, the profession of our early forefathers in the truth, and their preaching, under what I believe to have been the effusion of the Holy Spirit, did, in a remarkable manner, bear this test in the fruits which they produced, although I am fully prepared to make a pretty large allowance for the deep infirmity of man; for the excitement which prevailed in that period of our history, and for the unquestionable truth never to be forgotten, that "we have our treasure in poor earthen vessels;" but, friends, when I look at the leading features of their history, when I call to mind the unbending integrity with which they adhered to the rule of right, and when l remember their patience in suffering, and how they were bold, in the very depth of the noisome prison house, to sing living songs of praise to their God and their Redeemer; when I behold them with my mind's eye, and read of them in the page of history, as assembling in their silent meetings, broken before the Lord, and moistening the very floors of their meeting houses with their tears, while they were bringing forth the fruits of integrity, and patience, and brotherly love, I am prepared to assert, that their doctrine was well tested by the holy scripture, in the first place, and by the fruits which they produced in the second. Now, friends, we know very well that there is what may be called a man made morality, founded very much on the pride of the human heart, and excluding God from its system; we do know something of this, even in the present day; there are persons who, by their own power, their own philosophy, their own reasoning, their own views of what is useful, and good, and honourable, they attain to a considerable degree of what may be called morality; but where do we see in these people, a deep devotion of heart to God, their Father? where do we see an abounding love to Christ? where do we see the breaking down and the melting down of the rock-work of the heart of man? Now I do think, that amongst our early friends, and amongst the Lord's children in every age, there always has been, in a most remarkable manner, the breaking down and the melting down of the heart of man; and the great character of their morality, has ever been found to be humility and contrition, meekness and love; and how ardent was their love one to another, when they were willing to give up their lives, one for another, and to pass through the severest hardships one for another. I wish we may always love one another with the like sort of love: friends, here is the main fruit, the greatest of all fruits, by which our doctrine is to be tested; whatsoever leads into love, whatsoever is productive of precious abounding charity, of that charity, which hopeth all things, believeth all things well of a brother, endureth all things, beareth all things, which is not easily provoked, which boasteth not itself, which doth not behave itself unseemly; here is a test for us, my dear friends, may we all be clothed in the beautiful robe of Christian charity, for, "though I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal; and though I understand all knowledge, and have the gift of prophecy, so that no man could deny my gifts, and understand all mysteries, yea, and have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." My beloved friends, let us always remember, that "now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity." Now, my beloved friends, I do consider it to be an evidence of the power and goodness of our heavenly father, that he doth condescend thus to provide us with the means of proving all things, and I long that my beloved friends, with myself, may be led to take a more comprehensive view, than some of us have been accustomed to do, of the wonderful dealings of God with us. O friends, we are so apt to see only part of his works; we know indeed that none of us can see but a very small part of them, but even of that which we can see, we are so apt to open our eyes to one part, and shut them to another; there is no more common tendency amongst the children of men. Now, suppose we open one eye to that glorious and blessed work of God, the influence of his Holy Spirit, the anointing by which, we are led into all truth, and suppose we shut our other eye to this blessed provision of divine mercy and wisdom, namely, the outward visible test of the holy scripture, what would be the consequence? the consequence would be, we should lose our balance in the scale of truth, and fly off under a pretence of spirituality, into every thing which the corrupt imagination of man can devise; that would be the danger: and suppose we should open one eye to this test, and admire the goodness of God in giving us the holy scripture, and shut our other eye to the immediate guidance and government of the Lord's anointing, what would be the consequence then? the consequence would be, that we should be suddenly reduced to the .state of the dry dead bones in the valley of vision; and I do beseech my beloved friends, as they value immortal truth, and as they value the prosperity of this noble religious body, as they value the prosperity of the church of Christ at large, I do heartily beseech them in the tenderness of love, in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, to adhere with unalterable firmness to the whole truth, and not to be one-sided in religion, but to go forward in the middle path, protected from errors on the right hand, and from errors on the left, under the guidance of our Holy Lord, who will be found walking with us therein, and which doth lead and ever did lead straight to heaven. But, friends, it is not only in contemplating the works of God, that this one-sidedness is so common among men, we find it so in contemplating the written word, and I am often astonished at it, and I do not speak this of my dear friends, for I see a great deal more of it out of our Society, than in it, but I have often had occasion to observe how strangely one eye has been open, and the other shut, among professing Christians; I have often had occasion to observe how a man when he takes up the scripture, will delight himself in one passage, and dwell upon it., and-think upon it, and talk about it; and mention it to every body he meets, when to a passage which I could point out to him, on the other side of the page, he is as blind as if there was no possibility of sight in him. Now this is human nature, friends, it. is one of the consequences of our corrupt human nature, it is not of God; there is no partiality in the wisdom which cometh from above, none whatever; there is a glorious breadth and comprehensiveness in it, and I do beg of my beloved friends, when they read the holy scriptures, to divest themselves of all partiality, and of all prejudice, of all preconceived opinions, and to sit down in meekness to be taught by the apostles and prophets, and not to lead them, but to be taught by, or I would rather say, through the instrumentality of the apostles and prophets, by the Holy Ghost; and may we, my beloved friends, when we are thus engaged, more and more, place our reverent dependance even with prayer and supplication on Him, who hath, blessed be his glorious name, the key of David, who openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth, and no man openeth. Now, my dear friends, we have heard of divers sorts of opinions and notions prevailing a little amongst us at times, though we have been on the whole, a most unanimous body, and I believe shall always continue so in the main, but a little of that thing which prevails so much in the world may have its place, and I doubt not but it has its place within our own borders, and how are we to get rid of it? it is an evil, friends, and we ought to pray to God to be enabled to get rid of it; we ought not to be satisfied with feelings of love one towards another, we should aim at unanimity and unity: now I believe, friends, there are simple rules by which this blessed end may be accomplished; and first by an impartial, comprehensive view of the whole truth, that we may be preserved from partiality. I know that we have watchmen at one door, and watchmen at another; I admire this; I think it is in divine order, and, my beloved friends, I hope it will always be so, but I do beseech my beloved friends, not to dare, not to venture, as they love their own souls, and as they love the church, to take up with partial views of divine truth, or to be satisfied with the promulgation of partial views; we must have the whole truth, my beloved friends, not in man's wisdom, verily, which is lighter than the chaff, and drier than the dust, but under the Lord's own anointing: let us pray for it, and it will be bestowed; it will be poured forth among us, and will lead us to the promulgation of the whole counsel of God, blessed be his name for ever. May we know it more and more, and may we be found in deep reverent dependance on our holy head, who hath bought us with his own blood, his own precious atoning blood, my dear friends, and will take care of us, for we are a portion of his people, I am bold to say, and the Lord's portion is his people, and Jacob is the lot of his inheritance; he found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye; "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange God with him." And though the strange god, the god of this world, who blindeth the minds of them that believe not, would fain insinuate himself, and though he goeth round about, or cometh roaring like a lion, and maketh a great deal of disturbance outwardly; and when he cannot succeed in that way, would fain insinuate himself under the garb of enlightened reason, and perhaps even close argument, but he will not destroy us, friends; the seed of the woman hath for ever bruised the serpent's head; when that awful sacrifice was offered on the cross for the sins of all mankind, the serpent's head was bruised, and he by his own life-giving power and spirit, doth and will bruise the serpent's head in the hearts of his children, if they will but be obedient, if they will abstain from the leaven of Herod, which would mix up with all manner of notions, and follow the plain simple truth. Well, my beloved friends, this impartiality, this comprehensive view, both of the works and word of God, as revealed in the holy scripture, is the first grand remedy, under the divine blessing, for all differences of opinion in things of religion; and then my beloved friends, you know that even this must be under the power, it is nothing without the power. The kingdom of God is not in word; I believe some people supposed that I was of opinion, that the kingdom of God is in word, but I am willing to declare, in the presence of this assembly, and under an awful feeling of the divine presence that I never maintained such a sentiment; I do know, I do feel, I am sure, that the kingdom of God is in power. O that we were guided up to this great principle, that it is by the Lord's eternal power alone that we can stand, O may we all come under it. Well, my beloved friends, then here is the other point, to which I have to allude, and which, I believe, is given to me to allude to, though so very unworthy, that we should come, every one for ourselves, under the Lord's own power, and under his own anointing, which doth lead, and will lead into all truth; for the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you, (mark the words) but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. Now my beloved friends, some of you, I believe, do not know what wonders the anointing will do for you, I believe it would bring us, not only into love, but into unanimity, and absolute agreement in sentiment; and not only into unanimity, but into unity, into that blessed and holy oneness which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ah, my beloved friends, shall we put ourselves out of the way of this blessing, shall we take up with the mind, which can judge, and which can criticise, and which can argue, and which can find much fault, and which can see very little good in a brother? O friends, shall we take up with this mind, instead of a simple obedience to the voice of the good shepherd, who bought us with his blood? God forbid. I believe we are all too liable to it, my dear friends, I believe it is one of those weeds, which naturally spring up from the corrupt, noisome bed of fallen human nature, and may it be utterly destroyed, and demolished amongst us, by the Lord's eternal power. But my beloved friends, I beseech you not to misconstrue an unworthy brother, does any one imagine, that I would exclude the right application of human understanding, in matters of religion? I venture to say, I should be a fool if I did; as the Apostle says, "Howbeit, in malice be ye children, but in understanding, be ye men;" and what is the perfection of our nature? It is when our rational powers, being sanctified by the holy Spirit, are enabled to bear, with their true force, on matters of religion; that is the very perfection of the man, my dear friends, and, let me say, that we shall never flourish through ignorance; let me say, that the want of a right cultivation of the human mind, respecting the things of religion, is one of the very worst evils which afflicts our species. O my friends, may we all be found on the side of light, and knowledge, yea of christian knowledge; but let us always remember, that it must still be under the power;--there is our security; yet there are different operations even of the power; one man may be led to preach, in our solemn religious meetings,--a most awful exercise, indeed; I never felt it more so, it is one of those things never made easy by practice:--O the depths of that baptism, by which the poor children of the Lord are prepared for preaching in our public assemblies. But another man, or the same, may be called to teach, and the gifts are clearly distinct,--and here we find a little more liberty, and I rejoice in the day being come, when, in public schools, we have found it our duty not only to read the scriptures to our children, but to teach them also, and what was said of Timothy? "From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures;"--and how did he know them, my dear friends, my beloved sisters? it was the careful teaching of a pious mother; may you all profit by it, yea, and I hope we shall be willing to teach one another, for some of us want a little teaching. I wish we may learn to call things by right names, and put every thing in its right place, under the power and guidance of the Lord's holy Spirit, and then, I believe, all will be well with us. Now, my dear friends, I desire not to prolong words among you, but I must remind you, not merely of the precept of "Prove all things," but also of the precept "Hold fast;"--O ever hold fast that which is good. I think I may say, I should not escape with my spiritual life from this metropolis, if I did not simply declare my own firm conviction, that all those christian testimonies, which we, as a people, have believed it to be our duty to bear in the sight of the universal church, are good, are scriptural, are plainly based in scripture, are from God, and that it is our bounden duty, in this day of various notions and speculations, to hold them fast. But, my beloved friends, can you suppose for a moment, that while I thus refer to testimonies, that in some measure may be said to distinguish us as a religious body, that I would not have you hold fast those essential, saving principles, in which all true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ agree? God forbid. I must say again, that if we do not stand on Jesus Christ, and on Him crucified, we are lighter than air, and shall indeed, in very deed, be scattered to the winds; but I am bold to express my belief, that if we stand firm on this foundation on the one hand, and, on the other hand, carefully guard that spiritual temple, which we have been favoured, as a poor unworthy people, to raise thereupon, then we shall never be scattered, and I believe Friends will be wise enough, to do this;--I give them credit for a true love to the foundation, and for a true love to the superstructure. I believe Friends are united herein; but, my dear friends, the work is a practical one;--it is not a matter of theory--it is not a matter of speculation; the faith of a Christian doth work in his heart by love, and therefore I beseech you, my beloved friends, to seek to abide under that power, by which all your evil desires, all your carnal imaginations, all your false and wandering notions, whatever they may be, shall be destroyed, and by which we may be preserved as a people in true humility, in genuine simplicity, in meekness, in patience, in charity, and in an unlimited reliance on that arm of power, which, I believe, will yet be made gloriously bare for our deliverance from all the rulers of the darkness of this world, and from all spiritual wickedness in high places, and from all the inventions of men, and from all the leaven of the pharisees, and from the leaven of Herod, and from all mysticism, and from all enthusiasm, in the middle road of simple Christian duty; guarded by the power which shall yet be found to be a wall of fire round about his people. And blessed, O blessed be his glorious name for ever and ever, and we may all say in hour hearts, Amen.