A Sermon and Prayer delivered by CATHERINE PHILLIPS (A/K/A CATHERINE PAYTON) at the Fryar's Meeting House, Bristol, 5th of 5th Month, 1779.
Some Discourses, Epistles, and Letters, by the Late Samuel Fothergill. To Which Are Added, Some Discourses by the Late Catherine Phillips, Both of the Society of Friends. London: W. Phillips, 1803.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 3: The 18th Century.
These visitations have not been cherished; and there is a continuing still in a weak state, in a mixed state, in an unprofitable state, towards God: so that it may be said of some, as it was I think of Israel, that he was as an empty vine, he brought forth fruit unto himself. There are not such fruits found on some of these visited minds, as the Lord of mercy calls for; they are not fitted for his service in the church and among his people, as he designed they should be, although they are respectable among men; although they are exercised in what may be called an honest industry, and some may also think, a laudable industry, yet the complaint is against them, as it was against Israel; "Israel is an empty vine unto the Lord, he bringeth fruit unto himself." And although they seem reputable, and sober, and orderly in their conduct compared with many others, yet their spirits are not fruitful towards God. My friends, examine yourselves: you who have been visited, you who have been favoured with a high and holy calling, and have heard the call and have rejoiced in it, have you attended to it, so as to have been redeemed out of the spirit of the world? I am ready to think that many, if they examine themselves in this particular, will see it very far from being the case; that however they seem settled in the truth, as our worldly predecessors were; not guided with zeal for the promotion of God's honour. The complaint which was taken up against a people formerly, may be taken up against many of these, that they are gone up every one of them to their own houses, and the Lord's house lies waste; they are seeking their own things, but not the things of God. Remember now the concern of the Apostle that he might fully apprehend that, for which he was apprehended of God; but what were you apprehended of him for, what were you visited for, what were you called for, what were you settled under the profession of truth for:--not to rest down at ease in your minds, but, as you might be fitted for it, to become laborious members, and active in the church of Christ; each keeping under an humble exercise of mind that if he did but little for the truth, that he might do nothing against the truth, and os that you might increase in the experience of the powerful operation of the divine spirit on your spirits, as you advance in years. This, my friends, is certainly the intention of divine wisdom in apprehending you, or calling you; and if you would settle under this exercise, I have no manner of doubt but that some of you might be brought out unto his help in the present day against the mighty, and you would be made serviceable in the society, which wants the help of its members, its quickened members, many of whom appear to me but weak and dwarfish. Thou they are quickened, divers appear to me to be in a languid, weak state. My friends, the Lord would not have it to be so, but that we should be strengthened for his service, and come up into his service with that strength which he vouchsafes, not with our own strength, nor with our own wisdom; no, no, this will never do; the Lord's work cannot be performed in their own will, for that never worked the righteousness of God, nor never will. Oh! that some of you may come under a concern to be baptized into a spiritual sense of the present day: for indeed the labour of it is heavy on the shoulders of a very few, who see and lament many abominations that are committed among us, and the many stumbling blocks that there are, and that those who are as way marks have not strength to roll them away: though they may labour after it, have an earnest desire for it, may lament the state of some of the members of the society, and earnestly wish that it were not so, yet they have not strength to roll the stumbling blocks away, but must labour and travel forward under their burden and grievous oppression. My friends, why is there not among you in this city, where there is so large a number, sufficient strength to roll these stumbling blocks away, to set the testimony of truth over their heads, that they may not be hindrance to those who are seeking their way to Zion, with their faces thitherward. I say there is not strength to roll the stumbling blocks away, because some of you do not put your shoulders to the work, do not offer yourselves willingly to come up unto the Lord's help against the mighty; and oh! must I revive in your remembrance the curse that was passed upon some formerly, when one of Israel sounded an alarm unto the people and gathered them unto the battle; the inhabitants of Meroz were found wanting, and what is recorded respecting them, is recorded for our instruction; "Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord against the mighty." My friends, there is not doubt, but they were employed in their temporal possessions; now I beseech it of you to consider whether this is not the case with some of you, and whether you are not in some degree subject to divine displeasure on account thereof/ It has seemed to me that there might be, if they were willing to be fitted, to be polished, there might be stones fitted for the heavenly building; so that we might gather strength and beauty as a religious society. Well, I do not wish to dwell long on this subject, but as it comes in my way; and as I stood up among you, my friends, under a real concern of heart for the members of our society whether they have had their education amongst us or not, I drop what has simply occurred; being desirous, if it may please divine wisdom and mercy so to favour me, that I may cast off among you that burden which has been on my spirit; and which I have been ready to think an insupportable burden. When I have looked to the society I have had a view of several states, and it has appeared evident that we are still a favoured society. I cannot help saying that we are the Lord's peculiar people; for I do not believe that there are among any people, those who walk more closely with God, than some of us as a people do; and there are none I believe better versed in the leadings and operations of his holy spirit, or experience him to be their shepherd more than some among us: consider how he has favoured us with the manifestation of the principle of truth, and with testimonies committed unto us consistent therewith! It still appears to me, when I take a view of us, that we are the Lord's peculiar people, whatever others may think of us and speak lightly of us; yet I believe that there never was a people yet redeemed and brought so closely out of all superstitious practices inconsistent with the nature of the glorious gospel dispensation, out of all superficial forms, out of all self-reasonings: there never was a people, my friends, yet trained up since the primitive times, that were so purged in faith and practice, as we as a religious society have been. I am not afraid to say it, for I have looked through various modes of worship, and taken a view of some of the principles and practices of those that think highly of themselves, yet have beheld in them that mixture which is to be purged away, when the glorious gospel dispensations takes place; but when i take a view of us as a people, I mean, as consistent with our religious principles and practices, those mixtures do not appear; and there is a number among us who are concerned to walk consistently with the principle they make profession of and bear testimony to. So that looking at us as a religious people we are still the favoured of the Lord, his owned people; I ma not afraid to testify to it among you at this time, but I am not void of Christian charity to all other religious societies; believing that whosoever fears God, and works righteousness according to the manifestation of his will unto them, will be accepted of him: and I do not doubt at all but that he has many sheep that are not of our fold, some of whom he will bring into it, so that there shall be more generally one shepherd and one sheepfold. But notwithstanding he continues to be with us as a people, my friends when I take a view of us throughout our ranks, I am exceedingly pained, exceedingly distressed at times, because of the state of many individuals; some of whom are not worthy to bear the profession which they make, and my spirit has lamented over them; my spirit has lamented that they should be numbered with us as a people. I will tell you what has run through my mind while sitting in this meeting, and when looking towards the society, "How is the faithful city become a harlot." My friends, there are some whose spirits are alienated from God: however high they may stand, they have no fellowship with him, nor have they any right to have any fellowship with us as a people. Yea, further, it has run through my mind, "How is the faithful City become a harlot; it was full of judgment, righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers." It is so, my friends, look throughout all your ranks and into the conduct of individuals, and see if there be no occasion for a complaint of this kind; if any are acting inconsistently with the high and holy profession, which they make, to that flagrant degree as to invalidate the testimonies of truth which have been given us to bear as a peaceable people, as a right-hearted people, as a people who were called to show to others how they ought to walk, and how they ought to conduct themselves, and how clean-handed and clear-hearted people they ought to be in all their practices in the course of life, and to lay hold of nothing which the Lord's controversy is against. See I say, whether there be not some occasion for this complaint taken up of old, "How is the faithful City become a harlot; it was full of judgment, righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers:" but I Hope there may not be occasion for much complaint of this kind to be made. I speak in testimony unto the truth which I am jealous for, which I am zealous to promote by my religious labour after this manner; and while so engaged, am also concerned that my spirit may be seasoned with love; and that those that are afar off may be brought nigh, as well as that those that are nigh may acknowledge the might of the Lord; that we might be brought to bow as a people before him, to bow in truth and seek more earnestly to become united in his love, through the baptizing influence of his spirit on our spirits, than we have hitherto done. Oh! beloved youth, you that have been favoured, you that have been called, you that have been repeatedly visited, let me intreat it of you to open the door of your hearts. "Lift up your heads, oh, ye Gates, and be lift up, ye everlasting Doors, and the king of glory shall come in;" let the lord make his entry into your hearts by his spirit, give room for it, my beloved friends, I intreat it of you; give room for the free spirit of God; let it have its operation, let it redeem you into a state of simplicity, let it redeem you into a state of humility, and then you will be brought into a state of true tenderness of mind, and in that tenderness you will become willing to offer yourselves to go up unto the Lord's help against the mighty; and it may not be said of our princes, as it was said of some formerly, "Her princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves." My beloved friends, bow unto his appearance, that you may be clothed with that wisdom which comes from above; which is first "pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, full of mercy and good fruits." Oh! that you may seek this wisdom. Whatever station we may fill in the church of Christ, we must daily seek for divine aid, without which we shall remain in a state of weakness, and unfitness for service. We must wait on him for qualifications to come up in the discharge of our duties. Oh that this were the case in all our solemn meetings in which the affairs of the society were transacted; bowing in spirit before the Lord, and sitting before him in a state of humility, waiting on him for strength: but instead of that, is there not too great a dependance on human parts and human qualifications. My friends, see how it is with you; whether you are all of you properly qualified for the Lord's service, I intreat it of you; and be concerned that you may be fitted for the service of God and his church in you day. Servants are wanted, and the Lord of the harvest is willing to be intreated to send forth more faithful labourers into his harvest. If there is but a willingness to be fitted for his service, I fully believe there are some that will be qualified for it, and brought into it unto his praise, and the edification of his church. I am not speaking wholly as to the work of the ministry; I have no particular view to that service, but to the various services that are in the church of Christ: but we must be baptized deeply if we are to be of that number who are instrumental to build up Zion, and therefore I intreat it of you, be willing to go down deep into Jordan. You must go down again and again into Jordan if you become quite cleansed, and if you would come up fit for the service of the Lord in your day. Well, do not hesitate, my dear friends; for although it may seem discouraging to go so often to judgment, we are seeking the way of the Lord in the way of his judgments, for Zion is redeemed through judgment. Oh! that this might be the case with many of the visited youth among us as a people; that judgment might dwell in the wilderness of their hearts, that righteousness might be as in the fruitful field. Oh! that they might witness the work of righteousness to be peace, and the fruit to be quietness and assurance of Divine Favour for ever.
Shake yourselves from the dust of the earth, come out of that worldly state which too many are in; the world and the things of the world having principally engaged their attention. Shake yourselves from the dust of the earth, put on your beautiful garment, even the garment of righteousness, as in the days of old; that the promise which I think succeeded, may be fulfilled, "Henceforth they shall no more dwell among the uncircumcised or the unclean." Oh! that we might indeed become a holy nation, a peculiar people, a royal priesthood, who should show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light. If the faithful city is become an harlot, if the minds of the people are alienated form God, the fault is their own; his mercy is inconceivable, and his call is to the hindermost of the flock. "Return, O backsliding children:" "I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely:" for he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come unto the knowledge of his truth, and be saved; and he is still holding forth the shepherd's crook of his love, even to those who have wandered far into the wilderness of this world: he is seeking their return, affectionately seeking their return, and causing them to be laboured with time after time. But it has appeared to me, friends, while sitting in this meeting, that the testimonies which may be borne upon many of the professors of truth do not sink down deep into their hearts, do not enter deeply into the ear of their souls; the labour of the gospel ministry is to them but as a pleasant song, as the prophet formerly said, that the people came to him as the Lord's people cometh, they sat before him as the Lord's people, they heard his words but would not do them: "With their mouth, saith the Lord, they do honour me, but with their heart they go after covetousness." I wish this may not be the case with some among us as a people, as well as among many others. I wish there may not be a considerable number whose hearts are exercised in covetous practices: if so, let them remember that they are subject to the righteous condemnation of God, let their religious profession be what it may. Do not therefore continue only in the form, and content yourselves with the name; but come to the examination of your conduct, and see whether there is not a cause for these complaints: and if there is, my beloved friends, be sincerely and earnestly desirous that the Lord may reign whose right it is, that there may be no more occasion for these complaints to be taken up against you as a people, and against individuals amongst us, as I have already hinted; there are some who, I believe, are concerned, what if I should say, to walk with God, and to witness their affections to be transferred from earth and earthly objects to heaven and heavenly enjoyments. Oh! my friends, these are precious in the sight of the Lord; although they may seem to be hid like precious stones among rubbish, they are exceedingly precious wherever their lots are cast: and though they may be suffered to lie hid with the rubbish, to such a degree, that they are ready to think it may be their lot even to become cast away, they are precious in the sight of the Lord: his penetrating eye sees them in this situation, and he will select them in his own time; he will bring them through every difficulty; he knows his own, my friends, wherever they are, and therefore let not these be too much discouraged, but let them endeavour to depend on him. For though they have lain among the pots, and perhaps been despised, they will be brought forth even as on the wings of a dove, which are as silver, and all her feathers of yellow gold. Their cups will overflow at times unto his praise, they will be of that number whom, when he makes up his jewels, he will spare, even as a man spareth his son that serveth him. Well, my friends, I am glad to feel some small degree of the revelation of his love and life. Oh! that the dead might so hear the voice of the quickening power of Christ, even the voice of the Son of god, as that they might live; might be raised from death unto life, and brought from under the power of Satan, to be subject to the Lord's power. There are who are seeking their way to Zion, and have their eyes to us, and sit among us because of the benefit which they hope to receive. But alas! some of them appear to be discouraged when they mark the unsettled state of the professing members, that are acknowledged members. My friends, it is unto the principle of the Divine Light and Life that you must gather, if you would be saved. And, blessed be the name of the Lord, the principle is still the same, and ever will continue to be a powerful, operative, life giving principle;--a principle that will do all for us that is necessary to be done for us;--a principle of Divine Grace which is able to build us up in the most holy faith, and to give us an inheritance amongst all those that are sanctified. If there is a settling down to this, and we are attentive to the call of the Shepherd and Bishop of souls in our hearts, we shall come to know his voice and follow him in such a manner as that we shall be established in this religious experience,--that great is the peace of the Lord's children. Oh that many people may have to witness it with us; may come to rejoice in a settlement in the truth, and be concerned to build on that foundation which stands sure; against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.
Well, my friends, I wish more earnestly than I can possibly express, that we may experience the Lord to be our shepherd, and have a comfortable hope that we shall not lack any thing that is good for us; that he will feed us in the green pastures and lead us beside the still waters. Oh! my friends, this is experience worth labouring for; I wish it may be precious in your view, that so you might attain it, and have to say in the conclusion of time, "Mercy and Truth have been with me all the days of my life: I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."