Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quaker Strongholds

This book written in 1891 by Caroline Stephen was considered by Howard Brinton to be a "Quaker classic" and was studied at Pendle Hill along with works by Barclay, Penington, Penn and Woolman.

Caroline E. Stephen (1834-1909) a Friend by convincement, was a member of the Stephen family, prominent in England and well-known in other countries for several generations. Her father was Sir James Stephen and her brothers, James Fitzjames and Leslie Stephen, the latter being the father of Virginia Woolf.

She described her first experience with Quaker meeting for worship:
My whole soul was filled with the unutterable peace of the undisturbed opportunity for communion with God — with the sense that at last I had found a place where I might, without the faintest suspicion of insincerity, join with others in simply seeking His presence. To sit down in silence could at the least pledge me to nothing; it might open to me (as it did that morning) the very gate of heaven.

In writing this small book Caroline Stephen was prompted by
the hope of making more widely known the true source and nature of such spiritual help that I attempt to describe what I have called our strongholds — those principles which cannot fail, whatever may be the future of the Society which for more than two hundred years has taken its stand upon them.

Included in this discourse are sections on The Inner Light, Mysticism, Quietism, Conscience, Worship, Silence, Prayer and Ministry. Each of these components contribute to the essence of Quakerism for the author. On the Inner Light, for example, she writes:
When questioned as to the reality and nature of the light within, the early Friends were accustomed in return to ask the questioners whether they did not sometimes feel something within them that showed them their sins; and to assure them that this same power, which made manifest, and therefore was truly light, would also, if yielded to, lead them out of sin. This assurance, that the light which revealed was also the power which would heal sin, was George Fox’s gospel.

While the entire book Quaker Strongholds is now online, the Pendle Hill pamphlet is an insightful abridgement arranged by Mary Gould Ogilvie and published in 1951. View the complete Pendle Hill Pamphlet #59: Quaker Strongholds

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