Does Our Vocal Ministry Profit the People? Queries from William Penn


William Penn’s Primitive Christianity Revived (1696) begins, “That which the people called Quakers lay down, as a main fundamental in religion, is this, ‘That God, through Christ, has placed a principle in every man to inform him of his duty, and to enable him to do it; and that those that live up to this principle, are the people of God; and those that live in disobedience to it, are not God’s people, whatever name they may bear, or profession they may make of religion.’  This is their ancient, first and standing testimony: with this they began, and this they bore, and do bear to the world.”

The tenth chapter of this remarkably compact little summary of Quaker faith and practice treats of how “the Lord, [working] in the hearts of this people, …brought them to a divine worship and ministry.”  Penn’s explanation of waiting worship deserves to be better known among Friends today: “…it is this people’s principle, that fire must come from heaven, life and power from God, to enable the soul to pour out itself acceptably before him.  And when a coal from his holy altar touches our lips, then can we pray and praise him as we ought to do.”  Readers familiar with Scripture will recognize the allusions to 1 Kings 18:38 (fire from heaven) and Isaiah 6:6-7 (the coal from the altar).

Penn proceeds to explain Quaker ministry in these words (with Biblical citations in brackets provided by this blogger): “And as our worship stands in the operation of the spirit and truth in our inward parts, so does our ministry.  For as the holy testimonies of the servants of God of old, were from the operation of his blessed spirit, so must those of his servants be in every age; and that which has not the spirit of Christ for its spring and source, is of man, and not of Christ. …we are not only not to steal from our neighbors, but we are not to study nor speak our own words.  If we are not to study what we are to say before magistrates for ourselves [Matthew 10:18-19, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11-12, 21:14-15], less are we to study what we are to say for and from God to the people.  We are to minister ‘as the oracles of God’ [1 Peter 4:11]; …And if we are to minister what we receive, then not what we study, collect, and beat out of our own brains; for that is not the mind of Christ, but our imaginations, and this will not profit the people.

“This was recommended to the Corinthians by the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. xiv that they should speak ‘as they were moved,’ or ‘as any thing was revealed to them by the spirit,’ for the edification of the church; …And if the spirit must give Christ’s ministers their utterance, then those that are his are careful not to utter any thing in his name to the people, without his spirit; and by good consequence, they that go before the true guide, and utter words without the knowledge of the mind of the spirit, are none of Christ’s ministers… and they cannot profit the people.  And, indeed, how should they, when it is impossible that mere man, with all his parts, arts, and acquirements, can ‘turn people from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God [Acts 26:18],’ which is the very end and work of the gospel-ministry.

“…I say, if Christ’s ministers are his witnesses, they must know what they speak; that is, they must have experienced, and passed through, those states and conditions they preach of… or they come not in by the door [John 10:1-18], but over the wall, and are thieves and robbers.”


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