The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. This world is a form; our bodies are form; and no visible act of devotion can be without forms. But the less form in religion, the better, since God is a spirit....
– William Penn, Some Fruits of Solitude, 1693
The Religious Society of Friends arose from personal experience of direct spiritual encounter with God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The conviction that God can and does speak to the condition of all persons emerged from that experience and spread with great rapidity among religious seekers of the seventeenth century. They became convinced that God strengthened, directed, and worked through them, and this conviction has remained at the center of Friends’ faith and practice.
Dwell in the cool, sweet, holy power of God.... Dwell in the endless power of the Lord ... that hath the wisdom which is sweet and cool and pure.
– George Fox, Letters
In speaking of God, we use various words, but we need to hear the truth beyond those words. The Divine Spirit, which Friends have variously called “The Inward Light,” “The Christ Within,” “The Seed,” and “That of God in Everyone,” has the power to raise up the good and to overcome the evil in our hearts. It can also render us capable of carrying out God’s will in individual and social life. The source of Friends’ testimonies and concerns is found in hearing and obeying this Spirit.
And [George Fox] said, “Then what had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?”
This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves.”
– Margaret Fell, Introduction to The Journal of George Fox, 1694
The Spirit heals, renews, uplifts, encourages, shelters. It illuminates Friends’ unceasing search for Truth. We believe the Spirit calls us to answer to that of God in every person; as we do so, it unites us in a community of God.
Calling themselves “Friends of Truth” and “Publishers of Truth,” early Friends used “Truth” to refer to the nature of God and God’s purposes, to Christ Jesus, to something beyond themselves and not susceptible to complete comprehension. Our manner of worship reflects what we hold about Truth: It continues to reveal itself to all who listen for it tenderly in silence, in the Bible and other writings, in each other, in diverse religions, cultures, times, and disciplines.
There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren.
– John Woolman, “Considerations on Keeping Negroes,” 1746
Our faith unites the historic beliefs of its Christian foundation with the corporate and individual search for the experience of God for today. This faith draws us into a community that emphasizes the integration of worship and work, faith and practice, in which we strengthen and challenge each other. Through this fellowship God’s love and power can work towards the healing of the world.
We find—if we will but seek—that the power of the Living Spirit guides each of us and helps us to meet one another in harmony and love.
If we mutually keep to that Spirit and Power which crucifies to the world, which teaches us to be content with things really needful and to avoid all superfluities, giving up our hearts to fear and serve the Lord, true unity may still be preserved amongst us.
– John Woolman
We urge Friends to accept one another’s revelations with tender hearts, knowing that anyone can speak truth, and we can participate in one another’s joy in spiritual growth. Such shared experiences enrich our faith.
George Fox and others brought the message that “Christ has come to teach his people himself.” This direct experience of the Divine Spirit exhilarated the first small groups of Friends and called them to witness to the power of God. That inspiration continues today.
It is an overwhelming experience to fall into the hands of the living God, to be invaded to the depths of one’s feelings by His presence, to be, without warning, wholly uprooted from all earthborn securities and assurances, and to be blown by a tempest of unbelievable power which leaves one’s old proud self utterly, utterly defenseless, until one cries, “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” Then is the soul swept into a loving center of ineffable sweetness, where calm and unspeakable peace and ravishing joy steal over one.
– Thomas R. Kelly, “Holy Obedience,” in A Testament of Devotion, 1941