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Friends and Decided Friends
By: Thomas Kelley
Friends' Intelligencer, Vol. 100 No. 6 (2nd month 6, 1943,) pages 89-90
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
There is a giant step between being a Friend and being a decided Friend. Joseph John Gurney had been brought up as a Friend, but he became a decided Friend. Brought up as one of the English gentry, the son of the well-to-do leading family of a community, he observed the conventional decencies of attendance at Friends' meeting. His youth gave promise only of the average, jogtrot, impeccable insipidity of so many modern, Laodicean Quakers.
But soon after he turned twenty-one, a great spiritual quickening stirred in him. His own sister Elizabeth Gurney Fry had come through a similar childhood of easy-going Quaker conformity, but the time had come when she found she must become an out and-out Friend, and then her remarkable ministry and service began. Now, ten years later, she visited her brother, Joseph John, at a time when they both were tendered by the death of their father. Joseph John Gurney found awakened within him an inner call to become a decided Friend, to quit his role of the easy-going, brilliant religious dilettante and to commit himself, body and soul, for better, for worse, to the guiding life of the Spirit. From that time when he became a decided Friend, from that time when the pattern of his past life had been focused and judged and rejected in the blazing light of an "existential moment," he became a dedicated soul.
Anyone who has lived in totalitarian Europe in recent years knows the intensity with which Nazi and Fascist and Communist converts fling themselves into the proclamation of their new gospels. No flaccid, conveniently conventional Christian has a message today for such impassioned converts to secular gospels. Only a decided Christian, only a decided Friend, can hope to proclaim a significant gospel in these days.
This decidedness in a Christian, in a Quaker, is not to be confused with the decidedness of the bigot, or the decidedness of the man with a one-string gospel. It is not a decidedness about a particular doctrine. Such "decided" Christians are plentiful, but they are not the answer to the world's need. True decidedness is not of doctrine, but of life orientation. It is a commitment of life, thoroughly, wholly, in every department and without reserve, to the Inner Guide. It is not a tense and reluctant decidedness, an hysterical assertiveness. It is a joyful and quiet displacement of life from its old center in the self, and a glad and irrevocable replacement of the whole of life in a new and divine Center. It is life lived out from an all-embracing center of motivation, which in glad readiness wills to do the will of the Father, so far as that will can be discerned. It is a life of integration, of peace, of final coordination of all one's powers, within a singleness of commitment. It is the final elimination of all tolerated double-mindedness, and the discovery of the power which comes from being "in the unity."
Such decidedness is not forced upon us by external circumstances. It cannot be whipped up as an artificial intensity for the purpose of opposing the secular gospels of our day. It is of the essence of Christianity, it is of the essence of that conception of Christian living which we call Quakerism, to be totalitarian in its claims. Recall the Pendle Hill pamphlet by Dora Wilson with the title, "The Totalitarian Claims of the Gospel." If we as Christians, if we as Friends, hope to be instruments of the Divine Life in these days, we must be ready to pass out of the stage of mere Christians, mere Friends, to the stage of decided Christians, decided Friends.
This same demand for a decided Christianity is stirring all about us. Why are so many unchurched? It is not all due to apathy. It is not due wholly to Mammon-worship, snug, smug and convenient as such answers are. Is it not partly due to a desperate honesty, to a deep sincerity? Men and women everywhere -- I find it especially true of college men -- have a deep, deep demand within them for an absolutely vital religion, for an absolute ground and validation of life. This Inner Witness within them is sharper than a two-edged sword. It cuts through shams. It rejects confused and shilly-shally faiths. It is the aqua regia which exposes and dissolves away all surface hypocrisies that have tried to pass as pure gold. Too many churches and church programs and church worships are elusive, archaic, watered down. The Inner Witness within our critical generation leads it to feel, often inarticulately, that this is not the answer to its soul's demands. No doubt many churches, many Quaker Meetings, are visited and too hastily dismissed by over-critical, impatient persons. No doubt many critics are largely moved by pride of intellect, and are not yet humbled sufficiently to discover their soul's good in lowly form. However, the fact remains that decided Christianity is what is sought, and where it is not found the inquirer wanders away, and all too often abandons his dream of finding the "Friend behind Phenomena."
It is just this Inner Witness which has made men critical of half-hearted religions to which we can appeal. Here is a real point of entrance. Some criticism is largely rooted in intellectual snobbery, some criticisms are rationalizations. But, after discount is made of all these evasions, there is a core of sincerity in all men, a yearning for the Real, a deep-set hunger for the true Homeland of the soul. They "fly as a cloud, as doves to their windows." The world is full of seekers, as it was in the days of the First Publishers They are not sentimental, ostentatious seekers, but baffled, confused, hard-headed, discouraged seekers, yet seekers nonetheless. Some of them explain that they have grown up in post-war days, and belong to the Lost Generation. But they seek, and criticize, and reject because they have felt the touchstone of Reality within themselves. Already the Hound of Heaven has been baying on their track. They ask for a decided Christian faith. They own it when they find it. They are much too honest to claim it as their own unless they truly possess it. But they already possess a key of promise greater than they know.
The decided Christian, the decided Friend he may serve as the agent of the Spirit to bring other wavering persons into a like decisiveness, as Elizabeth Fry aided her brother to become a decided Quaker. And only he can hope to point needy but seeking men to their true vocation as children of Truth.