I have often tried to picture to myself what famine is, but the human mind is not capable of drawing any form, any scene, that will realize the horrors of starvation. The men who made the Corn Laws are totally ignorant of what it means. The agricultural laborers know something of it in some counties, and there are some hand-loom weavers in Lancashire who know what it is. I saw the other night, late at night, a light in a cottage-window, and heard the loom busily at work, the shuttle flying rapidly. It ought to have a cheerful sound, but when it is at work near midnight, when there is care upon the brow of the workman–lest he should not be able to secure that which will maintain his wife and children–then there is a foretaste of what is meant by the word “famine.”
Oh, if these men who made the Corn Laws, if these men who step in between the Creator and His creatures, could for only one short twelvemonth–I would inflict upon them no harder punishment for their guilt–if they for one single twelvemonth might sit at the loom and throw the shuttle! I will not ask that they should have the rest of the evils; I will not ask that they shall be torn by the harrowing feelings which must exist when a beloved wife and helpless children are suffering the horrors which these Corn Laws have inflicted upon millions.
The Society of Friends–I like the phrase, don’t you? The thought of having friends, and of being a friend, comes to us like a benison and a benediction. Friendship is almost a religion: the recognition in your life of the fact that to have friends you must be one is religion.
The Quakers did not educate men to preach: they simply educated them to be Friends–and live. Those who “heard the Voice” preached. Most modern preachers do not follow a Voice–they only harken to an echo. The practical test with the Quakers was whether the man heard the “Voice” or not–if so, he could preach. Men were not licensed to preach–that is quite superfluous and absurd. Those who have to listen are the only ones to decide concerning whether the speaker has heard the “Voice” or not. As it is now, we often license men to preach who can not. The ability should be the license.
For, certain it is that men who can command attention need no testimonial from a commission in lunacy. People who have lived and are living are the only ones who have a message for living men and women.
George Fox plainly saw that a paid priesthood–specialists in divinity–created a caste, a superior class that exalted the pulpit at the expense of the pew. The plan tended to suppress the pew, for all the talking was strictly ex parte. It also tended to self-deception among the clergy, for they seldom heard the other side, and in time came to believe their own statements, no matter how extravagant.
People learn to think by thinking, and to talk by talking. In explaining a theme to another, it becomes luminous to ourselves.
And so Fox foresaw, with a vision that was as beautiful as it was rare, that to educate an entire congregation you must make them all potential preachers. Then any man who rises to speak is aware that a reply may follow from his mother, his wife, his sister or his neighbor.
And so the listeners not only listened to the person speaking, but they also always harkened for the “Inner Voice” and watched for the “Light Within.” In all of which method and plan dwells much plain commonsense to which the world, of necessity, will yet return.
George Fox was the son of a Leicestershire weaver, and he was himself a weaver by trade. He had thoughts and he could express them. And so he traveled and preached in the marketplaces, at crossroads, on church-steps–just the religion of friendship: simplicity, industry, directness, truth.