A Timeless Word

One practice I’ve incorporated into morning devotions is to read excerpts from devotional works throughout the history of the church. They are varied, ranging from the very early years to twentieth-century followers of Christ. Most recently, I’ve been reading selections from the journal of John Woolman, an American Quaker of the eighteenth century.

At the end of the reading this morning, I was struck by his comments after meeting with fellow Quakers who owned slaves. Woolman was passionately opposed to slavery and, as they would say at that time, “much exercised” by the desire to eradicate it from the American colonies. Deeply disturbed by the experience, Woolman wrote that he was concerned “that a Conformity to some Customs, distinguishable from pure Wisdom, has entangled many.” And he saw the cause of it: “The desire of Gain, to support these Customs, greatly opposed the Work of Truth.”

This was a problem throughout the era: people might say they were opposed to slavery, but abolition of the institution might adversely affect their livelihood, so they would be silent and go along to get along. Woolman might have been censorious toward those whose hypocrisy was so obvious, but instead, it forced him to check his own soul and make sure he never fell into such ways of thinking. He reflected:

And sometimes, when the Prospect of the Work before me has been such, that in Bowedness of Spirit, I have been drawn into retired Places, and besought the Lord with Tears that he would take me wholly under his Direction, and show me the Way in which I ought to walk it hath revived, with Strength of Conviction, that, if I would be his faithful Servant, I must, in all Things, attend to his Wisdom, and be teachable; and so cease from all Customs contrary thereto, however used amongst religious People.

As I read that, I realized it was a timeless word that applies even today in our society. In what ways do Christians participate in customs that are contrary to God’s ways and wisdom? Are we people who put our economic well-being ahead of the Lord’s work? Does our desire to fit into society without drawing too much attention to ourselves lead to a watering down of His truth? Do we go along to get along?

In the spirit of John Woolman, I’m not going to be censorious and offer the names of those that I believe have done so. Rather, in my sadness over those who have attempted to merge truth and error, I want to continually examine my own soul and make sure I’m not doing the same. If this speaks to anyone today who reads this, I simply exhort you to remain teachable and allow the Lord to search your own heart and mind.

Let’s be what He has called us to be in a world that needs to see His truth in action.