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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

It may be repeated unseasonably

This oblation, which is now usually denominated grace, consists of a form of words, which, being expressive either of praise or thankfulness to God for the blessings of food, with which he continues to supply them, is repeated by the master of the family, or by a minister of the gospel if present, before any one partakes of the victuals, that are set before him. These forms, however, differ, as used by Christians. They differ in length, in ideas, in expression. One Christian uses one form, another uses another. It may however be observed, that the same Christian generally uses the same form of words, or the same grace, on the same occasion.

The Quakers, as a religious body, agree in the propriety of grace before their meals, that is in the propriety of giving thanks to the author of every good gift for this particular bounty of his providence as to the articles of their daily subsistence, but they differ as to the manner and seasonableness of it on such occasions. They think that people who are in the habit of repeating a determined form of words, may cease to feel, as they pronounce them, in which case the grace becomes an oblation from the tongue, but not from the heart. They think also that, if grace is to be repeated regularly, just as the victuals come, or as regularly and as often as they come upon the table, it may be repeated unseasonably, that is unseasonably with the state of the heart of him, who is to pronounce it; that the heart of man is not to-day as it was yesterday, nor at this hour what it was at a former, nor on any given hour alike disposed; and that if this grace is to be said when the heart is gay, or light, or volatile, it ceases to be a devotional act, and becomes at least a superflous and unmeaning, if not a censurable form.

The Quakers then to avoid the unprofitableness of such artificial graces on the one hand, and, on the other, to give an opportunity to the heart to accord with the tongue, whenever it is used in praise of the Creator, observe the following custom. When they are all seated at table, they sit in solemn silence, and in a thoughtful position, for some time. If the master of the family, during this silence, should feel any religious impression on his mind, whether of praise or thankfulness on the occasion, he gives utterance to his feelings. Such praise or thanksgiving in him is considered as a devotional act, and as the Quaker grace. But if, after having waited in silence for some time, he feels no such religious disposition, he utters no religious expression. The Quakers hold it better to say no grace, than to say that, which is not accompanied by the devotion of the heart. In this case he resumes his natural position, breaks the silence by means of natural discourse, and begins to carve for his family or his friends.

This is the ordinary way of proceeding in Quaker families, when alone, or in ordinary company. But if a minister happens to be at the table, the master of the family, conceiving such a man to be more in the habit of religious impressions than himself, or any ordinary person, looks up as it were to him, as to a channel, from whence it is possible, that such religious exercise may come. If the minister, during the solemn, silent pause, is impressed, he gives utterance as before: if not, he relieves himself from his grave and thoughtful position, and breaks the silence of the company by engaging in natural discourse. After this the company proceed to their meals.

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