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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

For thanksgiving is an act of devotion


I were to be asked whether the graces of the Quakers were frequent, I should reply in the negative. I never heard any delivered, but when a minister was present. The ordinary grace therefore of private families consists in a solemn, silent, pause, between the time of sitting down to the table and the note of carving the victuals, during which an opportunity is given for the excitement of religious feelings. A person may dine fifty times at the tables of the Quakers, and see no other substitution for grace than this temporary silent pause.

Indeed no other grace than this can be consistent with Quaker-principles. It was coeval with the institution of the society, and must continue while it lasts. For thanksgiving is an act of devotion. Now no act, in the opinion of the Quakers, can be devotional or spiritual, except it originate from above. Men, in religious matters can do nothing of themselves, or without the divine aid. And they must therefore wait in silence for this spiritual help, as well in the case of grace, as in the case of any other kind of devotion, if they mean their praise or thanksgiving on such occasions to be an act of religion.

There is in the Quaker-grace, and its accompaniments, whenever it is uttered, an apparent beauty and an apparent solemnity, which are seldom conspicuous in those of others. How few are there, who repeat the common artificial graces feelingly, and with minds intent upon

the subject! Grace is usually said as a mere ceremony or custom. The Supreme Being is just thanked in so many words, while the thoughts are often rambling to other subjects. The Quaker-grace, on the other hand, whenever it is uttered; does not come out in any mechanical form of words which men have used before, but in expressions adapted to the feelings. It comes forth also warm from the heart. It comes after a solemn, silent, pause, and it becomes therefore, under all these circumstances, an act of real solemnity and genuine devotion.

It is astonishing how little even men of acknowledged piety seem to have their minds fixed upon the ideas contained in the mechanical graces they repeat. I was one afternoon at a friends house, where there happened to be a clergyman of the Scottish church. He was a man deservedly esteemed for his piety. The company was large. Politics had been discussed some time, when the tea-things were introduced. While the bread and butter were bringing in, the clergyman, who had taken an active part in the discussion, put a question to a gentleman, who was sitting in a corner of the room. The gentleman began to reply, and was proceeding in his answer, when of a sudden I heard a solemn voice. Being surprised, I looked round, and found it was the clergyman, who had suddenly started up, and was saying grace. The solemnity, with which he spoke, occasioned his voice to differ so much from its ordinary tone, that I did not, till I had looked about me, discover who the speaker was. I think he might be engaged from three or four minutes in the delivery of this grace. I could not help thinking, during the delivery of it, that I never knew any person say grace like this man. Nor was I ever so much moved with any grace, or thought I ever saw so dearly the propriety of saying grace, as on this occasion. But when I found that on the very instant the grace was over politics were resumed; when I found that, no sooner had the last word in the grace been pronounced, than the next, which came from the clergyman himself, began by desiring the gentleman before mentioned to go on with his reply to his own political question, I was so struck with the inconsistency of the thing, that the beauty and solemnity of his grace all vanished. This sudden transition from politics to grace, and from grace to politics, afforded a proof that artificial sentences might be so frequently repeated, as to fail to re-excite their first impressions, or that certain expressions, which might have constituted devotional acts under devotional feeling, might relapse into heartless forms.

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