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WILLIAM PENN AND THE GOSPEL

OF THE INNER LIGHT.

The gospel of the Inner Light, the doctrine that God makes himself known directly to the souls of men everywhere and in all ages, was the final and highest word of the Puritan Reformation. It originated in a great, epoch-making spiritual experience, or group of spiritual experiences, in an age when life had largely departed from the established religious forms and spiritual darkness was heavy upon the people.

The principle had lain from the beginning enfolded in Christian teaching, and in all true Christian life, but without enunciation and interpretation. Indeed, it had lain at the heart of everything that deserved to be called religion, from the beginning of human thought about the invisible Author of the universe and of human reverence and worship. Serious men had always felt, and in measure realized, that God appeared to them within, however much, from custom and association, they tried to discover, or did discover, him without. But this truth, like every great truth, became a gospel of power for the liberation and enlargement of men's lives only when it was articulately set forth by persons who had mastered its secret.

From the theological point of view the principle sprang as a corollary from the primary truth of the universal and impartial love of God as Father of the human race, which the early Friends vigorously maintained against the stiff and heartless predestinarianism of the time. Love is light, they saw and felt. The God who loved all men must of necessity communicate himself to the souls of all. The True Light, which came into the world as the supreme revelation of the character of God, must light every man, in measure, in all ages and all times. The historic manifestation was only the revelation in a special and superlative way of a process coeval with human society. Thus the first promulgators of the gospel of the Inner Light supported by simple but unanswerable theological judgments what they had realized in their own experience to be true.

It would be most interesting and instructive to examine critically the relations of the doctrine of the Inner Light to the historic Christ, to the conscience, and to the general philosophy of the Christian religion ; but the purposes and limits of this address do not permit the entrance of this field. We are to study to-day the part which this truth has played in the establishment and development of religious liberty.

The first effect of a clear perception of the fact that God communicates himself directly to all human souls is a sense of the place and value of the individual personality. He to whom God speaks, whom God deems worthy to receive his direct messages, must have a high intrinsic worth, must be, potentially at least, a king by divine right within the domain of his own being. He must be his own priest, offer up his own sacrifices, do his own worshipping. However much he may resort to others for instruction and help, he must in the last appeal be his own interpreter of what he is to believe and follow.

Just here is found the primal secret of religious liberty, indeed of all liberty. Out of this experience of inner connection and communion with the Highest comes to all serious souls self-respect before God and man, the exaltation and supremacy of conscience, the purpose to realize one's own place and destiny, a fine sense of obligation to a life of godliness and manliness. The soul that realizes this high prerogative can admit of no lordship of men over it. It is to God alone that it bows in reverent and loving submission, and says, “ Thy will be done.”

With the self-respect and the devotion to righteousness come courage and endurance in the face of persecution and suffering, if these have to be met.

This secret of liberty and of earnest, patient, heroic effort for its attainment has been the common possession of all the prophets and martyrs of freedom, though realized less clearly and fully by some than by others. It inspired, directed and upheld the Pilgrims and, in somewhat less measure, the Puritans, as well as the Friends, both in the Old World and in the New, in their great moral struggle for liberty of self-directed worship. It was the guiding star of John Robinson, of William Brewster, of Thomas Hooker, and of Roger Williams, no less than of George Fox and of William Penn, though it did not lead them all equally far.

But the principle of the direct light of God in the human soul, the spiritual side of the now generally accepted doctrine of the divine immanence, had a still deeper effect upon the minds of those who felt the fulness of its power. It created intelligent, large-minded respect for others,a much greater thing than self-respect, - and much more productive of freedom in its wider social and political aspects. Self-respect is not a very difficult accomplishment for thoughtful and sincere men: it grows with small nurture directly out of the elemental instincts of self-preservation

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