This article first appeared in The Call in 2007
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
A few years ago a Friend, dressed in a grey suit without any lapels, a white stock, and a broad-brimmed, grey hat, attended a meeting. It was not a regular meeting for worship, but rather a gathering that had been called to consider and discuss the Gospel message that had been entrusted by the Lord to George Fox and his generation of Friends. There were a couple of able and knowledgeable speakers who gave a good account of this, of the theology behind it, and of their own faith.
Not all those attending received it well, although all listened with respect and patience. The gathering, though open to all-comers, was taking place at a liberal meeting-house where, these days, the Name of Jesus Christ is usually not spoken of, and when it is there can be a hostile reaction.
Half way through the day, there was a break for lunch. Trestle tables were pulled out, and bring-and-share fare set upon them. Thanks was returned, and the meal began.
While everyone was eating, the person sitting opposite the plain Friend asked him why he dressed that way. Make no mistake, this was a challenge; in liberal meetings there is a current of intellectualism, and therefore a love of debate. The Friend sensed this, paused, and asked the Lord what he should say. The Lord, true as ever to his promise, gave the Friend the necessary words.
He spoke one word – “Love”.
That one word, unexpected as the opening gambit of a debate, silenced the questioner, and gained the attention of everyone at the table. The Friend was not debating, he was bearing witness, speaking of what he knew. He went on somewhat thus:
“The Lord had shown me so much love, that I was moved to share it with others, and to share what I had experienced, and to show them how much I love God in return, how much I love them, how much he loves them. I found that I couldn’t do this if it was easy for me to submerge into the crowd. My everyday clothes were a kind of a camouflage, a temptation for me to fall back into my old ways, and become again what I was before I experienced God’s love, before I realized and acknowledged in my own heart how much he loved and loves me.
I prayed. I asked God for guidance, and he led me to this witness. He led me to wear clothes which marked me out as different, as someone who did not share the world’s values. But they were not clothes which said ‘Look at me’, they were and are only a means to an end. And I thank God… and I thank thee friend…” (turning to the person who had first addressed him) “… for giving me this opportunity to speak of my experience.”
The Friend’s opportunity extended through that meal-time and for some time after. Everyone who heard stopped to listen, no one offered any objection, no one offered any counter-argument, no one objected to his speaking of God and Christ. The liberal folk set a great deal of store by “personal experience” and therefore could not speak against the Friend, because all that he said was from experience. And no one could speak against love!
William Penn said, “Love is the hardest Lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.”
John Woolman, describing his leading to travel amongst the Native American peoples, said, “Love was the first motion…”
Friends, do you understand God’s love to be at the root of everything you do and say? Do you know it to be the first motion – the most immediate and important driving force – in your life? When asked, what can you say? Are you children of God’s Light, and have you walked in that Light? And does what you say, and do – everything you bear witness to by word or action – come inwardly from God, from what you know of him, from your experience of his love?