Spirit As Teacher

By Thomas Clarkson (1806)

The spirit of God which has been thus given to man in different degrees, was given him as a spiritual teacher, or guide, in his spiritual concerns—It performs this office, the Quakers say, by internal monitions—Sentiments of Taylor—and of Monro—and, if encouraged, it teaches even by the external objects of the creation—William Wordsworth.

The Quakers believe that the spirit of God, which has been thus given to man in different degrees or measures, and without which it is impossible to know spiritual things, or even to understand the divine writings spiritually, or to be assured of their divine origin, was given to him, among other purposes, as a teacher of good and evil, or to serve him as a guide in his spiritual concerns. By this the Quakers mean, that if any man will give himself up to the directions of the spiritual principle that resides within him, he will attain a knowledge sufficient to enable him to discover the path of his duty both to God and his fellow-man.

That the spirit of God was given to man as a spiritual instructor, the Quakers conceive to be plain, from a number of passages, which are to be found in the sacred writings.

They say, in the first place, that it was the language of the holy men of old.  “I said, says Elihu, days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom. But there is a spirit (or the spirit itself is) in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.” The Levites are found also making an acknowledgment to God;  “That he gave also their forefathers his good spirit to instruct them.” The Psalms of David are also full of the same language, such as of  “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; lead me in the truth.”  “I know, says Jeremiah, that the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” The martyr Stephen acknowledges the teachings of the spirit, both in his own time and in that of his ancestors.  “Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the holy spirit. As your fathers did, so do ye.” The Quakers also conceive it to be a doctrine of the gospel. Jesus himself said,  “No man can come to me except the Father, which sent me, draw him—It is written in the prophets, they shall all be taught of God.” St. John says, “That was the true light, (namely, the word or spirit) which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, asserts, that “the manifestation of the spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” And, in his letter to Titus, he asserts the same thing, though in different words:  “For the grace of God, says he, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men.”

The spirit of God, which has been thus given to man as a spiritual guide, is considered by the Quakers as teaching him in various ways. It inspires him with good thoughts. It prompts him to good offices. It checks him in his way to evil. It reproves him while in the act of committing it.

The learned Jeremy Taylor was of the same opinion. “The spirit of grace, says he, is the spirit of wisdom, and teaches us by secret inspirations, by proper arguments, by actual persuasions, by personal applications, by effects and energies.”

This office of the spirit is beautifully described by Monro, a divine of the established church, in his just measures of the pious institutions of youth, “The holy spirit, says he, speaks inwardly and immediately to the soul. For God is a spirit. The soul is a spirit; and they converse with one another in spirit, not by words, but by spiritual notices; which, however, are more intelligible than the most eloquent strains in the world. God makes himself to be heard by the soul by inward motions, which it perceives and comprehends proportionally as it is voided and emptied of earthly ideas. And the more the faculties of the soul cease their own operations, so much the more sensible and intelligible are the motions of God to it. These immediate communications from God with the souls of men are denied and derided by a great many. But that the father of spirits should have no converse with our spirits, but by the intervention only of outward and foreign objects, may justly seem strange, especially when we are so often told in holy scripture, that we are the temples of the holy Ghost, and that God dwelleth in all good men.”

But this spirit is considered by the Quakers not only as teaching by inward breathings, as it were, made immediately and directly upon the heart without the intervention of outward circumstances, but as making the material objects of the Universe, and many of the occurrences of life, if it be properly attended to, subservient to the instruction of man; and that it enlarges the sphere of his instruction in this manner, in proportion as it is received and encouraged. Thus the man, who is attentive to these divine notices, sees the animal, the vegetable, and the planetary world, with spiritual eyes. He cannot stir abroad, but he is taught in his own feelings, without any motion of his will, some lesson for his spiritual advantage; or he perceives so vitally some of the attributes of the divine being, that he is called upon to offer some spiritual incense to his maker. If the lamb frolics and gambols in his presence as he walks along, he may be made spiritually to see the beauty and happiness of innocence. If he finds the stately oak laid prostrate by the wind, he may be spiritually taught to discern the emptiness of human power; while the same spirit may teach him inwardly the advantage of humility, when he looks at the little hawthorn which has survived the storm. When he sees the change and the fall of the autumnal leaf, he may be spiritually admonished of his own change and dissolution, and of the necessity of a holy life. Thus the spirit of God may teach men by outward objects and occurrences in the world; but where this spirit is away, or rather where it is not attended to, no such lesson can be taught. Natural objects of themselves can excite only natural ideas: and the natural man, looking at them, can derive only natural pleasure, or draw natural conclusions from them. In looking at the Sun, he may be pleased with its warmth, and anticipate its advantages to the vegetable world. In plucking and examining a flower, he may be struck with its beauty, its mechanism, and its fragrant smell.  In observing the butterfly, as it wings its way before him, he may smile at its short journeys from place to place, and admire the splendor upon its wings. But the beauty of Creation is dead to him, as far as it depends upon connecting it spiritually with the character of God. For no spiritual impression can arise from any natural objects, but through the intervention of the spirit of God.

William Wordsworth, in his instructive poems, has described this teaching by external objects in consequence of impressions from a higher power, as differing from any teaching by books or the human understanding, and as arising without any motion of the will of man, in so beautiful and simple a manner, that I cannot do otherwise than make an extract from them in this place. Lively as the poem is, to which I allude, I conceive it will not lower the dignity of the subject. It is called Expostulation and Reply, and is as follows:

Why, William, on that old gray stone,
Thus for the length of half a day,
Why, William, sit you thus alone,
And dream your time away? 

Where are your books? that light bequeath’d
To beings, else forlorn and blind,
Up! Up! and drink the spirit breath’d
From dead men to their kind. 

You look round on your mother earth,
As if she for no purpose bore you,
As if you were her first-born birth,
And none had liv’d before you! 

One morning thus by Esthwaite lake,
When life was sweet, I knew not why,
To me my good friend Matthew spake,
And that I made reply:

The eye it cannot choose but see.
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel where’er they be,
Against or with our will. 

Nor less I deem that there are powers,
Which of themselves our minds impress,
That we can feed this mind of ours
In a wise passiveness. 

Think you, ’mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking? 

Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
Conversing as I may,
I sit upon this old gray stone,
And dream my time away?






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