The Universality of Spirit

By Thomas Clarkson (1806)


This spirit of God, which has been thus given to men as an infallible guide in their spiritual concerns, has been given them universally—To the patriarchs and Israelites, from the creation to the time of Moses—To the Israelites or Jews, from Moses to Jesus Christ—To the Gentile world from all antiquity to modern times—To all those who have ever heard the gospel—And it continues its office to the latter even at the present day.


The Quakers are of opinion that the spirit of God, of which a portion has been given to men as a primary and infallible guide in their spiritual concerns, has been given them universally; or has been given to all of the human race, without any exceptions, for the same purpose.

This proposition of the Quakers I shall divide, in order that the reader may see it more clearly, into four cases. The first of these will comprehend the Patriarchs and the Israelites from the creation to the time of Moses. The second, the Israelites or Jews from the time of Moses to the coming of Jesus Christ. The third, the Gentiles or Heathens. And the fourth, all those who have heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the time of his own ministry to the present day.

The first case includes a portion of time of above two thousand years.  Now the Quakers believe, that during all this time men were generally enlightened as to their duty by the spirit of God; for there was no scripture or written law of God during all this period. “It was about two thousand four hundred years, says Thomas Beaven, an approved writer among the Quakers, after the creation of the world, before mankind had any external written law for the rule and conduct of their lives, so far as appears by either sacred or profane history; in all which time mankind, generally speaking, had only for their rule of faith and manners the external creation as a monitor to their outward senses, for evidence of the reality and certainty of the existence of the Supreme Being; and the internal impressions God by his divine spirit made upon the capacities and powers of their souls or inward man, and perhaps some of them oral traditions delivered from father to son.”

To the same point Thomas Beaven quotes the ever memorable John Hales, who, in his golden remains, writes in the following manner: “The love and favor, which it pleased God to bear our fathers before the law’, so far prevailed with him, as that without any books and writings, by familiar and friendly conversing with them, and communicating himself unto them, he made them receive and understand his laws, their inward conceits and intellectuals being, after a wonderful manner, figured as it were and characterized by his spirit, so that they could not but see and consent unto, and confess the truth of them. Which way of manifesting his will unto many other gracious privileges it had, above that which in after ages came in place of it, had this added, that it brought with it unto the man to whom it was made, a preservation against all doubt and hesitancy, and a full assurance both who the author was, and how far his intent and meaning reached. We who are their offspring ought, as St. Chrysostom tells us, so to have demeaned ourselves, that it might have been with us as it was with them, that we might have had no need of writing, no other teacher but the spirit, no other books but our hearts, no other means to have been taught the things of God.”

That the spirit of God, as described by Thomas Beaven and the venerable John Hales, was the great instructor or enlightener of man during the period we are speaking of, the Quakers believe, from what they conceive to be the sense of the holy scriptures on this subject. For in the first place, they consider it as a position, deducible from the expressions of Moses, that the spirit of God had striven with those of the antediluvian world. They believe, therefore, that it was this spirit (and because the means were adequate, and none more satisfactory to them can be assigned) which informed Cain, before any written law existed, and this even before the murder of his brother, that “if he did well, he should be accepted; but if not, sin should lie at his door.” The same spirit they conceive to have illuminated the mind of Seth, but in a higher degree than ordinarily the mind of Enoch; for he is the first, of whom it is recorded, that “he walked with God.” It is also considered by the Quakers as having afforded a rule of conduct to those who lived after the flood. Thus Joseph is described as saying, when there is no record of any verbal instruction from the Almighty on this subject, and at a time when there was no scripture or written law of God,  “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” It illuminated others also, but in a greater or less degree, as before. Thus Noah became a preacher of righteousness. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were favored with a greater measure of it than others who lived in their own times.

From these times to the coming of Jesus Christ, which is the second of the cases in question, the same spirit, according to the Quakers, still continued its teachings, and this notwithstanding the introduction of the Mosaic law; for this, which was engraved on tables of stone, did not set aside the law that was engrave on the heart. It assisted, first, outwardly, in turning men's’ minds to God; and secondly, in fitting them as a schoolmaster for attention to the internal impressions by his spirit. That the spirit of God was still the great teacher, the Quakers conceive to be plain; for the sacred writings from Moses to Malachi affirm it for a part of the period now assigned; and for the rest we have as evidence the reproof of the Martyr Stephen, and the sentences from the New Testament quoted in the fourth chapter. And in the same manner as this spirit had been given to some in a greater measure than to others, both before and after the deluge, so the Quakers believe it to have been given more abundantly to Moses and the prophets, than to others of the same nation; for they believe that the law in particular, and that the general writings of Moses, and those of the prophets also, were of divine inspiration, or the productions of the spirit of God.

With respect to the Heathens or Gentiles, which is the third case, the Quakers believe that God’s holy spirit became a guide also to them, and furnished them, as it had done the patriarchs and the Jews, with a rule of practice. For even these, who had none of the advantages of scripture or of a written divine law, believed, many of them, in God, such as Orpheus, Hesiod, Thales, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Cicero, and others. And of these it may be observed, that it was their general belief, as well as it was the belief of many others in those days, that there was a divine light or spirit in man, to enable him to direct himself aright.

Among the remnants that have been preserved of the sayings, of Pythagoras, are the following which relate to this subject: “Those things which are agreeable to God, cannot be known, except a man hear God himself.” Again—“But having overcome these things, thou shalt know the cohabitation or dwelling together of the immortal God and mortal man. His work is life—The work of God is immortality, eternal life.” “The most excellent thing, says Timoeus, that the soul is awakened to, is her guide or good genius; but if she be rebellious to it, it will prove her daemon, or tormentor.”

“It was frequently said of Socrates, he had the guide of his life within him, which, it was told his father Sophroniscus, would be of more worth to him than five hundred masters. He called it his good angel, or spirit; that it suggested to his mind what was good and virtuous, and inclined and disposed him to a strict and pious life; that it furnished him with divine knowledge, and impelled him very often to speak publicly to the people, sometimes in a way of severe reproof, at other times to information.”

Plato says, “the light and spirit of God are as wings to the soul, or as that which raiseth up the soul into, a sensible communion with God above the world.”

“I have, says Seneca, a more clear and certain light, by which I may judge the truth from falsehood: that which belongs to the happiness of the soul, the eternal mind will direct to.” Again—“It is a foolish thing for thee to wish for that which thou canst not obtain. God is near thee, and he is in thee. The good spirit sits or resides within as, the observer of our good and evil actions. As he is dealt with by us, he dealeth with us.”

The Quakers produce these, and a multitude of other quotations, which it is not necessary to repeat, to show that the same spirit, which taught the patriarchs before the law, and the Jews after it, taught the Gentiles also. But this revelation, or manifestation of the spirit, was not confined, in the opinion of the Quakers, to the Roman or Greek philosophers, or to those who had greater pretensions than common to human wisdom. They believe that no nation was ever discovered, among those of antiquity, to have been so wild or ignorant as not to have acknowledged a divinity, or as not to have known and established a difference between good and evil.

Cicero says, “there is no country so barbarous, no one of all men so savage, as that some apprehension of the Gods hath not tinctured his mind. That many indeed, says he, think corruptly of them, must be admitted; but this is the effect of vicious custom. For all do believe that there is a divine power and nature.”

Maximus Tyriensis, a platonic philosopher, and a man of considerable knowledge, observes, that “notwithstanding the great contention and variety of opinions which have existed concerning the nature and essence of God, yet the law and reason of every country are harmonious in these respects, namely, that there is one God, the king and father of all—and that the many are but servants and co-rulers unto God: that in this the Greek and the Barbarian, the Islander and the inhabitant of the continent, the wise and the foolish, speak the same language. Go, says he, to the utmost bounds of the ocean, and you find God there. But if there hath been, says he, since the existence of time, two or three atheistical, vile, senseless individuals, whose eyes and ears deceive them, and who are maimed in their very soul, an irrational and barren species, as monstrous as a lion without courage, an ox without horns, or a bird without wings, yet out of these you will be able to understand something of God. For they know and confess him whether they will or not.”

Plutarch says again, “that if a man were to travel through the world, he might possibly find cities without walls, without letters, without kings, without wealth, without schools, and without theatres. But a city without a temple, or that useth no worship, or no prayers, no one ever saw. And he believes a city may more easily be built without a foundation, or ground to set it on, than a community of men have or keep a consistency without religion.”

Of those nations which were reputed wild and ignorant in ancient times, the Scythians may be brought, next, to the Greeks and Romans, as an instance to elucidate the opinion of the Quakers still farther on this subject. The speech of the Scythian Ambassadors to Alexander the Great, as handed down to us by Quintus Curtius, has been often cited by writers, not only on account of its beauty and simplicity, but to show us the moral sentiments of the Scythians in those times. I shall make a few extracts from it on this occasion.

“Had the Gods given thee, says one of the Ambassadors to Alexander, a body proportional to thy ambition, the whole Universe would have been too little for thee. With one hand thou wouldest touch the East, and with the other the West; and not satisfied with this, thou wouldest follow the Sun, and know where he hides himself.”----

“But what have we to do with thee? We never set foot in thy country. May not those who inhabit woods be allowed to live without knowing who thou art, and whence thou comest? We will neither command nor submit to any man.”----

“But thou, who boastest thy coming to extirpate robbers, thou thyself art the greatest robber upon earth.”----

“Thou hast possessed thyself of Lydia, invaded Syria, Persia, and Bactriana. Thou art forming a design to march as far as India, and thou now contest hither, to seize upon our herds of cattle. The great possessions which thou hast, only make thee covet more eagerly what thou hast not.”----

“We are informed that the Greeks speak jestingly of our Scythian deserts, and that they are even become a proverb; but we are fonder of our solitudes, than of thy great cities.”----

“If thou art a god, thou oughtest to do good to mortals, and not to deprive them of their possessions. If thou art a mere man, reflect on what thou art.”----

“Do not fancy that the Scythians will take an oath in their concluding of an alliance with thee. The only oath among them is to keep their word without swearing. Such cautions as these do indeed become Greeks, who sign their treaties, and call upon the Gods to witness them. But, with regard to us, our religion consists in being sincere, and in keeping the promises we have made. That man, who is not ashamed to break his word with men, is not ashamed of deceiving the Gods.”

To the account contained in these extracts, it may be added, that the Scythians are described by Herodotus, Justin, Horace, and others, as a moral people. They had the character of maintaining justice. Theft or robbery was severely punished among them. They believed infidelity after the marriage-engagement to be deserving of death. They coveted neither silver nor gold. They refused to give the name of goods or riches to any but estimable things, such as health, courage, liberty, strength, sincerity, innocence, and the like. They received friends as relations, or considered friendship as so sacred an alliance, that it differed but little from alliance by blood.

These principles of the Scythians, as far as they are well founded, the Quakers believe to have originated in their more than ordinary attention to that divine principle which was given to them, equally with the rest of mankind, for their instruction in moral good; to that same principle, which Socrates describes as having suggested to his mind that which was good and virtuous, or which Seneca describes to reside in men as an observer of good and evil. For the Scythians, living in solitary and desert places, had but little communication for many ages with the rest of mankind, and did not obtain their system of morality from other quarters. From the Greeks and Romans, who were the most enlightened, they derived no moral benefit. For Strabo informs us, that their morals had been wholly corrupted in his time, and that this wretched change had taken place in consequence of their intercourse with these nations. That they had no scripture or written law of God is equally evident. Neither did they collect their morality from the perusal or observance of any particular laws that had been left them by their ancestors; for the same author, who gives them the high character just mentioned, says that they were found in the practice of justice, not on account of any laws, but on account of their own natural genius or disposition. Neither were they found in this practice, because they had exerted their reason in discovering that virtue was so much more desirable than vice; for the same author declares, that nature, and not reason, had made them a moral people: for “it seems surprising, says he, that nature should have given to them what the Greeks have never been able to attain either in consequence of the long succession of doctrines of their wise men, or of the precepts of their philosophers; and that the manners of a barbarous, should be preferable to those of a refined people.”

This opinion, that the spirit of God was afforded as a light to lighten the Gentiles of the ancient world, the Quakers derive from the authorities which I have now mentioned; that is, from the evidence which history has afforded, and from the sentiments which the Gentiles have discovered themselves upon this subject. But they conceive that the question is put out of all doubt by these remarkable words of the Apostle Paul. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another.” And here it may be observed, that the Quakers believe also, that in the same manner as the spirit of God enlightened the different Gentile nations previously to the time of the apostle, so it continues to enlighten those, which have been discovered since; for no nation has been found so ignorant, as not to make an acknowledgment of superior spirit, and to know the difference between good and evil. Hence it may be considered as illuminating those nations, where the scriptures have never reached, even at the present day.

With respect to the last case, which includes those who have heard with their outward ears the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Quakers believe, that the spirit of God has continued its office of a spiritual instructor as well to these as to any of the persons who have been described. For the Gospel is no where said to supersede, any more than the law of Moses did, the assistance of this spirit. On the other hand, this spirit was deemed necessary, and this by the apostles themselves, even after churches had been established, or men had become Christians. St. Paul declares, that whatever spiritual gifts some of his followers might then have, and however these gifts might then differ from one another, the spirit of God was given universally to man, and this to profit withal. He declares again that  “as many as were led by this spirit, these, and these only, possessed the knowledge that was requisite to enable them to become the sons of God.” And in his letter to the Thessalonians, who had become a Christian church, he gave them many particular injunctions, among which one was, that they would not quench or extinguish the spirit.

And in the same manner as this spirit was deemed necessary in the days of the apostles, and this to every man individually, and even after he had become a Christian, so the Quakers consider it to have been necessary since, and to continue so, wherever Christianity is professed.  For many persons may read the holy scriptures, and hear them read in churches, and yet not feel the necessary conviction for sin. Here then the Quakers conceive the spirit of God to be still necessary. It comes in with its inward monitions and reproofs, where the scripture has been neglected or forgotten. It attempts to stay the arm of him who is going to offend, and frequently averts the blow.

Neither is this spirit unnecessary, even where men profess an attention to the literal precepts of the Gospel. For in proportion as men are in the way of attending to the outward scriptures, they are in the way of being inwardly taught of God. But without this inward teaching no outward teaching can be effectual; for though persons may read the scriptures, yet they cannot spiritually understand them; and though they may admire the Christian religion, yet they cannot enjoy it, according to the opinion of the Quakers, but through the medium of the spirit of God.





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