“Truth for authority, not authority for truth.”
Lucretia Mott, considered at the time of her death in 1880 to be the “greatest American woman of the nineteenth century” by many of her contemporaries, was a Quaker abolitionist, women’s rights activist and social reformer. She was also a key figure in an important insurgent movement of Progressive Friends. Her messages and actions are very pertinent today – and laid much of the foundation for the current women’s movement.
Thursday First Month (January) 3, 2019, will mark Lucretia’s 226th birthday.
What message would she have for us if she were here today?
HINT: She’d likely tell us we’re in deep trouble and should get up and get busy. (She’d say it nicely, but urgently).
In fact, her message might sound like this . . .
NOTE: The address excerpted below is more “theological” than activist (she wouldn’t much like the term “theological,” but it fits.) There was not much distinction between them for Lucretia.
PS. Lucretia never prepared her messages, spoke only when she felt moved, and did not write them down. We have this one (and others) only because stenographers were sent in to take them down by shorthand. Sometimes this was to preserve them for admirers; other times it was to gain ammunition for having her disciplined or even disowned (YES, there were several such attempts). The latter efforts did not succeed; but I’m grateful for the record anyway.
Lucretia Mott (1793 – 1880)
1849: Lucretia Mott– From “Likeness to Christ” – A sermon delivered at the Cherry Street Meeting in Philadelphia – Ninth Month 30, 1849
It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practice is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ.
My reflections in this meeting have been upon the origin, parentage, and character of Jesus. I have thought we might profitably dwell upon the facts connected with his life, his precepts, and his practice in his walks among men. Humble as was his birth, obscure as was his parentage, little known as he seemed to be in his neighborhood and country, he has astonished the world and brought a response from all mankind by the purity of his precepts, the excellence of his example. Wherever that inimitable sermon on the mount is read, let it be translated into any language and spread before the people, there is an acknowledgement of its truth. When we come to judge the sectarian professors of his name by the true test, how widely do their lives differ from his?
Instead of going about doing good as was his wont, instead of being constantly in the exercise of benevolence and love as was his practice, we find the disposition too generally to measure the Christian by his assent to a creed which had not its sign with him nor indeed in his day. Instead of engaging in the exercise of peace, justice, and mercy, how many of the professors are arrayed against him in opposition to those great principles even as were his opposers in his day. Instead of being the bold nonconformist (if I may so speak) that he was, they are adhering to old church usages, and worn-out forms and exhibiting little of a Christ like disposition and character.
Instead of uttering the earnest protests against the spirit of proselytism and sectarianism as did the blessed Jesus–the divine, the holy, the born of God, there is the servile accommodation to this sectarian spirit and an observance of those forms even long after there is any claim of virtue in them; a disposition to use language which shall convey belief that in the inmost heart of many they reject.
Is this honest, is this Christ like? Should Jesus again appear and preach as he did round about Judea and Jerusalem and Galilee, these high professors would be among the first to set him at naught, if not to resort to the extremes which were resorted to in his day. There is no danger of this now, however, because the customs of the age will not bear the bigot out in it, but the spirit is manifest, which led martyrs to the stake, Jesus to the cross, Mary Dyer to the gallows. This spirit is now showing itself in casting out the name one [after] another, as evil, in brother delivering up brother unto sectarian death. We say if Jesus should again appear–He is here; he has appeared, from generation to generation and his spirit is now as manifest, in the humble, the meek, the bold reformers, even among some of obscure parentage.
His spirit is now going up and down among men seeking their good, and endeavoring to promote the benign and holy principles of peace, justice, and love. And blessing to the merciful, to the peacemaker, to the pure in heart, and the poor in spirit, to the just, the upright, to those who desire righteousness is earnestly proclaimed, by these messengers of the Highest who are now in our midst. These, the preachers of righteousness, are no more acknowledged by the same class of people than was the messiah to the Jews. They are the anointed of God, the inspired preachers and writers and believers of the present time. In the pure example which they exhibit to the nations, they are emphatically the beloved sons of God.
It is, my friends, my mission to declare these things among you at the hazard of shocking many prejudices. The testimony of the chosen servants of the Highest in our day is equally divine inspiration with the inspired teaching of those in former times. . . .
Let us not hesitate to regard the utterance of truth in our age, as of equal value with that which is recorded in the scriptures. None can revere more than I do the truths of the Bible. I have read it perhaps as much as any one present, and, I trust, with profit. It has at times been more to me than my daily food. When an attempt was made some twenty years ago to engraft some church dogmas upon this society, claiming this book for authority, it led me to examine, and compare text with the content. In so doing I became so much interested that I scarcely noted the passage of time.
Even to this day, when I open this volume, so familiar is almost every chapter that I can sometimes scarcely lay it aside from the interest I feel in its beautiful pages.
But I should be recreant to the principle, did I not say, the great error in Christendom is in regarding these scriptures taken as a whole as the plenary inspiration of God, and their authority as supreme. I consider this as Elias Hicks did one of the greatest drawbacks, one of the greatest barriers to human progress that there is in the religious world, for while this volume is held as it is, and, by a resort to it, war, and slavery, wine drinking, and other cruel, oppressive, and degrading evils are sustained, pleading the example of the ancients as authority it serves as a check to human progress, as an obstacle in the way of these great and glorious reformers that are now upon the field.
Well did that servant of God, Elias Hicks, warn the people against an undue veneration of the Bible, or of any human authority, any written record or outward testimony. The tendency of his ministry was to lead the mind to the divine teacher, the sublime ruler, that all would find within themselves, which was above men’s teaching, human records, or outward authorities. Highly as he valued these ancient testimonies, they were not to take the place of the higher law inwardly revealed, which was and should be, the governing principle of our lives.
. . . Let us also not hesitate to declare it, and to speak the truth plainly as it is in Jesus, that we believe the time is come when this undue adherence to outward authorities, or to any forms of baptism or of communion of church or sabbath worship, should give place to more practical goodness among men, more love manifested one unto another in our every day life, doing good and ministering to the wants and interests of our fellow beings the world over. If we fully believe this, should we be most honest, did we so far seek to please men, more than to please God, as to fail to utter in our meetings, and whenever we feel called upon to do so in our conversation . . . and to exhibit by example, by a life of non-conformity, in accordance with these views, that we have faith and confidence in our convictions?
. . . I desire to speak so as to be understood, and trust there are among you ears blessed that they hear, and that these principles shall be received as the Gospel of the blessed son of God. Happy shall they be, who by observing these, shall come to be divested of the traditions and superstitions which have been clinging to them, leading them to erect an altar “to the unknown God.”
Full text of this message is at this page.
More on Lucretia as an important Quaker theologian here
More About Lucretia!
Several other posts on Progressive Friends include:
> A 19th century Virginia Friend’s lessons for us today.
> Living with & Writing about Progressive Friends.
> Early origins of the Progressive Friends movement.
> Progressive Friends & Spiritualism.
A Social Justice poem published by Progressive Friends