Excerpts from “Sowing the Seed of Truth”


Since its formation by the Englishman George Fox, the Religious Society of Friends has upheld the idea that God has given a measure of divine Light to all people, who can either resist or yield to it. Those who yield can be taught and led by the Spirit, just as the first-century apostles and disciples were. “I directed all to the Spirit of God in themselves,” wrote Fox, “that they might be turned from darkness to Light, and believe in it; that they might become the children of it, and might … all come to know Christ to be their teacher to instruct them.” This reliance on direct revelation infuses all Quaker practices, including their approach to preaching.

From the beginning, Friends abandoned the formal lectionary and liturgy that structured worship in the Church of England and other dissenting religious movements of the time, such as Puritanism. Theological education itself was regarded skeptically as more vocational training than a religious calling. Fox quipped that “being bred at Oxford or Cambridge did not qualify or fit a man to be a minister of Christ.” Mere knowledge was no substitute for a personal experience of the divine presence. If the still, small voice of God was indeed still speaking to humankind, then worship must involve listening—quieting the body and mind, and waiting upon the Lord. From the depth of that silence, any person—male or female, young or old—might feel the Spirit stirring the waters of their soul and pour out a message. Such a message was not a speech prepared in advance, but rather an impromptu response to an immediate spiritual leading.

Although anyone could provide this type of vocal ministry, by the 1730s Quakers began officially noting that certain individuals had a particular calling to it. This acknowledgement process was known as recording. It was not equivalent to ordination; it was simply the recognition of a person’s gift from God—freely received, freely to be given. The few prerequisites for becoming a recorded minister included demonstrating evidence of personal sanctification and upright behavior, divine inspiration, a right understanding of the things of God as professed by Friends, and humility.

While the sermons of Anglican and Puritan priests and ministers were singularly focused, systematic discourses on doctrine and Biblical explication, those of Quaker ministers were often a mosaic of different themes: the universal need of salvation; God’s love for humankind; justification through Christ’s blood; the importance of loving others, self-denial, and moral purity; and the possibility of perfection (living in the absence of sin). Their messages also occasionally reiterated ideas that were particularly important to Friends: the spiritual rather than physical nature of baptism and communion, simplicity in living, honesty in business, refusal to take oaths or pay compulsory tithes to the state church, adherence to “plain language” (using thee and thou with all people rather than using you for individuals of higher social status), and opposition to war.

Early generations of Quaker ministers also took a different approach to using scriptures in their preaching. Rather than beginning with a Biblical text and expounding on it, they typically spoke first of a direct personal revelation or inspiration, and then supported it with scripture. Of course, to be able to cite scripture, Quaker ministers had to be familiar with it. Studying and memorizing the Bible was a natural part of their devotional life, and it was the only acceptable form of preparation for speaking.

Yet scriptural reinforcement was not the only measure of a message’s truth. Those Friends hearing a minister’s words pour forth were not merely empty receptacles but active filters, listening for that of God and privately offering the minister encouragement or gentle correction as needed. Indeed, stubbornly resisting the instruction of others was considered evidence of a self-deluded soul.

This approach to preaching continued largely unchanged for many decades. However, during the nineteenth century, several upheavals in the Religious Society of Friends shifted the trajectory of Quaker ministry in America.

In the late 1820s, a bitter schism occurred over the preaching of the itinerant minister Elias Hicks. Like seventeenth-century Friends, Hicks believed deeply in direct revelation and relying on guidance from the Inward Light. However, where Hicks raised hackles among his fellow Quakers was in his emphasis on the human nature of the historical Jesus, his perspective that Jesus was the son of God in the same sense that all people are God’s children, and his questioning the need of a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Although Hicks based some of his assertions on his reading of scripture and spoke of the importance of understanding scriptures rightly, he also expressed the idea that the Bible was a cause of division and sectarianism in Christendom. In his sermons, Hicks tested the boundaries of what was considered acceptable discourse in Quaker preaching.

The pushback from those who held a more traditionally Protestant understanding of their faith, who labeled themselves Orthodox, was vigorous. Several of the yearly meetings—the larger organizations responsible for making decisions regarding doctrine and practice for their constituent local meetings—splintered apart. For example, where there once was just one body known as Indiana Yearly Meeting that encompassed Quakers in western Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, there was now an Indiana Yearly Meeting of Orthodox Friends and an Indiana Yearly Meeting of Hicksite Friends. At the local meeting level, Orthodox Friends began purging their membership rolls of anyone who aligned with or was simply sympathetic toward Hicks, including their own ministers.

Beginning in the late 1830s, Orthodox Quakers in America were also deeply influenced by a charismatic and scholarly English preacher, Joseph John Gurney. Like early Friends, Gurney valued silent worship and the traditional approach toward ministry. However, he differed from his spiritual ancestors in several key ways. Gurney elevated the importance of the Bible over direct revelation. He emphasized the idea that justification was a separate, instantaneous experience that came through the simple expression of faith in Christ, although he continued to maintain the traditional Quaker understanding that sanctification was a gradual process. Gurney also worked toward cutting a gap through the hedge that Quakers had planted around themselves, encouraging Friends to interact with other denominations on benevolent work and thus to find common ground with members of more evangelical faiths.

Inspired by Gurney, in the 1860s a cadre of relatively young Quaker leaders turned their attention toward the spiritual stagnation that they discerned within their Religious Society. In some meetings, worship had become excessively silent as heavy-handed Elders frowned upon vocal ministry that they did not consider sound, to the point that only those who were ministers or on the path to becoming ministers were inclined to speak. Those who did speak occasionally exhibited odd patterns that had for some time characterized Quaker preaching—the prefacing of each sentence with a distinct sigh, an almost chanting intonation, and an erratic delivery as the speaker paused abruptly for the next divinely inspired word.

The galvanized reformers encouraged all Friends to share their religious convictions and experiences during worship. They likewise urged Quaker ministers to adopt a more systematic approach to Bible study—including the use of outside aids by other Protestant theologians and commentators—to help them better understand scriptural truths and avoid eccentric interpretations in their preaching.

Among these reformers was Murray Shipley.

About Murray Shipley

Murray Shipley was born in 1830 in New York City to a family with deep Quaker roots in Uttoxeter, England, and the American colonies. His paternal grandmother, Ann Shipley, was herself a recorded minister who was very highly regarded. When she wrote a letter defending her English friend Anna Braithwaite in a public dispute with Elias Hicks, Hicks’ allies questioned the authenticity of the letter rather than Ann Shipley’s reputation. Nevertheless, when the Hicksite separation occurred, Murray Shipley’s grandmother and his parents both aligned themselves with the Orthodox, as did Murray throughout his lifetime.

Shipley came to Cincinnati with his parents and one of his half-sisters when he was 12 years old. Decades later, looking back on his own spiritual journey, he echoed the sentiments of the introductory chapters of Ecclesiastes: all our own efforts to find fulfillment are in vain.

As I grew up I took a survey of life. I thought I saw that riches gained happiness, but I found they were as ashes when obtained. I thought that in a prudent life laid happiness, but I soon learned that care corroded. I then thought that pleasure gained life, and I sought it in whatever would gratify, but I never found it there. I sought peace in a moral life. I tried it over and over again, giving up everything that seemed in the way. I ever saw written before me the spirituality of the first commandment. I then beheld the blood of Jesus, and heard the “Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And I found rest in Jesus.

In many ways, Shipley’s approach to ministry presaged trends that would sweep through Quakerism during the last half of the nineteenth century. He was an early and enthusiastic adopter of evangelism outside of his Religious Society. In the late 1850s, under his leadership Cincinnati Monthly Meeting began an ambitious effort to disseminate religious tracts throughout the city to all classes of citizens—merchants and mechanics as well as the infirm, the imprisoned, and the impoverished. Between November of 1859 and November of 1860, a committee of about a dozen Quakers handed out over 20,000 such tracts—more than one in ten Cincinnatians received the gospel message at the hand of Friends.

The autumn of 1860 was also the year that Shipley and a small group of other reformers in Indiana Yearly Meeting, including John Henry Douglas, planned an unprecedented evening religious gathering in Richmond, Indiana specifically for young people. It was not quite like the camp meetings that were proliferating among local Methodists, which typically featured extensive preaching, hymn singing, and chaotic outbursts of lamentations and prayers among the audience. The Quaker organizers of this event insisted that any ministers in attendance would not preach, lest they monopolize the time intended for young Friends to participate. There was no set format for the meeting, no urgings to speak, no call for converts, and only a single person attempted to sing. Yet one by one, more than 150 members of a crowd estimated at 1,000 people exclaimed their testaments of devotion until the early hours of the morning.

By the time Shipley was recorded as a minister in 1868, revival-style events were still uncommon among Friends. Shipley himself possessed a calm, intellectual temperament, yet he foresaw the potential in the revival movement to increase interest and enthusiasm within his Religious Society. In 1869, while traveling among the staid, traditionally conservative Friends of Pennsylvania, Shipley made the audacious move of using the kind of language and facilitating the kind of gathering that would later become typical among Quaker promoters of holiness. William S. Taylor, the 22-year-old son of one of Shipley’s cousins, wrote disparagingly of what he observed:

Murray Shipley announced at the close of meeting last 1st day that “18 had confessed at Haverford.” … I’d rather any day listen to a Methodist. I fully believe in true worship, faith in the Savior, and the leading of a life as genuine Christians, but when a man … blows his horn to every one (the Pharisee’s style) and says boldly in meeting “I am saved, I know it” … (the first Murray said right out and the last he clearly implied)—I can tell thee Charlie, it’s disgusting. Murray’s doctrine of “once in grace, always in grace” won’t go down, it’s false doctrine. Then he called all the young people together, stirred them to the highest pitch, got all to “confessing,” down to his youngest “sprig” Morris, none hardly knowing what they were talking about and most of the females crying, but two days [later] most had forgotten, as they showed in meeting, what had been either said or done.

Such revivals as this are, I think, to say the least wicked. … I do hate [rant] and believe truly that the Devil has a good deal to do with it. Don’t be led into Murray’s, and every “progressive Friend’s,” style of “confessing,” it will only make a fool of yourself and do no one any good.

A wild, crazy mania is far from true religion.

Throughout the 1870s and beyond, revival meetings blew through Quaker communities like a rushing wind. Some Friends perceived it as a breath of fresh air; others found it more like a cyclone, leaving discord and disruption in its wake. The interdenominational holiness movement had significantly influenced the Religious Society of Friends by the time Shipley began writing his journal in 1873, and he had close connections with several of its Quaker leaders. Yet his sermons indicate that he was among the first of the reformers to question some of the contemporaneous tenets of holiness theology:

  • Human beings were inherently wicked.
  • Sanctification came through an instantaneous second experience of grace after conversion.
  • Because Christ was expected to return at the turn of the century, saving souls should be the sole focus of ministry.
  • The traditional manner of Quaker worship was outmoded.

There is no doubt that Shipley believed that all people were sinners in need of salvation. However, rather than seeing humans as fundamentally depraved, Shipley seemed to agree with early Friends that there was that of God in everyone, although he did not typically use traditional Quaker language in expressing it. Quoting the English theologian Julius Hare, Shipley noted that “unless there was a living principle in the plant, the warmth of the sun would no more unfold the blossoms, than it can open an artificial bud, or a painted one.” In other words, without some flicker of Inward Light within the soul, without the living seed of Christ implanted in the heart, it would not be possible to respond to God’s loving outreach. In reflecting on the human condition, Shipley often expressed compassion for those who were regarded as lowly sinners by genteel society, and scorn for those who held themselves in high regard for their own religiosity, morality, and philanthropy.

There is likewise no doubt that Shipley believed in the necessity of conversion—“a hearty turning away from the known sinfulness of your lives and from your own efforts to be good and looking up unto Jesus crucified for you.” However, in his journal, he never mentioned the need for a second experience, nor even used the word sanctification except once when quoting a Bible verse. Shipley emphasized that an authentic experience of God would be transformative, and if he at one time proclaimed “once in grace, always in grace” as Taylor claimed, his sermons suggest a more nuanced view. Indeed, Shipley noted that a lack of transformation belied a lack of true obedience. Anyone who claimed to believe but did not yield to the will of God would “prove the argument for justice and not mercy.”

For Shipley, the transformation wrought in the soul by God would find its expression in both increased personal virtue and active demonstrations of love toward others by making the world a better place. Thus, he rejected the premise of premillennialism—the idea that the world was inevitably becoming ever more evil in anticipation of the Second Coming. In both his sermons and his life, he upheld examples of ways to be God’s hands in establishing his kingdom on earth. From founding The Children’s Home which placed orphaned and abandoned youngsters into families, to managing a workingman’s coffeehouse as an alternative to saloons, Shipley lived out Jesus’s second commandment, and encouraged others to take up similar tasks.

Although Shipley touted the transformation of the self and the world at large, he resisted the upheaval of Quaker worship practices advocated by holiness preachers. John Henry Douglas, who quietly stood with Shipley at the 1860 gathering for young people, would become known for holding up a Bible and offering his listeners $100 if they could show where that book said that worship should be silent. After all, if God was always with the sanctified, what need was there to solemnly wait for the leading of the Spirit?

There is no evidence that Shipley sought to replace expectant silence with extensive preaching and singing in worship. Most of his messages were quite brief, allowing ample time for quiet self-reflection and prayer. Although he occasionally quoted or alluded to popular hymns in his sermons, Cincinnati Monthly Meeting did not adopt singing during worship until 1900, after Shipley’s death. Shipley did share the revivalists’ concern, however, that silence and other Quaker traditions should not become a “dead form” that provided its practitioners with a false sense of spiritual security. Like early Friends, Shipley wanted his listeners to have a direct experience of the divine presence. He insisted that it was not enough to live the plain life, to sit in silence during worship, and to avoid the ordinances. For Shipley, true spirituality resided in a heart that melted at the glad tidings of the gospel, and a will that yielded to God’s loving guidance. That was the seed of truth that he hoped to sow.

A sermon by Murray Shipley


Romans 3:22–24 For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

I visited the room in The Bank of England where the gold is tried by weighing—that is, brought into this government agency. A delicate machine is so arranged as to carry steadily forward to the scales piece after piece to be weighed; the forward motion is very slow but very certain. The time of trial is approaching, and as you watch, the row of gold coin pieces gradually advancing, the thought [comes] of the final judgment when it shall be said, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Gradually as the piece approached the scale, you saw the moment had arrived. Another moment it was weighed, and the least single gram of deficiency from the standard determined the matter as well as for those that were many grams deficient. They were all equally cast out on the left hand, while those of standard weight passed to the right. For there was no difference—they came short.

He shall say to those on the left, “Depart from me,” and to those on the right, “Come, inherit.”

For there is no difference. A man is just as much in the United States when he is in New York as when he reaches the center of the continent. In former days, the slave who fled from the United States, when he landed in Canada, was as free as when he crossed to England. And while we are all ready to cry out against the large crimes so prevalent, let us remember “he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” There is no difference. [Jesus] speaks to the man that is only an inch within the forbidden territory. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is no difference.

As we read Romans 3 to the 25th verse, and read the black catalogue of sins and the blackness of sin, it is looking upon the earth in the shadow of the darkness of transgression and evil. Is there not some bright earth flame to take away from the terror? None. For all have sinned. But behold, there rises a star in the east, and it guides us to Bethlehem. And John’s voice cries, “Repent! Behold the Lamb of God!” And Christ says, “Come. I am come a light into the world, that ye may not walk in darkness but may be the light of life.”

In a recent decision in our city, in a case where a number of merchants combined together to control a particular class of merchandise, [Judge Emmons said] “The partition between the scope and operations of this organization and actual crime is so thin as to be hardly worth discussing,” so the Cincinnati Gazette reports it.

And while the gigantic frauds against the government in various places—this habit of forming rings to control the gold of the country, articles of merchandise—has thus been stamped as so nearly approaching crime as hardly to be worth discussing, it behooves everyone to ask ourselves whether there be not customs and practices in our business, habits, actions, [or] thoughts that need only the Light of the gospel for us, as we see them in God’s Light and see the motive that prompted them, to exclaim, “There is no difference.”

A sermon by Murray Shipley

Follow Me

Matthew 9:9—And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed Him.

This is Matthew’s account of his own conversion. Levi was his old name. Levi was the servant of the law, and Matthew, God’s free man. The other evangelists call him only Levi, which was his Hebrew name, but he always calls himself Matthew. Galilean by birth, a Jew by religion, and a publican by profession. His ordinary abode, Capernaum. It is probable he had a previous knowledge of the Lord’s life and labors. Jesus had just healed the palsied man saying, “Arise and walk,” after first saying, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” How long do you think that man was in having his sins forgiven? Instantaneously. This occurred in “his own city,” Capernaum.

And as Jesus passed from thence—“from thence,” from performing this miracle and from having pronounced forgiveness, and “from thence” from his city, probably on the road near the sea of Tiberias—as he passed (or was passing), he passed the custom-house.

How very vividly must this scene have been before Matthew as he wrote it. He had probably heard of the leper that had been cleansed, of the centurion’s servant in Capernaum that had been healed of palsy by the word of Jesus saying, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be [it] done unto thee.”

He had probably heard of Peter’s mother-in-law being cured by the touch of Jesus. He had heard how at the command of Jesus the devils had been cast out, and Jesus had just not only done all these, but with utmost tenderness saying for the first time in his mission and with authority, “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” and then silencing the caviling scribes, “But that ye may know [that] the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” He said, “Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk.”

And then he went forth to the seaside, and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them, and as he passed by he saw Levi. And in this fishing village, he must have heard of these wonderful works of Jesus, for the leper had blazed abroad his cure, for he had healed many that were sick of diverse diseases and cast out many devils. And now this man that cleansed the leper and the fever-stricken at his touch, that cast out devils and cured the palsied by his word, and that filled the boat with the miraculous draught of fishes, before him, ah! There was a heart that, publican and sinner as he was, was ready and attentive to Christ’s word: Follow me.

Are there not those that have seen as great works among their friends? Those more leprous by sin have been cleansed by his word, devils have been cast out, palsied hands and feet have labored with their new-found strength. And now, oh sinner, thou has been sitting at the receipt of custom of this world, thou has known of these things, has not this same Jesus again and again said unto thee, Follow me? And thou has turned away from Him.

Do you think Matthew had nothing to give up and nothing to overcome? Do you think his part of gain had not had a warm place in his heart? Do you doubt there were the keen consequences of exaction and oppression resting on his conscience? Had he not all the strong legal prejudices of a Jew? Did he want to ask, “How?” He was a man of like passions with you. But Jesus was there, and he spoke to him. Their eyes met. There was a personal appeal. Follow me.

Persons say in certain circumstances many things pass through the brain in a moment. Follow me. It meant what Luke says, “He left all.” Yes, the choice was made. He had made a new choice in life. Have you made the choice? The Lord stands before you again this day and says, “Follow me.” He means you and means you to leave all—all—and follow Him now. “Religion,” said [a] young lady, “is the only thing I have been content to do by halves.” You have not been content to love and please your mother in a half-hearted way. Matthew, as a Jew, left his legalism.

But what his first step in leaving all? Notice the next verse tells: “And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.” This was leaving all, in consecrating all. He left all. He left—his worldly ambitions, his not-allowed gains. He left his doubts and sense of unworthiness and weakness, and on the naked word of the Lord, turned his back in hearty repentance on sins and unbelief, in full faith in the free grace of God, in full confidence in Him who has power on earth to forgive sin. He reckoned himself dead indeed unto sin—his own life—but alive unto God through Jesus Christ, and arose.

Arise, oh soul, today. Arise, turn thy face Christ-ward, and there shall come such a constraining sense of love that the very flow of love shall prompt what Matthew offered—his home, his means as an agency to draw his old associates to sit down and feast and be taught by the new leader he had learned to love. And he had learned that to leave all was to consecrate all. It was out of self, into Christ. “Entire surrender is the true source of power. It is not all to be saved from, it is something to be saved to.” From the custom-house and sin to following Jesus and holiness, for consecration is much more than resignation. But in the hearty consuming with the baptism of fire, as lime is burned out of the limestone, so does the soul find that [it] has heard the voice of Jesus saying “Follow me” and has arisen and followed Him, find the baptism of fire, to purge him.

We get all when we lose all.

This first step of Matthew was probably the characteristic of his life. The seeking to bring others to Christ to be taught by Him. Contrast Matthew and the other disciples at once following Christ and the young man who had great possessions, to whom Christ [said], “Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross and follow me. And he was sad and went away grieved.” They were glad—he was sad. They followed—he went away. They were in joyful fellowship—he was grieved.

Contrast Peter in his first love, forsaking all—even the miraculous draught of fish—and following Him. And then when Jesus was arrested in the garden, he forsook him and fled, and Peter followed afar off.