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“Shakerism, Its Meaning and Message”

Excerpts from: Chapter XV, pages 278- 283

The KINGDOM OF HEAVEN


 

Family Relationships.

As the Gospel of Christ, revealed in the life and teachings of Mother Ann Lee, is based on the truth of an Eternal Father-Mother, those born of the Spirit are of one family, brothers and sisters, children of Divine Parentage.  The words of Jesus are no more strange, but natural, necessary and beautiful, with the beauty and love of the eternal home: “Who is my mother and who are my brethren?  Whoso doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother;” and again, “If any man come to me, and hateth not his father and mother and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  The generative life of man and all the works, thoughts, passions and feelings thereof are to be hated, that is, turned from, once and forever.  Whatever has grown out of the generative or natural life, its relationships, ties and associations, are to be broken and the new, spiritual life is to be adopted.

Husbands and wives were to cease living under natural marriage conditions.  They were henceforth brother and sister in Christ.  A complete separation was to be made from the old, natural way of living and thinking.  Believers well might use the expressive term, “taking up a full cross against the flesh.”  Before Believers were gathered into Gospel Order in community homes, and for a long time after for those who did not enter into communities, Shakers continued to live in the family relation, but they were required to follow a life of absolute continence, according to the law of Christ.  “You must forsake the marriage of the flesh,” said Mother Ann, “to partake of the marriage of the Lamb, which is to be united to Christ, or joined to the Lord in one spirit.”   After the community life was fully adopted, children of believing parents became children of the society and were subject to the control of the appointed leaders.

This renouncing of old relationships and voluntarily taking up the new and spiritual relationships, formed the basis of the charge against the Shakers of breaking up families.  Yet they never violently did this, often sending believing children back to unbelieving parents, wives to husbands, while the utmost care was taken to win by faithful humility in loving service the hearts of natural kindred to the life of faith.  Mother Ann and the Elders taught that the work of salvation was to be accomplished by families, and if but one out of a family connection were saved by the Gospel, that one must strive and labor for all his kindred.   Nevertheless, the foundation stone of the structure was the entering into a spiritual family and forgetting, casting aside as of the old earth and heavens, the natural ties of kindred.

At Mount Lebanon, over fifty years ago, there entered the Order a young girl from a Quaker home of wealth, culture and refinement.  Devotedly attached to her parents, brothers and sisters, she sacrificed home and friends for her faith.  She had in her possession two fine Daguerreotypes of father and mother.  These likenesses, then a new thing in the world, had the cash value of $100.  Their heart value, to a young girl leaving home forever, may be imagined.  Yet this girl, in her enthusiasm of obedience to a principle, thrust these pictures into the fire.  It was a voluntary sacrifice, no one had thought of such an act.  She said nothing of it, but her Eldress, hearing incidentally of the sacrifice, said to her: “Why, A----, you need not have burned them; I would have kept them for you.”  “O,” was the reply, “I did not wish to burden you with them!”  “The crackle of them in the flames was music to me,” she said a half century later.  What wonder that Shakerism has defied the storms of persecution and the enervating, relaxing influences of modern times, when of such stuff has been made up the leadership and the rank and file, down to the present day?

With the passing of the years and the change of attitude of outside Christians, the absolute crucifixion of all natural ties and affections is no longer deemed necessary.  While a spiritual separation to the Gospel work and the union of life and heart to the spiritual family is essential, such complete absolution from all the bonds of natural kinship as was once inculcated is no longer demanded.  The duty of a child to an aged or feeble parent is recognized, and the union of Ministry and Elders is freely given to association and communication with relatives and friends, providing that it does not tend to distract the mind and divert the purpose from the spiritual calling upon which one has entered.

The promise of Jesus Christ in the first Christian dispensation was renewed and has been remarkably fulfilled under the second: “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundred fold, now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and fathers, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life.”  An expounder of the early time was wont to call attention to the fact that Jesus promised an hundred fold of every relation but the wife.  No wife was promised under the Gospel.  Persecutions, he said, were given instead.  Since this latest coming of the Christ Spirit, Christians of the Shaker Order pray no more, “Thy Kingdom come.”  It has come, and their effort and prayer is that it may increase to its fullness in each individual.  As many as are called are made welcome, helped to find the new life and gathered into the warm heart of the family of Christ.

Two Orders. Celibacy.

Shakers have been charged with denouncing marriage, and the trite old question is sometimes raised “What would become of the world if all were to become Shakers?”  In view of the condition of a good part of the people in it, the thought has sometimes suggested itself that it might not be a bad idea to let the world run out.  But there is not the least danger of the world's population failing from religious motives, nor is there any fear that all mankind will become Shakers in this life.  The greater part could not, for they are not on the plane to hear the call of the Spirit.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” is the prepared soul gathered from the world into the garners of the Lord.

Humanity exists under two distinct orders and has so existed from the earliest times.  Man broke God's inborn rule of continence and thereby lost God's gift of natural, orderly reproduction, in holiness and purity, under law.  The act of generation became a lawless violation of the Holy of Holies in the temple of the human.  Lust destroyed pure, heaven-born Love, and the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in sin, passion and despair.  War, brutality and crime resulted.  But in darkest times, righteous men and women have made the law of God their guide and children of light have been born to bear witness to righteousness and purity.  Such were Enoch and Noah, and many more, unmentioned in the annals of their race.

There has also been an order of virgin souls, celibates, who have sought and lived the life of continence and purity.   To quote from a Shaker tract on this theme:

“There is a law in our nature responding to a celibate, a virgin life.  It has cropped out in all ages from the earliest historic times.

“The Shakers of America are living respondents to the law that absolute purity of body and spirit is an essential preliminary to their happiness - the manifestation and growth of the life of God in the soul.  They believe that all may enter into a heavenly state by cultivating heavenly principles, and that it is their mission to keep an open door for all who live as Jesus did and walk as He did walk.  He was the first born of many brethren.   Having these abundant evidences in view, we say that Shakerism is not founded upon a lie, but on that law which when operative has in all ages brought forth the manifestation of God in humanity.  On this rock and with such materials, will Christ — the Elder Brother — found and build His Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  And that the world may not run itself out by its own doings before the appointed time, we kindly advise all to draw a little nearer to the example of the Shakers, so that their offspring may not die off prematurely, and that a measure of the blessing of God, bodily health, peace and prosperity may be theirs.”

Celibacy Taught by Jesus and the Apostles.

Jesus and the apostles taught, both by precept and example, that the virgin life, for those “able to bear it,” was the foundation of a purer godliness than could be attained in marriage, “because she that is married careth for the things of this world how she may please her husband, and he that is married careth for the things of the world how he may please his wife, but the unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in body and spirit, and he that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord how he may please the Lord.”

In the shrewd and politic answer of Jesus to the logical snare laid for him by the wily Sadducees, he laid down the principle that was to be fully revealed in the second Christian dispensation: “Do ye not therefore greatly err, because ye know not the Scriptures neither the power of God?   For when they shall rise from the dead they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels which are in heaven.  And as touching the dead that they rise, have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living; ye do therefore greatly err.”  Always the teaching of the apostles was that if a man or woman were unable to live the life of chastity, to marry and live according to the law given by Moses, in orderly and righteous manner.  It was not, however, the highest type of Christian living.

Mother Ann received by revelation the same truths shadowed forth in earlier dispensations.  Now, in the fullness of time, the veil has been withdrawn from the face of nature; henceforth, those who would live the pure Christ life, as Jesus lived it, must crucify in the flesh the natural life of generation.  That all are not called to this life is admitted; but that any can live and walk as Jesus did, other than by crucifying the lower nature and leading the virgin life, is denied.

When one has come to the end of the world in himself or herself, is ready to abandon all self-seeking, pride, lust and sin of every kind, and will turn to the new life with its foundation principles of purity, peace, non-resistance and separation from the world, then the seeker may graduate from the old to the New Order, and the way of entrance lies through “the open door”.

End of Excerpts   —  File 2 of 4
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