From the Back Cover:
Martha Paxton Grundyis to be commended for editing a new edition of the memoirs and letters of David Ferris. This eighteenth-century contemporary of John Woolman can be helpful to Freinds of the twenty first century in several ways. First, by reading prayerfully his narrated spiritual journey. Second, by reflecting upon ministry as a divine calling. Third, by recovering his articulated, and demonstrated, unity between an evangelical, Christ-centered faith, and social testimony. One who affirmed experientially that “the blood of Jesus Christ clenseth from all sin,” and, “Teach your children by example to shun the gain of oppression” speaks prophetically to us today.
-Arthur O. Roberts, professor-at-large, George Fox University
David Ferris’ recollection of his trajectory from Presbyterian youth and Yale College student to Quaker minister and ardent anti-slavery reformer is a fascinating document of religious life in eighteenth-century America, as well as a revealing account of the wrestlings within the human soul. This edition’s thoughtful study guide illustrates how Ferris’ writings can provide a living hertitage for present-day Friends.
-Rebecca Larson, author of_Daughters of Light_
This new edition of the _Memoirs of David Ferris _is, first of all, a very readable account of an unusual spiritual journey. Martha Grundy places the story in sound historical perspective witha good and thorough introduction. Her study notes and queries provide an excellent bridge between the culture and though world of the 18th century and our own time. Use of htese notes and queries can be a good way to udnerstand vital Quaker practices and concepts which can usually be learned only by wide reading or by years of "osmosis." This will be a useful book for spiritual formation groups interested in seeing how historic Quaker spiritual experience can be relevant to contemporary challenges and problems.
-William Taber, author & speaker on Quaker history and spirituality.
This book should be in every Meeting library. The memoirs will speak to the condition of many Friends. So many of the issues we grapple with now were part of the lie experience of this Friends, who lived some nine generations ago, in the days when Quakers were much more visible, and more reviled, than now.
Like many Friends today, David Ferris made radical decisions as a college student which had serious effects on the rest of his career. Part of a radical group of Yale students who developed strong concerns about aspects of the faith and practice in their Presbyterian community, David Ferris ultimately dropped out of the college just short of graduating, so that “poverty and disgraced stared (him) in the face.” A near-death experience had a role in his decision. He was accused of being a heretic and a Quaker, and ths turned to Barclay for some kind of support. His chapter about this period is eloquent and poignant indeed.
Like Friends today, David Ferris was soon to learn that being a radical leader in youth could have economic consequences in latter life. Having foregone the security of family property and connections, and constantly refining his ethical sensibilities, David Ferris tried his hand at a number of livelihoods and moved constantly west during his adult years. From his stories, one obtains an interesting picture of Quaker lives in those decades.
Like some lucky Friends today, David went through these experiences with a good wife—but not the woman he had thought he preferred.
The first time he set out to court a well-heeled and pretty young woman, he heard, as he tells it, “something like a still small voice saying to me, ‘Seekest thou great things for thyself?—seek them not.’ This language pierced me like a sword… so that I was unfit for any further conversation and… soon took my leave.”
He was so mortified by this experience that he visited no young ladies at all for many months until one day, at a friend’s dinner table, as he glanced at a plain young woman he did not know across the table, he again received guidance. “A language, very quietly and pleasantly passed through my mind, on this wise: If thou wilt marry that young woman, thou shalt be happy with her.”
When the party arose from the table, David saw that the girl was lame, and “was displeased that I should have a cripple allotted to me.” He reports how he struggled with this matter for many months before they married, and how, forty years later, he thinks of this “union as a proof of divine kindness.”
Others along with David Ferris have learned that ecstatic religious experiences in one’s youth do not necessarily lead to spiritual serenity thereafter. Traumatized by the family and social response to this leaving the Presbyterian church, Ferris suffered for twenty years with frequent leadings to speak in Meeting for Worship which he then resisted for fear of appearing foolish or inadequate.
His descriptions of this grueling inner conflict will be gratifying to any reader who knows this problem personally. It was a visiting friend who finally released him in 1755. She was a woman of acute intuition named Comfort Hoag, who asked him gently after Meeting two days in a row, “David, why didst thou not preach today?” The second time, he confessed to her his trouble of two decades, and on the third day, with Comfort nearby in meeting, he finally “trembled like a leaf… and was raised on (his) feet” to speak for the first time in twenty years. Afterwards Comfort Hoag told him that during the silence, “her whole concern was on (his) account… such that she was willing to offer up her natural life to the Lord, if it might be a means to bring (him) forth in the ministry.” Just as she made this offer to God, he stood to speak.
David Ferris became a recorded minister and traveled in the ministry extensively with others, horseback trips of three, four, and five months, visiting Friends Meetings and other congregations. But after three or four years, when he was about fifty, there came another dry spell when he did not speak, and rarely seemed to hear any divine messages. “I was reduced very low, and great distress attended my mind. I was often ready to say, “Is God’s mercy quite gone? Will he be favourable no more?” I went mourning on my way…. None can conceive with what horror and anxiety I was attended, unless they have been tried with similar dissertion.”
Whether his was a bio-chemical depression or a “dark night of the soul” or both, others have known the experience and will be glad to learn that in his last years, David Ferris found some quiet sense of satisfaction and peace.
Other Friends besides Ferris have been energetic parents, pioneers, and social reformers while struggling with secret personal doubts and dismay. The memoirs in this new volume tell of the inner conflict, while the letters testify to Ferris’ bold willingness to take others to task for keeping slaves.
Friends interested in Quaker history will find Martha Paxson Grundy’s introduction and historical footnotes very helpful. Editor of this edition of the memoirs, which came out this year, Grundy connects Ferris to the many well-known Quakers of this period, and to others in his family and Meetings. Grundy has also presented study notes and queries which will spark lively discussions in adult religious education venues.
For example: “When… Ferris opened a school… he was at first short of cash. His way of dealing with this was to ‘repose with confidence in an all-sufficient Providence.’ He does not ask for help, but anonymous donations appeared.
“How do we react to his seeming passivity in the face of need?… How does it feel to be a receiver? A giver?”
A chronology, a comprehensive bibliography and an index complete this very well presented story of a seeker three hundred years ago whose concerns are familiar to us now.
Review by Elizabeth Boardman, San Francisco (CA) Meeting.
David Ferris struggled for 25 years between his first speaking in ministry in a meeting for worship in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the age of John Woolman, and his becoming ready to be recorded as a minister and traveling in ministry to other Meetings. He thus lived out the stages and Quietist discipline that modern Friends have relearned from Samuel Bownas. Martha Grundy has added, fortunately as an appendix, a series of Queries about these processes for Quaker worship/sharing groups.
Ferris had meanwhile simplified his life in his dry-good store in Wilmington, Delaware, and stopped selling rum. Ferris’ stern letters to Quaker slave-owners, a decade after Woolman printed his tract against The Keeping of Negroes as Slaves, will appeal to modern activist Friends. Quaker historians will appreciate young Ferris’ involvement in the Connecticut phase of the Great Awakening in New Milford, and then at Yale, from which he was pushed out for insubordination, soon after Jonathan Edwards, and for the “heresy” he had learned from a smuggled copy of Barclay’s Apology.
New Milford Friends Meeting seems to have gathered around the five Ferris brothers. It was recognized by Purchase Meeting in 1729 (though not formally a Monthly Meeting until 1777). David, however, moved to Philadelphia after attending New York Yearly Meeting in May, 1733, and made his home in Wilmington, as did his grand-nephew Benjamin Ferris, the “Amicus” whose published letters sparked the Hicksite conflict in 1827. Benjamin may have edited the only previous edition of David Ferris’ memoirs (expanded from a Latin original) in 1855. It’s “Introduction” and Martha Grundy’s own “Introduction” clarify these settings for non-historians, for whom also her bibliography and footnotes are intended.
Hugh Barbour, Arlington, Massachusetts.
One of the most pressing needs among Friends is guidance towards spiritual maturity grounded in Friends traditions. Too often, when we find ourselves in need of fresh spiritual direction, we reach into other Christian traditions or other streams of spirituality rather than seeking what Quakerism has to offer.
No doubt one reason for this tendency, with its resultant impoverishment, is the seeming lack of instructors in the Quaker way. Great figures like Fox or Woolman provide evidence that Quakerism has found some- thing valuable, but it is hard to enter into apprenticeship to such distant personages. In addition to such great names, we need others, who are samples (rather than exemplars), showing regular folks who have found their way to some real mastery of the Quaker path. If one is fortunate, one knows such an advanced practitioner and can learn from him or her.
For 300 years, however, Friends have taken nourishment and instruction in the plain path of Quaker practice from memorials of de- ceased Friends, and even more from the spiritual autobiographies that were written in great numbers by men and women ministers between the late 1600s and the early 1900s. What treasures are to be found in these journals, once one gets used to the genre!
Martha Grundy has done us good service by her splendid edition of David Ferris’s memoirs. With her careful historical introduction, explanatory notes, and queries for discussion, she has made David Ferris’s ministry once more of use to many modern Friends.
Ferris was born to a Connecticut Presbyterian family in 1707. He pursued his studies at Yale, with thoughts of entering into the ministry. At the same time, however, he was caught up in the currents of the Great Awakening, which fed his earnest desire after the reality of God’s saving power in daily life. Just as he was about to complete his degree and enter upon a career, his theological searching brought him into contact with Friends, whom he found to be "a living people": they embraced and exemplified the religion he had discovered for himself.
Thereafter he embarked on a life shaped by his dependence on the immediate guidance of the Spirit, and in his journal he describes his gradual discovery that this guidance was to be relied upon in all of life’s decisions, from marriage to the location of his home to his business decisions as a small shopkeeper.
His growing experience with the Spirit led him to appear in the ministry, but he struggled with this call for 20 years before submitting. He shared many of the concerns that were laid upon such contemporaries as Woolman and Churchman, including slavery and the renewal of the discipline, and he traveled much, visiting Friends meetings and individuals. Literate and humane, he appears to have offered much through correspondence and conversation with his peers and with younger Friends, and his journal is a final fruit of his reflections.
Ferris’s account is clearly written, personal, and direct. One of its charms is the time he spends describing his struggles at each stage of his growth, including times when he mistakes what he should be doing. Having early on proven to himself that God’s guidance is to be relied upon, and that the claim "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin" was a promise to him as much as to anyone, he still sought to live freshly and think carefully about his experience and the needs of his Friends and his times. He was thus as concerned for the renewal and integrity of Quakerism as for the abolition of slavery or other social causes: the value of Friends testimony on social issues is linked fundamentally with our faithfulness as a people to the Quaker way.
Now, that Quaker way has shown a lot of variation during its existence; Larry Ingle warns us against seeking for a Quaker Grail, the one "original and real" Quakerism that all should hark back to. Yet to assert that Quakerism should never be a doctrinaire monotony is not to concede that Quakerism is just whatever we choose to make of it. Engagement with Scripture, reason, and the Spirit must also be joined with a lively dialogue with Friends from former times. After all, those Friends built up the Society that has become our spiritual home, and they did so by just the sort of troublous, exploratory living that we must do in our time. Hence the value of Ferris as presented by Grundy-a fresh opportunity for such dialogue.
Read this book prayerfully, as if it were an "opportunity" with two Friends visiting your home under concern. Discuss it with others in your meeting, or by correspondence-the book is well designed for use by a study or worship-sharing group. Consider, too, your own faithfulness to concerns that may be pressing on you. Perhaps you, like me, have long put a concern aside because it was inconvenient or because you doubted your own fitness or understanding. David Ferris would understand, but he would also say, "Friend, it’s time to mind thy call,"
Review by Brian Drayton. Brian Drayton, a member of Weare Meeting in Heniker, New Hampshire, is a recorded minister in New England Yearly Meeting.