The Inspired Ministry

Two Stories from the Writings of Thomas Gould

Thomas B. Gould (1813-1856) was a minister in the “Wilburite” New England Yearly Meeting, and served for many years as clerk of the Yearly Meeting. Though he left no journal, selections from his writings were collected after his death by William Hodgson. The following two anecdotes, striking evidences of immediate inspiration in the gospel ministry, are taken, slightly edited, from these writings.

Isaac Lawton and a servant boy

During the war of the Revolution, the British army took possession of Rhode Island, and kept it for some time – I think one or two years. A Company of these troops was stationed in Friends’ meeting house at Portsmouth. One day, while Friends were thus deprived of the use of it, Isaac Lawton, a minister in good esteem who belonged to that meeting, felt his mind drawn to go to the meeting house, from which he lived about two miles distant. He went, and after some time, commenced preaching to the soldiers present. The opening on his mind was large, the concern weighty, and he expected to have much to say; but he had not proceeded far, when his way seemed entirely closed; he felt a full stop, and sat down abruptly. This surprised him, after so large an opening, and having, as he thought, clearly seen how he was to treat the subject.

He had, however, Scarcely taken his seat, when a little negro boy (I think about twelve years of age), who was present in attendance upon one of’ the officers, stood up with the same subject, commencing where Isaac had left off, and treating it as he had expected to do. He went on with such clearness and authority, and kept so ease to what had been opened to Isaac’s view, that the latter fully expected to be released from further labor on that occasion. But the little boy, after having spoken at some length, sat down as suddenly and unexpectedly to Isaac, as his appearance had been unexpected and striking.

Isaac Lawton took up the subject where the boy left it, and continued to speak until he had relieved his own mind.

James Scribbens

He was a man of very small natural talents indeed, not having common sense or being capable of procuring his own livelihood, or even of knowing when he had eaten or drunken sufficiently; but he had a very striking, convincing, and remarkable gift in the ministry conferred upon him, under the exercise of which it was no unusual occurrence for him to bring tears from the eyes of the audience, to such a degree that there would be wet spots upon the floor between the benches on which the people sat.

On his first rising, his appearance was so contemptible, and his manner so incoherent, and sometimes so nonsensical that it produced laughter among those who were assembled. But the old man would pull the cap which he wore upon his head, one way and another, and say to such as made themselves merry, “My good Master has not come yet. When He does come, you will laugh on the other side of your mouths!” which was generally verified, as the Life and Power arose into dominion; the excellency of the Power being rendered more fully apparent by the manifest weakness of the instrument made use of, that no flesh should glory in the Master’s presence.

After James had been powerfully engaged in testimony in the large public meetings during yearly meeting week, on returning to his lodgings, before a room full of company, he boasted that he preached, and that he preached excellently, too.

“No, James,” said Mary Richardson, “thou art greatly mistaken; thou hast not preached this day.”

Why, he was sure he had, and that he did it well.

“No, James, it was thy gift that preached,” said Mary Richardson.

James Scribbens belonged to South Kingston Monthly Meeting, and lived sometimes with one Friend, and sometimes with another, in different parts of the Narragansett Country. He was usually employed in some way which did not require much skill or thought; and at one time, while residing in the family of a Friend who lived near to one Doctor MacSparran [an episcopal priest], and being engaged in repairing a breach in a stone wall by the roadside, the Doctor, who entertained a most contemptible opinion of the Quakers in general, and of James Scribbens in particular, in passing by on horseback, reined up his horse, and thus accosted him:

“Well, James, how many tons of pudding and milk will it take to make forty rods of stone wall?”

James dropped the stone which he held in his hand, and looking at the self-sufficient Doctor, said, “Just as many as it will take of hireling priests to make a Gospel minister!”

It so happened that a man of note and learning attended a meeting in which James Scribbens preached; and was so affected by what he heard, that at the close of the meeting, he requested some Friend with whom he was acquainted to introduce him to the speaker; commending the sermon in strong terms, and remarking that so great a preacher must be a very sensible and learned man, and that he wished to have some religious conversation with him and to ask him some questions.

The Friend endeavored to divert him from his purpose, by explaining the nature of our principles with regard to the ministry; that it was neither natural nor acquired abilities, but the reception of a heavenly gift, and the renewed extension of Divine favor, which rendered the labors of our ministers so weighty and powerful; that they were not however always alike favored; that this gift was sometimes bestowed in a remarkable manner, not only upon illiterate men, but upon those of small natural understanding; so that if he were introduced to such in private, after witnessing their public services, he would be at once surprised and disappointed.

It was difficult to put the inquirer by [and after several such meetings] the Friend could no longer resist. He accordingly introduced the parties to each other at another Friend’s house; but the man whose feelings had been so wrought upon, and whose expectations had been raised to such a height, manifested his surprise and disappointment, upon attempting to enter into religious conversation with J.S., by exclaiming to the Friend who had done his best to prevent it, “He is a fool!” – and instead of’ putting difficult theological questions to this weak but sometimes highly favored instrument, for solution, he simply asked him the meaning of some ordinary words in the English language; to which James with great simplicity replied, that he did not know.

“But,” said the inquirer, “you made use of those words in your preaching today.”

“Very well,” said J. Scribbens, “I knew then!”

In the conclusion, this man confessed that he had read many books upon the subject, but that his acquaintance with James Scribbens had furnished the most conclusive evidence of the truth of the Quaker doctrine of divine immediate revelation that he had ever met with.