The Journal of John Woolman – A Not-Review

John Woolman was a Quaker who lived just prior to the American Revolution.  But he is not known for anything to do with that, for he was fighting a much bigger fight, speaking our against slavery while the vast majority of people in the colonies still accepted it.  Woolman did not just speak out about it, he put his words into action.  If he was employed to write a will for someone, he refused to write the portion of the will that spoke of ownership and passing on of slaves.  He encouraged the people to free their slaves.  During his travels he would often stay with other Quakers who were slaveholders.  In such situations, he insisted on paying for the hospitality he received.

You can read Woolman’s story in his journal.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – one of the best qualities of e-books is the cheap availability of classic works.  Maybe I would never have read Woolman’s journal, which would have been to my own detriment, if I had to buy a hard copy.  But at 99 cents?  I will go so far as to say any Christian with an e-reader ought to purchase this book.

Woolman’s journal does not just reveal his anti-slavery work.  It also sheds a light on a man who lived a simple, Christ-centered life.  His words on overcoming the desire to get more stuff and instead being content with just enough to meet your needs are beautiful and challenging:

My mind, through the power of truth, was in a good degree weaned from the desire of outward greatness, and I was learning to be content with real conveniences, that were not costly, so that a way of life free from much entanglement appeared best for me, though the income might be small. – The Journal of John Woolman, Quaker (and Other Selected Writings) (A Christian Classic!) (Kindle Locations 314-316).

Along with his thoughts on simplicity, I was struck by how he learned to be silent until led to speak by God.  It seemed that, like many of us, when he was younger he would often enter into an argument, believing he had the truth and had to share it (and in being against slavery, he was correct in this).  But over time he seemed to have learned, as we all need to, that there is a time to be silent and a time to speak:

It was my concern from day to day to say neither more nor less than what the spirit of truth opened in me, being jealous over myself lest I should say anything to make my testimony look agreeable to that mind in people which is not in pure obedience to the cross of Christ – The Journal of John Woolman, Quaker (and Other Selected Writings) (A Christian Classic!) (Kindle Locations 1224-1226).

I think his words in regards to business would also be good for Christian (or all) business leaders:

As he is the perfection of power, of wisdom, and of goodness, so I believe he hath provided that so much labor shall be necessary for men’s support in this world as would, being rightly divided, be a suitable employment of their time; and that we cannot go into superfluities, or grasp after wealth in a way contrary to his wisdom, without having connection with some degree of oppression, and with that spirit which leads to self-exaltation and strife, and which frequently brings calamities on countries by parties contending about their claims – The Journal of John Woolman, Quaker (and Other Selected Writings) (A Christian Classic!) (Kindle Locations 1439-1442).

I was renewedly confirmed in a belief, that if all our inhabitants lived according to sound wisdom, laboring to promote universal love and righteousness, and ceased from every inordinate desire after wealth, and from all customs which are tinctured with luxury, the way would be easy for our inhabitants, though they might be much more numerous than at present, to live comfortably on honest employments, without the temptation they are so often under of being drawn into schemes to make settlements on lands which have not been purchased of the Indians, or of applying to that wicked practice of selling rum to them – The Journal of John Woolman, Quaker (and Other Selected Writings) (A Christian Classic!) (Kindle Locations 1532-1536).

If this was a real review, I could be a bit critical.  The journal is a bit slow at times, with a lot of “we traveled here and slept here and met this person and so on and so forth.”  Some questions are left unanswered as the journal only provides a glimpse into his life that a biography would fill.  One example is his wife.  What happened to her?  He does not mention her much, that is for sure.  But such things aside, this is a Christian classic.  So I’ll just leave you with a few (a bunch!) more quotes that I found challenging, thought-provoking and inspiring:

The love of ease and gain are the motives in general of keeping slaves, and men are wont to take hold of weak arguments to support a cause which is unreasonable.

Travelling up and down of late, I have had renewed evidences that to be faithful to the Lord, and content with his will concerning me, is a most necessary and useful lesson for me to be learning; looking less at the effects of my labor than at the pure motion and reality of the concern, as it arises from heavenly love. In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength; and as the mind, by humble resignation, is united to Him, and we utter words from an inward knowledge that they arise from the heavenly spring, though our way may be difficult, and it may require close attention to keep in it, and though the matter in which we may be led may tend to our own abasement; yet, if we continue in patience and meekness, heavenly peace will be the reward of our labors.


True charity is an excellent virtue; and sincerely to labor for their good, whose belief in all points doth not agree with ours, is a happy state.

To keep a watchful eye towards real objects of charity, to visit the poor in their lonesome dwelling-places, to comfort those who, through the dispensations of Divine Providence, are in strait and painful circumstances in this life, and steadily to endeavor to honor God with our substance, from a real sense of the love of Christ influencing our minds, is more likely to bring a blessing to our children, and will afford more satisfaction to a Christian favored with plenty, than an earnest desire to collect much wealth to leave behind us; for, “here we have no continuing city”; may we therefore diligently “seek one that is to come, whose builder and maker is God.”

To consider mankind otherwise than brethren, to think favours are peculiar to one nation, and to exclude others, plainly supposes a darkness in the understanding: for as God’s love is universal, so where the mind is sufficiently influenced by it, it begets a likeness of itself, and the heart is enlarged towards all men.

If we, by the operation of the Spirit of Christ, become heirs with him in the kingdom of his Father, and are redeemed from the alluring counterfeit joys of this world, and the joy of Christ remain in us; to suppose that one in this happy condition can, for the sake of earthly riches, not only deprive his fellow creatures of the sweetness of freedom, which, rightly used, is one of the greatest temporal blessings, but there with neglect using proper means for their acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, and the advantage of true religion, seems at least a contradiction to reason.


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