Perhaps now is a proper time to be a bit more specific about what it means to be a Pilgrim on a Quaker Highway.
This Pilgrim, as has already been related, was born of Quaker parents and has been thankful throughout life that he was a birthright member of the Society of Friends. So far back as he has known any of his ancestors on "both sides" of the family, they have all been Quakers, but while the church did recognize the birthright into membership, Friends never did claim that it had in it redemptive virtue. No, a birthright Friend was not per se a saint. Some there were who gave evidence to the contrary and this Pilgrim was one of them. During childhood days there were beautiful experiences of religious tendencies, - taught to pray and to "live right", schooled in Christian ethics at home, in Bible School and meeting and given a guarded education but somehow never launched by his own initiative into real Christian life while all the time there seemed increased tendencies toward the evil way, the way of reckless thinking and unworthy habits of life. Of course the sense of honor and integrity were never given up, but spiritual satisfaction was quite unknown.
In relating this and what follows there is no reflection on the values of home training, of meeting and Bible School and the "guarded" days of school life, neither is there a desire to exalt certain evangelistic movements in the Friends Meetings of the middle west. It is possible there have been misconceptions along through the years of Friends History on both sides of the question of the value of this great evangelistic activity. Be that as it may this is not a history nor is it a discussion of that movement. Friends Ministers frequently came along possessed of evangelistic fervor sometimes without much evidence of Divine Anointing. It was while this Pilgrim was in his Junior year in the Academy a Friend at that time from Des Moines, Isaac P. Wooten by name came to the Le Grand Meeting with a concern to hold some meetings of an evangelistic character. It was immediately after the New Year of 1886 and this Quaker boy in the Academy was 17 years of age approaching 18. The sleighing was good and sleighrides and social gatherings were rather frequent so the meetings had little attraction at first. Gradually however some of the Academy students talked more freely of the church and the special evangelistic effort. No one seemed to question the sincerity of the minister, Isaac P. Wooten. He seemed to be in judgment of all a good preacher with no sensational peculiarities. There was no criticism of the meetings for they were carried on calmly, quietly and with growing interest and no questionable methods were used - except perhaps those which encouraged a personal consideration of one's relations with God and one's readiness to take certain steps which would express one's sincere desire to become a Christian. Those who were conscious of a need of a Savior and who desired to find Him were asked to come forward for prayer, and to kneel about the seats on either side of the wide aisle. There was throughout, the evidence of sincerity with freedom from excitement. The discussion among the students in the school during recess times and at the noon period, may have been in a mild way theological. Some were very sincere, for had they not found "the way", and had they not found peace and pardon, - and were not these desirable experiences for all others. Other students argued that such experiences had been sought without results, therefore it was something of a delusion - but they would continue to respect the deluded. Others frankly preferred the reckless, thoughtless way - not wishing to be too good anyway, while others confessed freely a need of some power beyond themselves but questioned that such power could be found by such as they. Some with careless boldness said, " Well I do not care atall about it, but if my going forward would help any one else, I don't mind going forward." Perhaps a half dozen in a sort of banter said, " If the rest of you go forward I will go forward." As the series of meetings approached the close, one evening while mingling with older and younger friends and neighbors this Young Quaker Pilgrim of some 17 summers shook hands with a dear friend and neighbor Aunt Mary Willits, the wife of Uncle Jack Willits. There was quietness and positiveness in her look and in her hand grasp and without letting go of his hand she looked steadily into his eyes, while tears gleamed like diamonds in her own kindly sincere eyes, and she said very simply, " I wish thee was a Christian." Dear Aunt Mary - she did not know how deep that little message went, how it awakened a longing which had not been expressed. She had no thought of being a personal worker but the whole setting was perfect and the word spoken was in season to one who was weary of the way of life he was in and he too wished for a change. The meetings were to close on the following Sunday night. A few had confessed special blessings and many looked forward to a victorious closing for this series of meetings. In a little gathering of young people this young man fell in company with one of the finest and brightest girl friends he ever knew, who was destined to be an invalid a little later and who after years of effort to recover finally yielded to the inevitable. They were always friends, not lovers, but friends - to the last day of her life. Her name was Libbie Roberts and she was charming in her simplicity and was perhaps one of the most brilliant girls of her generation. Together these young people walked to the meeting. The sermon was good and with no unusual demonstration the call was extended to those who wished to come forward for prayers, - when behold all the fellows who had agreed that if one went forward all would go - were in the aisle and on their way to the front of the meeting house, all but one. Turning to the young lady by his side he said, "Do you know I told those fellows if they went forward I would go with them and I ask you to excuse me." She answered very calmly, "If you think you should go, then do it."
On the way home that night as we rode in the bobsled of her sister's "boyfriend", the young lady said, "Do you think it did you any good to go forward tonight?" and he answered "Perhaps not, but now that I have done that much even without any results, I shall not give it up until I have tested it out to my own satisfaction."
The meeting had not closed on Sunday night - but there was to be one more meeting on Monday night. From the young lady's home this Pilgrim walked to his home immediately while the gentleman who owned the team and the sled remained to a later hour as was his custom. That walk home was a very thoughtful one, a mile to his home, every step of it was on Quaker Lane.
It was a joy to "turn in" through the gateway with the white gate with its white posts, into the spacious front yard covered deep with snow and studded here and there with sturdy pine trees in their deep green of winter murmuring softly in the chilly breezes of that midwinter night - the 18th night of January. How beautiful that home was in those days - and even yet. Pure white like the snow, sparkling from the light of distant starfires, - a white house with deep green shutters, green indeed like the green of the murmuring pine trees.
The door was never locked until the last one out locked it - then up the stairway to the quiet, clean, attractive "east room", to rest and think and sleep as he had each night for years. With the coming of the new day there seemed to be but one chief and compelling thought and that was - there would be another meeting that night. There was no disposition to talk about it with anyone, and there were no promises to make to any of the fellows. Nothing else seemed to matter though the school work did receive rather unusual attention.
Evening came, chores were done, evening meal was over and soon the meeting hour arrived - and out of the front gate, across the street and down the Quaker Lane a few rods to the old meeting house, a young man strolled alone, entered the meeting room and took his seat quietly in an inconspicuous place. As the meeting continued the minister seemed to grow very direct. There came at least to one listener a new sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the helplessness of the individual and of the race and with that a new and rich beauty in Redemptive Grace, in One who came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
When the call to come forward was made there was with this young man no hesitation - no watching to see what others might do, no waiting for a second invitation but he walked quietly to the farther end of the front seat, by the partition door and there he knelt. No one came to talk either to encourage or to discourage. It was a case of individual approach to God and the exercise of faith in the Divine verities concerning which he had learned both by precept and by example. It was most sincere and most effective. He knew it was an occasion of mighty import - for it was the birthday into a new life and it was January 19th. This has not been reviewed in any dramatic manner, but rather the plain and simple account of a young man's experiences, some elements of which have been repeated in thousands of lives in multiple scores of generations. No one can ever know the eternal significance of such an experience for it enriches "the life that now is" and "gives assurance for the life which is to come." "In the Cross of Christ I glory."
Whatever of value that life has been to the world or any small part of the world dates back to that night of personal acceptance of the Atoning Merits of the sinless, stainless, crystal Son of Man and Son of God who was crucified, - risen and glorified.
That night - for the first time perhaps the young man became a Pilgrim on the Quaker Highway. The consideration of the Quaker, his peculiarities and beliefs must come later. It is enough to say now that Quakers never laid claim to new discoveries or even doctrinal interpretation but rather, in the words of George Fox, Quakerism is "Apostolic Christianity revived." Perhaps taking seriously the teachings of Jesus in his marvelous words in answer to the question of Thomas - "How can we know the way?" and Jesus saith unto him, "I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me." The human element "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ", involves a definite choice. The choice was made and the road chosen has been a good road with the right sense of direction.
"To every man there openeth,
A way, and ways, and a way
And the high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low;
And in between, on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A highway and a low
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go."
(John Oxenham, "A High Way and a Low.")
Changing the figure, slightly,
"One ship drives east and another west
While the selfsame breezes blow;
'Tis the set of the sail and not the gale
That bids them where to go.
Like the winds of the air are the ways of fate,
As we journey along through life;
'Tis the set of the soul that decides the goal,
And not the storm or the strife."
(Ella Wheeler Wilcox, "One Ship Drives East.")
That was a great night, a night of great decision. Out of it came at least two ministers of the Gospel and many determined Christian laymen to bless communities in many different parts of the world. Well did William Shakespeare say in his "Merchant of Venice"..."How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."
Immediately following at the close of these meetings at the Friends Meetinghouse, the Methodist Church of the village put on a revival meeting which was very successful and was under the direction of the Pastor Homer Clyde Stuntz, a young man recently out of College, this being his second "charge." He was an attractive and a very gifted preacher and already had won the admiration of the Pilgrim who seemed fairly started on the Quaker Highway. Many who had become interested in the Friends meeting now found it helpful to attend the Methodist services. A very fine sense of friendship continued to grow stronger between the Preacher and the Pilgrim, which some hoped and perhaps some feared would result in a union with the Methodists. While the young man himself could readily see certain advantage that might be his if he associated with the great organization of the Methodist Church, he had no inclination to allow these to influence a change and while many times thereafter he was encouraged by suggestions of position and financial return, to enter some other church there was never any serious thought of it on his part.
It should be said however that while he and the young preacher H.C. Stuntz had close association and enjoyed friendship always, there was never any pressure of suggestion on his part that there should be any change of church membership. After a few short years H.C. Stuntz and wife went as missionaries to India, then many years later he did a great work in South America, then became Bishop with home in Omaha, Nebraska from which position and place he passed "from works to rewards" in what seemed the very prime of his life. From time to time he and the Pilgrim met in later years, real friends as in the earlier years.
During the summer months in early boyhood days there was much to be done to care for the small home place of 20 acres but when the work was well "caught up" so that the demands were not so great there were always opportunities for employment among the busy neighbors. Sometimes the employment was for a man single handed and sometimes for a man and team of horses. In the former type the young pilgrim had his beginning in "stripping" the sugar cane of its leaves preparatory to its being cut down and being hauled to the sorghum mills. This work was for Asa M. Townsend who operated the sorghum plant and the young employee received the munificent sum of 40 cents per day - a ten hour day. A good man was Asa Townsend, - an esteemed Quaker and interesting. He is the observing Friend who noted the fact that if he "sneezed at any time more than twice he would invariably sneeze at least three times." His brother James moved to California in the early days and when somewhat aged was asked one day "how are you?" "O", said he, "just fine, never better; O, yes, I am crippled up with rheumatiz 'till I can't get around much, and I can't see well any more nor hear anything much, and they say I'm losin' my mind, but other than that I'm just as good as ever."
To return to the subject of "working out", the young Pilgrim made himself more useful and received pay accordingly, but when it was possible to do so always preferred to work with a team of horses. Sometimes a neighbor employed him to do some farm work with the neighbor's team and sometimes wished to employ both man and team. With the father's advancing years there was no great amount of team work at home, so a bargain was entered into and the father furnished the team and the son hired out at $2.50 per day and the money was divided evenly, that is $1.25 to the father and the same amount to the son. In later years the son, visiting in the old community loved to recall the work he did on perhaps a score of farms and fields here and there, - much of it "up and down" old Quaker Lane.
Without going into a discussion of the individuality of many of the good horses and cows cared for in those days it would be a mistake even in the later days of the use of the automobile and tractors to wholly brush aside the memory of the "old family horse." His praises should still be sung - for better than some church members he would work "single or double", could be depended on in every emergency, was safe for children to ride or drive, could come home the darkest night and could understand enough of English language to be guided properly without the use of lines and he never needed whip or goad and was always patient until his driver became impatient with him. He liked a little special attention as one or two eggs in his feed of oats, and when very weary he appreciated his corn shelled for him and did like a good apple occasionally. Yes, he would work harder and longer than any other horse of his size and would pull his best even when other of his kind had given up. The neighbors and people in difficulty frequently wanted to impose some difficult task on him and he sometimes needed a guardian to protect him. This was Old Barney - of the Morgan breed, sorrel in color - almost a red, with one white foot and a small white star between his eyes. His front legs were crooked he was "knee sprung and pigeon toed"; as nimble as a colt at the age of 25 but slowed down somewhat during the next ten years. He was perhaps 35 years old when the Pilgrim found him one early morning lying amid the white and pink clover blossoms in the old pasture field which in summer had been his domain for many years. He was just too old to live any longer and death came quietly and naturally as he rested neath the stars. Gently as could be he was placed in an ample grave lined with soft sweet new hay and the three mourners, Mother and sister and the Pilgrim, - who also acted as mortician and sexton, placed in the grave beside his worn out form "a feed of corn and a feed of oats", his heavy iron shoes which had hung in the barn for so many years, and his old work collar which none of his kind was worthy to inherit. Much more new hay covered him over - then the rich Iowa soil which he had often cultivated and over which in the last years he had pastured, hid him away forever from the weary earth life, - yes, covered him for all time but the memory of his courageous faithfulness lingers through the years.
The pioneer father made little pretense toward business and took small interest in business enterprises. He was always thrifty and industrious but never ambitious to accumulate wealth. There were certain elements of Scotch thrift however apparently inherent and perhaps he desired to develop some of these in his children. He made a proposition to his Pilgrim son and younger daughter, who were much together on any proposition which appealed to either of them, that they might purchase some young pigs, feed them from his corn cribs, care for them as we thought best and when these swine were sold on the market we could have half the money while he would claim the other half for the feed they had consumed. The children found the enterprise profitable to them if they could buy while the pigs were young and small - which was usually the case.
Presently there was money to buy a calf and that calf became a good cow. Another calf was purchased and presently the young man had a fine horse of his own. When the colt was 3 years old he was well trained to drive single or double, trained too for the saddle and to work.
When the Academy days were over they were followed by a summer of toil and an effort to determine the next line for the young Pilgrim of procedure. There was some advice and council but the decision must be his own and it was.