Simplicity and Integrity
Central to the Friends' testimony on simplicity is the injunction to seek first the kingdom of God. In a society that is becoming increasingly more complex, Friends are called to abandon those things which divert them from this goal. They may need to restrain themselves from involvement in many good causes and activities in order to remain true to their inner voice. Simple tastes in possessions and entertainment can do away with rivalry and the false sense of superiority created by undue luxury. A simple lifestyle promotes fullness of life.
Friends' adherence to a life of simplicity is also rooted in economics and the right sharing of the world's resources. In the words of William Penn, "the very trimming of the vain would clothe all the naked one."
Friends profess a genuineness of life and speech which leaves no room for deceit or artificiality. Throughout their history, therefore, they have borne witness against judicial oaths as suggesting a double standard of truth. Devotion to what is true and eternal requires openness, honesty, and careful speech in social, business, and family relationships. As early Friends took care to avoid flattering titles and phrases, modern Friends need to discourage the insincerities and extravagances that are prevalent in their society. With cordiality and kindness, Friends are called to speak the truth, in love.
Quality of the Soul
In all the best generations of Quakerism, the ideal aim and the controlling expectation of the wiser members have been to live the simple life. It is, of course, a vague and indefinable term. It begins inside with the quality of the soul. It is first and foremost the quality of sincerity, which is the opposite of duplicity or sham. Unclouded honesty at the heart and centre of the man is the true basis of simplicity. This kind of simple life will call, among other things, for an attitude of meekness and humility.
All one needs to do, if he means to be "humble," is to keep a constant contrast in mind between himself as he now is and that larger, truer, richer potential self which he all the time feels hidden away within himself. It involves not merely honesty and sincerity in all the relationships with one's fellow men, but it also calls for utter clarity of spirit in all one's relationships with God.
Rufus M. Jones: The faith and practice of the Quakers, 1927, pp. 90-1.
The last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naivete which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busyness for the Kingdom of God yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul's growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. It lives in the Fellowship of the Transfigured Face. Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonize and fret and strain, but in serene, unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity.
Thomas R. Kelly: A testament of devotion, 1941, p. 73.
Life Simplified by Concerns
I wish I might emphasize how a life becomes simplified when dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns. Too many of us have too many irons in the fire. We learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility. Quaker simplicity needs to be expressed not merely in dress and architecture and the height of tombstones but also in the structure of a relatively simplified and coordinated life-program of social responsibilities.
Ibid., p. 110.
Sensitive to God's Call to You
Incomparably the most important thing is that each one of us should be sensitive to the call of God to ourselves and not spend time in passing judgement on the lives of others. To some the call will be to adopt the witness of great simplicity, perhaps to live in an Indian village or in a London slum. To others the most important thing will be to maintain our ancient testimony against "fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever." But perhaps most will be called to the humdrum tasks of serving an employer supremely well, or running a house, bringing up a family, keeping the peace with difficult neighbors, serving the community in little things the tasks which, because they are simple, are in fact most difficult to do with dedication.
Industry and the Social Order Conference: Preparatory document 5, Christian responsibility and material possessions, 1958, p. 5.
Not Dependent on Things
Christianity is tested, not only in the shop and in the office, but also in the home. In the standard of living adopted by the home-makers, in the portion of income devoted to comforts, recreations and luxuries, in willingness to be content with simplicity, the members of a household, both older and younger, may bear witness that there is a Way of Life that does not depend on the abundance of the things possessed.
Epistle of London Y M., 1911.
Simplicity Promotes Fullness of Life
All that promotes fullness of life and aids in service for Christ is to be accepted with thanksgiving. Simplicity, when it removes encumbering details, makes for beauty in music, in art and in living. It clears the springs of life and permits wholesome mirth and gladness to bubble up; it cleans the windows of life and lets joy radiate. It requires the avoidance of artificial or harmful social customs and conventions but it opens wide the door to cultivate and express to all sincere cordiality, kindness and friendliness. This sort of simplicity removes barriers and eases tensions. In its presence all can be at ease.
Simplicity is closely akin to sincerity a genuineness of life and speech in which there is no place for sham or artificiality. The care given by early Friends to avoid flattering titles and phrases and to aim for rectitude of speech undoubtedly has done much to turn attention to honesty in the spoken and the written word. Care is needed to avoid and discourage the insincerities and extravagance that are prevalent in the social world. We need also to speak the simple truth, in love, when occasion requires it. Such an attitude does not exclude sincere cordiality and kindness. A life of simplicity and sincerity may be full of activity but it must be a life centered in God.
Philadelphia Y M.: Faith and practice, 1961, pp. 22-4
Though most law now permits the use of affirmations instead of oaths, for many Friends the prevalence in recent years of loyalty oaths and non-disloyalty disclaimers has added a new dimension to this ancient testimony. Conscientious honesty and Friends' faithfulness to their testimony against oaths can help create a society based on trust in one's neighbors and in the validity of their words.
New England Y M.: Faith and Practice, 1966, p. 147
Swear Not at All
Advised, that our Christian testimony be faithfully maintained against the burden and imposition of oaths, according to the express prohibition of Christ, and also of the apostle James: "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great King; neither shalt thou swear by thine head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black; but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." "But above all things, my brethren, swear not; neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation."
London Y M.: Christian faith and practice, 1960, no. 570.