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A Handful of Stars: 1: William Penn's Text

By Frank W. Boreham


      I

      The Algonquin chiefs are gathered in solemn conclave. They make a wild and striking and picturesque group. They are assembled under the wide-spreading branches of a giant elm, not far from the banks of the Delaware. It is easy to see that something altogether unusual is afoot. Ranging themselves in the form of a crescent, these men of scarred limbs and fierce visage fasten their eyes curiously upon a white man who, standing against the bole of the elm, comes to them as white man never came before. He is a young man of about eight and thirty, wearing about his lithe and well-knit figure a sash of skyblue silk. He is tall, handsome and of commanding presence. His movements are easy, agile and athletic; his manner is courtly, graceful and pleasing; his voice, whilst deep and firm, is soft and agreeable; his face inspires instant confidence. He has large lustrous eyes which seem to corroborate and confirm every word that falls from his lips. These tattooed warriors read him through and through, as they have trained themselves to do, and they feel that they can trust him. In his hand he holds a roll of parchment. For this young man in the skyblue sash is William Penn. He is making his famous treaty with the Indians. It is one of the most remarkable instruments ever completed. 'It is the only treaty,' Voltaire declares, 'that was ever made without an oath, and the only treaty that never was broken.' By means of this treaty with the Indians, William Penn is beginning to realize the greatest aspiration of his life. For William Penn has set his heart on being the Conqueror of the World!

      II

      Strangely enough, it was a Quaker who fired the young man's fancy with this proud ambition. Thomas Loe was William Penn's good angel. There seemed to be no reason why their paths should cross, yet their paths were always crossing. A subtle and inexplicable magnetism drew them together. Penn's father--Sir William Penn--was an admiral, owning an estate in Ireland. When William was but a small boy, Thomas Loe visited Cork. The coming of the Quaker caused a mild sensation; nobody knew what to make of it. Moved largely by curiosity, the admiral invited the quaint preacher to visit him. He did so, and, before leaving, addressed the assembled household. William was too young to understand, but he was startled when, in the midst of the address, a colored servant wept aloud. The boy turned in his astonishment to his father, only to notice that tears were making their way down the bronzed cheeks of the admiral. The incident filled him with wonder and perplexity. He never forgot it. It left upon his mind an indelible impression of the intense reality of all things spiritual. As a schoolboy, he would wander in the forests that so richly surrounded his Essex home, and give himself to rapt and silent contemplation. On one occasion, he tells us, he 'was suddenly surprised with an inward comfort.' It seemed to him as if a heavenly glory irradiated the room in which he was sitting. He felt that he could never afterwards doubt the existence of God nor question the possibility of the soul's access to Him.

      It was at Oxford that the boy's path crossed that of the Quaker for the second time. When, as a lad of sixteen, William Penn went up to the University, he found to his surprise that Oxford was the home of Thomas Loe. There the good man had already suffered imprisonment for conscience sake. The personality of the Quaker appealed to the reflective temperament of the young student, whilst the good man's sufferings for his convictions awoke his profoundest sympathies. To the horror of his father, he ardently espoused the persecuted cause, involving himself in such disfavor with the authorities of the University that they peremptorily ordered his dismissal.

      But it was the third crossing of the paths that most deeply and permanently affected the destinies of William Penn. Soon after his expulsion from Oxford, he was appointed Victualler of the Squadron lying off Kinsale, and was authorized to reside at, and manage, his father's Irish estate. It was whilst he was thus engaged that Thomas Loe re-visited Cork. Penn, of course, attended the meetings. 'It was in this way,' he tells us, 'that God, in His everlasting kindness, guided my feet in the flower of my youth, when about two and twenty years of age. He visited me with a certain testimony of His eternal Word through a Quaker named Thomas Loe.' The text at that memorable and historic service, like a nail in a sure place, fastened itself upon the mind of the young officer. Thomas Loe preached from the words: 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.'

      The faith that overcomes!
      The faith by which a man may conquer the world!
      The faith that is itself a victory!
      'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith!'

      Penn was electrified. His whole being was stirred to its depths. 'The undying fires of enthusiasm at once blazed up within him,' one record declares. 'He was exceedingly reached and wept much,' the Quaker chronicle assures us. He renounced every hope that he had ever cherished in order that he might realize this one. This was in 1666--the year in which London was devoured by the flames.

      'Penn's conversion,' says Dr. Stoughton, 'was now completed. That conversion must not be regarded simply as a change of opinion. It penetrated his moral nature. It made him a new man. He rose into another sphere of spiritual life and consciousness.'

      In his lecture on Evangelist, Dr. Alexander Whyte says that the first minister whose words were truly blessed of God for our awakening and conversion has always a place of his own in our hearts. Thomas Loe certainly had a place peculiarly his own in the heart of William Penn. Penn was with him at the last.

      'Stand true to God!' cried the dying Quaker, as he clasped the hand of his most notable convert. 'Stand faithful for God! There is no other way! This is the way in which the holy men of old all walked. Walk in it and thou shalt prosper! Live for God and He will be with you! I can say no more. The love of God overcomes my heart!'

      The love that overcomes!
      The faith that overcomes!
      'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith!'

      III

      William Penn realized his dream. He became the Conqueror of the World. Indeed, he conquered not one world, but two. Or perhaps, after all, they were merely two hemispheres of the selfsame world. One was the World Within; the other was the World Without; and, of the two, the first is always the harder to conquer.

      The victory that overcometh the world! What is the world? The Puritans talked much about the world; and Penn was the contemporary of the Puritans. Cromwell died just as the admiral was preparing to send his son to Oxford. Whilst at Cork, Penn sat listening to Thomas Loe's sermon on the faith that overcometh the world, John Milton was putting the finishing touches to Paradise Lost, and John Bunyan was languishing in Bedford Gaol. Each of the three had something to say about the world. To Cromwell it was, as he told his daughter, 'whatever cooleth thine affection after Christ.' Bunyan gave his definition of the world in his picture of Vanity Fair. Milton likened the world to an obscuring mist--a fog that renders dim and indistinct the great realities and vitalities of life. It is an atmosphere that chills the finest delicacies and sensibilities of the soul. It is too subtle and too elusive to be judged by external appearances. In his fine treatment of the world, Bishop Alexander cites, by way of illustration, still another of the contemporaries of William Penn. He paints a pair of companion pictures. He depicts a gay scene at the frivolous and dissolute Court of Charles the Second; and, beside it, he describes a religious assembly of the same period. The first gathering appears to be altogether worldly: the second has nothing of the world about it. Yet, he says, Mary Godolphin lived her life at Court without being tainted by any shadow of worldliness, whilst many a man went up to those solemn assemblies with the world raging furiously within his soul!

      William Penn saw the world in his heart that day as he listened to Thomas Loe; and, in order that he might overcome it, he embraced the faith that the Quaker proclaimed. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' And by that faith he overcame the world. Many years afterwards he himself told the story.

      'The Lord first appeared to me,' he says, in his Journal, 'in the twelfth year of my age, and He visited me at intervals afterwards and gave me divine impressions of Himself. He sustained me through the darkness and debauchery of Oxford, through all my experiences in France, through the trials that arose from my father's harshness, and through the terrors of the Great Plague. He gave me a deep sense of the vanity of the world and of the irreligiousness of the religions of it. The glory of the world often overtook me, and I was ever ready to give myself up to it.' But, invariably, the faith that overcometh the world proved victorious. In his monumental History of the United States, Bancroft says that, splendid as were the triumphs of Penn, his greatest conquest was the conquest of his own soul. Extraordinary as was the greatness of his mind; remarkable, both for universality and precision, as were the vast conceptions of his genius; profound as was his scholarship, and astute as was his diplomacy; the historian is convinced that, in the last resort, his greatest contribution to history is the development and influence of his impressive and robust character. 'He was prepared for his work,' Bancroft says, 'by the severe discipline of life; and love without dissimulation formed the basis of his being. The sentiment of cheerful humanity was irrepressibly strong in his bosom; benevolence gushed prodigally from his ever overflowing heart; and when, in his late old age, his intellect was impaired and his reason prostrated, his sweetness of disposition rose serenely over the clouds of disease.' The winsomeness of his ways and the courtliness of his bearing survived for many months the collapse of his memory and the loss of his powers of speech.

      Such was his faith's first victory. It was the conquest of the world within.

      IV

      'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' It was by his faith that he obtained his second great triumph--his conquest of the world without. He disarmed nations by confiding in them. He bound men to himself by trusting them. He vanquished men by believing in them. It was always by his faith that he overcame.

      When the admiral died, the nation was in his debt to the extent of sixteen thousand pounds. This amount--on its recovery--Sir William bequeathed to his son. In due time the matter was compounded, William Penn agreeing to accept an immense belt of virgin forest in North America in full settlement of his claim. He resolved to establish a new colony across the seas under happier conditions than any State had ever known. It should be called Pennsylvania; it should be the land of freedom; its capital should be named Philadelphia--the City of Brotherly Love. He was reminded that his first task would be to subdue the Indians. The savages, everybody said, must be conquered; and William Penn made up his mind to conquer them; but he determined to conquer them in his own way. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' The Indians were accustomed to slaughter. They understood no language but the language of the tomahawk and the scalping-knife. Ever since the white man had landed on American shores, the forests had resounded with the war-whoops of the tribesmen. One night a colonial settlement had been raided by the red men: the next an Indian village had been burned, and its inhabitants massacred by the outraged whites. The Indians looked with hatred upon the smoke of the English settlements; the settlers dreaded the forests which protected the ambush, and secured the retreat of their murderous foes. William Penn conquered the Indians, and conquered them--according to his text--by his faith. 'He will always be mentioned with honor,' Macaulay says, 'as a founder of a colony who did not, in his dealings with a savage people, abuse the strength derived from civilization, and as a lawgiver who, in an age of persecution, made religious liberty the cornerstone of his policy.'

      Immediately upon his arrival he called the Indians to meet him. They gathered under the great elm at Shakamaxon--a spot that is now marked by a monument. He approached the chiefs unarmed; and they, in return, threw away their bows and arrows. Presents were exchanged and speeches made. Penn told the natives that he desired nothing but their friendship. He undertook that neither he nor any of his friends should ever do the slightest injury to the person or the property of an Indian; and they, in reply, bound themselves 'to live in love with Onas'--as they called him--'and with the children of Onas, as long as the sun and the moon shall endure.' 'This treaty of peace and friendship was made,' as Bancroft says, 'under the open sky, by the side of the Delaware, with the sun and the river and the forest for witnesses. It was not confirmed by an oath; it was not ratified by signatures and seals; no written record of the conference can be found; and its terms and conditions had no abiding monument, but on the heart. There they were written like the law of God and were never forgotten. The simple sons of the wilderness, returning to their wigwams, kept the history of the covenant by strings of wampum, and, long afterwards, in their cabins, they would count over the shells on a clean piece of bark and recall to their own memory, and repeat to their children or to the stranger, the words of William Penn.' The world laughed at the fantastic agreement; but the world noticed, at the same time, that, whilst the neighboring colonies were being drenched in blood and decimated by the barbarity of the Mohicans and the Delawares, the hearths of Pennsylvania enjoyed an undisturbed repose. No drop of Quaker blood was ever shed by an Indian. So complete was the victory of the faith of William Penn!

      Nor was the conquest merely negative. When, after a few years, the Quakers began to swarm across the Atlantic to people the new settlement, they were confronted by experiences such as await all pioneers, in young colonies. There were times of stress and privation and hardship. The stern voice of necessity commanded even delicate women to undertake tasks for which their frames were far too frail. In that emergency the Indians came to the rescue. The red men worked for them, trapped for them, hunted for them, and served them in a thousand ways. 'You are all the children of Onas!' they said. Nothing delighted the Indians more than to receive the great Onas as their guest. A feast was arranged in the depths of the forest, bucks were killed, cakes were cooked, and the whole tribe abandoned itself to festivity and rejoicing. And when, years afterwards, they heard that Onas was dead, they sent his widow a characteristic message of sympathy, accompanied by a present of beautiful furs. 'These skins,' they said, 'are to protect you whilst passing through the thorny wilderness without your guide.' The story of the founding of Pennsylvania is, as a classical writer finely says, 'one of the most beautiful incidents in the history of the age.' It was the victory of faith--the faith that overcometh the world!

      V

      'This is the Victory!'
      'The Victory that overcometh the World!'
      The World Within! The World Without!

      'His character always triumphed,' says Bancroft. 'His name was fondly cherished as a household word in the cottages of the old world; and not a tenant of a wigwam from the Susquehannah to the sea doubted his integrity. His fame is as wide as the world: he is one of the few who have gained abiding glory.'

      The Conquest of the world!
      'Nobody doubted his integrity!'
      'He gained abiding glory!'
      'This is the Victory that overcometh the World, even our Faith!'

Back to Frank W. Boreham index.

See Also:
   Introduction
   1: William Penn's Text
   2: Robinson Crusoe's Text
   3: James Chalmers' Text
   4: Sydney Carton's Text
   5: Ebenezer Erskine's Text
   6: Doctor Davidson's Text
   7: Henry Martyn's Text
   8: Michael Trevanion's Text
   9: Hudson Taylor's Text
   10: Rodney Steele's Text
   11: Thomas Huxley's Text
   12: Walter Petherick's Text
   13: Doctor Blund's Text
   14: Hedley Vicars' Text
   15: Silas Wright's Text
   16: Michael Faraday's Text
   17: Janet Dempster's Text
   18: Catherine Booth's Text
   19: Uncle Tom's Text
   20: Andrew Bonar's Text
   21: Francis D'assisi's Text
   22: Everybody's Text

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