The American Friend
Authorized by the Five Years Meeting of Friends in America
Walter C. Woodward, Editor
September 18, 1924
New Series. Vol. XII. No. 38.

The Sound of a Voice

OMETIMES it is the scent of a clover field, of a burning tree in a fir woods, or of apple blossoms in spring, that brings thronging in memory the scenes and experiences of other days. Sometimes it is a fleeting view that meets the eye—a cloud effect at sunset, a wild spring flower or a far horizon softened in the haze of Indian summer. Sometimes it is a sound: the song of a meadow lark, the rippling laughter of a brook, a snatch of an old melody; and—sometimes, sometimes it is the voice.
For some years, as we attended Yearly Meeting ses­sions hither and yon, and listened to the reading of the London Epistle, the Clerk whose signature was attached was a name, just a name and little more. In 1920, in company with many other American Friends, we voyaged to England. We entered the World Conference of Friends and there we found—a voice. And so, the other day, in the first shock of the news of the passing of John Henry Barlow, there came back to us the sound of that voice. From the days of that significant Conference to the present hour, when we wish to bring hack the sense of that wonderful gathering, we think not of the addresses given, not of the discussions, not of the messages agreed upon, nor even of the friendly fellowship, fine as it was. No, when we wish to live again the experience of those days, we recall that appealing, resonant voice of John H. Barlow.
It was not alone the distinctive timbre of his voice that keeps it fresh in memory, and that makes it so admirable an expression—an interpretation—of the spirit of the Conference. It was also the character behind the voice and the force and beauty of the message which it conveyed. We have been re-reading those wonderfully written Minutes in which he expressed so accurately, so fairly and so exquisitely, the sense of the Conference on the many subjects under consideration. What remarkable ability to grasp a situation, what fine discrimination in emphasis and how rare a gift in finding unity in diversity, do those Minutes disclose! On the printed page they are literature—when proceeding grac­iously from his lips they breathed very eloquence of the spirit of God.
We turn again to the words of greeting with which he welcomed the visitors in that opening session. “We come from far and near, representing many nations, many vary­ing points of view,” we hear him say, “but we believe that God will help us to forget our differences and to remember how much we have in common. We are one in our belief in the infinite unweariable love of God. We are one in our thankfulness for the supreme revelation of that love in Jesus Christ, the Jesus of History, the Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth and Jerusalem, of Gethsemane and Calvary and the empty sepulchre; the Jesus of inward revelation, who makes himself known to those who draw near to him and accept the revelation. We are one in the belief that God has made of one race all nations of men and we wish to show our practical belief in brotherhood by serving our brethren.... Let us join our hearts as the heart of one man, and unite in the prayer: ‘O Lord, make wars to cease unto the end of the earth, break the bow, cut the spear in sunder, burn the chariot in the fire; and—help us to be still and to know that Thou art God’.” And through the days that followed, that voice led us on, now gently constraining, now deeply inspiring, now boldly challenging—that voice which became the expression, yes, the very embodiment of the new unity, the larger fellowship and the deeper devotion, for which it appealed Thus it is that we, too, may say in memoriam—
“Thy voice is on the rolling air: I hear thee where the waters run; Thou standest in the rising sun, And in the setting thou art fair.” [1]
In a life of tireless industry and distinguished service, John Henry Barlow was a living expression of Quakerism at its highest and best—he was both a preacher and a doer of the word; and eloquent as was his preaching it was not more so than the steadfast devotion and the fine capacity with which he served his fellow men.
His voice was the voice of conviction and courage. Behold him at the head of a large company of Friends appearing at the Guildhall court to stand boldly for free speech and free conscience in that memorable war-time incident when a few Friends were being prosecuted for publishing an anti-war leaflet entitled, “A Challenge to Militarism.” And when the magistrates retired to consider the verdict it was in response to the call of his clear voice that Friends settled themselves in silent prayer, and the court room was strangely turned into a Friends Meeting. [3]
There was constraining reason in the voice of J. H. Barlow. Under a feeling of responsibility for a more wholesome public sentiment and a sane nat­ional policy, leading a group of Friends, he visited the House of Commons when the fires of war hatreds leaped and hissed, and reasoned with mem­bers of Parliament in favor of a course of Christian moderation.
It was the voice of justice and conciliation. When the “Black and Tan” regime, that sad climax to the years of internecine and bloody strife in Ireland, stirred English Friends with deep concern, it was to John Barlow they turned to head a small commission to visit the troubled country to learn better where truth lay and to find if possible pathways leading toward reconciliation. With consummate tact the extraordinarily delicate and diffi­cult mission was performed. His typically frank and im­partial statement was published in the London Times and his report was given careful consideration in authoritative quarters.
That voice was rich in human sympathy—a sympathy Which led him for long years to spend himself for others, especially the unfortunate. Faithful and diligent in business during business hours, he gave much of his leisure time to distinctly Christian work—in the Y.M.C.A., in temperance reform, in preaching and in various forms of social service. A practical expression of this human sympathy is found in his work in the Juvenile Court as a Magistrate of Birmingham.
The message of Christian unity was ever carried by the voice of our friend. His was a remarkable gift for bringing together on common ground those whose differences, were apparently great. There has been accorded him the recognition of a great service in helping so largely to keep English Friends together, and purposefully together, during the war. “His gift was to find where the roots of spiritual unity lay.”
John Henry Barlow spoke with a prophetic voice that called to the future. “Remembering the Conference of Young Friends from all parts of the world, to be held at Jordans next week,” reads his Minute of greetings from the London Conference, “we, the Conference of All Friends, assure you of our loving interest in your gathering, and our earnest desire that God’s blessing may rest upon you in great fulness. ‘Forgetting those things that are behind,’ so far as they discourage, divide and hinder, may you ‘reach forth to those that are before.’ Strong, clear-sighted, courageous, free, may you play well your part now and always, and be privileged to help in translating into reality that ideal of a better world for which men have toiled and prayed so long.” Renewing ever his own strength from the fountains of eternal life, he breathed the spirit of youth and held youth’s outlook.
In that last Minute, the reading of which closed the London Conference, how truly and how beautifully he phrased the common experience of those uplifting days! “God has been better to us than our highest hopes,” he said, in referring to the long-expected Conference as a “Holy Experiment” that had been abundantly justified.
“We have been privileged to worship together, to­gether to see something of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, together to enter into the holy place. We have seen how much we have in common, how strong the links that unite us. We have learned more clearly than before that brotherly love is the soil from which unity springs, and have realized something of what is possible to those who are one in heart and purpose.
“We have in some measure at least been baptised into the suffering of the world, have striven to speak a word of healing and desire now to return to our far-separated homes carrying with us the new inspiration we have re­ceived, dedicated to the service of God, seeking by our lives to interpret him as he is revealed in Jesus Christ.”
And then, just before he paused to “turn a benedic­tion into a prayer, a prayer for all the family of man­kind,” that clarion voice uttered these words of aspira­tion and loving entreaty:
“May we ever be amongst those who reach after the highest, who wait for the Morning, believing that it will surely come.”
John Barlow was a world Friend—he is ours as well as England’s—and his memory is dear to us all. We do not mourn the sound of a voice that is still. His voice is yet vibrant yes, even more vibrant with life, as he calls us on to that highest, which he now finds in the Morning so “surely come” for him.
“O living will that shalt endure When all that seems shall suffer shock, Rise in the spiritual rock, Flow thro’ our deeds and make the pure,
“That we may lift from out of dust A voice as unto him that hears, A cry above the conquer’d years To one that with us works, and trust,
“With faith that comes of self-control, The truths that never can be proved Until we close with all we loved, And all we flow from, soul in soul” [2]

W. C. W.

  1. ^ Canto 130 from In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred Tennyson. [This being a Quaker page, titles are stripped!]
  2. ^ Canto 131 ditto
  3. ^ As reported in The Evening Post, New York, Monday, June 24, 1918.

This eulogy as an image.     Obituary in the same edition of The American Friend.
More John Henry Barlow resources.
Digitisation by Roger W Haworth (email and website) to whom errors should be reported, please.