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Book review: The Quest for Serenity

Thursday, 2 March 2023  | Rex Dale

The Quest for Serenity

By George H. Morling

(Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group, 1989)


This is a book that deserves to be better known. Morling is now almost forgotten, though the college in Sydney that bears his name is better known.

Morling is autobiographical in a way that is hardly known today. He begins by describing his early life difficulties, which were multiplied by a highly sensitive nature and nervous weakness. From an early age he was beset by fears that held him back from functioning as a ‘normal’ human being. At night he had eerie experiences of going off into nothingness. He understood what the poet Wordsworth meant when he said that he would sometimes grasp a fence to assure himself that he was real.

Morling was not someone to conceal these weaknesses from others or himself and assume a mask. He faced them – indeed he was compelled to face them – and he was convinced there was a way out. His book is about the discoveries he made in the Bible and literature that lit the way and led him to the Great Rest-giver. It has to be said that this sort of book is not fully understood today. Why is it that there is this gap between an awareness of the need and the full realisation of what the gospel promises? Can’t this all be fixed quickly by responding to an ‘altar call’? And then there is the use of words and phrases that are not in regular use today. So this is a book that will require slow reading. And of course, if the reader has never felt the experience of being hollowed out, or never felt a yearning for Something Better, he or she will probably close the book after the first chapter. But even to them I would suggest they read on, if only to sense Morling’s ‘beating heart’.

Throughout the book are scattered some great phrases that are worth pondering. Here are some: ‘the calm of sins forgiven’; ‘desperate disorders of society have their roots in the efforts of people to escape from themselves … the unrest of deficient belief’; and this warning from George Macdonald: ‘One can have an impoverished experience by living on experiences’. And finally that great line from Dante: ‘In His will is our peace’.

Morling draws on the Quakers for some insights. The Quakers, or Friends as they are sometimes called, started with George Fox (1624-1691). Fox advocated simplicity of life (he made his own clothes), uncompromising honesty, nonviolence, justice, silent waiting on God and no forms or ceremonies. Some saw him as a dreamer, others as a stern individualist. Fox irritated lots of people and spent several years in nasty English jails. In his Journal he describes the many troubles that came to his soul, but also of the rich sense of God’s mercy towards him. In his travels he would meet up with people who had been especially touched by the Spirit. He would describe them as ‘tender’. Despite repelling many by his beliefs and idiosyncrasies, he was able to draw many people around him. Quakers would regularly gather together in their Meeting Houses where they would sit in silence until someone – man or woman – felt moved to speak to some particular situation. A favourite phrase of Fox’s was ‘speaking to the condition’, and he exhorted his followers when they met together to do just that. Or remain silent. Fox never forgot the despair he felt in his youth when he would go to a church for a Word that would address his need and would be disappointed.

In one of his sermons, Charles Spurgeon mentions good friendships he had with Quakers. He had disagreements with them on such matters as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but he loved their emphasis on the inner life and a strong ‘God consciousness’. He also liked their emphasis on ‘speaking to the condition’, that is, addressing matters that needed addressing at that particular time. He liked that Quakers were reputed to tremble at the Word of the Lord when it came upon them (hence the term ‘Quaker’), in contrast with the casual view of Scripture that Spurgeon often observed. He liked the way they quietly and intentionally went about their lives and thought it was a powerful testimony to an uncertain and sometimes turbulent world. In their early history Quakers had great difficulty in breaking into the professions and the universities. They were prevented from doing so by resistant authorities. So Quaker leaders put their heads together and came up with the idea of a Bank for the needs of ordinary citizens. Among their number were those with the skills for making safes and those with an aptitude for careful record keeping. The idea took on. People may have thought Quakers strange, but they strongly believed in their honesty and trustworthiness. They were happy to put their money in their care or seek their advice in taking a loan. And so Barclays and Lloyds banks were born. (Today there is probably little formal connection between Quakers and banking.)

On Fox’s death there were about 50,000 followers scattered throughout Britain, Holland, America and other places. But their influence went well beyond what their numbers would suggest.

But back to G.H. Morling and his book. Ruth Bell Graham was very impressed with Morling’s book and thought it a ‘classic’ that should always be in print. She brought out a special edition of it with some notes of her own. As a child I remember Morling being talked about, but I never saw him in the flesh. At the country church I grew up in we had, for five years, a minister who trained under ‘Principal Morling’, as he was always known. What stood out in my memory was his choice of hymns. Lines that come to mind are: ‘Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee Lord’, and some lines from The Sands of Time are Sinking, a hymn by Anne R. Cousin, composed around lines from letters by Samuel Rutherford. It may be that he was never coached in this matter by Morling, but the more I think about it, and the more I study Morling’s book, the more certain I am that Morling had a good deal of influence.

Morling’s book needs to be approached with a certain attitude of mind and heart. If it is approached with a strong self-sufficient attitude, it will make no impression. But with a prayerful heart and mind, its influence can be great. Following the death of my brother last year, I found his copy of Morling’s book. I was reminded that this book was instrumental in putting his life on a strong foundation and giving him purpose and direction. My brother lived a long life, and over that period he gave regularly to various causes and worked in the church and community. We should not suppose that an emphasis on the inner life makes people inactive and indifferent. Indeed, when we have an inner composure, we are enabled to do more.

Morling never suggested that his book was the last word on the subject or that he always lived by his own principles. And he did not want it to be seen as ‘a book of rules’. Rather, it was to be seen as a series of principles that would enhance our lives, glorify Christ and bring certainty in an uncertain world.


Rex Dale is a retired professional (dentistry). He was educated in Western Australia and attends St Jude’s Carlton in Melbourne.

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