Whittier opposed a regular minister, protracted meetings, revivals, and singing when these were introduced into some of the Friends’ Meetings. Although he wouldn’t engage in religious debate, he expressed his feelings in his poems.
In “Our Master,” Whittier identifies specific practices he finds objectionable in other sects:
Immortal Love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!
First, no to transubstantiation
No holy bread, nor blood of grape,
The linements restore
Of Him we know in outward shape
And in the flesh no more.
and Judgment Day
Death comes, life goes; the asking eye
And ear are answerless;
The grave is dumb, the hollow sky
Is sad with silentness.
The letter fails, the systems fall,***
And every symbol wanes;
The Spirit over-brooding all
Eternal Love remains.
No fable old, nor mythic Jove,
Nor dream of bards and seers,
No dead fact stranded on the shore
Of the oblivious years;--
About half way through begin the stanzas included in Protestant hymnals which gave the poem its name.
After the hymn, Whittier returns to Friends’ dogma, including the Inner Light
We faintly hear, we dimly see,
In differing phrase we pray;
But, dim or clear, we own in Thee
The Light, the Truth, the Way!
He praises the lack of structure and ritual in service
Our Friend, our Brother, and our Lord,***
What may Thy service be?--
Nor name, nor form, nor ritual word,
But simply following Thee.
And the absence of incense or bells:
The heart must ring Thy Christmas bells,
Thy inward altars raise;
Its faith and hope Thy canticles,
And its obedience praise!
Full text of "Our Master"