George Fox and Romans 7

During a lengthy discussion, Xxxxxxxxxx, asked me to look into what Fox had to say concerning Romans chapter 7. Did Fox consider this the normal Christian experience? Is it the portrayal of an unbeliever coming to Christ? I searched the eight volumes of The Works of Fox for “Rom. vi” or “Rom. 7” but turned up very few references. So I turned to searches for the concepts or phrases Fox used when he identified Romans 7 in his writing. Here is what I found.

Fox does not deal with Romans 7 exclusively but brings together concepts from chap. 6 (“newness of life”), chapter 7 (“oldness of the letter”), chapter 8 (“the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death”), chapter 10 (“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness’ sake.”), and many other parts of the Bible. Fox’s associations of scripture passages range the full gamut of the scriptures. See for example:

And as Moses in the old covenant sprinkled the people with the blood, the life of beasts; so Christ our high priest sprinkles the hearts and consciences of his people in the new covenant with his blood, his life, from their dead works, that they may serve the living God in newness of life:’ and as the blood of the old covenant was the life of the beasts, so the blood of the everlasting covenant is the life of Christ the Lamb, ordained before the foundation of the world, who is the great shepherd of his sheep, through the blood of his everlasting covenant he makes his saints perfect in every good work to do his will, working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight.’ (Works, Vol. V, pp.362-363)

Here we have the Pentateuch, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hebrews, and Romans all rolled together to form the picture of the distinction between the newness of life and the oldness of the letter. Fox used this distinction over and over, portraying the contrast between those who live by the law of life in Christ Jesus and those who live by some other law. In Vol. 7 of his Works, Fox stated:

For ye may see, how far many may go, and did go, and were led out of many things; yet did turn again into the world. So mind your present guide, and your present condition, and your call, what ye are called from, and what ye are called to; for whom the Lord hath called and chosen, are the Lord’s freemen. And so, abide every one in your calling with God, where God hath called you, and there walk in newness of life, and not in the oldness of the letter; for he that turneth from him that calleth, walks not in the life of God. Therefore, all Friends, walk in the truth and in the love of it up to God; and every one in particular mind your guide, that ye may grow up in wisdom, and improve your own talents, and the gift which God hath given you. And take heed of words without life, for they tend to draw you out of the power to live above the truth, and out of your conditions; which nature will not have peace, except it have words. But every particular submit to that which is of God in you, to guide you to God. (pp.88-89)

Paul contrasted life under the law (portrayed in Romans 7) with life under Christ who is the end of the law for Righteousness sake (Romans 8 and 10). His rhetorical question and answer, which many quote as proof that man can’t live righteously before God, that sin will be taken care of finally at some future time, is:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:24-25)

But for Fox, Romans 7 is not the end of the story. Like Edward Burrough, Fox could say, “But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long; and he is our refuge, our rock, and our fortress against all our enemies.” (Vol. III, p. 6) In epistle CIV, Fox exhorts Friends to dwell in the power of God and to know (that is, to experience) the power of God to keep you. In epistle CV, he spells out how this is to be done.

CV.—Concerning the Light. (To be read amongst Friends.) All Friends every where, keep your meetings waiting in the light which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ; so will ye receive power from him, and have the refreshing springs of life opened to your souls, and be kept sensible of the tender mercies of the Lord. And know one another in the life, (ye that be turned to the light,) and in the power, which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is your light, who is your life; that ye may all in the life see Christ to reign in you, who is the truth, from whence ye have light. Here the old serpent is chained, and put into the bottomless pit, and Christ is known to reign, and ye to reign with him; heirs with him, joint-heirs, and heirs of God. Here is the dominion received and witnessed of the world that is without end, and the promise of life from the Father of life to you, who are turned to the son, who to the Father is the way, who is the mediator between the Father and you. All wait to receive the everlasting priest, the everlasting covenant of God, of light, life, and peace; into which covenant no sin, no darkness, nor death comes, but the blessing of the only wise God, the Father of life, here is known, where no earthly man can approach. But he that is of God knows God’s truth; and he that is of the devil, doth his lusts, who was a murderer from the beginning, in whom is no truth, who in it abode not. So he it is that speaks a lie, and speaks of himself, and not God’s word; for he is out of the truth. But ye that are turned to the light walk in the light, walk in the truth, where no darkness is; with which light, that never changeth, ye may come to see that which was in the beginning, before the world was, where there is no shadow nor darkness. In which light as ye wait, ye will come to receive into your hearts the word of faith, which reconciles to God, and is as a hammer, to beat down all that is contrary; and as a sword, to divide the precious from the vile; and as a fire, to burn up that which is contrary to the precious: which word is pure, and endureth for ever; which was in the beginning, and is now again witnessed and made manifest. Therefore wait in the light, that ye may all receive it, the same word that ever was, which the scriptures were given forth from.

Thus, with Fox’s admonition, we do not find ourselves in a state of impotency having to wait for some future time when Christ will take away sin. Neither are we consigned to struggle and failure until some further work of grace descends upon us. Fox wrote in Vol. III:

Every man that cometh into the world, though they be in the first Adam, have a light from Christ the second Adam, the bishop of their souls. So every one being turned to the light which Christ the second Adam hath enlightened them withal, they shall see the bishop of their souls, Christ the power of God, which is immortal, and brings the immortal soul into the immortal God. Christ is their sanctification, who sanctifies their spirits, and bodies, and brings the soul up into God, from whom it came, whereby they come to be one soul. For in the lusts of the world, and the affections of it, is the war against it, and there are the powers of wickedness. The soul must be in the higher power, higher than the flesh, which stains the man, spirit and body, and the powers of wickedness. So the light being turned to, man receiveth the spirit of God, which sanctifies him, the spirit of sanctification in Christ Jesus the sanctification and redemption. So every man that cometh into the world has a light from Christ Jesus, the way out of the fall, the second Adam, and receiving the light he receives his redemption and sanctification, whereby his spirit, body, and soul are sanctified. (p.168)

Advertisements
Posted in Sin, Understanding early Friends | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Good

There came a man to Jesus who said to him,

…”Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)

This may seem a rather abrupt challenge in view of the deferential salutation of this man. Jesus’ response may seem out of proportion compared with the serious nature of the man’s request. However, as usual, Jesus has put his finger on the crux of the matter. Either you accept my instructions because I and the Father are one and I teach with the authority of the Father (and I am, therefore, good). Or you reject what I say because you do not believe that I come from the Father. These are Jesus’ terms to the man upon which the rest of the dialog is based.

“You know the commandments,” said Jesus, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher, the man responded, [dropping the “good”], I have kept all these things from my youth up.”

…”One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:19-21)

“What must I do?” queried the keeper of Moses’ law, “I want life.” However, because he had moved away from good teacher, he lost hope that Jesus’ difficult demands were of any use.

This episode portrays the head on clash between two opposing ideas: revelation and religion. Revelation begins with a relationship with a teacher, a revealer. Religion begins in the codified precepts of the past and engages in a form of ancestor worship. Whether or not those past precepts were true revelations of the character of God is irrelevant, they cannot be the cornerstone of life. “Go sell all you possess, and give it to the poor…” is the lifeline Jesus threw to this man. To discard all your possession flew in the face of popular religion. “I am rich because God favors me. You are poor because God does not accept you” was the idolatry of the day. Jesus asked the man to sell his religion and start again from square one!

This story further demonstrates that you cannot participate in revelation and hold onto religion. Participating in revelation does not invalidate the revelation given to our predecessors, but now you have fellowship with them. You have come under the tutelage of the same teacher. Their insights now have meaning in relationship to your own openings and insights. Jesus did not discard Moses’s law, “You know the commandments…” Rather he pulled the discussion back to the first commandment:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

The writer of the book of Hebrews poses the question: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him… (Heb. 2:3) He then continues with this theme, admonishing “If today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15, and 4:7) The exchange between Jesus and the keeper of the commandments demonstrated the futility of religion. The man was conscious of a lack of life within. The writer of Hebrews calls us to revelation, to life (i.e. salvation) based upon hearing the voice of the Lord. The man went away from Jesus in sorrow because he neglected to hear the voice of the good teacher.

Jesus spoke many things by way of parables about the kingdom of heaven, including:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matt. 13:44-46)

As with the man asking what he needed to do to gain eternal life, Jesus’ instruction in these parables is sell all you have that you may buy the field containing the treasure or buy the pearl of great price. Either you recognize that this treasure is worth more than all you have or you depart in sorrow because you can’t both hold onto part of your possessions and buy the field or buy the pearl.

Posted in Salvation, True Christianity, Understanding early Friends | Leave a comment

A Question of Authority

Note: Some of this material first appeared as comments on Steven Davison’s blog post, Scripture–Picking and Choosing.

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt. 18:18-20)

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14)

There are 22 incidents of the phrase “in my name” in the King James Bible. Possibly the most often quoted in-my-name passages come from the above texts. The first occurrence, and perhaps the least understood, is in Deut. 18:19, speaking about the prophet like Moses God is promising to raise up. Some of those probably are better understood as actually “in my name,” but many have to do with speaking or acting in the authority of God or the authority of Christ. The Deut. passage illustrates the change of meaning when one phrase or the other is used. I quote it here using “authority”.

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my [authority], I will require it of him. (Deut. 18:18-19)

Anyone can invoke the name of Jesus Christ or God, and many do in all manner of circumstances; some as a curse, others as the ending to a prayer. But usually such invokers do not speak with authority. To speak or to act in the authority of God or the authority of Christ implies prior arrangements and an existing relationship that makes such a thing possible. You can’t speak in the authority of the government without having that obligation conferred to you by some commission.

Consider the following questions concerning the above passages of scripture:

    • What would it mean to hear this prophet raised by God who speaks the words of God in God’s authority?
    • Why is it important to hear this prophet today?
    • How would our meetings or gatherings change if we gathered in the authority of Jesus Christ?
    • What is required in order to gather in Jesus’ authority?
    • Does merely getting together constitute/guarantee Jesus’ authority?
    • What would be required to request something from the Father in Jesus’ authority?

The Deut. 18 text is pivotal to understanding the work of Christ, and to understand the issue of authority. A brief glance at the background will show why.

At the mountain, in Deut. 5, the people heard the voice of God speaking from the cloud and saw the fire. They cried out, “Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die.” (Deut. 5:25) They requested that Moses be the intermediary between them and God. Even though God says they have spoken well, he does not leave them there. Moses tells them that God has humbled them and let them be hungry that they may know and understand that man “does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live.” (Deut. 8:3) This is the import of the prophet like Moses. The prophet, speaking with the authority of God, is the mediator of life. Jesus picks up on that theme in John 6:63 saying “The flesh profits nothing, the breath gives life. The words I speak/have spoken to you these are breath, these are life.” As there is no life without hearing the voice of this prophet raised up by God, so there is no speaking or acting in the authority of Christ without obeying that voice.

George Fox had a lot to say about the offices or actions of Christ Jesus as he is present in the midst of those gathered in his authority. Chief among these offices is the fulfillment of the prophet-like-Moses promise of Deut. 18. This understanding did not come out of thin air. When Fox had come to the end of all his resources and was on the point of despair, he received an opening that was central to his preparation for a life of ministry and was central to all that his ministry was about. He wrote in his journal:

But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’ When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have preeminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? This I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit.” (Works of Fox, Vol. 1, p.74)

There are several things about this passage that are remarkable, but I only mention the following. First is identification of Christ Jesus as the one who can speak to Fox’s condition. There is no ambiguity about whom he is dealing with. Second is Fox’s growth in the “pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing…I knew him not but by revelation.” Third is a substantial portion of that “knowing by revelation” occurred as “the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit.

Now, when Fox was preaching to people such as at Firbank Chapel, the principal component of his message was:

I declared God’s everlasting truth and word of life…directing all to the spirit of God in themselves; that they might be turned from the darkness to the light, and believe in it, that they might become the children of it, and might be turned from the power of satan unto God; and by the spirit of truth might be led into all truth, and sensibly understand the words of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles; and might all come to know Christ to be their teacher to instruct them, their counsellor to direct them, their shepherd to feed them, their bishop to oversee them, and their prophet to open divine mysteries to them; and might know their bodies to be prepared, sanctified, and made fit temples for God and Christ to dwell in. In the openings of the heavenly life, I opened unto them the prophets, and the figures and shadows, and directed them to Christ, the substance… (Works of Fox, Vol. 1, pp. 142-143)

In his Sermon XIV, Stephen Crisp stated:

How do we like that government, to be ruled by the devil, and to be led captive, and to be made to do his will, and to rebel against God that gave us our life, and breath, and being?…I hope we do none of us like it. It was so with me; and they that are under the tyrannical government of satan, have many cries and wishes in their souls, that they were freed and delivered from it, and brought under the government and obedience of Christ Jesus…

But may not some say, how shall this great work be wrought? For it is a great work, and we verily think that nothing but an Almighty Power can effect it. For there are many in this assembly have been trying to no purpose, and done what they could in their own strength, to deliver their own souls from death, and yet they find themselves in bondage still; nay, they have called in the help and assistance of those that they thought to be stronger than themselves, and all have failed, and they are yet weak and entangled, and they cannot find themselves at liberty to serve the Lord as they ought to do.

I am of this mind, that nothing but the Almighty Power of God can do it; and when you have come to my experience, to know this as I have done, then I hope you will seek after that, and you will see good reason for it; and you will then come to this profession, if the Lord puts not forth his Almighty Power, I must then perish, for there is no other power can deliver me. When you come to know this…you must wait for the revelation of that power that will take you off from all trust and confidence that you have ever had in any thing else:…

When a man or woman comes to this pass, that they have nothing to rely upon but the Lord, then they will meet together to wait upon the Lord: And this was the first ground or motive of our setting up meetings;…we should use them as poor desolate helpless people that are broken off from all their own confidence and trust, and have nothing to rely upon but the mercy and goodness of God; and if he pleaseth to reveal his power among us, we know that he is able to save us. (Scripture Truths Demonstrated, pp. 158, 159)

This was the foundation upon which the Quaker movement was built; a building solidly fitted and joined together in and by the revelation of Jesus Christ present among them fulfilling all his offices. When the early Friends gathered, two or three or hundreds, they knew they were gathered in Jesus’ authority because they experienced him in their midst performing his functions or offices among and within them.

When Fox spoke in Ulverston Chapel in 1652, much of what he had to say concerned this authority. Margaret Fell reported,

And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, ‘The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:and said,Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; ‘but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?&c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.’ (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.50)

Today, many Liberal Quakers speak of “the Spirit,” but that “Spirit” does not lead to the son nor does it bring glory to Jesus Christ as the only one that can speak to the human condition. Evangelical Friends, and evangelicals in general, have a lot of words about Jesus Christ, but those words do not bring people to know God and Christ alone without the help of any man, book, or writing. They are not gathered in Christ’s authority to partake of his offices as he is present in the midst.

By acting and speaking without the authority of God and Jesus Christ, we prove ourselves to be thieves. But being thieves, we deny Jesus Christ and negate the gift of life, grace, faith, and power, which he would give us if we were not intent on stealing them.

Posted in in Jesus' authority, in Jesus' name, Understanding early Friends, Who Jesus is | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Faith and Culture

But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’ When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have preeminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? This I knew experimentally. (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p. 74)

Faith does not grow in the comfortable situations where we are in control. Fox’s experience of the priests, separate preachers, and most experienced people was that they were all miserable comforters. Many people prefer to hold onto miserable comfort rather than to admit that such comfort is worthless. But in so doing they are never brought to that impasse of “I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do.” It is this impasse, where we have reached the end of all our resources, that is the seedbed of faith. From Fox’s “then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’” to “This I knew experimentally.” is the process of faith growing within.

The world was, and yet is, immersed in a culture of looking upon “priests, separate preachers, and most experienced people” as the avenue through which God will send help if ever we are to receive any help. The effect of this culture is that we have many voices to listen to. Fox’s opening was that it was not the many voices that could speak to his condition, and in that realization he was cut off from all contemporary Christianity. From their point of view, he was now beyond help, beyond redemption. Today, we are again assailed by a barrage of voices; even among those called Christian. The common refrain is, “God speaks to me through the preacher, through Bible readings, through the songs, through circumstances,” etc. If you follow these voices you always end up in the ditch. You can say, “I have faith that God will someday pull me up out of this ditch.” But that is not the good news. That is not faith. The good news is that there is one voice that is to be heard while it is called “today” that does not lead into the ditch. That voice does not speak “through…” but speaks to your inward ear. Faith grows as we hear and follow that voice. This faith causes our hearts to leap for joy. We know by experience that by following this voice we are brought to life and made conformable to the image of the Father.

This experience was the center piece of Fox’s preparation for his life of ministry. Thus in his summary of his message at Firbank Fell he said:

It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours; directing all to the spirit of God in themselves; that they might be turned from the darkness to the light, and believe in it, that they might become the children of it, and might be turned from the power of satan unto God; and by the spirit of truth might be led into all truth, and sensibly understand the words of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles; and might all come to know Christ to be their teacher to instruct them, their counsellor to direct them, their shepherd to feed them, their bishop to oversee them, and their prophet to open divine mysteries to them; and might know their bodies to be prepared, sanctified, and made fit temples for God and Christ to dwell in. In the openings of the heavenly life, I opened unto them the prophets, and the figures and shadows, and directed them to Christ, the substance…I showed also the state of the apostacy that hath been since the apostles’ days; that the priests have got the scriptures, but are not in the spirit which gave them forth; and have put them into chapter and verse, to make a trade of the holy men’s words; that the teachers and priests now are found in the steps of the false prophets, chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees of old, and are such as the true prophets, Christ and the apostles cried against, and so are judged and condemned by the spirit of the true prophets, of Christ, and of his apostles: and that none in that spirit and guided by it now could own them. (Works of Fox, Vol. 1, pp. 142-143)

Not only was turning from the many voices to the one voice, even Christ Jesus, central to Fox’s preparation, it was central to what he called all people to experience for themselves. This shared experience is the basis of the community of faith, or else we have no faith; only wishful thinking. Without this faith, we are blown about by every wind of cultural doctrine. This faith is either the center of our culture or else culture becomes our “faith.”

Posted in faith | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Introduction to Fox’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit

Note: This first appeared as a blog post on the New Foundation Fellowship website.

There are two compelling reasons for devoting a whole session in this series to Fox’s teaching about the Holy Spirit. The first is that Quakerism is now being categorized as belonging among the many Christian movements that make the Holy Spirit central to faith and experience. The other reason is that those who are now being called to re-proclaim the everlasting gospel will encounter many Quakers, and many Christians in all denominations, who make the Holy Spirit central. I have found in my own experience that where the charismatic or Pentecostal movements have established themselves there is a built-in resistance to the gospel that Fox preached. Therefore we have to study these movements and be prepared to respond when they say there is nothing in Fox’s understanding of the gospel that they do not already have.

Thus Lewis Benson began lecture #9, Fox’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit, of his 10 Moorestown Lecture Series, given in the fall of 1982. His contention is that rather than making the Holy Spirit central, the early Quakers knew/experienced Jesus Christ as the center of their life and worship. Is this really the case? To answer that question, I went to Epistles from the Yearly Meeting of Friends, Held in London, to the Quarterly and Monthly Meetings in Great Britain, Ireland, and Elsewhere, From 1681 to 1817, Inclusive: With an Introduction, Comprising an Account of several preceding Epistles, and of the Early Records of the Yearly Meeting; Also An Index Of Some Of The Principal Matters. (Available from archive.org.) Following are some examples of what I found.

The Lord, who is the Ancient of Days, the unchangeable, and Holy One of Israel, that was, and is, and is to come, our Rock and Strength for ever, hath graciously brought us together by his own power, and is with us, yea, and hath covered us with his love and Spirit, and filled our hearts with his undeclarable kindness; the sense of his mercies hath exceedingly overcome us, and the remembrance of his ancient goodness has even melted and cemented us together; and blessed, and sweet, and very precious to our souls is the heavenly unity of life among us, wherein at this meeting the Lord our God hath crowned us with glory, dominion, and peace: blessed for ever be his pure name! (p. xi, From a Meeting Held at Ellis Hookes… 1677)

…In the ancient pure and precious Truth…is the very endeared salutation of our tender faithful love to you all, in which is the blessed fellowship of life felt, enjoyed, and maintained…O! blessed be his Eternal Arm of power, that hath made us sensible of this unity, and gathered us out of this worlds’ spirit…into this sweet, pure, and peaceable society…Dear Friends, his dew descendeth, his rain falleth, and the light of his heavenly countenance is lifted up, and shineth upon us; our hearts are affected, our souls are overcome, he hath filled us with his blessing, and caused our cups to overflow; he hath spoken such peace to his people, as the world can neither give nor take away, and therefore, they dare not return to folly… (p. xvi, from The Yearly Meeting Paper, 1678)

WE dearly salute you in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our prince peace, our head, our life, and lawgiver; being truly comforted and refreshed in his continued presence and blessing with us, and with our meetings and christian care in the affairs and concerns of Truth and churches of Christ ; truly rejoicing in the living sense and accounts we have at this Meeting of Truth’s prosperity… (p. 1, Epistle 1681)

…Finally, dear Friends and Brethren, “we commit you to the Lord God, to be ordered by his divine wisdom and counsel; and therein continue your love and tender care one for another, and for Truth’s prosperity. All dwell in the love of God, in unity and peace in Christ Jesus, the prince of life and peace; and therein go on in his service, and keep your habitations over all that which is contrary, or would hinder you therein, or disturb your peaceable societies. (p. 3, Epistle 1681)

And this from George Fox’s Epistles:

…so in his name keep your meetings, in whom you have salvation; and these are the true meetings and true gatherings who feel Jesus Christ in the midst of them, their prophet, their counsellor, their leader, their light and life, their way and their truth, their shepherd that laid down his life for them, that has bought you, his sheep, who feeds you in his pastures of life; and your heavenly bishop to oversee you, that you do not go astray again from God. And so it is that through him you overcome, and he that overcomes shall go no more forth out of his fold, out of his pastures, who shall sit down in heavenly places in Christ Jesus who is your priest that offered up himself for you, and sacrifices for you and makes you holy and clean, that he may present you blameless up to the holy and pure God and here you come to witness him and to know him in his offices, by his light, sprit, and power;… (Works of Fox, Vol. viii, p.77)

Those early epistles were not written to appease someone looking over their shoulders, scrutinizing their words. Neither are modern epistles afflicted with any dread that I would look critically at their wording. Therefore, the differences in mood, in attribution, and in language indicate a real difference in experience. It is not so much that the early Friends refrained from mentioning the Holy Spirit, but in reading through their epistles I sense the critical importance of Jesus’s presence in all his offices.

Finding modern Quaker epistles is not so easy, but let us look at a couple of statements from a group that proclaims themselves to be “passionately Christ-centered” and “passionately Quaker.”

Their definition of Christ/Christ-centered is:

Friends use the word Christ to refer both to the historical Jesus, and the present Spirit that “has come to teach His people Himself” (Fox)… (http://www.freedomfriends.org/FF-WGloss.htm#Chr)

And the body of Christ is defined as:

This term has multiple meanings. The most simple is that all Christians, regardless of church affiliation or lack thereof, are the physical presence of Christ in the[sic] this world . Since Jesus left the planet in physical form, being present to us in spirit, we have to be his eyes and ears, his hands and feet… (http://www.freedomfriends.org/FF-WGloss.htm#bo)

And then there is the epistle from a recent gathering of Quaker ministers and elders from several Yearly Meetings which contains the following:

Twenty-nine of us gathered at the Cenacle Retreat Center in Chicago October 6 – 9, 2017. Experienced ministers and elders were invited from a number of the branches of Quakerism, the diversity of which enriched the gathering. The two planners and one of the group leaders fell sick at the last minute. Other Friends stepped up at a few minutes’ notice. Those of us who like everything planned were a little cranky, but we marveled at the miracles and mischief of the Holy Spirit manifested among us…

And

In the opening worship one Friend shared a heartfelt message saying the Society of Friends is in deep trouble because we are not surrendering to the Holy Spirit.

The two definitions quoted from Freedom Friends above are markedly different from statements made by Fox and other early Friends expressing the reality of Jesus Christ’s presence, rather than a representative spirit, in and among them. The epistle from the gathering of ministers and elders makes no mention at all of Christ’s presence among them fulfilling his offices.

The expression of the centrality of Christ’s presence and function is what first drew me to the message of the early Friends and gave me an understanding that in that message is something that the rest of Christendom lacks. Many things have changed in the 48 years since I first read the Journal of George Fox, but the need for this message has intensified rather than diminished. Lewis Benson’s lecture #9 is essential for understanding the distinctions between the early Quaker message and the various “gospels” presented today.

Posted in life, Spirituality, Understanding early Friends, Who Jesus is | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Do We Live by Life or by Death

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:13-23)

In his blog post, Is Your “Justice” Really Just Revenge, Micah Bales indirectly raised a very important question: “Do we live by death or do we live by life?” You can read his post by following the link above, but I want to explore further the implications inherent in this question.

Live-by-death strategies may enable one to make some outward changes; the greater your willpower the larger the change. But in spite of those changes, there remains an unyielding core of death within. Our encounters with that inward death and our inability to produce life are a continual source of frustration. Often someone will try to appease those frustrations with such statements as “The blood of Jesus, shed for us on the cross, has the power to take away the sins of the world.

This has been the approach of much of Christendom throughout history and is exemplified by current Protestant and Catholic theology. I can think of three things wrong with this live-by-death statement. First it leaves the adherent without the necessary power to know and do the will of the Father. Second, the blood Jesus shed on the cross is an historic event that reaches neither forward nor backward through time. And third, the sin of the world, not sins of the world, that Jesus takes away is not what their statement implies. Where mankind is in sin they are in a state of death and are trying to come to life through their own effort. Even Jesus’ death is not a remedy for mankind’s inward deadness. That condition can only be cured by life.

In his Preface to The Scattered Sheep Sought After (Works of Isaac Penington, Vol. I, pp.102-104), Isaac Penington made the following statements:

“My people have committed two great evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” This was ever and anon the complaint of the Lord concerning Israel…The Lord did delight to beget, nourish, and bring up that people for himself; but they were almost continually revolting from him, and rebelling against him…In plain terms, they got what knowledge they could from him into their own vessels, and then they would set up for themselves, live of themselves, without fresh bubblings-up of life from the spring, from whence their knowledge came…they lived upon such things as once came from the life; but, being separated from the spring, were dead, and nourished but the dead part in them…though their professions were great, and they multiplied prayers, sacrifices, and fasts, and drew nigh to God with their lips, yet their hearts were far from him. They had forsaken the fountain; they drank not of the waters of the spring, of the rock that followed them; but they drank of the waters of their own cisterns. They set up that knowledge of the law for their light which they had hewed out with the tools of their own understanding, without the spirit that wrote it…they drank very zealously of the waters of the law; but they drank it not from the spring, but out of the cisterns which themselves had hewed.

…The Christian Israel hath been always backsliding…still getting what they could from him to live of themselves, but refusing to live on him: getting what knowledge they could from the scriptures without him; getting what they could from their exercises and experiences; but neglecting the spring of their life…For though they speak great words of their God; yet they themselves are but as the heathen…unacquainted with the virtue and power of life like them; always striving against sin in that which cannot conquer…

…how hath the spirit of the Lord mourned after his people, often reproving them for their backslidings! but they have been…justifying themselves, and complaining against the witnesses of God…who from the Lord testify against them. And it cannot be otherwise; for the dead waters in Israel’s hewn cisterns will never agree with the waters of the living fountain, but will withstand their testimony.[emphasis added]

When the scripture speaks of the blood of Christ, the reference is to his life. The resurrection, the triumph of Jesus’ life over death, is the death shattering event that does reach throughout history. This life is being poured out and is available continually, bubbling up like springs of living water. Jesus told his disciples,

The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I am speaking/have spoken to you, these are spirit, these are life. (See John 6:63)

So, what must we do? We must come to hear and follow this voice, speaking life within us, if we are to escape that unyielding core of death within. The writer of the book of John stated: “In the beginning was the Word…In him was life and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1,4) This is the narrow gate, to live in this light and by the word Jesus speaks to us. It is quite different than reading the Bible and trying to do what it says.

George Fox stated the difference thus:

The Lord had said unto me, ‘If but one man or woman were raised by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round.’ For people had the scriptures, but were not in the same light, power, and spirit, which those were in who gave forth the scriptures: so they neither knew God, Christ, nor the scriptures aright; nor had they unity one with another, being out of the power and spirit of God. (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.140)

The early Quakers exemplified live-by-life. Edward Burrough, writing of the rise of the Quakers in the north of England, stated,

And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God… (Works of Fox, Vol. 3, p.13)

And when Stephen Crisp decided that it was not possible for him to control his wandering mind during worship, he determined to give up. He rose to leave, whereupon the voice of God thundered within him, “That which is weary must die.” (Crisp’s Works, p. 30)

It is we that must die to the ways of this world, to the ways of self, that we may live by the voice of Christ alone. We must experience the voice of the Lord and feel His word in our hearts burning up and beating down all that is contrary to God. Again quoting from Edward Burrough,

And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (Works of Fox, Vol.III, pp. 12-13)

The holy anointing Burrough wrote about is not an outward application of oil, but receiving the gift of Christ’s life within such that they became living beings. No longer was there that unyielding core of death that accused them before the living God.

When we have come to this, we experience within ourselves the Teacher who teaches us the Father’s will, we find within the willingness to receive the power of Christ that enables us to live according to that will. By this process we are remade into the image of God and are set free from the image of the serpent. It is an inward work of God that we must not grow weary of, but wait in the hope that He will bring it to conclusion as we yield to what He requires of us. In that willingness, we will find possible what we had known to be impossible before.

Posted in life | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nature of the True Church: Part 2

The main challenge to this vision of a holy church is the church’s own sinfulness…Luther’s understanding of the church as simul justus et peccatore, or “simultaneously justified and a sinner,” is helpful for describing the paradox of the church’s “now and not yet” struggle with sin. Luther’s perspective affirms the reality of the sin of the church, yet also allows that God’s sanctification is in fact at work and progressively enacting real change in the hearts, minds, and actions of those who allow the Holy Spirit’s work to continue unhindered in their lives; i.e. those who are working with and not against God’s plan of redemption for the world. The Holy Spirit, with and in spite of the sinfulness of humans, is leading the church to be remade from within into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, presenting all that we are as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God as an act of love and worship (Rom 12:1-2). (excerpted from James Tower’s blog Stretch Marks )

Perhaps Luther’s words “affirm the reality of the sin of the church,” but neither he nor those who have followed in his footsteps have demonstrated a church that has overcome the gates of hell. During certain seasons, the house built on the sand functions as well as any other. But storms will come, which reveal our foundation. In 1943, Lewis Benson wrote:

…the church is again facing a major crisis. This crisis has resulted from the church’s failure to remain firmly grounded on Truth while striving to adjust to a rapidly changing world. Now that evil forces are sweeping over the earth the church finds it difficult to prove that she is really able to prevail against the gates of hell…The church has become increasingly aware of what her work is in the world…Nevertheless, there remains a wide gulf between what the church knows she should be and what…she is.

The cause of this is to be found in the limitations that are inherent in both Protestantism and Catholicism. Catholicism places the ground of authority in the church…Protestantism tends to view the Bible as the final word of authority. (Prophetic Quakerism, in New Foundation publications, No. 5, The Truth Is Christ, 1981, p. 9)

Because the early Quakers also lived during a time of crisis, their response to crisis can be profitably compared to that of the 20th century church. Benson continued:

The Quakers went directly to the guiding light of the living Christ for their authority. (ibid. pp. 1-10)

So why bother about this? Why not adopt the “if it works for you, great” attitude?

Because if there is a power that can raise up a pure, undefiled people to stand as light, salt, and example of liberation from the gates of Hell, then the news of this power is of vital importance. Benson stated:

[The early Quakers] believed that they had rediscovered the only adequate foundation for Christian truth and, building on this foundation, they were enabled to carry forward to successful demonstration the pattern of Christian community which had been proclaimed and exhibited by the early church. (ibid. p.10)

In 1666, Isaac Penington wrote:

…What a miserable APOSTASY from the TRUTH hath overspread and covered the Earth for many Ages and Generations…

This was directed at both Catholics and those Protestants who

…had not waited on the Lord, for him, in his wisdom and power, to rear up his own building, but had ventured to build of themselves, and so had reared up Churches in the same spirit of error, darkness, and apostasy, which they seemed to depart from… (Concerning The Church or of The Church State Under the Gospel…, )

Edward Burrough demonstrated this apostasy and how to escape from it in his introduction to the Works of Fox, Vol. III.

It is…about seven years since the Lord raised us up in the north of England…what we were before in our religion, profession, and practices is well known…we were men of the strictest sect, and of the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness, and went through and tried all sorts of teachers, and run from mountain to mountain, and from man to man, and from one form to another…And such we were…that sought the Lord, and desired the knowledge of his ways more than any thing beside…(Works of Fox, Vol. III, p.11)

This is a picture of the sincerity of much of Christianity today. But Burrough’s narrative marks a change, not just in procedure, but in the foundation from which all else flowed. The apostasy is from the life and power of God. Turning to the guiding light of Christ within, not sincerity, is the only antidote.

And after our long seeking the Lord appeared to us…First the Lord brought us…to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal…(ibid. pp.11-12)

Where Catholic turned to the Pope and Protestant turned to the Bible to discern good and right from evil and wrong, the early Quakers experienced the light of Christ within reproving them for evil and teaching them how to walk in righteousness before God. This experience came with the power and authority to obey the command of God, which was lacking in their previous experience and lacking in both Catholicism and Protestantism in general. With this inward experience came the understanding of “all things concerning man and his redemption needful to know.” (ibid. p.12)

Then Burrough sums up all that was distinctive between the life of the early Quakers and that of the rest of Christendom.

And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation. And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (ibid. pp.12-13)

Having described the foundation, Burrough described the building.

And so we ceased from the teachings of all men,…their words,…their worships,…their temples, and all their baptisms and churches; and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion…And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God… (ibid. p.13)

There is a false church with false ministers, false preachings, and false ways. This church included those of the strictest sect, the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness: things the light of Christ led the early Quakers out of.

And while waiting upon the Lord in silence…with our minds and hearts toward him, being staid in the light of Christ within us…we received often the pouring down of the spirit upon us…our hearts were made glad,…our tongues loosed, and our mouths opened…as the Lord gave us utterance…And to us hereby were the deep things of God revealed, and things unutterable were known and made manifest;…and then began we to sing praises to the Lord God Almighty, and to the Lamb for ever, who had redeemed us to God, and brought us out of the captivity and bondage of the world, and put an end to sin and death; and all this was by and through, and in the light of Christ within us. (ibid. p.13)

James Tower postulates a sinful church slowly being remade into the image of Christ: a process that seems never to bear fruit. Edward Burrough stated “After this manner was our birth or bringing forth” (ibid. p.14): a church made into the image of Christ from its inception.

The early Quakers demonstrated liberty from the gates of Hell. Today the church faces those same gates. Where the same strategies of liberation are used as portrayed by Catholicism and Protestantism, we will continue to see a church in captivity. However, anywhere people come to know and experience the light of Christ to teach them what is right and wrong and to empower them to live according to what is right, anywhere people turn to the power of the living Christ within them and to live by that same power (and by no other), there you will see the gates of hell shattered and lying in ruins. The distinction between these two churches is that the one is made free by the presence and activity of Christ ruling in and among those who will receive his enlightenment.

Posted in True Christianity, Understanding early Friends | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Nature of the True Church

The christians were called a “city set on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth;” but when they forsook the power of God, and their faith stood in words and men, and not in the power; then their walls fell down, though the power in itself stood; and they lost their hill, their saltness, and their shining. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.172)

…[Jesus] began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it. (Matt. 16:13-18)

Much of the material of this post comes from a comment I left on James Tower’s blog post, Stretch Marks. Please read the original post if you want the full context. In that post James raises the question of the nature of the Church: Is it fraught with the frailties of fallen humans? Is it to be a body of holiness? or Is it a mixture of both? It is somewhat ironic that the council at Nicaea, A.D. 325, composed of a group of bickering and power-struggling people, pronounced the church to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

In this post, part 1 of 2, I want to look at the building blocks of a vision of the church that does not rest upon a foundation built by man’s effort. In the Matthew text, quoted above, Jesus told Simon “you are a rock” because he had received revelation from the Father in heaven. He continued to say “Upon this bedrock I will build my church.” My contention, and that of others, is that the bedrock, the foundation of the church, is revelation from the heavenly Father.

The church that Jesus builds has certain characteristics that distinguishes it from man made churches. Jesus’ church is liberated from the gates of death and darkness. His church is a city set on a hill, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. Jesus admonished his disciples to be perfect as “your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” These, and other characteristics, demonstrate to the world that this church is made up of children of the heavenly Father. (See Matt. chapter 5.) The man-made church is not a defensible city but is captivated by every passing fear and terror. It has neither light nor salt nor promise of liberation for this dark, unsavory, captivated world.

These distinctions indicate differences in the foundation. It makes a tremendous difference if the church is built upon the bedrock of revelation or upon the small rock of Peter. All Christendom are putting forth some effort to display the characteristics of Christ’s church. But if achieving these characteristics were possible by human effort, they would be commonplace. Instead we see statements like:

The main challenge to this vision of a holy church is the church’s own sinfulness…that is demonstrably real and must be accounted for. Luther’s understanding of the church as simul justus et peccatore, or “simultaneously justified and a sinner,” is helpful for describing the paradox of the church’s “now and not yet” struggle with sin… (Excerpted from James Tower’s blog post, Stretch Marks. See the link above.)

My definition of “sin” may not match James Tower’s usage, but here is how I am using the term throughout this post. Look at John the Baptist’s statement, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” I find it useful to see sin as a state of death within where God rightfully expects to find life. This condition is odious to him, a stench in his nostrils more offending than the smell of rotting flesh to us. This death came about and comes about when we listen to the voice of the serpent, the teacher of disobedience, rather than hearing the voice of God who would teach us to live. This inward death, i.e. turning away from the voice of God, is the overarching reason for all that we call “sins.”

Given this understanding, it makes sense that God’s primary condition to the covenant people in Exodus is:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

The question, then, is “How are we to hear the voice of God?”

The answer to that question, and the antidote to this sin, is the subject of Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well,

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me to drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4:10)

This gift of God is the antidote to that uneraseable-by-man’s-efforts, inward death. On various occasions, God has outlined this gift:

  • I will raise up for them a prophet like [Moses] from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deut. 18:18-19)

    The Samaritan woman refers to this in John 4:25, “I know that Messiah is coming…when he comes he will tell us all things.” Jesus identifies himself as that one.

  • On the mount of transfiguration, God speaks saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) again referring to Deut. 18:18-19.
  • In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reminds the children of Israel how they were humbled and made to be hungry and were fed with manna so that they should know first hand that “man does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding from the mouth of God shall man live.”
  • Isaiah wrote of sins like crimson and scarlet becoming like wool and white as snow. By what mechanism is this accomplished? “Come, let us reason together,” says the Lord…”If you are willing and obedient…” (Isaiah 1:18-19)
  • Then there is Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. The vision ends on this note: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves…And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you from your graves…And I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it says the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14)
  • Jesus picked up this prophecy and reissued it in John 5:24-25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”
  • John 6:63, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I have spoken/am speaking to you, these are spirit and these are life.”

The antidote to death within is to hear the Word, Jesus Christ, as he speaks to us. Therefore, the mark of the church is the presence of the risen Lord in its midst speaking life to it, ordering it in the kingdom of life, feeding it with life, washing it in life, empowering it to live in life. Members of this church are those who will hear together (instead of stopping their ears), obey together, and together suffer the consequences of dwelling in life amidst the kingdom of the dead. This church is not sinful for it lives in the virtue of the life and power of the one who has taken away their death, bringing them to the state beyond that of Adam and Eve before the fall to sit down in Christ Jesus who never fell.

It is this fellowship of the living that makes an effective witness for God’s power rather than those who profess words that they can’t live up to.

Posted in True Christianity, Understanding early Friends | Leave a comment

Spirituality: What Does That Mean?

I recently read a comment on another blog wherein the commentator maintained that Quakers are overly-spiritual, to put it nicely. This has gotten me wondering, not for the first time, just what do people mean by the related terms spirituality, spiritual, or spirit. I suspect that when some people use the term the more vague, the less defined the concept talked about, the more “spiritual” it is. For some, to talk about “the Spirit” is a means of avoiding talking about God or Jesus Christ. For some other people there is a sharp division, by trinitarian doctrine, between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Several years ago, I resolved to discover just what the writers of Scripture had in mind when they used the word “spirit.” I did not think any of the above meanings fit what I was reading. As you no doubt know, the words “spirit” and “breath” are interchangeable. In Genesis, God breathed into man the breath or spirit of life and man became a living being. So when reading Scripture, I often substitute “breath” when the various translations render the text as “spirit” because “breath” carries with it the connotation of that act of creation wherein we become living beings before God today. Thus my definition of spirit has to do with that resource that provides life, that which gives substance to an otherwise empty existence. This is exemplified by John 6:63 where Jesus tells the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit [breath] that gives life. The words I have spoken/am speaking, these are spirit [breath] and these are life.” (Notice the verb “have spoken/am speaking.” The Greek tense used here implies an action done in the past that continues on into the present.) This is not the only place that God’s speaking to us is connected with the term “spirit” or the concept of being made alive. Look at Proverbs 1:23

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

See Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses tells the Israelites that God humbled them, let them be hungry, and fed them with manna so that they might come to know that

man does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live.

And then there is the prologue to the book of John.

In the beginning was the Word…in him was life and the life was the light of men…to as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God [i.e. living beings]. (See John 1:1-13)

It is the Word that gives life, that is the source of life; it is the Word that is spirit. And it is this Word, this spirit, this breath that is poured out upon all flesh causing old men to dream dreams and young to have visions; causing servants and handmaids to prophesy. This breath that was breathed into man in the beginning comes to us as the Word made flesh dwelling among us. This Word is the intelligible Word of Life that raises up out of the grave all who will hear. (See Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, Ezekiel 37, and John 5:24-25 which refers back to Ezekiel 37)

So now apply this understanding to the oft quoted text:

The hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.(John 4:23-24)

Are we receiving the pouring forth of the Word made flesh as the foundation of our worship of God? Have we been raised up out of our grave by hearing the voice of the Son, the Word of God? Are we given dreams, visions, and prophesies because we know the Word to be poured upon our flesh? This is worship in spirit and is beyond the capacity of human beings separated from our Creator. Any attempt to gain proficiency in this practice by use of technique or other artifice is doomed to failure. If you would worship the Father in spirit and in truth, you must come to the relationship of hearing and obeying Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning, who is one with the Father.

Let us also look at another portion of scripture. Jesus said,

Where two or three are gathered together in my [authority], there am I in the midst of them. (John 18:20)

Jesus is there for particular purposes. He comes to us as our prophet to bring us the words of life and empower us to live by those words. He is among us as our living counselor that we may take counsel with God in all things. He is present as our shepherd to feed us in the pastures of life and lead us by the springs of living water. He comes among us a priest to cleanse us and present us spotless to the Father. When we know/experience Jesus fulfilling these offices in and among us, then our worship is in spirit and truth, then we have reason to worship the Father.

In his epistle #32, George Fox stated:

When your minds go forth from the pure spirit of God, and are drawn out from it, there the image of God comes to be lost, in those whose minds go out from the pure, to lust after that which is in the fall, which may appear like truth in the notion; in that nature, out of the truth, lodgeth the enchanter and sorcerer.

This is a powerful statement and warning to all. “When your minds go forth from that pure, creational breath/spirit/Word of God…” So, going forth, we pass from the image of God, the life that is the light of man, to lust after that which is in the fall. What is it that is in the fall? “You shall be as God!” If we listen to this line, we come to possess a notion of truth. But we don’t have the substance of truth. We have entered the domain of the enchanter and sorcerer who fabricate illusions of life. But the image of God, the life that makes one a child of God, is missing.

When Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. (John 14:6)

He is not making a statement of exclusivity. He is offering life and reconciliation with the Father to all who will turn from their own efforts to provide salvation. Our efforts to save ourselves are yet another manifestation of “You shall be as God.” And no one, proclaiming themselves to be God, will ever come to the Father for that is not the way. Because Jesus is the Word who was in the beginning, in whom is the life that is the light of man, He is the way out of the fall to return to the Father. George Fox put it this way:

All who stumble at the light are without, and are not come to repentance, and so all who stumble at the light, stumble at the door, the door is known by the light which comes from Christ: and all who stumble at the light, stumble at the way; for Christ hath enlightened every one, that, with the light he might see the way (which is Christ) to the father. So all who stumble at the light, stumble at the scriptures, and know not the meaning of them…and all who stumble at the light, never knew hope which purifies, nor faith which purifies, nor the belief which overcomes the world…so all who stumble at the light, they are to be condemned with the light from the life of the prophets and apostles (which dwelt in the light) with the rude wicked world. And here every one shall witness his condemnation just, and see it just, with the light which shews him his evil deeds, and that Christ’s words are true, and to own his condemnation that hateth it; and they are the children of the light that love it, and believe in it, and with the light they see their deeds are wrought in God, to the praise of God, and joy, and comfort of themselves. (Works, Vol. IV, pp.25-26) [To read this in context of Fox’s complete essay, see his To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom.]

If you would truly be spiritual you must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Word made flesh who dwells among us (see John 1:14-18). You can’t be overly spiritual. You can’t overdose on dwelling in the pure spirit of God or of walking in the light of Christ that you may see the door and see the way to the Father and be made alive. Again quoting from Fox’s epistle #32:

So, dwell in the light, and wait upon God to have the image of God renewed; and all come to witness yourselves to be restored by Christ Jesus into the image of God, and to be made by him like to God, pure, holy, perfect, and righteous. This was witnessed, this is witnessed, and this will be witnessed measurably with thousands, who are growing up out of the fall, and coming up out of the grave. Let not the lust go out to any thing which is mortal, to be servant thereto; but mind the joining to the life. Here ye are kept in the image of God. Not but that ye may use the creatures lawfully, but being kept in the image of God, ye are kept as kings over all the creatures, and over the creation; here ye will see all things, and by whom they stand. (Works, Vol. VII, p. 38)

Posted in Salvation, Spirituality, Who Jesus is, worship | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The New Righteousness: Lewis Benson’s Moorestown Lecture No. 7

[Note: this post also appeared on the New Foundation Fellowship website.]

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…

Thus begins one of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, and I suspect that most people can complete the sentence. While this is proclaimed throughout Christendom, seldom do you encounter any indication of how the “…for you shall be filled” portion is to come about. For the most part, it has become “one of those things that can’t be done in this lifetime.” There is more time and space devoted to explaining why we can’t be filled with righteousness, than true instruction on the way of righteousness.

In his Moorestown Lecture #7, The New Righteousness, Lewis Benson explained how this righteousness came to be lost and what is required to regain it. He began his lecture by stating:

Fox taught that there were two major areas of loss that resulted from the eclipse of the everlasting gospel. One of these was the order and government of Christ in his church, which Fox called “gospel order.” The other great loss was the moral certainty and moral power that he called “righteousness”.

When Fox declared that “the righteousness hath been lost since the apostles’ days” (7:327), he was stating his belief that the Reformers of the 16th Century had separated salvation from righteousness. They had ascribed to Christ the power to save us from the consequences of sin, but not save us from captivity to sin. Thus he says that “there is a faith, which Christ is not the author of, and that faith giveth not the victory, nor purifieth the heart, neither do they in it please God” (8:56).

Fox believed that the primitive apostolic gospel he was preaching had the power to restore this lost righteousness, and that as people came to know Christ as their living prophet and teacher, they would be taught the principles of God’s righteousness and given power to obey. He declared that people should meet “in the name of Jesus, who is alive, and he, their living Prophet, Shepherd, and Bishop, is in the midst of them … He is… their righteousness” (BII:442).

This brings the adherent to the everlasting gospel into conflict with modern Christendom just as it brought the early Quakers into conflict with their contemporaries. This is a vital issue and not a mere fascination with history. Like Fox and the early Quakers, we are challenged to produce evidence that our position has any basis in Scripture. Benson devotes a substantial portion of this lecture showing the Biblical basis of Fox’s position on righteousness. He poses the question:

If this teaching is true, and Christ has indeed come to teach his people God’s righteousness and give them the power to obey, what is the basis of Fox’s complaint that “the righteousness hath been lost since the apostles’ days”?

Benson then outlines the positions of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and their approaches to the problem of righteousness. And for these groups, righteousness is a problem. He goes on to state:

Thus when Fox says that “the righteousness hath been lost,” he is commenting on the failure of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity to bear witness to Christ as the one who fulfills the law, and who brings in a new covenant wherein men and women can be led and taught by him, and so fulfill God’s call for righteousness.

This new righteousness that comes from Christ does not smother the human spirit with a tyrannical code of morals, but it brings people to know “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” As Emil Brunner says, “Because the being of man is actually based upon man’s dependence upon God [and] upon the call of God which chooses him and gives him responsibility, his freedom is only complete where he remains in this dependence. Hence … the maximum of his dependence on God is at the same time the maximum of his freedom.” (Brunner, Man in Revolt, p. 263)

God’s call for a righteous, holy people is neither an impossibility laid upon us by an unreasonable taskmaster nor is it merely a mark, a high calling, toward which we are to strive, but are never intended to attain in this life. The everlasting gospel preached by Fox and the early Friends maintains the integrity of God’s righteous call and provides the way that enables mankind to answer that call.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments