Through the Lens of Passover: Part 4

John, Chapter Five

Now, lest I should lose my way, I want to recap what this study is about. Conventional theology looks at John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as pertaining to Jesus being a guilt offering enabling God to forgive errant humanity. Mankind’s salvation, therefore, lay in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to pay mankind’s debt, to appease God’s anger, or to do whatever is demanded by the theology currently in vogue. But, as I have discovered, if I take the understanding that John the Baptist is announcing the Pascal Lamb rather than a guilt offering, a different picture emerges. Since most of the major events throughout the book of John are ascribed to the time of celebrating the Passover, I feel such a look is not only justified, but demanded.

The “different picture” begins with John setting the stage for the Baptist’s revelation. We are introduced to one named the Word in whom is the life that is the light of men. We are given a glimpse of the Word’s power and purpose. John then brings his prologue to a sharp focus, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

I have stated that the effective agent, causing the angel of death to pass over the households of the Israelites, was the life of the lamb, i.e. its blood, painted on the door post. This is entirely consistent with what the writer has been portraying so far in the book of John. In parts one, two, and three I have looked at material from chapters one, three, and four. Chapter five continues in this same vein, which I am taking up here.

The text opens with the statement, “After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The marginal note in my New American Standard Bible states, “Many good manuscripts read, the feast, i.e. the Passover.” OK, so we can say that it is possible, perhaps probable, that the following events take place during Passover. The ideas presented here are very much in line with what I have been discussing to date. However, this time around, the writer brings in something new to the discussion, or at least if not new, now explicitly stated. Lets follow the narrative.

Jesus is in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, where he encounters a man who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus heals the man and bids him to take up his pallet and walk. Because it was the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities raised a fuss about this healed man carrying his pallet. When they found out that it was Jesus who had healed the man and bidden him to carry away his pallet, they felt they had reason to persecute Jesus. Jesus answered them saying, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

This forms the background for Jesus’ lecture, if you will, that follows (see verses 19 through 47). He begins with the assertion that the son can do nothing of himself unless it is something he sees the father doing: a basic precept of education and growth. “For whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (verse 19)

We now come again to the Passover theme, but this time with an added dimension. In the historical account, the angel of death was caused to pass over the house with the lamb’s life painted on the door post. Here, Jesus states, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes…Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life…an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.(verses 21, 24, 25) No longer is it a matter of deflecting the angel of death, but now we are caused to pass from death death to life by hearing the voice of the Son and believing to the point of acting in accordance with what the Son tells us. Whereas all those who were involved in that first Passover died, whoever participates in this Passover has eternal life.

What, then, does this do to our understanding of man’s salvation? Look again at the statement from the Evangelical Pastor I quoted in part two of this series:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

By looking at the book of John through the lens of Passover, we see that the writer’s consistent message is that life, not death, is the agent of salvation. We receive that life by hearing the Word through his light within ourselves.

For those who would attempt to gain salvation through their own efforts, the message from the book of John is that such is impossible. We can appropriate the Lamb’s clothing by killing the Lamb, but we cannot create the Lamb’s life for ourselves. The Serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden was, “You can live in your own image, you don’t need the image and life of God.” That recipe is just as false today as it was then. Life comes only by hearing and following the word of Christ spoken within us by his light. Following the light, we come to be clothed by the life.

The writer is quite explicit and unequivocal “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” as the Revised Standard Version renders it. This runs counter to much of modern practice as it did of the Jewish practice. Jesus told the Jews, and it applies just as much to today as it did then,

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (see verses 39-40) How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (verses 44-47)

What is it that Moses wrote, to which Jesus is referring?

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deut. 8:2-3)

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, 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 name, I will require it of him. (Deut 18:15-19)

These two passages we will take up in the next section.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 3

The Samaritan woman at the well: the fountain of living water.

The fourth chapter of John has a lot of good material, but I want to focus my remarks on the events surrounding the Samaritan woman at the well. My first thought was to skip this chapter because there was nothing there about the effects of Passover, as I have been discussing it in the preceding sections of this study. However, on second consideration, I see now that there are some pivotal points in this passage: what does life do to the recipient? Let’s follow the narrative.

The chapter opens with a journey that caused Jesus and his disciples to pass through Samaria. Now, on the whole, the Jews despised the Samaritans. They were racially and religiously impure. Their sacred writings consisted of only the five books of Moses. Jesus, weary from the journey, stopped to rest at Jacob’s well near Sychar, a city in Samaria, while the disciples went to purchase food. While they were gone a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink.

Thus began a conversation ranging from (a) the merits of the water in Jacob’s well to (b) the greater benefits of the living water Jesus is willing to give, to (c) what constitutes true worship.

The unifying thread that holds this conversation together is Jesus’ focus on life. “Whoever drinks of the water from Jacob’s well shall thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (My paraphrase of John 4:13-14)

Here is our theme of life being the agent that causes death to pass over. Whoever drinks the water of this world remains unsatisfied. Yes for a time you are not thirsty but the water does not endure, the processes of biology drain this water and the life it provides out of your body. You thirst again.

Not so with the fountain of living water. Look again at Jesus’ words, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

This woman, being somewhat practical, asked Jesus for this water. Who wouldn’t? Well, not everyone is willing to endure the effects of a well of living water springing up within them. You can’t hold onto death and the power of manipulation derived from death at the same time you embrace the living water. You must choose one or the other. God stated through Jeremiah: “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11-13)

All the religious systems devised by mankind are nothing more than broken cisterns; they can’t hold the water of life.

Doesn’t it count for something that we have made an effort to please God?

Hewing cisterns out of rock requires a prodigious amount of effort, but the effort does not make us living beings. It is living beings that please God. We are made living beings by yielding to the reproofs and guidance of the light that comes from the life that is in the Word. This cannot be stored up against a season of drought. We must walk in it continually. We must know the living water to spring up within us. There is no valve to regulate the flow. The life is abundant, dependable, and constant. It is a more fundamental constant than Planck’s.

Go call your husband

This racially and religiously impure, this scripturally impoverished Samaritan woman did something the “enlightened” Jew would not. She asked for and received living water. She embraced the work of that water within her. To the enlightened Jew, Jesus would say in chapter five, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have life. They testify of me. And you will not come to me that you might have life.”

“Go call your husband,” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman. This is the first consequence of her asking for and receiving life. Jesus began to expose the covering of darkness and death of her former manner of living. Her lifestyle must now change to be aligned with the life and purpose of God.

In this portion of the conversation, Jesus explains to the woman that she has had five husbands and the man she now has is not her husband. The woman asks if Jesus is a prophet and launches into one of the major controversies between Jew and Samaritan: Is God to be worshiped in Jerusalem or in the mountain in Samaria? Jesus answered neither in Jerusalem nor in the mountain will you worship the Father. For those who worship him must be alive and worship in that life.

Here we come to the second consequence of the woman asking for and receiving life: the life within us recognizes its source. This woman is given to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one who “will tell us all things.” (See Deut. 18:15-19) Jesus confirmed the revelation, and the woman departed and brought back many of the people of Sychar. These people were made curious enough by the woman’s report that they came to see for themselves. Could this be the Messiah as she testified? They, in turn, came to believe, not only because of the testimony of the woman, but because they had heard for themselves. They drank of the living water.

The writer of the book of John began with the announcement that the companions of death are deflected, caused to pass over, by clinging to the light that brings us into the life that is in the Word. Misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness can neither comprehend nor overcome the life that is the light of mankind. The proof of these claims, as illustrated by this narrative, is to drink of the living water and experience first hand the effects of the life of God within.

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Through the Lens of Passover: Part 2

Introduction From part 1:

Of the four books narrating the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion, only John makes much use of the Passover. Many of the events recorded there are centered around this celebration. What would happen, I asked myself, if I tried to understand John’s entire account through the lens of the Passover?

John, Chapter 3

The third chapter of John contains some of the most quoted passages of the Christian Scriptures. And it, therefore, likely has the most entrenched theology surrounding those passages. Lay aside those theologies and look at this chapter with new eyes.

Since John the Baptist’s proclamation concerning the Passover lamb in chapter 1, John has taken the reader through Jesus gathering disciples, the wedding feast at Cana, and the cleansing of the temple. Now, during the Passover, Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night.

In the discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus states, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A human is brought from non-existence into this world by the process of being born. But the kingdom of God, the rightful habitation of human kind, is not to be seen from this birth. In the creation story, told in Genesis, man becomes a living being when God breathes into him the breath of life. In the first chapter of John, the agent of life is the Word. The “breath” of Genesis has become an intelligible Word that we must receive and by which we must live. Before we can see the kingdom of God, we must know the breath of life to be breathed into us by the Word that was in the beginning. Edward Burrough put it this way, “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…” (Works of Fox, Vol.III, p.6) This is the birth that can see and dwell in the kingdom of God. This is a birth that comes at the expense of that birth that has its crown, glory, and rest under this sun.

Jesus continued, explaining God’s love and concern for His creation, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Even though the familiar quotation stops here, the passage continues.

For God sent the son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-20)

The light is come that dispels the darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness). The Passover lamb has come and been recognized. The love of God has been set forth in pointing out the way to enter the kingdom of God. But men loved darkness, and all the associated connotations noted earlier, rather than the light that leads to life. When your deeds are evil, you seek out the darkness and shun the light.

“But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” When the angel of death visited Egypt, those whom death passed over escaped because of their deeds. They were instructed what to do and their deliverance was in accordance to their obedience. Notice Jesus’ insistence on deeds. If your deeds are evil you hate and shun the light. If you do the truth, you come to the light and you love the light; your deeds, one way or the other, are made manifest. “Doing truth” is not according to some formula or prescription of actions. “Doing truth” is hearing the voice of God and acting accordingly. Your deliverance from darkness is in accordance to your obedience.

John follows this discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus with another conversation between John the Baptist and various, unspecified, Jews. During this conversation, John the Baptist states, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

All the sermons I ever heard that dealt with salvation and used John three, pick up on Jesus’ statement about being born again and pull John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Furthermore, those preaching these sermons have had a focus on Jesus’ death on the cross. Here, at this point, this study parts company with those theologies. It was not the death of the pascal lamb that caused the angel of death to pass over your dwelling. It was painting “the lambs life” on your doorpost that was effective.

Let us jump forward a little. In chapter six Jesus tells the Jews, “Except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the son of man, you have no life in you.” He later explained to the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the spirit that gives life. The words I am speaking to you, these are spirit, these are life.”

If Jesus’ words that he is speaking to us are spirit and are life, then lets rework John the Baptist’s closing statement of chapter three:

For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He [speaks to us] without measure…He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Now, what does this do to our understanding of the message of this chapter? This is telling us something different than that proclaimed by those preachers-of-sermons I mentioned earlier. They would likely have agreed with this statement taken from an Evangelical pastor:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.

Look again at John’s progression in this chapter.

  • He introduces the concept of a birth that can see the kingdom of God and a birth that cannot see the kingdom.
  • He has portrayed God as being concerned enough for His creation that He has sent His Son so that any who believe in him can have everlasting life; the life man had in the beginning.
  • He has given us the ‘field marks’ to distinguish those who live in the kingdom from those who do not. Those who do evil hate the light, while those who act in God love the light. Unlike identifying birds, for example, we can choose which field mark identifies us.
  • He has explained that to “believe in” cannot be divorced from hearing and obeying the voice of the Son.

What does this have to say about the new birth and salvation? To as many as receive Him (i.e. the Word who was in the beginning in whom is the life that is the light of mankind), even to those who believe in his authority, to them he gives the power to become children of God, who are born, not of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” (See John 1:12-13) The new birth comes when we receive the light, accept and love the reproof and guidance of the light that shines in our darkness, and enter into the life that comes only from the Word. Thus are we recreated in the image of God — living beings. This is salvation for it takes us out of the darkness, out of death, and brings us into the light, the life, and the relationship with the Father we were created to enjoy. Here we experience death to pass over, leaving us untouched.

Our participation in this Passover is a continual relationship with the Lamb of God who takes away the death of the world. Our Lamb obstructs death by instructing us in the path of life. After all, his name is The Word of God! Instead of a theology purporting to thwart death by death, we are brought to a constant infusion of life into our very being. It is life that causes death to pass away. Jesus’ words that he is speaking are this life that we receive by hearing and walking accordingly. Are we listening? Are we hearing? Are we walking?

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Through the Lens of Passover

John, Chapter 1

Of the four books narrating the life of Jesus up to his crucifixion, only John makes much use of the Passover. Many of the events recorded there are centered around this celebration. What would happen, I asked myself, if I tried to understand John’s entire account through the lens of the Passover?
The Passover celebrates the end of slavery, the end of death, and the passage into life. It began when the Jewish people were delivered from Egypt and embarked on their journey to the promised land. Nine plagues had been visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, each designed to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves leave. Nine times, God relented when Pharaoh stated he would let them go. Nine times Pharaoh recanted. The 10th plague would kill every firstborn Egyptian and firstborn of their livestock. Like the other plagues, this would not touch the Israelites. They were instructed to kill a lamb, paint the lamb’s blood — reckoned as the life of the lamb — on their doorpost. They were then to consume the flesh of the lamb and be ready to march. This blood would signal the angel of death to pass over that dwelling. Those dwelling behind the lamb’s life were untouched by that whirlwind of death that swept through the land.

John’s account opens with the very essence of the Passover:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehended/overpower it.

The Hebrew word used by the prophet Isaiah to describe the Messiah’s work of bringing people out of darkness has the connotations of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. Thus when he wrote:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

he is writing about those who have walked in misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. The “great light” is that light that will bring them out of misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. And again Isaiah wrote:

…we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness…we are in desolate places as dead men. (Isaiah 59:9-10)

Jesus answered this passage saying:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

The light that comes from the life that is in the Word is the antidote to the misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. This is the sense of this opening portion: the Pascal Lamb is come into the world. We are to follow his light and come to dwell in his life. Thus are we given power to become sons of God.

Then comes that turning point in John’s narative:

And the [Passover] became flesh and tabernacles among us full of grace and truth.

The law came by Moses. But efficacy to bring us out of darkness, out of misery, out of destruction, out of death, out of ignorance, out of sorrow, and out of wickedness; and to bring to us all that is trustworthy, all that is certain, all that is filled with faithfulness, all that is righteousness, all sureness, all firmness, all security, all fidelity, all stability — God’s very covenant — all this comes by this Passover!

Having now set the stage, John then begins his narrative with a brief account of John the Baptist. The Baptist’s pronouncement at the end of chapter 1, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is usually viewed as an announcement concerning Christ being the sin offering so that God can pardon us for all our mis-deeds.

However, consider: man’s sin is that where God expects to find life, we are dead. This death is not passed on through genetic make up anymore than is the life. John wrote, “In him was the life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) The life comes by hearing and following the light. Death comes by turning away from that light. We can now look at the Baptist’s pronouncement in light of the Passover.

Behold the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the death of the world.” Having established this theme in the abstract at the beginning of his book, John now, using two iterations, ties it to the narrative of Jesus’ ministry. How does it fit with the theme of Passover? We will start looking at this in the next post.

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The Church In God Is Not In Imitation Gathered: Lessons from a Successful Garden

The seeds planted in our gardens are our hope of harvest.

And the church in God, is not in imitation, gathered from the letter, nor is a high-flown people in their imaginations, but are they who are born again of the immortal seed, by the word of God, which lives and endures for ever, which the world knows not;…

There is a lot of work involved in planting. It begins in early winter with the arrival of seed catalogs. That is when we begin to get visions of what our harvest will be. So first comes the vision, the inspiration, that sustains us through all the hard work of preparing the soil and starting plants in pots that need an early start. All this is preparation for that brief period when the season and the weather coincide making it “time to plant.” Then, if we have done our work of preparing the soil, everything is put aside and we give our full attention to putting out plants and planting seeds directly into the soil.

This is God’s work within and among us preparing the soil for the time when He alone can sow the immortal seed. Though it is God’s work, we have a hand in how it proceeds. We can stubbornly hold onto the rocks and clods that hinder the preparation of a good seed bed, or we can yield to the work of reproof of the light of Christ within (plowing up the ground).

Not every plant that sprouts is desireable.

…for the word cuts asunder, hews down all wickedness, corruption, pride, and honour of men, that all the honour and glory may be given alone to God; he hews down the first birth, that he may establish the second, and raise up the second; and the word of the Lord is a fire, burns up all the corruptions, burns up all that is hewn down, and as an hammer to beat down, that nothing can stand it; and this is the word by which the saints are born again; you are born again by the immortal word, which lives and endures for ever, and feeding upon the milk of the word, which word is God, which word became flesh, and dwelt among us; so he (Christ) is the head of the church, and they are lively stones:…

Planting is only the beginning. This is a time of excitement and increasing anticipation. It also is a time of revelation of the job we did when planting. Seeds grow in the place we put them and don’t grow where we didn’t put them. If we planted sparingly, they will only emerge sparingly. If we planted thickly, there will be too many plants crowding into the allotted space. We may have to do some replanting and it is almost certain we will have to thin out some of the sprouted plants.

Again we have a role in this part of the process — yield to the light of Christ that enlightens you. In his epistle # 4 George Fox admonishes his readers to “mind that which is pure in you to guide you to God,” “mind the light of God…which will show you all deceit,” “mind your gift,” and “mind your calling.” (Works, Vol. VII, p. 18) These are not rules to live by, but admonitions to turn our attention to that work where the immortal seed of the kingdom of God is nourished and nurtured.

…but all you now who put the letter for the word, and have got it in your minds, and gather assemblies by it; this you cannot witness, and it is ignorance for you to say, the letter is the word; when the letter saith, God is the word; and it is a lie to speak and say, the steeple-house is the church; or to say, they that are gathered by the form of the letter, is the church of God; for the church is the pillar and ground of truth, gathered by the eternal power that was before letter was; and all who are in this church, as it is called of the world, and live in the comprehension of the letter, and the earthly part yet standing, there is devilishness in your minds, and earthliness, and pride, and filth; do but hearken to that light in thy conscience, and it will let thee see so: and while those are standing, such sacrifice God accepts not, and praises (while nature is standing) God accepts not, which is Cain’s, to which God has no respect, but to Abel’s. (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p.18)

If you expect to have a good harvest, you must maintain an attitude of ruthless extermination against the weeds that would compete with or choke out the plants you planted. You can’t have an egalitarian sentiment such that “all plants are of equal value.”

These are the weeds that Fox has described. Now, the parable of the tares among the wheat is often cited (See Matt. 13:14-43) to say that we must put up with this mix of weeds and desirable plants as long as this world exists. After all Jesus explained the parable saying: “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:40-42) But that word we so literally take as meaning the destruction of the world has more to do with the completion and fulfilment of the world. Thus Christ is the end of the world, the completion and fulfilment of all God began to do.

However, neither the hoe nor the sickle is in our hands. We can’t purge our own hearts nor that of others. As we wait in the light of Christ within us, we experience the end of the world come upon us: the reaper gathering and burning the tares, the threshing of the wheat out of the head, the winnowing of the grain from the chaff, and the joy and celebration of the grain placed in safe storage. We experience this personally and corporately.

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The Power That Transcends Cultural Forces

I am a member of culture A, which has practice X. While traveling to a foreign country I meet you, a member of culture B. I am shocked to find that you have practice Y. I convince you that practice X is much better than practice Y and then return home. You now want to participate in practice X, but all the forces of culture B are against you. I have given you no power to forsake the practices of your culture to take up the practices of mine.

This scenario portrays much of what has passed for Christianity down through the ages. And, in as much as this describes its character, Christianity has become nothing more than cultural religion. It has become the epitome of the experience Paul described in Romans:

I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-24)

The “normal” message of Christianity offers no answer to the question. Sure, we can repeat Paul’s answer, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (verse 25) But we are still wondering, “Where do I find the power to overcome evil within me now and to live a life pleasing to God today?” Group dynamics (culture) can curb outward expression of certain evils, but that power does not touch the root cause within the heart of man. Preaching Jesus’ power to pardon the sins of those who accept him as personal savior has not produced a church that stands victorious over the gates of Hell. If we are to overcome the world, there must be more to Christianity than what we see portrayed today.

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee…(Gen. 12:1)

Two significant things happened here.

  1. God spoke to Abram.
  2. Abram was called out of his culture to follow the voice of God.

When we act in response to the voice of God, there is power to obey that is greater than cultural expectations. Abraham (Abram) is called the father of the faithful, and our faith is called the faith of Abraham, because we, like him, must hear the voice of God calling us out of our culture of darkness and deception.

Our culture is the death and darkness of following the voice of the serpent, that deceiver and adversary of our souls. And that includes much of what has been passed off as Christianity. Human effort can’t restore us to the light of life and to peace with God. Something greater than ourselves is needed. Isaiah described the work of the Messiah as:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them… (Isaiah 42:16)

I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)

Isaac Penington detailed how this is accomplished:

[Question]. But show more particularly how faith, or believing in
the light, worketh out the salvation.

[Answer].

  1. First, it causeth a fear and trembling to seize upon the sinner. …

    All that used to empower our lives is shaken.

  2. In this fear and trembling the work of true repentance and conversion is begun and carried on…

    This is a time of deep distress, the whole life is turned upside down. All that had been one’s rock and foundation is discovered to be only mire and must be discarded.

  3. In the belief of the light, and in the fear placed in the heart, there springs up a hope, a living hope, in the living principle, which hath manifested itself, and begun to work…

    Here the power of God is experienced to hold your soul in all the troubles, storms, and tempests of life. As we experience this anchor at work within, our faith grows.

  4. Faith, through the hope, works righteousness, and teaches the true wisdom; and now the benefit of all the former trouble, anguish, and misery begins to be felt, and the work goes on sweetly…

    This faith produces within us the righteousness and wisdom of God, which are available from no other source.

  5. In the righteousness, and in the true wisdom which is received in the light, there springs up a love, and a unity, and fellowship with God, the Father of lights, and with all who are children of the light…

    This is the source of our willingness and the source of the power to spend and to be spent in obedience to Christ’s command. This power transcends cultural forces.

  6. Belief in the light works patience, meekness, gentleness, tenderness, and long-suffering. It will bear any thing for God, any thing for men’s souls’ sake. It will wait quietly and stilly for the carrying on of the work of God in its own soul, and for the manifestation of God’s love and mercy to others…

  7. It brings peace, joy, and glory. Faith in the light breaks down the wall of darkness, the wall of partition, that which separates from the peace, that which causeth the anguish and trouble upon the soul, and so brings into peace…

    One of the manifestations of the human malady is our lack of peace with God within ourselves.Christ is the good physician. Through his light he removes the cause of our dis-ease.

Now finding the clods of earth removed, the enemy, the disturber, the peace-breaker trodden down, the sin taken away, the life and power present, the soul brought into the peace; here is joy, unspeakable joy! joy which the world cannot see or touch, nor the powers of darkness come near to interrupt. Here is now no more crying out, O wretched man! and who shall deliver! &c., but a rejoicing in him who hath given victory, and made the soul a conqueror; yea, more than a conqueror. Wait to feel that, thou who art now groaning, and oppressed by the merciless powers of darkness.

And this joy is full of glory; which glory increaseth daily more and more, by the daily sight and feeling of the living virtue and power in Christ the light; whereby the soul is continually transformed, and changed more and more, out of the corruptible into the incorruptible; out of the uncircumcision, the shame, the reproach, into the circumcision, the life, the glory.

Q. Doth the light do all this?

A. Yea, in them that turn towards it, give up to it, and abide in it. In them it cleanseth out the thickness and darkness, and daily transformeth them into the image, purity, and perfection of the light. And this nothing can do but the light alone. (The Scattered Sheep Sought After)

Now you have something beyond Christendom, the culture of the Christian religion, which you, like Abram, must forsake. Penington has described how to enter into Christ-ianity, i.e. Christ-likeness.

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The Burning Bush and the Brewing of Soma

This post first appeared on the New Foundation Fellowship website.

I keep coming back to Moses, so much started there. God had established his covenant with Abraham, renewed it through Isaac and Jacob (or Israel). The descendants of Israel, slaves in Egypt, were being subjected to infanticide. Baby Moses caught the attention of Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him. As an adult, Moses killed an Egyptian who was abusing one of the Israelites, and had to flee Egypt.

For 40 years Moses lived the life of a shepherd. Then he encountered that burning bush that wouldn’t burn up. At the nadir of Moses’ influence with Pharaoh, God sent him to procure the release of the Israelites. This would not be accomplished through any political maneuvering or military advantage. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my breath, by my word, will this be accomplished,” in effect said God to Moses.

I have written about the holy ground. (See Shoes.) Not only do we encounter the holy ground at the burning bush, we encounter the God who speaks. And we, creature, encountering the voice of Creator are obligated to make some response. When Moses asked the voice that spoke to him out of the burning bush, “Who are you?” God answered, “I am the God of Abraham.”

It is not significant that Abraham had a God; everyone did. What stands out is that the God of Abraham spoke to Abraham telling him to forsake his homeland, his culture, his cultural religion, his father’s house and to follow wherever the voice of God should direct him. Listening became paramount. “I am the God of Abraham” is the God to whom we must give our full attention.

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. They camped at Mount Horeb, where the people encounter the voice of God.

“We have seen this day that God speaks to man and yet he lives,” said the Israelites to Moses. They then ask, “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.” (See Deut. 5:24-25) The people told Moses, “You listen to the voice of God and then tell us.” But God was not willing to leave things there. His work with the Iraelites was to bring them to know and understand “that man shall not live by bread alone. But by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God shall man live.” (See Deut. 8:3)

This is the current situation. Man is always inventing something new to remove us at least one step from the voice of God. But this “new” is nothing but what was old. John Greenleaf Whittier captured the cyclical nature of history in his poem “The Brewing of Soma.” He wrote:

And yet the past comes round again,
And new doth old fulfill;
In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

So what is the significance of living in the presence of the God of Abraham, the God who speaks?

  • This is the end of the subservient god. In the kingdom of God all is done by and through the voice of Christ, not by the might and wisdom on of man.
  • This is the end of the priest craft and the priest class. Under the Old Covenant, the priests were to preserve the people’s knowledge. Under the new covenant we are commanded to hear the voice of Christ who is the treasure of wisdom and knowledge of God.
  • This is the end of all techniques and disciplines employed to access God. These only isolate us from the voice of God while giving us a false sense of accomplishment. The light that enlightens everyone has come into the world. Walking in the light is neither discipline nor technique.
  • This is the end of all systems of religion. We have come to Christ who is the functional head of his body, rather than a mere figurehead.

Lets look particularly at the pastoral system that under girds most of Christendom. Many will quote Paul’s statement to the Ephesians in defense of such systems:

And his [Christ’s] gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. (See Eph. 4:11-16)

I grew up in this system and have had ample opportunity to study its workings. During 36 years of personal involvement, I can’t think of an instance where the “body of Christ” attained the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (even after a long succession of pastors who claimed this state was their goal). As I look at the record of what was accomplished by the first generation of Friends, I find that where people were faithful to waiting upon the teaching of Christ and walked in obedience to that inward teaching they did not fail to attain the state Paul described above. A striking distinction!

How did they achieve this? George Fox explained:

And therefore you that the Lord hath gathered, and sought and searched out, who have been scattered in this cloudy dark day…the Lord is known to feed you atop of the mountains with his heavenly bread, and he hath set one shepherd over you, (the heavenly man) who lives for ever, who is the shepherd over all the living, that are made alive by him…so Christ…is their shepherd, to feed them with life, and with the springs of life, and is the bishop of their souls, that doth oversee them…It is a glorious pasture, to be fed…in the life, in the pastures of life, by the living shepherd, and to be overseen by the living bishop, and to be sanctified, and to be presented to God by the living priest, and to be counselled by the living counsellor to an everlasting inheritance, and to a kingdom, and to a world, that hath no end, by an everlasting priest, that sanctifies and offers you to God without spot or wrinkle, a perfect offering, who sprinkles your consciences and hearts with his blood, that you may serve the living God, and not the dead works among the dead.

This is what God has set up to restore mankind into his image, which is what Paul was writing about. All the systems of religion, including the systems of the Christian religion obstruct, circumvent, and lead away from God’s work. Fox continued,

And now you having an everlasting preacher, whom God hath anointed to preach, and an everlasting minister, that ministers grace, and life, and salvation, and truth to you; an everlasting prophet that God hath raised up, who is to be heard; all the living hear him, but the dead talk but of his fame. So none can silence or stop the mouth of them whom he opens, or take away your shepherd, your bishop, your minister, your preacher, your prophet, your counsellor, &c. And therefore let him have your ears, hearken to him, let him be set up in your hearts, who was set up from everlasting to everlasting by the Father, whom all the righteous witness, Christ Jesus…Abraham saw Christ’s day, and did rejoice; but thousands now come to enjoy the day that Abraham saw…And so you that are heirs of Christ, the heavenly man, and are come to possess him, (whom he hath made alive,) stand fast, now is your time to stand; stand in the life, which was before death, or the king of it was; stand in the light, which was before darkness, or the prince of it was; and stand in the power of God, which was before the devil was; and sit down in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, who was set up from everlasting to everlasting. (Works of Fox, Vol. VIII:25-27)

All people are brought to the burning bush. Some respond as firefighters seeking to quench the flame. Some are collectors of curiosities. Some are “Soma seekers.” Some just ignore the bush. But those who take off their shoes to stand on the holy ground and will ask the voice speaking to them out of the bush,”Who are you?” these come to stand in the life of Christ, to stand in the light, to stand in the power of God, and to sit down in the heavenly places in Christ. Here the path they begin to walk on diverges from all man-made systems, disciplines, and techniques.

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Live The Stories: Part 3

In a recent blog post, For the Love of Stories: Imagining Quakerism Beyond Belief, The Armchair Theologian posits the need to return to the stories of our beginnings, to sit with these stories even if they are uncomfortable to our modern ideologies, to live these stories. This advice he directs to Universalist, Christian, and Non-theist Friends. In this three part series, it is not my purpose to summarize his blog post. Part one considered the source of these stories, part two looked at the belief that undergirds the stories, and part three focuses on the consequences of living these stories.

There are consequences to living these stories. As you can see from the stories in parts one and two, you have come to the God who speaks to his people, demanding an appropriate response in return. Edward Burrough, convinced by Fox’s Firbank Fell sermon, gives us some detail of that process.

And after our long seeking the Lord appeared to us, and revealed his glory in us, and gave us of his spirit from heaven, and poured it upon us, and gave us of his wisdom to guide us, whereby we saw all the world, and the true state of things, and the true condition of the church in her present estate. First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, 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; which light in us we found sufficient to reprove us, and convince us of every evil deed, word, and thought, and by it, in us, we came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of God, and according to him, from what is of the devil, and what was contrary to God in motion, word, and works….So that all these things concerning man, and concerning the times and seasons, and the changing and renewing of times, and all things that pertain to salvation, and redemption, and eternal life, needful for man to know, all these were revealed, discovered, and made known to us, by the light which was in us, which Christ had lighted us withal.(Works, Vol. III pp. 11-12)

The consequence of this enlightment was that they could no longer participate in the religions made by man, even practices they had formerly enjoyed. Burrough stated:

And so we ceased from the teachings of all men, and their words, and their worships…and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion…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…And while waiting upon the Lord in silence, as often we did for many hours together, with our minds and hearts toward him, being staid in the light of Christ within us, from all thoughts, fleshly motions, and desires…we received often the pouring down of the spirit upon us…as in the days of old, and our hearts were made glad, and our tongues loosed, and our mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues, as the Lord gave us utterance…this is the sum: life and immortality were brought to light, power from on high and wisdom were made manifest, and the day everlasting appeared unto us,…and the holy anointing, the everlasting comforter, we received; and the babe of glory was born, and the heir of the promise brought forth to reign over the earth, and over hell and death, whereby we entered into everlasting union, and fellowship, and covenant with the Lord God…We were raised from death to life, and changed from satan’s power to God, and gathered from all the dumb shepherds, and off all the barren mountains, into the fold of eternal peace and rest.

But the consequences did not stop with “so we ceased…” they were called, in the power of God, to confront evil. And so evil rose up and persecuted them in the flesh, but it could not overcome them nor touch the life of Christ within them. Burrough described it in the following words:

And thus we became followers of the Lamb whithersoever he goes; and he hath called us to make war in righteousness for his name’s sake against hell and death, and all the powers of darkness, and against the beast and false prophet, which have deceived the nations….not with weapons that are carnal, but by the sword that goes out of his mouth, which shall slay the wicked, and cut them to pieces….thus hath the Lord chosen us and made us an army dreadful and terrible, before whom the wicked do fear and tremble; and our standard is truth, justice, righteousness, and equity; and all that come unto us, must cleave thereunto, and fight under that banner without fear, and without doubting, and they shall never be ashamed nor put to flight, neither shall they ever be conquered by hell or death, or by the powers of darkness; but the Lord shall be their armour, weapon, and defence for evermore. And they that follow the Lamb shall overcome, and get the victory over the beast, and over the dragon, and over the gates of hell; for the Lord is with us, and who shall be able to make us afraid?

Then having thus armed us with power, strength, and wisdom, and dominion, according to his mind, and we having learned of him, and being taught of him in all things, and he having chosen us into his work, and put his sword into our hand, and given us perfect commission to go forth in his name and authority, having the word from his mouth what to cut down and what to preserve, and having the everlasting gospel to preach to the inhabitants of the earth, and being commanded in spirit to leave all, and follow him, and go forth in his work, yea an absolute necessity was laid upon us, and wo unto us if we preached not the gospel.(Works, Vol. III, pp.13-14)

You can read more of what Edward Burrough wrote about this at my page: Edward_Burrough_Intro

These stories of the early Quakers are testimonies to the power of the risen Christ at work in the hearts of those who receive his light. This power is neither acceptable nor accessible to those who will not believe the voice of God calling mankind out of darkness into light, away from the power of Satan to the power of God, and out of death into life. This transformation can’t be accomplished by man’s own strength and power. It can’t come about by the techniques of the many religions of the world, including the Christian religion. Its only source is hearing and obeying the Word in whom is the life that is the light of men.

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Live The Stories: Part Two

In a recent blog post, For the Love of Stories: Imagining Quakerism Beyond Belief, The Armchair Theologian posits the need to return to the stories of our beginnings, to sit with these stories even if they are uncomfortable to our modern ideologies, to live these stories. This advice he directs to Universalist, Christian, and Non-theist Friends. In this three part series, it is not my purpose to summarize his blog post. Part one considered the source of these stories, part two looks at the belief that undergirds the stories, and part three will focus on the consequences of living these stories.

All who “live these stories” begin at the same belief. The early Quakers did not get to something “beyond belief.” Their stories are the result of the integration of this belief into all they did. What was/is this belief that they lived with, and that I must also live with if I would have life? Fox wrote a paper containing a section entitled, The Antiquity of Our Belief

Christ, the heavenly man, and second Adam, doth enlighten every one that comes into the world, with his heavenly spiritual light, which is the life in him, the word, and by him the word, all things were made and created. And Christ saith, Believe in the light, that you may become children of the light.’ And so we believing in the light, the life in Christ, are become children of the light, and so are grafted into him, the life, in whom we have the light of life, and so are passed from the death in Adam, to the life in Christ, the second Adam;…so we believe in that which Christ hath given us, and commandeth and teacheth us to believe in, namely, the light, which is the life in him, by which we may see him, and know him, and that we may become children of the light, and of the day of Christ;…And this is the treasure which we have in our earthen vessels; and after we do believe, we are sealed with God’s spirit, and can set to our seal, having the witness in our selves, that God is true in all his promises, and prophets, and types and shadows in the law, concerning his son Christ Jesus…And all the foundations that men lay below Christ, we cannot build upon; for we believe in the light, the life in Christ, and are grafted into him….This is the true and living belief that Christ hath taught us. And he hath given us his light to believe in; which belief is distinct from all false beliefs that men make and teach.(Works, Vol. VI, p.387-388)

Where did this belief come from? Beset with temptations, despairing of finding any solution or relief, Fox was offered advice from leaders of Christianity: “Sing Psalms, take tobacco, join the army, get married.” “I saw they were all miserable comforters,” said Fox,

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 pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power….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. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can get by history or books. That love let me see myself, as I was without him;…I had not fellowship with any people,…but with Christ who hath the key, and opened the door of light and life unto me….When I was in the deep, under all shut up, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great, that I often thought I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me how he was tempted by the same devil, and had overcome him, and had bruised his head; and that through him and his power, light, grace, and spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in him. So he it was that opened to me, when I was shut up, and had neither hope nor faith. Christ, who had enlightened me, gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope, which is himself, revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Thus in the deepest miseries, and in the greatest sorrows and temptations that beset me, the Lord in his mercy did keep me.(Works, Vol. I, pp. 74-75)

Have you come to the end of all your resources and found them to be insufficient? Have you plumbed the depths of Christian religion and found it to be of no help? Have you exhausted all the philosophies of man and found them of no avail? Have you heard the voice saying, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition?” You can neither live this story, nor understand the depth of its significance except you go through these things and then come to know God and Christ by revelation within you, come to know the light of Christ revealed within you as not only the bringer of life but also the power by which you overcome evil. You must come to receive the gift of Christ’s spirit, life, light, and grace and to prove them sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Here, then, is belief and faith wrought in the heart. This is what it means to live this story.

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Live The Stories: Part One

In a recent blog post, For the Love of Stories: Imagining Quakerism Beyond Belief, The Armchair Theologian posits the need to return to the stories of our beginnings, to sit with these stories even if they are uncomfortable to our modern ideologies, to live these stories. This advice he directs to Universalist, Christian, and Non-theist Friends. In this three part series, it is not my purpose to summarize his blog post. Part one will consider the source of these stories, part two will look at the belief that undergirds the stories, and part three will focus on the consequences of living these stories.

First, these stories are the direct result of God-initiated encounters with Jesus Christ where he revealed himself to those people who came to be called Quakers. They are neither works of fiction nor of exageration. Whether one is “Christian, Universalist, Non-theist,” or any other religion, these stories can not be lived except by encountering the same Jesus Christ and to know his work to proceed within. Now many would think that this would be broadly accepted by those calling themselves “Christian,” but the bitterest enemies of the Quaker movement and their worst persecutors were members and leaders of “Christian” churches, whose undergirding theology has not changed since the 1600s.

Lets look at Margaret Fell’s testimony of Fox’s visit to Ulverston Steeple House, quoted in the blog post above. This excerpt begins with Fell quoting what Fox had to say to the people gathered in the steeple house.

‘He is not a Jew that is one outward, neither is that circumcision which is outward; but he is a Jew that is one inward, and that is circumcision which is of the heart.’ And so he went on and said that ‘Christ was the light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and that by this light they might be gathered to God,’ &c. I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine; for I had never heard such before. 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.’ So that served me, that I cannot well tell what he spake afterwards; but he went on in declaring against the false prophets, and priests, and deceivers of the people. [I have added beginning quote marks to quoted passages]

This passage encapsulates the challenge of these “stories” to all people: Christian, Universalist, Non-theist, or whatever religion you please. The inherent questions are: “Have you returned to the beginning where what you speak is inwardly taught you by God? Are you clothed with the life rather than with the sewn-together fig leaves of man’s inventions?”

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