Some Preliminary Matters
My previous post was based on the first part of Steven Davison’s comment. This post continues with a few responses to further ideas he presented. These ideas are widely enough spread to warrant further investigation. Please follow these links to read the original posting, my comment, and Steven’s response, lest I should misrepresent anything he said. Where I quote Steven, I have made the print red to distinguish those quotes from quotations from other sources.
Since the topic of this post concerns the “kind of God” embraced by the early Friends, I am again turning to material from their writings. I have tried to shorten quotes where I can, but will readily admit to sometimes being unable to do so.
A Definition of Sin
My previous post discussed whether or not the early Friends were preoccupied with sin. A necessary part in this discussion will be to establish a definition of sin so that we can move on to discuss “the kind of God presumed by this sin-salvation paradigm.”
John 1:29 records John the Baptist’s statement, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Conventional Christianity has conditioned us to understand this statement in the following two veins:
- this is something that happened on the cross when Jesus was crucified. (For this post I am not commenting on the crucifixion of Jesus.)
- sin consists of actions we have committed or failed to accomplish.
The foundation of what the Church calls sin is an inward state of being from which all those actions spring. This inward state is what John the Baptist referred to, and what Scripture describes as “darkness” and “death.” We arrive at this state by listening to the wrong teacher. George Fox said:
So here were three states and three teachers. God was the first teacher in paradise; and whilst man kept under his teaching, he was happy. The serpent was the second teacher; and when man followed his teaching he fell into misery…Christ Jesus was the third teacher; of whom God saith, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him:” and who himself saith, “Learn of me.” This is the true gospel-teacher, who bruises the head of the serpent the false teacher, and the head of all false teachers and false religions, false ways, false worships, and false churches. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p. 144)
So the state of being, referred to as “sin,” is an inward condition where we are in darkness and devoid of the life of the Creator. Salvation is receiving the light Christ enlightens us with. By following this teacher we are removed from that inward state of darkness and death. We were created to be living beings, filled with the image of God. If we reside in death, no amount of dressing up our condition makes us acceptable. What is lacking is life, not more fig-leaves. It is this life that Jesus provides, that the apostles and the early Friends testify to. This is the sin-salvation paradigm I see at work in the testimonies of the early Friends as well as in my own experience.
The Kind of God the Early Friends Followed
So, to refresh the topic, Steven said,
My critique focuses on the kind of God presumed by this sin-salvation paradigm, also—a being who is defined primarily in terms of power, as a lawgiver, judge and punisher, whose wery [sic] “love” is inextricably entwined with violence, epitomized in the white hot focus point of Jesus’s death on the cross. I recognize that this was early Friends’ God, but he’s (sic) not mine.
The first question to ask is, “by what authority does one arrive at a sense of the being of God?” Since the days of canonizing the Scriptures (or before) until the advent of Fox and the early Friends, the sources of “knowing God” were predominantly
- the Scriptures or
- Church tradition.
In the Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 11-13, Edward Burrough described the process by which the early Friends came to their sense of who God is. Below are three extracts from those pages.
It is now about seven years since the Lord raised us up…and opened our mouths in this his spirit; and what we were before in our religion, profession, and practices is well known…that generally 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 for one I may speak, who, from a child…set my face to seek and find the saviour, and, more than life and treasure or any mortal crown, sought with all my heart the one thing that is needful, to wit, the knowledge of God….
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…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. And this light gave us to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way…These things to us were revealed by the light within us, which Christ had given us, and lighted us withal; what man was before transgression, and what he is in transgression, and what he is being redeemed out of transgression. And also as our minds became turned, and our hearts inclined to the light which shined in every one of us, the perfect estate of the church we came to know…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…
And so we ceased from the teachings of all men, and their words, and their worships, and their temples, and all their baptisms and churches; and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion…
Thus the early Friends knowledge of God’s character came by revelation and experience. This is inline with Psalms 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Fox put it this way:
‘I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh, in the last time,’ saith the Lord, which is the true christian’s time, God’s sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and old men shall dream dreams ; and on my servants and handmaids I will pour out of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy. Now friends…every one to feel the spirit of God, by which you may see the things of God, and declare them to his praise…this is beyond that brain-beaten-heady stuff, which man has long studied, about the saints’ words, which the holy men of God spake forth as they were moved by the holy ghost:…So with the holy ghost, and with the light and power of God, do you build upon Christ the foundation, and life… (Works of Fox, Vol. VIII, pp. 19-20)
If you have a bail-out-price, where you declare to God, “the cost is too high, forget this!” you will never come to the knowledge of God Edward Burrough wrote about. Instead you will be left with what Fox described as “that brain-beaten-heady stuff.”
Therefore, the second question to ask to all who come to read this blog post is “How important to you is it that you come to the knowledge of God?” Edward Burrough records how they were willing to forsake (and did forsake) all that stood in the way between them and the Lord.
Here, in Burrough’s words, is the description of the early Friends experience of God.
The Lord God everlasting, who is true and faithful, hath fulfilled his promise in us, and unto us, and we are gathered from the mouths of all dumb shepherds, and out of the mouths of all hirelings, who have made a prey upon us, and fed themselves with the fat, and devoured souls for dishonest gain. And we are come to the fold of eternal rest, where Christ Jesus is the chief shepherd…that feedeth his flock with living bread that nourisheth us unto life eternal….
And atop of the world hath the Lord set us, on the mountain of his own house and dwelling; where we behold and feel the life, and glory, and crown of the world that hath no end;…And as for all that which this perishing world brings forth, which men seek after only, it is reckoned our temptation,…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. (Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 5-6)
If you would know the truth, and I don’t mean their truth, or your truth, or my truth, I mean if you would know the truth, it only comes through the one who is the truth. Friends and others have often repeated, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” But that statement from Jesus was conditional, it depended upon something that had to come first. If you abide in my teaching must be fulfilled before knowing the liberating truth. You can read from the quotes above and from many others that could be instanced that this teaching is only available in the “light Christ has enlightened us withall,” not scripture (which points to Christ), nor the testimony of others. If you reject the light of Christ, Scripture and the testimony of others becomes a ball and chain rather than a source of liberty.
The final question, then, is “How hungry are you?” You have eaten from many tables, but if it is righteousness and truth you hunger and thirst after, it is served only on the table of the revelation of Jesus Christ.