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.