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.

Posted in The Book of John | Tagged , | 3 Comments

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.

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

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.


  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.

Posted in Salvation, True Christianity | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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?”

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

What Should I Tell You?

If I could stand before you and speak of the things of God, what should I tell you? What would be on my heart, as it is upon my mind now, is this one question: “Why are you here?”

There could be many answers to that question, ranging from the flattering “We are here to hear what you have to say” to the more mundane “I love the food that appears at Church potlucks” (assuming that there would be one for the occasion).

OK, lets talk about food, then. For that is the best reason of all for gathering together. Jesus told the Jews, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John 6:53)

George Fox commented on this passage, writing:

…but in the new covenant Christ tells you, ‘Except ye do eat my flesh, and drink my blood, ye have no part in me:’ for as by Adam and Eve, their eating that which God forbad, came death; so if Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters have life again, it is by eating of that which Christ commands; and as by eating came death, so by eating cometh life, and not by talking; no, not by talking of the son of God… (Works of Fox, VIII:155)

Much of Christendom claims that in partaking of bread and wine they are eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. But this is not what I am talking about, and neither was Jesus. He was talking about something drastically different from such rituals.

Do you know the first commandment? If you grabbed your Bibles and looked in Exodus 20, you see the list of the 10 commandments, the first of which says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” However, that is not the first commandment. Look in Exodus 19 and again in Jeremiah 7.

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)

For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. (Jer. 7:22-23)

This word “obey” used in the two passages above can also be rendered “hear,” but there are connotations that must come along, which ever word you choose. “Hear” carries with it the absolute necessity to respond in obedience. “Obey” comes with the understanding that we are obeying a word from God, which we have heard. There is no room for a blind obedience to an inherited legal code. This is a command for a continual, dynamic relationship with the Creator who speaks to his people and demands a response.

“[S]o if Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters have life again, it is by eating of that which Christ commands;…” What does Christ command?

Jesus, commenting on the John 6:53 statement, told his disciples:

The flesh profits nothing. It is the [breath] that gives life. The words which I speak/have spoken to you, these are [breath], these are life. (John 6:63)

Why is this important? Food is one of the major contributors to sustaining life, whether we are speaking biologically or of our life in God. Jesus’ statement in John 6:63 puts it succinctly: hearing his voice is the food that gives us life. (Again, “hear” comes with the understanding that we respond in obedience.)

So, you see, this question of “Why are you here?” is a matter of life and death, one that must take precedence over all other questions. Without this food, you cannot live. There is no substitute. There is no second course on the menu.

Isaiah 54 speaks of those who are taught by the Lord giving these details:

  • their peace will be great
  • they will be established in righteousness
  • they will be free from oppression because they will not fear
  • they will be free from terror because it will not come near them
  • all who rise against them will fall because the Lord, who is their teacher, controls all

Isaiah sums up this portion saying:

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)

Then comes the turning point. Isaiah, in effect, asks, “Are you hungry for this?” and invites those who are hungry and thirsty for this experience of being taught by the Lord to a feast of fatness of hearing the voice of God.

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. (Isaiah 55:1-4)

When I was in grade school, maybe 3rd or 4th grade, a visiting missionary was speaking to the church about Africa. To impress us about the conditions there, he asked for a show of hands of all present who were starving. It had been a long time since breakfast and there was food waiting in the basement, and I was starving!

There was more truth to that story than indicated by the amusement rippling through the congregation. In the midst of all religion can offer, there is not one shred of food. Religion is about stimulating and manipulating emotion, which is not the same thing as hearing and obeying the voice of Christ. Many people raise the objection, “But we hear Christ through the ritual, the sermon, the hymns….” But, I tell you, “No, you hear Christ within you. He IS the mediator between God and man and needs no other intermediary.” Yes, God can speak through other people or through circumstances, but if you do not receive that speaking within yourself it does you no good. It is that encounter with the living Christ within you that brings about the resurrection from death to his life that you must feed upon.

Hear again Isaiah’s question, “Why do you spend yourself for that which is not food, for that which does not satisfy?” Hear again his prescription, “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.” Christ is the covenant God has made with His people. He is the leader and commander God has given. God’s command is “Hear him!”

Are you hungry? Come to the light of Christ within you. There, waiting and watching in that light, is your heavenly food. Are you starving? Turn from all that which is not food, from all that which does not satisfy. Such is but the husks fed to swine. In Christ’s house there is bread aplenty.

Posted in Food, Hear My voice, life, Religion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Faith or Religion

Faith is built upon experience; religion upon presumption.” These words came whispering to my ear one evening and state succinctly the difference between faith and religion. Common usage would tend to blur this distinction and make these two concepts interchangeable. So we must ask the question, “Does it matter?”

Jesus answered the question with the familiar illustration:

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 m ighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evil doers.” Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and b eat upon that house but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” (See Matt. 7:21-27)

Luke began his rendition of this passage with,

And why do you call me, Lord, Lord, but not do the things which I say? Whosoever comes to me, and hears my sayings, and does them… (See Luke 6:46-49)

This is an understanding that goes back to the beginning of holy history. Adam and Eve did not do what the Lord said. Their house did not stand. Noah obeyed the voice of God and was preserved from the flood. Then there was Abram who looked for a city having foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

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)

Faith is bidirectional. God speaks. His people hear and respond. Without this interchange, there is no faith. Religion is unidirectional. It is the a-priori assumption of the religionist that “We know what God wants” no dynamic concourse is required.

The scriptures state, Abraham (i.e. Abram) believed God, or had faith in God. (See Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2.) How do we know he had faith? Because he packed up and followed the voice of God. For this reason Abraham is called the father of faith. There was religion a plenty in Ur of Chaldea, Abraham’s home, and in Haran where he sojourned with his father. Yet the call of God was and still is “Come out from among them.”

Experience is something we can understand. Those who stand on faith have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, that his hand has upheld and still upholds them. They have experienced the purifying light of Christ at work within them. This is the foundation upon which they have built. They know and act by the command of the Lord. Here stands faith. But what of presumption?

In his second epistle, George Fox exhorts:

Friends, The children of the devil, how expert are they in evil, in all deceit in his kingdom; and yet they may speak of the things of God: but no vulturous eye or venomous beast ever trod in the steps of the just, though they may talk of the way. For who have their conversation [i.e. behavior] in this world, and only mind the things of this world, in vain do they profess godliness. (Works of Fox, VII:16)

The presumptuous assume they know what God wants. Perhaps they base their assumptions upon scripture, perhaps upon other ancient writings, perhaps upon the words of ecclesiastical authorities. Their Christianity consists of adhering to certain rules and procedures laid down by the church. But God’s command is: “This is my chosen one, hear him.” (See Luke 9:35)

“Hear him” is crucial to faith, but a hindrance to religion.

Fox goes on to to point out the clear distinction between faith and presumption:

But the children of God, who are conceived and begotten of him, are not of this world, neither do they mind only the things of this world, but the things which are eternal. But the children of this world do mostly mind the external things, and their love is in them, and the other live by faith; the one is sanctified by the word, the other painted with the words….when the trial doth come, ye will find a cross to that will which doth meddle with the things of God presumptuously; that man may live in joy, but the spirit is in bondage. (VII:16-17)

The one is sanctified by the Word, by him that was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made, who is the light of mankind. This light tries all things, makes manifest all things, and reproves all that is contrary to God in thought, word, and deed. This is the experience of knowing the foundation of our lives to be shaken till nothing remains but that which is eternal, which cannot be moved.

The other, those of religion who are not sanctified by the Word, what of them? To be painted by words changes only the veneer that the world sees; whitewashed tombs who appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead man’s bones and all manner of filth. When the storms come, and come they will, their foundation of words painted on the outside gives way. They have nothing left upon which to stand.

The answer to my question, “Does it matter if we make a distinction between faith and religion?” is yes it matters. How can you come out of religion and into faith if you see no difference between the two? Come, stand with Abraham, called out of your father’s house, called out of the culture and religion of your nativity. Take up your abode in faith instead of religion. And, like Abraham before you, rejoice to see the day of Christ appear within you.

Posted in faith | Tagged | Leave a comment


There, do you see it? The bush that is burning and not consumed?

Moses turned aside to have a closer look. We are never told if afterward he longed for the simple days of a shepherd. But we do know something happened in that encounter that altered forever his direction of life. Yes, he received God’s command to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of enslavement to the most powerful nation on Earth at the time. But that was not the significant event.

“Moses, put off your shoes for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground.”

This is a story I have known since early childhood. I was 59 before it occurred to me to ask, “Why put off your shoes?”

God’s answer was, “There is to be no barrier, no separation between you and the holy ground.”

I am sure Moses wore his shoes going back to Egypt and on to the promised land. But the holy ground was now within him for he had removed his shoes and stood upon that ground of hearing and obeying the voice of the Lord.

Let’s jump forward in time.

  • The Israelites are running low on food. They grumble against Moses and against God. Why?
  • Moses goes up the mountain to receive the law. The Israelites despair of his return and make a golden calf to be their god. Why?
  • Standing before the mountain hearing the voice of God, they cry out, “If we hear this voice any longer we will die.” Why?
  • 12 spies are sent into Canaan. Two return saying, “We can do this by the power of God.” Ten return saying, “God has led us on a fool’s errand to die at the hand of these giants.” The people listened to the ten rather than the two. Why?

There is one word that answers all these questions: SHOES

For forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert until that generation died. The scriptures tell us that for forty years they walked and “their shoes did not wear out.” For forty years their barrier of separation remained intact; they refused to stand barefoot upon the holy ground.

The same fire that burned in the bush in front of Moses sheds its light within you. Do you see it? All men, women, and children are enlightened with this light. Do you hear the voice saying, “Put off your shoes, remove the barrier between yourself and the holy ground?”

What does it mean to “remove the barrier, to put off our shoes?” The barrier, “the shoes,” that must go is our unwillingness to hear and obey the voice of the Lord. This is what it means to “believe in the light that you may become children of the day.” Look at the text of John 3: 19-21 and consider it in the light of putting off your shoes to stand on the holy ground.

“God did not send the Son to judge the world, but that through Him the world might be saved. But this is the judgment that the light has come into the world and men have loved the darkness, loved the barrier, loved their shoes, because their deeds were evil…But those who do what is true come to the light, put off their shoes to stand in direct contact with the holy ground, that it may be seen their deeds are wrought in God.” (My liberties taken with the text.)

Posted in Hear My voice | Tagged , , | 1 Comment