Something to Say…Part 3: The Vitality of George Fox’s Message

My first post touched upon James Tower’s assertion that the adoption of the pastoral system was necessary due to the rapid expansion into the American West. The second post began to look at how the gospel preached by Fox is different from that preached by Evangelical and Friends United Meeting Friends. In this post I will continue pointing out differences as begun in post 2, and I want to look at why the message preached by George Fox found fertile soil in the 1600s, why it will work in any age, and why I am convinced it will answer the crying need of today.

The 1600s were as hostile to the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers as any environment we have faced in our history in the U.S. or that which confronts us today. Yet it flourished.

Fox described the situation into which he was sent to preach the gospel thus:

Some time after, the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world which was like a briery, thorny wilderness. When I came, in the Lord’s mighty power, with the word of life into the world, the world swelled and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea. Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like a sea, when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance to them. (Works of Fox, Vol. I pp. 89-90 or Fox’s Commission)

The description of a briery wilderness does not sound at all hospitable. But that was not the worst, the Quakers were beaten with staves, sticks, and Bibles. They were threatened with swords and knives. They were stoned. Three were hung on Boston Common. They were thrown into prison where many died. Laws were enacted by Parliament against them. In the face of all this, they continued to work to bring the gospel into every parish in England, into Scotland, Ireland, the Colonies of the New World–everywhere they could go. By the time of Fox’s death in 1691, one out of every hundred Englishmen was Quaker, plus the movement had spread to a number of other countries.

What was it about the message they preached that caused people to be convinced of the truth of it and to turn from the Christianity they had been practicing to embrace something that was startlingly new?

Fox exhorted:

DEAR FRIENDS AND BRETHREN, Who are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God, who are believers in the light, which is the life in Christ, and are become children of the light and of the day, grafted into Christ, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, and are gathered in the name of Jesus, in whom ye have salvation, and not in any other name under the whole heaven. For Christ Jesus saith, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt. xviii. 20. So you being gathered in the name of Jesus, he is in the midst of you, a Saviour, a mediator, a prophet, a shepherd, a bishop, a leader, a counsellor, the captain of your salvation, who bruises the serpent’s head, and destroys the devil and his works. Therefore, brethren in Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For you are made partakers of Christ, if ye hold fast the beginning of your confidence steadfast to the end. Heb. iii. 14. Therefore, hear Christ’s voice ; for he is in the midst of you a teacher. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.260)

And in “A warning to the magistrates, priests, and people of the city of Hamburgh, to humble themselves before the Lord, and not to be high-minded.” Fox said:

Therefore take warning; for your priests and people are too high, are swallowed up too much in this world…therefore I am to warn and advise you, both high and low, priests and people, to come to the grace, light, and truth that comes by Jesus Christ; to the manifestation of the good spirit of God, which is given you to profit withal; that with this grace, truth, light, and spirit of Christ, you may turn to him from whence it comes, who saith, “Learn of me;” and God saith, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, do hear Christ their prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their teacher and priest. So now, God doth speak to his people by his Son, as he did in the apostles’ days. The Lord is come to teach his people himself by his grace, light, truth, and spirit, and to bring them off from all the world’s teachers, made by men since the apostles’ days; who have kept people always learning, that they may always be paying of them…. (Ibid., pp. 379-380)

I have spoken with people who would take Fox’s statement, “So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, do hear Christ their prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their teacher and priest” and apply the following logic. “I am a child of the new covenant, therefore, I must hear Christ.” But the intent of Fox’s warning is to point out that only those who hear Christ, their prophet whom God has raised up, and experience Him teaching them are children of the new covenant. If you know this by personal experience, you will be drawn to know it as the community of God’s people.

We get a thumbnail sketch of the message Fox preached in his account of the meeting at Firbank Fell.

In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers. It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours;

(The following bulleted items are excerpts from Fox’s narrative.)

  • [I directed] all to the spirit of God in themselves that they might:
    • be turned from the darkness to the light, and believe in it, that they might become the children of it,
    • be turned from the power of satan unto God;
    • be led into all truth, and sensibly understand the words of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles;
    • all come to know Christ to be
      • their teacher to instruct them,
      • their counsellor to direct them,
      • their shepherd to feed them,
      • their bishop to oversee them,
      • their prophet to open divine mysteries to them;
    • [I directed all to the spirit of God in themselves that they might know] their bodies to be prepared, sanctified, and made fit temples for God and Christ to dwell in.
  • In the openings of the heavenly life, I opened unto them the prophets, and the figures and shadows, and directed them to Christ, the substance.
  • I opened the parables and sayings of Christ, and things that had been long hid; showing the intent and scope of the apostles’ writings, and that their epistles were written to the elect.
  • I showed also the state of the apostacy that hath been since the apostles’ days;
    • the priests have got the scriptures, but are not in the spirit which gave them forth;
    • [They] have put them [the scriptures] into chapter and verse, to make a trade of the holy men’s words;
    • the teachers and priests now are found in the steps of the false prophets, chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees of old, and are such as the true prophets, Christ and the apostles cried against,and so are judged and condemned by the spirit of the true prophets, of Christ, and of his apostles: and that none in that spirit and guided by it now could own them
  • I was moved to inform the people, that the steeple-house, and the ground whereon it stood, were no more holy than that mountain;
  • those temples, which they called the dreadful houses of God, were not set up by the command of God and of Christ;
  • nor their priests called, as Aaron’s priesthood was;
  • nor their tithes appointed by God, as those amongst the Jews were;
  • but that Christ was come, who ended both the temple and its worship, and the priests and their tithes; and all now should hearken to him: for he said, “Learn of me;” and God said of him, “This in my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”

I declared that the Lord God had sent me to preach the everlasting gospel and word of life amongst them; and to bring them off from all these temples, tithes, priests, and rudiments of the world, which had got up since the apostles’ days, and had been set up by such as had erred from the spirit and power that the apostles were in.’ Very largely was I opened at this meeting, and the Lord’s convincing power accompanied my ministry, and reached home to the hearts of the people; whereby many were convinced, and all the teachers of that congregation, (who were many) were convinced of God’s everlasting truth that day. (Ibid., pp. 142-143)

Contrast this message preached by Fox with that proclaimed by a Quaker pastor of the American West:

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—hearing His voice. (Excerpt from a group email exchange following a New Foundation Fellowship event.)

This modern proclamation of how Jesus saves mankind is not a recent development. Though shorter, it does not differ in its main points from the Richmond Declaration of Faith, subsection “Justification and Sanctification.” This sort of theology was in existence in the 1600s when Fox and the other early Quaker preachers were confronting priests and people with the gospel message similar to that delivered at Firbank Fell. (Fox fleshes out his understanding of salvation in his To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom, which is the opening piece in Vol. IV of his Works and is available for download at the above link.) [The above link does not take you to the correct place. Use this link instead: To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom.] In spite of its antiquity, trying to live by “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…” left (and still leaves) a gaping hole in people’s inward experience. Embracing the message preached by Fox and experiencing the power and work of Christ within us brings the satisfaction of knowing (i.e. experiencing) the work of regeneration and being made conformable to the image of Christ within us. This was the experience of the people at Firbank Fell. Because of the inward satisfaction, they were willing to embrace the message preached by Fox, even to the extent of severe suffering at the hands of family, neighbors, “Church” members, and magistrates.

Edward Burrough was one of those convinced at Firbank Fell. Seven years later he wrote an account of the rise of the Quakers in the North of England, which appears as the introduction to Vol. III of the Works of Fox. That document shows the fullness of the experience of the message Fox preached. (See my posts Who Is Your God and The New Covenant.)

In reading Burrough’s narrative, it becomes clear that a principal part of the experience of embracing the gospel proclaimed at Firbank Fell consisted of coming to Christ our teacher. He wrote:

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…

  • They found this light sufficient to reprove and convince them of every evil deed, word, and thought.
  • By this light within them, they came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of and according to God from what is of the devil, which is contrary to God in motion, word, and works.
  • By this light within them they were able to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way, and it showed them the true state of all things.

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 we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation

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

Burrough’s comment is, “And after this manner was our birth or bringing forth…” (Ibid., p. 14)

There is nothing comparable to the above in the Evangelical tradition (Friends or otherwise). Not even after many years of experience, let alone at “birth”. So remarkable is this difference that the Quaker pastor quoted above stated that it was an extraordinary thing God did in and for that generation of Friends.

My contention is, “No. What Edward Burrough described is normal Christianity. The experience of knowing Christ in all His offices (or functions) within ourselves and among us as we gather to wait upon Him is what brings us into harmony with God and His purpose in history. This is salvation in its true sense. There is no other path to this salvation than that laid out by Fox above. The remarkable, extraordinary thing is that the possessors of such a precious pearl as the gospel preached by Fox would (like Esau) trade it for a mess of pottage.”

This is the pearl hidden in the field and is the rejected inheritance of all sons and daughters of Adam. Because this gospel Fox proclaimed is the inheritance of all mankind, it speaks to the condition of all mankind and satiates the hunger for righteousness in all mankind of all times. Unlike Esau, we can reclaim our inheritance, but to do so we must sell all.

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Something to Say…Part2:The Gospel, the Power of God

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 KJV)

This post continues my series in response to James Tower’s blog post of 2012 entitled Something to Say About Silence. After re-reading some of James’ comments, on my previous post, I realized that I needed to insert a different post for part 2 than I had originally planned. (James’ comments will be in red type.) He stated:

…While I too am critical of Evangelical Friends on many points, [I] fail to see the distinction of the gospel you are insinuating. I get that the Quaker discovery was that “Jesus came to teach his people himself” and that one of the main differences was that the Quaker way of following Jesus was a living and active faith involved involving listening and obedience, but does this really qualify as a “different gospel” or is it the reclamation of the power of the gospel that had previously been suppressed or ignored?…

James raises an excellent question, one that could be argued legitimately from either side: Did Fox proclaim a different gospel or did he reclaim the power of the gospel that had previously been suppressed or ignored? Certainly, the professing Christians of Fox’s day claimed to have the gospel as in:

…the tongues [i.e. those who know Greek, Latin, and Hebrew] may say,…what, have we not had the gospel all this while? I say no, they that went from the spirit of the Lord, and ravened from the spirit of God, they went from the power of God, which is the gospel… (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p. 228)

The argument, “what, have we not had the gospel all this while?” presupposes that the gospel consists of the story about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. An often used phrase by Fox is “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” Sometimes it is shortened to “the gospel, which is the power of God,” and sometimes it is lengthened to include “to them which believe.” If you take this statement seriously, as did Fox, then you can’t have the gospel and not have the power. If you do not have “the power of God unto salvation” then you are proclaiming something other than the everlasting gospel. Fox is saying, “The good news is that here is the power of God unto salvation from death, salvation from the image of Satan, salvation from the curse, salvation from the teaching of Satan, salvation from sin.” So this leads to the question of how do we access this power of God unto salvation?
Lewis Benson stated:

At least from the fifth century onward the church had been teaching a doctrine of “justification by grace” and representing the new covenant as a “covenant of grace.” The doctrine of “justification by grace” defined the human problem as: How can a person be found innocent before the bar of God’s final judgment? (Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2, p. 28)

The Richmond Declaration of Faith, a document that forms the basis of both Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International does not differ much from the above. It states:

“…We believe that justification is of God’s free grace, through which, upon repentance and faith, He pardons our sins, and imparts to us a new life. It is received…in the unmerited mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Through faith in Him, and the shedding of His precious blood, the guilt of sin is taken away, and we stand reconciled to God. The offering up of Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world is the appointed manifestation both of the righteousness and of the love of God….to the humble penitent whose heart is broken under the convicting power of the Spirit, life is revealed in that death. As he looks upon Him who was wounded for our transgressions, (Isa 53:5) and upon whom the Lord was pleased to lay the iniquity of us all, (Isa 53:6) his eye is more and more opened to see, and his heart to understand, the exceeding sinfulness of sin for which the Savior died; whilst, in the sense of pardoning grace, he will have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (Rom 5:11)…(You can read more of that document at http://www.quakerinfo.com/rdf.shtml#JustSanc)

According to this, the power of God is accessed through accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and believing that we are forgiven and made new creatures in Christ. Jesus’ saviorhood is seen to consist in His priestly office of the atonement.

Everything looks good until we run into, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father.” So now, fifth-century-theology and Richmond-Declaration-of-Faith, how am I to know the will of the Father and where do I find the power to do that will?

George Fox’s approach to the question of how are we to access the power of God unto salvation is quite different than that proclaimed by fifth century theology or by the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Lewis Benson wrote in his QRT article,

Although Calvin introduced the prophetic office of Christ into dogmatic theology, he made no theological use of it. For Calvin, Jesus’ messiahship was determined by his priestly and kingly offices. When Calvin thought of Jesus the Messiah he thought of a priestly and kingly figure, and in so doing he was conforming to the main tradition in the church from the second century onward.’ Unlike Calvin, Fox gave full theological weight to the office of Christ as prophet. When he thought of Jesus the Messiah and saviour, he was thinking of a figure who was as much a prophet as he was a priest and king. He was fully aware that in his teaching about “Christ the prophet” he was inaugurating a revolution in the way people understand who Christ is and how he saves men. He knew that he was building on a very early apostolic tradition; and he knew his teaching about Christ would bring with it a need to challenge the accepted traditional meanings of salvation, saviour, gospel, belief, faith, new covenant, the righteousness of Christ, and the nature of the church of Christ. (Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2, pp. 21-22)
The doctrine of “justification by grace” defined the human problem as: How can a person be found innocent before the bar of God’s final judgment? Fox defined the human problem as: How can a person know and do the will of God in this life? [emphaisis mine] He preached Christ as the teacher and prophet who saves us from captivity to sin and not as a saviour who saves us while we remain under the power of sin. He called Christ the “teacher that bringeth salvation.”…It is because Fox proclaimed that Christ is saviour as he is revealer, that he interpreted salvation by Christ in a way that was radically different from the churches of the Reformation. (ibid., p. 28)

Lewis Benson concludes his article with:

In what has been set forth here I have tried to show that Fox’s teaching about Christ was not appropriated from his religious environment but was a fresh and distinctive view of Christ, which he proclaimed in the form of a challenge to the teaching of the churches. In the third section I have indicated some of the principal scriptural sources from which his doctrine of Christ was drawn. He believed that he had recovered important parts of the New Testament witness that had been neglected or ignored by the churches. If we are to recover this long-lost teaching of Fox today, it is most important for us to see, as Fox did, that his teaching about Christ is not an appendix to the orthodox teaching of the churches that merely increases our knowledge of Christ by a process of simple addition. Fox’s fresh insights brought him to a greatly expanded view of Christ’s power to lead men to a new-founded righteousness and a new-founded community. The recovery and re- proclamation of the gospel that he preached will surely have revolutionary consequences for those who have ears to hear it and the grace to receive it. (ibid., p. 42)

Some of the scriptures that Fox draws upon for his teaching about Christ as prophet and teacher are:

  • Deut. 8:3
  • Deut. 18:15-18
  • John 1:1-18
  • John 10:10
  • John 12:46-50
  • Peter’s speeches in Acts 3 and 4
  • Stephen’s defense in Acts 7
  • Titus 2:11-12
  • Heb. 1:1-2
  • Heb. chapter 3

In Vol. VII of his Works, Fox stated the following things that had been “lost since the apostles’ days.” (Worship was mentioned twice as indicated below.) These are:

  • men’s meetings in the power of God to relieve widows, strangers, and fatherless (p.15)
  • the public worship of God (p.235)
  • The true hope (p.322)
  • the true cross (p.322)
  •  the true way (p.322)
  • the true faith (p.322)
  • the true worship (p.323)
  • the true religion (p.324)
  • the image of God within (p.325)
  • the true praying (p.325)
  • the true fellowship (p.326)
  • the righteousness (p.327)
  • the sanctification (p.327)
  • the sanctifying belief (p.327)

The covenant-of-grace theology came into being with the demise of the apostolic gospel and is responsible for the loss of the above items. The only means of restoring these lost items to the lives of individuals and the life of the church as a whole is to come to wait for and to experience the working of Jesus Christ in and among us in all his offices. All these items are part of the Salvation that the true gospel, the power of God, brings us to.

In 36 years of hearing an average of two sermons per week, (that amounts to about 3700 sermons) I can’t think of any that dealt with the importance of knowing Jesus present in our midst as our prophet and teacher, let alone pointing out that experiencing Jesus in these offices (and others) in and among us is of vital importance to our salvation. If Pastoral Friends can legitimately claim to have the same gospel proclaimed by George Fox and the early Friends, then it would make sense to me that these vital subjects should be central to what is being proclaimed in our day.

I would argue Fox’s answer to the question, who is a christian, would be something like “one whose life was changed by Christ” and that it was the power of the gospel believed, not the gospel itself, that was changed. In say you are called to preach the gospel Fox understood, and that I felt called to serve as a quaker pastor, I am still at a loss as to the nature of the difference you are implying. Other than name dropping Fox, how is there a try difference in our aims?

The question of true Christians or true believers now can be answered. Fox stated concerning true believers:

for [true believers] believe in the true Christ the light, and bid people believe in the light that doth enlighten every man that cometh into the world, that all men through him might believe… (Works, Vol. III, pp. 309-310)

They are the ones who experience this power of God unto salvation, who know the work of Christ in and among them in all his offices to restore to them the image of God, the righteousness of God, the sanctification and holiness without which none can see God, the true faith that overcomes the world and protects from the god of this world, the true worship in spirit and truth into which the Devil can’t come, and so on. All these things are known and seen in and by the light of Christ which He has enlightened us with.

Further reading:

  • Quaker Religious Thought, Christ as Prophet: Studies in the Basis for Christian Obedience, winter 1974-75, Vol. 16, nos. 1 & 2.
  • Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend containing further information regarding his paper on Christ as Prophet.

In the next post I will look at Fox’s Firbank Fell sermon, Edward Burroughs account of the rise of the Quakers in the north of England that was the result of that sermon and compare that with a statement from an evangelical Friends pastor.

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Something to Say About Something to Say About Silence

I recently stumbled across James Tower’s blog post of 2012 entitled Something to Say About Silence. Since his post and subsequent discussion was several years old, I have decided to make my comments in the form of a series of posts of my own. I hope James will take this opportunity to re-address the issue here. In his post, he raises some issues that I am moved to talk about. Please go read his post lest I should misrepresent him in any way.

James stated:

…due to the rapid growth of the church during westward expansion of our country we adopted the pastoral system. Many lament this as the death of real Quakerism, but this is a mistake. Quakers simply needed to adapt to their circumstances in a time and place far different than where the movement was birthed, i.e. in a well established empire with many people growing up within the movement. In the “wild west” with many new people from various faith traditions or no tradition, silence was simply not enough to meet the discipleship needs of the day. The Gospel needed to be preached as well as lived, the Bible needed to be taught, and the pastoral system became the norm…

First, let’s dispense with the “background” question. James comes from an Evangelical Friends tradition. I spent my first 36 years as part of Evangelical Friends. James attended Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas. I graduated from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. Both of these schools are associated with Mid America Yearly Meeting. At this point our paths diverge. James received a call to pastoral ministry. I am called to the ministry of the everlasting gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. Plus God called me out of Evangelical Friends, much as He called Abraham out of Ur. Suffice it to say, I do not “argue for my position” on the basis of a culturally different background, but on the basis of a different understanding of what Fox and the early Quakers were about.

I understand James to have said that the pastoral system has been superimposed upon a basically unchanged Quaker understanding of who Jesus is and how He saves mankind. This move did not spell the death of real Quakerism. It was merely a cosmetic adaptation to fit differing circumstances.

My conviction is quite different.

The distinctions between the pastoral system and the early Friends understanding of the gospel is illustrated by the following vignette from Fox:

At another place, I heard some of the magistrates said among themselves, If they had money enough, they would hire me to be their minister.’ This was, where they did not well understand us, and our principles: but when I heard of it, I said, ‘ It was time for me to be gone; for if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher.’ For this thing (hiring ministers,) had spoiled many, by hindering them from improving their own talents; whereas our labour is, to bring every one to their own teacher in themselves. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.128) (For a more in-depth treatment regarding our teacher, see my post on The New Covenant.)

Lets consider the case of Stephen Crisp. (I have put Crisp’s words in blue type.) At twelve years of age, his “constant cry was after the power by which I might overcome corruptions…” He wandered from group to group, thinking each time he had found that which would minister to his cry. However, once he had mastered the techniques of that particular group, he came to realize they were empty of any real substance. So he came to the point of giving up on overcoming vice, giving himself more and more to pleasure seeking. But the Lord convicted him of that route. He turned to some who said that he must be obedient to the “commands and ordinances of Jesus Christ, and to be conformable to the primitive saints, in walking in church-order and communion…So I took up that ordinance as they called it, of water baptism, expecting then to have found power more than before.” But his will was the only force sustaining him in the effort, and will is not strong enough. In 1655 James Parnell came to Colchester (where Crisp lived) and though Crisp argued with Parnell, he could not withstand the spirit of sound judgment in Parnell, “and the witness of God arose in me, and testified to his judgment, and signified I must own it; it being just and true, and I the same day and hour testified that all our rods of profession would be lost or devoured by his rod, alluding to that of Moses, and the magicians of Egypt…” And so he (Stephen Crisp) strove to master the “Quaker techniques” [my term, not his] but could not. He was brought under severe, inward judgment and was somewhat brought through all that, yet when in meeting, he could not keep his mind from wandering. whereupon he stated:

And upon a time being weary of my own thoughts in the meeting of God’s people, I thought none was like me, and it was but in vain to sit there with such a wandering mind as mine was, while though I laboured to stay it, yet could not as I would; at length I thought to go forth, and as I was going, the Lord thundered through me, saying, that which is weary must die; so I turned to my seat and waited in the belief of God, for the death of that part which was weary of the work of God…” (The Christian Experiences, Gospel Labours and Writings, of That Ancient Servant of Christ, Stephen Crisp, Phila, 1822, p.30)

Where this is relevant is the assertion that the rise of the early Quaker movement and worship depended upon a culture of Biblical literacy that was lacking in the American west, thus necessitating the abandonment of our testimony of Christ as our teacher to take up the pastoral system so that the gospel could be preached and the Bible taught. The “Biblically literate” of the 1600s were just as ignorant of the true gospel preached by Fox and the early Quakers like James Parnell as any Biblically illiterate person you were likely to encounter west of Saint Louis, Missouri. The “Biblically literate” of the 2000s are no more inclined to receive the true gospel  than in the 1600s. Biblical literacy or its lack has nothing to do with it. The burning question is, “Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness?” (I treat this topic in my post on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Part 3.)

The purpose of gathering to hear Christ our prophet like Moses, whom God raised up for us to hear in all things is well illustrated by Stephen Crisp’s Sermon XIV, The Kingdom of God Within. (Please read the complete text, as I have had to cut many useful parts out of the quote below.)

…We all know, and we must confess, that we have been subject to the man of sin,…We have seen the reign and government, the rage and tyranny of the wicked one, that hath led us into rebellion and disobedience to the Lord our Maker. How do we like that government, to be ruled by the devil, and to be led captive, and to be made to do his will, and to rebel against God that gave us our life, and breath, and being?…I hope we do none of us like it….they…have many cries and wishes in their souls, that they were freed and delivered from it, and brought under the government and obedience of Christ Jesus…
This hath been the cry of some ever since they have known the word ; and I am persuaded it is the cry of many at this day. I have good news to bring you; not that the day of your redemption draws nigh, but that…the day of redemption is now come…
But may not some say, how shall this great work be wrought? For it is a great work, and we verily think that nothing but an Almighty Power can effect it. For there are many in this assembly have been trying to no purpose, and done what they could in their own strength, to deliver their own souls from death, and yet they find themselves in bondage still; nay, they have called in the help and assistance of those that they thought to be stronger than themselves, and all have failed, and they are yet weak and entangled, and they cannot find themselves at liberty to serve the Lord as they ought to do.
I am of this mind, that nothing but the Almighty Power of God can do it; and when you have come to my experience, to know this as I have done, then I hope you will seek after that, and you will see good reason for it; and you will then come to this profession, if the Lord puts not forth his Almighty Power, I must then perish, for there is no other power can deliver me. When you come to know this, what must you do? Why you must wait for the revelation of that power that will take you off from all trust and confidence that you have ever had in any thing else: a man that hath nothing to trust to but the Almighty Power, and mercy, and goodness of God, he puts his whole trust and confidence therein, or else he knows he must perish.
When a man or woman comes to this pass, that they have nothing to rely upon but the Lord, then they will meet together to wait upon the Lord: And this was the first ground or motive of our setting up meetings;…we should use them as poor desolate helpless people that are broken off from all their own confidence and trust, and have nothing to rely upon but the mercy and goodness of God; and if he pleaseth to reveal his power among us, we know that he is able to save us. (Scripture Truths Demonstrated, in Thirty Two Sermons or Declarations of Stephen Crisp…, 1787, pp 158-159)

In my years of participating in Evangelical Friends, I have talked with many pastors who claim that the aim of their ministry is to bring people to the same foundation on which the early Friends were built. But I can’t think of one sermon specifying that the purpose of our gathering was to wait for and experience the power of God to bring us salvation from our slavery to Satan. This people has something else to rely upon than the Lord; they, therefore, do not gather to wait upon the Lord to appear among them to teach them and to deliver them. When I circulated a questionnaire in a particular congregation asking, “Why are you here?” Not one person answered, “Where two or three are gathered in His authority, Christ is present in their midst. We are come to hear His teaching.”

It is my contention that Evangelical Friends, like those of other persuasions, have come to their position by a process of abandoning the everlasting gospel preached by George Fox and replacing it with another gospel. Adopting the pastoral system or throwing out the pastoral system is not going to  make any critical difference. What is needed is to lay again the foundation of knowing and experiencing Jesus within as well as knowing and experiencing Him present in the midst in all his functions. And not as a museum piece showcasing antiquity, but as a living reality that is the proclaimed driving-center of the people of God. (See #2 below for more information regarding the offices or functions of Christ. Also see my post regarding Who is Jesus Christ? and How Does He Save Us?)

Further reading:

  1. The Moorestown Lecture Series, by Lewis Benson, on Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox. (Six are currently available for download and others are being added periodically.)
  2. Lewis Benson’s letter to a friend detailing George Fox’s view of Christ.
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Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Part 3

  1. …why G.F. did not accept the precedent set by Jesus at his baptism (to fulfill all righteousness) – and the apostles?
  2. Similarly, communion. …I am unsure why G.F. dispensed with this altogether, rather than rectifying the errors and establishing a NT pattern – as the churches used to have agape meals and share bread and wine in memory of the Lord’s death until he comes again?

My first post on this subject gave Fox’s answer to the question of why reject water baptism as a Christian institution. The second post dealt with Fox’s answer regarding the “Lord’s supper.” In this post, I will cover the two points raised by Steve Thomas stated above.

And when Christ came to be baptized of John, John forbade him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness;’ (Matt. 3:15)

What does it mean to fulfill all righteousness? Is there a basis for righteousness other than adhering to New Testament patterns?

The only foundation of righteousness is the dialogic relationship with our Creator, the Word who was in the beginning, who became flesh and dwelt/dwells among us. In Him is life. The whole point of righteousness is life. When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled,”(Matt. 5:6) he is talking about a hunger and thirst after life. And Jesus tells his disciples, concerning eating the bread of life, “The flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken/am speaking to you, these are breath, these are life. (John 6:63)

This is the strait gate and the narrow way that few find and enter. The broad gate and wide way includes all other approaches to righteousness and attempts to find life. Crying Lord, Lord, casting out devils and working miracles—all are of no account. They only garner the sentence, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity.” Jesus points out the path of wisdom: “He who hears my words and does them is likened to a wise man who dug deep and built his house upon the rock…” (See Matt. 7:13-29 & Luke 6:46-49)

Steve’s question could arise from the common conception that the New Testament Church establishes a pattern that is to be followed by all subsequent generations. In taking up this issue, Lewis Benson stated:

The objective standard against which most Protestant Restorationists measure the church is the Bible. They make their claim on the ground that the pattern of the true church is set forth in the New Testament. They believe that the Restoration of the church depends on the closest possible imitation of the New Testament pattern….This theory rests on two misconceptions: namely, that the New Testament furnishes us with a single clear picture of the pattern that is to be the norm of Christian community for all time, and that this pattern is imitable.
I have said that George Fox was a Restorationist and he was; but he was a very different kind of Restorationist…
Fox wanted to see the church restored but…His concern was to restore to the church the power to stand united and not scatter when the time comes to respond in corporate obedience to Christ’s commands. The early church was able through faithfulness to overcome the world and not be overcome by the world. It is this world-overcoming church whose validity is not in its form but in power that Fox wanted to see restored.
“. . . the church in God, is not in imitation, gathered, . . . it is a lie 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”. (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p. 18) Fox believed that the order of the emerging Quaker community was consistent with the witness of Scripture, but he did not expect that in every particular the Quaker community would be identical with the scriptural account of the early church. He puts his position most plainly and boldly when he asserts: “And if there was no scripture for our men’s and women’s meetings, Christ is sufficient . . . he is our rock and foundation to build upon”. (Works of Fox, Vol. VIII, p. 115)….
In Fox’s view the church of the New Covenant must be a holy people established in righteousness. This holy people, which is the true Israel, is only made possible through the continuing presence of Christ in the midst of his church. (The Quaker Vision, New Foundation publication No. 4, 1979, p 20-22)

So, in summation, 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…This was the true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world…To those who received this light was given the power to become children of God. (See John 1:1-13) This is what it means to be righteous and to fulfill all righteousness. This relationship of hearing and obeying the light that comes from the life in the Word is the basis for the existence of the New Covenant community. Christ is the author of our faith and also our practice. The Church of the first century A.D. had the same struggle as do we today of living obediently to the voice of the true Shepherd.

Further reading:

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Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Part 2

A question if I may take the liberty: I have been greatly blessed, educated, and encouraged by reading the journals of George Fox, his letters, and writings – and those of his colleagues (Barclay, Penn et al.). His understandings of most things I often fully agree with. But I have a question about 2 things, if anyone might have a view on this please?
1. Water Baptism – whereas I totally agree that baptism in the Holy Spirit – becoming fully one with God in Spirit – is the central essence of baptism – also, the NT describes people being baptised in water, after Christian conversion. I am unsure why G.F. did not accept the precedent set by Jesus at his baptism (to fulfill all righteousness) – and the apostles?
The above portion was dealt with in my previous post.
2. Similarly, communion. Again, whereas the RC church et al have extended this way beyond what was intended – and sacralized it and bound it under an ‘ordained priesthood’ etc. – thus removing it from the context of common fellowship – I am unsure why G.F. dispensed with this altogether, rather than rectifying the errors and establishing a NT pattern – as the churches used to have agape meals and share bread and wine in memory of the Lord’s death until he comes again?
Thanks.
Shalom in Jesus.
(Steve Thomas)

For the answer to this question I can direct readers to an online source of A Distinction Between The Two SuppersGeorge Fox’s answer to the question posed above. However, I want to provide a summary here and encourage you to follow the above link to read the full text.

Fox refers to three suppers as follows:

  1. It is said in Matth. xxvi. and Mark xiv. and Luke xxii. and 1 Cor, xi. In the same night that Christ was betrayed, he took the bread and the cup, &c. and said, As often as ye do eat this bread, and drink this cup, do it in remembrance of me; and ye do show forth the Lord’s death until he come.’ And Christ saith, I say unto you, I will drink henceforth no more of this fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ Matt. xxvi. 29, and [Luke] xxii. 16. And Christ said, when he was at his last supper, when he was betrayed, before he was crucified, I say unto you, (namely, his disciples,) I will not any more eat thereof, (namely, of the bread of the passover,) until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’
  2. And did not Christ send John, after he was ascended, to call the church to another supper, and said, Behold, I stand at the door and knock : if any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me; he that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches.’ (Rev. iii. 20)
  3. And the angel said unto John, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the lamb. This is the spiritual marriage supper of the lamb, which the true christians were called to, after Christ was risen and ascended.’ Rev. xix. 9. For they that are come to this marriage supper of the lamb, are married to Christ, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven. And these are they that hear his spiritual voice, and he is come into them, and suppeth with them, and they with him; and this is the marriage supper of the lamb, that taketh away the sins of the world, and they that come to it are blessed.

In answer to supper #1 Fox pointed out that Christ ate and drank with the disciples after the resurrection, thus fulfilling the words, “I will drink henceforth no more of this fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Fox also pointed out that Christ is come which answers the 1 Cor. text. This time He is come with all power in Heaven and Earth given to him. By this power we, who receive Him and live in Him, overcome the world. We receive this power by hearing his voice speaking to us in the light with which He enlightens every man, woman, and child. Now this is not the same thing as is claimed by Preterists, but rather it is a declaration of Christ come that is as significant as (or more so) than that coming so heralded by certain preachers today. Why would I say this coming is more significant than what is normally referred to as “The Second Coming of Christ?” Because this coming fulfills the passover in the kingdom of God in that this coming of Christ removes sin and death from the heart and seats Christ at the supper table where we partake together of His body and His blood (i.e. His life). The best those who do not receive Him and live in Him can proclaim is that Christians are “justified sinners,” or that “Christians aren’t  perfect, just forgiven.” They do not know, and refuse to know the power released by hearing and following His voice.

Fox also pointed out that reprobates can (and often do) eat of the bread and drink the wine “in remembrance of His death until He comes.” But no one can sup with Christ or come to the marriage supper of the Lamb except they have Christ within them, the hope of glory. “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5)

My question, not Fox’s, is “If I know Christ come in a manner that is more significant than the “coming” church leaders and theologians have accepted as the meaning implied by “until he come,” why would I choose to participate in a ritual that declares Him absent?”

Regarding Steve Thomas’ question concerning why George Fox did not correct the errors of the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers and re-establish a New Testament tradition? I refer you to Lewis Benson’s letter to Ursula Windsor. While this letter does not directly answer that question, it does point the reader in the direction of the answer as indicated below. More on this in the third post on this subject.

Fox’s theology has a starting point, namely, the “everlasting gospel” preached by the apostles. And, like the apostles, he has a gospel message
about Jesus Christ which is rooted in the promises and prophecies and messianic expectations of God’s old covenant people. His teaching concerning the authority of the Bible, worship, ministry, priestcraft, sacraments
and church order are all closely related to this gospel message and cannot be properly understood apart from the gospel experience.
This gospel is the foundation for all of Fox’s teaching and for his whole vision of the
nature of God’s people in the New Covenant. (Lewis Benson, 1983, unpublished letter to Ursula Windsor concerning the differences between Fox and Wesley)

Here I will leave you to read A Distinction Between The Two Suppers. What are your thoughts on what Fox presents?

 

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Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Part 1

The following post (in red type) appeared on the New Foundation Fellowship Facebook page. I am answering it here with text taken from The Works of George Fox, Vol. VI, pp. 288-294. I have attempted to abridge some of it, removing redundancy  where I could, and sometimes removing things that appeared to me to be a sidetrack. I hope to have left enough that the reader emerges with a complete sense of what Fox is saying. It is a long quote and I encourage readers to find the original if they can. The quote from Fox is in blue type. (Please note: the text from Fox is an OCR rendition of the 1831 edition of the Works of Fox. There may be some errors where the software did not get it right and I did not catch it. If something looks weird, contact me for a correction.)

The original Facebook post contained two questions. Question #2 will be dealt with in my next blog post.

A question if I may take the liberty: I have been greatly blessed, educated, and encouraged by reading the journals of George Fox, his letters, and writings – and those of his colleagues (Barclay, Penn et al.). His understandings of most things I often fully agree with. But I have a question about 2 things, if anyone might have a view on this please?
1. Water Baptism – whereas I totally agree that baptism in the Holy Spirit – becoming fully one with God in Spirit – is the central essence of baptism – also, the NT describes people being baptised in water, after Christian conversion. I am unsure why G.F. did not accept the precedent set by Jesus at his baptism (to fulfill all righteousness) – and the apostles?
[from Steve Thomas)

Fox’s answer to this question is as follows:

And here you may see a distinction betwixt the baptism of John with his element of water, which must decrease, a forerunner of Christ’s baptism, which doth increase…who baptizeth with fire, and with the holy ghost; who cometh with his fan, and thoroughly purgeth the floor of the heart from sin and corruption, and burneth up the chaff with unquenchable fire….And Christ gathereth his wheat into his garner, into which garner the devil with his foul spirit, nor none of his vermin, his followers, can come to hurt God’s seed or wheat.

And all men and women must come to this baptism of Christ, who baptizeth with unquenchable fire and the holy ghost, before ever they know the wheat or the seed of God come into God’s garner; for John who said, he must decrease, his baptism with outward elementary water, doth not bring the wheat, the seed of God, into God’s garner.

And the apostle said, he thanked God that he had baptized none of the Corinthians but Crispus and Gaius,’ &c. for he said, Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel, (1 Cor. i. 14. 17.) not with the wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.’

And John the Baptist [stated]…”I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me, is mightier than I,…he shall baptize you with the holy ghost, and with fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ Matt. iii. 11, 12. Mark i. 9. Luke iii. 21. And John said, He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom; he must increase, but I must decrease.’ And John further speaketh of Christ, and saith, ‘ He that is from above, is above all.’ And again, ‘He that cometh from heaven, is above all.’ John iii. 29, 30, 31. …So he [Jesus Christ] was preferred before John; for he was before him, for all things were made and created by Jesus Christ, whose name is called the word of God.’ John i.

And when Christ came to be baptized of John, John forbade him, saying, ‘ I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?’ And Jesus said unto him, Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becomith us to fulfill all righteousness;’ then he suffered him. Matt. iii. 13, 14, 15. So here, John knew that himself must be baptized with Christ’s baptism, with fire, and with the holy ghost, before the seed of God, the wheat, be gathered into God’s garner. And John answered the Pharisees, when they questioned him, and said, I baptize you with water; but there standeth one amongst you, whom you know not, he it is that cometh after me, which is preferred before me, whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to unloose.’ And John seeing Christ come unto him, said, Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.’ This is he of whom John said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me, for he was before me; and that he should be made manifest to Israel; therefore came I baptizing with water.’ John i. 27 to 31.

Here you may see, John clearly declareth for what end he was sent to baptize with water, namely, that Christ might be made manifest to Israel, the Jews, that had the figures and shadows of Christ; for John doth not say, he came baptizing with water, that Christ might be made manifest to the Gentiles or heathen, but to Israel. For the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, he was not sent to baptize, (namely, with the element of water,) but to preach the gospel;’ for the apostle thanks God that he baptized none of the Corinthians, but two or three, that he mentions in 1 Cor. i. And he tells the Corinthians, (which were the Gentiles,) By one spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one spirit.’ 1 Cor. xii. 13.

So this was the spiritual baptism of Christ that the apostle brought both Jews and Gentiles into. Then surely the apostle Paul must see the decreasing of John’s baptism with elementary water, who brought them to the spiritual baptism.

And the apostle Paul writeth to the Ephesians, and exhorts them, to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace;’ and saith ‘There is one body, and one spirit, &c. and one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through you all, and in you all.’ Ephes. iv. 3, 4, 5, 6.

So God was in them all, and through them all, by his spirit; and this was the one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism, that the apostle brought the church of Christ the Ephesians to, which was not John’s baptism, with elementary water, but Christ’s baptism with the holy ghost, which burned up the chaff, by which God’s wheat, or seed was gathered into his garner. Surely these Ephesians had their wheat, or seed, gathered into God’s garner; for the apostle saith, they sat together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ Ephes. ii. 6. And these were not Jews, but Gentiles. And if John’s decreasing baptism, with elementary water, had been Christ’s baptism, then the apostle would not have thanked God he baptized none but these few; nor have said, that Christ did not send him to baptize with water, but to preach the gospel, as in 1 Con xiv. 16, 17. But it is clear, the apostle did bring the church of Christ to the one spiritual baptism of Christ Jesus.

…Now, mark, as John had fulfilled his course of elementary water baptism, John saith of himself, that he must decrease.’ Then Christ’s baptism came in with the holy ghost, and with fire, which doth increase; by which holy ghost and fire, the sin and corruption, which is chaff, is burned up, and God’s wheat and seed is gathered into his garner. And also, Christ is the true and heavenly baptizer, with his heavenly unquenchable fire and holy spirit.

And Christ commanded his disciples, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father.’ And further said, For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the holy ghost not many days hence,…and ye shall receive power after that the holy ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me, (namely, Christ, who baptizeth with fire, and with the holy ghost,) both in Jerusalem, and Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.’ Acts i. 4 to 8. And in Acts ii. the apostles being met together at Jerusalem, they were all filled with the holy ghost. Here Christ’s words were fulfilled in them, and upon them,…and they were witnesses of Christ, both in Judea and Samaria, and to the Gentiles, &c.

And the apostle came to Ephesus, and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the holy ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, we have not so much as heard whether there be any holy ghost.’ And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized?’ And they said, Unto John’s baptism.’ Then said Paul, ‘John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him that should come after him; (that is, on Christ Jesus, &c.) and when Paul had laid his hand on them, the holy ghost came upon them.’ Acts xix.

Here you may see the baptism of John, with his elementary water, was not the baptism of Christ with the holy ghost; for they that baptized with John’s baptism, said, We have not so much as heard whether there be any holy ghost.’ Then they were not like to know the baptism of Christ with the holy ghost. But when the apostle Paul laid his hands upon them, the holy ghost came upon them, then they were baptized with the holy ghost.

And while Peter spoke to Cornelius’s family, the holy ghost fell upon them which heard the word that he preached. Acts x. 44. So the holy ghost was given through the preaching of the word Christ, and the holy ghost doth baptize them; through which baptism the wheat or seed of God is gathered into God’s garner.

And Saul, who had been a persecutor of God’s people, and was struck blind, and Ananias went to him, and laid his hands upon him, and said, The Lord Jesus sent me to thee, that thou might receive thy sight, and be filled with the holy ghost.’ Acts ix. 11 to 18. which came to pass unto Paul, who did receive his sight. And was not he baptized by the holy ghost, who was filled with it? And then after, did not he bring others to the same spiritual baptism, and called Jesus Lord by the holy ghost, and bore witness to Christ, both among Jews and Gentiles? And the apostles laid their hands upon the Samaritans that believed in Christ; and through the laying on of the apostle’s hands, the holy ghost was given to the Samaritans, when they had prayed that they might receive the holy ghost….Acts x. 15 to 24.

Now were not these Samaritans, that received the holy ghost by the apostles’ laying hands on them, baptized by the holy ghost?…And Stephen said to the outward professing high priests and Jews, their council, ‘ Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in hearts and ears! ye always resist the holy ghost; as your forefathers did, so do ye.’ Acts vi. 15. chap. vii. 1. 51. And may not the same be said of many that are called christians, that live in an outward profession of the letter of the scripture, and some outward elements of bread, wine, and water, and outward shows and signs? And how can such as resist the holy ghost, as their forefathers did, come to be baptized by the holy ghost, and by unquenchable fire, (which is the baptism of Christ,) and have their sins and corruptions burned up, that chaff, and their wheat gathered into God’s garner?

And some came unto John, and said, He to whom thou bearest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.’ And the Pharisees heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, though Christ himself baptized not’ with water; for Christ baptized with the holy ghost, and with unquenchable fire, as John bore witness of his baptism, John iii. 26. chap. iv. 1, 2. And from that time John was cast into prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye, and believe the gospel.’ Mark i. 14, 15. Matt. iv. 12. 17. So here you may see, Christ preaches a higher doctrine than John, and cometh with a greater baptism after John.

And the apostle saith to the Romans, ‘that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death.’ …Then that must be by the holy ghost; and therefore the apostle saith, We are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in the newness of life.’ So they that come out of this death by baptism, walk in newness of life; and this baptism into Christ and his death, is not the baptism of John, with his outward elementary water. The apostle saith, If we have been planted together in the likeness of Christ’s death, we shall also be planted in the likeness of his resurrection.’ Rom. vi. 3, 4, 5. And the apostle saith, 1 Cor. x. 12. that all our father’s were under the cloud, and all past through the sea, and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud, and in the sea.’ Mark, unto Moses in the cloud, and in the sea, they were all baptized. Exod. xiii. 21. and chap. xiv. 21. The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon dry ground, and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.’ Here you may see, though it is said they were baptized in the cloud, and in the sea unto Moses, yet they went upon dry land, or ground, and the waters did not touch them.

But the apostle brings the same Corinthians to the baptism of the spirit, and saith, We are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one spirit.’ This is Christ’s spiritual baptism, which is beyond John’s with the element of water, which was to decrease. And the apostle saith, he was not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel.’ And the apostle saith, ‘ For as many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Gal. iii. 27, 28. Mark, they that have been baptized into Christ, are all one in him, and have put on Christ. And this baptism is not into outward elementary water; for the spiritual baptism brings to put on Christ, the heavenly man, and makes all one in him. Heb. vi. So it is clear, the apostle brought people off the doctrine of many baptisms, to the one faith, and one spiritual baptism, as in Ephes. iv. 5. And by this one spirit were all to be baptized into one body, and so to drink all into one spirit, and in that they have unity and fellowship with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ, and one with another. 1 Cor. xii. 13. 1 John i. 3. The Lord bring all people into this spiritual baptism, and into this fellowship. Amen. G. F. (Works of Fox, Vol. VI, p. 288-294)

My one comment: This is, therefore, a matter of keeping our testimony for Christ.

One question that remains to be dealt with comes from the exchange between Jesus and John the Baptist. What does it mean to fulfill all righteousness? That, too, shall be another post.

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The New Covenant

In Catholic Quakerism, chapter III, The Quaker Conception of Christian Community and Church Order, Lewis Benson stated:

Of the two basic presuppositions in Fox’s conception of Christianity we have already dealt with the first, namely, that God, through Christ, shows what is right and gives the power to do what is right. The second presupposition is that God is calling all men into a community whose fellowship and order are produced by a master-disciple relationship to the living Christ.
Man was created to live in a continuously dependent relationship to his Creator, and therefore hearing and obeying is the distinctively human activity. When man ceases to hear and obey, he falls from the position in which God has placed him. For Fox, Christianity means that God is restoring the original dialogic relationship. (Lewis Benson, Catholic Quakerism,, 1983, p.43)

These two basic presuppositions of Fox’s Christianity form a concise statement of the new covenant and the community it generates. But Christendom has other views of the new covenant. Every year, around the Easter season, participants in local churches across the world will be hearing sermons on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of the new covenant between God and His people. But, despite all this sermonizing and annual attention, does anyone really understand the significance of the new covenant? Looking at the actions of Christendom, in general, I would have to say, “No.”

Benson goes on to state:

The resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of one who was the incarnation of the word that God speaks to man. He is the eternal prophet who speaks from heaven, and he speaks with the voice of authority because his voice is the voice of the creator. He is therefore “the light of men,” and the new covenant established by his death and resurrection is the “covenant of light.”(Ibid., p.46)

These explosive words blow apart all the preconceptions the Church has regarding establishing the new covenant and serving God. If Jesus was the incarnation of the word that God speaks to man and now is the prophet who speaks from heaven, He still speaks this word, which we must hear. In Lewis Benson’s statement, we are brought to confront Jesus’ words: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21)

To those who said, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out devils in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Jesus answered, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus “knows” those whose priority is to do the will of the Father, because we can only know the Father’s will and receive the power to do it by hearing this word Jesus speaks to us. Everything that does not have its rise in this word is iniquity.

How, then, are we to hear this Word?

Edward Burrough, in his introduction to The Works of George Fox, Vol. III provides us with deep insight into this process. He stated:

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

Then comes a list of things that they (i.e. the early Quakers) had formerly practiced, that they now turned away from as altogether useless in the face of turning to the light of Christ. This list included:

  • the teaching of all men
  • their words
  • their worships
  • their temples
  • their baptisms
  • their churches
  • our own words
  • our own professions
  • our own practices in religion

What was the result of this?

    • And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God
    • …we received often the pouring down of the spirit upon us, and the gift of God’s holy eternal spirit 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, and as his spirit led us, which was poured down upon us, on sons and daughters. And to us hereby were the deep things of God revealed, and things unutterable were known and made manifest; and the glory of the Father was revealed, and then began we to sing praises to the Lord God Almighty, and to the Lamb for ever, who had redeemed us to God, and brought us out of the captivity and bondage of the world, and put an end to sin and death; and all this was by and through, and in the light of Christ within us.
    • …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 joyful sun of righteousness did arise and shine forth unto us and in 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, whose mercies are sure and infinite, and his promise never fails. 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, and mighty and wonderful things hath the Lord wrought for us, and by us, by his own outstretched arm.
    • …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…we war in truth and just judgment; 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. And after this manner was our birth or bringing forth, and thus hath the Lord chosen us and made us an army dreadful and terrible, before whom the wicked do fear and tremble…
    • 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 of Fox, Vol. III, pp.12-14)

Do You (singular and plural) Hear?

I have often heard people say, “We hear God through the sermon, the hymns, the liturgy, the sacraments…”

No, I am sorry, but if you hear God, you hear him through Jesus speaking within you. Yes, George Fox and the early Friends were moved to preach sermons, some lasting three hours or more. But the purpose for those sermons was to call people to turn to Christ’s light, their inward teacher that would show them the way forward and give them the power to walk in obedience to what He told them. Without coming to that, you do not enter the new covenant.

While in New England in 1672, George Fox recorded:

At another place, I heard some of the magistrates said among themselves, If they had money enough, they would hire me to be their minister.’ This was, where they did not well understand us, and our principles: but when I heard of it, I said, ‘ It was time for me to be gone ; for if their eye was so much to me, or any of us, they would not come to their own teacher.’ For this thing (hiring ministers,) had spoiled many, by hindering them from improving their own talents ; whereas our labour is, to bring every one to their own teacher in themselves. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.128)

Lewis Benson put it this way:

God who is light and whose law is light has given men a covenant of light. In this new covenant the word and power of God are mediated to God’s people through the risen Christ who is present in their midst. The new covenant is therefore not a legal code, cultus, or idea, but a person….(Benson, p.45)

The new covenant between God and His people is Jesus, who said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my [authority] there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20) When you gather, two or three or more, is it for the purpose of hearing Christ speak to you as described by Edward Burrough above? Jesus’s purpose in being present in the midst of those gathered in His authority is to speak to us the word of God, to feed us with the bread of life, to be the shepherd and bishop of our souls, to be the king who defends His kingdom from all incursions of the enemy of our souls, to be our priest who cleanses us and makes us clean before the Father, and the list goes on. All these things are to take place in the midst of those who will receive and hear the light He enlightens us with.

Looking at the actions of Christendom, one can only conclude: the purpose of gathering is to participate in the usual rituals that comprise Christianity, and, Jesus is there as a figurehead. Christendom neither sees Jesus’ presence as absolutly essential nor the word He speaks and the functions He performs as the primary reasons to gather. Their view of the Church of the new covenant is a collection of individuals rather than a unified body of which Christ is the living, active head. This has been the prevailing view of Christianity for a number of centuries, but that is not the new covenant community. Lewis Benson continued:

This is the key to the new covenant community—it comes into existence when men hear and obey the voice of the living Christ, and it has no existence apart from this hearing and obeying. (Benson, p.45)
Posted in new covenant, Who Jesus is | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Who Is Your God

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:

  1. this is something that happened on the cross when Jesus was crucified. (For this post I am not commenting on the crucifixion of Jesus.)
  2. 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

  1. the Scriptures or
  2. 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.

Posted in Salvation, Sin, Understanding early Friends | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Were the Early Friends Preoccupied with Sin?

The Genesis of this post

I left a comment on Steven Davison’s blog, to which he responded:

You know, the early Friends’ preoccupation—one might say obsessions—with sin and sinfulness just does not work for me. I am not saying that we humans do not sin, or that sin doesn’t matter, or even that the traditional Quaker solution for the problem of sin is false. This is a deep subject with many facets, so I can’t address it or them here in a reply to a comment. I can see, rather, that it deserves a series of future posts.
But I want to touch on it here. My critique focuses on what I see as a false presumption of a “Fall” in which humans lost some original intimacy with God and became inherently disobedient—there was no garden, no Adam and Eve, no serpent; we started out as pre-human primates who were probably already capable of doing the wrong thing. Meanwhile, while sinfulness is inherent in “human nature”, so is love, community, cooperation, creativity, art, healing, and compassion. Why pathologically focus on the darkness within us without working at least as hard to raise up the light within us?…

Therefore, my purpose in this post will be to showcase passages from the writings of early Friends and suggest others people may want to examine. So, long quotes are the object here, with minimal interjection on my part.

The early Friends and sin

I agree with Steven’s assessment. The subjects he has introduced are too big to take up in a series of comments.

So, to begin with, lets look at Fox’s commission. This is a logical place to start since it marks the division between Fox’s period of preparation and the work he devoted his life to doing. This commission, therefore, marks the beginning of the early Quakers. If there were a preoccupation with or obsession with sin, it ought to show up here. However, I read in these pages of his Journal a message of hope for all mankind. If there is any preoccupation or obsession portrayed it is a preoccupation with the power of God to take mankind as they are and make them into creatures conforming to the “OEM specifications” (Original Equipment Manufacturers specifications).

I was sent to turn people from darkness to the light, that they might receive Christ Jesus; for to as many as should receive him in his light, I saw he would give power to become the sons of God; which I had obtained by receiving Christ.

Was God’s judgment correct that people were in darkness? to the extent that He needed to prepare and send George Fox to turn them from darkness to the light of Christ, from the power of satan to the power of God? Is there any evidence here of a [pathological] focus on the darkness within us without working at least as hard to raise up the light within us? Read the testimonies of the several people who contributed testimonials to George Fox to be included in the front matter of Vol. 1 of the Works of Fox. Read Edward Burrough’s description of the rise of the Quakers in the North of England, which is the preface to Vol. 3 of the Works of Fox. Something dramatic, perhaps we should say apocalyptic, happened in their lives as the result of being “turned from darkness to the light.” Read Stephen Crisp’s account of his encounter with James Parnell or William Penn’s hearing Thomas Loe’s sermon on the Faith that overcomes the world and the faith that is overcome by the world. There are a number of people alive today who can add testimony to the power of this message. It was not just a 17th century phenomenon. So, friends, this commission, this message, is something we must take seriously.

I was to direct people to the spirit, that gave forth the scriptures, by which they might be led into all truth, and so up to Christ and God, as those had been who gave them forth. I was to turn them to the grace of God, and to the truth in the heart, which came by Jesus; that by this grace they might be taught, which would bring them salvation, that their hearts might be established by it, their words might be seasoned, and all might come to know their salvation nigh. For I saw that Christ had died for all men, was a propitiation for all, and had enlightened all men and women with his divine and saving light; and that none could be true believers, but those that believed in it. I saw that the grace of God, which brings salvation, had appeared to all men, and that the manifestation of the spirit of God was given to every man, to profit withal.

Later comes a listing of specifics Fox was sent to bring people off from and what he was to bring them to. The “off” part includes most of what constitutes the practice of Christianity. No wonder the priests and professors, magistrates and people raged like the waves of the stormy sea. They were shown to be trees without fruit, cisterns without water. This is a necessary step, but neither a preoccupation nor obsession with sin and darkness. Fox’s commission does not end in “off” but with a declaration of the authority and power of God that sent him forth.

OFF FROM TO
all their own ways Christ the new and living way
their churches, which men had made and gathered the church in God
the world’s teachers made by men learn of Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life
all the world’s worships know the spirit of truth in the inward parts, and to be led thereby
all the world’s religions, which are in vain know the pure religion
all the world’s fellowships, prayings, and singings, which stood in forms without power holy ghost, the eternal spirit of God; that they might pray in the holy ghost, sing in the spirit, and with the grace that comes by Jesus; making melody in their hearts to the Lord
  • Jewish ceremonies
  • heathenish fables
  • men’s inventions and windy doctrines, by which they blowed the people about, this way and the other way, from sect to sect
  • all their beggarly rudiments, with their schools and colleges, for making ministers…of their own making, but not of Christ’s
  • all their images, crosses, and sprinkling of infants, with all their holy-days, (so called.) and all their vain traditions

Now that you have had the chance to read the portions of Fox’s commission I have lifted from the full text, what do you see regarding the focus of Fox’s commission?

Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand

William Penn, in his preface to Vol. 1 of the Works of Fox, wrote what I consider some of the finest descriptions the heart and soul of that people of God in scorn called Quakers. The first of the following two passages express the overall sentiment felt by the early Friends concerning the people of their day:

It were fitter for a volume than a preface, but so much as to repeat the contents of their cruel sufferings, from professors as well as from profane, and from magistrates as well as the rabble: so that it may well he said of this abused and despised people, they went forth weeping, and sowed in tears, bearing testimony to the precious seed, the seed of the kingdom, which stands not in words, the finest, the highest that man’s wit can use, but in power; the power of Christ Jesus, to whom God the Father hath given all power in heaven and in earth, that he might rule angels above, and men below; who empowered them, as their work witnessed!, by the many that were turned through their ministry from darkness to the light, and out of the broad into the narrow way of life and peace, bringing people to a weighty, serious, and godly conversation; the practice of that doctrine which they taught.
And as without this secret divine power there is no quickening and regenerating of dead souls, so the want of this generating and begetting power and life is the cause of the little fruit that the many ministries that have been, and are in the world bring forth. Oh! that both ministers and people were sensible of this! My soul is often troubled for them, and sorrow and mourning compass me about for their sakes. Oh! that they were wise! Oh! that they would consider and lay to heart the things that truly and substantially make for their lasting peace! (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p. xli)

The second passage is a fitting description of true repentance:

Well! and what does this blessed light do for you? Why, 1. It sets all your sins in order before you. It detects the spirit of this world in all its baits and allurements, and shows how man came to fall from God, and the fallen estate he is in. 2. It begets a sense and sorrow, in such as believe in it, for this fearful lapse. You will then see him distinctly whom you have pierced, and all the blows and wounds you have given him by your disobedience; and how you have made him to serve with your sins, and you will weep and mourn for it, and your sorrow will be a godly sorrow. 3. After this it will bring you to the holy watch, to take care that you do so no more, and that the enemy surprise you not again. Then thoughts, as well as words and works, will come to judgment, which is the way of holiness, in which the redeemed of the Lord do walk. Here you will come to love God above all, and your neighbours as yourselves. Nothing hurts, nothing harms, nothing makes afraid on this holy mountain. Now you come to be Christ’s indeed, for you are his in nature and spirit, and not your own. And when you are thus Christ’s, then Christ is yours, and not before. And here communion with the Father and with the son you will know, and the efficacy of the blood of cleansing, even the blood of Jesus Christ, that immaculate Lamb, which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel, and which cleanseth from all sin the consciences of those, that, through the living faith, come to be sprinkled with it from dead works to serve the living God. (Vol. I, p xlviii)

Penn lays out in specific detail what the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and the early Friends meant by “repent.” It begins with a sight of our condition, but the process is preoccupied with the end result, which is the only way to raise up the light within us.

Posted in Salvation, Sin, Uncategorized, Understanding early Friends | 2 Comments

Who Is Jesus Christ? and How Does He Save People?

Introduction to the Reader

If you are among the Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians, you may think the title questions absurd. You will assume that you already know the answers. If you are among the more liberal Christian groups, you may think these questions rather off-putting. In either case (or in those cases inbetween) you may well find something in the following that you had not anticipated. Is it a good bargain?

Who Is Jesus?

The scriptures have much to say concerning who Jesus is.

  • He is the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) that bruises the serpent’s head.
  • He is the blessing that comes through Abraham that replaces the curse.  (Gen. 12:3)
  • John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” is an announcement that these are now fulfilled. (John 1:29)
  • He is the Passover lamb, whose life (i.e. blood) filling the heart takes away death (i.e. the sin of the world). (John 1:29)
  • Moses told the Israelites that God had humbled them, let them be hungry, and fed them with manna that they might know that man does not live by bread alone. “But by every word proceeding from the mouth of God shall man live.” (Deut. 8:3)
  • God, through Moses, told the Israelites that He would raise up a prophet like Moses. He would put his words into this prophet’s mouth and this prophet would speak to them all the words God commanded. Anyone who would not listen would have to give account to God Himself. (Deut. 18:15-18) Jesus is that prophet. God’s voice sounded from heaven announcing, “This is My chosen one, hear him.” That is, this is the one who will speak to you all the words of God. (Matt. 17:5, Luke 9:35 (NASB))
  • John’s testimony is that Jesus IS THE Word of God, which answers both the Deut. 8:3 & 18:15-18 passages. (John 1:1, Rev. 19:13).
  • Jesus told the Jews that the fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. But he was the bread that came down from heaven that one might eat and not die. (See several portions of John 6)
  • Joel spoke of the days when God would pour out His spirit upon all flesh: sons, daughters, handmaids, servants, young, and old. Jesus told the disciples, “The words I speak to you are spirit and life…” (John 6:63)
  • Jesus is the priest after the order of Melchisedek. (Psalms 110:4, Heb 5:10)
  • He is the faithful shepherd-king. (Ezekiel 34:23, John 10:10)
  • He is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. (1 Peter 2:25)
  • He is the Messiah, the Son of God, spoken of by the prophets (see Matt 16:16)
  • He is the Creator through whom all things have come into being. (John 1)
  • He is the light that brings life. (John 1)
  • He is the light that judges. (John 3)
  • He gives the power to become a child of God, i.e. created in His image. (John 1:12-13)
  • He is the one who reveals the Father to us. (John 1:19)
  • He is the covenant of light (Isaiah 42 & 49)
  • He is the author of the faith that overcomes the world, which is our eternal salvation. This faith is written, by the author, on the heart of flesh instead of stone. (Heb 5:9, Heb 12:2, & Ezekiel 11:19)
  • He is the way to the Father. (John 14:6)
  • He is the truth. (John 14:6)
  • He is the life. (John 14:6)

The above list is a thumbnail of who Jesus is according to the witness of the writers of Scripture. If you follow the logic that Jesus is the substance of all the types, figures, and shadows of the Old Covenant, this list would be much larger. This now brings us to consider salvation.

How does Jesus save people?

For those segments of Christendom that concern themselves with the question of salvation, the long-standing, well established answer is that this is what happened on the cross. Because Jesus died for our sins, we can ask for and receive forgiveness and be assured of a place prepared for us in Heaven when we die.

However, if I am dead in trespasses and sin, as Paul assures me that I was in time past, (Eph. 2:1), then no number of further deaths are going to do me the least bit of good. I need life, not more death. Furthermore, if I am dead in trespasses and sin, I am a derelict wreck of the creation I was meant to be. Forgiveness still leaves me in a wrecked condition, unable to serve the living God.

So how does our concept of “forgiveness” solve our problem. Did the writers of the Scriptures have a deeper meaning for the concept we render “forgiveness?”

Forgiveness

One of the main passages cited to support salvation through God’s forgiveness is Colossians 1:14, which I have quoted below, giving some context. Verses 13 and 14 are in bold print.

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have toward all [the true believers];…For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the [real knowledge] of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and [growing by the knowledge, the real knowledge], of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, unto all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us [unto the portion of true believers] in light. For He delivered us from the [authority] of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:3-14, New American Standard Bible. Bracketed portions reflect the notes given in the margins of my Bible.)

In all my years of association with Evangelical and Fundamental Christians, I have never heard of any meaning or implication of forgiveness other than “pardon.” Often the two terms have been used interchangeably. Thus we come up with absurd statements such as “we are justified sinners” and “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”

In the New Testament Scriptures there are only two words used that we render as forgive or forgiveness.  #863 in the Greek dictionary at the back of Strong’s Concordance, is used almost exclusively. The other, #5483, is used in the prayer Jesus prayed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Colossians text above uses #863 which means to send forth, to forsake, forgive, to lay aside, leave, let alone. let be, let go, omit, put or send away, yield up, and more. So lets rewrite the text above with the sense given by this definition: “For He delivered us from the [authority] of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forsaking, laying aside, leaving, sending away, etc. of sins.

This is much more than the idea conveyed by “forgiveness.” This entails a remedial action on Jesus’ part that removes the condition of sin from within. Where, now, is there any room for the notion of only being “justified sinners” or “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven?

Salvation-through-forgiveness makes the assumption that man’s problem is guilt. If I can just be delivered from guilt, I will be OK seems to be the attitude portrayed. This assumption requires a major blindness to all the other problems man has to deal with. We have a hole in our being that corresponds to all the things Jesus is.

  • I was made to live by every word proceeding from the mouth of God. Where and how do I access this word of God?
  • I was created to be a living being, but I wander in the darkness of death. How can I find life and light?

and so on down the list.

The being of Jesus is fits all the deficits I have in my being. This is a salvation that means something, that has a real and discernible effect on the life of the individual and on the church. This salvation comes only by knowing Jesus present within and among us performing all the above mentioned functions, not through the formulaic presentation of most of Christendom. Jesus instructs all would-be-followers to believe in the light that you may be children of the day, because it is by encountering his light within us and believing what we are told by this light that we are delivered us from the [authority] of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forsaking, laying aside, leaving, sending away, etc. of sins.

Suggested further reading: Lewis Benson’s lecture #3 of the series of 10 Moorestown lectures.

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