The Burning Bush and the Brewing of Soma

This post first appeared on the New Foundation Fellowship website.

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

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

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

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

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

“We have seen this day that God speaks to man and yet he lives,” said the Israelites to Moses. They then ask, “Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die.” (See Deut. 5:24-25) The people told Moses, “You listen to the voice of God and then tell us.” But God was not willing to leave things there. His work with the Iraelites was to bring them to know and understand “that man shall not live by bread alone. But by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God shall man live.” (See Deut. 8:3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did they achieve this? George Fox explained:

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

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

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

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

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Live The Stories: Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Live The Stories: Part Two

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

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

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

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

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’ When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power….My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can get by history or books. That love let me see myself, as I was without him;…I had not fellowship with any people,…but with Christ who hath the key, and opened the door of light and life unto me….When I was in the deep, under all shut up, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great, that I often thought I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me how he was tempted by the same devil, and had overcome him, and had bruised his head; and that through him and his power, light, grace, and spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in him. So he it was that opened to me, when I was shut up, and had neither hope nor faith. Christ, who had enlightened me, gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope, which is himself, revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Thus in the deepest miseries, and in the greatest sorrows and temptations that beset me, the Lord in his mercy did keep me.(Works, Vol. I, pp. 74-75)

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

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Live The Stories: Part One

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

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

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

‘He is not a Jew that is one outward, neither is that circumcision which is outward; but he is a Jew that is one inward, and that is circumcision which is of the heart.’ And so he went on and said that ‘Christ was the light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and that by this light they might be gathered to God,’ &c. I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine; for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, ‘The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:’ and said, ‘Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?’ &c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.’ So that served me, that I cannot well tell what he spake afterwards; but he went on in declaring against the false prophets, and priests, and deceivers of the people. [I have added beginning quote marks to quoted passages]

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

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What Should I Tell You?

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

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

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

George Fox commented on this passage, writing:

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

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

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

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah sums up this portion saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faith or Religion

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

Jesus answered the question with the familiar illustration:

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many m ighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evil doers.” Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and b eat upon that house but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” (See Matt. 7:21-27)

Luke began his rendition of this passage with,

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his second epistle, George Fox exhorts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s jump forward in time.

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

There is one word that answers all these questions: SHOES

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

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

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

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

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Do You Believe…

Ellis, do you believe in…?” I have been asked this question concerning many different “objects of belief:” God, Jesus, scripture, etc. But when I was recently asked “Do you believe in the Devil?” as an admonition to look at scripture as our safeguard against the wiles of Satan, I deemed it appropriate to make a thorough explanation.

So, first, lets look at that phrase, “do you believe in…?” To believe in Jesus, for example, means to encounter his power and authority (as creator) and to accord him his authorized right of command in my life. I don’t mean just to consent that, “yeah, Jesus has ultimate authority and if I ever hear from him I’ll jump to and do it.” I mean that I accord him his authorized right of command of my life now by hearing and obeying his voice in all things. Thus to say that I believe in Jesus carries with it a history of me yielding to his rule and learning what that means, learning the security of walking on the foundation of his command, even though there is nothing else but water beneath my feet.

Now given that understanding of “believe in” I can take up the question of “Do you believe in the Devil?” The answer is: “No, I do not believe in the devil. It is not possible to both believe in Jesus and believe in the devil. I have experienced the work of Jesus to destroy the devil and his works within me. The devil has no authority, no power, and no right of command in my life.

The chief work of the devil is to bring inward death to humanity and to then feed upon the dead. There is only one power that is greater than the power of death: the power of life. Jesus told the Pharisees, who searched the Scriptures because they thought to gain life through them, that the scriptures testified that He was the fountain of life. But they refused to come to Him that they might live. (See John chapter 5) Isaiah wrote of the sons who are taught by the Lord. He then asked “Are you hungry and thirsty for this well being, this life?” “Incline your ear, listen to me that you might live. Delight yourself in abundance [of listening and of living]” was Isaiah’s prescription. (See Isaiah chapters 54 and 55) Jesus continued in John 5 saying, “The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

Jesus, who IS the Word of God, IS the life. His life is the light of mankind. He instructed and instructs those who would follow Him to believe in the light that you may become children of the day. (See John, chapter 12) Here we have that phrase “believe in” again. Just as before, it is to be understood as acknowledging the supreme authority of the light of Christ and granting it the right of rule in our lives. Those who believe in the light have no occasion of stumbling. We receive the life by believing in the light. And it is this life that destroys Satan and undoes all his works of death.

Jesus told his followers, “all authority, all power, all jurisdiction in Heaven and Earth is given unto Me.” There is no secondary authority; not scripture, not priesthood, and not Church tradition. We do not need to consult a second opinion. If you are not walking in the light of Christ within you, you may quote the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation, but you have no authority and no power over evil. Where His light reveals evil within the heart, there is His power revealed to enable us to turn from evil to righteousness. Where ever mankind turns from that light, there is His power present condemning them for loving the darkness, for loving death. Where He commands, there is his power and authority given us to obey. There is neither legitimate excuse nor legitimate plea for sin as in, “I know what I ought to do, but I don’t have the power to do it.”

The proclamation that “Christ is come to teach his people Himself,” is a proclamation of Christ being present in and among us in all His authority, all His power, and all His jurisdiction to teach, lead, and direct his people. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is not a diminished Christ shorn of his authority and power, it is the revelation of Him who was, who is, and who will be to all eternity.

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George Fox and Romans 7

During a lengthy discussion, Xxxxxxxxxx, asked me to look into what Fox had to say concerning Romans chapter 7. Did Fox consider this the normal Christian experience? Is it the portrayal of an unbeliever coming to Christ? I searched the eight volumes of The Works of Fox for “Rom. vi” or “Rom. 7” but turned up very few references. So I turned to searches for the concepts or phrases Fox used when he identified Romans 7 in his writing. Here is what I found.

Fox does not deal with Romans 7 exclusively but brings together concepts from chap. 6 (“newness of life”), chapter 7 (“oldness of the letter”), chapter 8 (“the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death”), chapter 10 (“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness’ sake.”), and many other parts of the Bible. Fox’s associations of scripture passages range the full gamut of the scriptures. See for example:

And as Moses in the old covenant sprinkled the people with the blood, the life of beasts; so Christ our high priest sprinkles the hearts and consciences of his people in the new covenant with his blood, his life, from their dead works, that they may serve the living God in newness of life:’ and as the blood of the old covenant was the life of the beasts, so the blood of the everlasting covenant is the life of Christ the Lamb, ordained before the foundation of the world, who is the great shepherd of his sheep, through the blood of his everlasting covenant he makes his saints perfect in every good work to do his will, working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight.’ (Works, Vol. V, pp.362-363)

Here we have the Pentateuch, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hebrews, and Romans all rolled together to form the picture of the distinction between the newness of life and the oldness of the letter. Fox used this distinction over and over, portraying the contrast between those who live by the law of life in Christ Jesus and those who live by some other law. In Vol. 7 of his Works, Fox stated:

For ye may see, how far many may go, and did go, and were led out of many things; yet did turn again into the world. So mind your present guide, and your present condition, and your call, what ye are called from, and what ye are called to; for whom the Lord hath called and chosen, are the Lord’s freemen. And so, abide every one in your calling with God, where God hath called you, and there walk in newness of life, and not in the oldness of the letter; for he that turneth from him that calleth, walks not in the life of God. Therefore, all Friends, walk in the truth and in the love of it up to God; and every one in particular mind your guide, that ye may grow up in wisdom, and improve your own talents, and the gift which God hath given you. And take heed of words without life, for they tend to draw you out of the power to live above the truth, and out of your conditions; which nature will not have peace, except it have words. But every particular submit to that which is of God in you, to guide you to God. (pp.88-89)

Paul contrasted life under the law (portrayed in Romans 7) with life under Christ who is the end of the law for Righteousness sake (Romans 8 and 10). His rhetorical question and answer, which many quote as proof that man can’t live righteously before God, that sin will be taken care of finally at some future time, is:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:24-25)

But for Fox, Romans 7 is not the end of the story. Like Edward Burrough, Fox could say, “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.” (Vol. III, p. 6) In epistle CIV, Fox exhorts Friends to dwell in the power of God and to know (that is, to experience) the power of God to keep you. In epistle CV, he spells out how this is to be done.

CV.—Concerning the Light. (To be read amongst Friends.) All Friends every where, keep your meetings waiting in the light which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ; so will ye receive power from him, and have the refreshing springs of life opened to your souls, and be kept sensible of the tender mercies of the Lord. And know one another in the life, (ye that be turned to the light,) and in the power, which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is your light, who is your life; that ye may all in the life see Christ to reign in you, who is the truth, from whence ye have light. Here the old serpent is chained, and put into the bottomless pit, and Christ is known to reign, and ye to reign with him; heirs with him, joint-heirs, and heirs of God. Here is the dominion received and witnessed of the world that is without end, and the promise of life from the Father of life to you, who are turned to the son, who to the Father is the way, who is the mediator between the Father and you. All wait to receive the everlasting priest, the everlasting covenant of God, of light, life, and peace; into which covenant no sin, no darkness, nor death comes, but the blessing of the only wise God, the Father of life, here is known, where no earthly man can approach. But he that is of God knows God’s truth; and he that is of the devil, doth his lusts, who was a murderer from the beginning, in whom is no truth, who in it abode not. So he it is that speaks a lie, and speaks of himself, and not God’s word; for he is out of the truth. But ye that are turned to the light walk in the light, walk in the truth, where no darkness is; with which light, that never changeth, ye may come to see that which was in the beginning, before the world was, where there is no shadow nor darkness. In which light as ye wait, ye will come to receive into your hearts the word of faith, which reconciles to God, and is as a hammer, to beat down all that is contrary; and as a sword, to divide the precious from the vile; and as a fire, to burn up that which is contrary to the precious: which word is pure, and endureth for ever; which was in the beginning, and is now again witnessed and made manifest. Therefore wait in the light, that ye may all receive it, the same word that ever was, which the scriptures were given forth from.

Thus, with Fox’s admonition, we do not find ourselves in a state of impotency having to wait for some future time when Christ will take away sin. Neither are we consigned to struggle and failure until some further work of grace descends upon us. Fox wrote in Vol. III:

Every man that cometh into the world, though they be in the first Adam, have a light from Christ the second Adam, the bishop of their souls. So every one being turned to the light which Christ the second Adam hath enlightened them withal, they shall see the bishop of their souls, Christ the power of God, which is immortal, and brings the immortal soul into the immortal God. Christ is their sanctification, who sanctifies their spirits, and bodies, and brings the soul up into God, from whom it came, whereby they come to be one soul. For in the lusts of the world, and the affections of it, is the war against it, and there are the powers of wickedness. The soul must be in the higher power, higher than the flesh, which stains the man, spirit and body, and the powers of wickedness. So the light being turned to, man receiveth the spirit of God, which sanctifies him, the spirit of sanctification in Christ Jesus the sanctification and redemption. So every man that cometh into the world has a light from Christ Jesus, the way out of the fall, the second Adam, and receiving the light he receives his redemption and sanctification, whereby his spirit, body, and soul are sanctified. (p.168)

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The Power of Good

There came a man to Jesus who said to him,

…”Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)

This may seem a rather abrupt challenge in view of the deferential salutation of this man. Jesus’ response may seem out of proportion compared with the serious nature of the man’s request. However, as usual, Jesus has put his finger on the crux of the matter. Either you accept my instructions because I and the Father are one and I teach with the authority of the Father (and I am, therefore, good). Or you reject what I say because you do not believe that I come from the Father. These are Jesus’ terms to the man upon which the rest of the dialog is based.

“You know the commandments,” said Jesus, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher, the man responded, [dropping the “good”], I have kept all these things from my youth up.”

…”One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:19-21)

“What must I do?” queried the keeper of Moses’ law, “I want life.” However, because he had moved away from good teacher, he lost hope that Jesus’ difficult demands were of any use.

This episode portrays the head on clash between two opposing ideas: revelation and religion. Revelation begins with a relationship with a teacher, a revealer. Religion begins in the codified precepts of the past and engages in a form of ancestor worship. Whether or not those past precepts were true revelations of the character of God is irrelevant, they cannot be the cornerstone of life. “Go sell all you possess, and give it to the poor…” is the lifeline Jesus threw to this man. To discard all your possession flew in the face of popular religion. “I am rich because God favors me. You are poor because God does not accept you” was the idolatry of the day. Jesus asked the man to sell his religion and start again from square one!

This story further demonstrates that you cannot participate in revelation and hold onto religion. Participating in revelation does not invalidate the revelation given to our predecessors, but now you have fellowship with them. You have come under the tutelage of the same teacher. Their insights now have meaning in relationship to your own openings and insights. Jesus did not discard Moses’s law, “You know the commandments…” Rather he pulled the discussion back to the first commandment:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

The writer of the book of Hebrews poses the question: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him… (Heb. 2:3) He then continues with this theme, admonishing “If today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15, and 4:7) The exchange between Jesus and the keeper of the commandments demonstrated the futility of religion. The man was conscious of a lack of life within. The writer of Hebrews calls us to revelation, to life (i.e. salvation) based upon hearing the voice of the Lord. The man went away from Jesus in sorrow because he neglected to hear the voice of the good teacher.

Jesus spoke many things by way of parables about the kingdom of heaven, including:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matt. 13:44-46)

As with the man asking what he needed to do to gain eternal life, Jesus’ instruction in these parables is sell all you have that you may buy the field containing the treasure or buy the pearl of great price. Either you recognize that this treasure is worth more than all you have or you depart in sorrow because you can’t both hold onto part of your possessions and buy the field or buy the pearl.

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