Quaker Faith & Practice for the 21st Century: IIb

This project is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to an installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents.

Following is the third part of the book’s second section, “The Life of the Spirit.” Dingbat-sm

3. The Quaker Experience

“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” said John the Baptist (Mat. iii. 2). “It is come unto you,” said Christ (Mat. xii. 18). That power of life which was made manifest in him, [that] was [the kingdom]; “and this Kingdom is also within you,” said Christ to the Pharisees (Luke xvii. 21). The Pharisees demanded of him when the kingdom of God [would] come. It cometh not, saith he, with outward show or observation; it cometh not that way you look for it; to wit, by the manifestation of an outward glorious king, … but the kingdom is within you. How was it within them? Christ explains to them in another place; it was in them like a grain of mustard seed; it was the least of all the seeds in their hearts. There were many great seeds of darkness there, but yet there was also one little seed of light. It was there as well as the rest (though less than them all), and did sometimes cast some glimmerings of light, and of its shining in the darkness, though the darkness could not comprehend it. (Isaac Penington, 1660)

The Religious Society of Friends arose from the conviction that, as George Fox put it, “Christ [is] come to teach his people himself, by his power and spirit in their hearts.” Early Friends knew from scripture that the word Christ signifies “the power and wisdom of God” (1Cor 1:24), and that the word God signifies that universal love, called in biblical Greek agapē, which seeks to meet the basic human needs of all, of both “the just and the unjust alike” (Mt 5:45). And they knew to look within their hearts for that love’s power and wisdom, because “that which can be known of God is manifest within” (Rom 1:19). When they did so, Friends found confirmed in their experience what they had discerned in scripture: a measure of unselfish, Christic love lives within each of us, and as we learn to entrust ourselves to its empowering guidance, we become increasingly just and peaceable people in whom divine love thrives.

Friends have referred to the spiritual power and wisdom abiding in the human heart by a variety of names, including Christ; the Light within; the Holy, or Divine, Spirit; the Seed; the Word (or Logos); Truth; gospel; the life; that of God in everyone. But as James Nayler wrote in 1656, “the name of Christ consists not of letters and syllables, but in righteousness, mercy and judgment, &c.” In other words, Friends have found that ultimately it is not the name but the dynamic reality of agapē in our hearts that matters. Words, even the scriptures, are but more or less helpful pointers to that divine reality.

But the anointing you received from him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone should teach you, for the anointing is teaching you about all. It is true and not falsehood, and as it is teaching you, you will be abiding in him. (1Jn 2:27)

And we have known and trusted in the love God has in us: God is love [agapē], and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them. (1Jn 4:16)

And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal (which is Christ) to be alone and only sufficient to bring [us] to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did [acknowledge] the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every [one] withal, they needed no [one] to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (Edward Burrough, 1658)

Early Friends found that the light they knew as Christ would, when they turned to it in faith, illuminate and re-form their consciences while liberating them to live lovingly. As a consequence of that discovery, they adopted forms of worship, vocal ministry, and decision-making that unite us even today in going beyond naming to discerning, surrendering to, and acting in the power and wisdom of agapē.

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