This project — writing a Faith & Practice book — is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to a published installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents. Following is the 11th part of “The Life of the Spirit.”
11. Practical Expression of the Life of the Spirit
For as the body without spirit is dead, so faith without acts is dead. (James 2:26)
Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all His creatures; His tender mercies are over all His works, and so far as true love influences our minds, so far we become interested in His workmanship, and feel a desire to make use of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted, and to increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable, so that to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives. (John Woolman, 1754)
A life entrusted to agapē, universal love, becomes by its very nature just, generous, and peaceable. Quaker faith is not, then, a matter of holding beliefs, ideals, or values that must be translated into actions, but of trust in the working of the Spirit of agapē within our hearts. Our practice — to allow that Spirit to animate us in every moment of our lives — is one with that faith.
Friends sometimes speak of testimonies such as peace, integrity, and simplicity. Quaker testimonies differ from credal or moral imperatives: testimonies, unless they are expressions of self-deception or hypocrisy, are simply descriptions of one’s actual life. “Let your lives speak” — allow your manner of living to be an expression of the divine “Word” (Jn 1) — is a classic Quaker exhortation. The spiritually mature Friend lives justly, mercifully, and peaceably more by nature than by design; that is, the inner life of the agapē-centered Friend is the life of the Christ-spirit, and his or her way of relating to others gives testimony to that substantial unity.
‘[Whoever] is in Christ is a new creature’ [2 Cor 5:17], and is not distinct from him …. And Christ is justification, sanctification, wisdom, and righteousness; and if he be not within you, ye are reprobates [2 Cor 13:5]. And where Christ is, he is not without righteousness. Therefore they are not without righteousness, and wisdom, justification, and sanctification, if Christ be within [them]; for, where he is, that is not wanting. (George Fox, 1659)
For Friends, there is no distinction between faith and works: we know that whoever is joined in faith to the Spirit of agapē, as if engrafted to a vine, cannot but yield good fruit (Jn 15:5). Jesus’ warning, “Beware of false prophets, who appear in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves: by their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:15-16), applies first of all, therefore, to ourselves. Our way of relating to others testifies to our degree of surrender to the Spirit. That is one reason why silent worship, in which we allow conscience (our sense of right and wrong) to be critiqued by and joined to the Christ-light, is at the heart of Quaker spirituality.
[P]ut your salvation into effect with holy fear and quaking, for it is God who is working within you both to will and to do the good. (Phil 2:12b-13)