“Ecumenism and Universalism” and “Summary: James Nayler’s Statement”: the concluding parts of Section II, “The Life of the Spirit,” of my work in progress, Quaker Faith & Practice for the 21st Century.
15. Ecumenism and Universalism
The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls everywhere are of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers. (William Penn, 1693)
There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names; it is, however, pure, and proceeds from God. It is deep, and inward, confined to no forms of religion, nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren. (John Woolman, 1754)
Although some Quakers have taken exclusive doctrinal positions, Friends’ reliance on the spirit of agapē as known within has given us, from early on, an essentially universalist sensibility. That is not to insist that all are saved, that all religions are one, that all spiritual paths converge, or that one reality or truth is experienced by all seekers or mystics. But our life in the Christ-spirit gives us a deep appreciation of the working of agapē in the hearts of all people who sincerely seek to heed its call. Friends are active in dialogue with other faith traditions as well as nonreligious ways of thought. We engage with others in an effort to know them and to “answer that of God” — to respond to agapē — in them.
Friends also work with others of good will in furtherance of justice, mercy, and peace. And although Quakers from different traditions may hold widely varying beliefs, we can come together in ecumenical conversation and work toward common goals. We know that, despite real differences, we are ultimately united in the inner life of divine love.
Even in the apostles’ days, Christians were too apt to strive after a wrong unity and uniformity in outward practices and observations, and to judge one another unrighteously in these things. And mark; it is not the different practice from one another that breaks the peace and unity, but the judging one another because of differing practices. He that keeps not a day, may unite in the same Spirit, in the same life, in the same love with him that keeps a day; and he who keeps a day, may unite in heart and soul with the same Spirit and life in him who keeps not a day; but he that judgeth the other because of either of these, errs from the Spirit, from the love, from the life, and so breaks the bond of unity. (Isaac Penington, 1660)
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16. Summary: James Nayler’s Statement
In 1656, Friend James Nayler suffered cruel public punishments after being found guilty of blasphemy. He was brutally scourged, receiving 310 lashes. His tongue was bored through with a red-hot iron, and his forehead was branded with the letter “B.” Through all of that, he remained meek and forgiving, even embracing the torturer at the end. Nayler was then imprisoned in solitary confinement, fed on bread and water, and made to perform hard labor. Released in 1659, he was mugged and left bound in a field in the eighth month (October) of 1660. He was found there and taken to the home of a Quaker physician, where he died, aged 44, on the following day. Nayler’s final words included this powerful expression of the Quaker spirit:
There is a spirit which I feel, that delights to do no evil, nor to avenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other: if it be betrayed, it bears it; for its ground and spring are the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned, and takes its kingdom with entreaty, and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life.