Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Prop 2 - Part 2

First of all I want to thank my daughter Emily for taking the picture that now graces my profile. I had to wait for her to return from Spain with her digital camera but now you have a face to go with the words.

And now my face has been revealed, more about other forms of immediate revelation.

For the better understanding then of this proposition, we do distinguish betwixt the certain knowledge of God, and the uncertain; betwixt the spiritual knowledge, and the literal; the saving heart-knowledge, and the soaring, airy head-knowledge. The last, we confess, may be divers ways obtained; but the first, by no other way than the inward immediate manifestation and revelation of God's Spirit, shining in and upon the heart, enlightening and opening the understanding.

How much of the disagreements among Friends come from our head knowledge? How strongly do we defend those things we know in our minds to be true. Our unity comes from the heart knowledge, from the immediate knowledge of God which draws us into love and understanding. Quakerism has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. There was a time when Quaker education ended at the end of what we would consider elementary school, or 8th grade at the latest. Friends felt that there was no need of education beyond what was necessary to run the farm or whatever honest business they were engaged in. There was an intense distrust of book learning. How ironic that Quakerism has become a religion of intellectuals. If you came to a town you were unfamiliar with and wanted to look for a Quaker meeting it could do worse than to start looking around the local college or university.

Barclay does not deny the benefits of education. He was well educated himself. He knew Latin, Greek and Hebrew and used that knowledge for the benefit of Friends. The Apology was originally published in Latin because he wrote it for the King and for theologians. His English translation didn't appear until two years later.

What he does say is that the true knowledge of God does not come from study but from the direct experience of God. It is the heart-knowledge that saves us and transforms us and not the “airy head-knowledge.” And that heart knowledge does not come from our studies or seeking but as a free gift of the Spirit working inwardly in us, enlightening us and opening our understanding.

After quoting a number of the Church fathers and Luther in support of this proposition, Barclay goes on to explain how it is that head knowledge has supplanted heart knowledge:

That this certain and undoubted method of the true knowledge of God hath been brought out of use, hath been none of the least devices of the devil, to secure mankind to his kingdom. For after the light and glory of the Christian religion had prevailed over a good part of the world, and dispelled the thick mists of the heathenish doctrine of the plurality of gods, he that knew there was no probability of deluding the world any longer that way, did then puff man up with a false knowledge of the true God; setting him on work to seek God the wrong way, and persuading him to be content with such a knowledge as was of his own acquiring, and not of God's teaching. And this device hath proved the more successful, because accommodated to the natural and corrupt spirit and temper of man, who above all things affects to exalt himself; in which self-exaltation, as God is most greatly dishonored, so therein the devil hath his end; who is not anxious how much God be acknowledged in words, provided himself be but always served; he matters not how great and high speculations the natural man entertains of God, so long as he serves his lusts and passions, and is obedient to his evil suggestions and temptations.

The problem with head knowledge is that it tends to feed our pride and our ego. It encourages the natural man and causes us to ignore the experience of God within us while we engage in lofty thoughts and debates about God. But coming from our own will and imagination, those thoughts are not really about God but about us.

What need we set up our own carnal and corrupt reason for a guide to us in matters spiritual, as some will needs do? May it not be complained of all such, as the Lord did of old concerning Israel by the prophets (Jer. 2:13): "For my people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Have not many forsaken, do not many deride and reject, this inward and immediate guide, this Spirit that leads into all Truth, and cast up to themselves other ways, broken ways indeed, which have not all this while brought them out of the flesh, nor out of the world, nor from under the dominion of their own lusts and sinful affections, whereby Truth, which is only rightly learned by this Spirit, is so much a stranger in the earth?

How often do we accept the counterfeit when the real thing is close at hand? I have heard it said that the longest journey is that from the head to the heart, but that is the journey we are called upon to make.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

April 11, 2007 4:06 AM  

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