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 15, 2006

Proposition 2 - On Immediate Revelation

Seeing "no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son revealeth him"; and seeing the "revelation of the Son is in and by the Spirit" (Matt. 11:27); therefore the testimony of the Spirit is that alone by which the true knowledge of God hath been, is, and can be only revealed; who as, by the moving of his own Spirit, he disposed the chaos of this world into that wonderful order wherein it was in the beginning, and created man a living soul, to rule and govern it, so, by the revelation of the same Spirit, he hath manifested himself all along unto the sons of men, both patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; which revelations of God by the Spirit, whether by outward voices and appearances, dreams, or inward objective manifestations in the heart, were of old the formal object of their faith, and remain yet so to be, since the object of the saints' faith is the same in all ages, though held forth under divers administrations. Moreover, these divine inward revelations, which we make absolutely necessary for the building up of true faith, neither do nor can ever contradict the outward testimony of the Scriptures, or right and sound reason. Yet from hence it will not follow, that the divine revelations are to be subjected to the test, either of the outward testimony of the Scriptures, or of the natural reason of man, as to a more noble or certain rule and touchstone; for this divine revelation and inward illumination, is that which is evident and clear of itself, forcing, by its own evidence and clearness, the well-disposed understanding to assent, irresistibly moving the same thereunto, even as the common principles of natural truths do move and incline the mind to a natural assent: as, that the whole is greater than its part, that two contradictories can neither be both true, nor both false.


And that is just the proposition. Barclay is not brief. Anyway there is a lot here and I have a number of things to say so I will spread my discussion of it over a number of posts. But basically what he is saying here is that God is revealed to us by the Spirit and God has always been revealed to us by the Spirit, both in Biblical days and today. These revelations of God will not contradict Scripture or right reason but neither reason or Scripture are above the Spirit. We will know the revelation to be true because it is self-validating.


To modern readers, or at least modern Quaker readers, this section can seem to be much ado about nothing. What with Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement and an increased interest in mysticism, the idea of the direct experience of God does not seem strange or particularly controversial. This was not the case in the 17th century. At that time Puritan orthodoxy proclaimed that God had stopped speaking directly to people. The Westminster Confession of Faith, which was adopted by the English Parliament in 1648 starts out with this statement: (Emphasis added)

Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.


They are saying that we need to read the Bible because God no longer speaks to us directly.


This is the context in which Barclay is writing. He starts off by pointing out the difference between the early church and the church of his day: β€œWhereas of old none were ever judged Christians, but such as "had the Spirit of Christ" (Rom. 8:9). But now many do boldly call themselves Christians, who make no difficulty of confessing they are without it, and laugh at such as say they have it.” Later in the Apology, Barclay will similarly mock the so-called Christians on a number of other points.


There are Friends today who have an aversion to Christianity or Christian language or to the Bible because of either their own past experiences with Christian churches or individual Christians. Likewise there are some who have a similar aversion based on the historical record of the church which includes its record of antisemitism, its complicity in imperialism, its oppression of women, its oppression of gays and lesbians, the political stance of the Christian Right or any of its other multitude of shortcomings. In my more curmudgeonly moments I have thought that the greatest enemy of Christianity is Christians.


The early Friends talked about being primitive Christianity revived. They believed that sometime after the first couple of centuries, the Christian church had become corrupt and had abandoned the true teachings of Christ and the early Church. They were trying to reform Christianity to remove the error that had come in and restore it to its primitive and more authentic state. This was why Christ had come to teach his people himself, the church had made a mess of it and so he had to set things to right.


In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, β€œFor it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” The clay jars of our lives and of the institutional church can sometimes hide the Light. But the light still shines forth and we can see that it is from the grace and love of God and not because of our efforts.


Enough for now. More to follow.


Will


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