For all of the time that this has taken, I feel that we have just now completed the introductory material. In my view, propositions 4 (The Condition of Man in the Fall) through 9 (Concerning Perseverance, and the Possibility of Falling from Grace) describe the core of Quakerism. The first 3 propositions set the stage by providing the framework of how Quakers relate to God and to Scriptures. Propositions 10 through 15 describe the implications of Quakerism as it is lived in the World. Propositions 4 through 9 describe the work of God on our heart. While the language is theological, it is also a guide to the spiritual life. They provides the framework undergirding Quaker spiritual formation.
Rich, in his post, gives a good explanation of the Old Adam or the fallen man. He describes a dualism between our fallen state and our state in Christ. I agree with what he has to say but I also have a different slant on this and why it is important to start with the rather dour proposition that we are corrupt and there is nothing we can do about it. The reason for starting here is that this is the starting place for spiritual growth. Our spiritual growth does not begin when we are happy and content and our lives are going well. Our spiritual growth begins when we are broken, weighed down and have given up. John Naylor described the spirit that he found like this:
It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it, nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings: for with the world's joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.
This is similar to the first step in twelve step programs. In AA it is:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Likewise, this proposition stresses that we are broken and that we cannot change our situation by our own efforts. We cannot begin to change until we admit that there is something broken in our life that needs to be changed. We cannot find God until we realize that we have lost God. It does us no good to say, “Oh yes, I'm sure God is around here somewhere. I just have to look under this pile of books.” We have to be like the woman in Luke 15:8, when having lost a silver coin, sweeps and cleans the house to find what has been lost, and celebrates when it is found.
Early Friends were painfully aware of where they had come from. To them the Light was a fearsome thing because it showed them their faults and only then did it bring them up and out of the darkness. The primary sin of Old Adam was to try to put himself in the place of God by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In more modern terms, our ego likes to think that it is running the show. It is quite willing to take full credit for all of the good things that happen to us. And it is also our ego that blames ourself for all of the bad things that happen to us. Friends were keenly aware of the crafty nature of this fallen self. This is one of the reasons that they were so careful about anything that would lead to pride. This was why they rejected ostentatious clothes or flowery language. The fertile ground of spirituality is humility.
Modern Friends would do well to pay heed to the sins of pride, especially of spiritual pride. Liberal Friends, in particular, often sound as if the Light was something that they can lay claim to. They speak of “that of God in everyone” as if it were a possession. They also often sound as if they think that they can change themselves and the world by their own efforts. Proposition 4 is a reminder that this is not possible and it explains why. One of the refreshing things I have found while traveling among Friends in Africa and Cuba was the amount of prayer. Often it was prayer for simple things like a safe journey wherever we were going that day. Or it was a simple prayer of thanks that we had arrived someplace safely, or that someone had been able to join us. Then there were the prayers for assistance in the accomplishment of tasks large and small. And there were the prayers of thanks on the successful completion of tasks in recognition that it was God who was in charge through everything. It is a recognition that we are dependent upon God for everything. As I saw someone comment, “If God is your co-pilot, you are sitting in the wrong seat.”
Blessings to all.