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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Barclay on Universal Redemption and the Saving Light

Proposition 5 & 6 Concerning the Universal Redemption of Christ and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened.

Barclay actually has two propositions which he considers so interconnected that he discusses them together. The text of just the propositions can be found here and his discussion of them can be found here.

I will summarize the Fifth Proposition as this: God has infinite love for all humankind and out of that love sent His son as a Light so that whoever would believe in Him would be saved. This Light enlightens everyone who comes into the world. It teaches temperance, goodness and righteousness and it reproves the sin in everyone. It is no less universal than the seed of sin in everyone.

The Sixth Proposition holds that the manifestation of this Light is available to all regardless of their outward circumstance. The Light is a grace that is available to all and can be felt and understood by all, whether or not they have heard of Christianity or not. All people, even those who lived before Jesus or who have lived in places where the Gospel has never been preached can still follow the inward manifestation of the Light of Christ and be obedient to it and so can be turned from evil and towards good and so become holy. If Christ is known inwardly, there is no need to know Him outwardly for salvation to occur.

Undergirding this view is the infinite love of God. God loves everyone in the world and would not keep any from coming to God because of the accidents of their birth that would have kept them from hearing the Christian message. God is actively seeking the redemption of everyone, that is why God made the Light of Christ available to everyone. Barclay takes the opportunity of the discussion of these propositions to utterly deny any form of the doctrine of predestination. He calls it a “blasphemy against the love of God.” because it would made God the source of evil and it would cause people to hear of a salvation that they could never have, no matter what they did. I would hope that people who come to Quakerism from other Christian traditions that make a great emphasis on the anger and judgment of God could understand that God's love is the foundation of Quakerism and not judgment and fear of damnation.

This universalism is not based on any notion of tolerance or an idea that all traditions hold a kernel of truth. Instead it is based on the ability of God to communicate directly with every person. There is one God and this God is knowable by everyone regardless of our religious or theological beliefs, or lack of them. The goal of the spiritual life is to come to know the inward promptings of God and to be obedient to them. So rather than saying there are many paths up the mountain, he is saying, there is one path up the mountain (obedience to the Light) but that the road may be given different names.

This is how Barclay puts the Quaker Gospel:

According to which certain Light and Gospel, as the knowledge thereof has been manifested to us by the revelation of Jesus Christ in us, fortified by our own sensible experience, and sealed by the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts, we can confidently affirm, and clearly evince, according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures, the following points:

First, That God, who out of his infinite love sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world, who tasted death for every man, hath given to every man, whether Jew or Gentile, Turk or Scythian, Indian or Barbarian, of whatsoever nation, country, or place, a certain day or time of visitation; during which day or time it is possible for them to be saved, and to partake of the fruit of Christ's death.

Secondly, That for this end God hath communicated and given unto every man a measure of the Light of his own Son, a measure of grace, or a measure of the Spirit, which the Scripture expresses by several names, as sometimes of "the seed of the kingdom" (Matt. 13:18-19); the "Light that makes all things manifest" (Eph. 5:13); the "Word of God" (Rom. 10:17); or "manifestation of the Spirit given to profit withal" (1 Cor. 12:7); "a talent" (Matt. 25:15); "a little leaven" (Matt. 13:33); "the Gospel preached in every creature" (Col. 1:23).

Thirdly, That God, in and by this Light and Seed, invites, calls, exhorts, and strives with every man, in order to save him; which as it is received, and not resisted, works the salvation of all, even of those who are ignorant of the death and sufferings of Christ, and of Adam's fall, both by bringing them to a sense of their own misery, and to be sharers in the sufferings of Christ inwardly, and by making them partakers of his Resurrection, in becoming holy, pure, and righteous, and recovered out of their sins. By which also are saved they that have the knowledge of Christ outwardly, in that it opens their understanding rightly to use and apply the things delivered in the Scriptures, and to receive the saving use of them. But that this may be resisted and rejected in both, in which then God is said to be resisted and pressed down, and Christ to be again crucified, and put to open shame in and among men, and to those as thus resist and refuse him, he becomes their condemnation.

I will write more about the doctrines expounded here, especially the idea of a day of visitation, in another post. I would like to end by drawing your attention to the first part of the statement. He is saying that this is true because of four things:

1.It was revealed to them by Christ.
2.It is in accord with their own experience.
3.It has been confirmed by the Spirit
4.It is in accord with the Bible.

Based on these things they can proclaim what they believe. Note also that Barclay is using the plural throughout. This is not an individual witness. This is a witness of Friends as a people.

In spite of the strengths of liberal Quakerism, I am disappointed that we seem to have lost this sense of confidence in the revelations of God we have received. We do not state things forthrightly and clearly. We are downright timid. How often do our statements begin with words like, “No one can speak for all Friends but ...” Have we received revelations form God? Are they in accord with our experience? Are they confirmed by the Spirit in us and in the body of Friends? Are they in accord with the Bible? If we have, why are we shy about proclaiming it? If we haven't received such a revelation, what are we doing to prepare ourselves to receive one? It is not because God has stopped talking to us. Are we waiting expectantly, stripping away all that would distract us from our attention to God? Are we practicing faithfulness in small things so that we can learn to become faithful in large things?

I have just finished reading Douglas Gwyn's book Seekers Found. I understand him to be saying in it that Truth is not something abstract but is part of the essential nature of God. This truth is made real, it is embodied, not by our intellectual understanding, but by our living it. Thus our faithfulness is a fruit of God's work in us already and at the same time it is the means by which God continues to work in us. If our lives embody this Truth, this essential essence of God, if we have become the sanctuary, the tabernacle where God lives, how can we be so timid?

Blessings to all.

Will T

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

A fine essay. If "Quakerism 101" covered only this material and nothing more, it would already be complete.

September 17, 2007 6:01 AM  
Blogger anj said...

Our family does home 'church' before we go to meeting; I am going to read this essay this Sunday Morning, and then have time for discussion. As a parent of three teen-age sons, my greatest hope is that they will experience the Light of Christ within. Thank you for putting words to what I have been trying to formulate for a while.

September 28, 2007 9:03 AM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Thanks for this post and the promise of more on the general subject. I think it is important for Friends to look at the early Friends view, and see how it is different both from a conservative evangelical view and from the view of most Friends today who call themselves universalists.

I think here, as in other areas, Friends traditionally provided a third way avoiding the pitfalls of the usual dichotomy.

And the Friends view here is sound Biblically, and accepted by many other Christians. C.S. Lewis, for example, espouses a very similar view.

September 30, 2007 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can salvation be rejected? Does not this result in the same "blasphemy against the love of God"? If God has perfect love, then He would save all no matter what. If someone is drowning, it is not perfect love to offer a hand; it is only perfect love to jump in and pull the victim out of the water, despite them kicking and cursing us all the while.

October 02, 2007 1:20 AM  
Anonymous Nate Swift said...

My reply to Anonymous would be that the "blasphemy noted would then be individual and not doctrinal, which I think was Barclay's point; the doctrine is blasphemy against the love of God. That God still loves even in the face of such individual blasphemy is still part of Barclay's exposition, but perfect love does not force itself on individuals. If we have no choice we are merely puppets and how can our love be genuine? It was pointed out to me that one of the church Fathers said that if we believe in Hell as a real condition, there is no reason to think that any individual must remain there (by the way, if anyone knows the specific quote, I'd sure like to know). Assuming that separation from God is "Hell" it does not follow that anyone recognizing it would change his relationship with God, humans can be mighty stubborn.

October 02, 2007 2:48 PM  

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