Barclay on the Bible, part 2
He starts out by arguing for the primacy of the Spirit over Scripture. He quotes Calvin and a number of councils and gatherings of the church which had to, at the end, say that it was the Spirit which testified to the proper understanding of the Bible. He goes on to point out the arguments and debates among early Christians about what books to approve and which to reject. He concludes like this:
What should then become of Christians, if they had not received that Spirit, and those spiritual senses, by which they know how to discern the true from the false? It is the privilege of Christ's sheep indeed that they hear his voice, and refuse that of a stranger; which privilege being taken away, we are left a prey to all manner of wolves.
I have always liked this phrase. I think it sums up Quakerism as well as some of the more popular formulations: “It is the privilege of Christ's sheep indeed that they hear his voice, and refuse that of a stranger...” This is the Quaker spirituality in a nutshell. It echoes the extended meditation on Jesus as a shepherd found in John 10: 1-6.
Barclay goes on to say:
Next, the very nature of the Gospel itself declareth that the Scriptures cannot be the only and chief rule of Christians, else there should be no difference betwixt the Law and the Gospel; as from the nature of the new covenant, by divers scriptures described in the former proposition, is proved.
But besides those which are before mentioned, herein doth the Law and the Gospel differ, in that the Law, being outwardly written, brings under condemnation, but hath not life in it to save; whereas the Gospel, as it declares and makes manifest the evil, so, it being an inward powerful thing, also gives power to obey, and deliver from the evil. ... The Law or letter, which is without us, kills; but the Gospel, which is the inward spiritual law, gives life; for it consists not so much in words as in virtue.
The Gospel is not the words of scripture, it is the Spirit working in us to transform us and redeem us. He argues throughout this section, in fact throughout the entire Apology, that it is this inward religion, the inward experience of God, that is at the core of religion in general and Christianity in specific.
Barclay examines the textual difficulties of the Bible and the controversies from the beginning about what books made up the Bible and what versions of these texts to use, as well as the errors and changes that happened in the processes of copying and translating. He concluded:
Whence we may very safely conclude, that Jesus Christ, who promised to be always with his children, to lead them into all Truth, to guard them against the devices of the enemy, and to establish their faith upon an unmovable rock, left them not to be principally ruled by that, which was subject in itself to many uncertainties: and therefore he gave them his Spirit, as their principal guide, which neither moths nor time can wear out, nor transcribers nor translators corrupt; which none are so young, none so illiterate, none in so remote a place, but they may come to be reached, and rightly informed by it.
This is a picture of a God who is not remote or far off or hidden. This is not a God that is only accessible through a book or a priest or an educated class of preachers. This is a God who is present and available to every person on the planet through all time. This is a God who talks to each of us, all we have to do is to listen. This is a pure grace. It is not something we earn, or have to be good enough to receive. It is available to everyone. God will speak to each of us. All we need to do is listen.
Barclay finishes up his discussion of the first part of the proposition, on the primacy on the Spirit by telling a little story. I found this a fascinating anecdote.
The real and undoubted experience whereof I myself have been a witness of, with great admiration of the love of God to his children in these latter days: for I have known some of my friends, who profess the same faith with me, faithful servants of the Most High God, and full of divine knowledge of his Truth, as it was immediately and inwardly revealed to them by the Spirit, from a true and living experience, who not only were ignorant of the Greek and Hebrew, but even some of them could not read their own vulgar language, who being pressed by the adversaries with some citations out of the English translation, and finding them to disagree with the manifestation of Truth in their hearts, have boldly affirmed the Spirit of God never said so, and that it was certainly wrong; for they did not believe that any of the holy prophets or apostles had ever written so; which when I on this account seriously examined, I really found to be errors and corruptions of the translators; who, as in most translations, do not so much give us the genuine signification of the words, as strain them to express that which comes nearest to that opinion and notion they have of Truth.
I find this to be a challenge to all of us. Are we so familiar with the voice of God that we can tell when God is being misquoted?
After this, Barclay looks at what the proper use and place of the Bible is. And I will look at that another time.