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, January 31, 2008


We do not know the name of God. When Moses asked God his name, God answered, “I am that I am.” When the Hebrew scribes wrote this down, they just recorded the consonants. When markings were added to Hebrew writing to indicate the vowels, they used the vowels from a different word so that no one would say the real name of God by mistake. So we have God, AKA Jehovah, DBA (Doing Business As) Yaweh. Moslems use the alias Allah. There are hundreds of other names in use around the world and none of them are the real name of God. God isn't the real name either.

Likewise, we do not even know our own names. In Revelation we are told that we will receive a stone with a name on it that no one knows. (Revelation 2:17) This is our true name but we don't know it until we receive it from God..

Barclay says that one of the privileges of a Christian is to know the voice of God (by whatever name.) He is drawing on images from the Gospel of John where Jesus says that he is the shepherd and his sheep know his voice and will follow no other. (John 10:1-6)

If we listen to the voice of God we will sometimes be told things we do not want to hear, be shown things we don't want to see and be asked to do things we don't want to do. If we do these things, there is no guarantee that we will be safe, or that everything will work out. What we are promised is that if we follow the promptings and leadings of the voice within, the voice of the Shepherd, that God will be with us, what ever might happen.

And that is the blessing of good old what's his name, God.

Will T

Friday, January 25, 2008


Although this gift, and inward grace of God, be sufficient to work out salvation, yet in those in whom it is resisted it both may and doth become their condemnation. Moreover, in whom it hath wrought in part, to purify and sanctify them, in order to their further perfection, by disobedience such may fall from it, and turn it to wantonness, making shipwreck of faith; and after "having tasted of the heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, again fall away." Yet such an increase and stability in the truth may in this life be attained, from which there cannot be a total apostasy.
[Barclay's Apology Proposition 9]

This proposition states simply that God's work in us can be resisted either at the beginning or later on. In fact, one can have experienced some amount of Grace and still fall away. It finally proposes that it is possible to achieve to such a state of grace that one cannot fully fall away.

This seems a peculiar proposition. Certainly my own experience can testify to the truth of the first two portions. I have resisted God's working in me any number of times. Furthermore, I have turned back to my old ways any number of times, even after experiencing moments of grace. In fact, I find that it is after times of great spiritual intensity or insight that I am most prone to succumb to temptation and in particular to my own set of besetting sins. I think that it was Jan Hoffman who first drew my attention to the fact that the temptation of Jesus did not take place when he was a spiritual neophyte. It came after what would have to be a spiritual high point. He had just been baptized by John and then the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon him and a voice came from the heavens saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” Certainly something like that would be the high point of my spiritual life. So what happened next? Jesus was led into the wilderness where he was tempted. I cannot claim to be Christ-like in much of anything, but maybe in this, a few spiritual high points followed by a lot of time in the wilderness. I am certainly grateful that God seems to have mellowed out some since the days of Lot and his wife fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah or I would long ago have been turned into a pillar of salt.

But as Barclay begins his argument, it is clear that this is another front on his attacks on predestination. In particular, this proposition stands for the idea that there is not a small group of people so blessed that they cannot fall and the vast majority that cannot be saved no matter what they do.

The final part of this proposition affirms that it is possible to achieve a state of stability in the truth that one cannot fall away. Barclay argues that if this were not true, then it would not be possible to truly enter into God's rest or be assured of God's love and salvation. If one would always be in danger of falling away there could be no rest or assurance. Since many testify to such assurance and it is promised in the Bible, it must be true. Once again, the final argument is based on the love and compassion of God.

And this ends the propositions that describe Quaker spirituality. Simply put, God loves us all, no matter what we have done or how far we have fallen from what God would have us be. Through the working of the Inner Christ, God's light will show us our sins and give us power to overcome them. While it is possible to turn away from this process, if we persevere, we can come into God's rest and become filled with God's presence. We can live in God's kingdom even in this life. The rest of the Apology is a defense and argument for the various ways in which living in God's kingdom made Quakers act in ways that seemed peculiar to those living in the kingdom of this world.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Thursday, January 17, 2008


In whom this holy and pure birth is fully brought forth the body of death and sin comes to be crucified and removed, and their hearts united and subjected unto the truth, so as not to obey any suggestion or temptation of the evil one, but to be free from actual sinning, and transgressing the law of God, and in that respect perfect. Yet doth this perfection still admit of a growth; and there remaineth a possibility of sinning, where the mind doth not most diligently and watchfully attend unto the Lord.
[Barclay's Apology, Proposition 8]

The Quaker doctrine of perfection was perhaps one that got the Quakers into the most trouble with their contemporaries and it is probably also the most misunderstood today. This was a shocking claim in the 17'th century and it is shocking to some today as well. But if you look at what it says carefully, it is a qualified perfection. It is not mean free from error or flawless. What it means is that the process of justification and sanctification can proceed to a point where our hearts have been transformed such that it no longer responds to temptation and so the person is free from sinning.

Let me draw an analogy to something that is on many people's mind here in New England, football. Say that sin is like committing a penalty. You, even your whole team could play an entire game without having a penalty called on them. The yellow flags could just stay in the referees pocket for the entire game. You might even go so far as to not commit any penalties, not even the ones the referees miss or ignore. In that regard you have played perfectly. But you might have fumbled the ball, thrown interceptions, missed blocks or done any number of things poorly and so have lost the game. So it is possible to be perfect and still have room for improvement.

This concept of perfection does not mean that you will not be tempted or have trials. It means that when you are tempted, you will not succumb to that temptation. It is also not a static idea of perfection. It allows room for growth. Barclay uses the example that a child's body is as perfect as an adult's body, but it certainly has room for growth. The servant who was given two talents and made four perfected them as much as the one who was given five and made ten. Again, an ounce of gold is as perfect as a pound of gold. We often conflate perfection with prissiness. One common image of perfection is someone like Martha Stewart who is over the top in having every outward detail just so. We resent people like that, they make us feel inadequate and it does not seem to be something we would even want to be. Perfect does not only mean flawless. It also means whole or complete. When I recast Jesus' injunction to “Be ye whole as your Father in heaven is whole,” I find it resonates with me much more. The goal stops being an attempt to make everything look good on the outside but to grow into inward completeness and health.

What Barclay is talking about is not an outward perfection, but an inward condition. It is a state in which temptation does not grab a hold of us. What he is describing is being so spiritually filled that nothing that would take you away from that state is of any interest. When you are whole, you do not need to be desperately trying to fill up a void inside you or try to cover up what you lack. It is like having had a wonderful meal and not even a slice of chocolate cake or other favorite dessert is of any interest to you because you are sated and you already have a good taste in your mouth. I have had glimpses of such a spiritual state. When I am particularly blessed they may last for a day or two. My experience has been that when I become conscious of this happening, it usually means that it will not last for much longer. Then I am back into the muck and grime or my everyday condition.

Most of Barclay's arguments in support of this proposition turn on showing the effects of denying it. Denying that perfection is possible is to deny the power of God. It says that there are things that God cannot do. “He that sinneth is the servant to sin.” (Romans 6:16) How is it possible to be both a servant to sin and a servant to God? Denying perfection is inconsistent with the justice of God. God does not require of us things that are impossible for us to do. But Jesus tells us “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Denial of perfection denies the power of Christ to save us from our sins. “How is it that the servants of Christ are less his servants than the devil's are his?”

If people cannot come to perfection in this life, then it makes the work of ministers useless and ineffectual. (Maybe it is because we do not believe any more in the attainability of perfection that the status of ministers has fallen so far among Friends.) Without perfection, no one can be said to be justified and sanctified as it was discussed in the previous proposition. If justification is to be made to be actually just, then this work must be able to be completed. Finally, if perfection is not possible, it means that there is no difference between the Law and the Gospel. Perfection, as it is used here, is the result of having the Law written on our hearts. If that does not happen, then we are left with trying to follow an outward law and our Quaker and Christian faith is in vain.

This vision of the life in Christ as something attainable in this life was what motivated early Friends. They were not seeking something far off. They were seeking to know God directly and to led by God in all things. This was the driving force behind the entire Quaker movement. This is why they spoke so harshly against those priests and preachers who were, in their view, preaching sin by saying that one could not overcome the power of sin in this life. The entire Quaker witness was to a life that could be lived in faithfulness in this world.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Destruction, Resolution and Justification


I am still saddened by the tragedy still unfolding in Kenya. But I am also heartened by the responses of Friends and others in Kenya and around the world in responding to the situation. Mary Kay Rehard has created a blog Kenya News where she is collecting news and information about the situation there, with particular emphasis on the Society of Friends. I am continually amazed at the ability of the web and the people on it to collect information from so many seemingly remote and unlikely places and to make it available. Continue to pray for the people of Kenya, their country and Friends there. See how you are led to respond. Mary Kay's page has links to a number of organizations that are providing humanitarian relief.

I have never been one for making New Year's resolutions but this year I did. I have slacked off on posting to this blog this fall. My resolution is to be more intentional and regular about posting again. As part of that, I want to finish up with my on again, off again, series on Barclay's Apology. So, with that for justification, I will turn to what Barclay has to say about justification.

No little theological ink has been spilled on the subject of justification. Justification is the act or process of being made acceptable to God. For some later Protestants, including some Friends in the Holiness tradition, justification refers to God's act of accepting you and then Sanctification is the process whereby your life is brought into line with God's will. In Barclay's theology justification and sanctification were a single process. As Barclay says in this proposition:

As many as resist not this Light, but receive the same, it becomes in them a holy, pure, and spiritual birth, brining forth holiness, righteousness, purity, and all those other blessed fruits, which are acceptable to God, by which holy birth, to wit, Jesus Christ formed within us, and working his works in us, as we are sanctified, so are we justified in the sight of God, according to the apostle's words: “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

Note that this formulation totally sidesteps the entire debate of whether we are justified by faith or by works. We are justified by the working of the Holy Spirit if we do not resist this work. The result of the work of the Spirit in us is that we will bring forth good fruit in the form of good acts. We are not justified by the mere performance of good acts. But acts done as the fruit of the spirit working in us may be a means by which we are changed. The acts of faithfulness have a way of working on us inwardly as well as on the world outwardly. Justification and sanctification are a process that continues over time as we are brought into greater and greater conformance to what God would have us be.

Barclay does not minimize the importance of Christ's atonement on the cross. This was important because it obtains forgiveness for past sins and makes the grace of God's work within us available to us. Likewise he mentions Christ's work in offering intercession for us (Romans 8:34). This is for our conversion during our day of visitation and for our continued faithfulness after our conversion. It is then the growth of the Seed of Christ within us that purifies, justifies and sanctifies us. What is not effective for justification are works and rituals carried out under the Law or out of self-will.

He summarizes his entire position in the last section (Section XIII) of his discussion:

And to conclude this theme, let none be so bold as to mock God, supposing themselves justified and accepted in the sight of God, by virtue of Christ's death and sufferings, while they remain unsanctified and unjustified in their own hearts, and polluted in their sins, lest their hope prove that of the hypocrite, which perisheth. Neither let any foolishly imagine that they can, by their own works, or by the performance of any ceremonies or traditions, or by the giving of gold or money, or by afflicting their bodies in will worship and voluntary humility, or foolishly striving to conform their way to the outward letter of the law, flatter themselves that they merit before God, or draw a debt upon him, or that any man, or men, have power to make such kind of things effectual to their justification, lest they be found foolish boasters and strangers to Christ and his righteousness indeed. But blessed forever are they, that having truly had a sense of their own unworthiness and sinfulness, and having seen all their own endeavours and performances fruitless and vain, and beheld their own emptiness, and the vanity of their vain hopes, faith, and confidence, while they remained inwardly pricked, pursued, and condemned by God's holy witness in their hearts, and so having applied themselves thereto, and suffered his grace to work in them; are become changed and renewed in the spirit of their minds, passed from death to life, and know Jesus arisen in them, working both the will and the deed; and so having "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," in effect are clothed with him and partake of his righteousness and nature; such can draw near to the Lord with boldness, and know their acceptance in, and by him; in whom, and in as many as are found in him, the Father is well pleased.

The situation in Kenya, in Iraq, in the United States, certainly holds up to us our need for forgiveness. We certainly see that we cannot resolve the conflicts before us by ourselves. May it be not just as as individuals but our societies that can find themselves changed and renewed in the spirit.

Blessings to all

Will T

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reading about Kenya with a breaking heart

I have been reading the news from Kenya and my heart is breaking again. I was in Kisumu less than a year ago, shopping and having a lunch and waiting for the flight home from the FUM General Board Meeting. And now I see pictures of what might have been the place I shopped burned out and gutted.

I see the pictures and in my mind I also see everything I saw when I was there last year – and scenes from when I was in Kenya in 1970 when I was a student at Friends World College. I can almost smell the smells and taste the tastes of Kenya. And I mourn because in none of my memories was there the smell of tear gas or smoke from burning buildings. Pangas were the ubiquitous multi-purpose tool not weapons to be feared. I did not see churches burning or babies bodies thrown carelessly on racks in the morgues.

I read the Kenyan blogs and I hear the shock of Kenyans at how quickly their country has changed. I think how lucky the United States was to have had early leaders who were willing to give up power peacefully after an election, and what a rare thing that is.

I hold all these things in my heart and I pray. I think about the line in the Lord's Prayer about “Lead me not into temptation” and how I have seen that translated as “Lead me not to the test.” And I think how my faithfulness to the Peace Testimony and honesty and the command to love my neighbor and to bless those who persecute me would be tested if I were to find myself in such a situation. And I pray for the people in Kenya who are faced with exactly that test.

I think about the title of Alan Paton's book Cry, the Beloved Country. I think how this describes Kenya now.

God bless Kenya.
God bless Africa.
Lord, forgive our foolish ways.

Will T

Some sources of information:

A list of blogs on the situation in Kenya
Peggy Senger Parsons is posting reports from David Zarembka here
Carol Holmes has reports here