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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Convincement of Thomas Lurting

Now, for a change of pace. I will tell a story. This is the story of the convincement of Thomas Lurting. Thomas Lurting is mostly known for his encounter with pirates off of Algiers told in the children's book Thomas Lurting and the Pirates. I take this information from his account titled The Fighting Sailor Turned Peaceable Christian which is reprinted in Historical Writings of Quakers against War published by Quaker Heritage Press.

Thomas Lurting was 14 when he was first pressed by the Royal Navy in 1646. The major recruitment tool of the Royal Navy at that time and into the 19th century was the press gang. Press gangs would go through the streets and taverns of port cities rounding up sailors and taking them on board navy ships. They would sometimes cut the belts or suspenders of their recruits so they would have to use one hand to hold up their pants, slowing them down if would be inclined to run away.

He seems to have done well because in time he became a boatswain's mate on frigate and had 200 men under his command. One of his responsibilities was to force men to attend the religious services on Sunday. He was in a number of battles in appears to have served fearlessly in them. He recounts a number of deliverances that he had during these battles, including a time when a man sitting beside him in a small boat was shot.

At one point a Scottish soldier was put on board the ship for a short time. This soldier had attended a Quaker meeting in Scotland and during his time on board ship talked with two sailors. About 6 months later, these sailors refused to attend services and hear the priest and refused to take off their hats for the captain. The started meeting together in silence. The changes in them drew attention from the rest of the crew and over time their meeting grew.

The captain and the priest ordered Thomas to beat and persecute the Quakers for not attending services. As he continued in this he was reminded of the times when God had delivered him during battle and found that he could no longer beat the Quakers. God opened his heart and he saw a great difference between the behavior of the priest and the Captain, who was also a Baptist minister, and of the Quakers. He started taking time of retirement and sought after God. He felt God working in him both in judgement and in tenderness. After about 6 months he felt the Lord telling him that he should join the Quakers so he went to Roger Dennis, one of the leaders of the Quakers on board ship, and asked him to his cabin for a talk.

The following First Day he attended the Quaker meeting instead of the worship on deck. When this was found out many sailors left the priests service and came to the Quaker meeting to see what was going on. The captain sent for Thomas and interviewed him with a number of the other officers. Afterwards Thomas told the Quakers, “when I went to the captain, I was scarce half a Quaker, but by their lies and false reports against me they have made me almost a whole Quaker, or at least I hope to be one.” After that he continued to meet with the Quakers.

With Thomas Lurting's convincement, the persecution of Quakers on board ended for a while. Thomas was given back his cabin which he used as a meeting place for the Quakers. A disease spread through the ship and some 40 sailors died. Although none of the Quakers died many of them were taken ill and the other sailors noticed what good care they took of each other while they were sick. Even non-Quakers came to them feeling that they would be well-cared for.

At this point the new Quakers on the ship had no sense of pacifism and fought as bravely as anyone else on board. They were ordered to sail to Barcelona where they were to shell a castle on shore. While the men were preparing the cannons Thomas went on deck to watch the shots so that he could help redirect the aim as needed. As he came on deck he felt God ask him, “how if he had killed a man?” He was struck with such power by this that he put back on his clothes, having been stripped down to his waistcoat for the action, and wandered on deck under a great exercise of mind. When people asked if he was hurt he said, “No, I am under a scruple of conscience on the account of the fighting.”

The next day Thomas Lurting discussed this with the other Quakers. Some had misgivings about fighting but none had as strong a scruple as Thomas did. He felt that since they had been such valiant fighters before, they needed to bear a strong testimony against it. He did not doubt that the Lord would protect him. When one of the Friends went to the captain to request a discharge because he could fight no longer the captain said “He that denies to fight in time of engagement, I will put my sword through his guts.” He then beat the sailor with his fists and cane. It was a standing order on the ships of the Royal Navy that if anyone left their posts during battle, anyone on the ship could kill him.

Some time later – Thomas Lurting dates this as in 1655 – they were sailing and they saw a large ship coming towards them. They supposed it to be a Spanish man-of-war and so the crew began to prepare for battle. The Quakers gathered in Thomas Lurting's cabin for a meeting for worship. In it he was moved to speak about his scruples about fighting but he did not want to lay this on any of the others. If they would respond to the call to quarters, they should do their part to the best of their ability. If they chose not to fight they needed to be careful to not give the captain reason to say that they had deceived him. Then Thomas went and sat on deck in full view of the captain. The other Friends joined him there.

When the lieutenant came and ordered them to their posts they answered that they could fight no more. When the captain heard of this he drew his sword. Thomas Lurting heard the Lord say, “The sword of the Lord is over him; and if he will have a sacrifice, proffer it to him.” He rose to go and Roger Dennis joined him. They walked across the deck and when they were half way up the steps to the half-deck where the captain was the captain turned pale, turned away and called his servant to take away the sword. After a bit Roger said to Thomas, “The captain is gone, let us return to the others.”

The ship turned out to be friendly and so there was no battle. Later the captain sent the priest to Thomas asking that he not be angry with the captain, that he had acted out of passion. Thomas replied that the captain should be careful of his passion lest he kill someone and then seek repentance and not be able to find it. Afterwards Thomas reports that the captain was very kind and respectful to him.

I love this story, partly because it is just such a good story. I also like what it illustrates how the peace testimony came to be. At the time of the battle in Barcelona, Thomas Lurting had been on ship and had not had any contact with any Quakers but the ones who had been convinced on board. They knew that Quakers did not pay honor to social postion and met in silent worship. Their testimony against fighting came to them through God working in their hearts. When this happened, they followed that leading although it could easily mean their lives. It also shows the kind of deliverance that is possible to one acting in full confidence in the power of the Lord to protect them.

This happened a full 5 years before George Fox and others wrote the letter to King Charles that is often referred to as the Peace Testimony. The real testimony was in the lives of ordinary Friends like Thomas Lurting. The testimony of their lives meant that Fox was able to write the words overnight in confidence that he was speaking for Friends in general.

I am also challenged by this story. I don't know that I would have the courage to stand up and walk towards an angry man with a drawn sword. I also don't know that I have the courage to be so single minded in following the Light I have been given in the face of the comforts and distractions of a world that would say, be comfortable, be happy, don't look too closely at the cost of your comfort.

Blessings to all,

Will T

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Concerning the Power of the Civil Magistrate


It has taken two years, but this post marks the end of my posts on Barclay's Apology. I discussed the 15'th proposition in September 2006 when our First Day School was examining the Testimony on Simplicity. I have enjoyed this examination of Barclay and parts of it have sparked much interest among you. I have gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the thought of early Friends from this exploration. More importantly I have come to have a deeper understanding of their religious exercise. In particular I have come to appreciate both the inwardness of it and the simultaneous expectation that the inward work will manifest itself in our outward lives. I have found myself being challenged to greater faithfulness in my religious walk. I trust that this has been helpful to you as well. I will continue to post about current happenings among Friends and reflections on what I read but I do not foresee me taking on a reflection on a major work in the near future. So with thanks for your support, here is Barclay on the power of the Civil Magistrate.

Since God hath assumed to himself the power and dominion of the conscience, who alone can rightly instruct and govern it, therefore it is not lawful for any whosoever, by virtue of any authority or principality they bear in the government of this world, to force the consciences of others; and therefore all killing, banishing, fining, imprisoning and other such things which are inflicted upon men for the alone exercise of their conscience or difference in worship or opinion proceedeth from the spirit of Cain, the murderer, and is contrary to the Truth, providing always that no man, under the pretence of conscience, prejudice his neighbour in his life or estate, or do anything destructive to, or inconsistent with human society, in which case the law is for the transgressor, and justice is to be administered upon all without respect of persons.
[Barclay's Apology, Proposition 14]

In the United States we tend to think that this is a settled matter. That isn't so elsewhere. Perhaps 7 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Friends in Cuba. When I was at Holguin Friends Church I was given a chance to speak to the church and I presented a brief rundown Barclay's Apology. When I got to the part about religious persecution proceeding from the spirit of Cain, the person who was translating for me turned to me and asked in English if I really wanted him to translate this. I said that I did and he did, as near as I could tell. I have sometimes wondered whether this was the right thing to do and I hope the Friend has not gotten into trouble for speaking words that were not his.

Barclay starts off by pointing out that conscience is a persuasion of the mind of the truth or falsity of some matter. Even if a person is wrong about the matter in question it is a sin for them to act in a way that is not in accord with their belief. This principle is another reason why we need to be gentle with each other when dealing with the controversial issues that divide Friends. In many cases we have disagreements that turn on matters of faith, belief and conscience. Even a mistaken conscience is binding on us. So it is not enough to attempt to prove to someone the errors of their ways, however much we are tempted to do so. What is required is a change of heart, of conscience, and that is work for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in these matters seems to have much more patience that we do.

“[T]he conscience of man is the seat and throne of God in him, of which God is the alone proper and infallible Judge.” The church can remove heretics from its membership but they cannot remove them from civil society. To make the magistrate to punish according to determination of the church is to make the magistrate the church's hangman. This is still true today whether the law in question is sharia, the Ten Commandments, laws on abortion or limiting marriage to one man or one woman. In all of these cases people are asking the state to create and enforce laws that codify a particular set of religious beliefs. These are areas in which religious people have serious and sincere differences of opinion. A church may certainly hold their members to a more restrictive code of conduct than society as a whole does, but they should not rely on civil society to enforce those rules on everyone.

Christ's kingdom is not of this world and we should not rely on the powers of this world to promote it. Barclay quotes 2 Cor 10:4 that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual. Would we turn to wrestling with flesh and blood if we cannot prevail with the Spirit? If we cannot succeed with spiritual means should we turn to carnal weapons to create Christ's kingdom?

[T]his forcing of men's consciences is contrary to sound reason, and the very law of nature. For man's understanding cannot be forced by all the bodily sufferings another man can inflict upon him, especially in matters spiritual and supernatural: 'tis arguments and evident demonstrations of reason, together with the power of God reaching the heart, that can change a man's mind from one opinion to another, and not knocks and blows, and suchlike things, which may well destroy the body but never can inform the soul .... To seek to force minds in any other manner, is to deal with men as if they were brutes[.]
[Apology, Proposition 14, Section IV]

By force we can make men hypocrites but we cannot make them Christians. God only seeks the sacrifices that come from a contrite heart, not a coerced one.

If dissenters prove resolute in the face of persecution and are willing to suffer boldly for what they believe to be right, this often leads to commendation of the sufferers and not the persecutors. This was the experience of early Friends and their sufferings led to the establishment of religious toleration in England and the United States. This principle is the underpinnings of all non-violent resistance. It underlay Gandhi's struggle for independence in India and it lay at the American civil rights movement. It is a practical application of the same sacrificial suffering the Jesus exemplified in his crucifixion. In fact Barclay finds the ground of all persecution to be the unwillingness to suffer. “No man that will persecute another for his conscience would suffer for his own, if he could avoid it.” True, faithful Christian suffering is to profess and practice what one believes to be true, no more and no less, in the face of either outward encouragement or the threat of persecution. This was the witness of Quakers who kept to their meetings even when they were banned and disrupted.

Barclay describes the persecutions that Quakers endured and sums up:

What liberty we now enjoy, it is by his mercy, and not by any outward working or procuring of our own, but 'tis he has wrought upon the hearts of our opposers; nor was it any outward interest hath procured it unto us, but the testimony of our harmlessness in the hearts of our superiors: for God hath preserved us hitherto in the patient sufferings of Jesus...
[Apology, Proposition 14, Section VI]

Blessings to all

Will T

Monday, June 02, 2008

Concerning Communion

The communion of the body and blood of Christ is inward and spiritual, which is the participation of his flesh and blood, by which the inward man is daily nourished in the hearts of those in whom Christ dwells; of which things the breaking of bread by Christ with his disciples was a figure, which they even used in the church for a time, who had received the substance, for the cause of the weak; even as "abstaining from things strangled, and from blood;" the washing one another's feet, and the anointing of the sick with oil; all which are commanded with no less authority and solemnity than the former; yet seeing they are but the shadows of better things, they cease in such as have obtained the substance.
[Proposition 13]

These two propositions, the one on baptism and this on communion are ones that I have not thought a lot about. When I have given workshops on Barclay I have focused on the ones dealing with the spiritual journey – the saving light through perfection – because they were the areas that were of most interest to me. This approach also seemed to make them more accessible to others. Having been raised a Quaker, baptism and communion did not come up much unless I was visiting another church when they were having a communion service.

As a result I had a rather simplistic view of what baptism and communion meant. I thought of baptism as some sort of initiation ritual and communion was a celebration of community. Both of these were really notions formed by the outward practices I had seen around me. This illustrates just how hard it is to see through these outward things to the inward reality that early Friends were pointing to.

Communion is the inner nourishment of the soul. The outward ritual represents this nourishment but is not the spiritual sustenance. Once the inward reality is known, the ritual is no longer needed. This is how Barclay describes communion:

Quest. If it be asked then what that body, what that flesh and blood is?
Answ. I answer, it is that heavenly Seed, that divine, spiritual, celestial Substance, of which we spake before, in the Fifth and Sixth Propositions. This is that vehiculum Dei, or spiritual body of Christ, whereby and wherethrough he communicateth life to man, and salvation "to as many as believe in him," and "receive him," and whereby also man comes to have fellowship and communion with God.
[Apology, Proposition 13, Section II]

So the body and blood of Christ is the Divine Seed within us. It is what modern liberal Friends so tepidly call “that of God within everyone.” But it is so much more. It is the root and source of our being and the source of our spiritual nourishment.

[T]hat this body and spiritual flesh and blood of Christ is to be understood of that divine and heavenly Seed, before spoken of by us, appears both by the nature and fruits of it: first, it's said, "it is that, which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world": now, this answers to that Light and Seed, which is testified of (John 1) to be the "Light of the world," and the "Life of men." For that spiritual Light and Seed, as it receives place in men's hearts, and room to spring up there, is as bread to the hungry and fainting soul, that is, as it were, buried and dead in the lusts of the world, which receives life again, and revives, as it tasteth and partaketh of this heavenly bread; and they that partake of it are said to come to Christ; neither can any have it but by coming to him, and believing in the appearance of his Light in their hearts, by receiving which, and believing in it, the participation of this body and bread is known.
[Apology, Proposition 13, Section II]

So if baptism is the negative aspect of the washing and purifying action of God within us, communion is the positive aspect of the growth of the Seed and the Light within us. If the body and blood are that Seed and that Light, then our communion happens as we take that into ourselves and understand it and absorb it into our beings.

So that the supper of the Lord, and the supping with the Lord, and partaking of his flesh and blood is no ways limited to the ceremony of breaking bread, and drinking wine at particular times; but is truly and really enjoyed, as often as the soul retires into the Light of the Lord, and feels and partakes of that heavenly Life, by which the inward man is nourished, which may be, and is often witnessed by the faithful at all times, though more particularly, when they are assembled together to wait upon the Lord.
[Apology, Propostion 13, Section III]

Barclay has much to say about the nature of the outward observances of baptism and communion and why neither outward ceremony are required of Christians but I am not going to go into them in detail here. The gist is that it is the inward baptism and communion that is required and not the outward. The outward forms were never commanded as a rule for all time. There are other rituals such as the washing of the feet that are commanded much more explicitly than either baptism or communion yet, on the whole, the church chooses not to require that ritual. I recognize that this is an area that has been an area of discussion in certain yearly meetings lately. For anyone involved in those discussions I commend propositions 12 and 13 to your study.

Blessings to all.

Will T