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, December 30, 2010

That of God in Everyone

The phrase “that of God in everyone” has become commonplace among Friends but it is not always clear what it is referring to. In fact, it has become one of those phrases that seems to hide as much as it reveals. I am never sure what people mean when they use it. Do they think that there is some sort of spiritual organ inside us like the islands of Langerhans? Is it something fully formed in all of us, or just a potential? Is it one of those phrases that we use that has lost all meaning? I tend to think of it as a phrase used by modern Friends as shorthand for some nebulous concept that they would prefer not to examine too carefully, either for fear of fracturing our unity or just because they have never thought about it much.

This fall I have been reading Volume IV of the Works of James Nayler from the Quaker Heritage Press. This volume contains his writings roughly from his trial for blasphemy until his death. One of the things that I noticed was his use of the phrase “that of God in every man.” I don't recall seeing it in his earlier works but it kept showing up in his later writings. In his tract A Door Opened to the Imprisoned Seed in the World I found a section headed Grace received, and Grace rejected which seemed to describe what he meant by that phrase. I want to examine this in the hope that this might be useful to Friends.

The grace of God is that which brings salvation to man, all men being natural darkness, as they are in the world without God, so the grace of God is tendered to all without respect of persons. And that's it in every man which gives him a sight of truth in himself, which truth God by his grace accepts in every man, who would have all men to come to the knowledge thereof that they might be saved. Now this grace in itself is one in every man and is of God in every man...

Here Nayler is equating, that of God in everyone with the grace of God and that this is what brings all people to salvation. One of the things that I think is important to note is that the grace is the same in all people. This is the basis of Quaker Universalism. This grace is available to all and the same grace is available regardless of the words that they use to formulate their understanding of God or the spiritual life. But note also, that it says that there is only one grace. It is not that we each have our own grace, that somehow they are different but of equal value. There is no relativism here. There is one grace here and it is the same grace in every person. This is not cheap grace and it is not anything goes. It is not everyone can believe what they want. There is one grace, one voice, that is present in everyone. This voice, if listened to and followed will lead us to God. We may have different words or understandings about this voice. These are not important. What is important is the obedience. This does mean that our communities are required to do the careful listening and discerning with each other to see when we are using different words to refer to the same thing and when we are using the same words to refer to different things. This is not easy to do and requires a lot of humility, listening and trust to achieve.

The second thing to notice is that this grace is from God. It is not something that we can lay claim to. It does not, by itself give us any claim to being better than anyone else. It is not something peculiar to Quakers. In fact, the natural state of all is to be in darkness and without God. This initial state of darkness does not need to imply some state of Original Sin or that we are somehow guilty or sinful. (I do realize that there are Christians who do believe in Original Sin and in the fundamental guilt of mankind. I also know that there are many people who have been wounded by that theology. Robert Barclay was clear about denying an inherent sinfulness of mankind, but that we all became sinful as we united with sin in our actions.) It does recognize that we all begin our spiritual journeys by looking for God. If we are looking for God and the Light, we must be in darkness and without God. We would not be looking otherwise. There does not have to be condemnation here. It is just the way it is and we are. Babies are born helpless and unable to move about. There is no blame in this, this is just the starting point of their physical development. Likewise, our sense of the separation from God is the starting point for our spiritual development. It is only by the grace that God has placed in us that we can see the truth in ourselves. God would have us all accept this grace and see that truth in ourselves but it is our choice. It is this grace that comes from God that is “that of God within us.” It is important for us to remain clear that this voice of God within us is not of ourselves in any way. There is always the temptation of pride to claim this voice for ourselves, as if we can control it or posses it. This is setting ourselves in the place of God and we must always be vigilant against this.

So that is the grace of God which is of God in man, ministering in Spirit light to the soul in the midst of darkness, ministering life to that which is dead in sin, leading that through the vale of death up to God from whom the grace hath appeared, and of whom it is; and the light thereof is judgment and discerning in everyone that receives it to be led with it in judgment, and condemnation to such as turn it into lasciviousness, denying the life thereof and the truth that leads thereto, and so cannot be saved through it, but he that receives it and joins to it in Spirit becomes one with it, and by his daily sinking into it in counsel it grows in him and he in it, until it becomes a habitation and cover for him against all evil, and so he becomes gracious in words and works, daily receiving grace for grace, of his fullness.

That of God is that which will guide us if we receive it and join with it but becomes our condemnation if we reject it or use it as a cover for following our own wills and if we deny within ourselves the life and truth given to us by grace. Understood this way, “that of God within everyone” is not a safe and soothing concept. It is great strength hidden within meekness and humility and it drives everyone to make a choice as to whether to unite with it and come to transformation and the life of the Spirit or to reject it and with that rejection a rejection of the fullness of life.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Blessings to all

Will T

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Blogger Jami Hart said...

This is the best description since John Woolman wrote:

"There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion, nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren"

December 30, 2010 7:46 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I haven't read these writings, and don't know what is elsewhere, but in your excerpts from them he does not use the phrase "that of God in every man" nor is the wording he uses equivalent.

He rather writes of "the grace of God which is of God in man" which is significantly different. This phrase is not as easy to distort as the modern Quaker phraseology.

December 30, 2010 9:13 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

"There is one grace, one voice, that is present in everyone. This voice, if listened to and followed will lead us to God.
We may have different words or understandings about this voice. These are not important. What is important is the obedience."
Will T you continue through your writing to capture essences of Quakerism.
I am a little confused. You said,"This voice,if listened to and followed will lead us to God."Isn't the voice God?

December 31, 2010 12:52 AM  
Blogger RantWoman said...

A group from our Meeting has been working our way through Barclay's Apology.

There are some conceptual nuances that others also might find it interesting to think through. I am posting this note here as aprompt because I may not get any looking up passages done very soon.

1. Barclay's whole concept that, paraphrasing, what matters is that the word of God is alive within, not just outward words.

2. Barclay's concept of the Inner Light in Props 5 and 6.

It seems like the Barclay and Naylor concepts get conflated a lot in modern usage but I wonder if that misses something.

December 31, 2010 12:59 AM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

"Robert Barclay was clear about denying an inherent sinfulness of mankind, but that we all became sinful as we united with sin in our actions."

Interesting--and news to me. (I'm afraid Barclay has defeated me thus far.)

Anyone who has ever worked, as I have on occasion, with an apprehended pedophile, will know that it is quite possible to become united with what Barclay terms sin... I have sat with one man I have always vividly remembered, as his wife and mother huddled up against him in the emergency room, and the victim of his abuse sat apart from the little family grouping, unregarded and miserable.

It was my job to assess him for his suicide risk, which was not remote. On the other hand, as his trial date loomed, he was clearly anxious to establish an insanity defense for his acts.

My sense that night was that his psyche was layered like an onion, with a simulation of a wounded child worn outward, to drink up the pity and comfort of his family and (if he could draw me in) of me and any other counselor he could find.

But any pity or comfort that was given to that outward, false child went to feed the creature who was the next onion layer down: the manipulative, heedless abuser.

It is significant that neither he nor any other member of the family group spared so much as a glance for the victim, right there in the room with them.

Sadly, the next layer down was a wounded child--that central core of the perpetrator, who really was in terrible pain and in need of comfort. But I had no way of reaching that child, any more than I did of undoing the crimes with which the man had united.

I can hope that there was a Light that eventually pierced that darkness. Sometimes we humans are lucky enough to be in a place where we can aid that Light, at least a little; I was not in that place that night.

That thing that allows us to look clearly into the mirror, to see through the layers of pretense and self-deception that have allowed us to refuse the Truth we have always, on some level, known... call it grace or that of God, I don't care. I just know that, like water into basements, Spirit has a way of breaking in to the most cramped and unlikely places. I'm glad of it.

Like the ship's captain behind the song "Amazing Grace," it is something to be grateful for, every time we get to see the ways we've been wrong, and turn our ships around.

December 31, 2010 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is "that of God in everyone" Quakerese for what theologians call "prevenient grace"?

December 31, 2010 1:42 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Prevenient grace;
The United Methodist Book of Discipline (2004) defines prevenient grace as "...the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God's will, and our 'first slight transient conviction' of having sinned against God. God's grace also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death and moves us toward repentance and faith.

Reading this description I was totally blown away!
I found myself in complete unity with United Methodists on this doctrine.

That of God in everyone-prevenient grace,same message just two different ways of explaining transformative power of Love.

"This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God's will, and our 'first slight transient conviction"

December 31, 2010 8:56 PM  
Blogger forrest said...

It is not the same as our wills, nor is it anything we can claim; rather we need to allow it to claim us.

For it is the only thing real in us; we could not exist for one instant if it were not as much a part of us as the blind spot in our eye-- though equally invisible, right in the center of our vision where the effort to look defeats itself.

I know this from the whole teaching of God throughout my life, from inside and out-- and yet this "knowing" is as elusive as defining "word" without a word. The more I think I've "got" it, the more I see that I am still the slave of myself... and yet God continues to pull me truthward from within my very falsity.

Theology is helping you see certain things about God, but by blinding you to God's immanent reality, it also works like those Pharisees Jesus accused of "standing in the door and blocking anyone else from entering."

January 01, 2011 5:15 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Yes,we need to allow it to claim us. God doesn't wait until we shape up before God is graciously working in our lives. That of God in everyone or what the Methodists call prevenient/preceding grace awakens our hearts particularly in worship to that fact that we are not alone.

T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.

Psalm 139
God, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. 19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! 20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? 22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

January 01, 2011 2:31 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Bill, I perhaps wasn't clear in that I wasn't claiming that Nayler had used the phrase "that of God in everyone" here. I was meaning to say that I felt that this section of his writings explicated what he meant by "that of God" when he referred to it elsewhere. In a quick look back I see that Nayler used the phrase "that of God" in a number of his writings from this time, but never "that of God in every man." The closest he comes to it is "that of God in every conscience."

I do need an editor at times. The voice may be from God. Is it God? I don't know. Even if it is, what it leads us to is a fuller experience of God. So yes, God leads us to God.

And thank you for answering the question about prevenient grace because I was unfamiliar with the term until I read the discussion here. Wesley was influenced by Barclay so it is not surprising that there should be strong Quaker tones in Methodist theology.

Rant Woman,
There was much more consistency among early Friends than is true today. The early leaders all knew each other and were in communication with each other so this is not a surprise. Barclay was not writing new theology. He was using his theological training to make a coherent statement of Quaker beliefs based on what he had learned from others. Barclay did not become a Quaker until after Nayler's death but would expect that Barclay was familiar with Nayler's writings.

Cat, Thank you for your testimony. And I do hope that some day you can make it through Barclay. His discussion of original sin is in Proposition 4.

Will T

January 01, 2011 5:52 PM  

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