From Whom Life Comes

Five Friends gathered on the morning of First month, the 9th, to read and discuss pages 372-377 in volume 1 of The Works of George Fox (1831). These journal entries from 1658 record two situations to which Fox responded: (1) a Jesuit’s holding forth an erroneous ecclesiology, and (2) an acquaintance’s troubled inward condition.

In the first piece of writing, Fox challenges the Jesuit to defend the church of Rome from the Quaker charge that it was “degenerated from the true church which was in the primitive times, from the life and doctrine, and from the power and spirit [the apostles] were in” (372). Our discussion begins at 19:30 in the recording by contrasting some Catholic ideas and practices with those of Quakers. The discussion moves to a comparison of the Quaker’s and Jesuit’s use of logic, and how the presence of Truth affects their argument’s outcome (26:55). From there, we share thoughts on the right relationship between reason and the spirit of Christ (36:00).

In the second part of our discussion, we look at Fox’s advice to lady Claypool who had made known to others her troubled state of mind. In this letter to Claypool, Fox advises her to still her mind and “be stayed in the principle of God,” which had been transgressed within. Among ourselves, we agreed that Fox’s direction for overcoming sin and transgression was a principle we had individually found to be valid, whether the troubling transgression was observed to be within ourselves, or whether it was seen to be manifested in others. References to the insurrection that had occurred at our nation’s Capitol a few days earlier filtered into our discussion. Having broadened our conversation to include transgression witnessed in others, we were led to consider the nature and meaning of the doctrine Christ takes away the sin of the world, as stated in John 1:29:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

The recording has been lightly edited to remove pauses between speakers.

New Foundation Fellowship discussion 1/9/21
Melencolia 1, 1514 Durer

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Live in the Life

Our New Foundation Fellowship study group met on December 20th to discuss George Fox’s epistle 39, which can be found in The Works of George Fox (1831) on pages 48-49 of volume 7. Fox wrote this short epistle in 1653 to Friends in the north of England, and in it he offers encouragement to keep in the spirit of the living God. The epistle draws attention to the many benefits that accrue from continuing in this spirit: Friends will have dominion over earthly spirits, will know one another, enjoy the Lord’s presence, rightfully judge all that is contrary, receive wisdom, be preserved pure, be ordered to the glory of the Lord, and come to see the lamb of salvation.

Four participated in the discussion that begins with the observation that there are many references in this epistle to the living God; the words “living” and “life” appear frequently. The discussion moves into an exploration of the meaning of the words “believe” and “God” (4:50), and from there to “trust” and “obey” (noting the Greek etymology of the word “believe”). Then set forth is a theory that to be human (10:25) is to be righteously obedient to God. There follows an illustration and discussion of the inward sense of “an abundance of life” (13:25), and the dynamic of moving toward God is affirmed as entering joyful fulfillment. That this life is “the main thing” in Quaker faith, and yet unknown in most Quaker communities, is asserted (28:50), and this observation draws forth some thoughts on obstacles found in meeting communities that inhibit the finding of faith, which the human heart longs for in every age (31:27). A recounting of the end of Stephen Crisp’s tale “A Short History of a Long Travel from Babylon to Bethel” (44:35) underscores the paradox that coming into the faith entails both loss and gain. The discussion nears its end with some thoughts on faith and a reference to Hebrews 11:1.

NFF study 12/20/20
Christ Risen from the Tomb, c.1490 Bergognone

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Things New and Old

Every one feeling the danger to his own particular in travelling abroad, there the pure fear of the Lord will be placed and kept in. Though they that travel may have openings when they are abroad, to minister to others; yet, for their own particular growth, they must dwell in the life which doth open; and that will keep down that which would boast.

The Works of George Fox (1831), 1:368

New Foundation Fellowship’s monthly study of Fox’s journal took place on the morning of the 12th, with five participating. We began on page 366 of volume 1 and read to the bottom of page 371. This passage is from an epistle written to Friends in which Fox addresses spiritual problems ministers might encounter as they travelled in their work among the worldly. Fox lists a number of particular errors that could arise and cautions the minister to be aware of them; to know and feel his own spirit; and thus to counteract the world’s effect upon him, that he may dwell in the life that undergirds his service.

Following the reading of the passage, our discussion begins at 22:21 in the recording, and centers on what constitutes the rightly ordered inward state of the minister as he encounters and speaks to the worldly. A contrast of two distinct inward sources and types of ministry – natural and godly – begins at 23:05; how the minister’s condition is undergirded by life in Christ is discussed beginning at 34:07; how gospel ministry differs from other kinds of preaching is at 43:35; and a personal reflection on ministering to the world, and the feelings that can arise begins at 46:30.

The recording has been edited to reduce the silent time between speakers. Matthew 13:52 is the Bible verse I was attempting to recall:    

Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old (Mt. 13:52).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Approaches to Ministry

The evening of November 15th, seven Friends met via Zoom to participate in a New Foundation Fellowship study group. We read and discussed the final section of George Fox’s Epistle 38, which can be found on pages 46—48 of volume 7 of The Works of George Fox (1831).

In these few pages, Fox challenges the unrighteous teachers of his time and their enablers by censuring them with language drawn from prophecy recorded in Scripture. Our discussion of Fox’s method and intent begins at 9:30 in the recording, and thereafter we move into the more general topic of present-day ministry: the circumstances in which we work and some particular attitudes and approaches that have been found to be beneficial.

Though the “letter” of Fox’s approach cannot – nor should not – be replicated today, the impetus for his ministry, the guiding Spirit of Christ Within, remains unchanged throughout every age.

The recording has been edited to minimize the time between speakers, and is close to 47 minutes long. 

NFF Fox epistle study

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sit Down in the Heavenly Places

This post features a recording of our monthly New Foundation Fellowship study of George Fox’s journal from volume 1 of the publication The Works of George Fox (1831). Five of us participated in last Saturday’s study, picking up on page 363 where we left off last month, and covering the next few pages to end on page 366.

This month’s discussion centered on ministry given by Fox at a yearly meeting in Bedfordshire, England in 1657. Specifically, much of our study focuses on Fox’s figurative term “to sit down”: meaning to settle upon a foundation or authority that decides or resolves one’s way of being. On page 365, seven options for sitting down are given by Fox. The first six describe faulty orientations and the problems that result with each erroneous choice. The list culminates in the seventh option: “[to] sit down in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . .the safe sitting for all his elect, his church.” The reading of this passage begins at 6:39 in the recording, and its discussion starts at 16:40.

Occurring throughout our discussion are references to the role anxiety plays in moving us toward or away from resolution. We look at a passage in Luke for an illustration of our tradition’s calling forth the tension and discomfort that accompanies anxiety, and examine its intended beneficial effect. Through a personal story of a revelation from God (at 26:54), we are given an example of anxiety initially posing an obstacle to resolution.  

The Church being comprised of those who sit down in Christ Jesus is also discussed, beginning at 41:22.

(This post was first published on the 10th; since then, the audio file has been edited to eliminate the long pauses between speakers. As a result, the recording is now slightly more than half its former length.)  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Spirit and in Truth

This past Saturday, the 10th, we had our monthly New Foundation Fellowship Zoom meeting for reading and discussing Fox’s Journal. The reading at the beginning of the recording is from The Works of George Fox (1831) volume one, pages 358-63. The video will be available only until mid-day Sunday, the 18th, when we will need to make space on our Zoom account for our next Fox study session. An audio file will replace the video on Monday, the 19th. The session is one hour and 15 minutes long.

The passage we looked at on Saturday begins with Fox describing his encounters in Scotland in 1657. Particularly interesting is his recounting his ministry at the steeplehouse in Dunbar (360-1). The passage can be heard beginning around 8:50 minutes into the recording, and discussion on the nature of gospel ministry begins shortly after 24:15 minutes.

The topic of the what makes a gospel minister is taken up by Fox after his encounter in Durham with a man who intended to set up a college to make ministers. This passage occurs on pages 362-3, and 14:17 minutes into the recording. Our discussion on this topic begins around 35:00 minutes. Woven throughout this session is the contrast between the “religion of man’s making” and “the religion and worship which Christ had set up in spirit and truth” (361).

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dialogue on the Import of Covenants

The following is a transcript of an email discussion that took place in mid-July with Ryan Hodges, a Christian from British Colombia. This is the second part of a two-part post; the first part, presented last month, looked at the apparent discord between depictions of God’s Will in Old Testament stories and the character normally attributed to Him. Continuing with the same topic of God’s nature and intent, this second discussion  centers on covenants. 

Ryan’s July 17th email continues:

I am uncomfortable with the idea of “ministrations”, or as the rest of Christendom calls them: dispensations. This is what is always claimed about the genocidal stories of the Old Testament: “that was a different dispensation (ministration); God doesn’t deal with people in that way anymore. God wouldn’t ask us to commit genocide these days”.  I cannot reconcile that idea with an unchanging God. This idea of dispensations (I believe) comes from a misunderstanding of the concept of a “New Covenant”. The idea of a new vs. old covenant was something that could be relevant to Jews in the time of Jesus/Paul, because they had actually lived under the Sinai covenant. Gentiles such as us were never under such a covenant. It seems nonsensical to me that Christians say, “we aren’t under the law anymore”, when we, nor our forefathers ever did live under such a law/old covenant. All we have ever had the option of, was the covenant as we have been offered through Jesus. How does “being under the law” mean anything to us gentiles?  “New” in the Hebrew language holds the meaning of “fresh/vital” in it, it is not strictly and exclusively used as something that must be juxtaposed with something old. I think this is one of the jumping off points of getting into the whole “dispensations/ministrations” idea. It’s ok in a certain sense for Jews of Jesus day, to discuss the Old vs. New covenants, but for a gentile? I can’t see the sense in that.

Patricia writes:

You say you cannot reconcile the idea of different dispensations with “an unchanging God.” God doesn’t change his nature or intent; time, however, is the medium of change, and we, His creatures who inhabit time, manifest different/changing situations. God’s response to these situations will vary to the effect that His one unchanging intent is furthered and met: the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

As for what does “being under the law” mean to us gentiles, I can think of a couple of things. First, in my Protestant religious training, the ten commandments were studied as God’s law, which we were to follow. Second, the idea of the authority of law is a hallmark of western civilization, and it can be traced back to the sacred authority allotted to God’s law as given to the Hebrews. Other societies had authoritarian strong men (such as Egypt’s Pharaoh) who ruled as they pleased with no authority (law) higher than themselves. This arrangement is typical not only of societies but also individuals where “the man of sin. . . sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:3-4). Our civilization is one that recognizes the value of and is therefore regulated by law: international, national, state or province, and local. We all know what it means to be subject to law, and we get that principle from the Hebrews. So, when we get something new—something beyond the outward, socio-political law—to regulate our lives, we contrast the new way with the old way of obedience to the law. We know the old way of regulation – laws and principles – and when we are given the Christ, the living law in the heart, we know that this is the new and living way.

The fresh/vital covenant is not something I see as initiated by Jesus, but he was a proponent of it. Adam had at least an opportunity to embrace it. Cain was counselled by God to embrace it. Enoch walked in it. Abraham found it “coming to the mountain on the third day”. Melchizedek seems to have been a priest in its ways. David wrote songs extolling its virtues. The prophets felt it, possibly walked in it, and encouraged others to embrace it. I don’t see this fresh/vital covenant as exclusively appearing after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Christ is the new covenant, meaning he mediates the relationship between God and His people. Jesus Christ is not a time-bound, worldly creature, such as is the unredeemed man who is the first Adam; Christ is the second Adam: not man but the Son of man; his life is not time-bound but is eternal. He asserts this difference when he says to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58). Yet, as a Galilean, he was also within time and ministering to the unredeemed, time-bound creatures around him that they might know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, which is eternal life (17:3). In his time-bound (historical) existence, he exemplifies our being which can (like his own) transcend our captivity within time (and thus subjection to death) and enter into the freedom of the eternal, while we yet are on earth. Hebrew prophets knew of this being who would appear in time and mediate between the natural, time-bound nature and the eternal; yet although they had borne witness to the Light, they were not that Light (Jn.1:7-9, Deut.18:15). They had not claimed that they and the Father were one, nor that we could be one with the Father as he was one with the Father (Jn. 17:21). We, too, are one with the Father through Christ, our mediator, just as two parties in a covenant figuratively become one.  

What was Jesus, while walking on this earth in the flesh, encouraging people to embrace in that “here and now” 2000 years ago? When he says in John:

 John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

 He doesn’t say they “will have” eternal life. He says they do have it, he doesn’t say they “will not” come into judgement, but that they “do not” come into judgement, he doesn’t say they “will pass” from death into life, but that they “have passed” from death into life. He didn’t say these things as impending promises to be ratified after his death and resurrection and coming in spirit, he speaks of these things as present realities at the moment he spoke them. Why is this? As I understand it, it is because the “new” in the “new covenant” should not be understood as “new vs. old” but it should be understood as “fresh/vital”.

He also states: “All who have learned from God, come to me.” And “If you had known God you would have known me.” Do we put the cart in front of the horse in saying we must know Jesus in order to know God? Isn’t Jesus’ point this: All who know what God is like will recognize me as coming from that God that they have already come to have known in some way? This “coming to have known God in some way”, I see has only taken place through the power of God’s ultimate covenant, his speaking directly to the heart of the individual.

I agree that “that which may be known of God is manifest in [us] for God hath shewed it unto [us]” (Rom. 1:19) and think the same idea is present in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The thing that is often left out of these Old/New covenant discussions is the covenant that God made with Abraham, the covenant “of the pieces” in Genesis 15, this is God’s covenant of promise to Abraham in which he blesses Abraham’s descendants. This is the covenant promise that Paul speaks of, and of which Paul states that the “law” coming in 430 years later, cannot annul. In this sense the Sinai “covenant” is not truly the “first covenant” and it is not the covenant of God that he holds with the “faithful”. The law is not of faith, those who followed the law were to have life in keeping the commandments of that law, but that in no way abrogates the earlier covenant of promise made to Abraham and his “faith descendants”. Faith was a concept clarified in the life of Abraham, so he was the model of faith for those who would come after him, that does not mean that God’s covenant with those of faith did not exist before that time. I think Enoch is a perfect example of this “faith/new/fresh/vital covenant”. He walked with God, that’s it, that is all we know. And through walking with God, “he was not, for God took him.” Is this not what we are talking about when we talk about the cross? “losing your life to find it”? “taking up your cross and following”? Is this not the beating heart of the New Covenant as Jesus taught it?

In the end I will mention that the Concept of the New Covenant as is understood by Catholics, Protestants, and Quakers alike, is strongly influenced by the “letter to the Hebrews”, and that this letter has a long history of being of questionable reliability in church history. “should it be included in the cannon?”, “are the concepts included in it worthy of the greater vision of scriptures?” That isn’t to say that there are not worthy ideas in it, but I believe that if it preaches a unique idea that is difficult to fit with the rest of the scriptures, that unique idea should be held under close scrutiny.

Let’s work on the question about Hebrews another time.

What Jeremiah identifies as the new covenant to come is the Lord’s putting his law in the inward parts, and writing it in their hearts (31:33). It is a relationship that is characterized by subjection to the Lord our Righteousness. Some willingly subject themselves to the inwardly known right and true, such as Abraham and other prophets (and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness [Mt.5:6]), and thus heed the drawings of the holy Spirit (Jn. 6:44); most do not. In John 21:20, the beloved disciple, John, is shown to have sought out the truth of his inward state, and thereby had subjected himself to the truth in the inward parts; whereas Peter in this chapter is shown to have needed some discipline, and was reminded several times that his actions/character weren’t acceptable. (For more explanation of this comparison of John and Peter, see the next to the last segment (titled “Preparation for the Work of Restoration”) in my essay To Stand Still in the Light).

When Jesus says “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32), he is anticipating the effect his dying upon the cross will have upon humanity. The historical cross is an example of man’s obedience to God’s intent/command, even unto the death. Through example, Jesus models to unredeemed man the necessity of obedience to God, and thereby the necessity of crucifying the worldly, self-serving life. As a visible act in history, the cross teaches us by example in a way that words might not. Some – the prophets and seers of all ages and places – already have known the inward process, the dying to the self that precedes receiving faith. But Jesus wasn’t interested in just a few; the Father’s Will was that “all men” (Ibid.) be drawn unto Christ Jesus and into his kingdom. Therefore, obedience unto death, and resurrection to new life, was enacted, and thus, as a figure or type of the inward process, shows the way to all.

These are very difficult ideas to express. I think the closer one keeps to the inward experience of what all the imagery and history portends, the more accurate one’s ideas can be. I hope my explanations have reached a place of understanding in you, as they may require as much effort on your part as they have on mine. 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dialogue on Old Testament Stories

This post is a transcription of an email discussion that took place in mid-July with Ryan Hodges, a Christian from British Columbia who has been dissatisfied with nominal Christianity, and recently come across the writings of Quakers. In the following post, Ryan asks for information on early Friends position on the validity of the Old Testament atrocity stories, as he’s found the way God is represented in those stories to be not in keeping with his understanding of God’s character. A large portion of the second email exchange – which will be posted next week – will focus on particular thoughts about the relationship between God and man as represented in Scripture writings on covenants.

Thanks to Ryan for bringing up these ideas and also for his integrity of mind, which requires a seeking below the surface of doctrine for the reality of faith.  

July 13th email from Ryan:  

Do you believe that God commanded people to kill other people… ever? When David says, “Blessed is the one who bashes the brains out of Edomite infants” (Psalm 137), do you believe that he was inspired of God to say this? I cannot see this as possible, my spirit recoils at the idea. Yet, murder and violence towards enemies is deeply embedded in the Old Testament narrative, and not just that people did it, but that the text specifically and often says God told them to do it. To say that this was somehow preparatory for the New Covenant, is to say that people “did evil, so that good may come.” As of this point in time, I cannot swallow that idea. The same people that said, “God gave us this cultus to follow”, also said “God often told us to commit genocide.” Why should I trust such voices? Did the Prophets ever specifically endorse the cultus? I am not aware that they did. On the other hand, there seems like much evidence to suppose that they could have been “anti-cultus” altogether. This is a preliminary question for me in reading up to page 16 in Benson’s “The Antipathy Between Prophecy and Religion”. I would like to hear your thoughts, or any other Quaker resources you may recommend that discuss this issue.

Patricia answered:

Ryan, in your July 13th email, you wrote: “Do you believe that God commanded people to kill other people. . . ever”? 

What early Friends ultimately sought in their reading of Scriptures was not lessons in history or ethics; what they found was information pertaining to God’s nature and intention, as well as types, figures, and shadows that articulated the righteousness they were to embody and the sin they were to shun.

What does God’s command “to kill other people” signify about God’s intent and nature? One, it signifies God does not tolerate idolatry in people, and one had better “kill” whatever idolatry exists in one’s own self, as formerly idolators were literally killed; two, if one chooses to persist in idolatry, God will not allow the soul to live; three, this life or death of the soul is a highly serious matter for human beings; four, the life of the body is not God’s primary consideration but the life of the soul and what it worships. No doubt there are other lessons too. I’m just trying to show that Friends did not confine their interpretation to the literal meaning; their use of Scripture entailed more. 

I saw death reigned over them from Adam to Moses, from the entrance into transgression till they came to the ministration of condemnation, which restrains people from sin that brings death. Then, when the ministration of Moses is passed through, the ministry of the prophets comes to be read and understood, which reaches through the figures, types and shadows unto John, the greatest prophet born of woman; whose ministration prepares the way of the Lord by bringing down the exalted mountains and making straight paths. And as this ministration is passed through, an entrance comes to be known into the everlasting kingdom [Journal,  Nickalls, 31].

Here is a passage taken from Fox’s journal, showing salvation history through time. Friends held that this grand-scale history was to be gone through by each person. I wrote more about moving beyond literal interpretation in an essay titled That They All May Be One.  That said, it was also Friends understanding that Scriptures could not be read and understood except in the spirit in which they were written, which underscores Christ’s admonition to seek first the kingdom and righteousnesss, and all things else will be given as well. 

A few days later Ryan responded:

In reading your email and your attached blog post (which I really enjoyed), I have this to respond with:

 “What early Friends ultimately sought in their reading of Scriptures was not lessons in history or ethics”;

So what was their take on the historical validity of the stories themselves? Doubtful? Possible? Accurate? Why do I ask this? Because I wonder if it is acceptable to use stories of genocide, even symbolically, to express the nature of God’s action in the world, or in the heart. It is fine not to take the stories “merely” as history, but should we not question whether the stories are historically possible with what we understand to be the character of God?

I have no recollection of reading that any of the early Friends thought that the Old Testament atrocity stories were anything but accurate. I don’t find them contrary to what I understand to be the nature of God to move humanity incrementally forward over the millenia from a condition that is brutal, violent, and lawless, and into the kingdom. There is great variation in the readiness to receive Christ among individual souls; God takes figuratively withered, cast forth branches and consigns them to the figurative fire (Jn. 15:6), or the Flood. Matthew 10:28 illustrates where the concern of God and His Christ is placed:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

rembrandt-moses-gesetzestafel

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Review of Friends Library Website

Friends Library is a recently launched website that is dedicated to the “the preservation and free distribution of early Quaker writings.” At present, 106 books are available for free download in multiple editions and digital formats with a number also recorded as audio books.

Short essays describe the rise of Quakers in the 17th century and clarify some key concepts, such as the Light Within and perfection; practices, such as customs, language, and silent meetings; and circumstances, such as the persecution they endured.

Publications are available in different editions: original, unedited; modernized; and updated. Characteristics of each form are identified, and examples are provided to assist the reader in choosing which edition is most suitable for him- or herself.

There is a Spanish version of the site, and currently 14 books have been translated.

The website is attractive and easy to use with clear instructions at every turn. Friends Library promises to be a major resource for familiarizing oneself with and accessing this valuable material.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

April 2020

It’s good to see
Spring doesn’t stop
When confronted by Man’s
Adversity.

It’s good to feel
The fullness of life
When reminded of our
Fragility.

It’s good to know
The goodness of God
When taken aback by
Necessity.

mud_season_snow-500x375
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment