A Colony of Heaven

Last December in his blog Can you believe? Johan Maurer offered an opportunity to voice one’s thoughts on what constitutes a faith community through taking a survey he’d composed titled “Building a Trustworthy Church.” It can be found here.  In this survey, participants were asked to describe their experience of trustworthiness (or its lack) in religious communities they’d been part of, and also to rate the importance of particular qualities or features for sustaining a trustworthy religious community. The survey included questions on the nature of leadership, culture, education, and finance.

Participants were also asked to envision “qualities or features [that] would be most important to include in any congregation [they] might consider joining.” As I began to write my response to this particular question, I found more and more ideas tumbling forward, and upon completing my answer, noticed myself re-visiting the long-ago feeling of being six-years-old and having finished my Christmas list! Here’s my list of the features and qualities:

The primary feature would be a genuine knowledge of God and Christ. I’d want to see some effort had been given to studying Scripture and early Friends writings, additionally contemporary writers who have studied these original resources and written sensibly about their findings. I’d want to see good character, not only in major issues such as marital fidelity but in minor day-to-day behaviors, such as not monopolizing conversations or podium time, etc. In short, I’d want to see some self-awareness and discipline counteracting the fallen nature’s tendency to self-aggrandizement. I’d like to see a creative, personal approach to worship and socializing: the house church where each brings a psalm or prayer, and worshipers gather around a table to share and joyfully have a meal together sounds like an ideal. I’d like to see true friendliness and concern about one another’s lives. I’d like to feel that the group was truly the body of Christ, a colony of heaven. I’d like to hear others minister the Word of God.

There is in every culture a germ or seed of origin that determines its form and function. In time, too many accretions burden the entity; distort its function; and cause it to fail, to die, leaving behind a hollow shell of what once lived. Prophets call us to honor and return to the source, the living seed, and not to worship the cultural casing that once held its outgrowth. George Fox here recalls the small beginning of the church in apostles’ time when they

said, “pray every where;” who met together in their several houses, and went from house to house. Acts 2. 46. And this was the practice of the church in the primitive times, which we observe, who were to edify one another, and exhort one another, and build up one another, and pray for one another, and they were not to be tied to one place, synagogue, or temple, which the Jews were only, but sometimes they met on mountains and hills, and sometimes in houses. And the church was in Aquila and Priscilla’s house, 1 Cor. 16.19. there was a meeting set up in the primitive time (The Works of George Fox, IV, 269).

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The Best Gift of Life

And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them (Rev. 11:11).

The writing that follows is a transcription of vocal ministry given in meeting for worship at a Philadelphia meetinghouse on February 4, 2018. Soon after I had given this ministry, the meeting’s Worship and Ministry Committee met and discussed my ministry as a problem in need of their intervention. (To get a sense of the tenor of the ministry I had given at this meeting, see essays based on transcriptions: “Called to Christ,” November 2017; “Moses and the Burning Bush,” January 2018; and “The New Way,” March 2018.)

In that committee meeting, members decided they would attempt to persuade me to change the form and content—and thus the Source—of the ministry I gave. And if they could not persuade me to change the ministry, the committee would convey their disapproval by ousting me from further participation in the meeting.

Thus charged, a committee representative approached me under the guise of the committee’s “wanting to support the ministers in the meeting,” and to that end, asked to meet with me to discuss it. During that meeting, his true intent emerged as he repeatedly urged me to alter the ministry. (It was the committee’s idea that I should speak in parables!) I politely but firmly declined to adopt the change the committee had devised for me, and the following Sunday after meeting for worship was cornered by several members of this committee, who made it clear that I was now ostracized from the meeting: my ministry was deemed “unwelcoming.”

Having given several decades of prophetic service to the Philadelphia Quaker community, I felt myself, at that point, inwardly released from again ministering to a Liberal meeting. Though there were a number of Friends in the meeting who regularly and warmly expressed appreciation for the ministry I gave, and often wanted to speak with me about it, these interested and supportive Friends were not in positions of influence: not clerks of committees, nor wielding old Quaker surnames, nor ambitious to ascend the ranks of the meeting hierarchy.

Through their intent and action, these Liberal Quakers silenced prophesy in their midst.

For more than half a century, clear-sighted Friends have been pointing to signs of spiritual distress in our Society. Many of them have been scholars, who have offered sound analysis of the cause and progress of this decline, but we’ve had too few personal stories documenting it. This account is one but is typical of many, as Adria Giulizia points out in her description of the steps by which contemporary “managers of vineyard” (Mark 12) silence the prophets among them. She writes:

When the prophet challenges us with uncomfortable truths, rather than using our discomfort as an opportunity for reflection and discernment, we tell her to tone it down, complain that she is “unwelcoming” and, if she doesn’t get the message, we run her off (“Welcoming the Gifts God Sends Us”).

A genuine assembly of Friends is comprised of people who when faced with a choice between truth and securing a comfortable—or exalted—place for themselves in the community, to a person will choose truth, hands down. Only in Christ, the Truth, can such an assembly of Friends function with coherence and viability.

__________________________________________________________

Here is the transcription of the ministry I gave on February, 4, 2018, in this Philadelphia meeting:

Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (Jn. 4:13b-14).

There is a story in the book of John about Jesus resting at the well of Jacob. His disciples had gone to town to get food, and Jesus was sitting on the side of the well, resting. A woman came to draw water from the well, a Samaritan woman. Jesus asked her for a drink of water, and they had a conversation about drawing water from the well.

Jesus said that the water that came from the well would satisfy thirst for only a short time, but thirst would return. There was water, however, that he had to give that would prevent one from ever being thirsty again. He was talking about the Spirit that he had and wanted to give to everyone.

We come here each week, and we share the sustaining experiences of our lives; we offer ideals for consideration, so that we might be inspired. These things are transitory, and that’s why we come here: we need that refueling—week after week—because life debilitates and threatens, and we’re vulnerable. We need to be strengthened; we like strength in numbers and teamwork.

But Jesus was alone, and he had something to give. When we receive what Jesus has to give us, we have a source of life within us that wells up forever. We don’t need external things that we humans can provide for each other: we have the source within us; we have life.

Is it better to keep coming and receive what is transitory: when we’re empty, filling up from other sources, sources other than ourselves? It makes us dependent, cowardly, because we know we’re depending on others for what we do not have ourselves; it makes us conformists.

What is it to be a Quaker?

Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”(Jn.10:10b), ”that [his] joy might remain in [us] and that [our] joy might be full”(15:11). It is “that of God” in each of us that responds to Christ’s offer; it is that of God in every one that may receive life in Christ.

Do not shortchange yourself. You are a human being, and this is a gift, the best gift.

___________________________________________________

To place this ministry and its mild reprimand within the context of the work of prophetic ministers to forthrightly speak the truth that challenges deceit and corruption, one could read accounts, debates, and treatises of seventeenth-century Friends. Here is just one example, an excerpt taken from James Nayler’s “The Lamb’s War” (Works, IV:20).

So holiness is come down from heaven, and the light of the son is arising, and begins to shine; and now all unclean spirits get to their strongholds. An unclean, lustful, covetous, proud heart, that hath got the words of truth, is become a habitation of multitudes of unclean spirits and hath covers for them all; so thither they flock apace, and in the light they are seen making head against the lamb, the temples of God to defile, holding forth whoredoms of all sorts, to entice the simple to come out from their strength; but he that keeps within is safe, and the clean heart is God’s habitation, and such as walk in his light are them that are saved; who are inhabited with the chaste spirit and clean minds, they cannot bewitch; so the Lord alone is become the salvation of all that receive him, and the separation is making daily, and them that are saved of the nations walk in the light, and thick darkness covers the unclean, and such love the deeds that are evil; and see not destruction in their way; and the fool delights in his folly, babbling and vanity, and thinks he is as rich as he that hath the treasure of God in a clean vessel; and the whore wipes her mouth, and saith she is right, though the heart runs from God all the day long. And so the scriptures are fulfilled upon that generation, that it may pass away out of the sight of the Lord, and his holy ones forever, into the place out of which the deceiver came, and the deceived with him.

And this the father of lights shows to his own,

as they come out from amongst them;

Glory to his day forever, and holiness without end.

 

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Introduction to “The Gospel and Self-Knowledge”

“The Gospel and Self-Knowledge” is the fourth of five lectures in the series titled A New Foundation to Build On, given by Lewis Benson in 1976 in Haverford, Pennsylvania. The lecture (along with an Appendix of questions and answers following the presentation) can be found under the Resource tab on the New Foundation Fellowship website.

Benson begins this fourth lecture with a survey of types of religious consciousness that characterized different historical periods. His review provides context for the primary focus of the lecture: our modern era, which began more than a century ago. Benson contends modern “mass man” no longer sustains an integrated identity; this calamity manifests itself widely in the personal sense of “lostness.”  This feeling of being lost and the subsequent search for identity is, Benson asserts, the distinguishing ethos of our age.

Wide-ranging, broad analysis is uncommon among scholars, and the reader’s immediate reaction may be to discount grand-scale assertions as devoid of nuance, and therefore inaccurate. Such a prejudice might arise in those who’ve yet to come to a vantage point from which can be seen the essential properties of different religious understandings. This vista is one Benson can and does offer in this lecture, and here he states his theme:

The purpose of this paper is to compare some modern philosophical approaches to the problem of self-­knowledge to the prophetic Christian understanding as exemplified by George Fox (1).

The first philosophy Benson brings to light is the system of self-realization that was set forth by George Gurdjieff, an early twentieth-century teacher with whom Benson studied as a young man. Though Benson did not find in Gurdjieff that which he sought, he was, nevertheless, strongly affected by his time spent in Gurdjieff’s compound near Paris. This impact is evidenced in the disproportionate attention given in the lecture to Gurdjieff’s understanding of the problem of self, and his method of developing consciousness through motivated self-interest and disciplined control of the will. Benson later came to realize that Gurdjieff’s reliance on methodology signaled its faulty grounding in human endeavor, and thus revealed its disparity with the prophetic faith of George Fox that Benson later came to know and affirm.

Benson next moves through a brief summary of both the techniques and suppositions found in Socrates’s philosophy and in classic Western Mysticism—giving each but a paragraph to set out their respective deficiencies. He then proceeds to his main topic, the Christian approach to the problem of self-knowledge.

The Christian approach to the problem of self-knowledge takes as its starting point the view of man that is set forth in the Bible: that people were not created to have a self-conscious existence independent of God. It is the Creator who reveals what is good and what is evil. Man’s life is characterized by his dependence on God. When this relationship is broken, the primary law of man’s being is broken, and his life becomes a deformation of the life intended for him by the Creator (3).

Benson turns to Emil Brunner, a prominent Protestant (Reformed) theologian of the last century, who affirms Benson’s position: man’s self-realization is contingent upon his response to God’s call. From there,  Benson brings George Fox into the discussion, as one whose initial, broken condition became apparent through receiving Christ, the light, revealing the self:

With the light man sees himself, which light comes from Christ ([Works. VII, 142] [p.4]).

Additionally, by obedience to the inward teaching of the light, man is restored to right relationship with God. The light of Christ is the revealer and teacher of a new righteousness, which judges out not only deeds that are manifestly evil but also those deeds which arise from the attempt to live a moral life outside of God and Christ: these attempts, too, are brought under condemnation by the light. Fox says:

The light lets you see your deeds…whether they be wrought in God or no ([I,83] [p.4]).

The deeds “wrought in God” is the righteousness that God calls for, as distinguished from humanly discerned self-righteousness, which is often—through ignorance or pride—wrongly attributed to God. Such deeds arise from the less-than-human self “that is gradually formed in us as we attempt to find ourselves outside of God and God’s word to us” (p.4). That self, says Fox, has the “nature of brute beasts” ([IV, 35] [p. 4]), and must be denied. Neither the self-knowledge nor self-righteousness that is assumed independent of the light can begin to approximate the perfection that accompanies our restoration to the image of God in Christ.

In contrast to Gurdjieff’s, others’ philosophy, or theories of psychology that claim self-realization is a function of man’s will and power to uncover his essential being, Fox holds that human personality, or self, is universally fallen and deformed into a sub-human condition, and that we can be restored to our true, intended state only when recast through “hearing and obeying the speaking God”(4).

The self or false personality is “judged out” by the light and a new life appears in them who “walk in him the new and living way, out of the old way” ([VII, 52] [p. 5]).

The sense of “lostness” that modern man inevitably endures indicates inner change is needed: the revealing of and standing against evil within has not yet taken place; the self or false personality has not yet been denied; the second birth not yet been undergone. Fox’s prescription for this lost, fallen condition is this:

wait upon God in that which is pure…and stand still in it…to see your savior to make you free from that which the light doth discover to you to be evil” ([VII, 24] [p.5]).

In Christ there is freedom from sin, and only there does one find unity and “fellowship with all who believe in the light, hear the light, obey the light and walk in the light” (p.5).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Powers of the Soul

We should use the three aspects of the soul fittingly and in accordance with nature, as created by God. We should use our incensive power against our outer self and against Satan. “Be incensed,” it is written, “against sin” (Ps. 4:4), that is, be incensed with yourselves and the devil, so that you will not sin against God. Our desire should be directed towards God and towards holiness. Our intelligence should control our incensive power and our desire with wisdom and skill, regulating them, admonishing them, correcting them and ruling them as a king rules over his subjects (The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 184).

The Philokalia is a collection of texts by spiritual masters of the Eastern Orthodox Church hesychast tradition. The texts were written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries for the guidance and instruction of monks who undertook contemplative life. The Greek word “philokalia” comprises two separate words, which together signify love of the beautiful and the good.

In The Philokalia, the writers are agreed that the soul has three distinct aspects or powers: the appetitive, the incensive, and the intellect. (Greek Christian Fathers accepted this three-part formulation that originated with Plato.) The first two powers can be used naturally to one’s benefit, or unnaturally to one’s disadvantage. Using these powers naturally and beneficially prepares one to receive Christ. Unnatural use is the result of having been overcome by demons that adulterate these God-bestowed powers, and thus prevent those whom they corrupt from preparing themselves to receive Christ.

For example, the appetitive power is used naturally and beneficially when one loves and desires to know God with all one’s heart, or—for the yet unredeemed—when one loves the beautiful and the good. And conversely, the appetitive power is used unnaturally when one is driven by desires for worldly gain or sensory pleasures: for example, the desire that leads a person to crave admiration or to become gluttonous.

The soul’s incensive power is misused when it is directed toward those who interfere with one’s desire or conceit. This misuse is experienced as anger or rancor toward another whom one holds responsible for one’s discontent, having had one’s desire or conceit thwarted. Naturally and beneficially, the incensive power can be used to intensify one’s longing for God or to ward off demonic anger towards others. By relying on the intellect to redirect that anger, the intensive power turns against and expels the demons who’ve infiltrated the soul, and thus obstructed unity with Christ.

The intellect is the power that guides the appetitive and incensive powers. When it is exercised well, the intellect directs the two other powers away from the temptation to yield to demonic influence. If the intellect’s power is not exercised well, the person becomes unaware of his own sin—as if spiritually blind or asleep—and becomes corrupt. (In Quaker parlance, his conscience is “seared.”)

When one is targeted by a corrupt person who discharges cruelty and deceit, one can become distracted from the primal duty to maintain purity of heart, and instead resort to blaming the sinful other for one’s own distress. A way of dealing with this temptation to blame others (which is a misuse of the incensive power) is to avoid the temptation altogether by setting a hedge between one’s soul and whatever offends. That is to say, one can create a space wherein one more easily realizes one’s intent to receive Christ. By simply preventing extraneous threats from the demonic—as given conduit by others—one eliminates interference with one’s readiness to receive Christ. For this reason, the practice of withdrawing from the world has long been a monastic and hermitic technique.

Employing such a barrier against the world is an ascetic technique to foster growth (as is the general intent of The Philokalia); it is not, however, the state of wholeness or perfection to which we are called, and likewise find heralded in early Friends’ writings. Faith does not simply avoid the maligned but acts (when directed by Christ) to confront and overcome evil by speaking truth. Such maturity of faith is known only as one receives the power of God that overcomes the world, as Christ Jesus affirms when he states:

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

This aim is aspired to when one strongly loves and desires God (and for the unredeemed: when one loves and desires the beautiful and the good) so that one’s attention and heart are purified through willing one thing (Mt. 5:8). Then is the intellect rightly used, the other powers of the soul well-ordered, and the soul prepared to receive Christ. In Christ, we are fully empowered to repel demonic infiltration of the soul, and to expel all sin. Through Christ, our savior, the demons are cast out, and we become perfect; our faith makes us whole. In a world that lies in wickedness (1 Jn. 5:19) and ignorance, Christ, the power of God, is the only power stronger than the demonic.

It is better to see the sin of the world as uniform and single rather than to view its manifestations as particular properties belonging to specific corrupted persons. That is to say, in its uniformity, the world’s sin is more like an expanse of mud than it is like separate rocks situated at intervals in a field! Seeing sin as a uniform force helps the intellect direct the incensive power toward sin itself, and away from particular offenders who have succumbed to and embody demonic power.

It is written that Jesus took on and overcame the sin of the world. It is germane to this statement that sin be considered a cohesive, single condition rather than a variety of particular disorders or deeds, each being the property or possession of individual persons, which is a psychological idea. Entertaining the prevailing modern notion of individual autonomy, one may be averse to yielding the claim of the self’s possessive power, even when that possession pertains to disorders of the self! It is a turnaround to accept that it is not people who possess sin but are, in fact, possessed by sin.

The older, biblical understanding allows one to see the world’s wickedness differently, and to replace the all-too-human response of resentment or anger towards the corrupt with a response of merciful pity and concern, as did our savior, who “knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:25). In unity with Christ Jesus, we overcome that which is in man; through Christ, we overcome the world.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (Jn. 14:3).

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Opening the Scriptures: Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Mt. 13: 37-43)

Jesus is here privately explaining to his disciples the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13: 24-30), one of the stories he had given to the multitude a short time before. The parable itself, as well as Jesus’s explanation of it, is usually interpreted in the following way: those people who are good will go to heaven when they die, and those who are bad will be thrust into hell.

It’s a comforting affirmation for those who consider themselves righteous: in the by-and-by, all will receive their just deserts. Furthermore, such an interpretation quiets the urge to take matters into one’s own hands: to wreak justice as spiritual vigilante, punishing wrong-doers who have disturbed one’s well-being, or egotistic self-regard.

Through the ages, this particular interpretation of the parable has likely saved many from abuse, and some of them—-perhaps in greater proportion to their number—were prophets. As well as safeguarding would-be victims from the misguided and malicious, this interpretation may also have benefited potential perpetrators, restraining hubris from descending into action.

Although it’s had its beneficial uses, this interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares is not the one that George Fox presents to us. Fox sees from a different perspective and therefore arrives at a different interpretation. We can study his interpretation of this parable, because Fox reveals it in his third epistle. Here is the sum total of that short epistle:

Friends,—There is an eye, that hath looked to see the good seed, that was sown, and queried, from whence came these tares? The answer was and is; “The wicked one hath sown them.” Now read the tares, and what is the effect of them, and their work? And what they do, and have done? How they hang amongst the wheat? But now is the time of harvest, that both wheat and tares are seen, and each distinguished, the one from the other.  G. F. (Works, 7: 17-18).

To understand Fox’s perspective, one begins by isolating his own words from those which are found in the original Bible passage. His own words indicate his interpretation of the text.

For example, the epistle’s first sentence is “There is an eye”: no such reference to this “eye” occurs in the text of the parable; it is strictly Fox’s expression. In communicating his first response to the parable by referring to “an eye,” he asserts the parable is about seeing; it is about seeing or knowing the difference between good and evil (good seed or evil tares). With that much information given, we know that Fox is relating the parable to the Fall, for to “know[ing] good and evil”(Gen. 3:5) independent from God’s guidance was the temptation offered by the Serpent. In taking that bait—to no longer eye God’s Will—humanity became spiritually blind, unable to see, to discern good from evil. The “eye” Fox refers to is that which has overcome that blindness by again eyeing God; this “eye” sees: “both the wheat and tares are seen, and each distinguished, the one from the other”(p. 18).

That the “eye” is but one eye—and not the two eyes given by nature—implies a special kind of seeing, the seeing that metaphorically refers to understanding, or insight. Fox refers to seeing “the good” and the evil that exist within each unredeemed human: “[the tares] hang amongst the wheat.” For Fox, the parable is first a lesson on spiritual discernment: seeing, and second a lesson on what one sees: evil is within oneself; with surprise, one asks: “from whence came these tares?”(p. 17)

Fox urges an examination of the evil that grows within. (“Now read the tares”; that is to say, now that you see the evil in yourself, learn about it.) He directs the reader to examine the characteristics and consequences of that inward evil:

what is the effect of [the tares], and their work? And what they do, and have done? How they hang amongst the wheat? (pp. 17-18)

Fox is compelling the reader to see the effects of sin and wrong-doing in his life, and the stubborn persistence of sin in human nature, as tares “hang amongst the wheat.” For to see—to sense—the distinction between good and evil, and the harm evil does to oneself and others, is the first step to knowing to refuse the evil, and choose the good (Isa. 7:15).

The “harvest,” a word found in both the original text and Fox’s epistle, does not refer to physical death, and neither does it refer to some cataclysmic end of all life on earth, as is often portrayed in non-Quaker interpretations. These wrong interpretations result from assigning a literal meaning to Jesus’s words: “the harvest is the end of the world” (v. 39).

For Fox, the end of the world is the end of the worldly self, the unredeemed, fallen self that is in opposition to and independent of God. Dying to that self, the inward cross, is the worldly death that entails “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (v. 42). Once this inward separation of spirit from worldly flesh, wheat from tares, good from evil, has taken place, and the tares gathered and burned, “then,” says Jesus, “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mt. 13:42-43)

Jesus’s final statement (“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”) informs us that not all will grasp his meaning. He and other prophets realize comprehension comes only when the mysteries of the kingdom are unveiled by the Holy Ghost (Jn. 14:26). In his speech to London Yearly Meeting in 1675, Fox identified the parables, however, as one tool that prepares humankind to receive the Holy Ghost: “Here is the bundle of life opened, the end of the parables, and of the figures, and law, and who fulfilleth it.”

When Jesus’s disciples asked him why he spoke in parables, he said:

Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given….Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them (Mt. 13:11-15).

As did the prophets before them, seventeenth-century Friends understood that the worldly nature (described in this excerpt where Jesus quotes Esaias [Isa. 6:10]) could not understand the Scriptures. It is “by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know [the Scriptures],” wrote Barclay in Apology for the True Christian Divinity (Quaker Heritage Press, p. 62). No amount of scholarship, knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, nor seminary training could explicate the words given through the spirit of prophecy. The same dependency on the Spirit is required to understand early Friends’ writings: no amount of reading, training, or knowledge of history or doctrine can open the meaning of their writings. Because they are written from the spirit of truth, they must be read in that same spirit.

For I saw in that light and spirit which was before the scriptures were given forth, and which led the holy men of God to give them forth, that all must come to that spirit, if they would know God or Christ, or the scriptures aright, which they that gave them forth were led and taught by (Works, 1:89).

Fox here confirms the Scripture message that all must come to that Spirit (Rev. 22:17), if they would understand the words of the prophets and apostles that have come before. It is this Spirit of Christ that enables us to understand the writings of these prophetic men and women, regardless of the century in which they wrote—first, seventeenth, in between, or after—and to discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error: to distinguish the wheat from the tares.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error (1 Jn. 4:4-6).

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His Seed Remaineth

Having faith, [a person] can thrive even when planted in the chaos of the world that lies in wickedness, even as a sycamine tree could be planted in a hostile environment of the sea (Lk. 17:6). Having faith, the hearing/obeying relationship with his Creator, man is restored, strengthened, and empowered to withstand and rise above such assaults upon his soul. He is given the power of God to rule over his human nature and to thrive regardless of the circumstances (“Increase Our Faith”).

Half a dozen years ago, I was walking with a friend on the Haverford College campus, which is in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the beginning of the school year, and some students—about 30— had gathered on the college lawn to play a game that I’d never seen before. Intrigued, I suggested to my friend that we take a moment to watch the progress of the game. I recall her saying that the game was called “Zombie Tag,” and it began with a few students walking stiffly with arms outstretched among all the others, whose goal was to escape being tagged by them. When tagged, however, each victim also began to stalk others in a like manner—stiffly walking with arms outstretched. It surprised me to see how quickly the game progressed. As their number increased, the “walking dead” overcame “the living ones,” and when all players had joined the ranks of “the undead,” the game was over.

Being a gospel minister and regularly seeing in every day events analogies to the life of the Spirit, it occurred to me that the game modelled some spiritual dynamics: humankind can be alive in the flesh yet dead in the Spirit (just like zombies!) and in both the game and real life, the walking death spreads by contact between one person and another. In the game, it is simple tagging, but in life, the spiritual contagion is spread by deceitful, unjust behavior perpetrated upon innocent victims, who then, in turn, become perpetrators; and on and on it goes. As W.H. Auden quipped:

I and the public know / What all schoolchildren learn

Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.

The game did not mimic life, however, in one very significant way:  whereas the game ends when all are caught and have become “zombies”; in real life, the death and darkness that consume need not be final: not all remain captive to the demonic forces that entice away life.

The good news is that while yet on earth and yet in time, we can receive life that is not subject to death, i.e. eternal life and the indwelling seed that keeps us from succumbing to the evil that men inflict upon their neighbors, and upon their brothers, as did that first perpetrator, Cain. (And wherefore slew he [Abel]? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous [1 Jn. 3:12].)

For not only was Jesus sent to raise up humankind above the throes and threat of spiritual darkness and death, but he is now sent to retrieve us into and sustain us in his own unassailable state, where he—and thus we—have power over the living death and living hell.

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death (Rev.1:18)

.     .     .     .     .

In the great prayer found in John 17 and expressed shortly before his execution, Jesus asks God to keep his disciples from the evil (15). Jesus was not asking that his disciples be removed from the trajectory of evil released by the animus of others, for ill-treatment comes to everyone in this world, and—as Jesus knows—those who “are not of the world” (Jn. 15:19) will be targeted assiduously by the prince of the world through those who have come unwittingly to do his bidding.

In asking that his disciples be kept from the evil, Jesus is asking that the inward condition of their souls be kept inviolate and uncorrupted by the evil that will—without question—assault them. It is the soul’s condition for which Jesus prays, that nothing in his disciples give foothold to the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2); i.e. that his disciples heed no temptation, that they forfeit no blessedness.

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light (Mt. 6:22).

Through singleness of mind, purity of heart, focused obedience, do his disciples overcome distraction and temptation. The physical sensation of being indwelled by the Spirit—the body full of light—is more than metaphor; it is actual experience arising from the blessed integration of one’s entire being: body and soul. It is the perfection of Christ’s joy fulfilled in those who have been born of God, and do not commit sin, for his seed remains in them.

Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin: for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother (1 Jn. 3: 9-10).

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Each Gives Out of His Store

My first book on religion came from my grandparents the Christmas I was 14. Its title was What the Great Religions Believe by author Joseph Gaer. Deep discussions with my grandfather occurred most every night in those early teenage years, while he washed and I dried the dishes after dinner. Religion was a topic that interested us both, and I’m grateful that I can recall some of his wisdom.

My views were very different then: I was becoming surer of my agnosticism with each month that passed, a perspective that was to last for most of the next two decades. Part of his wisdom was accepting my 14-year-old ideas as worthy of discussion. My views now are no doubt closer to what his were then, as is my age.

I was reminded recently of one vignette in this book, and thought I’d share it here. It is one of a number of unauthenticated sayings of Jesus that were found in papyri in Upper Egypt in the late-19th century and were thought to have been written between 150 and 300 A.D. The sayings, or Agrapha, were written in Greek. So, here’s the story:

One day Jesus and his disciples passed a man who spoke evil of them in a loud voice; but Jesus spoke only good in return. And when his disciples asked him why he spoke good to him who spoke evil, he replied: “Each gives out of his store.”

I’d like to think that my grandfather and I talked about that story.

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I want to give a shout-out to the reader in Hong Kong whose presence showed up today on the stat page of this blog for the first time since Typhoo Mangkhut hit in mid-September. Your frequent visits, as shown in the stats, had been a welcome sight for some months. I’m glad you’re safe and hope your city is recovering quickly.

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