The purpose of this leaflet is to bring to the attention of the reader the particular view of the meaning of the Christian revelation that was held by the early Friends. These Quakers of the seventeenth century were convinced that they were experiencing a revival of original Christianity in all its power and glory. It is the hope of the author that the reader may be led from an intellectual understanding of this revelation to that other part of faith – experience.
There is One
There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.
Journal of George Fox (1647)
George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, had long sought for religious truth. His search had been so disillusioning that he had lost all hope in other human beings and in outward helps. Then he heard a voice which spoke the words quoted above.
This was the turning point of his life. He became a man with a message. Through all the tribulations that beset him, he proclaimed that “Christ has come to teach his people Himself.” This experience of the living presence of Christ is the basis of Quakerism.
Thus, it is often said that Quakerism is a religion of experience. This is true in the sense that Quakerism is not based on an intellectual tradition, a sacred book, an approved liturgy, or an authoritarian church. However, it is not based on experience as such, nor even on religious experience in general. It is based on the particular experience of the continuing presence of Christ. This specific type of experience ties Quakerism to the Christian revelation. It also throws light on the meaning of that revelation.
God, who in times past spoke to us by the prophets, now speaks to us by His Son. We have a new relationship with God. We are to hear and obey His Son in all things. It is in this sense of the inward and contemporary presence of Christ that we should understand the words, “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
The law and the prophets are fulfilled. The prediction of the Old Testament that the Messiah would come has taken place. The types and shadows have been replaced by Christ the substance.
And the serpent said . . . in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
The book of Genesis describes our revolt from dependence on the wisdom of God and our reliance on our own wisdom. We feel that we ourselves now know good from evil, and no longer need God’s guidance.
Are we really dependent on God for knowledge of good and evil? This ancient question has taken on tragic urgency in our time. The application of “neutral” science raises terrifying possibilities of suffering and complete destruction. Recent history shows how easy it is to return to barbarism. Does life have meaning apart from God’s wisdom? Certainly there are enough questions and problems to cause us to wonder if our own knowledge of good and evil is sufficient.
But is it possible to know and do the will of God in this life? In the age when Quakerism arose, the other Christian denominations said this was not possible. They said that we fallible humans could only try to do the will of God, but that to think we could succeed was spiritual pride, which is the worst sin.
The early Friends said that what cannot be done through our own power can be done through the help of Christ within, whom God sends for that very purpose. To hold otherwise was “to plead for sin for term of life.”
Thus Friends saw the coming of Christ as the means by which God restores all things. If we will receive the inward guidance and power of Christ, we will be enabled to learn of God’s knowledge of good and evil. We will be given the strength to obey. This is a cross to our natural will. It often leads to suffering, but it also leads to victory and to the joy of knowing that God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.
When Saw We Thee?
Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
Certainly the most important factor in the development of western culture is the rise of Christianity. Christian ethics made its impact on history because of its concern for individuals. It held every person to be of value. The well-being of each person was of great importance and was to be promoted in a loving way.
The Quakers shared and developed this concern. They felt that good works should be done, not to bring merit to those who performed them, but because our Lord plainly requires it as part of the gospel. This should be done in a spirit of love with due regard to the fact that the person being helped is of great value to God. In modern times this has led to a desire to work with people rather than doing things for them.
This principle was carried into the area of political and religious liberty. When Quakers were in control of governments, those with whom they vigorously disagreed were allowed full participation in government and freedom to worship as they thought fit. The Quakers went so far as to see that those with whom they differed had adequate places in which to worship. They fact that this was most unusual for the seventeenth century points up their witness as followers of the Truth.
Today the Christian concern for the value and well-being of the individual is so woven into our political and moral climate that we tend to forget its source. Important as it is to our age, it is not carried out to the degree that God desires. We need to look to God for guidance and strength in this area as in all others. If this were done, our world would be greatly changed for the better.
The People of God
The early Friends felt that just as the coming of Christ brought about a new relationship between God and the individual, so there was a new relationship between God and His people as a group. When Christ is present in the midst of His gathered people, the type of worship, of business procedure, and of action is radically changed from Old Testament times.
As people gather for worship they have Christ present to be their High Priest. He directs the worship and the ministry of the group. No one orders a program of worship and no one is responsible for a pre-arranged message, but all is done under the immediate guidance of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This is the worship that belongs to the new covenant and is worship in Spirit and in Truth.
The business of the Church is carried on under the lordship of Christ. The people of God meet together to learn the mind of Christ on the business before them. If even one person is not clear as to what should be done, it is a serious matter. Since all go to the same Source, Christ, all should agree on the guidance. Where there is not agreement, all should wait in a spirit of worship and prayer until they can move ahead as a united group doing the will of God.
The early Friends held that there were certain actions that God requires of us under the new covenant. One of the most pertinent for our day is the peace testimony. They believed that the Lord had redeemed them from the occasion of war. Christ by His living Presence had freed them from war. As a witness or testimony, they were to refrain from it. And through the power of Christ they were to live lives of honesty, simplicity, and freedom from racial or other forms of prejudice.
The people of God are the Church of Christ. Under Him the individual has freedom without anarchy, and the group is united in worship, work, and witness without becoming a dictatorship over the individual. Fallible human beings are brought to know the will of God who is perfect. Those who are not a people are brought to be a people.
These people die, yet they know eternal life. They suffer, yet they rejoice. They are weak and frail, yet they are made more than conquerors. All this and more the people of God have through Jesus Christ.
Who is able to give sufficient thanks to God for His revelation through Christ both in history at Jerusalem and as a living Presence now and forever?