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Conversion As A Process
William F. Medlin writes in Born Again Quakers: The Experience of Christian Conversion Among Friends (Quaker House, Hustsonville, Illinois, 1988) that:
The Quaker experience is that Christian conversion is more of a process than a single event. Within the process there is a specific turning point that we might designate as the actual experience of conversion, but one gains little understanding of what is happening by looking only at the turning point.
Medlin has sought to classify some of the most crucial, typical stages of the process. He notes that childhood inner experiences of God, a period of spiritual drifting, and a crisis of despair often precede the actual experience of conversion. This experience resolves the crisis of despair with the victory of Christ over self within the person, who turns in obedience to God, inwardly receives grace, and is born again as a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Friends do not see this experience as the end of the process. Jones notes that it is frequently followed by a series of inner trials and temptations, a phase during which there are often many openings in which the Light of Christ reveals things in the person's life that must change. Convincement of the truth might come before, during or after the actual experience of conversion.
Many experience a second intense crisis of despair about their continued sin and disobedience. This second crisis is resolved by a fuller surrender of self-will and the receiving of another work of grace, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, an experience sometimes referred to as sanctification. The final stage is the Lamb's reign, marked by radical obedience, suffering, active witness against sin and social evil, and continued surrenders and spiritual growth.
Day of Visitation
While conversion is a process, there is a critical point within it. Early Friends referred to this as a day or time of visitation, during which each person must make a choice. The early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay wrote of this in his Apology:
God, who out of his infinite love sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world, and who tasted death for everyone, has given a certain day or time of visitation to everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, Turk or Scythian, Indian or Barbarian, or of whatever nation, country, or place. During that day or time of visitation, it is possible for them to be saved, and to partake of the fruit of Christ's death.
When we speak of the day or time of visitation which God gives to all, we are not referring to the entire lifetime of a person. For some people it may be extended to the very hour of death, as it was to the thief who was converted on the cross. For some it comes early in life and for others later, as God in his wisdom sees fit. However, many men outlive this day, and after it has passed there is no possibility for salvation for them. God then causes them to be hardened for their unbelief, and sometimes he uses them justly as instruments of wrath, causing one to be a scourge against another. To such men we can properly apply those scriptures which are abused to make it appear that God incites and compels men to sin.
The Lord Brings Joy
Now all this above may sound very heavy. It is about the life of the cross but, as Jesus promised, this is also a life of joy. George Fox, generally called the founder of Quakerism, wrote about his key turning point in his Journal:
And when all my hopes in them and all men were gone. . . I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition," and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.
Stephen Grellet (1773-1855), a noted Quaker minister, wrote of his experience:
I was like one introduced into a new world. The creation and all things around me bore a different aspect. My heart glowed with love to all. The awfulness of that day of God's visitation can never cease to be remembered with peculiar interest and gratitude as long as I have the use of my mental faculties. I have been as one plucked from the burning, rescued from the brink of a horrible pit. Oh, how can the extent of the Lord's love, mercy, pity, and tender compassion be fathomed!
I myself have experienced the despair that others report having experienced leading to their day or time of visitation. This despair was lifted with an overwhelming sensation of love as I accepted Jesus Christ as the one who could lift me out of despair and bear my every burden.
Is This the Time for You?
Dear friend, is this the time of your visitation? If so, do not hesitate! Accept the amazing grace and everlasting love of God in Christ Jesus. You will never regret it, no matter what may befall you.
Here are some pieces by early Friends available on the Web that you might want to read to pursue this topic further:
Here is a useful blog post from 2014: 'B' is for Born-Again Quakerism, by Stuart Masters© by Bill Samuel. Do not reprint in whole or in part without prior permission of the author, except for limited quoting in accordance with "fair use" principles. You are welcome to link to this page.
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