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A Quaker Understanding of Jesus Christ
Part 2 of 4
by Arthur O. Roberts
Originally published November 1, 1999 at Suite101.com
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is taken, by permission, from an article, "A Quaker Understanding of Jesus Christ", by Arthur O. Roberts in Quaker Religious Thought, Vol. 29, No. 3, July 1999. Due to the length of that article, it is published online here in four parts. The article was adapted from a paper read at the Quaker Theological Discussion Group, Orlando, Florida, November 21, 1998, and responses to it. Arthur Roberts is a former Editor of Quaker Religious Thought. He is the author of many journal articles, poems, devotional pieces, books, and other writings. He has served in the past as Professor of Religion and Philosophy and as Dean of Faculty at George Fox University, as well as a pastor in Friends' (Quaker) churches. Quaker Religious Thought is published two times a year, and subscription information can be obtained from Phil Smith, Religion Department, George Fox University, Newberg, OR 97132.]
5. The indwelling Christ is a reality distinct from persons indwelled.
George Fox frequently referred to Christ as the substance, fulfilling the types and shadows of the past, offering a greater reality, one subordinated to God the creator, not to man the created. Christ has come, he said, "to redeem, translate, convert, and regenerate man. . . out of all the true types, figures, and shadows, and out of death and darkness, up into the light, and life, and image, and likeness of God again as man and woman were in before they fell." (Nichols ed. Journal of George Fox, p. 367)
Friends such as Stephen Crisp repeatedly emphasized a spirituality that, even in its fullness retains a lowliness of spirit before the indwelling Christ. No one can become smug about the Light of Christ. Immediate revelation increases rather than decreases awe before the Lord. Indeed, Crisp warned that Satan deceptively comes as an angel of light to draw away from the "simplicity of the Truth" those who haven't fully died to self. Such persons are beguiled into "libertinism." In their carnal reasoning they put their trust in uncertainties and neglect weighty matters; or they decide hell is only in one's conscience, or that death annihilates one anyway so why struggle, or that if one falls short of righteousness now they can make it up in other bodies in the hereafter. ("A Faithful Warning" in Gospel Labours and Writings, Philadelphia: 1822, p. 340-1)
6. Personal and corporate experiences of Christ constitute valid knowledge.
Robert Barclay asserted that divine inward revelations are integral to true faith, and that they "possess their own clarity and serve as their own evidence," and cohere with right reason ("well-disposed mind") and "common principles of natural truths."(Apology, Freiday ed., Prop. 2, p. 16).
Isaac Penington defended the sensible understanding of the triunity of God:
Now consider seriously, if a man from his heart believe thus concerning the eternal power and Godhead; that the Father is God, the Word God, the Holy Spirit God; and that these are one eternal God, waiting so to know God, and to be subject to him accordingly; is not this man in a right frame of heart towards the Lord in this respect? Indeed friends, we do know God sensibly and experimentally to be a Father, Word, and Spirit, and we worship the Father in the Son by his own Spirit, and here meet with the seal of acceptance with him. (Works iv:360, Quaker Heritage Press ed.)
7. The universality of Christ the Light is affirmed by the particularity of Jesus.
When early Friends used the term light they referred to Jesus Christ, to the historical, redemptive, event, not just to an inner spiritual quality. To know Christ as the Light eternal means "as he was yesterday, is today, and will be forever" wrote Isaac Penington. He drew parallels with the rejection of Jesus Christ inwardly by establishment religion in his day and rejection of Christ historically by the Jewish leaders. The stone which builders rejected, is nonetheless, the cornerstone. Professing believers acknowledge Christ as the rock in words but miss doing so in substance. For the early Friends, after a night of apostasy, the rejected stone was again, in England, reaffirmed. (See Works, Selections and Letters. Philadelphia, 1818, pp. 80ff.)
8. There is no "natural light" of conscience separate from the Light of Christ.
Robert Barclay asserted that the power to determine right from wrong, although sometimes described as "the law of nature" in reality is not distinct from the Light of Christ. For Barclay it is a "universal evangelical principle. . . that the salvation of Christ is shown to every man, whether Jew or Gentile, Scythian or Barbarian, of whatever country or kindred" Which is why, he adds, that "God has raised faithful witnesses and evangelists in our age to help all become aware of the light within themselves and to know Christ in them." (Apology Prop. VI, XXVIII, Freiday, pp.123ff.) The early Friends did not denigrate nature but sought to recover a Biblical unity between God as creator and God as redeemer. This unity they envisioned as divine election through an accessible logos, Christ, rather than through a limited, predestined, redemption.
9. God's Spirit is intrinsically linked to Christ (filioque).
Early Friends referenced their usage of the term Spirit to Jesus Christ. This was the case whether they used the term Christ, or metaphors such as light and seed, or the word Spirit. In short, they had a Christo-centric doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This doctrine conveyed an understanding of the universal and saving light graciously available to all persons. It was clearly linked to the spiritual nature of baptism. Of the Pentecostal experience recorded in the Acts George Fox wrote, "Baptized by one spirit into one body. . . is the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . Christ is the substance, whereby we are baptized into his death." Fox quotes Paul approvingly, "those that are baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27). (Saul's Errand to Damascus, cited in Early Quaker Writings, p. 258.)
10. Christ's presence in the world does not foreclose a fuller future coming.
In his often-reprinted Apology, Barclay refutes accusations that theiremphasis upon the contemporary presence of the Kingdom implies no belief in a future life. The Quaker insistence upon accepting judgment of the Light now doesn't imply disbelief in a final judgment, or in heaven or hell. Just talking about the outward life of Christ, he wrote, won't redeem or justify people, they must know "Christ resurrected in them." If people partake of the first resurrection, i.e., inward redemption from sin, they are better able to judge the second resurrection. We are called, he said, to be the first fruits of those who serve and worship Christ not "in the oldness of the letter but in the newness of the Spirit" until "all the kingdoms of the earth become the kingdom of Christ Jesus."(Apology, Freiday ed., p. 439. See also Barclay's Catechism, Chap. XIV, cited in Early Quaker Writings, p. 348).
11. The church, as the body of Christ, witnesses to God's kingdom.
Writes Fox: "Now Christ is the heavenly, living, spiritual head of these his heavenly, living, spiritual members: and he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one. . . So here you may see the unity and the love that is betwixt Christ and his church, which is his body, which he is the head of." (Works V., p. 306)
12. Christ is real both in and outside of time.
A citation from Job Scott speaks to this mystical blending of time and eternity:
It may be thought by many, that Christ is not the son of any but God, and the virgin Mary; but Christ himself positively declares, he that doeth the will of his Father, "the same is his mother, and sister, and brother." Shall we suppose he only meant that they were dearly beloved by him, and owned "as if" they were his nearest relations? By such glosses and interpretations, is the true meaning of many of his deep, and deeply instructive sayings qualified away. But, verily, he meant as he said; and had he not carefully confined his words to a strict meaning, he might have called such his father too. But in the spiritual sense in which he was speaking, no man can possibly be his father, but God. It is true that we read of his father David: In regard to his outward genealogy and descent, David was his forefather; but in regard to his birth in man, none can be Christ's father but God only. And in order to hold this forth to mankind, even his body that was born of the virgin, was conceived by the overshadowing efficacy of the holy ghost, without the agency of any other immediate father but God. Thus the outward holds a lively analogy with the inward. But though, speaking of the inward, no man can be his father, yet man can and must be, his "mother," as well as "sister and brother," if ever he comes to be truly regenerated and born of the "incorruptible seed and word of God." This new birth is ever produced by the overshadowing of the holy ghost upon the souls of men. [from Essays on Salvation by Christ, ca. 1793, pp. 40-44 in Quaker Heritage Press edition]
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