Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Friends' Library on Google Books

In a comment to a recent post, Friend Marshall Massey mentioned a 14-volume "Friends' Library" published by Orthodox Friends in the mid 1800's. Google books has now digitized all 14 volumes, and thanks to the services of Public Domain Reprints, you can order your own copies. I will update this page more volumes are available for printing.

volume 1Buy it at
volume 2Buy it at
volume 3Buy it at
volume 4Buy it at
volume 5Buy it at
volume 6Buy it at
volume 7Buy it at
volume 8Buy it at
volume 9Buy it at
volume 10
volume 11
volume 12
volume 13
volume 14Buy it at

Also, Marshall quoted from a book entitled "The Life and Travels of John Pemberton, a minister of the Gospel of Christ". Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a copy of that book, but the passage Marshall quoted is also available in Memorials Concerning Deceased Friends.

All of these are available for download as PDFs.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Some Reflections Upon Reading George Fox' Epistles

I have been working my way slowly through George Fox's epistles, which is a different experience than reading his journal. For one thing, the epistles are very repetitive - Fox said the same thing to many people. For another, I get a better sense as to what Fox and other early Quakers were most concerned about. There are a few things that really stand out for me. I originally intended to list several things here, but this first one is so long, I will save the others for later.

1. "Answering that of God" and the experience of "The Light"
George Fox used variations of the phrase "that of God in every one" fairly often in his epistles, and he is referring to that "divine seed", the "Light of Christ" that "lighteth every man coming into the world". In modern usage, we more often hear "that of God" as "there is that of God in every one", and the modern usage is closer to a philosophical reason why we should treat people justly and equally - that is, you are doing these things to God. The modern usage seems close to what Jesus was saying in Matthew 25 ("Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.") Fox's usage of "that of God", however, wasn't a philosophical justification, in fact, I think he would have opposed such a thing. Instead, it reflected the simple belief that the Light of Christ was present in every person.

The experience of that Light was not necessarily a warm, fuzzy, feel-good experience, at least not at first. The Light shows you where you are straying from God (i.e. it reveals your sins to you) but also gives you the power to resist temptation. This is what Fox says in Epistle 10:

Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed, and fly away.

Epistle 43 also has a good description:

To you all, who are enlightened with the light of the spirit, that the light which shows you sin and evil, and your evil deeds and actings, and the deceit and false-heartedness; it will teach you holiness, walking in it, and bring you into unity; and it will draw your minds up to God, and in it ye will see more light. But hating the light, there is your condemnation.

This power of the Light to turn us towards God is, for me, what makes "that of God" such a powerful idea. Last month, The Quaker Agitator had a post about Looking Hard For That Of God In Everyone. In it, Quaker Dave relates a story of a women in meeting who had trouble seeing "that of God" in people like Cho Seung-Hui. What bothered me about the story is that it is as if we have to find some sign of something good in a person in order to see "that of God" in the person. If, however, you look at it from George Fox's point of view, "that of God" is there in someone no matter what they do. "Answering that of God" isn't a process of trying to see some good in the person, but of trying to awaken that person to the divine seed within themselves so that they might be drawn closer to God. That potential exists in every single person, no matter what they have done, no matter how evil they may seem.

The part of "answering that of God" that may be uncomfortable to some modern Friends, and in all honesty I must include myself here, is that it is along the lines of being evangelical. That is, it asks us to talk to people about that divine seed, or to awaken them to it in some way. It seems that many of us have no problem calling on others to do things, such as ending the war in Iraq, so why should this be any harder? Couldn't they go hand-in-hand? If we advocate peace because we are "living in that life and power that takes away all occasion of war", would it not be more effective to call others to that life and power? In fact, it almost seems cruel to try to get someone to change their mind because of what we say, rather than because their mind was changed from the inside.

Although "answering that of God" is sometimes accomplished merely by our own acting in accordance with God's will, I noticed places where Fox took a more direct approach, such as Epistle 5, which was written to his parents:

To that of God in you both I speak, and do beseech you both for the Lord's sake, to return within, and wait to hear the voice of the Lord there; and waiting there, and keeping close to the Lord, a discerning will grow, that ye may distinguish the voice of the stranger, when ye hear it.

Before I end, I would like to return to something I said earlier, which is that I think Fox would have been opposed to using "that of God" as a philosophical justification - that is, using it as a reason for doing something, treating people certain ways. One of the most frequent themes in Fox's epistles is that Friends should "wait on that which is pure, which gathers you out of the world's nature, disposition, conversation, churches, forms, and customs, which will knit your hearts together up to God." (Epistle 43) Over and over he emphasizes being led by God and not by our own reasoning. For example, "take heed of reasoning with flesh and blood, for there disobedience, pride, and presumption will arise". So when it comes down to "Why did you visit that guy in prison?" or "Why did you feed and clothe that homeless person?" or "Why did you stand up for that person's rights?", the answer isn't "because there is that of God in that person", the answer is "because that is what the Light led me to do."