Sunday, May 31, 2009

Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 3

This is a continuation of a previous post.

Friends experienced a power and strength through the Light. Some of this power wasin form of transformation – the power to overcome sin. Some of this power and strengthening was in the form of healing. Many other times, it was in the form of being given the courage and ability to stand in witness to the Inward Light. In his journal, George Fox relates an amazing story of strengthening and healing:
When they had haled me to the common moss side, a multitude following, the constables, and other officers gave me some blows over my back with their willow rods, and thrust me among the rude multitude; who having furnished themselves with staves, hedge-stakes, holm or holly bushes, fell upon me, and beat me on my head, arms, and shoulders, till they had deprived me of sense; so that I fell down upon the wet common. When I recovered again. I saw myself lying in a watery common, and the people standing about me, I lay still a little while, and the power of the Lord sprang through me, and the eternal refreshings revived me; so that I stood up again in the strengthening power of the eternal God and stretching out my arms amongst them, I said, with a loud voice, “Strike again; here are my arms, my head, and my cheeks.” There was in the company a mason, a professor, but a rude fellow, who with his walking rule-staff gave me a blow with all his might just over the back of my hand, as it was stretched out; with which blow my hand was so bruised, and my arm so benumbed, that I could not draw it to me again; so that some of the people cried, “He hath spoiled his hand for ever having the use of it any more.” But I looked at it in the love of God, (for I was in the love of God to them all that had persecuted me,) and after awhile the Lord’s power sprang through me again, and through my hand and arm, so that in a moment I recovered strength in my
hand and arm in the sight of them all.

The ministry of early Friends was often described in terms of power, not necessarily in terms of one being a powerful speaker, but that there was a power that accompanied the words that answered the witness of God in others. Richard Hubberthorn wrote to Margaret Fell that:

The Lord is gathering in many in this city daily; there are many meetings full and large, where there is any to declare the Truth
amongst them; and they that are great in the earth, the power of Truth shines through them, and is drawing them in daily. The priests confess that there is such a power amongst us, that none who come to us can escape; and they exhort people not to come to us.

George Fox relates several incidents in which the Lord’s power was so great that the very room seemed to tremble. In this incident, he also shows the feeling of deadness when someone else prayed outside of that power:

After this I went again to Mansfield, where was a great meeting of professors and people: and I was moved to pray; and the Lord’s power was so great, that the house seemed to be shaken. When I had done, some of the professors said, “It was now as in the days of the apostles, when the house was shaken where they were.” After I had prayed, one of the professors would pray; which brought deadness and a veil over them. Others of the professors were grieved at him, and told him, “it was a temptation upon him.” Then he came to me, and desired that I would pray again; but I could not pray in man’s will.

Isaac Penington wrote that ministers “must abide in the power, keep in the power, feel the motion, virtue, and assistance of the power, in all their work and service.” He also wrote that there was strength in remembering one’s experiences of the Light:

Keep thine eye and heart upon the preciousness of what thou feltest. O remember, how fresh, how warm, how living it was; how it reached, how it overcame, how it melted! The remembrance of this, cleaved to in the mind, will be a strength against the temptations and subtle devices of the enemy.

When Friends wrote of the power of the Lord being “over all”, it often referred to the Inward Light having power over those gathered against Friends. William Edmundson, whose conversion we saw earlier, relates this story of rescue:

The bishop seeing this, was amazed, and bid two of his waiting men take me into the buttery*, and make me eat and drink. They took me by the arms down the stairs, and bid me go into the buttery to eat and drink. I told them I would not eat or drink there; but they urged me, saying, I heard their lord command them to make me eat and drink. I asked them if they were Christians at that house. They said yes; then, said I, let your yea be yea; and your nay be nay, for that is Christ’s command. I said, I will not eat or drink here, and you take no notice of it, being accustomed to break your yea and nay. They stood silent and let me go, for the Lord’s power astonished and was over them all.

* buttery - A storeroom for liquors

Continued in Part 4

Monday, May 25, 2009

Friends and Politics

I have written before about my difficulties with some Friends' attitudes towards the political process and how aligning with political parties fosters a spirit that is not loving towards all. I occasionally encounter a similar sentiment when reading early Friends' writings. For example, this passage from Isaac Penington speaks to me:

This spirit must be kept out from among you; this aspiring spirit, this lofty ruling spirit, which loves to be great, which loves to have dominion, which would exalt itself, because of the gift it has received, and would bring others into subjection; this spirit must be subdued amongst Christ's disciples, or it will ruin all. The Lord gives grace and knowledge for another end than for men to take upon them to be great, and rule over others because of it. And he that, because of this, thinks himself fit to rule over men's consciences, and to make them bow to what he knows or takes to be truth, he loseth his own life hereby; and so far as he prevails upon others, he doth but destroy their life too.

I think that in a democracy, this idea of ruling over people's consciences and making them bow to what one knows or takes to be the truth extends to the voters. One group tries to get enough votes so that others will bow to their will. You can certainly see a warlike spirit amongst political parties, especially when agreement with another party's issue is considered treason.

London Yearly Meeting had this advice in relation to civil government:

Advised to walk wisely and circumspectly towards all men, in the peaceable spirit of Christ Jesus, giving no offence or occasions to those in outward government, nor way to any controversies, heats, and distractions of this world, about the kingdoms of it; but to pray for the good of all, and submit all to that divine power and wisdom, which rules over the kingdoms of men. 1689

The journal entry that resonated the most me was by Elias Hicks:

They were both instructive edifying seasons; wherein I had full opportunity to relieve my mind, being, through gracious assistance, led in the clear openings of the divine light, to set forth the great danger of mixing in with the spirit of the world, which leads to strife and contention, and the promotion of parties and party animosities in civil governments: all of which have a direct tendency to engender war and bloodshed, and are therefore inconsistent for us, as a people, to touch or take part with, or to suffer our minds to be agitated thereby; as it always has led, and always will lead those, who are leavened therewith, out of the meek spirit of the gospel, which breathes "peace on earth, and good will to all men."

I love the phrase "meek spirit of the gospel". It evokes the humble spirit that I often sense when reading John Woolman's Journal, and I find myself turning to that journal when I feel like my ego is riding roughshod over everyone and everything. Woolman had a way of expressing his leadings without demonizing others. I think this fits well with the experience of humbling and tendering that I hope to post about soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Epistle 10 in Modern English

In a comment on a previous post, Ali Reid wondered if there was a Modern English version of George Fox's Epistle #10, and whether it would have the same power. I thought I might give it a try. I realize that adding capital letters in certain places is more of an alteration, but I think it emphasizes the references to God and the Divine Seed:

To Friends, to stand still in trouble, and see the strength of the Lord.

The tempter comes in the form of anything you are addicted to. And when he can trouble you, he has the advantage, and you are lost.
    After you see yourselves, stand still in That Which is Pure
            and mercy will come.
    After you see your thoughts and temptations, don't think, just submit,
            and power will come.
    Stand still in That Which Shows and Discovers
            and strength will immediately come.
    Stand still in the Light, and submit to it
            and the tempter will be hushed and gone
            and content will come.

When temptations and troubles appear, sink down in That Which is Pure, and your troubles will be hushed and fly away. After you have seen yourselves, your strength is in standing still. Whatever addictions you see in yourselves – temptations, corruption, uncleanness, you think you will never overcome them. Your earthly reason tells you that you will lose everything. Don't listen to it! Stand still in the Light that shows you your addictions, and you will receive strength from the Lord, and help beyond all your expectations.

Then you will grow up in peace, and no trouble will move you. David fretted when he looked out, but when he was still no trouble could move him. When your thoughts are out and abroad, that's when troubles move you. But keep your minds on that Spirit that existed before the letter and you'll learn to read the scriptures the right way. If you do anything by your own will, you tempt God, so stand still in that Power that Brings Peace.
    George Fox

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 2

This is a continuation of a previous post.

Healing may have played a bigger role among early Friends than we know. There was once a text by George Fox called the Book of Miracles, of which we now have only an outline, and details pieced together by Henry Cadbury. In this book, Fox recorded over 150 incidents of people being healed, although much of what we have of this book looks like this:

And there was a man ... tailor ... bed-ridden ... And Daniel Baker
who went ... crutches ... never wore them afterward.

From the small amount of information available in the outline, Henry Cadbury was able to find other sources containing the same information. For example, the following account came from a Fox manuscript referred to as the Trickett manuscript:

His mother had a dead palsy [and had little use of one side and she often did fall down and then could not help herself, and had been so many years. And George Fox came to see her, and at night she fell down, and he was moved to take her by the hand, and it immediately left her, and she arose and could] go about her business.

There are other accounts of George Fox healing people:

George Fox says, in 1653 he was at a meeting where Richard Myer was, who had been long lame of one of his arms. “I was moved of the Lord to say unto him amongst all the people, ‘Stand up upon thy legs,’ for he was sitting down; and he stood up, and stretched out his arm that had been lame a long time and said, ‘Be it known unto you, all people, that this day am I healed!’ He soon after came to Swarthmore meeting, and then declared how the Lord had healed him.”

In 1675 as he was travelling north to Swarthmore from London, at Cassel “A woman brought her daughter for me to see how well she was; putting me in mind, that when I was there before, she had brought her to me much troubled with the king’s evil [scrofula], and had then desired me to pray for her. Which I did, and she mended upon it. Praised be the Lord”

Other Friends participated in these healings as well. Fox relates an encounter with Nathaniel Batts in which he acknowledges that Friends had healed a woman:

He asked me about a woman in Cumberland, who, he said, he was told, had been healed by our prayers and laying on of hands, after she had been long sick, and given over by the physicians: he desired to know the certainty of it. I told him, we did not glory in such things, but many such things had been done by the power of Christ.

If you are interested in healing, Richard Lee is giving a workshop on it at the FGC Gathering again this year, and hopefully there will be a daily Meeting for Healing in the afternoon. These meetings for healing at the FGC Gathering are very intense and deep, I highly recommend them. If I was going to the Gathering this year, the meetings for healing would be the thing I would look forward to the most.

Continued in Part 3

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Early Friends' Experiences of the Light, Part 1

I am doing a workshop at SAYMA this year entitled "Experiences of the Light Among Early Friends". I thought it might be useful to just look at experiences rather than discussing doctrine, and to compare those experiences to what we experience today. I have attempted to categorize these experiences for the purpose of discussion, but there is much overlap between them. The topics I intend to cover are:

  • Repentance and Transformation
  • Healing
  • Strengthening and Power
  • Humbling and Tendering
  • Unity
  • Guidance and Insight

    I am writing up the the material into a handout, which I will post here as I am able to, starting with the section on Repentance and Transformation:

    There are numerous accounts among early Friends of dramatic conversion (convincement) experiences, where they suddenly came to repent. The Greek word in the New Testament commonly translated as repentance is metanoia, which more literally means “to change one’s mind”, and for many Friends, repentance wasn’t a sudden regret for one’s past deeds, but an inward recognition and acceptance of the Spirit within them - a change of their mind and their understanding. There followed a transformation, sometimes fast, sometimes gradual, in which the person found themselves inwardly purified and they gave up their old ways. This often involved repentance in the traditional meaning, as the Inward Light revealed one’s sins. There are several important things to note about the way early Friends experienced repentance and transformation:

  • The repentance often came about as a result of the preaching of Friends, and sometimes out of other forms of witness. It was not as much what was said, but that it was spoken from the Spirit and answered that of God in the hearer.
  • Transformation came about by the working of the Inward Light on one’s soul.
  • Friends believed it was possible to lead a sinless life as a result of this transformation.
  • The emphasis wasn’t on feeling guilt for one’s sins, but on living a sinless life.

    The convincement of William Edmundson is a good example of this repentance and transformation:

    He soon sold off his stock of goods; and going over to England to purchase a fresh supply, he heard of George Fox and James Nayler being in the north; and feeling a great desire to meet with them, he went to a place where James Nayler was, and had an opportunity of hearing him discourse of the things of God’s kingdom, and the work of regeneration. And though James’s words were not many, yet they were so powerful, and so fully reached and answered the testimony of the divine witness in his own mind, that his heart was opened to receive the word preached, and to confess that it was indeed the truth. He was now brought into great exercise of spirit; his former ways were “hedged up;” and many things to which he had been accustomed were shown to him in the Light of Christ, to be incompatible with the purity and entire obedience to which he was called. He flinched not however from the hand of the Lord, for his sins were set clearly before him, and he felt that he must be purged from them through judgment. And returning shortly to Ireland, the Lord’s hand was mercifully laid upon him, while at sea, producing great wrestlings and conflicts of spirit; under a strong temptation to land his goods clandestinely and avoid paying the duty; but this he was enabled to withstand. He landed at Carrickfergus; and rode twelve miles to his own home. His brother meeting him at the door, offered the usual salutation, probably bowing and using the empty complimentary phrases so ready in the mouths of men of the world. The Lord’s power that instant so seized upon William, that he could not join in what he now saw to be vanity; and he was broken into many tears. His wife and brother were amazed at the change, but made no opposition.

    It wasn’t the content of the words that reached William, but their power, and that they answered the divine witness (i.e. “that of God”) within him. After that, he experienced the Light showing him his sins, and over time it changed him.

    George Fox described this process in one of his epistles. Note how often he reminds us not to try to do anything when we see our sins, but to wait in the Light:

    To Friends, to stand still in trouble, and see the strength of the Lord.

    Friends,Whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you, and then ye are gone. 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. Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, etc. then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the light that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation. Then ye grow up in peace, and no trouble shall move you. David fretted himself, when he looked out; but when he was still, no trouble could move him. When your thoughts are out, abroad, then troubles move you. But come to stay your minds upon that spirit which was before the letter; here ye learn to read the scriptures aright. If ye do any thing in your own wills, then ye tempt God; but stand still in that power which brings peace. G. F.

    Repentance and transformation was not always such a sudden thing, however. John Woolman describes his transformation as more of a gradual process, spanning much of the first chapter of his journal.

    This series of posts continues.