Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Prayer from Job Scott

I recently encountered this prayer in the works of Job Scott1, which he claims is the first prayer he ever offered in meeting:
"O Lord God Almighty! thou who art from everlasting to everlasting! Hear, O Lord, we pray thee, and arise for the help of the suffering seed. Circumcise thy people's hearts to love and fear thee. Baptize us in the river of judgment. Spare not thy rod, nor withhold thy hand, till thou has bowed the stubborn will, and brought forth judgment unto victory. And then, O gracious Father! pour in the oil of consolation , and heal the wounds with the balm of Gilead. Sanctify us, O Lord, for thy service. Cleanse us, we humbly pray thee, in thy fire, which is in Sion, and purify us in thy furnace which is at Jerusalem, that we may be a people to the praise of thy great name, which is worthy of all adoration and praise for evermore. Amen, Amen."
My first thought was that this prayer wouldn't go over well some meetings because of the language, but that the main reason for that, I think, is that we no longer have the same context for it, and we aren't used to hearing people speak this way any more. When I read this, the main context I read it in is what George Fox expressed in this excerpt from 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 hone; and then content comes;
My understanding of this is that early Friends experienced the light as illuminating their sins and temptations, but that in continually dwelling in the light, they found those temptations lessening. As Robert Barclay wrote, "I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up." Incidentally, Lloyd Lee Wilson recently pointed out that our modern phrase "holding someone in the light" takes on quite a different meaning when looked at in this context.

I think this experience of the light is essentially what Job Scott is praying about, using biblical language. This is how I interpret some of these:

Circumcise thy people's hearts to love and fear thee

The idea of "circumcision of the heart" did not originate with Paul, but occurs several times in the Hebrew bible, such as this passage in Deuteronomy 30:6, which seems close to Scott's phrasing: "Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live."

Baptize us in the river of judgment. Spare not thy rod, nor withhold thy hand, till thou has bowed the stubborn will, and brought forth judgment unto victory.

These words might sound harsh to our ears, but I think that when coupled with the consolation that comes afterwards, it is a liberating thing. Many times we have no problem identifying our own flaws and temptations, but what Friends have testified to is that the light takes us from being mired in those temptations to getting beyond them. It makes sense that one would pray for that.

pour in the oil of consolation , and heal the wounds with the balm of Gilead

Praying for that judgment, for God to "spare not thy rod", makes the most sense to me when coupled with praying for the consolation after it. The later talk of sanctification, being cleansed in fire, or being purified (which is basically being cleansed in fire) is essentially this same process.

What I think is most important about this prayer is that it is about something experiential, and that Job Scott (and presumably others in the meeting) desired that experience. I find this aspect of the light both desirable and compelling, and I think it is necessary for us to find true unity in meeting - to have the light push away our selfishness, fear, anger, so that we are able to dwell in God's presence together without obstruction.

1. Some other editions of Job Scott's journal do not contain the prayer at this point. The version I am using is the 1831 "The Works of that Eminent Minister of the Gospel, Job Scott" published by John Comly, who was a Hicksite Friend.


  1. It certainly wasn’t just Job Scott who desired it. William Penn’s *No Cross, No Crown* was almost certainly the most widely distributed work by any early Friend in Job Scott’s day (one traveling minister after another mentions giving copies away, often by the dozen), and it explores the importance of chastisement as a form of teaching by the Lord. It also talks about how the world is given to getting the matter backward:

    “The vile World knows nothing, but carnally, after a fleſhly Manner and Interpretation; and too many who would be thought enlightened, are apt to call Providences by wrong Names. For Inſtance, Afflictions they ſtile Judgments; and Trials (more precious than the beloved Gold) they call Miſeries. On the other Hand, they call the Preferments of the World by the name of Honour….” (Chap. VI §13)

    Devout Friends in Scott’s time would have been almost as familiar with this as with the Bible.

    On another point, the idea of “holding someone in the Light” is as backward as can be. The tool cannot reverse its relationship with the hand that holds it; it cannot become its Maker’s owner and manipulator, and we are the creatures of the Light, not the other way around. We can rejoice in the Light while we have it, being creatures of the Day; but when it is withdrawn from us, who among us has the power to command it to return?

  2. This unexpected deliverance after great diminishment is at the heart of Quaker faith, which is to say, at the heart of reality. Reading from Penington this morning, I came across this passage in a section titled "Concerning Reconciliation":

    Quest. 5. What then is man's great advantage toward reconciliation with God?
    Ans. To become weak, to become poor, to become helpless, to become nothing by the frequent exercises of the word of reconciliation in the heart; for the poor receive the gospel, and the weak receive God's strength, and the helpless his mercy, and the nothing-ones his fulness (Works, II, 351).