Three Quaker converts writing during the English Restoration have left us with some especially articulate explanations of Inward Light. The first, whose writing apparently had little circulation or impact during his own lifetime, is Isaac Penington (1617-1679). William Penn (1644-1718) nowadays is more widely known for his governmental legacy and visions of religious tolerance. The third, whose masterpiece remains the cornerstone attempt at a systematic Quaker theology, is Robert Barclay (1648-1690). Unlike many early Friends, these three came with thorough intellectual training and were literate in an array of contemporary and ancient languages.
In joining Friends in 1658, shortly after James Nayler fell into scandal, Penington skillfully picked up on the Light metaphor. If Edward Burrough had been tiptoeing around it, fearing its controversial implications, Penington revels in his experience of it.
“Penington’s life as a Quaker covered the transition from enthusiasm to sobriety, and his prolific works included the political apocalyptic … as well as fine devotional and pastoral writing,” Rosemary Moore says (The Light in Their Consciences). As a consequence, he may present us with a final, and encapsulating, presentation of early Friends’ encounter with Light and its workings. His style of writing does not lend itself to short quotations; instead, typically long sentences gather like waves rolling toward shore, each one adding to an intensifying comprehension. The Ancient Principle of Truth: or the Light Within Asserted, for example, opens: “The true ministers of the gospel, the ministers of the new covenant, were ordained and appointed by God to be ministers of light, ministers of righteousness, ministers of the Spirit. And this was their work and service, even to preach the light, to deliver their message concerning the light, which they heard of Christ, and were sent by him to preach … So that they were to tell men what the light was, and where it was to be found; and to turn men from darkness to light, from sin and unrighteousness to purity and righteousness, from the spirit and power of Satan to the Spirit and power of the living God, so that they might come from under Satan’s authority, power, and kingdom of darkness, into the light, wherein Christ reigns as King, Priest, and Prophet …” (To maintain continuity of expression, I have eliminated Penington’s Scriptural citations.)
Soon, Penington is proclaiming: “Now God, who is light, being so near every man, doth he never shine upon them? … He who is light, loveth mankind; doth he never visit them with his love? He knoweth what and how great inward spiritual enemies mankind have; doth he never make any discoveries of their enemies to them? Yes; the light is near all mankind, to discover them, and help them against the darkness; and the love is near to help them against the enmity which destroyeth, and so to save them. For whosover joineth to the light of God’s Spirit, cannot but witness salvation thereby; for it is of a saving nature, and bringeth salvation with it to all that receive it. Christ is in it, and is known by it (inwardly, spiritually, livingly known), and he is not, nor can be, known without it. He that knoweth the light of God’s Spirit knoweth Christ; and he that believeth in it believeth in him; and he that knoweth not, nor believeth therein, neither knoweth nor believeth in Christ.”
Here, as his bejeweled sentences circle repeatedly into themselves like knots, meanings accumulate. Penington insists, foremost, that Christ is God’s Spirit; in itself, this is an expression of Logos rather than the person of Jesus. Furthermore, he voices an awareness of another spirit, one of darkness, enmity, or Satan. The word enemies here is also telling, for its opposite is friends; thus, Friends join together in a united front against the enemy, Satan and his legions.
Penington also names and extends the offices of Christ, including the quickener, guide, rule, the way, the truth, the life, Shepherd, King, Captain, vine, olive-tree, leader, door, path, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, redemption, Redeemer, altar, sacrifice, priest, prophet, sabbath, day-spring, bright and morning star, sun, shield, rock, high tower.
“Now this inward light is abundantly testified of in the Scripture,” he insists, citing Moses, Job, David, Solomon, Ezekiel, and other prophets as he extrapolates his case from “circumcising the heart,” a “candle shining upon his [Job’s] head, and … walking through darkness by his light,” “the path of the just is a shining light,” and so on. When Penington turns to John the Baptist, he says, “The light within is a fan, the Spirit within is a spirit of judgment and burning; it scatters the darkness; yea, it consumes and burns up the dross and stubble there.” The majority of his citations, not unexpectedly, are New Testament.
Rather than clarifying the definition of this Light, Penington instead sees it as both Christ and the calling to Christ: “It is one with Christ, it is of his heavenly Spirit and nature, it makes way for him, it brings into unity and fellowship both with the Father and the Son, where the peace which passeth understanding, and the joy unspeakable and full of glory, abounds. This is the gospel message, that God is light; and they that are gathered into and abide in this light, they are gathered into and abide in unity and fellowship, both with the Father and the Son.” In short, he is drawn into mystical oneness.
Much of Penington’s appeal, I think, lies in the joining of his certainty in his experience and his awareness of the limitations of language in expressing these intense sensations. The reader shares in a kind of love letter full of intimate confession. As Penington wrote, Concerning Divine Love: “What shall I say of it, or how shall I in words express its nature! It is the sweetness of life; it is the sweet, tender, melting nature of God, flowing up through his seed of life into the creature, and of all things making the creature most like unto himself, both in nature and operation. … And this my soul waits and cries after, even the full springing up of eternal love in my heart, and in the swallowing of me wholly into it, and the bringing of my soul wholly forth in it, that the life of God, in its own perfect sweetness, may fully run forth through this vessel … and change the vessel into its own nature.”
* * *
From the very beginning of his participation in the Society of Friends, Penington appears to have comprehended the dimensions of the Light metaphor. In 1659, his The Scattered Sheep Sought After presents detailed reasoning for its centrality in the Quaker experience. He opens, not surprisingly, speaking personally with words of confession and counsel:
“The deep sense of this hath afflicted my soul from my tender years; the eternal witness awakening in me, and the eternal light manifesting the darkness all along unto me; though I knew not that it was the light, but went about to measure its appearances in me by words which itself had formerly spoken to others, and so set up my own understanding and comprehension as the measure, although I did not then perceive or think that I did so. … This the Lord blew upon, though its comeliness was unutterable (the life still feeding my spirit underneath, from whence sprang an inward beauty and freshness). Then such a day, or rather night, of darkness and distress overtook me, as would make the hardest heart melt to hear the relation of; yet the Lord was in that darkness, and he preserved me, and was forming of me to himself; and the taste I had then of him was far beyond whatever I had known in the purest strain of my religion formerly.
“There is no other way; be not deceived: that must be awakened in you which can judge you, and must bring forth its judgment in you unto victory, if life in you ever rise and get the dominion over death.”
Soon, though, he connects the inward work to discernment within an enlightened community: “shall not the light of the Son judge? Shall not the light of that candle, which the Lord hath lighted in one heart, discover and judge the darkness in another heart? Light doth make manifest, and its manifestation is its judgment. The uttering of the words is but the declaration of what the light in the heart hath done before, and cannot but do; for as long as it is light, wherever it comes, it will and cannot but discover and judge the darkness it meets with; though the darkness cannot own either its discovery or its judgment, but must needs except against it. Now if he cannot do this (which is utterly impossible for the dark spirit to do) then, in the next place, he fortifies and hardens the heart as much as he can from receiving the judgment, by persuading him to look upon it as the judgment of another spirit like his own, and not as the judgment of the light. … but be sure that the light alone in you judge; and lie very low in the light, that that part which the light in you judgeth in others get not up in you, while the light is making use of you to judge it in others.”
Penington’s image of candle here stands in stark contrast to modern Friends’ usage. Instead of an innate spark of goodness or good will, Penington applies it as an extension of the son of God seen working as eternal judge. He continues: “wait first for the rising of the Judge of Israel in your hearts, and in the next place wait for the joining of your hearts to him; both which are to be done by his eternal light, which manifests and gives his life. In the lowest shining of this light there is the judgment, and there is the king himself, who is not severed from the least degree or measure of his own light.”
Penington now applies Light to address the recurring theological issues of Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Atonement that are usually presented in the Blood of Christ metaphor: “That there is no way of being saved by him, but through receiving him into the heart by a living faith, and having him formed in the heart. Christ saves not as he stands without at the door knocking, but as he is let in; and being let in, he brings in with him that life, power, and mercy, which break down the wall of partition, unite to God, and save.”
Penington is emphatic: “That there is no way of receiving Christ into the heart, and of having him formed there, but by receiving the light of his spirit, in which light he is and dwells. Keep out the light of his spirit, keep out Christ: let in the light of his spirit, let in Christ: for the Father and the Son are light, and are alone known and received in the light; but never out of it.” In a single stroke, Penington sweeps trinitarian objections to the side, compressing them into the working of Light.
From here, his focus concentrates on individual practice. “That the way of receiving the light of the Spirit into the heart (and thereby uniting with the Father, and the Son) is by hearkening to, and receiving its convictions of sin there. The first operation of the Spirit towards man lying in the sin, is to convince him of the sin; and he that receives not the convincing light of the Spirit, the work is stopped in him at the very first; and Christ can never come to be formed in him, because that light whereby he should be formed is kept out. And then he may talk of Christ, and practise duties (pray, read, and meditate much), and gather comforts from promises, and run into ordinances, and be exceeding zealous and affectionate in all these, and yet perish in the end.”
Penington here admits an objection, the possibility of self-deception or self-righteousness: “But I may be deceived in hearkening to a light within; for while I think that I therein hearken to the light of the Spirit, it may prove but the light of a natural conscience.” Penington was not alone among early Friends in emphasizing that the Inward Light was something quite different from mere conscience.
He answers: “If it should be but the light of a natural conscience, and it draw thee from sin, which separates from God, and so prepare thee for the understanding, believing, and receiving what the Scripture saith of Christ; this is no very bad deceit: but if, in the result, it should prove to have been the light of the spirit, and, thou all thy life-time, hast taken it for the light of a natural conscience (and so hast despised, or at least neglected, if not reproached it), thou wilt then find that this was a very bad deceit.”
He explains: “Let any man give heed to the light in his heart, he shall find it to discover his most inward, his most secret, his most spiritual evils; which a natural light cannot do: for that which is natural cannot discover that which is spiritual.”
Penington turns the argument outward, to all religious discourse conducted outside of that Light and revelation: “Therefore take heed, lest (through ignorance) ye blaspheme the holy light of the pure spirit.”
Touching on the Seed metaphor that many early Friends employed, Penington views the appearance of Light throughout history: “Now this seed, this light is one in all, though there have been several dispensations of it. One to the heathen; in whom it springs up after an hidden manner, even as it were naturally; from whence it had the name of the light of nature (though it be the mystery of life and salvation hid in them, Col. 1:27. this mystery IN the Gentiles; it is ill translated, among). Another to the Jews, in whom it was more rigorously stirred by a law given; who by types and shadows, and righteous exercises according to the law, were to be awakened to the living principle. Micah 6:8. Another to the Christians, in whom it was lively brought forth to light and life, by an especial dispensation of grace; insomuch as that which was the mystery in the Gentiles, and veiled from the Jews, being opened in them, was found to be Christ the hope. Col. 1:27.”
If Penington has presented Light as a judge, he now argues that this authority can now work on one’s behalf: “Every man hath in him an enemy to evil; one that never consented to it, but still reproves it, and fights against it, even in secret. What is this? This is no less than a ray from Christ, the wisdom of God, out of the seat of the fear in every heart, to lead into the fear, where the law of departing from iniquity is learned: and so this ray, being hearkened unto, and followed in the fear, brings up into the love, into the life, into the light, into the wisdom, into the power. Do not shut your eyes now, O ye wise ones! but open your hearts, and let in that which knocks there, which can and will save you, being let in, and which alone can save you. For it is not a notion of Christ without (with multitudes of practices of self-denial and mortification thereupon) which can save; but Christ heard knocking, and let into the heart. This will open the scriptures aright; yea, this is the true key, which will truly open words, things, and spirits: but he that opens without this key, is a thief and a robber, and shall restore, in the day of God’s judgment, all that he had stolen: and woe to him, who, when he was stripped of what he hath stolen, is found naked.”
So now the Light also becomes “the true key” to restoring what has been lost to thieves and robbers. Among the stolen goods, Penington argues, was Biblical knowledge. “The scriptures were generally given forth to the people of God; part to the Jews, part to the Christians. He that is born of the life, hath a right unto them, and can read and understand them in the spirit which dwells in the life. But he that is not born of the spirit is but an intruder, and doth but steal other men’s light, and other men’s conditions and experiences into his carnal understanding; for which they were never intended, but only to be read and seen in that light which wrote them. … He that understands the words of life, must first have life in himself. And the life, from which the words came, is the measurer of the words, and not the words of the life.”
Penington then reconnects that sense of life to Light itself: “there is no darkness in God, nothing but light. Darkness is excluded from him, and the mind that lies in darkness cannot have union or fellowship with him. Therefore he that will be one with God, and partake of his life, must come out of the darkness, which hath no place with God, into the light where God is, and in which he dwells.”
Lest Christ Jesus be seen as missing from this equation, Penington continues: “The work of the Son is to reveal the Father, and to draw to the Father. He reveals him as light, as the spring of light, as the fountain of light, and he draws to him as light. When he gave to his apostles the standing message, whereby they were to make him known to the world, and whereby men were to come into fellowship and acquaintance with him; this is it, “that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” [1 John 1:5]
Penington then launches into an extended consideration of Light, which adds “breath” and “the eternal image” to its attributes:
“Christ Jesus, the Son of God, he is the image of his substance, the exact image of this light, the light of the world, who is to light the world into this substance. So that as God the Father is to be known as light, so Christ the Son also is to be known as light. He is the only begotten of the Father of lights, the only image wherein the eternal substance is revealed and made known. And he that receives this image, receives the substance; and he that receives not this image, receives not the substance.
“Now there is a breath or spirit from this substance, in this image, which draws to the image; thus the Father draws to the Son; and the image again draws to the substance; thus the Son draws to the Father. And so hearkening to this breath, the mind and soul is led out of the darkness, into the image of light (which is the Son), and by the image into the substance: and here is the fellowship which the gospel invites to. Joining to this breath, being transformed by this breath, living in this breath, walking in this holy inspiration, there is a unity with the Father and the Son, who themselves dwell in this breath, from whom this breath comes, in whom this breath is, and in whom all are, who are one with this breath.
“This breath purgeth out the dark breath, the dark air, the dark power, the mystery of death and darkness; and fills with the breath of light, with the breath of life, with the living power, with the holy, pure mystery.
“Now, as the Father is light, and the Son light; so this breath, this spirit which proceeds from them both, is light also. And as the Father, who is light, can alone be revealed by the Son, who is light; so the Son, who is light, can alone be revealed by the spirit, who is light.
“He then who hears this message, that God is light; and feeleth himself darkness, and in darkness, and is willing to be drawn out of the darkness into fellowship with God, who is light; this is requisite for him to know; namely, how he may be drawn out, who is it that draws, and which are the drawings; that he may not resist or neglect them (waiting for another thing) and so miss of the true and only passage unto life. Wherefore, observe this heedfully.
“None can draw to the Father, but the Son; none can draw to the Son, but the Father: and both these alone draw by the spirit. The Father, by his spirit, draws to the Son; the Son, by the same spirit, draws to the Father: and they both draw by the spirit as he is light, as he is their light lighted to that end. For as the Father is light, and the son is light; so that spirit which draws them must be light also. He is, indeed, the breath of light, eternally lighted, to draw to the eternal image of light, and then to the eternal substance, which eternally dwells in that eternal image.”
In another long passage, Penington returns to the personal tone of guidance:
“Convincing of sin, and reproving for sin; which nothing can truly discover and reprove, but the light of the spirit. Darkness cannot make manifest darkness, but whatsoever maketh manifest is light. All the discoveries of darkness, in the hidden world of the heart, are from Christ the sun of righteousness, by his spirit, what name soever men may give it; who know not this sun, nor its light, nor the true names of things in the light; but have named even the things of God in the dark, and according to the dark apprehensions and conceptions of their own imaginary mind. But this I say to such, who are so ready to beat their brains and dispute, leave contending about names; come to the thing, come to that which reproves thee in secret, follow the light that thus checks and draws; be diligent, be faithful, be obedient; thou shalt find this lead thee to that, which all thy knowledge out of this (even all that which thou callest spiritual light) will never be able to lead thee to.
“And when thou art joined to this light, it will show thee him whom thou hast pierced (even so as never yet thou sawest him), and open a fresh vein of blood and grief in thee, to bleed and mourn over him; and work that repentance in thee, which thou never wast acquainted with before; and teach thee that faith to which yet thou art a stranger; and teach thee that self-denial, which will reach to the very root of that nature which yet lives; even under that, and by means of that, which thou callest spiritual light; and will lay such a yoke on thy neck, as the unrighteous one is not able to bear: yea, such an one as the hypocrite (which is able to hide it under confessions of sin, and forms of zeal, knowledge, devotion, and worship) shall be daily tormented and wasted with. And then thou shalt know what it is to wait upon God in the way of his judgments, and find the powers of life and death striving for thy soul, and daily floods and storms encompassing and attending thee, under which thou wilt assuredly fall and perish, unless the everlasting arm of God’s power be stretched out for thee, and be continually redeeming thee. And then thou wilt feel and see how sin is pardoned, and how it is bound; how death broke in upon Adam, and how it daily breaks in upon mankind; and what that standard is, which the spirit of the Lord lifteth up against the powers of darkness. And then thou wilt come clearly to perceive, how that which thou hast called religion formerly (which flowed not from this principle) hath been but the invention of thine own imaginary mind (though thou fatheredst it upon the Scriptures, as most men do most of their inventions about doctrine and worship), wherein thou hast been in a dream of being changed, and yet remainest still the same in nature: and hast had a name that thou hast lived, but art still dead; a name of being sanctified, but still unclean; a name of being justified, but still condemned by the light in thine own conscience; which is one with him who is thy judge, and who will judge according to it: and so, as that which is real taketh place in thee, so that which hath been but imaginary will pass away.”
Penington returns to his guidance on living in this Light when he turns to a catechism section of The Scattered Sheep Sought After, here casting his deliberation in question-answer format.
“Q. But hath not this Saviour a name? What is his name?
“A. It were better for thee to learn his name by feeling his virtue and power in thy heart, than by rote. Yet, if thou canst receive it, this is his name, the Light; the Light of the World; a light to enlighten the Gentiles, that he may convert and make them God’s Israel, and become their glory. And according to his office, he hath enlightened every man that cometh into the world; though men neither know the light that cometh from him, nor him from whom the light comes; and so, notwithstanding the <124> light is so near them, remain strangers to it, and unsaved by it.
“Q. Why dost thou call him the light? Are there not other names every whit as proper, whereby he may as well be known?
“A. Do not thus set up the wise and stumbling part in thee; but mind the thing which first puts forth its virtue as light, and so is thus first to be known, owned, and received. Yet more particularly, if thou hast wherewith, consider this reason: we call him light, because the Father of lights hath peculiarly chosen this name for him, to make him known to his people in this age by, and hath thus made him manifest to us. And by thus receiving him under this name, we come to know his other names. He is the life, the righteousness, the power, the wisdom, the peace, &c., but he is all these in the light, and in the light we learn and receive them all; and they are none of them to be known in spirit, but in and by the light.
“Q. How are the other names of Christ known in and by the light?
“A. Letting in the light (which convinceth of, and warreth against, sin) the life stirs and is felt; and the life leads to the Word which was in the beginning, and giveth the feeling of that also. And in the Word, the righteousness, the peace, the wisdom, the power, the love are felt; and he is made all these to those who are led into and kept in the light. And when the powers of darkness appear with mighty dread, and there is no strength to withstand them, this lifts up a standard against them, and calms all the tempests, and cures all the wounds and diseases of the soul, anointing it with the everlasting oil; so that now I can sensibly, and with clear understanding, call it my Saviour, the Captain of my salvation, my Christ, or Anointed, my Husband, my King, my Lord, my God.
“Q. Where doth this light shine?
“A. In the darkness at first; but when it hath vanquished, expelled, and dispersed the darkness, it shines out of it.
“Q. What is that darkness wherein the light shines?
“A. Man: man’s heart, man’s conscience, man’s spirit. This is the world, which Christ, the Sun of righteousness, is the light of, in every part whereof he causeth the rays or beams of his light to shine at his pleasure; though in no part the darkness can comprehend the least shining of his light.
“Q. How then can it ever be converted thereby?
“A. The darkness is not to be converted. Every man in this state is reprobated, and the wrath abideth on him. So that the darkness is rejected, and man in the darkness; but man touched by the light, made sensible of it, and following it in the life and power which it begets, is drawn out of the horrible pit, and saved.
“Q. How may I do to find the light in the midst of the darkness of my heart, which is so great, and this seed so small?
“A. By its discovering and warring against the darkness. There is somewhat which discovereth both the open and secret iniquity of the corrupt heart, following it under all its coverings of zeal, holiness, and all manner of voluntary humility and self-righteousness, with which the true light never had unity; and sometimes may cause secret misgivings that all is not well, but there may be a flaw found in this covering, and in the end it may prove too narrow for the soul. This which thus warreth against the darkness, to bring people off from all false foundations to the true and living foundation, this is the light; and thus thou mayst find it, at some time or other, at work in thy heart, if thou mind it.
“Q. Having found the light, how may I come to feel the saving virtue and power of it?
“A. By believing in it. For the virtue and power springs up in the heart that believes in it.
“Q. How can I believe in it? Am not I dead?
“A. There is a creating, a quickening power in the light, which begets a little life, and that can answer the voice of the living power.
“Q. Yea, if I could find any such thing begotten in me, then I might be drawn to assent that that (though never so small) might believe; but surely my dead heart never can.
“A. Hast thou never found a true, honest breathing towards God? Hast thou never found sin not an imaginary, but a real burden? This was from life: there was somewhat begotten of God in thee, which felt this. It was not the flesh and blood in thee; but somewhat from above. And if this had known the spring of its life, and not been deceived from it by the subtlety, <126> it would have fed upon, and have grown up in, the virtue and power of the spring from whence its life came.
“Q. Why then, by this, all men have power to believe.
“A. In the light which shines in all, and visits all, there is the power; and this power strives with the creature to work itself into the creature; and where there hath been the least breathing after life, there hath been a taste of the power: for this came from it. But the great deceiver of souls lifts up men’s minds in the imagination to look for some great appearance of power, and so they slight and overlook the day of small things, and neglect receiving the beginning of that, which in the issue would be the thing they look for. Waiting in that which is low and little in the heart, the power enters, the seed grows, the kingdom is felt and daily more and more revealed in the power. And this is the true door and way to the thing: take heed of climbing over it.
“Q. What is it to believe in the light?
“A. To receive its testimony either concerning good or evil, and so either to turn towards or from, in the will and power which the light begets in the heart.
“Q. How will this save me?
“A. By this means; that in thee which destroys thee, and separates thee from the living God, is daily wrought out, and the heart daily changed into the image of him who is light, and brought into unity and fellowship with the light, possessing of it, and being possessed by it; and this is salvation.
“Q. But show more particularly how faith, or believing in the light, worketh out the salvation.
“A. First, it causeth a fear and trembling to seize upon the sinner. The Lord God Almighty, by the rising of his light in the heart, causeth the powers of darkness to shake, the earth to tremble, the hills and mountains to melt, and the goodly fruit-trees to cast their fruit; and then the plant of the Lord springs up out of the dry and barren ground, which by the dews and showers from above, thrives, grows, and spreads till it fills God’s earth.
“2. In this fear and trembling the work of true repentance and conversion is begun and carried on. There is a turning of the soul from the darkness to the light; from the dark power to the light power; from the spirit of deceit to the spirit of truth; from all false appearance and imaginations about holiness, to that which the eternal light manifesteth to be truly so. And now is a time of mourning, of deep mourning, while the separation is working; while the enemy’s strength is not broken and subdued, and while the heart is now and then feeling itself still hankering after its old lovers.
“3. In the belief of the light, and in the fear placed in the heart, there springs up a hope, a living hope, in the living principle, which hath manifested itself, and begun to work. For the soul truly turning to the light, the everlasting arm, the living power is felt; and the anchor being felt, it stays the soul in all the troubles, storms, and tempests it meets with afterwards; which are many, yea, very many.
“4. Faith, through the hope, works righteousness, and teaches the true wisdom; and now the benefit of all the former trouble, anguish, and misery begins to be felt, and the work goes on sweetly. All the unrighteousness is in the darkness, in the unbelief, in the false hope. Faith in the light works out the unrighteousness, and works in the righteousness of God, in Christ. And it makes truly wise, wise in the living power; even wise against the evil, and to the good, which no man can learn elsewhere.
“5. In the righteousness, and in the true wisdom which is received in the light, there springs up a love, and a unity, and fellowship with God, the Father of lights, and with all who are children of the light. Being begotten by Christ, the light, into the nature of the light, and brought forth in the image, there is a unity soon felt with God, the Father, and with those who are born of the same womb, and partake of the same nature. And here are a willingness and power felt in this love, to lay down the life, even for the least truth of Christ’s or for the brethren.
“6. Belief in the light works patience, meekness, gentleness, tenderness, and long-suffering. It will bear any thing for God, any thing for men’s souls’ sake. It will wait quietly and stilly for the carrying on of the work of God in its own soul, and for the manifestation of God’s love and mercy to others. It will bear the contradiction and reproach of sinners, seeking their good, even while they are plotting, contriving, and hatching mischief; laying many subtle snares, and longing thereby to entrap the innocent.
“7. It brings peace, joy, and glory. Faith in the light breaks down the wall of darkness, the wall of partition, that which separates from the peace, that which causeth the anguish and trouble upon the soul, and so brings into peace. Christ is the skilful Physician; he cures the disease, by removing the cause. The unskilful physicians, they heal deceitfully; crying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace, while that which breaks the peace is standing: but Christ doth not so, but slays the enmity in the heart by the blood of his cross, so making peace. And this is true peace, and certain peace.
“Now finding the clods of earth removed, the enemy, the disturber, the peace-breaker trodden down, the sin taken away, the life and power present, the soul brought into the peace; here is joy, unspeakable joy! joy which the world cannot see or touch, nor the powers of darkness come near to interrupt. Here is now no more crying out, O wretched man! and who shall deliver! &c., but a rejoicing in him who hath given victory, and made the soul a conqueror; yea, more than a conqueror. Wait to feel that, thou who art now groaning, and oppressed by the merciless powers of darkness.
“And this joy is full of glory; which glory increaseth daily more and more, by the daily sight and feeling of the living virtue and power in Christ the light; whereby the soul is continually transformed, and changed more and more, out of the corruptible into the incorruptible; out of the uncircumcision, the shame, the reproach, into the circumcision, the life, the glory.
“Q. Doth the light do all this?
“A. Yea, in them that turn towards it, give up to it, and abide in it. In them it cleanseth out the thickness and darkness, and daily transformeth them into the image, purity, and perfection of the light. And this nothing can do but the light alone.
“Q. What makes men generally so averse from the light?
“A. Their unity with the darkness, which the light is an enemy to, discovering and disturbing it.
“Q. But wise men, knowing men, men who are looked upon as having most light, they also are enemies to this light, and speak hardly of it.
“A. Was it not always so? Did any of the rulers, or wise scribes and teachers of the law, believe in him formerly? And is it any wonder if such believe not in him now?
“Q. What may be the reason why the wise men formerly have not, and now cannot, believe in the light?
“A. There are two great reasons for it.
“1. Because they cannot comprehend it. They can comprehend the knowledge which they can gather out of the book of nature, or out of the books of the law and prophets, or out of the books of the evangelists and apostles: but they cannot comprehend the light which all these testify of. So that such a kind of knowledge they can receive; but the light they cannot; for it is not to be comprehended; but gathereth into itself, and comprehendeth.
“2. Because it is an utter enemy to them. It will not wink at the closest of their evils, nor speak peace to them therein. Their own gathered knowledge may speak peace to them; but this will not. Thus the Jews could speak peace to themselves, from temple, ordinances, and sacrifices; though they walked in the stubbornness and uncircumcision of their hearts, resisting the checks and motions of the Holy Spirit there. And thus the Christians can speak peace to themselves, from a belief and hope through Christ’s dying at Jerusalem (though they know not him in them, and are at a distance, and not one with that in their hearts which is of Christ, and in his power and authority checks and reproves for sin); but the light will not speak peace so, but only where the virtue of the living blood is felt, cleansing away sin.
“Q. But there are many professors, strict professors, who, without doubt, have once tasted of the living virtue; what makes them such enemies to the light? For there are none speak more against it than they.
“A. Because they are fallen from what they once had; for if they were in that living principle, which once gave them a true taste of life through the Scriptures, they could not but know and own the light, which was the thing which gave them the taste, and would have preserved their relish, had they known how to turn to it, and abide in it.
“2. The light is a witness against all their knowledge and religious practices, and imitations from the scripture, which they hold and practise out of the light, in the unrighteousness, even in that part which is not to know or be the worshipper. And can ye blame them, that, when the light is so great an enemy to them, they all turn head against it? How is it possible, that having slain and murdered the just one in themselves, they should acknowledge and give him his due honor in others?
“Q. But have the strict professors, who pretend great things in honor of Christ, murdered him in themselves?
“A. Yea, verily, as really as the Scribes and Pharisees and people of the Jews put him to death at Jerusalem: for what they do to the least appearance of his light in their hearts, they do it unto him. Yea, our Lord Christ, at this very day, is as really crucified in their spiritual Egypt and Sodom, as he was without the gates of Jerusalem. And his righteous blood cries as loud against the professors of this age, as ever it did against the Jews; and they are hardened against him by a conceited knowledge, which by their imaginations they have gathered from the Scriptures, just as the Jews were; but the eye in them can no more see it, than the eye in the Jews could.
“Q. Surely if they knew the light to be the only living way, they would not be such enemies to it.
“A. Yea, I believe concerning them (as was said concerning the Jews) that if they knew it, they would not crucify the Lord of glory; for I bear many of them record, that they have a great zeal, though not according to knowledge. But at present very sad is their state; for the god of the world hath blinded the eye in them, which alone can see the truth; and with that eye wherewith they now strive to see, they shall never see with comfort. Yea, so exceeding gross and thick are many of them become, and their hearts so fat, that instead of feeling the want of the spirit of God in themselves, and mourning after it, they can mock at the appearance of it in others; and speak contemptuously of a light within, where Christ saith the light is: for, saith Christ, Take heed that the light which is in thee be not darkness; for if, &c. Luke 11:33, 36.
“Q. But will not they reply, that they do not oppose (much less mock at) the light of the Spirit, but only that which ye ignorantly call the light of the Spirit?
“A. If we have found it to be the light of the Spirit, and to work that in us and for us which no other light ever could, do not blame us for giving in our testimony that it is that light. And take heed how ye reproach us with ignorance, seeing many of us have passed through all that which ye call knowledge; but our light is a new and strange thing to you, and ye are not yet able to judge it.
“Q. But may not men obtain eternal life by reading the Scriptures, without knowing or owning this principle of the light?
“A. The true end of men’s reading the Scriptures, is to turn them to the light. The Scriptures contain messages concerning God, concerning Christ, concerning the spirit; the end whereof is to turn men to the power and life, which can do the thing for them; which God, which Christ, which spirit, fill all things, and are within in the heart, as well as without. The Word is nigh thee in thy heart, and in thy mouth, saith Moses to the Jews, saith Paul to the Christians. And to what end do they tell them it is there? But that there they should wait upon it, to hear its voice, and to obey it. Now mark; though men could practise and perform all things mentioned in the Scriptures; yet not being turned to this, they are not in the way of salvation: for the way of salvation is not a peculiar path, or course of ordinances and duties prescribed in the Scriptures; but it is a new way, a living way, a way that the wisest professors out of it never knew (I will lead them in paths they have not known). So that while men know not, nor are turned to, the light and power whereof the Scriptures testify, all their reading of the Scriptures, praying and practising ordinances and duties there mentioned, are but in vain, and in the end will prove but a false covering, and not the covering of the Spirit.
“Q. But how did men do formerly? for this is but a late notion about the light. Have none ever been saved that have not embraced this notion?
“A. I speak not of embracing a notion; but of turning to the thing itself, without which none ever was, or can be saved: for it is that alone can save, and it saves only them that are turned to it. Now if any man so read the Scriptures, as thereby to learn to turn to this, he may feel that which will work salvation in him, though he know not its name. For as darkness, being turned to, works death in a mystery, though its name be not known, but it may appear and be taken for light; so light, being turned to, works life in a mystery, although he in whom it works should not be able to call it by its name.
“Q. Then by this a man may be saved, though he should not know the literal name Jesus, or the literal name Christ, &c.
“A. The names are but the signification of the thing spoken of; for it is the life, the power (the being transformed by that) that saves, not the knowledge of a name. And Christians mightily deceive themselves herein: for they think to be saved by believing a relation concerning Christ, as he appeared in a fleshly body, and suffered death at Jerusalem. Whereas Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and the saving knowledge reveals him, not only as he was then, but as he was the day before, and will be for ever. And this knowledge is also revealed in the Scripture; but they are so drowned in the letter, wherewith the carnal part is so filled, that the spiritual eye cannot open in them to see: so that which was ordained for life, becomes death to them, and they perish; they perish just as the Jews did; for their eyes are withheld, by a wisdom which they have grown up in from the letter, from the beholding the mystery of life in the spirit, which alone can work out and save from the mystery of death.
“Q. But did not God formerly work life in men by their reading of the Scriptures, and by the preaching of such godly ministers as are now despised, and accounted antichristian?
“A. When men read the Scriptures formerly, in the times of thick darkness, and when some of those (who were not made ministers according to the order of the gospel) preached in the simplicity of their hearts, according to the best light of their feeling and experience, the Lord pitied the simplicity of their hearts, and secretly refreshed this principle in them by such reading, and by such preaching. But now this principle is made manifest, their reading and setting up a knowledge of the Scriptures without this (which was the thing even then from whence they had their life), yea, in opposition to this, this increaseth their death and bondage, and shuts them out of life.
“Q. Well, I will keep to the Scriptures, and wait for light there, let who will follow this new light.
“A. Wilt thou keep to the Scriptures, in opposition to that light, which alone can give the knowledge of the Scriptures? What kind of knowledge wilt thou gather from the Scriptures. Not a knowledge which will humble thee, and cleanse thine heart; but a knowledge that will puff thee up, and fit thee for the slaughter. While thou art from the light, thou canst not know the Scriptures, nor the power of God: but art exalting thine own imaginations, conceivings, and reasonings, without the sense of scriptures. And this thou wilt one day know with sorrow, when God calls thee to an account for thy boldness, in putting senses and meanings upon his words without his light.
“Q. I am almost startled.
“A. Many have fallen, and more must fall; for the sharp axe of the Lord is prepared to cut down every professor, with all his profession and religious practices, and imitations from scripture, which stand not in the pure life. Happy art thou, if thou now fall by that hand, which now strikes at many in great loving-kindness and mercy, that he might raise them up again, and fix them firm on the true foundation; but miserable are those whose eyes are withheld till the day of their visitation be overslipt, and so they continue keeping their corrupt standing, and confidence in their fleshly knowledge of the Scriptures: for they also must fall; but their fall will be otherwise.
“Mind therefore this my single-hearted advice:
“Let thy religion be to feel the pure principle of life in the pure vessel of life; for the eye must be pure that sees the life, and the heart that receives it. And faith is a pure mystery, and it is only held in a pure conscience. Know that in thee that purifies thee, and then thou knowest Christ, and the Father, and the Spirit and as that lives and grows up in thee, so shalt thou know their dwelling-place, and partake of their life and fulness.”
While Penington was not the first or only early Friend to challenge Biblical criticisms of the Quaker movement, his dialogue here deftly turns the quotations and arguments back on the accusers. While his tone here is one of personal experience, he manages to suggest outward measures of the inward transformation, thus avoiding the conundrum in James Nayler’s writing, with its tautology in which experience within the Light is essential for any understanding of the Light. Moreover, Penington deftly parleys his experience of the inward work of the Light into words and concepts that would have been familiar to non-Friends of the era, yet he does so in ways that must have left them confounded. Where he turns toward discussion of Trinity, he proclaims that the Father is also Light, revealed to humanity by the Light through Jesus and the Holy Spirit; in short, while apparently accepting the convention of Trinity, Penington simultaneously presents it as a single entity, Light. The puzzle remains, then, why his brilliance had to wait for discovery and appreciation by later generations.