Where were you when I planned the earth?
Tell me, if you are so wise.
Do you know who took its dimensions,
measuring its length with a cord?
What were its pillars built on?
Who laid down its cornerstone,
while the morning stars burst out singing
and the angels shouted for joy!
– Job 38:4-7 (Stephen Mitchell translation)
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Job seeks to learn the meaning of not just suffering but life itself. Pressed for an answer, God begs the question and diverts our attention, just as he did in the Garden of Eden. There is no easy answer for the existence of evil.
Still, early Quakers took seriously the counsel of Jesus: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. … You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know the master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (John 15:10-12 and 14-15, NJB).
While Friends, like the Bereans commended in Acts 17, “studied the scriptures to check whether it was true,” these verses hold special importance for the Quaker movement. Not only do we receive our name, as “Friends,” from this passage, but we also see a glimmer of that experience we now uphold as the doctrine of the Inner Light – “that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete” – as well as our calling as disciples bonded to one another in divine love and friendship. The Society of Friends did not arise from a vacuum. Rather, because early Quakers were so assiduous in their application of biblical concepts, speaking of their faith without using scriptural language is very difficult. Thus, words such as “kingdom,” “Lord,” “Father,” and so on, which may present difficulties for contemporary ears, need to be heard in their original context if we are to have any significant understanding of the motivation and spiritual framework that shaped the Quaker movement. Sometimes, as we shall see, a word held a much different meaning in their day than it does in ours. Occasionally, a concept will require a contemporary translation to stand parallel to the original, so that we can understand it both in their era and our own.
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But now I know it was the Lord that girded me, though I knew him not. For I well remember, when I have been using the common Language of our Country, especially if after the now most usual Strain, this Testimony from God would arise in my Heart against it, whereby I was reproved in myself for using flattering Speech, though such as was and is accounted of by many to be but civil Language, or Expressions of common Civility to Persons, according to their Quality; in which I had such a Care to keep within the Bounds of Verity, that I dare assert, I did steer as near the Compass of Truth-speaking, as the Nature of such Speech would couch. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)