In the face of Heaven and Earth

Once, while visiting a large urban meeting, I heard someone in the bench in front of me tell of a certain Friend who was dying of AIDS and how in the previous few days his body had taken on a spiritual incandescence.

Then I remembered a lengthy and memorable discussion with the Friend five years earlier at the annual gathering of Friends General Conference; I was just then discovering Scripture, in large part through Myrtle Bailey’s gentle example, and this Friend told of his own struggles with the Apostle Paul, “who has written some of the loveliest passages on love, and also some of the ugliest.”

I wonder if he still held that view toward the end. By then, my appreciation of Paul had definitely deepened. His epistles reflect the struggle between divine inspiration and the administrative decisions he made on the fly. What we accept, after all, is still a yoke – a joining to the work at hand – and we are always learning what that entails.

Elizabeth Bathurst, on Job viii. 7: Though thy Beginning was small, yet thy Latter-end shall greatly encrease.


Addressing the opposition to Friends

Just listen to Elizabeth Bathurst (1655?-1685) challenge the critics of Quaker faith:

  • Certainly they want Reason as well as Faith, who cannot judge how these may be distinguished: They place Infallibility in Persons, we in the Holy Spirit and its Teachings.
  • How comes it about then (it may be asked) that this Report has spread so far concerning them? Why truly, Reader, if I may give in my Answer, it must be this, He who was an Enemy to all Righteousness, ever since the Beginning, seeing the Faithful among this People, not only nominally, but really righteous throughout their Conversation, he hath been so enraged against them, that he hath not spared any Pains to put on his Instruments to reproach and vilify them.
  • Therefore have they been masked with the most afrighting Vizards of Self-righteousness and Self-sufficiency, to bring about their own Salvation, that if possible, he might fright People from having any Converse amongst them.
  • And now, since we upon whom the Ends of the World are come, have seen it so come to pass, that People are gone from this Gift of God in themselves, to the many outward Observations of Days, Times and superstitious Customs, thinking to find Christ in them, whilst they shut their Eyes against his Light, which shineth in their Consciences, to guide their Feet in the Path of Peace. Is it not high Time for his faithful Watchmen, who see the Danger of such a State, to cry aloud unto the People, that they may take Warning before it be too late; and therefore do they lift up their Voice like a Trumpet, to sound a Retreat to the Inhabitants of the Earth, who are without the spiritual City of Refuge, that they may return in Time, and lay hold of the Horns of the Heavenly Altar, and get into the Habitation or Tower of Safety, before the Enemy of their Souls take the strong Hold of their Hearts, and fortify himself against them, and keep them without the Gates, till the Avenger of Blood (who once would have had Mercy on them) pursue and overtake them, and so they be destroyed?
  • For tho’ the Lord hath given his Spirit, yea, his Son, to be a Leader and a Commander to the People, yet many there are who do not follow his Guidance, saying in their Hearts, … We will not have this Man to reign over us.
  • O! let us take heed that we do not vex and quench the Spirit of Christ within us, that so we be not of those complained of by Nehemiah, to whom the Lord gave his good Spirit, but they rebelled against it. And what then? So he became their Enemy, and fought against them.
  • These were such of whom Job speaks, saying, They are of those that rebel against the Light: The Light and Spirit here spoken of, being one in Being, and not divided, but distinguished only in Degrees of Discoveries.
  • These are such whom the Apostle Jude, in the 12th and 13th Verses of his Epistle, calls Clouds without Water, carried about of Winds; Trees whose Fruit withereth, twice dead, plucked up by the Roots; raging Waves of the Sea, foaming out their own Shame; wandring Stars, to whom (at least they have Cause to fear) the Blackness of Darkness is reserved for ever, unless they can speedily find a Place for Repentance, before the Decret break forth, before the Day Pass as the Chaff, before the fierce Anger of the Lord come upon them, before the Day of the Lord’s Anger come upon them.
  • And most certain it is, that those who despise the Reproofs of Wisdom, and hate the Knowledge of the Holy, Distress and Anguish will come upon them; but whoso hearkeneth thereunto, shall dwell in a safe Habitation. For Wisdom is a Defence (Christ) the Wisdom of God is a strong Rock, and a sure Foundation; he is that Foundation which God hath laid in Sion, even the Foundation Stone, that tried Stone, the corner Stone, elect, precious, who though he be to many a Stone of stumbling and Rock of Offence, yet as many as believe in him shall never be ashamed.
  • And so it is with these as it was with the Christians of old; their Adversaries put Bearskins upon them, and then set Dogs to bait them. There were such, it is known, that were counted the Filth of the World, and as the Off-scouring of all Things, who wandered about in Sheepskins and Goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, of whom the World was not worthy: And what if I shall say, such they are now? Yet are they slighted, contemned, derided, reproached, reviled, defamed, slandred, traduced, malign’d, vilified, and set at nought, as if the worst Term that could be given them, were even good enough: One while they are branded for illiterate Novices; another while counted so profoundly learned, that they must needs be Jesuits; tho’ that Order can boast of Antiquity, whilst these are looked upon as a Novelty; yet are they found in the same ancient Faith with righteous Abel in the Beginning: But ’tis no new Thing for Truth to be called an Upstart, and then prosecuted under the Name of Novilism.
  • And now, my former Familiars, Neighbours, Acquaintance and Kindred in the Flesh, and all others to whom this may come, hereby I invite you all to turn in hither, even into the secret of your own Souls, to that which there reproves you for your Sins, witnessing for God against all Unrighteousness of Men, both in Thought, Word and Action, striving in their Hearts to turn them from the Evil of their Ways, and from the Vanity of their Conversations, to walk in the newness of Life, that so they may be redeemed and restored out of their fallen State of Degeneration, into the Image of God again, which hath been lost through Transgression.
  • I would have none think strange of what I have writ concerning this Thing, though I know ’tis a Mystery to the natural Understanding of the wisest of the Children of Men; and therefore since Paul was called a Babler, for preaching such strange Doctrine to the Stoick Philosophers, Acts xvii. 18. I can expect no better from some, but to be counted a nonsensical Scribbler, for writing of the same; but this I am content to bear, knowing in myself I had no previous Intentions to amuse my Reader, but having undertaken to describe, in measure, the Extent of this powerful Principle of God, placed in the Conscience of his Creatures, following the Footsteps thereof for my Guide in this Matter: Before I can attain to the End of my Journey, I am necessarily brought hither, and as I stand here, I see by the Light of this spiritual Pillar of Fire, that though the Sea, with the Waves thereof, roar, yet is there a Way for the Ransomed of the Lord to pass over; and this Way is Christ, the Light, the Lamb, the Grace, the Gift of God, given by the Father to bring out of the Fall, which all Mankind are in by Nature, that whosever believeth in him, layeth hold on him, and continueth to be led by him, should be brought into Fellowship with himself, and abide therein for ever; and this same is he, who leads in the midst of the Paths of Judgment, and through the many Exercises that I have been writing of, before he brings to the Banks of Salvation, and puts Songs of Deliverance into our Mouths, whereby we can sing of the Mercies of the Lord, and thus having been brought out of spiritual Egypt ‘s Land, and caused to drink deep of the River of Judgment, he then brings to Shilo’s Brook, and giveth to drink of the Waters of Refreshment: So ’tis the same Hand that wounded, which healeth, and that Arm which broke us, doth now bind us up; the same Power which killeth, reviveth, and he who once caused Grief, now giveth Songs in the Night, and appointeth to Zion’ s Mourners Beauty for Ashes, the Oil of Joy for Mourning, and a Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness, and who will in due Time bring all his true spiritual Israel out of the waste howling Wilderness, into a Land of everlasting Rest.