Fifth Month 21

Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto the Father. – John 14:12.

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What! We can do greater things than Jesus? This is truly frightening. None of us want that kind of responsibility!

I’m even more intrigued, seeing this invokes a single faithful person – the he or implicit she – rather than to the collective us.

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And this was it that Christ promised, when he was about to leave his Disciples, as to his personal Presence amongst them, at which their Hearts began to be sorrowful, he therefore tells them, to comfort them, He that dwelleth with you shall be in you. Thereby he meant himself, who then was present with, but passing from them in the Flesh, would come again unto them, and abide for ever with them in the Spirit. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 20

And Jesus came up to them and talked with them, saying: All authority has been given to me, in heaven and on earth. … And behold, I am with you, all the days until the end of the world. Matthew 28:18, 20 (Richmond Lattimore translation)

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The appearance of Jesus changes the human relationship to the universe. The Greek philosophers who articulated their amazing concept of Logos – the Light often translated as the Word in the opening chapter of John – likely never had a sense it would be exhibited in the life of a human, certainly not in the way it appeared in the life of Jesus. And now, after the Crucifixion, he is appearing to his beloved circle, comforting them in their grief.

What had seemed so fleeting and transitory now opens into a new vision and presence.

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Behold all Things are become new: Lo here is a new Creature, as there is a putting off the old Man with his Deeds: There is a passing away of the first Heavens and the first Earth, and then behold, new Heavens and a new Earth, wherein dwelleth Righteousness. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 19

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosover will lose his life for my sake shall find it. – Matthew 16:24-25

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His commands to deny yourself and take up a cross to follow him initially seem to be life-negating, even morbid. But in the first of his two mentions of this concept in Luke (9:23), a crucial word is added: “and take up his cross daily.”

Jesus doesn’t order us to carry his own cross, or anyone else’s: it’s our own we must face. And it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime event, or even once a week, as on Sunday morning. It’s daily. People in meditation, I might add, often appear to the unknowing to be dead. Maybe that’s a clue here. At least we must be open, each one, for the Light to enter and work.

In inviting us to be his Friends, Jesus has introduced a dynamic of equality in our spiritual relationship. In calling us to a cross, he reinforces that equality, demanding that we, too, step forward into the circle.

Some Friends embrace the notion that our religious society is a spiritual democracy, and that “what my light says” is all that counts – “your light can tell you whatever it wants, and that’s all right, too.” But the Inward Light is nothing less than the Christ Within, the Witness of the Lamb, working with us. The possibility that any individual might be spiritually gifted in a special way can drive others right up the wall. “That’s undemocratic!” Never mind the Apostle Paul’s lists of these gifts and their uses. Each of us has something unique to offer, whether we want to or not. That’s the cross we bear, and that’s where our deepest nature will be revealed.

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Then spake Jesus unto them, saying, I am the Light of the World, he that follows me shall not walk in Darkness, but shall have the Light of Life. And praised be the Lord, there is a Remnant who have experienced it, and can say with the Apostle, this Thing is true in them. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 18

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. – John 15:14-15

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The very name of our denomination – Friends – is given to us by Jesus: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”

It’s a remarkable change of concept, introducing equality: the teacher and students are now engaged on the same level, the owner and his employees, the high priest and the congregation, the monarch and the populace. But there’s another side as well: a friendship can make demands on us in ways a master-servant relationship cannot. And we are expected to act and react in full knowledge of our mature responsibilities one to another.

Historically, the Quaker experience of that Spirit of Truth gave renewed life to the Scriptures themselves. In a way, they became letters from one Friend to another out of the depths of antiquity to the present, and probably back again.

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And now it rises in me to write a Word to comfort you, you Friends of the Bridegroom, that mourn for his withdrawing, and eat your Bread with quaking, and drink your Water with trembling, as those who find no Comfort, till you do enjoy him. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 17

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. – Luke 17:21     

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To God be all the Glory, who hath raised this Spirit of Courage and Christian Fortitude in me, and now hath called me to call on others to wait upon him, that they may be thus strengthned with Might in their inward Man by him. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 16

… And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. – 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 and 49 (NIV)

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Each human bears a unique double nature. On one hand, we are one of the animals, existing in a body that is ultimately mortal. On the other hand, among the animals, we appear to be the only ones aware of our impending fate. The psychiatrist Otto Rank, one of Freud’s two key disciples, builds his own psychological system on this duality. In addition, while our bodies soon begin their slow decline, our minds are capable of continual growth throughout our lives: here, then, is where we welcome “the likeness of the man from heaven.”

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Christ Jesus invites us to go further than any other religion – actually, I prefer to say that He invites us to go beyond all religion. Nowhere else, as far as I know, do we find this concept of the suffering servant, this fellowship in the body, this selfless love, this self-sacrifice and its complex of repentance, atonement, salvation, and eternal life.

For me, to be a “universalist Quaker” means a sense that Christ came for the salvation of all people.

Too often Christians stop short of the fullness Jesus brought to us. When I examined several Confessions of Faith for other denominations, I found many passages quite wonderful in their expression – but others drove me right up the wall, for when they couldn’t find Scriptural basis for a practice, they would fall back on noting that the early church did it. Even though we were given a New Covenant, old practices kept creeping in. And still do. (1 Timothy 4 rebukes that tendency, even in the early Church.)

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And thus being prepared by him, then did he send his Spirit to convince me both of Righteousness and of Judgment, as well as Sin; yea, to convince me of that Righteousness and religious Way of Worship, which I formerly walked in; whereby he let me see it was but a human Righteousness, and an invented traditional Worship, set up by the Will, and performed in the Spirit of Man, and derived to me by outward Instruction and Education; so that I had a Form, which the Power did not attend, for want of having Regard to the Movings and Guidance of God’s own Spirit, in which alone he delights to be worshipped. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 15

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven … – 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 and 49 (NIV)

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Paul, like many others who later pondered the Genesis texts, adds his own interpretations. The “last Adam” is, of course, Christ.

In my own reading, I distinguish between Jesus, the historical human, and Christ, a power that comes upon Jesus, infusing him with divinity. According to the gospel of John, this power is something that exists from the very beginning of the cosmos and will continue to the end of time. I believe that it is something we, too, share and experience in our worship; to a degree, we are filled as Jesus was, and when we are illuminated with a consciousness of that Light, we are in a state of perfection. Curiously, as I began to formulate this outlook, I feared I might be entering into one of those historic “heresies” the early church refuted; then I discovered that my perspective is akin to one advocated by Rhode Island Friends minister Job Scott in the late 1700s (a view, incidentally, that left many Quakers uneasy). It was comforting to know I wasn’t alone! For me, this distinction clears away many of the difficulties that might otherwise tangle my meeting with Jesus, and brings him forth in a human dimension I can relate to. Beyond that, seeing the power of Christ as Spirit has far-reaching consequences, making our Christianity quite distinct from a faith that conceives of itself as the shadow of a person.

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For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, as it is written. But tho’ it be granted, that by one Man Sin entred into the World, and Death by Sin; and so Death passed upon all Men, for all have sinned, even over them that had not sinned after the Similitude of Adam’ s Transgression, who is the Figure of him that was to come, yet this doth not prove the Lord to be so partial in his Love towards his Creatures, as to chuse some, but leave the greatest Part of Mankind in the fallen State, without affording them any Benefit by Christ, or a Measure of his Grace and Spirit; for want of which, and being so past by of God (as some have asserted) they become under a Necessity of sinning, and a Necessity of dying: Oh, harsh Doctrine! and so I must confess I often thought it, whilst I was industriously striving to work myself into a Belief of it. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 14

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. – Genesis 2:7

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The Bible’s second Creation story differs in many ways from the one that preceded it. Here, humanity takes center stage, and rather than appearing as the grand climax in the plan, mankind takes on a unique role from the very opening of the story. The “breath of life” is the Spirit: man is literally inspired, “in-breathed.”

To thicken the plot, as psychologist Thomas Moore observes in Care of the Soul, the first human also arises in an earthy nature: “Adam’ means red earth. … We are children of the mud.” As a Quaker, I found myself initially retorting, “No, we are children of the Light!” But then I paused, seeing how we, too, become a darkness awaiting the motion of light. We are children of the mud, until we open ourselves to God’s Light, for that is where we are made and remade in God’s image!

Not only that, but as I later explore the metaphor of the Seed, I see how essential our earth-nature is for us to give forth good fruit.

Red earth? Is it clay, iron ore, or even blood-stained? The image becomes very rich, indeed.

One additional thought: what is introduced here has everything to do with humanity, with everyday life as we know it.

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And this Light is elsewhere called the Seed, even that incorruptible Seed, by which we are begotten to God, and born again by his Eternal Word, which liveth and abideth for ever. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 13

Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. – Ecclesiastes 11:7

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Yes, calm after storm, morning after night.

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And as they continue in the Faith, they come to be sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise, and to set to their Seals that God is true: For faithful is he that hath promised, who also will do it. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Fifth Month 12

… Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. – Ephesians 5:8-12 (NIV)

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Privacy can allow experimentation and rest, even modesty and humble service.

But secrecy is another matter, a mask allowing sin.

The Light, in its working, can burn the disguises away. One must then choose which way to respond.

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For Christianity doth not consist in the Belief of so many Doctrines, Articles and Principles, as some suppose, but in Conformity unto that one Eternal Principle, to wit, the Light of Christ manifest in the Conscience. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)