Sixth Month 30

…  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:6-9 and 11-12 (NIV)

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Look, Paul is speaking of an individual spiritual experience. Direct experience. Life-changing experience.

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We, too, must be careful to voice only Spirit-induced utterances or to perform only that service the Holy One directs us to fulfill. All of our ministry must be grounded in this same solemn place, which is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Any other message or service is only a shadow of Truth.

Those who testify to possessing the Holy Spirit risk blasphemy if they deliver an uninspired, reflective message. Nothing less than prophecy is demanded.

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So that this Light, with which all Men are in some Measure enlightned of God, ’tis no other, but a Measure of that Divine Fulness that dwelt in the Son of his Love, when he was here on Earth, and now dwelleth in him, since he is ascended up to Heaven, where he was before, whence he descends the Streams thereof into the Hearts of all the Children of Men, in order to bring them out of the Fall in the first Adam, and to redeem them up unto himself, the second Adam. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

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Sixth Month 29

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!  … – Galatians 1:6-9 and 11-12 (NIV)

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When we consider our spiritual yearnings and practices, we need to keep an eye open for consequences that can occur when we lean to much toward belonging to the world. I have been told (but have not verified) that the young John Wesley was so moved by Quaker writings that he was prepared to join the Society of Friends. But the meeting for worship he visited in London was perhaps the wealthiest in all Quakerdom, and Wesley was appalled to see that the distinctive plain gray Quaker coats and dresses, hats, and bonnets these Friends sported were made of the finest wool, silk, and beaver. He perceived that while these Friends kept the form, they had lost the substance: they were not dressing in a true sympathy for the poorest of their neighbors. Quaker historian John Puncheon argues that the historic irony is that the one Christian movement that Quakerism failed to develop an appropriate response toward was Methodism, and that we have suffered decline as a consequence – even as we have often adapted its systems of Sunday Schools, missionaries, and often even pastors.

Now I look at the Methodist condition today and wonder how Wesley would evaluate it.

But back to the Society of Friends …

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But, I say, before Remission of Sins comes to be known, there must be a centring down into the Manifestation of the Spirit of God within, which will bring down every exalted Imagination, and every high Thing, and lay it low, even to the Ground, that so every Thought may be brought into Subjection to Jesus Christ. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 28

For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. … Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. – Proverbs 5:2 and 4

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“Doctrine” means “teaching,” which we need. As we do guidelines.

Law, as I’ve been contending, can be another matter.

Let me add that in passages that offend our contemporary sensibilities, we need to pause, asking ourselves: just where is God in this situation? Are these people turning to the Divine for insight? Why not? Are they simply running off to do their own will, and then asking for God’s endorsement? In much of the Hebrew Bible, for instance, I wonder whether the people were able to even perceive of a loving, merciful deity, much less accept one.

Until we as humans can comprehend and express such concepts, we cannot expect to find them in our relationship with the Divine. So what qualities are we today similarly unable to encompass?

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This I write, as one having witnessed the Spirit to be given for a Remembrancer, which was faithfully promised by the Lord Jesus, even that Spirit of Truth, which he told his Disciples, it should bring all Things to their Remembrance, and so indeed it doth call back Things that are past, and set them in order before us, judging and condemning of us for what we have done amiss. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 27

…  If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he hath not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:13-21 (NIV)

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So it’s not just about me and Jesus. (Yes, I hear the old English teacher admonishing us: “It’s Jesus and me.”) No, this puts the little self of selfishness in its place.

There’s no place for hate in this dynamic.

But love invokes passions – the emotions in their full range.

In our history and tradition, it seems Friends have too often lost appropriate ways to celebrate our faith and life in the Spirit of Christ. We forget that Jesus celebrated, as at Cana. Thanks to all who travel in Free Gospel Ministry, to celebrate with faithful communities, and to encourage us invite our neighbors and coworkers to enter our circle, tasting and seeing what God is doing among a “peculiar people.”)­ In love and delight, your Friend.

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However, all that have sinned, must know a Time of Sorrow, yea, even such who have not so rebelliously despised his Counsel, and stighted his Reproofs, and cast his Law behind their Backs, as some there are which have; yet inasmuch as they have at any Time not hearkened unto his Holy Spirit within them, his Judgments will overtake them, and in Righteousness will he plead with them, and then, I know, former Things will come into their Minds. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 26

… We love because he first loved us. … – 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)

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Some translations, like the King James, turn the love back toward Jesus, “We love him, because he first loved us.” But I like the awareness that our ability to love others originates in our own being loved and embraced. Let Jesus be the source, then, but let’s fill the whole world.

The New Jerusalem Bible takes this one step further, as an affirmative command:

Let us love, then,
because he first loved us.

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Where we shall receive the End of our Faith, even the final Salvation of our immortal Souls, which shall eternally live to sing and set forth Praises and Hallelujahs in the highest to him that sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb, Christ Jesus, who hath redeemed us from the Earth, unto whom the Praise doth belong, for the Assistance of his Spirit in this Thing. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 25

…  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love. … – 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)

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Jesus repeatedly counseled, “Fear not,” with the sole exception of fearing the Lord – that is, being vigilant to keep that relationship first in our lives. The matter of fear, in fact, offers us a long, long range of investigation and confession.

This epistle, however, is keeping its focus on Holy Love and urging each of us to live and walk more fully with that.

When I argue for a faith that is expressed in metaphor, in contrast to one that sees Scripture along the lines of law, I advocate a relationship that is its own reward. Punishment, on the other hand, is a consequence of failing some detail of the law. Actually, law carries an element of fear: just think of your emotions next time a police cruiser follows you down the roadway.

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One sign of a strong working of the Spirit of Christ in our gatherings sometimes comes upon one unexpectedly and overwhelmingly after we’ve been together. On the drive from Gonic to Dover, that really hit me, the inexpressible delayed flowering of Light I’d encountered previously only after “transcending” during meditation or after the laying on of hands among the Church of the Brethren. As I walked aglow and about seven feet off the ground into the Dover meetinghouse, I immediately heard Friends pipe up about the choir’s lively performance the evening before, how the meetinghouse was filled with families, children pushing their bedtimes, and even strangers who ventured through our door. “It was even getting raucous, with foot-stomping and clapping,” Friends said with a twinkle and a grin. But the messages arising in the silence of that morning’s worship, they relayed, continued the experience of the evening before, growing in our minds and hearts.

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And so shall we be bound up together in the Bundle of Love and Life in Christ Jesus, and shall grow up in him like Willows by the Water Courses, and as tender Plants which God’s Right-hand hath planted; and our natural Talents augmented, to serve the Lord with Faithfulness in our several Places, where we shall be as Lights unto the World, whilst our Dwelling is here amongst them, and then having improved our Talents to the Glory of God, and run well to the End of our Race, when our Course is finished, we shall lay down our Heads in Peace, and hear that joyful Sentence pronounced on us, Well done good and faithful Servants, enter ye into the Joy of your Lord. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 24

…  Love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. … – 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)

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Toward the end of the hour at Gonic, many eyes were teary – a sure sign, as Eden had voiced, of the powerful working of grace among us. (Bill Taber once observed that Meeting really begins when individuals arrive at a point of “soft eyes,” often indicated by the removal of eyeglasses; tears come several steps after that.) In this particular morning of semi-programmed worship blending silent waiting, vocal testimony, varied choral settings, and congregational singing was profoundly moving. Once, when a Mennonite asked me what the perfect Meeting for Worship would be like, I responded: an hour of silence, followed by an hour of four-part, a cappella singing. That morning’s presentation came wonderfully close to that ideal.

Still, there is far more to life than our times of shared worship. We venture forward, renewed and refocused.

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For Friends, I must acknowledge, it often arises in my Soul, as a Return of Thanks to God, viz. The Remembrance which he gives me of the Time of his Love, even when my Soul was secretly crying, Where shall I find true Rest? Then was the Lord pleased to bring me to the Mountain of his Holiness, where a peaceable Dwelling is, and that just before their Disturbances broke out in this Part of the World, where my Lot is cast. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 23

…  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. … – 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)

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The Christ Within or the Inward Light is now fully identified as the Universal Love – the Spirit of Holy Love. In the wonder of silent worship, this warmth comes upon us, washes over us, rises within us. We are one.

Sometimes I feel that we Quakers talk and write too much for our media-saturated times; we need alternative means of expressing our way, our deep roots, and our spiritual truth – fresh ways of “speaking to one’s condition.”

In the early ‘90s, a lively group of Friends at Beacon Hill Meeting in Boston formed a unique AIDS ministry: the Free Grace Undying Love Full Gospel Quaker Choir Sing and Be Saved. As I observed at the time, “You are sensing, I hope, the joyous, tendering responses your musical offering evokes; your performances bless in many ways: those gathered, those singing, and our loving Creator. In your experiment in programmed worship at Gonic, your personal testimonies were intense, candid, deeply moving – a demonstration, too, of the range of individual expression and exploration within our yearly meeting today.”

Love, of course, can never be static: it must always be new. The way a song is sung.

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You shall triumph in Christ Jesus, who will make manifest the Savour of his Wisdom by you in every Place; so that though you may suffer, yet shall you not despair, for in due Time the Lord will be your Deliverer. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 22

… And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. … – 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)

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After turning to this prophetic life, we begin to see events in our own lives as anything but coincidence. When we seek and obey God’s life-giving voice, the “peace that passes all understanding” will reign within us. We discover that nothing is too small for his concern, that he is never too busy to hear our request. If we allow ourselves to think he is too busy or unconcerned to help us in the smallest details of our daily lives, before long we may risk losing the ability to hear his mediator. If we are truly his children, and not the children of the enemy, then we need to pause and turn silently inward. He will give the answers we need in both great and small things. How often we find there is another way than the one of conformity. In our trials, we find – as Friends have insisted – Way opens.

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For Scriptures themselves exalt Christ and the Spirit above themselves: So that it is not in any Slight or Disrespect they have to those Holy Writings, wherefore they do not call them the Word, and the Rule of Faith and Life; but as they have declared, ’tis from that reverend Regard they owe and ought to bear to Christ Jesus the great and eminent Word of God, to whose Spirit, all Scripture Directions, in Matters of Salvation, refer us, as to an infallible Rule and Guide, direct us thereunto, that we may not live in them, but in him, who is the Author and Dispenser of them. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

Sixth Month 21

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. … – 1 John 4:13-19 (NIV)

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This description of the Christ Within puts the focus on the Holy Spirit, which is soon coupled with God’s love – or what I identify as Universal Love as embodied in the Logos or Word invoked at the beginning of the gospel of John.

The Spirit of Christ, dwelling within us, opens to us a life that is expressly prophetic. This is not a life of self-will or an affirmation we receive from the world. Rather, it is a life dedicated fully to obedience (“listening”) and surrender to the Holy Spirit. As Friends say, this turning is to the Inward Light or the Christ Within.

The Scriptures are filled with examples of this prophetic life. From the beginning, God has provided oracles to warn of disaster arising from unjust or evil ways, to point the way to compliance and blessing, and to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

Those who have experienced the quickening hand of the Spirit of Christ in their own lives often feel commanded to share this knowledge with others. There is every reason to turn to the Guide.

The servants known as prophets do the Lord’s work grandly, even when their garb is sackcloth and ashes. Throughout the history recorded in the Bible, these amazing men and women spoke with power and a vision of hope. Their names include Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and, of course, Jesus himself.

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Thus though the Scriptures are granted to be a Righteous Rule, and of Divine Dispensation, (for the Prophecy came not in old Time by the Will of Man, but Holy Men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost) even as the Apostle testified. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)