The Value and Use of the Bible
Friends have always found great value in the Bible as a record of God's search for communion with men and women. Compiled from the inspiration of many ancient writers, the Bible has been for Friends not a blueprint or final authority but a source of knowledge of God's ways with us. Friends' insights have been confirmed in Scripture: "What the Lord opened in me I afterwards found agreeable to them" (George Fox) Modern knowledge of the history of the Bible has helped to reinforce our understanding of the spiritual values to be gained by its constant study.
Since all Friends are potential ministers, it is especially important that all should know the Bible well. It is the experience of generations of devoted Christians that the deepest meaning of the Bible can be ascertained not through reading any isolated text or texts, but only by viewing it as a whole. To learn its teachings, to understand their application to our lives, and to teach them to our children, we need to use modern scholarship about the Scriptures and to be "in that Spirit by which they were given forth."
To Bring Us to the Lord
And the end of words is to bring men to the knowledge of things beyond what words can utter. So, learn of the Lord to make a right use of the Scriptures: which is by esteeming them in their right place, and prizing that above them which is above them.
Isaac Penington: Letters, ed. John Barclay, 1828, pp. 39-40. Letter XVI, undated.
Held in No Slight Esteem
These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate Spirit and power, as did the holy men of God, by whom the Holy Scriptures were written. Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth, and what the Lord opened in me I afterwards found was agreeable to them.
George Fox: Journal, ed. John L. Nickalls, 1952, p. 34 (entry for 1648).
Guiding Truths for Modern Times
The weight of the words which are from God's spirit is according to the strength of life which he pleaseth to clothe them with. The message that he thus sends in any age hath a peculiar reference to the state of the world, and the state of the people of God in that age; and none can slight it (whether it be signified by word or writing) without dashing against God's authority, and despising him that speaketh in these latter days. Yea, the immediate word of the Lord, spoken and declared at this day, by any man to whom it pleaseth the Lord to commit the same, is of no less authority, nor more to be slighted now, than it was in his servants in the days past, by whom the Scriptures were given forth.
Isaac Penington: Works, 1681 ed., Pt. 11, p. 329. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized.
A Record of God's Dealings with Men
People say that the Bible is like a chain, and that no chain can be stronger than its weakest link; but the Bible is not like a chain. It is a library, for the word Bible comes from a word meaning not book but books, one volume may be of more importance than another without destroying the value of the rest.
The Bible does indeed now have to be regarded from an altered point of view. We cannot look upon it as an infallible teacher on points of history, or geology, or astronomy, for it is not. We cannot be sure as to the authorship of certain parts that we used lo think unquestioned. But it remains true that it contains a record of God's dealings with men, and that here we have under the illumination of the same spirit as was in the people who wrote, the needed teaching and safe guidance.
Richard H. Thomas (1854-1904), from Life and letters by Anna B. Thomas, 1905, pp. 388-9.
Inspired Because They Inspire Us
The canon of Scripture may be closed, but the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has not ceased. We believe that there is no literature in the world where the revelation of God is given so fully as in our New Testament Scriptures; we go back to them for light and life and truth. But we feel that the life comes to us, not from the record itself, but from communion with Him of whom the record tells. Through His own Spirit we commune with Him himself. In the words of Coleridge: "I meet that in Scriptures which finds me."
We feel them to be inspired, because they inspire us; we go to them for guidance because as we read them we feel our eyes are being opened and our spirits kindled. We search them because "these are they that testify of Me." It is the living Christ we want to find, the eternal revealer of the will of God. It is the spirit behind the letter that we need.
Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting, statement in London Y. M. Proc., 1919, p. 188.
Record of a Revelation
Though we agree with our fellow Christians in this high esteem for the Scriptures, from the earliest days the Society of Friends has regarded them as the record of revelation rather than the revelation itself, and has insisted that the Scriptures be not substituted for the Spirit which gave them forth or for Christ or for the Inner Light to which they testify. They are not the primary rule for faith and conduct, though genuine experience and sound moral conviction are found to be confirmed by them.
New England Y. M.: Faith and practice, 1930, p. 16.
The Experience of Saintly Lives
The Light Within ... is, of course, not a substitute for history the slow verification of truth by historical process; nor is it a substitute for Scripture, the loftiest literary expression of religious experience. There is no "substitute" for either of those ways of divine revelation. No one who neglects the unfolding of the will and purpose of God in history and in Scripture can ever make up for this neglect by stressing his claim to be the recipient of private revelation. No one can break the organic connection with the spiritual movements of the past, and confine himself to his thin channel of supplies, without suffering loss. But at the same time, it is clear, on the basis of the Quaker faith, that Scripture cannot be thought of as the one source of truth and revelation, the one and only word of God. It takes its place rather as a pattern of spiritual literature, rich with the experience of saintly human lives and raised by unmistakable inspiration to an incomparable religious value.
Rufus M. Jones: An interpretation of Quakerism, 1936, p. 2. (Wayfarer series, no. 1) Home Service Committee, London Y. M.
A Growing, Expanding Revelation
[The Bible] is a growing, expanding revelation, indicating all the time the intellectual, moral and spiritual level of the time, but in every instance the writer proves to be a spiritual genius, touched with inspiration, so that even the most primitive sections and there are primitive sections are charged with insight and vision.
The unique feature of the Old Testament is the high quality of inspiration that throbs and beats through it. It is spiritual literature of an unusual order. The reader of it, in a new world and in a new world order, with an outlook wholly unlike that of these writers, still feels himself powerfully moved as he reads this inspired story of the far past, and feels that it is penetrated with a divine message and makes the God he loves and worships the living God of that far past.
[The] four Gospels, even with all the gaps, and after all the influence of transmission, are utterly unique creations, touched everywhere with divine inspiration, and they give us, to be sure, not a biography, but in very truth they give us a person, living, acting, teaching, healing, loving, suffering, dying and living gain, great enough in person and life to guide the world through he ages and to be the revealer of God and man.
I have a profound faith that this literature of the ages, which has been passing through an eclipse in this scientific period, will me back into full sunlight splendor, as readers with highly trained minds come to see it for what it really is rather than viewing it in terms of a traditional theory.
Rufus M. Jones: A call to what is vital, 1948, pp. 49, 52, 116.