The Person and Work of Jesus Christ
Early Friends thought of the Light Within as the Light of Christ Within. With the gospel of John and the letters of Paul, Friends in speaking of Christ mean both an historical person in Galilee whose life and death and resurrection are thought of as a revelation of God, and a present experience of being guided and sustained by an inward power. Thus Friends have a deep appreciation for the human Jesus, the young Jew who showed such remarkable insight into the ways of God, and who met his death on a cross at the hands of the Roman executioners. But also at the very heart of the Quaker faith there is a first-hand acquaintance with the living spirit of God, whom some Friends have referred to as the Light Within and others have spoken of as the Risen Christ or the Holy Spirit.
This double reference has continued with varying emphases throughout Quaker history. During certain periods the primary emphasis has been upon inward experience, to the neglect of the historical revelation. This happened during the period of quietism in the eighteenth century and again in some of the twentieth century emphasis on a general mysticism. At other times, particularly in the nineteenth century under the influence of the evangelical movement, the pendulum swung to greater emphasis upon the historical Christian revelation. Yet many present-day Friends feel that their faith requires both emphases. Without the historical revelation the inward experience lacks content, and without the inward revelation the historical lacks depth and relevance.
For many Friends, therefore, Quakerism is Christianity know and lived inwardly, yet bearing the outward fruits of the Spirit in loving concern. For these, knowledge of and commitment to the Christian historical revelation is essential to being a true Quaker. They endeavor to lay equal emphasis upon the inner and outer revelation. There may be great freedom and even diversity in describing one's faith or in interpreting the Christian message, but one must be committed to making it real in one's life.
God Known Outwardly in Jesus
Quakerism is primarily a method, just as science is primarily a method. Quakerism includes also a certain body of beliefs, as does science, but in both cases these beliefs are accepted because they have been arrived at by experts using the proper method.
They can be modified by further use of the same method by which they were arrived at in the first place. The scientific method is directed toward the outer world. This is true, even in the case of psychology, which depends as far as possible on laboratory methods. But the Quaker method differs from the scientific method in that it is dealing with what can neither be measured nor weighed. It is directed to the inner life, the response to moral claims and religious insights. Since both Quakerism and science are based primarily on experience, rather than on reason or authority, they have nothing to fear from the results of discovery or research.
Every vital method is inevitably based on accepted facts regarding the objective world. The scientific method assumes that the universe is a cosmos not a chaos, that the same results will follow from the same conditions, that man can, by means of his senses, learn some truth about the physical universe and by a process of reasoning deduce further truth not revealed to the senses. This, and more, must be accepted by scientific faith and intuition.
Similarly, Quakerism, though primarily directed toward the inner life, accepts objective historical events. Chief among them is the central event in the history of Christianity, the revelation of God in human terms through Jesus of Nazareth. If God had not revealed himself both outwardly in history and inwardly in experience, the outward revelation would have lacked power and meaning and the inward revelation would remain formless and vague. Only as the outward eye of time and the inward eye of eternity are focussed on a single fact does that fact attain the three-dimensional quality of Truth.
Howard H. Brinton: Friends for 300 years, 1952, pp. xiii, xiv.
He Taught Us to Talk with God
The character of Jesus Christ, the tone of his voice over the centuries, so to speak, has made a tremendous appeal to me. I think it very likely that a great deal of legend has gathered round the story of his life; and yet many of his sayings ring so true today that they to use an old-fashioned Quaker phrase they speak to my condition. I rejected a good deal of my religious upbringing during the process of thinking for myself in my teens and later; I found it impossible to accept as true much that I had been told I must believe about Jesus; but thinking for myself brought me closer to Jesus, for he had the simplicity of approach that I wanted. He didn't just talk about God, he talked with God; and he taught his friends to do the same.
Kathleen Lonsdale, "Deeper mysteries than life." In The Friend (London), vol. 120 (1962), pp. 774-5.
Christ is Not Divided
Christ is not divided; the Christ who dwells within, the hope of glory, is the Christ of history. Only as we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and by faith embrace the Lord Jesus as the Redeemer of the world, and as our personal Saviour, can we hope to perform an adequate part in the social and other service which lies before us; for, after all, the world's misery is the result of the world's sin. War, intemperance, avarice, lust, the chief sources of suffering and poverty, are the outcome of selfishness; and all selfishness is sin. Civilization makes but small progress against its ravages. We need a fresh vision of the cross of Christ. Coming as penitents to the foot of that cross, we find pardon, peace and power.
Epistle of London Y: M., 1906.
A Present Help is He
In joy of inward peace, or sense Of sorrow over sin, He is His own best evidence, His witness is within. No fable old, nor mythic lore, Nor dream of bards and seers, No dead fact stranded on the shore Of the oblivious years; But warm, sweet, tender, even yet A present help is He; And faith has still its Olivet, And love its Galilee. The healing of His seamless dress Is by our beds of pain; We touch Him in life's throng and press, And we are whole again. Through Him the first fond prayers are said Our lips of childhood frame, The last low whispers of our dead Are burdened with His name. O, Lord and Master of us all! Whate'er our name or sign, We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call, We test our lives by Thine. * * * We faintly hear, we dimly see, In differing phrase we pray; But, dim or clear, we own in Thee The Light, the Truth, the Way!
John G. Whittier: The complete poetical works, 1894, pp. 443-4. "Our Master" written 1866.
Jesus Was the Man of the People
Jesus was the man of the people, who knew their joys and sorrows because He lived as one of them. He learnt life at the carpenter's bench in Nazareth. He knew the trouble His mother had in patching the old garment, the value of the woman's lost coin, the cost to the widow of her two mites, the difficulty of the poor woman in getting justice from the unjust judge. He took our common life and daily toil and made them into divine things. The crowded cities of Galilee were His home. His heart went out to the helpless and the diseased, to the oppressed poor, to the rich, starved of true fellowship, and to the self-righteous, separated by their hardness of heart from their fellows and from God. He gave Himself to men without reserve, in loving fellowship; their life and lot came into His life; those who opened their hearts to Him knew His life; and overcoming love came into their lives. When His people refused Him, and crucified Him, His love still sought them undespairing.
Epistle of London Y M., 1920.
The Divine Possibilities of Man
Christ is as truly a revelation of man as He is a revelation of God. We see at last in Him what man was meant to be. That means that in the light of His life we ought to reinterpret as we usually have not done the divine possibilities of the human nature we bear. We have seen God revealed in Christ. I wish now that we might learn to see the divine possibilities of man revealed in Christ. He was "a new Adam," as St. Paul puts it, with a stroke of genius "the first born among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). Nobody has ever said anything bolder than that. He was the first born of a new order of humanity, and nobody really and truly knows man until he has seen humanity reinterpreted in Christ. We have thought of man as a "ruin" and we have seen specimens of the race that plainly revealed the marks of ruin. But Christ is the first born of a new order of humanity. What we see in the everyday man makes us very solemn, but our hope is in the finished product that is forecast in this new type.
What I want, if possible, is to recover Christ as a real person, who lived and taught and healed and suffered and was victorious over temptation and misunderstanding and betrayal and desertion and defeat and death. He must have been the kind of person who could do what He did, the kind of person who could arouse the faith and wonder and adoration He did arouse. What is even more amazing, He must have been the kind of person who could inspire and vitalize a luminous line of saints through the centuries of history. What is still more amazing, He must have been the kind of person who could create and inspire the Church of the ages, and could be the major source of what is highest and best and most spiritual in the civilization of our western world.
Rufus M. Jones: A call to what is vital, 1948, pp. 109-10.
He Goes on Living
We renounce the past tense in our references to Jesus; not because there was not a past-tense time of absolutely crucial importance to our knowledge of him and of God but because we are so desirous not to box him in that past; and still more not to box him in the interpretations of him that were first attempted in the first one or two generations of his early followers. He goes on living, his wonders go on being done, his teaching goes on being added to, his death is died every day, and every day He rises again.
Bernard Canter: editorial in The Friend (London), vol. 119 (1961), p. 723. Slightly altered by author.
Swept into the Ocean of Light and Love
Perhaps for many of us, particularly for those of us who are younger, the way to the knowledge of the meaning of Jesus Christ lies through human friendship and affection and love. Then there may, come the moment when we are carried out of ourselves, far beyond what we have hitherto known and clung to, and swept into the ocean of light and love that flow over the darkness of the world. We may be overwhelmed, drowned in it, losing all consciousness of self, and then drawn out of those deeps to find we are different people or, better, perhaps to know for the first time the persons we really are and can be. Then we may begin to see and understand the Light of which John wrote, which visits every man and is, as he proclaimed, the Light which is the Life in Christ.
Richenda Scott: "Love and discernment," The Friend, December 5, 1975, p. 1374.
A Life in the Power of the Spirit
Since Quakers believe that God is continually revealing Himself and cannot be captured in any formal creed, the only way we can talk about our experience is in terms of our personal faith. For me, being a Christian means that the life and teaching of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, set the standards for our day to day living. It points further to the source of the power that sustained Jesus as he followed his way of life. For Quakers to be Christian means that they endeavor to follow however imperfectly his way. It is not a creed, but a life to be lived in the power of the Spirit.
George A. Selleck, "Four questions for Quakers." Address at N.E.Y.M., 1978. Quaker Life, March 1979, p. 31.
To Be Like Christ
To be like Christ then, is to be a Christian. And Regeneration is the only way to the Kingdom of God, which we pray for.
William Penn: Some fruits of solitude, 1693, Pt. I, no. 468.