Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Truth Vindicated

We Quakers supposedly believe that when we wait in silence and open ourselves, the truth will be discerned. We call this the 'light within' or the 'inner light' or the 'seed' or the 'light of Christ' or the 'divine' and many other names, for that which is revealed is not words or creeds, but a presence, a pure knowing that transcends language and that we can rest secure in.

But faith falters - this so-called 'light' - it's, well, just so obscure and insubstantial - surely there must be more, something concrete we can put our finger on or thrust our hand in – 'something else'.

It was always thus: Augustine needed Plato; Aquinas needed Aristotle; Anglicans need Cranmer, Presbyterians need the Westminster Confession, Evangelicals need Scripture, Charismatics need Tongues.

But Quakers too have sought 'something else' right from the start, and especially the authority of the Bible. George Fox was still warm in his grave when,  around 1691, George Keith wanted Quakers to submit to Christian Orthodoxy. At the turn of the 19th century with the rise of evangelicalism which insisted on the literal inerrancy of the bible, many Quakers began to put the authority of the bible ahead of the 'light within'.  A pamphlet, 'Truth Vindicated' was published at this time, by Henry Martin of  Liverpool, and re-published in the United States in 1836 with a remarkable introduction which makes clear, albeit using the Christian saturated language of the time, 'the light of Christ to be sufficient for Salvation' and that there is no need for 'something else', and:
'when any external thing, no matter how excellent in itself, is set up above the teaching of the spirit of Christ in the soul, it leads to contention and division'
Today we wisely do not consider the bible to be literal and innerant, but instead we tend to treat the whole thing as fairy stories to be dismissed, rather than looking to the 'light within' to show us  which scripture in our day is 'profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works'.

But we still crave 'something else' and in the spirit of our age, that is scientific rationalism and noble ideals. We look to reason to discern the truth to us, and to ideals to inform us how to act in the world. Instead of  letting our lives testify to the 'light within', we have turned our testimony on its head and say that our values and principles tell us how to live our lives. 

And yet again there is 'contention and division', as the pages of 'The Friend' constantly testify.

But the 'light within' is there to show us the limits of our reason and the inadequacy of our ideals. Instead of a Principle of  Equality, the 'light within' should be telling us how to treat equally the very next person we meet, and instead of turning to Pacifism, we should be turning to the 'light within' to reveal to us how to resolve the actual conflicts in our lives on this very day.

The Truth is vindicated by the 'light within' -  'blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed' (John 20.29b, AKJV)


Craig Barnett said...

Dear Gordon,
Many thanks for this excellent, and timely, reminder of what the Quaker Way is essentially about - placing our faith and trust in the guidance of the Inward Light, 'the promptings of love and truth in the heart', rather than in external beliefs or principles. And this was also early Friends' understanding of the real meaning of Christianity - faith in the power of the Inward Christ to heal and transform us as persons and societies. Strangely both those Friends who now reject Christianity and many of those who profess it, are most often defending or rejecting a Protestant or Catholic interpretation of Christianity rather than a Quaker one...
In Friendship,

Unknown said...

Yes indeed and I believe that as Quakers, we can do more than we currently are to facilitate the teaching of the spirit of Christ in the soul - we can share with each other what that spirit is teaching us individually and voluntarily become accountable to each other in that understanding.