Thursday, December 19, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 29 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 27)

Isaiah 29 – This oracle probably dates from the period preceding the siege and deliverance of Jerusalem in 701. According to a New Jerusalem bible note, the name Ariel means “lion of God” and is a name given by the prophet to Jerusalem. Here the prophet foresees the deliverance of the city despite the spirit of lethargy that the city’s prophets exhibit.

The anger of the Lord is still there against the great city: “Because this people approaches me only in words, honors me only with lip-service while its heart is far from me” (29:13). “I shall have to go on being prodigal of prodigious prodigies with this people. The wisdom of its sages shall decay, the intelligence of its intelligent men shall be shrouded” (29:13-14).

The lowly, however, will be able to rejoice because the tyrants and scoffers will be taken from them.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 27
The fact that this radically inward approach to the gospel, which he considered the “true” gospel of Christ had never been preached, as far as Fox was aware, at any point in Christian history did not sway him from believing it was true. It made him think that he might be playing a part in the end time story described so mysteriously and symbolically in Revelation. I think Fox thought that his recovery and reproclamation of this long lost gospel might actually bring about the culmination of history that the first-century church had expected. Maybe the Second Coming had not occurred because the preaching of the gospel had not gone forward as faithfully as it was meant to have gone. For a time, it seems possible that Fox believed it might come in his day, inasmuch as he was preaching the gospel Christ had wanted preached sixteen hundred years earlier. So Fox went out and preached his radical version of the gospel, and thousands were gathered in months. Quakerism spread like wildfire in its first years.

Fox saw his mission as calling people off the outward things that the “judaisers” in the church had instituted and pointing them toward their true teacher, the inwardly experienced Christ:

[. . .] the Lord Christ Jesus was come to teach his people himself and bring them off all the world’s ways and teachers to Christ, their way to God; and I laid open all their teachers and set up the true teacher, Christ Jesus; and how they were judged by the prophets, Christ, and the apostles; and to bring them off the temples made with hands, that they themselves might know they were the temples of God (Fox Journal 107).

The despair people struggled with as Christians worrying about their souls, fretting about whether or not they were saved, not being able to come into a state of spiritual rest or peace came from being caught up in useless and empty forms and forgetting that the covenant of Christ was inward and real and full of power. People had forgotten the spring of water that was bubbling within them:

Oh, when will you be weary of feeding on the wind, and of husks among swine, and on that which dies of itself? And when will you inquire after the living God, who is power? How long have you talked of his power to come? Many years. You are still as far off, if not further, than you were before. You have told of the glory of the Lord to be revealed, and of his law being written in the heart, and of God teaching his people himself, and of his spirit being poured out on his sons and daughters; and you cannot see that you have obtained nothing” (Howgill, Early Quaker Writings, 179).

Friends were determined not to make the same mistake. As people responded to Fox’s message and were gathered together in community, the “form” of worship they instituted was a corporate silence, where everyone waited on the Spirit to open God’s word to them, to speak that word as led and to come into the peace and rest of God. But the elimination of outward forms, complete as it was, did not mean that Friends rejected the historical reality of Jesus’ coming as Christ or the basic truths contained in the creeds. It was not a rejection of the fundamental revelation contained in the Scriptures. The truth as Fox and early Friends saw it was incoherent and inconceivable without these things. This, of course, did not stop his seventeenth-century opponents from saying that Fox denied Christ, the creeds, and Scripture. In 1671, Fox and Quaker leaders issued a letter denying these slanders formally, but the slanders continued.

The Barbados Letter or statement basically goes through the major points of the Apostles’ Creed and affirms the facts stated therein in an attempt to silence criticism of Friends’ doctrinal orthodoxy. The letter appears on pages 602-606 of Fox’s Journal

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