Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What is Quaker Spirituality? (Part 2)

George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Quaker movement, had numerous mystical encounters that he called “openings” in which he was given revelations that brought new insights. He sometimes described such experiences as being “taken up into the love of God.” One such insight, that everyone was “enlightened by the divine Light of Christ,” became a key concept in Quaker spirituality. This Light, they claimed, was universal and “would work out the salvation of all, if not resisted.” Originally called the “inward light,” in later periods Friends divided over its interpretation, evangelically-oriented Friends preferring to call it the Holy Spirit, and mystically-oriented Friends, the “inner light.”

Quaker spirituality initially developed around the idea of holiness, which they called perfection or union with God, a spirituality of radical optimism. Perfection, always a work of grace, brought power to overcome sin, a new sense of spiritual freedom, and soul-joy even amidst suffering. Quaker theologian, Robert Barclay (1648-1690) called perfection the “holy birth…fully brought forth.” Quakers always described perfection in biblical terms such as “The life hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” (Col. 1:27), to “partake of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and to be “one spirit” with the Lord (I Cor. 6:17).

Early Quakers had a thoroughly biblical worldview and considered the Bible authoritative. However, Fox felt he was primarily called “to direct people to the Spirit that gave forth the Scripture.” Quakers believed revelation was not closed, nor confined to Scripture, but Scripture was the touchstone of truth, and would confirm all direct, personal inspiration. The Bible and the practice of communal discernment became safeguards for self-deception.

Early Quakers, like many puritans in their time, initially anticipated the imminent second coming of Christ, but when it did not happen literally they recognized that Christ had come again spiritually, within each person. Quakers then began to proclaim a “kingdom now” theology, preaching that the Kingdom is within.
Quakers were evangelistic and prophetic, preaching good news to the poor and denouncing oppression--religious, social and political. They became a missionary-oriented movement on a grand scale, adopting an itinerant, apostolic style of preaching. A concern for freedom of conscience, equality of all persons, and social justice were corollaries of their evangelism.

Early Quakers could arguably be called a grass-roots Pentecostal movement. The experience of being "in the power," which meant being Spirit-filled and led, is one of the most recurring phrases in George Fox’s Journal. Early Friends often used the term "poured down" to refer to whole meetings that were “in the power.”

The first generation of Quakers were often harshly persecuted for their beliefs, and thus identified themselves as belonging to the long line of martyrs for God’s truth. Their experience of suffering was viewed positively as identification with Christ, and brought redemptive meaning and purpose. The cross as a daily enacting of the suffering of Christ, became a central symbol of Quaker spirituality. William Penn wrote, “The bearing of thy daily Cross is the only true testimony.”

Quaker christology emphasized the inward Christ (the inward Light) and the cosmic Christ (the universal Light) more than the historical Jesus. Quakers proclaimed that Christ must be awakened and experienced inwardly, not simply believed in as an historic figure or event. Quaker preacher, James Nayler, testified to this Christology which is the basis of incarnational holiness, “None can witness redemption further than Christ is thus revealed in them, to set them free from sin: which Christ I witness to be revealed in me in measure. ”

A twentieth century Quaker spiritual writer echoes this Christology in his classic text, A Testament of Devotion, “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking voice….Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all.” The biblical phrase “in Christ“ for Quakers did not mean simply being “in the church” or being “saved,” but signified a mystical relationship of divine indwelling and a complete transformation of being, a knowing God in oneself, and knowing oneself in God.

Carole SpencerCarole Spencer serves as Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Earlham School of Religion. She is a recorded minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

This text is excerpted from the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Ed. Glen G. Scorgie.


  1. I am not sure about other early Friends, but George Fox from early on seemed to be clear that "Christ HAS COME to teach his people himself" (Emphasis added). As Lewis Benson often stated, George Fox believed that Christ had come in ALL his offices. The following quote speaks directly to the claim that Fox was among the Fifth Monarchy movement.
    "As for the Fifth-monarchy men I was moved to give forth a paper, to manifest their error to them; for they looked for Christ's personal coming in an outward form and manner, and fixed the time to the year 1666; at which time some of them prepared themselves when it thundered and rained, thinking Christ was then come to set up His kingdom, and they imagined they were to kill the whore without them.

    But I told them that the whore was alive in them, and was not burned with God's fire, nor judged in them with the same power and Spirit the Apostles were in; and that their looking for Christ's coming outwardly to set up His kingdom was like the Pharisees' "Lo here," and "Lo there." But Christ was come, and had set up His kingdom above sixteen hundred years ago, according to Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's prophecy, and He had dashed to pieces the four monarchies, the great image, with its head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and its feet part of iron part of clay; and they were all blown away with God's wind, as the chaff in the summer threshing-floor.

    And I told them that when Christ was on earth, He said His kingdom was not of this world; if it had been, His servants would have fought; but it was not, therefore His servants did not fight. Therefore all the Fifth-monarchy men that are fighters with carnal weapons are none of Christ's servants, but the beast's and the whore's. Christ said, "All power in heaven and in earth is given to me"; so then His kingdom was set up above sixteen hundred years ago, and He reigns. "And we see Jesus Christ reign," said the Apostle, "and He shall reign till all things be put under His feet"; though all things are not yet put under His feet, nor subdued." (George Fox)

  2. thanks for sharing this kind of article.
    Q: may know if what is a quaker spiritual writer.
    spiritual insights