Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Thomas Chalkley: Some Considerations On The Call, Work, And Wages, Of The Ministers Of Christ (1720)

March 21, 2021

Something hath been on my Mind to write, concerning the Work of the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ, with a Design of Instruction to Ministers in particular, and the Benefit of others in general.

It is an unspeakable Benefit to Mankind, to be favoured with a powerful, living Ministry, which edifies the Church of God, and builds up the true Believers in the most holy Faith (according to the Word of God) in Christ Jesus, who is the great Minister of the true Tabernacle and Sanctuary, which God hath pitched, and not Man; and this great Minister sent forth his Ministers and Servants, saying, I send you forth as Sheep among Wolves; be ye therefore wise as Serpents, and harmless as Doves [Mat. 10. 16.]. He did not send them forth as Lords over his Heritage, nor as persecuting Priests or mercenary Hirelings, but said to them, Freely you have received, freely give: Here is no Compulsion nor Force enjoin’d by Christ; but it is plain, from his own Doctrine and Example, that his Ministry is a free Ministry, blessed be his holy Name and Truth for ever: Nor do we read or understand of any Alteration thereof by Christ: Indeed the Ministers of Antichrist have made an Alteration (contrary to this Doctrine of his) in their Ministry; but the holy Apostles, who after Christ were the first Planters of Christianity in the Earth, when it shone in its primitive Beauty and Glory, they followed the Counsel of their Lord and Master, and ministred [sic] freely: Then was the Power of Christ’s Ministry and Gospel through his Ministers and Servants great, and the Glory and Beauty thereof ravishing to pious Souls. Oh! may every true Minister, and every sensible Soul, bow before the Most High, and bless the holy Name of him that lives and reigns for ever, for this unspeakable Gift of Christ’s holy Ministry, which always was, now is, and ever will be, convincing and converting unto Souls, who are not slow at Heart to believe in God, and in his dear Son the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our great High Priest, and the Bishop of Souls; he saw the Need that his Church had of this his Ministry, and therefore he established it in his Church, and among his Followers, to the End of Time.

Now, in order to this great and wonderful Work, he told his Disciples (when he was going into his Glory and Kingdom of his Father) That he would pray to the Father, and he would send them another Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, and that he should abide with them for ever. [John 14. 17.] And he also told them, That when he is come, he shall first reprove or convince the World of Sin, because they believe not in me [John 16. 7,11.]; for if they believed truly in Christ, they would love his spiritual Appearance; but O how many are there in the World, who slight this high Favour, and Grace of God and Christ, calling this wonderful Gift and Grace, the Light of Nature; whereas Christ says, it is the Holy Ghost; and the Apostle Paul says, it is God’s Grace, that teaches us to deny Ungodliness, and hath appeared unto all Men. Oh that the Children of Men might love that which appears to them, and convinceth them of their Sins; and surely it is a great Sin not to believe in the Spirit and Light of Christ: Such unbelieving Souls are in Darkness, and not yet turned from Darkness unto Light, and from the Power of Satan, to the Power of God, which was the very Work Christ’s Ministers were sent of God to do.

2 dly, And he convinceth or reproveth the World of Righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more. When their Righteousness is only wrought in the Wisdom of Man, and not by the Power of God, whether it be in Preaching or Worship, when only the Form, and not the Power, is witnessed, this then convinceth them that they have been building their Religion upon a wrong Bottom, and a sandy Foundation; and sheweth the formal Minister, that he is only a Minister of the Letter, and not of the Spirit; and the formal Worshipper, that he is not yet come to worship in Spirit and Truth; and the Professor of Christ in Words, that he denieth him in Works and inward Faith; because Faith without Works is dead, as Works without this spiritual Faith is dead also.

“Because I go to the Father,” is the wonderful Cause given by Christ, for it is Christ’s Righteousness that must save the Soul, and Christ being gone to the Father, the Soul must go there to him, for all his Gifts and Favours, Mercies and Blessings, and must witness him in Spirit to be with them, and in them, as he is in the Father. When Christ was personally on Earth, he taught us by Words vocally express’d; but “henceforth know we him so no more.” Now he teacheth us by his Spirit, Light, and Life, which convinceth us of Form without Power, and Letter without Spirit, and Religion without Life, and Righteousness without Grace, and Light and imputative Righteousness, without actual Righteousness, and actual or formal Righteousness in our own Wills (only). All this, and much more, it convinceth us, not to be effectual to Salvation, and sheweth us that the spiritual Power, and Presence of Christ, is absolutely necessary for the Work of the Ministry, and the Conversion of Souls.

3 dly, He convinceth the World of Judgment, because the Prince of this World is judged. He, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, when he is come, sheweth us our wrong Judgment, and convinceth us of the Evil of being too censorious, rash, and uncharitable, in Judging, and plainly giveth us to understand, that such Judgment is from the Prince of this World, who is King over all the Children of Pride, and that this Prince of evil Spirit, is judged by the righteous and just Judge of Heaven and Earth, Christ Jesus. He also convinceth us of the Everlasting Truth, as it is in Jesus, and is our sure Comforter, while we keep therein, in Doctrine, Worship, and Conversation.

4 thly, He shall bring all Things (or those Things) to your Remembrance, which I have spoken unto you [John 14. 26.]. Wherefore this Gift is absolutely necessary for a Minister of Christ; and every true Believer in him, wants this Remembrancer, which must needs be a great Comfort to us, to have his excellent Speeches and divine Doctrine brought by his own Spirit to our Remembrance, if we do love him in Sincerity.

5 thly, He shall receive of mine, and shew it unto you, [John 16. 14.] says Christ. Take of his Light, his Life, his Grace, his Wisdom, his Mercy, Peace, and Truth, and shew it unto you. Oh infinite Love from a tender Saviour! Well may we admire his Goodness, and intirely love him above all Things in this World.

6 thly, Christ speaks in divers Places concerning this wonderful and extraordinary Gift of the Holy Ghost or Spirit, and in the 14th Chapter, and 16th and 17th Verses of John, he thus drops his divine Words, I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth, whom the World cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: But ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. Oh! ye Ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ, in this his Gift is your Strength, your Comfort, and your exceeding great Reward, both here and hereafter, for ever; far exceeding Silver or Gold, or the Diadems of Princes: The whole World, wanting this, lieth in Wickedness, and must lie there unavoidably, if they have not the Sense of this unspeakable Gift: There cannot be Salvation, nor any saving Ministry without it; it being absolutley [sic] needful, to the Being and Well-being of a Minister of Christ: And indeed the holy Text is plain, and positive, that he that hath not the Spirit of Christ, is none of his; none of his Minister, none of his Believer: Oh! no, they cannot be his in any good Respect whatsoever, without his Spirit. But if it should be objected, How shall we do to know the Minister or the Man who hath this divine Gift, or Spirit of Christ, since it may be pretended to both by the Ministers and People; and yet they may not have it in Reality? This indeed is a great Point, and highly necessary to be searched into, which is to be known by our Lord’s Rule, which he has prescribed for that End. Do Men (saith he) gather Grapes of Thorns, or Figs of Thistles? (Surely No. The Grape is gathered from the Vine, and the Fig from the Fig-tree) Wherefore by their Fruits ye shall know them. Now those (according to this true Rule) who have the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, they bring forth the Fruits of it: Which Fruits are Love, Charity, Meekness, Temperance, Patience, Experience, Hope, Faith, and Wisdom from above, which is pure and peaceable, gentle and easy to be intreated, to all, and every Thing that is Good. And those who have the Holy Spirit, bring forth the Fruits of it as naturally, as the Vine doth the Grape, and the Fig-tree the Fig. Also, Whatsoever Things are holy, just, honest, pure, and of good Report, or tends to Piety, or Virtue; in a Word, every Thing that is Good, is the Fruit of the Spirit of God and Christ: And they are brought forth with divine Life and Power in that Minister and People, who through true Faith in the blessed Jesus, have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of Christ.

The Minister of the Gospel being thus fitly furnished to every good Word and Work; he is ready to answer the Call of his great Lord and holy Master, which is in Heaven; he wants not the Call of Man, nor Authority from Man, nor Wages of Man. But those who bring forth Fruits contrary to the above, can neither be true Ministers, nor Christians, according to the Doctrine of our holy Lord. Being thus qualified by the Most High, those Ministers are freely given up to serve the Lord, and go wheresoever he is pleased to send them, though he send them as Lambs among Wolves: And it is worth noting, that Christ’s Messengers and Ministers are called and sent of him; they do not run of themselves, nor in their own Will; which if they did, their End would be like the forward false Prophets of old, who did not profit the People at all.

Our great Lord seeing what Need the World had of true Teaching, and of true Teachers, sends his Ministers forth into it, saying, Mat. xxviii. 18, 19, 20. All Power is given unto me in Heaven and Earth: Go ye therefore and teach all Nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all Things whatsoever I have commanded you: And lo, I am with you always, even unto the End of the World.

Many of his excellent Sayings and Commands may be found in that wonderful Sermon which he preached on the Mount, Mat. 5th, 6th, and 7th Chapters.

Here Christ shews his Ministers his Power, and sends them forth in his own Name, for there is none other given under Heaven for Salvation; and Christ comforts his Ministers with a glorious Promise, of being with them to the End of the World. Oh the wonderful Sweetness of this gracious Promise! and such are all his Promises, for they are Yea, and Amen, for ever. Wherefore Christ’s Ministers may well go forth without doubting, having their Authority from the King of Kings. Again he saith, Go ye into all the World, and preach the Gospel unto every Creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned, Mark xvi. 15, 16. So Christ says, Go; but the World, the Flesh, and the Devil says, Stay; For the Spirit of Sin and Satan is for obstructing the Work of Christ, and hindring the free Gospel Ministry, and the Motions of the Word and Testimony of Jesus; and is for quenching it in those in whom it may appear: It is a new Mode or Fashion, contrary to the primitive Order of Christ, above mentioned, for Ministers to stay, and be tied to an outward Benefit, or a particular Meeting or Congregation; which Way of Preaching, or Reading (Reading being much in Practice now a-Days) is quite contrary to the Call, and Practice of Christ, and his Ministers, and of the Martyrs, and Confessors of Jesus: As also of many of the most noted Reformers in Religion. O but it is objected, If Ministers should always go about among the Nations, what would become of their Families, or how must they live, and be maintained? To which may be answered, as the Ministers of our Lord were, when he at the first sent them forth; who, when they returned to their Master, he asked them, If they lacked any Thing? They answered, No. But instead of lacking any Thing, the Devils were subject to them. Pray let the serious Christian consider, here is now a wonderful Change. Is it in Christ, or in the hireling Money-loving Priest? It is certainly in the Men, and not in Christ Jesus, for he is the same to Day, Yesterday, and for ever. Where the Power of Christ rules, there the Devil and his Power must of Necessity be subject. But some object, That People are not so free now a-Days; were there not a Law to maintain Ministers, the Ministers might perish or starve in this Generation; if so, then their Ministry must starve the People’s Souls. But this Thought of starving is for want of the Gift of God and Power of Christ; which Power in the Ministry would wonderfully open Peoples Hearts towards God, and those who are his true Servants and Ministers; who said, freely ye have received, freely give. Oh! faithless Generation, what shall we mistrust him who provides for all his Creatures, even to the Ravens and Sparrows, and will he not much more provide for his Servants and Ministers? How should we receive Power from on High, if we want Faith, and cannot depend on the providential Hand of God?

Christ sends his Ministers into the World, in order to propogate [sic] his Gospel of Salvation, and to let the World know that he is come to put an End to Sin, and bring Life and Peace to the Soul, according to the Angels Testimony of him, that his Name should be called Jesus (which is a Saviour) for he shall save his People from their Sins, Mat. i. 21. The Apostles of Christ also, according to their holy Commission, declared, that God had sent his Son to bless us, in turning of us from the Evil of our Ways [Acts 3. 26.]. But that Doctrine must certainly be opposite to this of the Angels, Christ, and his Disciples, which teacheth, that we must live in Sin while on this Side the Grave, and that there is no being free from it while we are in this World; though Christ himself came for that very End and Purpose, to put an End to it, and to save us from it, and to bring unto, and into, the World, everlasting Righteousness; as also is that Doctrine which maintains, that there is no Perfection that we can attain to in this Life; though Christ says, Be ye perfect (for or) as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect as he is perfect in Fulness, so are we to be perfect, according to the Measure of Grace received.

This Faith and Belief is much wanting in this unbelieving Generation, which is the Reason that People remain in their Sins, and the Peoples Leaders cause them to err, and their Ministers minister in their Sin, and minister Sin to the People. Oh! that the great Lord of All, may grant the Faith which purifies the Heart unto the Children of Men, and especially to his Ministers, that they might be instrumental to the convincing and converting Souls to Christ, and his Gospel, which is the Power of God to Salvation, to all them that believe. And as without believing and being baptized, we can neither be saved, nor truly preach the Gospel; how do we believe in Christ if we remain in our Sins? For Christ saith, If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your Sins: So it is plain, that the true Faith and Belief in Christ taketh away our Sins, and that if we remain in our Sins, it is evident that we have not the true Faith of Christ. It is not enough to have a notional or historical Faith or Belief that Christ is the Son of God, but we must also believe that this is he, that as the Angel declared to Joseph, should save his People from their Sins: This was before he was born of the holy Virgin; and those People mightily mistake the Doctrine of Christ in the holy Scriptures, who think or believe they shall be saved in their Sins; and those Ministers must needs be antichristian, who preach and write, that there can be no living here in this World without Sin, which is also contrary to their own Doctrine at other Times, and to their solemn Covenant in the Water Baptism (or Sprinkling) in which they promise for their Children, To forsake the Devil and all his Works, (and without doubt all his Works is Sin, no Christian can pretend to greater or higher Perfection, than to forsake the Devil, and all his Works) the Pomp and Vanity of this wicked World, and all the sinful Lusts of the Flesh, and to keep God’s holy Will and Commandments, and to walk in the same all the Days of our Lives; so that according to this solemn Covenant, here is no Day for Sin; yet those Covenanters at other Times will say, preach, dispute, and write, that the best Saints cannot live without Sin, and that People sin in their best Duties; if any think to mock the Almighty after that Manner, they will be much mistaken in the Day of the righteous Judgment of God: For Christ came to put an End to Sin, and to finish Transgression, and to destroy the Works of the Devil, which all Sin most certainly is. And it is plain, that John, the beloved Disciple of Christ, believed this, from his own Words, I write unto you, young Men, because ye have overcome the wicked One. I have written unto you, young Men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked One, 1st Epistle of John, ii. 13, 14. To which I shall add, what he saith through the Spirit to the seven Churches in Asia.

To the Church of Ephesus, Rev. ii. 7. He that hath an Ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches, To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

To the Church of Smyrna, Rev. ii. 11. He that hath an Ear, let him hear what, the Spirit saith unto the Churches, He that overcometh, shall not be hurt of the second Death.

To the Church of Pergamus, Rev. ii. 17. He that hath an Ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches, To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden Manna, and will give him a white Stone, and in it a Name written, which no Man knoweth, save him that receiveth it.

To the Church of Thyatira, Rev. ii. 26, 27, 28, 29. He that overcometh and keepeth my Works unto the End, to him will I give Power over the Nations, and he shall rule them with a Rod of Iron, as the Vessels of a Potter shall they be broken to Shivers, even as I received of my Father, and I will give him the Morning Star. He that hath an Ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.

To the Church of Sardis, Rev. iii. 5, 6, He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white Raiment, and I will not blot out his Name out of the Book of Life; but I will confess his Name before my Father, and before his Angels. He that hath an Ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.

To the Church of Philadelphia, Rev. iii. 12, 13. He that overcometh, will I make a Pillar in the Temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the Name of my God, and the Name of the City of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of Heaven from my God, and I will write upon him my new Name. He that hath an Ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.

To the Church of Laodicea, Rev. iii. 21, 22. To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my Throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with my Father in his Throne. He that hath an Ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.

Surely that Soul who cannot by all this see that there is an Overcoming, must certainly be blind as to a spiritual Sight of the Doctrine of Christ; and what is it but to make Christ and the Holy Spirit a Deceiver, to promise all those great Things to his Churches, if they cannot perform the Conditions he prescribes? And if it were true (as it is not) that it is impossible to overcome Sin and Satan, then would Christ be a hard Master, which is absurd and wicked to suggest. But this Overcoming must not be in our own Wills, nor in our own Time, nor with our own Weapons, but according to the Apostle Paul’s Testimony of the Saints Weapons, and their Warfare, and also of his own Fight and Victory, viz. 2 Cor. x. 4. The Weapons of our Warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong Holds (Satan’s Holds of Sin are strong Ones, if never to be overcome.) But with these Weapons we may overcome: And he bids the Christian put them on, and calls them the whole Armour of Light (opposite and contrary to Satan’s dark Power) and he names them after this Manner: Stand therefore, having your Loins girt about with Truth, and having on the Breast-plate of Righteousness, and your Feet shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace; above all, taking the Shield of Faith, where-with ye shall be able to quench all the fiery Darts of the Wicked, and take the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, Eph. vi. 13.17.

I have fought a good Fight, I have finished my Course, I have kept the Faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a Crown of Righteousness, which God, the righteous Judge, shall give to me at that Day, and not to me only, but to all them who love his Appearing, 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.

Thus the Saints and primitive Christians were victorious in this Christian and Spiritual Warfare, and they encouraged others to follow them, as they did Christ. The very Belief of this Doctrine, that we can never overcome Sin and Satan, is contrary to the Faith of Christ, and is a mighty Engine of the wicked One to destroy Souls; for what Encouragement can any have to the Work of Reformation, or to believe in or press after the New-birth, if they do not believe in the New-birth, or that they may or can be reformed, or created again a-new in Christ Jesus, unto good Works, and that they must not walk after the Flesh, to fulfil the Lusts thereof. Oh! that Ministers and People would consider that awful Sentence of holy Scripture, viz. If ye live after the Flesh ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, mortify the Deeds of the Body, ye shall live, Rom. viii. 13. (the Want of a lively Hope and Faith in Christ, the great Lord of Heaven and Earth, is great, very great indeed) Oh! that true Faith in him might abound and increase in the Earth more and more; then would he inspire the Soul with inward Strength and Grace to resist the Devil, and overcome him, and actually to do the Works of God, and to forsake the Devil, and all his Works, and then, and not until then, is Christ’s Righteousness imputed unto us; so that true Christians are truly righteous, not only by Imputation, but by Action also. Oh that those who make Profession of holy Jesus would deny themselves, and take up their daily Cross, and follow him in the Regeneration! otherwise, how can they be his Disciples or Ministers? And then would true Christianity flourish in the Earth; then would Christ be exalted over all, who, with the Father and holy Spirit, is God blessed for ever.

Now to return a little to Christ’s Baptism, viz. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved. Here our great Baptizer, and chief Minister, is positive, that they shall be saved who are baptized with his Baptism: from which, with strong Reason, we may conclude, that the Baptism which is absolutely necessary to Salvation is not Water-baptism, which was John’s, but spiritual Baptism, which is Christ’s; and for this Reason also, that most Christians that have any Spiritual Understanding, do plainly see, that not withstanding People being baptized, or sprinkled with elementary Water, many live wicked ungodly Lives, and die in that State; but quite the contrary Effect hath that Baptism which is of the Holy Ghost, and Spiritual Fire, which is Christ’s Baptism; for that where it is witnessed, and where People not only talk of it, but live according to its holy Operation on the Soul, it saveth and cleanseth from Sin and Evil, it washeth by Regeneration, and reneweth the Soul by Grace, with divine Life and Power.

The Call of a true Minister, is from and by Christ, he must come to the School of Christ, and take his Degrees there; in the universal Love of God he must learn and experience Patience, Humility, Faith, Hope, and Charity; Learn of me, saith he, for I am meek and lowly in Heart; and yet, notwithstanding, he was the great Heir of all Things, and all Power in Heaven and Earth was given unto him, he humbled himself to the Death of the Cross, for the Sake of Mankind; and as the living Father sent his Son, so the Son sends his Servants contrary to the Will of Man, as the Apostle Paul said, But I certify unto you, Brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me, is not after Man; for I neither received it of Man, nor was I taught it but by the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Gal. i. 11, 12. Hereby it is plain he thought there was no absolute Necessity of outward Learning nor outward Call by Man.

And as there is no absolute Necessity of outward Learning to make a Minister of Christ, so there is no Need to force an outward Maintenance; for Christ will take Care of his Servants, and feed and clothe them, when he sends them, as he did his Disciples, who went forth without Staff or Scrip, yet acknowledged, after their Return, they lacked nothing. And as Christ said, Freely ye have received, freely give; so there is no outward Compulsion or Force in Christ’s Doctrine or Religion: Some are indeed of another Opinion, and have practised the contrary, and bring those Words of Christ to uphold them in the Practice of forcing Religion, where he says, in the Parable of the Marriage Supper, Go, compel them to come in; which was no other Compulsion or Force but that of Love, which is the greatest Power in Heaven or Earth; to construe our Saviour’s Words in any other Sense, would be absurd, and contrary to the whole Tenor of his Doctrine and glorious Ministry.

Thus then the Work of Christ’s Ministers is to bring the People to Christ, as he is their Redeemer and Saviour from Sin, and as he is their Comforter, and good Remembrancer, and their spiritual Guide into all Truth; in the Performance of which Work, they will have their Reward in this World, and in the World to come everlasting Life. Amen.

This essay from the pen of Quaker minister Thomas Chalkley (1675-1741) has been extracted from pages 514-527 of A Collection of the Works of that ancient, faithful servant of Jesus Christ, Thomas Chalkley, etc., Fourth Edition (London: Luke Hinde, 1766), held in searchable electronic form by the Digital Quaker Collection of Earlham School of Religion ( Accessed 3/20/2021 by John Jeremiah Edminster.

“Some Consideration on the Call, Work, and Wages, of the Ministers of Christ” — I shall call it “Call, Work, and Wages” for short – invites comparison with A Description of the Qualifications necessary to A Gospel Minister, published by Chalkley’s contemporary Samuel Bownas in 1750, and also with the chapter “Proposition 10: Concerning the Ministry” in Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity, first published in English in 1678.

Chalkley’s source-material is all from the recorded words of Jesus and His apostles (all biblical writers named “John,” including the author of Revelation, having been identified, in Chalkley’s day, with John the Beloved Disciple referenced at John 13:23, 21:7, and 21:20). And all their teachings found in Scripture, in Chalkley’s view, support the principle that Christ Himself, through the Holy Spirit, is the only source of all valid vocal ministry given among His people. This would invalidate much pseudo-ministry coming from or received by hypocrites who are not worshipers “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24), or words cobbled together in the “wisdom of man” without the power of God. In this, Chalkley is united with Barclay, Bownas, and all early Friends.

What invites scrutiny is his uniquely nuanced structuring of what Christ’s teaching consists of, or how we need to be “turned from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18). With that suggestion I invite readers to explore the message for Chalkley’s “Call, Work, and Wages” for themselves.


The Prayer from the Cross

March 4, 2019

A Sermon Delivered at Earlham School of Religion, Third Day, 2/26/2019

Friends: I invite you all to join me, during this hour, in a guided meditation on what might have been going through the mind of Jesus as He was hanging on the cross, waiting to die. Whether or not you accept Him as your personal Savior, a Divine Incarnation, or just a very good man who may or may not have risen from the dead, you are attached to a Christian theological seminary, and the world will expect you to have given this subject some thought. So I’m here today to help with that, though I claim no special knowledge.. Because of the solemnity of the topic, I’ve scheduled no hymn-singing. I will not be dwelling on the cruelty and injustice of the crucifixion, but if you think that discussing the subject at all may be harmful to your peace of mind or mental health, you may leave at any time, with my blessing.

We’ve been trained here to identify the social location we think from, and mine is one you can all see: multiply-privileged white-looking, straight-seeming, well-educated American male. But I pray that, during this gathering, the Holy Spirit, speaking though me, might transcend the limitations of our social locations so that I speak to the condition of everyone here. But I also discern a need to disclose my theological location in giving a talk like this, so here it is: I self-identify as a follower of Jesus Christ, whom I call Lord and Savior, in whom I now live, and who lives in me. I was raised a nonbeliever, and I’m only where I am now theologically because I believe I’ve heard Christ’s voice and felt His guidance. For data about the Crucifixion I rely on the Bible. I recognize that the four canonical gospels disagree among themselves about many details, and include some stories I find unbelievable, like the pericope about bandaged zombies coming out of their tombs at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matt 27:51-53). The part about the darkness at midday (Luke 23:44-45) may be a distorted memory of the lunar eclipse of 4/3/33 CE (not a solar eclipse, impossible during a full-moon festival like Passover).

I believe the gospels reveal a clear and consistent picture of Jesus to anyone who studies them. I have no use for alternate theories I’ve heard, that Jesus was “really” a political revolutionary, or the son of a human father other than Joseph, or a mistaken believer in an imminent apocalypse, or an India- trained disciple of yoga masters. It’s not that I want to quash such speculations, but any truth that there may be in them would add nothing to Jesus’ value to me. I do believe in His miracles, which is to say, in what we call “paranormal” powers over the natural world. I do believe in His bodily resurrection. Finally: if you don’t agree with my theology, that’s fine with me; I don’t think your salvation depends on it. Anyway, Christ may not want you to agree with me.

In any case, there was something about Jesus – His purity of intention, clarity of vision, integrity if not outright divinity – that made Him so different from the rest of us that it’s hard for us to imagine “being” Him, walking in His shoes and thinking His thoughts. But if we must, let’s start by asking His help: Lord Jesus, purify our hearts and enlighten our minds to fit us for this work, so that we might, if only for this hour, love in accord with Your heart and know in accord with Your mind. Amen.

I believe that what He was doing on the cross was praying for the salvation of the world. Yes, also suffering; yes, also dying; but surely His intention was to be praying, with all the concentration He could muster, for He was not one to waste time on futile activities. You and I might just go to pieces when nails went into our hands and feet, but Jesus would not, if He knew in His heart that being crucified was an essential work-assignment that He had to do right if He wanted the world saved. Now some writers have conjectured that crucifixion spelled the failure of His mission, but that simply cannot be, if His mission was to model the way of all-forgiving God. If your mission is to model the way of an all-forgiving God, you do it by being forgiving unto death (Luke 23:34), and a public death like Jesus’s, or like Stephen’s in the Book of Acts, gives you the chance to show the world that you mean it. That God is all-forgiving is surely good enough news to die for!

An all-forgiving God? Look at the Lord’s Prayer with me: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After He teaches that prayer, He comments, “forgive all trespasses and yours will be forgiven; but withhold forgiveness and yours won’t be” (my paraphrase of Matt 6:14-15). Now would God ask us to be all-forgiving if God weren’t all-forgiving? (If God had predestined most sinners to eternal damnation and Jesus knew it, Jesus couldn’t and wouldn’t have taught this!. Take that, John Calvin!) The only barriers to forgiveness by God seem to be ones that we put up, (1) by trying to hide our sins from God, often by denial of needing forgiveness, or (2) by refusing to extend forgiveness by holding on to grudges. This is what the Fourth Gospel must mean by describing [all] condemnation as self-condemnation, a fleeing from the truth-revealing Light into all-hiding darkness (John 3:19-20), where God’s forgiveness, by our own decision, cannot reach. But to know that we can be freely forgiven all those things we’ve loathed ourselves for is a kindness of God that, as Paul notes (Rom 2:4), should make us want to repent them! Jesus illustrates the wild joy and generosity of the much-forgiven by pointing to the uninhibited exuberance of the sinner-woman at Simon the Leper’s banquet (Luke 7:36-50).

Now I framed this digression about Jesus’ gospel of an all-forgiving God within a speculation that Jesus was praying from the Cross for the salvation of the world, a prayer that presupposes an all-forgiving God. The whole creation yearns for salvation! The whole creation groans (Rom 8:22), all sentient beings groan along with humankind, groan from ignorance, impermanence, fear, pain, danger, and mortality, things we all long to be saved from whether we can express that longing or not. Jesus is twice hailed as the “Savior of the world” in the writings of John, and I believe that Jesus felt that love, repentance, and forgiveness, practiced universally enough among humanity, might indeed undo our ancient fall from Paradise and work the “reconciliation of all things” (Col 1:20). Love “hopes all things,” Paul wrote (1 Cor 13:7), and if the crucified Jesus saw Himself as called to a ministry of saving the world through love, then He would have been praying with all His heart for it. “One-pointed” as any adept of yoga ever was, Jesus would have been supremely accomplished at focusing His attention on one single point and keeping it there.

Imagine Him focusing it on His own heart as a radiating source of love. Is He distracted by the pain in His hands and feet? Then He is willing them to be radiating outlets of the love in His heart: He’s experienced, as we know, at willing through His hands, which have touched and healed many, and willing through His feet, which have walked on water. Is He distracted by irrelevant thoughts? He’s experienced at silencing them: “Peace; be still,” He’d said to the wind and the waves (Mark 4:39). “Get thee behind me, Satan,” He’d said to His tempters (Luke 4:8, Mark 8:33). Pain does not break His resolve! According to the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, He breaks His silence only for essential things: to pronounce forgiveness of His killers (Luke 23:34), to bless the repentant thief (Luke 23:43), to put His mother under the protection of the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26), and to beg relief from thirst (John 19:28). He cries out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), signaling those “with ears to hear” that He is “fulfilling the scripture” of Psalm 22. He is also, perhaps, crying out as the Voice of All Creation to its Creator: “Restore us to the condition of Paradise!”

Jesus’ body may be in a state of shock as death approaches, with reduced blood pressure and possible hypothermia, so that He weaves in and out of consciousness, but I imagine that His will remains firm. Unprogrammed Friends are no doubt familiar with silences so deep that we seem to be fast asleep, except for the glimmering awareness that our abiding intention is to be at worship. Imagine, then, Jesus’ awareness thus reduced to just a bare, naked intention for the world’s salvation, before the final moment when He comes to, heaves a final sigh – “It is finished” – and gives up the ghost (John 19:30).

It is possible that His consciousness, during His hours on the cross, has expanded so far beyond the confines of His physical body, as egoless minds are said to be able to do, that He has allowed Himself to suffer the sufferings of all creation. This would allow Him to cry out the prayer of every suffering creature to God as with its own voice; – but of such a mystery I can have no knowledge, unless He reveals it to me and grants me a mind that can take it in. I only sense, by faith, that His is the perfect love that casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18); and that His prayer for us is one with the eternal blessing of the Creator, who pronounces the creation “very good” at its completion (Gen 1:31).

Who Dares Treat Human Souls as Things without Feelings or Value?

June 29, 2018

God loves us all. God wants us, God’s children, to learn to love everyone also.

Jesus, who taught “Love your enemies” and even forgave His own murderers, claimed to be of one will and character with God. Who could understand God’s heart better than Jesus? So when Jesus assures us that God will forgive us our sins if we forgive others their sins against us, we may be confident that God, who wishes to save every soul, wants us also to be kind, merciful, and all-forgiving. In this way we are made fit to inherit God’s own eternal peace and joy.

One of Jesus’ apostles put it simply: God is Love.

But there are some who, as yet, cannot see God this way. These can only imagine a Supreme Deity – if they believe in one at all – who loves a few and rejects the rest. This belief allows some such people to treat their own designated scapegoats cruelly. These seem unable to take to heart the warning that we must reap what we sow – until or unless a sick conscience, now at last coming to be recognized as “moral injury,” leads them to repent and renounce cruelty. But this is to learn the hard way.

Such people need our prayers. If they have taken pleasure in tormenting others, or even given assent in their hearts to a sadistic government policy that kidnaps a nursing infant away from its mother, that pleasure, or complacency, must turn to pain as their souls flee from the light that exposes the evil. This is not divine punishment , but self-punishment, as the Bible itself attests.

We must not wish such pain on them, or on anyone. Wishing others ill only keeps the cycle of vengeance going. Nor may we take satisfaction in the thought of their coming humiliation when they are corrected. They are our brothers and sisters, God’s beloved children, like ourselves. They are ourselves. We are entitled to rebuke and resist them, to warn them, to do all we can to stop them, without resorting to violence. Only by remembering that we wish their repentance and redemption, and not their suffering, can we obey the divine advice to overcome evil with good.

– A tract written for distribution at the Families Belong Together public event in Richmond, Indiana, Seventh Day, 6/30/2018. The printed version has footnotes giving biblical references.

Instructions from the Risen Christ

April 20, 2015

A sermon delivered to Manhattan Monthly Meeting on First Day, 4/19/2015

Friends, – Jesus had a lot to say to fallen, suffering humanity during His years of ministry, but, judging from the gospel records, very little to say during the short period between His resurrection and His ascension (traditionally forty days, though the number forty may have been picked more for its mythic associations than its historical accuracy). “Hereafter I will not talk much with you,” Jesus had said in the final minutes before His arrest (John 14:30), preparing His disciples for a future in which the Holy Spirit would provide the guidance they’d been looking to Him for up till then. – And then, less than twenty-four hours later, He’d said tetélestai, “It is finished,” and died on the cross (John 19:30). And that finished His conversation with them, His teaching, His ministry, His sacrifice, His work on earth. – Almost.

This morning I invite you to join me in unpacking the remainder of that “almost,” – that is, the teachings He gave us after His resurrection from the dead. Now, the written record is sketchy. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John disagree about what happened next: in John, Mary Magdalene meets Jesus outside the tomb, and He forbids her to touch Him; in Matthew, two women encounter the risen Christ, – and touch His feet. Mark and Luke mention no encounter with Christ by the empty sepulcher, but rather with one or two men in dazzlingly white clothing (one in Mark, two in Luke). But all agree that the first witnesses were women, or a woman, who came at dawn and found the stone rolled away from the mouth of an empty grave.

And then what? – Mark and Luke tell the story of an Easter-afternoon encounter on the road to Emmaus, with a nighttime sequel among the disciples in a room in Jerusalem. John mentions two meetings with the disciples, one with Thomas absent and the second with him present. Matthew mentions no meeting with the disciples in Jerusalem, but rather one that takes place on a mountain in Galilee. John also has Jesus arrange a final breakfast with the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. In all these encounters it seems as if no one recognizes Jesus until He wills it. He also enters rooms with locked doors without passing through them. He also… vanishes.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, also tells of the Risen Lord’s meetings with His brother James, with five hundred brethren, and with Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:5-8). A Gospel to the Hebrews, known to the Church Fathers but now lost except for a fragment, also mentions an Easter-morning breaking of bread with James. Now what happened in all these encounters? What did Jesus have to say that He hadn’t said already, or couldn’t have said before rising from the dead? And – is there a common theme or central point to it?

Here are the essentials I’ve gleaned from the records that we have:

1. I am really alive among you, in a physical flesh-and-bones body that can eat, drink, and be touched.

2. Thus was it foretold, that the Messiah should suffer, die, and be raised again (Luke 24:35-37, 44-47).

3. All authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to me (Matthew 28:18), and I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20b).

4. Now “receive Holy Breath from me” (John 20:22), and “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49b). In other words, an anointing of some sort is needed before you are ready to go out as disciples. (The Gospel of John says that Jesus “breathed on them,” but the original Greek says that He “blew into them” as a flute-player blows into a flute, using the verb from which we get our word “emphysema,” so He may have given them mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration, one by one.)

5. Thorough changes of heart and mind (metanoia) have now been made possible, a virtual rebirth that enables the discarding of sin (áphesis hamartiōn), which no longer clings to the sinner as it once did. This good and liberating news must now be announced to every nation (Luke 24:47).

6. You disciples must also feed My sheep (John 21:15-17), that is, live no longer for yourselves, but to tend lovingly to the people I send to you, and build community. I will equip you for your several missions with facility with new languages, immunity to snakebite and poisons, and the power of healing touch (Mark 16:17-18).

7. Peace be with you! I now send you forth, as my Father sent Me forth (John 20:19-21). Make disciples among all nations (Matt. 28:19), washing them clean in the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded (Mark 16:15).

Now to me, some of these parts of Jesus’ post-resurrection message have the look of the central teaching, and others, the look of a frame around the central teaching. As part of the “frame” I’d include the presentation of His credentials: He was and is the Messiah, He really died, He really is alive now, and He has authority over everything, forever. Also part of the frame would be His commission to spread His gospel, His anointing breath and charismatic empowerments, and His instruction to feed the sheep.

But what is this gospel, the central teaching in the middle?

It is, in a word, salvation. It’s the sin-eliminating metanoia, the “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), the birth of the new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15) within the shell of the old personality, the transformation made possible for all humankind, both before and after Jesus’ walk on earth, by the death and resurrection of its Savior Jesus.

Transformation, metamorphosis: we morph, and we do it merely by facing that Holy One, name Him however we will, and by letting Him reshape us into something more like Himself (2 Cor. 3:18). This transformation, this “morphing,” frees us from addictions to sin, frees us from our defenses against being aware that we’re addicts to sin, one of which is our habit of seeing faults in others that we can’t admit to having in ourselves, and frees us from identifying ourselves with our sins and so walking around in perpetual shame, guilt, and uneasy denial, over all the vile things we’ve ever said or thought or done.

Repentance, rightly understood, disconnects us from sin so that it falls away from us. This falling away, or removal of sins, áphesis hamartiōn, often translated “forgiveness of sins,” is something that we can feel – not when we die and go to heaven, but right here. Jesus confirmed that the prostitute that crashed the banquet and washed His feet with her tears was someone who’d felt her sins forgiven, and that’s why she acted so wildly generous and loving (Luke 7:36-50). It’s not something we can fake by glibly declaring ourselves sinless, and neither is it something we can get without first forgiving everyone else their sins against us (Matt. 6:15). Neither is it a blessing that God reserves only for His special darlings, for we are told in 2 Peter 3:9 that the Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (You want it for yourself? Help everybody get it!)

We come to the heart of the matter when we ask what the connection is between repentance and salvation. Briefly, there is no salvation without repentance. Salvation, sōtēría, means “safety” or “making safe.” In our unchanged, unrepentant state we are not safe, we are in bondage where we can be jerked around by our chains. If you doubt that, think of how quickly anger can jerk you into a state of temporary insanity, where you suddenly become sure that you’re in the right and the other person is in the wrong, and not only that, you must immediately correct that wrong person by hurting or humiliating him. As we are in bondage to anger, so are we in bondage to fear, pain, hunger, thirst, and erotic attraction. But Christ will free us from bondage to these things for the asking, if we’ll only cooperate with His efforts to strengthen us against the temptations these things hold over us.

If we’ve experienced this transformation of repentance, or even started to feel it, let’s do all we can to share the glorious fruit of it. It is wonderful to feel bondage to sin gone from our lives! If we haven’t yet, then let’s pray to receive it, and do all we can to get the obstacles out of the way, for ourselves and for others! – for most people in bondage can’t feel how horrible it is until they’ve been freed. Salvation has been won for us, and the Lord Jesus Christ, now risen, holds it out to us as a free gift. All we have to do is say “yes,” reach for it, and accept it.

We must decrease, and Christ increase

January 1, 2015

To all Friends everywhere,

We must decrease, and Christ increase.

All power is His in heaven and earth, but He will force no entry into an unwilling heart, and if we leave Him standing outside on our day of visitation, we slight Him to our own impoverishment and hurt.

He stands at the door and knocks now. Why do we hesitate? It may be that we fear diminishment, for we’ve all been promised comfort and security by the world, and we don’t want to risk the loss of it. It may be that we cherish individual ambitions, for we’ve been taught since infancy to compete for the world’s honors, and to withdraw from the contest too much resembles death in our eyes. It may be that we live in artificially heightened opinions of our own powers, rights and agency, and shrink from the possible realization that the self we so worship is but a mask, a shadow, a fiction. Of old, Christ Jesus prophesied that that which is done in secret or whispered in the ear would be shouted from the housetops, and we all have lies, tender spots, grudges, guilts, sexual kinks, shameful memories and outright sins that we dread having the whole world know about. There are so many reasons to pretend that we don’t hear that knock at the door! But none of them are good reasons, because they all involve choosing unreality over reality; and all such choices are known to end in unhappiness.

The Knocker at the door, then, is the Light that will show us who and what we are. But two things may distract us from opening to let Him in. One is our membership in a club of nice folks who also don’t answer the door. The other is our involvement in a righteous cause too important to be distracted from. The Religious Society of Friends, unfortunately, may provide us with both of these excuses.

But fortunately, the Religious Society of Friends is not really a nice folks’ club, but a people of God, bound to God by a covenant. Oh, we’ve done our best to forget the Quaker covenant announced to and through Francis Howgill on 3/28/1662. Many who know of it may regard it as a mere historical curiosity, not relevant today, though Howgill’s contemporaries took it seriously enough; his account is accessible online in William Sewel’s History of the rise, increase, and progress, of the Christian people called Quakers (p.403 of 3rd ed., 1728). But the real question, Friend reader, is: what does thy own heart say about its genuineness? If it was a real communication from the living God, then God may at any moment shake our meeting houses to their foundations, and hold us each answerable for that covenant today.

As for our righteous causes, God may prosper or frustrate them as God thinks best, but it will surely be only a matter of time before we’re shown the folly of deploying on the battlefield before consulting the General.

Let’s waste no time, Friends, in opening the door.

What Quakers Believe about… Repentance and Remission of Sins

September 20, 2014

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. – Luke 24:47 (AV)

What Quakers believe about anything is, for better or for worse, conditioned by what they’ll allow themselves to believe. Those of little faith may believe some of what they read in the newspaper, some of the time, while those of great faith may be working major “signs and wonders” to the glory of God. One thing Friends tend to agree on, though, is that we ought to speak from personal experience, and be able to answer affirmatively to the query, “Is it inwardly from God?” If it’s simply an opinion – early Friend George Fox wrote, “We own not opinions.” What follows, I believe, is inwardly from God.

According to the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus left his followers with a commission to preach, that is, to announce the availability of, a changed state of mind (metanoia or “repentance”) that would allow one to know oneself to be sinless: in other words, that one’s previously acknowledged sins had been dismissed, forgiven, and declared null and void. The original Greek reads metanoia eis aphesin hamartiōn, literally “repentance into remission of sins, so we know that Jesus didn’t intend us to think that “repentance” and “remission of sins” were two separate and independent gifts, but one thing that led directly into the other.

And yes, they are gifts: repentance isn’t something we can achieve by ourselves, any more than we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. As the first generation of Christians recognized (Acts 11:18), it comes to us as a gift from outside ourselves, or not at all. Otherwise there’d be a huge industry peddling repentance like a drug, and how-to-forgive-yourself books would be on every combat veteran’s Kindle. Churches would be fitness centers of the soul, where moms and dads would put in a half hour on the treadmill after work to sweat out the day’s lies, white-collar crimes and adulterous fantasies, then go home to the kids fresh as a daisy. Of course there are preachers who’ll exhort you to repent as if you could do it at will: but I, who had to “repent” of smoking seven times before I could stay quit, can tell them otherwise: it was granted me to quit smoking.

How would we know that we ourselves, or another person, are in a genuine state of repentance and not in a mere mood or delusion? For there are people that do dreadful things without feeling the least bit sinful about them; we call them psychopaths. But “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20). Jesus, in Luke 7:36-50, shows us the signs of a person who knows she’s been forgiven all her sins – she’s exuberant, loving, and generous, even to the point of letting herself look a little foolish: she weeps in public, she kisses Jesus’ feet. It’s a kind of behavior not easily counterfeited.

Moreover, repentant people who’ve experienced remission of sins should be able to describe how they know their sins were remitted. Since George Fox’s day, Quakers have been in the habit of asking claimants to religious truth, “What canst thou say?” I could answer you, for example, that I was sitting in meeting one day, obsessively berating myself for some past foolishness, when I heard an authoritative Voice in my mind say, “That sin is forgiven: put it away!” During another Quaker meeting I heard that Voice say “I will not let you fall into sin.” And there were other experiences, so that today I feel still temptable, but powerfully protected, and discouraged from worrying. But ask for your own convincing experience!

Luke records that remission of sins is to be preached in Jesus’ name, and it’s a fact that among North American Quakers today, some preach in Jesus’ name and some do not. Some might argue that, before Jesus’ time, the Buddha also taught a way to sinlessness that erases the karma and vāsanās of sin: of whether this way works I confess my ignorance, not having followed that path. I preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name for these reasons:

1. I’ve felt myself given “a mouth, and wisdom” (Luke 21:15) to do so by the Lord Jesus Himself, who has made me a member of Christ. In this work “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). This is a condition available to everyone, though it requires a kind of voluntary dying to one’s old ways.

2. Only in the ministry of Jesus, for the first time in known history, do we find an instruction to forgive everyone everything, modeled perfectly for us by the Teacher’s own behavior, coupled with a declaration that God our Creator is of the same all-forgiving spirit. It is extremely important for men and women to know this about God. But to know this about God, we must practice that all-forgiving spirit ourselves, and ask God’s help with it.

One thing Quakers are rightly known for is their truthfulness, and I would be less than truthful if I claimed or even implied that what I’ve written here is typical of contemporary Quaker thought. But I do hope to help make it so.

Remembering from Whence We Are Fallen

September 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

This is an unofficial, personal epistle from the sixth annual gathering of Christ-centered Friends in the Northeast, which took place over Labor Day Weekend. I started writing it from my bedroom on the last night of our stay at Powell House, intending to send it to everyone who’d expressed regret at not being able to attend, and also to everyone else who I thought would want to know how it had gone. I’ll be posting this letter on the blog “among Friends” to give it maximum circulation. Although I served as Clerk of the gathering’s planning group, let me repeat that this letter has no official status as a statement from the gathering or its planners, but is just what is on this one Friend’s heart to share with the world.

The theme for the gathering, “Abide in Me,” from Jesus’ Vine Sermon (John 15:4), was chosen last Winter. As our planning group worked on developing a program for the weekend over a series of conference calls, we became clear on two things: (1) that we’d be trying to relate our discussion to participants’ personal experiences of “dwelling in” or “being indwelt by” Christ the Vine, and (2) that we’d be flexible in our planning, not adopting a rigid schedule in advance, in order to let the Holy Spirit guide our sequence of activities as much as we could. I think that the interest in personal experiences (1) served to help me (and, I hope, others) stay focused on my living connection to Christ, avoiding airy notions or unprofitable light conversation during the weekend, and that the intentional flexibility of programming (2) was what allowed the two evening prayer sessions to happen. These proved to be the high points of my weekend.

We had twenty-five participants – fewer than in prior years when we’d met at Powell House. As often happens, some came late and some left early, but for most of the programmed events we had about twenty-two. Four came from the New England Yearly Meeting area, two from elsewhere, and the rest from the New York Yearly Meeting area. Each, on arrival, got a printed sheet with John 15:1-11 on it, in the New Revised Standard Version. Sixth-day evening was largely given over to dinner, introductions and waiting worship. The vocal ministry we heard, I thought, was reflective of the concerns we were bringing with us – like “are we called to be Christian Quakers or to think of ourselves as Quaker Christians?”

On Seventh-day morning we considered the simple phrase “Abide in Me” in plenary session, then proceeded into an hour and a half of waiting worship. There was considerable vocal ministry, but none arresting, I thought, until the three messages that came right at the end. The Friend who’d suggested the “Abide in Me” theme spoke of having invited Jesus Christ to abide in him, and three times being asked, “Are you sure you want this?” The last Friend to give ministry broke into deep vocal prayer that seemed to expose his very heart. I could now be optimistic that the Holy Spirit was bringing us closer.

After lunch we labored. We discussed the first eleven verses of the Vine Sermon in small groups (“Where does the text touch your life now? Was there a time in your life when this ‘abiding’ was harder?”), and then in another plenary session. There at least one Friend expressed fear of the possibility of being found to be an “unfruitful branch” and cast into the fire. Another argued for the positive, hopeful thrust of the Vine Sermon as a whole, and against the existence of a God who might damn anyone. A third spoke of his earlier life as a liar, seducer, thief and self-glorifier, a life and character that he gladly surrendered to be trashed as an unfruitful branch after he’d found himself given a new, repentant heart and a new life in Christ – a gamut of personal experience that made both the promising and the threatening aspects of the “vine” metaphor apt without implying any expectation of a condemnation of any sentient being to everlasting fire. Both fear of God and trust in God were displayed among us, but by God’s grace we weren’t being polarized into believers in hell and disbelievers in hell, but rather gathered, I’d like to think, as a body of God-fearing, God-trusting God-lovers who could all speak to something in one another’s souls. And God – God was God. God loved us, and knew best what to do with us.

That evening we broke into prayer-groups of five or six each. My group quickly went deep into confessions of personal need and heartfelt concern for loved ones. Three of us dropped to our knees on one side of the parlor coffee table and joined hands. One was trembling as she prayed, and remained trembling. Aware of the intensity of others’ experience, I said “Amen” to every petition I heard, but felt strangely cool and neutral inwardly myself, until, at the end, I began to speak for my own yearnings, praying first for my own immediate family and then, as I warmed inwardly, for the whole fear-driven, war-torn, ignorance-darkened world.

Seventh-day night saw an “extracurricular” gathering in the library to discuss discipleship and disciple-making. That deserves a separate letter, and so I’ll pass over it in this report; perhaps you’ll hear about it from someone else.

In First-day morning’s meeting for worship, my wife Elizabeth broke into quaking, a first for her, as she gave vocal ministry on the topic of the Word made flesh, in Christ and in our deeds. Another Friend, bidden by the Holy Spirit, prayed in her native language, unfamiliar to the rest of us, for an ailing family member. I sensed a divine covering – but then, not every message seemed Spirit-led, and the meeting “crumbled” – I don’t know how else to describe it – as Friends broke into speaking a second time in a single meeting, addressing one another by name, and making attempts to “fix” a situation gone awry. We’d started to rise, then stumbled and fallen into a slight, but temporary, disorder. Here we broke for lunch and then several hours of free time.

A late-afternoon small-group exercise focused on “pruning the branches” seemed to bring rich insights. The first four verses of John 15 were slowly read aloud, lectio-divina style, and we considered the pruning that had been done to ourselves – or that we saw as needing to be done. A property-owner new to pruning apple trees and grapevines told of being taught that good pruning is severe pruning, and that fruit trees send shoots upward, but orchard-keepers want them to grow mostly outward and sideways. Another Friend shared the insight that God does not prune once, but continues to prune, giving us just enough stress at any one time as we can take. Another Friend reminded us of our importance to the ongoing work of Christ by observing that the Vine only produces fruit through its branches. One countered our habit of thinking of ourselves solely as individuals by warning that if we neglect our daily practice, we impoverish our meeting. And I? I saw much that I could be pruned of, and found myself welcoming the shears. They might scare me as they grew closer, but I trusted the Lord to give me whatever courage I might need.

The planning group decided that the best thing we could do with the evening ahead of us would be to have prayer-groups again. This time we split into one group of eight and another of ten. My group, the smaller one, moved off to the parlor. I knelt and prayed aloud that the Lord would gather us, and returned to my seat.

Jim, a former monk, spoke next: “Lord, I offer up this prayer of Saint Ignatius:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. Amen.”

Jim recalls adding, after Ignatius’s original “my memory [and] my understanding,” “my intuition,” “my imagination,” and “my emotions.” In all, it was quite a comprehensive list, and I prayed to be “naughted” – a Fourteenth-Century term I’d learned from reading Julian of Norwich – in every aspect of my personal experience. I noticed my random thoughts with neither eagerness nor revulsion, recalled that I’d surrendered them to God, and then grew sleepy as the silence lengthened. And then the thought came: I can’t let myself sleep! This prayer group is going to fail if I don’t stay alert! And with that, I knelt again and stayed kneeling, waiting for something… something from within or without.

Then Roger, from across the table, asked whether he could put hands on my shoulders. “Please do,” I answered.

Roger’s hands on my shoulders were soon joined by Jim’s hands on my head. And then Jim started to chant the plainsong Salve Regina in his serene old voice. He was calling on the Virgin Mary for help. I was grateful. I rarely think of asking her or any other holy person for help, punctilious monotheist that I am, although I’ve sensed her presence alongside me in prayer once or twice before. With Mary and Jesus invoked, Elizabeth at my side, Roger and Jim touching me, and other loving presences around the table, I felt sweetly and solemnly held. There was a little pulsing of energy in the field around my crown, something that I sometimes take as a sign of a visitation by the Holy Spirit.

Jim’s voice sang on: Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes, in hac lacrimarum valle. I understood the Latin: To thee we sigh, groaning and weeping in this valley of tears. It may have been that the thought came to me in an unfamiliar language, sneaking up on my emotions from beneath, that brought tears into my chest, or it may have been that they were sung rather than spoken: but there those tears were, and I sensed I was ready to pray from them, though I didn’t know where it would lead. When Jim was done singing, I spoke again, in tears that grew to a torrent of sobbing:

“Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Holy Spirit, Lord Jesus: we are in trouble, bigger trouble than we know: but You know. We, Your children, are fallen, fallen away from You to where we can’t see or feel You, and we’re behaving in a way that’s destroying the earth before our own eyes. We see it, but we can’t stop ourselves. And we’re doing it because we’re in bondage to a great lie. All of us! The oppressors and the oppressed alike, we’ve put ourselves in bondage, we’ve invited the Father of Lies to be our master, and we can’t see it! We’ve enslaved ourselves to habits, cultures, world-views, organizations, and insane loyalties to false gods that are now working together to destroy all life on this planet, with war, with racism and hatred, with deceit and denial, with runaway overconsumption of things that can’t satisfy, and yet we keep guzzling them down to fill our emptiness! Our destruction of the environment is merely an outward sign of our inward sickness! – and because it’s not quite burning us up quite yet, we’re able to keep ourselves blind to the fact, or we look to scapegoating and mutual blaming as a solution, which will prove to be no solution, because the problem is us! Because it’s we who’ve wandered away from the good way that was Your holy will, which was what was best for all creation and every creature in it. It was we who thought that we might create a better reality, and enjoy a better freedom, if we each pursued a separate will and served ourselves instead of one another! – which was madness, but we called it wisdom, and we refused to listen to Your guidance, guidance that would call us back to serving the One Good Will and so restoring the creation to health! And now we’re stuck in this bondage, unable to get out of it so long as we’re in denial of it, shackled into our chains while the world around us catches fire and all around us is burning! Help us, Lord! In Jesus’ holy name, help us! Amen!”

Emptied at last of tears and words, I rose from my knees with Elizabeth’s help and returned to my seat, At last, I thought, I’d felt, on an emotional level, the enormity of the sin, the madness, the all-consuming evil that I’d spent the last month writing about.

After a pause, Emily spoke from the other side of Jim: “Thank God for John, because when I look at the world I see love, and happiness, and people smiling at one another! And I know that his vision is true, but I know that my vision is also true!”

It was a wonderful, healing affirmation of what I’d been carrying. What could I feel but gratitude? And I knew that her sunnier vision of this human world was also true, and needed to be expressed, too – and this was why both of us were needed.

On Second-day morning, the planning group decided that we’d done all we were meant to with the text of John 15, and we did some threshing by geographical divisions – putting Friends from New Paltz on southward into one room and Friends to the North, East, and West of that into another, to discuss possibilities of regional networks and gatherings. We followed that with an hour of waiting worship, and then a business session to decide whether we’d try to create a seventh Northeastern Christ-centered Friends’ gathering, or merely regional gatherings – or what.

During the waiting worship, a Friend confessed to having held back a message on the previous day. He recited from Revelation 2:1-5: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works;” our original love for God having cooled, we can no longer do the works that that love once inspired: we must return to the heights we fell from.

In the brief business session that followed, we saw that there lacked the energy to plan for another Labor Day Weekend gathering in 2015. A Friend from downstate announced that they’d be hosting front-lawn barbecues on all the three-day weekends of the next Summer. Another Friend informed us that Quaker Spring would be gathering next Sixth Month (6/26-7/1) at Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie, and because our gathering would draw from much the same population and resources, he suggested that we think of Tenth or Eleventh Month as a better time for us to re-gather than Labor Day Weekend. With that in mind, we released Powell House from having to hold Labor Day Weekend 2015 open for us on its calendar, though further discernment may cause us to revisit the possibility of gathering on Labor Day Weekend. We created a Discernment Committee to consider possible dates and places for our re-gathering. Once we’ve had our first conference call, the committee should report back to Friends.

Our business concluded, we went to lunch, had last conversations and prayer-gatherings, and then went our separate ways.

In friendship to you all,

John Edminster

Repentance, the Comforting Gospel, and the Dying Earth

July 11, 2014
A friend who read my recent posts encouraging repentance called them “terrifying.” I wrote back:
“I’m grateful to you for telling me that my writing was ‘terrifying,’ because I realize that my objective should not be to terrify but to comfort, and to inspire hope and trust in a God who wishes us no evil, no pain, but desires to rescue us from evil and pain. I heard a voice some years ago, which I believe to have been the Holy Spirit’s, telling me ‘comfort thou the ones that are still asleep.’ I take that as my commission: to be a comforter rather than a terrifier. But before I can comfort, I first need to know that the persons I’m talking to can admit that the world around us is sometimes terrifying. If they can’t, then the comforting conversation isn’t ready to start.
“I believe that we’re all God’s darlings. Really. God sees us the way God made us: innocent, beautiful, sweet, like newborn babies, like Adam and Eve before their Great Disobedience, making up clever names for the animals, eating blueberries right off the bush, and delighting in delighting each other. All the bad crap, guns and waterboarding and debt-slavery, is what we made for ourselves, individually and collectively. And not just the obviously man-made bad stuff, but sickness and danger and death itself also, with the hurricanes, tsunamis and epidemics that plague a fallen world. This is the bad dream we made for ourselves, because we’ve chosen ‘darkness’ over ‘light,’ as Jesus puts it in John 3:19, and we’ve come to prefer the sin-hiding darkness, because it seduces us with false promises of making us happier than the light can. This means that we’ve developed perverted tastes, which lock us into being invested in ignorance and a fallen world. Hence we need to repent of our perverted tastes and be healed of our addiction to what’s not good for us.
“Is it ugly, is it painful, is it disappointing? Then it’s not something God created for us, but something God allowed us to create for ourselves – because God did create us in His image: to be creators, with free will, which allows us to make mistakes. But God also created us to be capable of learning, repenting, outgrowing mistakes, choosing the good over the evil. I say all this just to make the point that God’s not to blame for anything unpleasant in our lives, and therefore, is not someone to fear, but to turn to and trust, crying for help!
“I believe that Jesus revealed the character of God for us, both by serving as one of God’s prophets and declaring God’s intentions, and also by modeling Godlike behavior: laying down his life for us, forgiving all his own betrayers and murderers even when his pain, and therefore his temptation to curse his enemies, must have been almost unbearable. But Jesus is not just a prophet of God and a model for good behavior who lived two thousand years ago and then disappeared from this world; He is a Present Friend. ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,’ He said (Matthew 28:20). So when you say, ‘I could never be like Jesus,’ He’s there to answer, ‘Sure you can; I’ll help you.’ All you have to do is want it. I think that’s the Gospel in a nutshell. I think it’s a comforting Gospel, tidings of great joy to all people.”

Now repentance is a change of heart. It doesn’t make the thorns drop off roses as we pass by, or the cruel around us lose their cruelty. Life in this world still hurts, and we may even follow Jesus into martyrdom. But repentance allows certain things to happen: one is that we come to know, inwardly, that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39), who is making all things work together for good for us (Romans 8:28; this removes all cause for grief). Another is that, with a change of heart we become a new creature, and the new creature no longer hates itself – what a burden falls away then, and what works of love start streaming from us! A third thing is that we unlearn our deep-seated old habit of deciding what to do on the basis of its expected payoff for me, because the new question becomes “Is this what God is asking of me now?” – which immunizes us against the temptation to reason, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Romans 3:8). This was the reasoning that got us into this present nasty situation.

This brings me to consider our present nasty situation. In addition to our having a world so militarized, so tyrannized, and so polarized between rich and poor, we are also killing life on earth. Our consumption habits, the political and economic choices we make to support them, and the perverted tastes behind them, are all hurtling us forward toward doomsday. At first we thought that the rising titer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would simply raise temperatures and shift comfort- and growing-zones toward the earth’s poles. Then we realized that many species would become extinct in the process; island nations and coastal cities would go underwater as the icecaps melted; increased carbon dioxide in the water would turn the seas too sour to allow shelled creatures to form shells, sending famine up the marine food chain. Our horror mounted as we saw that the melting of polar ice and arctic permafrost would not only change ocean salinity patterns, killing the Gulf Stream and other vehicles of life, but would also be releasing megatons of methane into the upper atmosphere, turning up the flame under the cooking planet.

We’ve realized that the way we do things is unsustainable and called for a Plan B, and sensible Plan B’s have been rolled out. But now it’s evident that the rulers of the earth, both the visible ones and the invisible, lack the will, motivation and flexibility to implement any sort of Plan B. Of course we’ll join the march to the United Nations on September 21 to insist on it, but no doubt the heads of state assembled there will only be able to wring their hands and point fingers at one another. Great numbers of voluntary communities of urban and rural homesteaders may go off-grid and grow their own vegetables as the crisis worsens,  but I can’t believe that anyone will prove competent to make a general, global Plan B happen. So we’ll need a Plan C.

The only Plan C I can imagine saving life on earth is widespread repentance, a world epidemic of repentance – not merely a change of behaviors, though surely outward changes will accompany inward metamorphosis (the replacement of agribusiness and frankencrops with technologies like permaculture, the Wal-Mart trams-Pacific supply chain with a localized transition economy, global capitalism with its yet-unnamed successor).  I look with hope toward the only God,  the only Savior, the only Transformer of Hearts, for the only Plan C that can save life on earth.

Again, will you repent?

June 22, 2014

This is a sequel to my  posting of yesterday, “Will you repent?” This time I won’t merely write a comment on another Friend’s blog posting, but dip my pen, so to speak, into my own heart. (If this figure of speech is found disturbing, it was meant to be.)

I read in the Philokalia, years ago, that there is no salvation without repentance. At once I felt the truth of the statement, for it had already been made clear to me that the God of All Consciousness willed my salvation into everlasting peace, but my sense of myself as a sinner kept me from peace. What names of self-condemnation had I not called myself! Liar. Thief. Cheater. Hypocrite. Impostor. Betrayer of trust. Coward. Selfish. Moral weakling. Sex criminal. Adulterer. Pervert. Addict. Cruel. Loveless. Bully. Persecutor. Racist. Anti-Semite. Would-be rapist and murderer. Failure. Fool. If that person were to stand in a Light of Truth that exposed everything, I couldn’t bear it. I must, therefore, continue to keep certain memories of things I’d thought, said and done hidden and, as much as possible, forgotten. And I must defend the secrecy of my secrets until, mercifully, they died with me and could hurt me no more.

This sense of tainted self, which I sense afflicts most people here on earth, predated  my belief in an all-seeing God. But a Light of Truth that exposed everything could exist, theoretically, in the basement of a police station, the brain-decoder lab of a mad scientist, or the anal-probe room of a UFO. So long as our master strategy is to keep the shame of our tainted self hidden, we must mostly hope that no Light of Truth catches up with us anywhere, and that an all-seeing God does not exist – or, if one does, that He, She or It has no interest in turning souls inside-out to expose their interiors. I wonder whether this would explain the appeal, not only of atheist materialism and moral relativism, but also of religions of cheap grace (forgiveness of sins without having to name them), and spiritual disciplines promising cheap liberation, with a guaranteed destruction of the karmāśaya that requires no looking inside it.  Collectively, we have an enormous investment in keeping the darkness dark.

I like to call this state of consciousness I’ve just described “fallen,” having personally experienced glimmerings of another state that is “unfallen.” The fallen state is one of fear. I’ve seen how all the vices, anger, lust, greed, pride, envy and so on, can be traced back to fear, including that peculiar one that causes projection and scapegoating of all that we can’t bear to acknowledge in ourselves. It’s not yet known to me, at this stage in my life, whether death, danger, pain and evil result from our choice to dwell in a fallen spiritual state, or are independent God-established facts of life that justify our fear; but faith tells me that we may know this on the day that God “wipes away all tears from our eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

A society of humans in a fallen state is, not surprisingly, often cruel to its deviants, its outsiders, its scapegoats, and it typically institutes systems of domination and oppression to maintain itself, with myths and ideologies to justify the inequities of those systems, and payoffs of privilege to anesthetize those who enjoy what others lack. War, slavery, child abuse, violent entertainment, substance addiction, extremes of wealth and poverty, loan-sharking, prostitution, organized crime, and idolatrous exaltation of vain or evil things as “good” are all common features of fallen culture, now as in ancient Babylon. To what extent a society of fallen humans can be made kinder, gentler, and fairer without addressing  the root problem of fallenness is one of the great experimental questions of our time. I’ve seen marvelous improvements in child-rearing and race-relations in my day, but also very ugly developments in the technology of  torture and killing. Antibiotics have done wonders with bacterial diseases, but, as I write, medical equipment is being used to force-feed prisoners held without criminal charges by a government that promised their speedy release years ago. I look out the window and still see a fallen world, and fallen people that have a crying, screaming need for salvation from it. (I happen also to believe in hell: an after-death state in which the inner torment of fallen souls continues, but without the disguises and cushions that this world affords. But it’s not necessary to believe in hell to believe in a universal human need for salvation, for this world is hell enough: ask the man who’s falling forty storeys from an overturned platform.)

Now back to Theoliptus of Philadelphia, who wrote that there is no salvation without repentance. How will we be restored from our fallen state without a great transformation in our consciousness? And how will we allow such a transformation without a massive letting-go of hates, fears, grudges, prejudices, false beliefs, and  idolatrous attachments to things that can never save us? That is repentance. And it’s not something that we can do in our own power, like saying a polite “I’m sorry.” It must come to us as a gift from elsewhere or it will not happen at all,  for it requires something that we don’t have yet. We know when we’ve gotten it; it makes us feel good. We know we’ve been washed clean of all those former things.  The sinner, even the chief of sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), is no longer in bondage to sin (John 8:31-36).

“When they heard these things, they…  glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” Acts 11:18. I’m now ready to speak about the God who grants repentance and salvation. What can I know about God? I’m less than a worm next to the Creator of one hundred trillion trillion stars. However, I believe that I’ve been spoken to by the voice of God, not many times, but enough. And I’ve been shown that the character of  the all-forgiving Jesus of Nazareth, my Savior and the world’s, mirrors the character of God: God is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16) and it is not the will of God that a single one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14) or turn wicked and die in its sins (Ezekiel 33:11), but though its sins be as scarlet, they should be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), and that soul should have everlasting life (John 3:16) in which it experiences righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). I believe that Jesus’ laying down His life for us made these gifts of repentance and salvation possible for us, though I don’t yet know how. But I expect to be taught, once I’m made capable of understanding it.

The reader will note that I quote the Bible a lot, and may wonder why I choose the passages that make God seem easy to love, and not, say, those more troubling ones that liken God to a man in a drunken rage (Psalm 78:65), have God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then punishing him for it (Exodus 4:21 ff), or having people cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19-21). My answer is that these sweeter scriptures have been “opened” to me, and those that make God look capricious or cruel have not. The sheep of the Good Shepherd know their Shepherd’s voice from the voices of the hireling, the sheep-rustler and the wolf (John 10:1-14), and I recognize my Shepherd’s voice in Biblical passages that glorify the mercy and lovingkindness of God. I can believe in a Christ Jesus who freely lays down His life for me (John 10:15-17). I can’t believe in a God the Father who demands the torture-death of his innocent Son as payment for our sins; it can only be a lie invented by fallen theologians. God who planted the moral sense in me must have a far higher one than I do (Psalm 94:9).

Now it’s written in that Bible, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful… and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavory” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, Psalm 18:26).  This suggests an important epistemological principle, that the unmerciful cannot experience God as merciful, not because of any sulkiness or wrathfulness on God’s part but because of a psychological incapacity in the unmerciful person that inevitably accompanies his refusal to show mercy. In that vein, Jesus notes “if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We are not to blame the Father for this, any more than we’re to blame the sun for appearing red when the atmosphere is heavily polluted. It is my conviction that all scriptures that put a fierce face on God represent the faith of fierce prophets or the experience of fierce times. The sun often appears red, and threatens soon to turn redder.

This brings me to the present situation of humankind, and the danger our overconsumption now presents to all life on earth. We have been bad stewards over the creatures, and it’s because we’ve been unrepentant fallen stewards.  Today there are people of faith who wish to shame, or bully, the most powerful-seeming of the bad stewards into changing their behavior.  But fear-based and adversarial actions are not appropriate behavior for people of faith,  whose every act should reflect the goodness of the God or dharma that they represent and serve as an advertisement to the evildoer to change his ways and enter into such a path of faith himself.  Until the CEOs of the fossil-fuel companies and their financiers are brought to repentance and a living relationship with God, the true mission of the environmental movement will remain unaccomplished. Until the earth itself is recognized not as a multi-use farm and recreation area for mortal creatures but as a staging-area for a life with God in eternity, our uses of it will continue to defile it. We who pray that God grant all creatures of the earth their daily bread, trustful that our Best of Fathers will not trick us by giving us a stone instead (Matt. 7:9), have a prophet’s assurance that God intends the earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). Ask your heart whether or not this is a message of God to you, and if it is, spread trust that God will turn the threatened dying of the earth around. While you are in communion with your heart, ask it whether or not your repentance is yet complete and perfect, and if it is not, whisper to God, “yes, perfect it.” God will do the rest.



Will you repent?

June 21, 2014

This morning, Steven Davison posted a blog posting entitled “The New Lamb’s War – the Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness” ( I think that Steve is my uncontestedly favorite blogger, now that Paul Hamell ( has left this world for the next, and some others, like “Brooklyn Quaker” Rich Accetta-Evans, have fallen silent in the blogosphere.  I revere Steve’s loving heart, brilliant mind, and wealth of knowledge; but we differ theologically. He’s put an immense amount of work into articulating a theology for Liberal Quakerism that stops short of declaring itself to be Christian Quakerism.  (See his  I, on the other hand, understand myself to be the property of Jesus Christ, a fact that makes moot the question of whether I’m a Christian or not.  I may be a valuable piece of property, a worthless piece of property, or something in between, but I’m bought with a price and live, no longer to myself but in Christ, under an everlasting covenant.

So Steve’s posting this morning pushed my “ignite me” button, and the first thing I did was post a response, which I reproduce here (with a few subsequent edits):

I eagerly await your presentation of the Lamb’s War, Steve. I’d like to think that while the Liberal Friends’ lambs are making their cavalry charge against the Man of Sin (whom James Nayler named as the enemy in this war; we’ll return to the question of who and what he is, but the impatient may want to look ahead to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, noting that the Greek anthrōpos tēs anomias could also be translated “Person of Lawlessness”), Conservative and Evangelical Friends’ lambs will be sending their infantry divisions in on the right and left flanks, trapping the Man of Sin in a valley of no escape and forcing his unconditional surrender to an engulfing sea of bleating lambs. What better cause to bring these natural allies together for! We’ll also be doing the Man of Sin a favor, too. It’s no fun parading around pretending to be God when you’re “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

What a sad reflection on the condition of Liberal Friends, though! “Today, Liberal Friends do not generally share this worldview [of early Friends]. Our God—when we have one—is not primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge. We are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” Your God, when you have one? — You mean you’re not a people of God any more? Some of you are sheep with a shepherd and some of you have no shepherd? How will you fight a Lamb’s War without your General?

I’d argue that the Christian God was never “primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge,” anyway, but a Lover and a Forgiver, a Savior and a Cherisher, who always wished all His darlings, or Her darlings, to be saved, awakened from their terrible dream of fallenness, and reunited with their Divine Source in an eternity of perfect bliss. (For “darlings” read “all souls,” or “all sentient beings.”) This is the God whom Jesus likened to the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and then modeled by forgiving His own murderers from the cross (Luke 23:34), having made plain to his followers (John 14:9) that whoever sees and knows Him, Jesus, also knows the character of God. This is also the character of God that was revealed to Paul, who, in a marvelous tour de force of rhetorical irony (Romans 1:20-2:4), ends his thundering denunciation of us sinners and our “abominable” sins with “but it’s God’s kindness and forbearance and patience that leads us to repentance.” Not God’s wrath or God’s scariness, but God’s kindness, yes, God’s heart-melting tenderness.

You note that Liberal Friends “are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” All the worse! Because then that means that the destruction and suffering we experience daily are meaningless! If you explain our sufferings as the workings of karma (a concept that pervades Christian scripture, as in “as ye sow, so shall ye reap,” though the term itself is a Hindu-Buddhist import) but divorce the law of karma from a lawgiving God who ordained it, you’re saying that God had nothing to do with it. What is God, anyway, just an observer? How can an observer be a Savior? (God does come across as an indifferent observer in the Yoga Sutras, though a righteous avenger in the Bhagavad-Gita, and a nonentity in the Buddhist literature, so Liberal Friends who look to the East for their theology can make God be whatever they want God to be.)

There is an explanation of the suffering we experience that is consistent with the Christian teaching that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 4:16), and that is that we chose to experience a world of suffering and death when we chose to have a will that diverged from God’s. This happens to be the central thesis of A Course in Miracles, for those Liberal Friends that follow that text, but it can also be found in John 3:19-20 and, in mythic form, in Genesis 3.

But with repentance, rightly understood, all that changes: suffering, death, the hapless victimhood of innocent creatures about to be cooked to death by the heedless, godless captains of a runaway industrial civilization. Once we’ve undergone the thorough change of consciousness that constitutes repentance, rightly understood (for the Greek metanoia means something far deeper than mere shame or regret over past deeds), it becomes an experienced fact that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Repentance is the almost-inevitable consequence of discovering that the Man of Sin, the Person of Lawlessness, is me, for from that discovery there is no other meaningful escape. (There’s suicide, of course; but is that meaningful?)  The question before Liberal Friends is, Will you repent? And the test of whether Liberal Friends’ theology is viable or not is, Does it invite repentance?