August 31, 2005

Qualities of the Inner Light:
Two other Friends write

NOTE: I have shared my own consideration of the qualities of the Light in my previous post. Originally these two posts were blended into one long one. I felt a nudge to separate them.

Let us all Walk in the Light, remembering and cherishing what that has meant to Friends over the centuries and across the generations.


From Samuel Caldwell:

Numerous Friends, among them George Fox and Robert Barclay, have been urgent in cautioning us against confusing the Inner Light with such natural phenomena as reason or conscience, both of which are physically and socially conditioned. Rather, they have emphasized that the Light is God's eternal and indwelling power resident within our mortal frames, there to enlighten and inform the natural reason and conscience with truth of a higher order.

1. This Light is personal. It is no mindless, purposeless, undifferentiated force or power. It is the mind and will of God - the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah - who indwells our souls. To claim, as we do, that we are led or taught by the Light is to accept by inference that the power by which we are led or taught is capable of actively leading or teaching us. This requires a personal or theistic conception of the Spirit, which Friends have traditionally held.

2. This Light is saving. It is the instrument or means by which we are drawn into fullness and wholeness of life and right relationship to God, ourselves, and one another. It is not primarily through the mechanism of assent to certain theological propositions, however heartfelt, nor by participation in certain established rituals, however sincere, that one comes to be "saved" in- Quaker faith and practice; it is chiefly through the operation of this Saving Light in human hearts - in the hearing and doing of the Living Word as inwardly revealed in the course of common life.

3. This Light is eternal. It was before time, is now, and will be forevermore. As the writer of John says, "in the beginning was the Word." Friends have always identified the Inner Light with this "logos" or Eternal Word. It is by this Eternal Light and Word that all of the saints and sages down through the ages have known and spoken the Truth. It is by this Light that the Holy Scriptures of the ages have been written (and must be read). It is by this Light that whatever is true, good, and beautiful has been brought forth in human community over time. This Light is and has always been the source and fountain of all human creativity.

4. This Light is resistible. It is not an inevitable force or automatic power; it can be resisted, ignored, or otherwise denied in the human heart. To quote C. S. Lewis, "God does not ravish; He only woos." Although we receive this Light freely and from birth, we are free to choose whether or not and how to respond to its promptings. As someone once remarked, "We are predestinated and foreordained to decide for ourselves!"

5. This Light is persistent. The Light never ceases to make its Living Witness within each and every human heart, even when it is resisted. Although stubborn resistance and persistent disobedience may greatly dim its luminosity, the Light can never be fully extinguished within us. This is the unfailing love and mercy of God which passes all understanding.

6. This Light is pure. It is utterly infallible and perfectly good. Although we may err in our discernment of the Light's witness within us, for any and all who turn to it in humility of heart, the Light is an inerrant guide to truth and wisdom. And, because it is the pure love of God within us, this Light is completely good and trustworthy.

7. This Light is ineffable. It defies complete and accurate description. Like much in the realm of spirit, the Light cannot be completely understood, but it can be experienced and known.

8. Lastly, and perhaps most important to the present discussion, this Light is unequivocally universal. It is freely given by God to each and every human being who comes into the world, regardless of race, sex, nationality, philosophical orientation, religious creed, or station in life. It is the divine birthright and inheritance of all, not the privileged possession of a few. To paraphrase the scripture, it is the Good News of God "preached to every creature under heaven" (Colossians 1:23).

From Wilmer Cooper and his book A Living Faith, pp. 17-19:
Early Friends believed that if they waited in the Light and walked in the Light, they would be... empowered to live up to the measure of the Light that was given them... [Some of the Light Within's] distinguishing characteristics [are]:

1. The Light is experienced as the direct and immediate presence of God. Robert Barclay identified our capacity to receive the Light with what he called the Seed of God within,... which by God's grace makes possible the divine-human encounter. Fox frequently used the term "that of God in everyone" to suggest the same meaning. This meaning is prerequisite to understanding the other usages of the term.

2. As already indicated, the Light was identified with Christ by early Friends and was referred to as the LIght of Christ WIthin. It is always from God or Christ and therefore is divine in origin. Likewise, it is transcendent in the sense that it stands apart from and beyond our finite existence.

3. The Light was understood by early Friends to be universal. Taking their clue from John 1:9, they maintained that the Light of Christ enlightened "every man," which included believers and nonbelievers alike...

4. The Light of Christ was understood to be the Inward Teacher of righteousness. This assumed a dynamic personal connection between oneself and God that allowed one to enter a "hearing and obeying" relationship with God, to use a figure of speech drawn from Lewis Benson... Benson has repeatedly pointed out that the essence of Fox's understanding of the Light of Christ is expressed in his oft-repeated phrase, "Christ has come to teach his people himself."

5. The Light Within is not to be identified with or confused with conscience and reason, but both can and need to be illuminated by the Light of Christ. In order to clarify this distinction Barclay compared conscience to a lantern and the Lght to a candle that burns within the lantern. Both Fox and Barclay believed conscience and reason were natural capacities that needed to be illuminated by the divine Light of Christ before they could become dependable guides for human action.

6. Response to the Light is also to be discerned in the community of faith. Fox and other early Friends formulated a doctrine of the church that found expression in the concept of the Gospel Order. Christ was not only the Inward Teacher for the individual, but also the one who ordered the fellowship of believers....


Paul L said...

I have loved Caldwell's list of attributes of the Light ever since I first saw it and have proposed it as the most succinct statement of the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light available.

I can also say that I have personally experienced each of them to be true, with the possible exception of the first: The Light is Personal.

In all honesty, I find myself wanting to believe rather than knowing that this is true.

I want to believe in a "personal" God for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it would integrate my childhood faith with my current life.

But I also take seriously the witness of those who have experienced the Light as the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob & Sarah, and find that the more I listen to them the more I'm convinced that they must be true. In other words, those who have experienced the Light as Personal seem to me to have a more powerful, authentic witness than those who claim it is impersonal, a concept, an undifferentiated power or "life force."

But I can't yet be a firsthand witness to that fact myself.

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for this comment, Paul, and for the testimony for the importance of Caldwell's words.

I appreciate the honesty with which you write, that you cannot speak of a personal nature of God (the Light) with any conviction, because you have not yet been a "firsthand witness" to that experience. At least, not knowingly (wink).