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Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

The Everlasting Gospel Preached by George Fox: Lewis Benson's second lecture from the series "Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox"

Ye that have seen the everlasting gospel, and known the everlasting gospel preached again, which was among the apostles, and have been reaped out from among the apostates, got up since the apostles’ days; I say, live in it, and dwell in it; in which life and power ye see over to the apostles’ days (The Works of George Fox 7:268). 

"The Everlasting Gospel Preached by George Fox" is the second of ten lectures given by Lewis Benson in his lecture series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox, given at Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting in 1982. It is now available for reading and can be found here: http://api.ning.com/files/VQvbBACfG9oFZIsRRp4Jg15LesxL9gZhR3efoXSUv...

In this lecture, Benson identifies the heart of Fox's message that Christ Jesus is alive and present among us in a functional way through the inward exercise of his offices: "Christ is come to teach his people himself" is the shorthand version of Fox's message. It was the recovery of this gospel message, which had been lost since apostolic times, that enabled the early Quaker missioners to preach the same message with the same power that had been known to the apostles. With the recovery of the gospel, the power of God, Friends expected a new era in Christian history (one in which Christ is present, not absent), and this message drew many together into a people who gathered to receive the living and present Christ as their prophet, priest, king, shepherd, and bishop. For as long as prophetic gospel ministers preached, the Quaker movement grew, for the gospel had power by which many who heard it were convinced and convicted. As the apostles were sent to teach and gather, so were the first Friends; both groups were commissioned and sent by the transcendent, living God. An excerpt from Edward Burrough's description of the Valiant 60's commission can be found in this lecture.  

 

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Comment by Ellis Hein on 11thMo. 3, 2016 at 23:57

In a parallel article entitled George Fox's Message Is Relevant for Today, published in New Foundation Publications #4, Lewis Benson looks at why this message needs to be taken seriously today. I would like to see some discussion concerning why we should give Fox's message preference over the Evangelical gospel, the Liberal gospel, or any others in between. Perhaps a good starting place for discussing this would be: Aren't these other gospels good enough for the people that feel drawn to them? Why or why not?

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 11thMo. 7, 2016 at 15:35

Ellis wrote: "Aren't these other gospels good enough for the people that feel drawn to them?"

That is a question that each person will ultimately need to answer for himself or herself. Some people will answer like the rich, young ruler who asked for the one thing necessary (eternal life), and he, having received Jesus's answer, walked away: the riches he had were "good enough." My guess is this ruler spent his remaining days trying to augment his wealth, fearing its loss, and eking out whatever temporal joys the world could provide him: filial, spousal, sensual, emotional, social, political, intellectual, creative...the whole panoply of the flesh. Like the Magi in Eliot's poem, I imagine he returned to his place "But [was] no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation," having realized that there was something better--something once seen or alluded to--that had been bypassed. Like Esau, he sold his birthright. 

Does this person end his life feeling as Fox did that he was completely clear? No. Does this person end his life feeling that he did as well as or better than most? Very likely, yes: and he might convince himself that this life was "good enough."

Fox and the early Quakers would disagree: these rulers' (i.e., autonomous beings') "satisfactory" lives would've been to the 17th. c. Quakers a partaking of the old, not the new world that they'd discovered. That old way was a life lived in one's own wisdom, one's own reason, knowledge, and understanding. Whereas they'd set aside the old way, and knew how to wait in silence for the true King, Christ Jesus, to reign and have dominion over them:

Now that which hath acted iniquity must come into the silence, before the just doth come to reign and have dominion (Lam. 3:28). For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the Son of God, and who groan within themselves for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body; and are come to that condition, that they do not know what they should pray for, but the spirit maketh intercession with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered; and so to feel him that searcheth the heart, and knoweth what is the mind, of the spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Rom. 8) (Works 4:121).

 

Comment by Ellis Hein on 11thMo. 8, 2016 at 21:27

Thanks for your excellent comment on "Aren't these other gospels good enough? That gives me much to be thinking about.

In his article on the relevance of Fox's message (mentioned above) Lewis Benson judges relevance or lack of relevance based upon "Does this correct the human condition?" While Fox does not put his criticism of the prevailing gospel in terms of relevance, he does reject that gospel because it does not speak to the condition of mankind. In my encounters with evangelicalism and fundamentalism and to some extent with liberalism, no one seems to be looking at "Does this gospel answer the crying need of humanity to be recreated in the image of God and to be made a living being and to be gathered into a community of which Christ is the head?" My assessment of what I have encountered is that we are being offered a placebo gospel. "This will make you feel better in this life, but you can't fix the problems until you get to the next life."

The gospel, the power of God, preached by Fox and the early Friends goes to the heart of the matter, as much in our day as in the 1600s. There are no placebos involved. The very name "Quaker" came about because  people were quaking while working out their salvation with fear and trembling. The good news is that this gospel process produced and will produce again a people who have been brought off the power of Satan to God, who were turned from darkness to light, who were brought off from the churches made and gathered by man and brought to the church of which Christ is the head. And He, being in their midst, is the new covenant by which they have unity with the Father and with one another. No other gospel can accomplish this, which makes them irrelevant.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 11thMo. 10, 2016 at 14:50

Ellis, you wrote that "Lewis Benson judges relevance or lack of relevance based upon 'Does this correct the human condition'"?

We all start captivated within the human condition, and until we know the gospel, the power of God, we cannot feel anything other than that "first-birth" condition. In Fox's time, the problem of the human condition was experienced as guilt and condemnation arising from belief that one was in sin; in our time (at least among liberal Quakers) many have rejected that worldview. Instead, the problem of our being is felt more as an emptiness, loneliness, and lack of meaning. Both of these 17th- and 21st-century sensibilities, however, experience their condition as anxiety arising from a lack of self-worth, which threatens to drive into despair, if one were to "give in" to it. It is, however, our capacity to experience the truth of this brokenness in all one's individual particularity (figuratively spoken of as "the cross"), and not neurotically deny its reality, that opens the way for the light of Christ, who saves us from it. In existential terms, it is the courage of being to embrace our non-being, partaking of the suffering, as the apostle says. It is faith in our given capacity to know and honor the truth--though it's the cross--that opens the way to freedom and to Life. This apostolic gospel, which first Friends reclaimed and Benson recovered, shows the way our being can be fully accepted and our life genuinely affirmed.

Any other gospel that tries to overcome meaninglessness and condemnation by some other means is to try to climb up some other way into the sheepfold and that makes one a thief and a robber(Jn. 10:1). Such attempted breaking and entering into the kingdom does not lead to freedom and life but to their opposites, and the anxiety of the human condition is only intensified.

Comment by Ellis Hein on 11thMo. 11, 2016 at 0:22

And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation. And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (Works III:12-13)

"Assurance of salvation" is a major theme among evangelical and fundamental Christianity. They preach many sermons and hold endless classes teaching the believer where to find verses in Scripture that will give them the assurance they are saved. I cannot say if there is a parallel among liberal Quakers, perhaps they are not all that different in their own way. Edward Burrough's comment above is applicable to all situations. "...and thereby [the light from Christ] gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us..." No need for assurance verses when you have the witness within you that Christ dwells there. No need for endless teaching of neighbor and brother saying, "Know the Lord" when you have entered into the new covenant and are made heirs of life and salvation and are come to possess your inheritance. It strikes me that all this preaching and holding classes about assurance is trying to give thieves and robbers the assurance that they are really inside the sheepfold even though they do not hear the shepherd's voice, are not led into the pastures of life nor are watered at the springs of living water.

Now, what Burrough is saying in this preface to Vol. III of the Works of Fox, and what Fox says through out the whole of his published writings does speaks to this sense of emptiness, loneliness, and lack of meaning as you have pointed out. The Gospel, the power of God, is the only thing that will make mankind into beings restored into the image of God.

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