Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
The Lamb was the Light guiding early Quakers in worship, belief and practice. The contemplative collective state, like the War fought against self ends, carnal reasoning, and concupiscence (intellectual, social, political, linguistic, etc.), was part of what John Punshon called the offensive of the Lamb. This formed a unity of prayer and worship with its behaviour as people in but not of the world.
The Book of Revelation provides a key to this experiential baptism in the Lamb’s blood. Quaker worship is confirmed in the chapters describing the breaking of the seven seals. The Light of the Lamb begins by judgement (the Cross), condemnation (apocalypse), war of liberation (breaking the seven seals), Pentecostal silence (‘half an hour of silence in heaven’), and ends with the marriage feast and entry into the New Jerusalem.
‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Be fervent therfore and repent. Beholde I stonde at the doore and knocke. Yff eny man heare my voice and opyn the dore, I will come in unto hym and will suppe with hym, and he with me’ (p523). Judgement is the wrath of the Lamb wrought in the stillness of all flesh. Here begins the invasive action, or the offense of the Cross. The individual is taken, along with the worshipping community, into the wilderness, and shattered in the ‘sound of sheer silence’, later to be reassembled. For early Friends judgement meant immediate turning to the transcendental Light of the Lamb which annihilates the ego and its network of excrescences. One must stand still and silent on the killing floor of the Lamb. After, the Seed grows, if only one can submit. It is then a question of fastening the gazing/hearing upon the blades of the Lamb’s choosing, and not the self/flesh/sin that he hacks into offal. This is perhaps a Quaker method of withstanding the Light’s transforming wrath.
After purgation and visitation by the intimate and mysterious otherness of God, the Lamb is recognised as the only one able to break the seven seals and read the Book of Life: ‘And I sawe in the right honde of hym, that sat in the trone, a boke written within and on the backside, sealyd with vii seales. And I sawe a stronge angell which cryed with a loude voice: Who is worthy to open the boke, and to loose the seales theroff. And no man in hevyn ner in erth, nether under the erth, was able to open the boke, nether to loke thereon. And I wepte much, because, no man was founde worthy to open, and to rede the boke, nether to loke thereon’ (p525). Human inefficacy is contrasted with the activity of the Lamb. A pattern of the spirituality of desolation is emerging alongside the Presence of the Lamb’s divine authority. ‘And I behelde, and loo, in the myddes of the seate, and off the iiij. biestes, and in the myddes off the seniours, stode a lambe as though he had bene kylled, which had vij. hornes and vij eyes, which are the spretts off God, sent into all the worlde. And he cam and toke the boke oute off the right honde of hym that sate apon the seate’ (p525). A song of worship is then offered: ‘thou art worthy to take the boke and to open the seales therof, for thou waste kylled and haste redemed us by thy bloud, out off al kynreddes, and tongues, and people, and nacions, and haste made us unto oure god, kynges and prestes and we shall raygne on the erth’ (p525). The song shows the divine baptism of the Lamb liberating humanity from alienation from each other (via nations/states/kindreds) and alienation from God.
A response of trustful obedience to the ‘unsearchable ryches off Christ’ (Ephesians p 410) – in the form of watching, waiting, listening, stillness, silence, and sorrow – is the primary condition of human existence. Chapters six to eight are concerned with the inward Quaker liturgy. What might be called the experiential sacraments of stillness, silence, waiting, and mourning (which Paul calls godly sorrow) are vessels through which the Lamb breaks the seals of earth miring the heart in violence and appropriation. The flesh is stunned into meekness. Hardened hearts are seared by the judgements. ‘And all mountayns and yles, were moved oute of their places. And the kynges of the erth, and the grett men, and ryche men, and the chefe captaynes, and the myghty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hyd themselves in dennes, and in rockes off the hylles, and sayde to the hylles, and rockes: fall on us, and hyde us from the presence off hym that sytteth on the seate, and from the wrath of the lambe, for the grete daye off hys wrath ys come, And whoo can endure hit’ (p527). The old self, flesh, ego, and the covenant with the world and with carnal reasoning is impaled by the searing Light of the Lamb’s War. Christ scorches the earth miring and captivating the heart by his eschatological Presence, displacing the worshipper out of the time of the world and into the transforming furnace of inward communion. The inward apocalypse of the Lamb shatters the covenant with the world.
Those gathered by the Light of the Lamb, ‘clothed in longe whyte garmentes’ (p528) are depicted as having come ‘oute off gret tribulacion and made their garments large and made them whyte in the bloud of the lambe: therfore are they in the presence off the seate off God and serve hym daye and nyght in hys temple, and he that sytteth in the seate wyll dwell amonge them. They shall honger no more nether thyrst, nether shall the sunne lyght on them, nether eny heate: For the lambe whych ys in the myddes off the seate shall fede them, and shall ledde them unto fountaynes of lyvynge water, and god shall wyppe away all teares from their eyes’ (p528).
When the seventh seal is broken, there is ‘silence in heven aboute the space of halfe an houre’ (p529). The prophetic understanding of silence and waiting goes back to the Old Testament: ‘The men and women of the Old and New Testaments display the knowledge of this second birth of the Spirit and witness to the silence, waiting, and watching that bring it forth’ (Gwyn, Apocalypse of the Word, p195). The chastening judgement of the Light ‘brings the thoughts and words of the flesh under silent scrutiny. Those who wait in this light will receive Christ’s Spirit, as the disciples did at Pentecost’ (p196). The new birth, signified by those gathered in white garments to the Lamb, ‘born by the will of God to know the will of God, comes to be known in the Spirit’ (p197).
For George Fox and early Friends, ‘We can hear out prophet in the silence’. Confirmation is found in Revelation: ‘And I harde a lowed voice sayinge: in heven is nowe made helth and strengthe, and the kyngdom of oure God, and the power of his Christ: For he is cast doune which accused them before god daye and nyght: And they overcam hym by the bloudde off the lambe, and by the worde off their testimony, and they loved nott their lyves unto the deeth’ (p535). The power of Christ protects his people and the victory of those anointed by the Lamb’s blood is proclaimed. The hardened ego is broken by immersion in the blood of the Lamb. The liberty of the Cross ensures detachment from self ends and the spirit of appropriation.
Later, at this place of prayerful liberty, the Lamb is seen standing ‘on the mount Syon’ (p537). Those redeemed from the earth, the virgins of the Lamb, ‘folowe the lambe whithersoever he goeth’ (p538). The Victory of the Lamb’s War of liberation is celebrated in the ‘songe off the lambe’: ‘Grett and marvellous are thy workes lorde god almyghty, iuste and true are thy ways, kynge off saynctes. Who shall not feare o lorde, and gloryfy thy name? For thou only arte holy, and all gentyls shall come and worshippe before the, for thy iudgmentes are manifest’ (p539). The war of liberation fought keeps its participants safe from what John Punshon describes as ‘powers of disorder, hatred and self-esteem’ (Testimony and Tradition p24). ‘Basic to the early Quaker world view, then, was the conviction that we are participants in a trial of strength. The goodness, love and long-suffering of the Creator are locked in conflict with power of disorder, hatred and self-esteem’ (p24). The wrath of the Lamb is pitted against the wrath of humanity. Nemesism is pitted against the Cross and the Resurrection. The scorched-earth mercy of God acts as a divine chemotheraphy eviscerating the cancer of self, concupiscence, flesh and evil, and all associated outward forms: ‘For the olde thynges are gone’ (p548).
Continued in Part 2.
Add a Comment