Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
MIGHT WE BECOME AS OBEDIENT AS JESUS?
On First Day, 6/24/2019, I was privileged to be among the seventeen Friends who heard Australian Friend David Johnson (_A Quaker Prayer Life_, Inner Light Books, 2013; _Jesus, Christ and Servant of God_, Inner Light Books, 2017) lead an intense after-meeting discussion, at West Richmond (IN) Friends Meeting, on what the Gospel of John has to say about the relation of Jesus Christ to God, His _Abba_.
Friend David had us go around the room, each reading one of the following verses:
The picture that emerged was of Jesus the Man explaining His astonishing ability to do divine works as being rooted in His “having no will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me” (John 6:38), and “to finish His work” (John 4:34). It was clear that, during His years of ministry, Jesus was all the while training, encouraging, and empowering His disciples to act in a similar spirit of unwavering obedience to the divine will. After Jesus’ departure from the earth, David added, the early Church understood this unity with God’s will to be the supreme criterion of its faithfulness. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” exhorted Paul in Philippians 2:5-7 NRSV. The “anointing” that gave members of the early Church this “mind that was in Christ Jesus” empowered them to “abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:20-24).
It was the great accomplishment of early Friends that they recovered this key understanding of the early Church and found the living Christ empowering then to live up to it.
The question that David bade us consider as we parted, at the end of the hour, was this: _Can I accept the possibility of my being as obedient in all things as was Jesus?_
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[On 8/1/2019, I was queried as to why I characterized David's talk as "intense." I answered:]
To my mind, it was "intense" because, if I may so express it, David stood back and let the Truth tell Itself. (And this was reflected in David's going around the room and having one participant after another read, out loud, one of the selected verses from their own Bibles.)
Whether Jesus had been conceived without original sin, was the Second Person of the Trinity, or had any other "divine" qualities to make Him qualitatively different from the rest of us, was not brought into the discussion. The two distinguishing facts David held up about Jesus were (a) His perfect obedience to the Divine Will, and (b) His determination to be "training, encouraging, and empowering His disciples to act in a similar spirit of unwavering obedience" (my paraphrase of David's idea, quoted from my report, which David reviewed before I published it). The clear implication was that if Jesus could do it, so could we.
If both (a) and (b) are true, then we can't use the excuse "but He was divine, and we're infinitely depraved sinners by nature, so we can't hope to be obedient like Him, at least so long as we're embodied in this fallen, sinful flesh." This was not stated explicitly by David, but I felt it as clearly as I could see the sunlight that day. And my heart seemed to say, "Yes, Lord Jesus, I believe You have the power to make me and keep me perfectly obedient, and I ask You to do it!" I can't speak for any of the others in David's audience, but the Lord knows whether there were any waverers or foot-draggers in the room who wanted excuses for not saying "Yes" to the invitation. (And I pray that there were no waverers who stayed wavering.)
Then there was a third important point that David made: (c) that the Primitive Church sought to maintain unity with the Divine Will, and was not just a collection of individuals who liked Christ, or admired Christ, but a corporate body who "let the same mind be in them that was in Christ Jesus" and "abode in the Son and in the Father." So also, evidently, were the early Quakers, in spite of their having been made of the same fallible flesh as we are. The question David left each of us with was: Can I accept the possibility of my being as obedient in all things as was Jesus?
That question was an intense one, but its impact was all the intenser for coming at the end of an hour of David's preparing us for it.
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This is an important theme, i.e., Christ's total dependence upon the Father in what He said, did, and worked. There's a preacher named Major Ian Thomas, who started the Torchbearers International, who made that the center of his ministry. Instead of being an evangelist, he was more of a itinerant teacher of how to live the Christian life. His theme was that we, too, must be absolutely dependent upon God to live out our lives, and that, indeed, the "Christian life" is one where Christ lives His life through us. He saves us from the experience of sin (not just the guilt of sin) through His life in us.
Benson has been emphasizing something like that—that the early Quakers taught that Jesus saves us from the experience of sin so that we can be practically righteous. I certainly long for that.
Thank you, Shawn, for telling us about Ian Thomas and the Torchbearers International! It was happy news to me. I feel rather insular, living among Quakers and not having much fellowship with followers of Christ in other denominations -- but the Lord may change that at any time.
I had the singular happiness, about eighteen years ago, of hearing the Lord's voice tell me, in the deep stillness of a Quaker meeting for worship, "I will not let you fall into sin." I've lost my temper not a few times since then and shouted expletives unbecoming a Christian, and once I got caught in a lie ("Did Mom tell you to say that?" my teenage daughter asked. "N-no," I answered. "Did your 'No' mean Yes?" "Yes," I answered, grateful that she had seen through me and given me an easy way to clear my conscience) but with those exceptions and a few more, our Heavenly Shepherd has been guiding me clear of temptations to sin since then with amazing fidelity to His promise -- and that, not because of *my* especially obedient character or depth of repentance, but solely because of *His* goodness! This is not to boast that I'm free of pride, sloth, timidity, etc., those more subtle and pervasive flaws of character, but I'm sure that He's in the process of washing me clean of them, as I feel Him ongoingly washing me clean of anger and lust.
I only mention this because my experience tells me that if Jesus can wash me clean of sin, and a generation of early Quakers clean of sin, then He can wash anyone clean of sin. This doesn't mean that I don't often wince and grieve when I remember ugly and selfish things I've said, done, and taken pleasure in, but these give me all the more reason for gratitude that the desire to do them has largely been taken from me. Perhaps this is what the author of 1 Timothy 1:15 meant by encouraging repentant sinners each to think of themselves as "chief" or "foremost" (Gk. _protos_) of sinners: Yes, Christ Jesus can save even me, who felt incurable!
May you soon realize that you already have what you've longed for, Shawn.
Shawn and John,
This morning I was reading from New Foundation Publication #1 What Did George Fox Teach About Christ. I ran across the following statement. "This gospel that Fox preached is the answer to all who are asking the questions that Fox asked as a seeker, namely: 'How can I find the power that is greater than the power of temptation?' and 'Where can I find the church that is kept by the power of God and does not scatter in times of persecution?'" In the previous pages, Lewis Benson has given a thumbnail account of the gospel that Fox preached. You will find more detail in things like Fox's To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom which is a tract he wrote and is included in Vol. IV of his Works page, 15. There are many other resources that spell out what Lewis Benson was writing about, which you will discover as you read through the Works and the various of Lewis Benson you have. You can also see some of Lewis' writings on this site under the Resources tab above.
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Wow! I never realized that! Thank you, Brenda!
You are very welcome John. I am happy to discuss this further if you wish.
I'll definitely want to discuss this further. If you think what you have to say would be of general interest to the NFF, I'd welcome your continuing this conversation here, Brenda, but if you'd feel freer, or less "on stage," discussing it one-on-one, please email me at john.edminster "at" gmail.com.
Hello John I will email you unless Ellis comes on to say continue due to failed past attempts from myself to discuss it. It is a subject which causes a great wave of protest as in Fox's day. It is why he was hated.
Brenda, you can discuss this here if you wish.
OK Ellis but I don't want to get into another debate with you after we have disagreed so much previously and it ends with you telling me I am wrong.
John, that was an excellent method of David's, to let scripture just speak for itself. I am very interested in what he has to say and have bought the first book you quoted and will soon get back on it.