Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
ALL ye churches gathered into outward forms upon the earth, the son of God is come to reign; and he will tread and trample, will shake, and make you quiver, you that are found out of his life, his light, and his power. His day hath appeared...Come you, that have boasted of my name, saith the Lord, and have gloried in the flesh...who have slain my witness, yet boast of my words...What! hast thou professed the prophets’ words? hast thou professed the apostles’ words, and my son’s words? hast thou covered thyself with their expressions? thinkest thou not that I see thee out of my life?...(See Works of George Fox, Vol. I, 233-236)
For much of its history, Christendom has placed its emphasis on accepting and believing the right words. Jeremiah wrote of this tendency saying,
Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children's children will I plead. For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jer. 2:9-13)
Today we are dulled to the seriousness of this passage. We turn on the faucet and out comes water. But this passage was written to a people who had no faucets and lived in a dry land. The availability of water was (and still is) crucial to life and to deliberately abandon a reliable source of good water and go dig a hole that would hold no water was (and still is) insanity. But there is more at stake here than an insane action. "My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit..." Here, we are back in the Garden listening to the voice of the serpent promising Eve that she will become God if she follow his advice. This is the import of this passage.
Notice Jeremiah's words of intense emotion coupled to this bizarre action, "Be astonished, oh ye heavens," "be horribly afraid," and "be very desolate." The abandonment of the one true God, the fountain of living water, for some other non-god, the broken cistern incapable of holding any water, is a matter of greater moment than leaving a spring of clear, fresh water for the stale, putrid water of a cistern, let alone for a broken cistern that has no water.
Broken cisterns show no faults during the rainy season when there is plenty of runoff to continually keep them full. The pinch comes later when the rains have stopped, the land is parched, and the herds of livestock are demanding water. When life is falling apart and there seems to be no options left, you understand the presciousness of the fountain of living water. All the cisterns of your own digging have proven to be useless.
At a young age, George Fox went through a protracted time of temptation and despair. He prayed, he read the Bible, but the temptations and despair remained. He sought counsel from the most esteemed churchmen. If tobacco, singing psalms, joining the army, or getting married could have cured despair and given victory over temptation, there would have been no Quaker movement. But these things, recommended by the "wise" men, have neither life nor hope in them. Fox wrote in his Journal (Nickalls, pp. 11-12)
And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, `There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord did let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power...My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the Scriptures that spoke of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his Son by his spirit.
Here was the water of life running freely through a parched land and Fox drank deeply of that fountain. His temptations increased, his troubles and sorrows multiplied, but now there was a difference.
And when I myself was in the deep, under all shut up, I could not believe that I should ever overcome;...But when Christ opened to me how he was tempted by the same Devil, and had overcome him and bruised his head, and that through him and his power, light, grace and spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in him. So he it was that opened to me when I was shut up and had not hope nor faith. Christ it was who had enlightened me, that gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope, which is himself, revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and gave me his grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Thus, in the deepest miseries, and in greatest sorrows and temptations, that many times beset me, the Lord in his mercy did keep me.
Fox emerged from this profound experience of deliverance a changed person. He stated:
I could speak much of these things, and many volumes might be written; but all would prove too short to set forth the infinite love, wisdom, and power of God, in preparing, fitting, and furnishing me for the service he had appointed me to; letting me see the depths of satan, on the one hand, and opening to me, on the other hand, the divine mysteries of his own everlasting kingdom. (Works Vol. I, p. 90)
Fox's message, "Christ is come to teach his people himself," is about the fountain of living water. He called people to come out of the drought of empty words to experience the life-giving relationship of knowing Christ to teach us the Father's will and empower us to accomplish that will. He stated, "I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God; even that divine spirit which would lead them into all truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any." (Ibid.) The result in Fox's day was "[the Lord's] witness is risen in the hearts of his people; they will not be fed with dead words, nor with that which dies of itself; nor will they be satisfied with the husks which the swine feed upon." (ibid. p. 234)
This fountain yet flows, undiminished by today's scorching words of hate, anger, death and untruth. Are you thirsty for this life giving water? All who abandon the broken cisterns hewed by the hand of man may come and freely drink. When you drink this water, the fountain of living water springs up within you; your eyes are opened by Christ's light, Christ's life is raised up in you, and the power of God throws down death and the prince of death that used to reign within you.
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live... (Isaiah 55:1-3)
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