Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
In the desert liturgy of obedience to the Lamb, wrought in the wilderness of the Spirit, the engrafted Word and immortal Seed grow, waging the Lamb’s War, there where neither smell nor scent of time, flesh, or reasonings remain; and here all things are made new and one drinks freely from the well of the water of life. This experience of an invasive, desolating, purging Light is signified by the repeated phrasing, ‘And he carryed me awaye into the wilderness in the sprete’ (p541). Untouched by alienation from God, the wilderness of Spirit is a womb of transformation. The umbilical covenant with the world, the self, and the flesh is destroyed and the experiential vision of the Spirit remodels the individual and the community.
The power of the Cross leads to the fall of Babylon within: ‘Grett Babilon is fallen, and ys becum the habitacion of devels, and the holde off all fowle sprettes, and a cage off all unclene and hatfull byrdes, for all nacions have drunken of the wyne of the wrath off her fornycacion’ (p543). The worshippers are part of an exodus towards the liberating power and life and away from the contagions of corruption and violence and ideological coercion which kept the Cross alienated. ‘And I herde another voice from heven saye: come awaye from her my people, that ye be nott part takers in her synnes, thatt ye receave nott of her plages. For her synnes are gon uppe to heven, and God hath remembered her wyckednes’ (p543). The Lamb’s disciples are shepherded away from the cold vomit of alienation and sin. The inward liberation entails outward war: ‘Rewarde her even as she rewarded you, and geve her dubble accordynge to her workes. And poure in dubble to her in the same cuppe whych she fylled unto you. And as moche as she gloryfied hersilfe and lyved wantanly, so moche poure ye in for her off punysshment, and sorowe, for she sayde in her herte: ‘I sytt beinge a quene and am no wyddowe and shall se no sorowe. Therefore shall her plages come at one daye, deeth, and sorowe, and honger, and she shalbe brent with fyre: for stronge ys the lorde god which iudgeth her’ (p543). The hardening and alienation of egoic and socio-political arteries is subjected to the wrath of the Lamb. The inward apocalypse necessitates outward action, change of lifestyle, and active confrontation with the powers of corruption, coercion, death and destruction. As Elias Hicks wrote: ‘Therefore, we must all be made willing to let self be of no reputation – that in all things that we do, or take in hand to do, God may be glorified and the creature abased. For unless we submit and give up self to suffer on the cross with him, we may never expect to be glorified together’ (p24).
Refusal to collaborate with Babylon is signified by the lamentation of the merchants: ‘And the marchauntes off the erth shall wepe and wayle in themselves, for no man wyll bye their ware eny more, the ware of golde, and sylver, and precious stones, nether off pearle, and raynes, and purple, and scarlett, and all thyne wodde, and al manner of vessels off yvery, brasse, and off yeron, and synamon, and odours, and oyntmenttes, and frankynsence, and wyne, and oyle, and fyne floure, and wheate, bestes, and shepe, and horsys, and charrettes, and boddyes and solles of men’ (p544). Their intermediary offerings, and the distraction of forms, is rejected. The merchants are seen by the liberated to perpetuate the seals of earth and flesh which violate the presence of the Lamb and ensure continuity of alienation from God. Negation of collusion puts an end to profiteering, careerism, vain fashions, contrived ideologies, and the corruptions inherent in institutional religion. The great city of Babylon is laid low by the scorching Light of the Cross: ‘Alas Alas that grett cite wherin were made ryche all that had shyppes in the see, by the reason of her ware, for att one houre is she made desolate’ (p544). The imperialism of human alienation from the Lamb is laid waste by his Light. It is a numinous humbling and bringing low, echoed by the soul in prayer and worship.
What early Quaker theology called The Second or Real Last Supper then takes place. ‘Alleluya, for god omnipotent hath raigned. Let us be glad and reioyce and geve honour to hym: for the marriage off the lambe is come, and hys wyffe made hersylfe reddy. And to her was graunted, that she shulde be arayed with pure and godly raynes’ (p545). The breaking of the seals is part of preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb. For James Nayler: ‘The true supper of the Lord is the spiritual eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of Christ spiritually. Now the world who takes only the outward signs, and are not brought in discerning the Lord’s body, eat and drink abomination to themselves and become guilty of the body and blood of Christ’ (in Bittle p 34). The prophetic faith of early Quakerism lead to an experience of ‘the voice of stronge thondrynges’ (p545). Those who kept pace were guided out and away from all man-made worship, all abstractions and ideological contrivances: ‘se thou do hit not’ (p546) was the angel’s counsel to John against falling at his feet to worship him. All who commune herein are liberated from the mechanisms of alienation, whether material or spiritual: ‘Worshyppe God. For the Tesymony off Jesus ys the sprete of prophesy’ (p546). The early Quakers’ radical Lamb-centred faith was rooted in intimacy with God alone. The clarity and utter simplicity of this vision meant that they were ‘doares of the worde and not heares only’ (James p508). Immediate eschatological Presence is announced once again: ‘beholde, the tabernacle off God is with men, and he wyll dwell with them. And they shalbe his people, and God hymsylffe shalbe with them and be their god. And God shall wyppe awaye all teares from their eyes. And there shalbe no more deeth, nether sorowe, nether cryinge, nether shall there be eny more payne, for the olde thynges are gone’ (p548). The place of transformation arrives with the re-stablished intimacy between God and humanity. Ontology is shot through with the rays of revolutionary Christopraxis: ‘Beholde I make all thynges newe’ (p548).
The disciples are invited to ‘come hydder I will shewe the the bryde, the lambes wife. And he caryed me awaye in the sprete to a grett and an hye mountayne, and he shewed me the grett cite, holy Jerusalem descendinge out off heven from God, havynge the brightnes off God’ (p549). The symbolism of mountains extends right through the Biblical narratives. Here it has visionary and prophetic significance. Elsewhere it provides an organic link to the ways of salvation, that is, in sharpening the watching, waiting, stillness, hearing, and obeying of those who would follow the Lamb. In Matthew’s Gospel hills were the site upon which ‘was a voyce herde, mournynge, wepynge, and great lamentacion’ (p6). It was from Horeb that Elijah hears the ‘sound of sheer silence’. In Revelation it was a mountain that aided his vision of both the Lamb (on Syon) and of the New Jerusalem. It was also, significantly, the place of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
The New Jerusalem inaugurated by the Risen Christ hath ‘no nede of the sunne nether of the mone to lighten hit. For the brygngtnes off God did light hitt: and the lambe was the light off hit’ (p550). Here is the foundation of Quakerism: liturgically, ontologically, ecclesiologically, and in every other way. ‘And there was no temple therin. For the lord god allmyghty and the lambe are the temple of hit, And the cite hath no nede of the sunne nether of the mone to lyghten hit. For the brygngtnes off God did light hitt: and the lambe was the light off hit’ (p550). Immediate guidance by the Lamb is both the temple and the light of the followers of the Lamb. They are gathered into the womb of the Lamb and have no longer any need for artificial or wordly lights: ‘Ande theare shall be no moare nyghte there and they nede no candle, nether light off the sunne: for the lorde God geveth them light, and they shall raynge for evermore’ (p550).
Quaker worship is built on experiential knowledge of the Cross, the breaking of the seven seals, and the Resurrection.
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