Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Of all the Early Quaker tenets, the doctrine of moral perfection is perhaps the most misunderstood. When confronted with the idea that we can expect complete deliverance from sin in this life, we too often think, Oh no, God expects me never to make mistakes--how can I possibly achieve that? or Now He truly expects the impossible: how can I keep from losing my temper and screaming at my spouse and children in moments of extreme stress? or I can't stop coveting my neighbor's wife because she really is the perfect person for me...
We focus so much on these problems, over which we indeed have no control, that we forget that there might be a process by which God makes us perfect. A fully open heart is the first step. Implied in this is a listening ear, to hear his particular requirements for us, today. Because God never lays on us more than we can bear, those required actions are both simple and possible. All we have to do is perform them. Then he steps in and does his part: that impossible problem, whether it is anger, pride, jealousy, self-preoccupation, drugs, drinking, or despair, begins to yield.
Thus, in daily life, we discover the mechanism of Isaac Penington's description, "As the soul in faith gives itself up to obey, the power appears and works obedience. The power never fails the faith."
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I think this is a tender, to-the-point look at the dynamic by which God works in us for good, even to become perfect - renewed up into his image, and righteousness and holiness. If we prefer light to darkness, we ascend to the truth that makes us free - no longer the servants of sin.
I have seldom heard it put so simply and well, Rebecca. It's very clear in scripture that each of us isl only accountable for the light we're given (but yes, we are accountable for it!). Growing in grace and sanctification is a life-long individual process. It's this principle which made it possible for George Fox to have such an optimistic view of Christian perfection while still being entirely confident about "that of God in every man." It's why genuine Quakerism is both a quest for personal holiness in relationship with Christ and an assurance that God is universally and impartially at work in all people in all places and times, not just those with the special light given to Friends. Wesley adopted this basic outlook as well. Some believe he was influenced by Fox. It's undoubtedly one of the reasons 19th century Quakers found much with which they could identify in the Wesleyan revivals, and in some Wesleyan formulations of Biblical truth.