Neighbour

(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Luke 10:25-37

The familiar Bible story printed here tells us a lot. Jesus is in the company of people who make a point of debating with him. The first speaker is described as a “lawyer”, meaning one well-versed in the Laws of Moses. The passage says that this lawyer wanted to challenge Jesus, to test his knowledge and integrity. Nevertheless the lawyer asks pertinent questions, important enough to record in Scripture as more than an example of Jesus outsmarting one of his adversaries.

During the time of Christ’s mortal ministry, anyone familiar with Scripture would have known the words “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself”. Again the evangelist gives the lawyer selfish motives for asking a follow-up question, but again it is pertinent – “Who is my neighbour?”Jesus then tells this famous story, of the man waylaid somewhere along the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho. He cuts his questioner to the quick, by citing two other learned and pious men – the priest and the Levite – as being ones who would not stop to help the unfortunate.

When help comes to the injured man, neither he nor his rescuer stops to wonder who the other is. It is almost irrelevant that the latter is a Samaritan, and that we only assume the former is a Jew (all Jesus says is that he is “a certain man”). All that the rescuer knows is that here is someone in need of his help; all that the victim knows is that he is being rescued.

The identity of the two is more relevant to the listeners, and in particular to the lawyer, for to an educated Jew like him, the rescuer might well have represented an anathema, a heretic, certainly someone ethnically dubious.

He was, in fact one of the Šāmĕrîm (שַמֶרִים) which literally means ‘the keepers of the Law’. To the Judaist of the 1st century, a Samaritan was unorthodox in his religion. To a Samaritan, his was the true observance of the Law, as his people were Israelites who had not been taken away to Babylon, but had remained in the Promised Land, and therefore their religion was untainted by foreign influence. Was there more to Christ’s choice than simply picking someone whom the lawyer might have despised? Was it because the rescuer, in having mercy on the thieves’ victim, was the one who had truly obeyed the Law?

But there is a point at the end of this episode that readers tend to ignore, a turning-round through a hundred and eighty degrees of how the story is usually intetpreted.

The lawyer asked “Who is my neighbour?”; Christ asks him “. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” The lawyer answers “He that shewed mercy on him”. Then Christ says: “Go, and do thou likewise”.

Do you see the shift? The lawyer had asked who was his neighbour. Christ asks who was the victim’s neighbour! Not only is the story here about how the we should behave to one in trouble, but also about how we should love the neighbour who helps us, no matter who that person is.

What is the equivalent of that Samaritan today? Someone gay? A Muslim? An atheist? Who? It doesn’t matter. There is a time and a place for speaking to such things, and that time and place is made known to us by the Lord. At other times we are instructed to love those who, for a reason maybe not known to them, obey the Law and show mercy to us. In such people there is obedience to the Law which is written on the hearts of humankind, obedience to the Light which enlightens all who come into the world. Such people, again at a time and in a place appointed by the Lord, are our neighbours, and we are bidden to love them as we love ourselves.

With how small a step might one such person, now our neighbour, be or become our enemy? There are those in the groups named above and from elsewhere who, at times past or present, have been challengers of the Church. But they too are loved by the Lord, who so loved the world. If we find one such – or many – coming to us as an enemy rather than as a neighbour, we are commanded to a different step of love: Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:43-45.

Lessons of love, Friends, may be the hardest lessons for anyone to learn; but to the Church – those who hear and obey the Voice of the Shepherd – they are essential.

Knowledge and Prophecy

(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.”
(Romans 10:2,3)

There is a religious organisation which goes from door to door in the UK and elsewhere. Very often it will be a man and wife on the doorstep, sometimes even with a child or two. They are sincere in their beliefs, and very well-meaning, and they are always very courteous to members of the households they visit.

At each house they offer a magazine, setting out their beliefs about God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. It is obvious from reading the articles in their magazine that their scholars have read and studied the Bible as well as any person could.

A recent issue had the following to say about the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Such powerful works or gifts of the spirit passed away with the death of Jesus and the apostles and any to whom they passed on the gifts. The apostle Paul wrote: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are [miraculously spoken] tongues, they will cease; whether there is [divinely revealed] knowledge, it shall be done away with.” (1  Corinthians 13:8) Why? Having accomplished their purpose – identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Christian congregation as favoured by God – such powerful works, including healing, are no longer needed; they are “done away with”. Still, Jesus’ miracles of healing have an important message for us today. If we pay attention to and exercise faith in what Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, we can look forward toward the time when the inspired prophecy will be fulfilled both spiritually and physically.

A faithful Friend, on reading the foregoing, commented as follows:

I am no theologian and am not clever enough to argue with anyone, but if we look at that sentence “Such powerful works or gifts of the spirit passed away with the death of Jesus and the apostles and any to whom they passed on the gifts”, may I ask who said so? Paul says they will pass away but I am not aware that he gave a date or even said it would happen shortly after his death. Is there anywhere in the New Testament that states these things were to pass away with the death of the apostles and their followers? If there is then please let me have the quotation. All I can see is an extension of scripture which has become a man-made theology as most extensions and modifications are. I have this “thing” about man-made doctrine and it does get me very angry I’m afraid. It is usually mixed in with just enough scriptures to make it sound plausible, like the prosperity teachings.

And so it seems to be. Like so many notions concerning Jesus Christ, that would make him decrease when Scripture says that he shall increase. People will say “Such-and-such a thing must have ceased, because I am a believer and do not experience it. Therefore I will find scripture to support this position, and make it a tenet of my beliefs.” Then, when another people come before them to prophesy, they say “Aha, this must be false, because we have proved it so!”

So, is there still prophecy and prophesying? The answer is that there is as much or as little as the Lord measures out – no more, no less – or a minister of the Gospel would rise to speak only out of his own knowledge and imaginings.

Is there still divinely-granted knowledge? The answer is that there is as much or as little as the Lord measures out – no more, no less – or a reader of the words which the Holy Spirit gave forth would have only the intellect of fallen humanity to rely on to open their meaning; there would be only blind guides, speaking and writing words which never spoke to the condition of the listener or reader.

Importantly, the Church would be a pale imitation of the Church set up by Christ, in Jerusalem, to be his Body. He would not be there amongst them, because they would have only the Bible and their ideas about it. He would stand at the door and knock, and his knocking would go unheard. They would not be gathered in his Name.

Are we immune from the temptation to set things up in place of Christ, and of denying his headship in favour of our own doctrine? Who could be? Since the Lord gathered us as a people we have seen the idol of self raised up many times, and notions and imagination seduce many people. Here is a passage from the Journal of John Churchman, dating from 1740

An elderly man asked us if we saw some posts to which he pointed, and added, the first meeting George Fox had on this side of Chesapeake Bay, was held in a tobacco house there, which was then new, and those posts were part of it. John Browning [Churchman’s companion] rode to them, and sat on his horse very quiet; and returning to us again with more speed than he went, I asked him what he saw amongst those old posts. He answered, “I would not have missed what I saw for five pounds, for I saw the root and ground of idolatry. Before I went, I thought perhaps I might have felt some secret virtue in the place where George Fox had stood and preached, whom I believe was a good man; but whilst I stood there, I was secretly informed, that if George was a good man, he was in heaven, and not there, and virtue is not to be communicated by dead things, whether posts, earth, or curious pictures, but by the power of God, who is the fountain of living virtue.”

Even the excellence of scripture can be a dead thing, because the scribes and Pharisees had scripture in abundance, and believed in the words which were written (or in their own interpretation). Jesus said to those of the old covenant, who sought to destroy him: “And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:38-40).

On BBC radio, a co-religionist of those whom Jesus warned said words to the effect that the Messiah was to usher in an era of brotherhood between men, and as there was today no brotherhood between men, it followed that Jesus was not the Messiah. Those who have the word abiding in them know different, and that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. It is no good for people to refuse him, and then say, “Because I feel no brotherhood towards my fellow man, there is no Prince of Peace”, any more than it is any good for those who refuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit to say that because they have no experience of them their doctrine shall be based on the non-existence of such things.

Any person can become like Thomas, refusing to believe Christ had risen until he could see and touch the wounds on the Master’s body. Some go further and make a virtue of it, and a doctrine. But we should say, with Paul, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.”

“Let your lives Preach”

(This article first appeared in The Call in 2008)

The title of this article is, of course, the words of our ancient Friend, George Fox.

We do not give GF’s words great prominence for one good reason – one of which GF himself would have approved. It is not him whom we preach, but Christ Jesus crucified, raised, living as the Head of the Church.

But GF is one of our respected fathers and mothers in the Lord, a faithful apostle unto death, and the man who first articulated the doctrines and testimonies to which we have been drawn by the Lord.

Fox’s words quoted above have, by a later generation, been deliberately and prominently misquoted. On a rock popularly called “Fox’s Pulpit”, up on Firbank Fell, in Northern England, a plaque has been fixed, bearing the false words – “Let your lives speak”. These words Fox did not say! His true words had a specific content and context.

They were addressed to the church, to the assembled and gathered people who heard and obeyed the voice of the Shepherd. Each of these four words had its own import, its own significance. Taken as a whole, they were a prophetic utterance as truthful and faithful today as they were when they were first spoken.

Let

Scripture says: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.” (Thessalonians 5:19,20)

There is one God, who is the same to all, whose fire is, to the faithful, a refining and purifying fire, and, to the unfaithful, a consuming furnace. He is Light to all, and enlightens all, revealing and convicting of sin. To those who will turn their eyes to the Light, he is a guide and a way; to those who turn away, he continues a reproach and a condemnation. This Light is in all men, and is there to be regarded and heeded. But some – even those who profess – do not obey.

The word “Let” reminds us that we must co-operate, obey, submit, accept that reproach and conviction for our sins, turn our eyes to the Light. It takes our active participation. It takes our willingness to let the idol of self slip from our hands. It takes our reaching to take up the cross instead.

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, reminds the church that no self-consciousness, no desire to submerge into the world and to fit in, is an excuse for ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and others, nor the clearest leadings to speak as directed by God. Hence the importance of GF’s first word in his famous phrase.

Your

This simple word is addressed to the church as a communal whole, and to each member individually. Each one is responsible for his or her own life, and the community for the community’s. the command of Christ, expressed simply here by GF, is direct to each one of us and to all.

Lives

This is an all encompassing word. Apologists for modern quietism say that this as-near-as forbids one from speaking out; but rather one should pursue only salvation by works, without faith. Let them read the letter of James, and see what that apostle witnesses about faith and works.

One’s life, and our lives as a church, includes everything we do – working, eating, sleeping, resting – yes, and speaking, and writing!

In Christ’s own words: Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) and tellingly, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32,33)

Oh what volumes these simple words say about remaining silent!

Preach

Preach what? What does the word mean?

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” (Matthew 24:14)

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature… And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark 16:15 and 20)

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15)

Has ever anything been more clearly stated? By word and deed, the very existence of the church, its whole prophetic purpose to the world is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not to “speak” of worldly values, but to preach the Gospel.

So, friends, let your lives preach!

How others see us?

How others see us.

The word ‘bigot’ is dealt with in the lead article of the next issue of The Call, due out soon.

The First Motion

This article first appeared in The Call in 2007
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Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

A few years ago a Friend, dressed in a grey suit without any lapels, a white stock, and a broad-brimmed, grey hat, attended a meeting. It was not a regular meeting for worship, but rather a gathering that had been called to consider and discuss the Gospel message that had been entrusted by the Lord to George Fox and his generation of Friends. There were a couple of able and  knowledgeable speakers who gave a good account of this, of the theology behind it, and of their own faith.

Not all those attending received it well, although all listened with respect and patience. The gathering, though open to all-comers, was taking place at a liberal meeting-house where, these days, the Name of Jesus Christ is usually not spoken of, and when it is there can be a hostile reaction.

Half way through the day, there was a break for lunch. Trestle tables were pulled out, and bring-and-share fare set upon them. Thanks was returned, and the meal began.

While everyone was eating, the person sitting opposite the plain Friend asked him why he dressed that way. Make no mistake, this was a challenge; in liberal meetings there is a current of intellectualism, and therefore a love of debate. The Friend sensed this, paused, and asked the Lord what he should say. The Lord, true as ever to his promise, gave the Friend the necessary words.

He spoke one word – “Love”.

That one word, unexpected as the opening gambit of a debate, silenced the questioner, and gained the attention of everyone at the table. The Friend was not debating, he was bearing witness, speaking of what he knew. He went on somewhat thus:

“The Lord had shown me so much love, that I was moved to share it with others, and to share what I had experienced, and to show them how much I love God in return, how much I love them, how much he loves them. I found that I couldn’t do this if it was easy for me to submerge into the crowd. My everyday clothes were a kind of a camouflage, a temptation for me to fall back into my old ways, and become again what I was before I experienced God’s love, before I realized and acknowledged in my own heart how much he loved and loves me.

I prayed. I asked God for guidance, and he led me to this witness. He led me to wear clothes which marked me out as different, as someone who did not share the world’s values. But they were not clothes which said ‘Look at me’, they were and are only a means to an end. And I thank God… and I thank thee friend…” (turning to the person who had first addressed him) “… for giving me this opportunity to speak of my experience.”

The Friend’s opportunity extended through that meal-time and for some time after. Everyone who heard stopped to listen, no one offered any objection, no one offered any counter-argument, no one objected to his speaking of God and Christ. The liberal folk set a great deal of store by “personal experience” and therefore could not speak against the Friend, because all that he said was from experience. And no one could speak against love!

William Penn said, “Love is the hardest Lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.”

John Woolman, describing his leading to travel amongst the Native American peoples, said, “Love was the first motion…”

Friends, do you understand God’s love to be at the root of everything you do and say? Do you know it to be the first motion – the most immediate and important driving force – in your life? When asked, what can you say? Are you children of God’s Light, and have you walked in that Light? And does what you say, and do –  everything you bear witness to by word or action – come inwardly from God, from what you know of him, from your experience of his love?

Fear not, little flock

This article first appeared in The Call in 2006.

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I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.”

Ezekiel 34:14-16

We are a small people, scattered throughout the UK and the wider world. Although spiritually we trace our existence back to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the waiting disciples in Jerusalem, through the centuries to the awakening of George Fox, through the assaults upon the Truth which were resisted by the likes of John Wilbur in America and John G Sargent in Britain, through the independent existence of the Friends meetings of Bournbrook and Fritchley, as a contemporary organisation we date from 1993, when our discipline was drafted.

Since then we have held our yearly and half-yearly meetings fairly consistently. Certainly since 1995 there has been at least one regular, local meeting for worship in Jesus’ name (Goshen, in Scotland). By the Lord’s grace we have survived; we have carried a small but still-burning lamp.

We have attracted to us, and brought to the feet of Jesus, many individuals who have found fellowship through The Call. We have provided a Friend in Finland with a certificate to say he is one of our number, thus enabling him to bear witness against military service, to the Glory of the Lord. We have welcomed a little worshiping community (Richland-Ashland Friends) into fellowship with us. In so many little ways, the Lord has let us serve Him. We praise His name.

One of the most difficult issues in our witness and theology, is the Apostasy. With love, we say that as much as the non-professing world is fallen, so professing Christendom has fallen away from the Truth, abandoned principle and experience in favour of institutionalism, liberalism and dry bibliolatry. This is a big claim, and it seems arrogant of a little body to make it.

A Friend, often quoted, said of the Church that it consisted solely of “those who hear and obey the voice of the Shepherd”. Do we hear His voice? And if we do, what do we say to those who challenge us that “it must be a poor and weak Gospel which makes so little inroad into the Apostate world”?

The witness of the Friend whose writing came before us recently was this: that Scripture itself tells of apostasy, from Genesis when Adam and Eve were disobedient and were expelled from Eden; through Exodus where the Children of Israel bowed before a golden calf; through all the books of Chronicles and Kings, where so-and-so “did evil in the sight of the Lord”; through the exhortations of the prophets to Israel to turn back to the Lord; to the books of the Evangelists who tell as much of those who did not believe in Jesus Christ as of those who did; through the letters of Paul and the other Apostles which exhort believers to keep the faith and to avoid false prophets and those who would cause a schism in the Church; right to the book of Revelation, which tells how humankind is finally winnowed as God’s creation is wound up.

Faced with that great witness we may, if we stand on God’s sure ground and speak what He gives us by His Holy Spirit, that the Scriptural history of apostasy continued until the present day. It afflicted and afflicts not only those who do not believe and do not profess to believe, but in a great part those who do!

To whom does it fall to call the world, and especially professing Christendom out of apostasy? The same body that is called upon to preach the Gospel – the only body that can preach the Gospel – the body whose very existence itself preaches the Gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ.

Are we that Church? God will judge that.

We do know that we feel His favour, that some of us have been led to labour in His name, to speak in answer to His urging, and above all to keep alive our little flock by feeding on Him, hoping that all has been according to His plan, His will, and to His glory. We seek none for ourselves.

The number of small meetings which independently come together to wait upon the Lord has been growing in the UK. Not all of these use our discipline, or call themselves by our name. Some folk use the conservative discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting, others came together from and interest in the work of the New Foundation Fellowship. But they are all folk whom we know and love, people whom we visit, with whom we worship. They are, one and all, folk who have turned their backs on the apostasy of the world, as we have. We may not share a name, but we share the Name, above which there is no other.

There is much questioning amongst these independent meetings as to whether they should bond together, and be one recognised body. The Call does not pre-empt business carried out under the Lord’s ordering. However, we are sure that we will be called upon to bring before them the few loves and fishes that we have, to offer them in love, and to hope that the Lord will bless them, and feed us all with them.

The commandments of Christ.

(The following address was found in the files of The Call and is reproduced here in edited form. The author’s name has not been recovered.)

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another

John 15:15-17

For a Christian to be humble is to yield ones self to God, to surrender one’s own will to God’s will, to let go of our ‘self ‘ and let the Lord work through us. It is not to be hiding from the world nor is it to be a cowering figure afraid to speak truth, for fear of reproach.

It is to live a life   filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and the strength of God, and to speak God’s truth as and when it is given us to speak regardless of what may be thought of it. This is not arrogance, it would only be so if we spoke from our own will instead of the Lord’s will. It is to be cleansed by Christ of our own selfishness and desires, to lead a simple life, unfettered by the world’s vanities, fashions, values, or agendas and to give our lives over to the will of the Lord: to act as the Lord leads us, to speak as the Lord bids us. To be humble is to be rid of ‘self’, to seek for nothing for ourselves, nor to gain anything other than what the Lord wills for us, for is it not written: He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

A simple life is an inner life, a life lived in the spirit, a life of spiritual poverty, desiring only to serve the Lord and to be content in this, to spend our life cleansing all that the Light of Christ holds up before us, all that lies within us which creates a barrier between ourselves and Christ. Humility is accepting that we need to change and to be changed, and to be emptied of all that opposes such change. For such change to occur we must be filled with the Love of God and the Holy Spirit. But how can we be filled when there is no space within us due to the accumulation of so much that keeps us from seeing God. The Lord cannot light up the temple if the temple is not a fit vessel. What is already full of sin must then  be emptied out as the light of Christ blazes up within us to do the work on each of us that needs to be done. To paraphrase early Friends, sin must be eradicated, Satan must be banished from our lives by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Such a humility implies trust, a trust in the Lord, and acceptance of God’s grace. If we did not trust we would not be willing   to surrender ourselves to the Lord’s care, for to do so requires us to live a life of uncertainty as to where we will be led. Only trust or faith in the Lord enables us to embrace such a life.

A trust such as this is only possible with a great Love of God, who in turn loves all, and dwells within all, waiting for us to turn to his light and seek him out. We are called to love as God loves, open and accepting to and of ourselves and others, even our enemies. We are called to judge, (but not to condemn for that is the Lords right only) but only when we do so as a servant of the Lord, for if we judge on our own will then we judge as the world judges and we sin. When we judge in the Lords will we speak God’s truth and do the Lord’s work. To judge is the speak God’s truth to the world, it is not to condemn but simply to speak the truth. When we judge we act from a  knowledge of the difference between right and wrong, we know that something or someone is contravening God’s law and we are called to speak out. The act of turning to Christ in our lives is a judgement upon the world and its ways. For we are saying that the worlds ways are not the Lords ways, they are not The Truth, and we will not follow the way of error nay longer. So, to turn to Christ is to turn to the truth and speak this truth to the world and to ‘judge ‘ in that sense of the word.

For judgment through our own will is self righteousness and is not the Lord’s voice. It is always easier to see wrong doing in others than in  ourselves  this is why Christ admonishes us when he says to those who have not yet found their way to  God, “How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye, when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

When we seek to address someone regarding a matter of concern we should do so whilst speaking from the Lord, otherwise we are hypocrites

Christ’s Love exemplified ultimately this love when he sacrificed himself to redeem the world and show us the way to God. His Love was for all, even those who condemned him – his enemies – how can we love less than this and still call ourselves His Friends or disciples!

His Love was so great he asked for those who condemned him to be forgiven, he did not ask for vengeance or judgement upon those people. This Love demands that we do like wise in loving one another and loving our enemies, and leaving condemnation to the Lord.

This Love is not an airy, superficial love, it does not imply that ‘anything goes’ as in the period of the 1960’s for example-do what you will was the prevailing belief, or today with quick fix man made religions/new age systems of belief. This love is a life changing powerful love, lived out and expressed in accordance with Scripture and guided by the Holy Spirit and It is the failure to live in this way that has brought the world to it’s present state, a disobedient people turned from God’s truth and destroying Gods creation.

The world chooses the delusion that needs will be satisfied in full by technology and science, yet the real need is ignored, spiritual need from which all others needs are truly met.

Love means caring about others, this means that Love may sometimes demand of us placing ourselves in the firing line or, giving a stern word or rebuke as the occasion demands, or be seen as politically incorrect by others/society. However, in the world today the emphasis is on individualism, and ‘individual rights’ and it runs counter to the societal norm for anyone to speak out in a way that is seen as diminishing this notion that  as individuals we can behave as we please and no one has a right to gainsay what we do or say. As Christ’s ‘Friends’ we may well be called to speak out on matters that contravene God’s laws regardless of what others think of this.

This type of individualism however runs counter to serving God, as this means pursuing one’s own way without God’s guidance and setting up modern forms of idolatry and false Gods – money, ambition, success, egoism, inappropriate use of and reliance on technology. The world has not changed much since the time of Christ except that there are fewer people of faith today than then. To paraphrase early Friends again, Satan still stalks the earth, evil is abroad in the world, and the Lamb’s war continues though his army seems fewer in numbers today.

The Gospel of Christ is probably even more necessary today than at any time in our history. If we see someone acting in a way as to cause harm to himself or others Love may demand us speak out – not in judgement but to point out the error in their conduct for the benefit of all concerned so that they do not cause harm through ignorance of what they are doing and its consequences. For example, a child putting its hand up to a pot of boiling water, the parent may shout at the child and grab its hand with force, causing the child to cry. But such an act is done with love, not seeking to distress or hurt the child, but to prevent the causing of serious harm. God loves us the same way, he may rebuke us, or deal us a strong lesson because he Loves us and wants to free us from sin and error which prevents us from coming closer to him.

God in turn demands of his people, that in obedience to his call, they rebuke and act to free others from sin and error in order to lead them closer to God. We are called to return blows with love, to the world this seems an odd response, but to do otherwise only perpetuates cycles of violence, retaliation which are forms of sin, and conflicts with Christian Love and Christ’s command to keep the commandments of Moses, and to Love one another, and forgive our enemies. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

If we are wronged we can speak out in response to the other party with Love but still speak with determination, resolution, and judgement (God’s Truth). We can speak the truth in our defence when someone wrongly accuses us of an offence as Christ did to the Pharisees and others, we can also be clearly determined in the nature our responses as when Christ drove the money lenders from the temple, which too was an act of Love. If our own lives are to be temples for the Lord to dwell in, they must be cleansed of all that stands in the way of the Lord touching our lives enabling the  in pouring of the Love of Christ. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” But we must first seek that spirit within us, turn to the light of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and clear away the debris that conceals it from us. We must cast out Satan from our lives as The Lord cast him out of Heaven.

The commandments of Christ all hinge around Love, which is many faceted, it can take the form of tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, rebuke, challenge, anger (it is fine to be angry so long as we express our anger in the Lord’s will ,without hate or malice). Christian Love is not a call to lay down and hide or to be weak willed, it calls us to stand up and be counted amongst God’s children and possibly receive ill responses from others for doing so, it can lead us to be in places and do things we feel uncomfortable with, but need to be done, the lives of the Apostles reflect this. Love calls us to practice in our daily lives the commandments of Christ and not to compromise them to accommodate the world or to ‘fit in’ with the world, or to adjust them to be politically correct and conform to the latest social and political agendas. Love will lead us to a more intimate relationship with our Lord and Saviour, to find great joy even in our tribulations, and to a deeper more meaningful love for life and all creation.

My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.

Proverbs 3:1-8

Hell

 (Reproduced from the lead article in The Call, 2004 issue 3)

The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-30

In recent years a British politician was scoffed at for suggesting that many of the problems in modern society could be ascribed to people’s no longer believing in hell.

The subject of everlasting torment as a punishment for rejection of God’s salvation is, it is true, rather glossed over by most people. Even many who are counted believers would hesitate to mention it. It seems that the world can grasp the idea of God, but not the idea of the consequences of rejecting Him.

Many of those who do talk most loudly about hell do so in fruitless arguments about whether it is an actual “place” or can be described more as a “state”. They do not know how closely they themselves skirt the lip of the abyss! What matters is that hell is real.

That “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” [Psalm 9:17] is the bad news that we have to hear, in order to know how good the Good News of Salvation really is. Without the news that God is entitled to punish us for all eternity, the news that He will show us mercy is meaningless.

It is particularly necessary to consider the risks that we run, in these evil, Godless times, when a day does not go by without someone being done to death, somewhere in the world.

Christ makes this plain when He says, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” [Matthew 26:52]. And yet some of the world’s greatest professors of belief in Him go to war or – sometimes this seems so much worse – send others to war while they stay thousands of miles away, or at most visit “safe” parts of the war zone. They can see that many, many people have taken up the sword, or its modern equivalent, who plainly die at home with their boots off!

Yet beware! Consider what it may mean to perish by the sword. They that take the sword have condemned themselves, as Christ Himself testifies, and therefore it is by the sword that they have taken up that they have perished. Christ makes it plainer, by His revelation to John: “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword” [Revelation 13:10]. Could prophecy be plainer?

Fear of death rules the world – and how mankind’s adversary loves that. Powerful men, whether backed up by the machinery of government and the money of wealthy supporters, or by fanatical, quasi-mystical philosophy, play on these false, shadowy nightmares, in order to get a grip upon the hearts and minds of people. Thus they drag them down to hell with them.

But the Christ is clear about whom we must fear: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” [Luke 12:4,5]. This refers to the pure fear of God, before whom every soldier, every general, every Commander-in-Chief, and every fanatic with explosives strapped to his body must bow.

And now we learn more profoundly what it is to perish with the sword. Christ says, “I came not to send peace, but a sword” [Matthew 10:34]. And this was revealed to John: “The armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” [Revelation 19:14-16]. Here is the revelation of the sword by which all they that take up an earthly sword, or gun, or bomb shall perish.

Isn’t it strange that so many people around the world have the Holy Name of God upon their lips, and a weapon in their hand? The prophetic message must be made plain to them. Christ’s own words must ring in their ears, and in their hearts: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 7:21]. And they must face the fact that they must repent: “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” [Revelation 2:16].  They must hear and obey the Voice of the Shepherd, or one day they will hear His irrevocable words: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” {Matthew 7:23].

In the long run, objectors to the doctrine of hell must answer this question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins, and at all costs to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty, and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so – in the life and death of his Son. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, that is what he does.” [The Problem of Pain, C S Lewis]

Friends, be patterns and examples to the world. Carry the love and fear of the Lord with you. Proclaim, sparing no action or word, the fate that awaits every nation that forgets God, and the promise of Salvation to all who will become His nation. Teach the people of the world, by yourselves living in Christ’s peaceable Kingdom, that they must lay down their arms, if they want to be saved; they must learn to hazard their lives, unprotected, unafraid, prepared to die loving their friends, and forgiving their enemies. The alternative – the eternal alternative – is too terrible to contemplate!

News of Friends’ Meetings

The Meetings page has been updated to include details of a worshipping group of Friends in London.

Also worth mentioning is the Ripley Quaker Meeting in the Midlands, a thriving meeting of faithful Friends.

We are certain that the Lord will bless these groups of believers.

My Lord and My God

(reproduced from a lead article in The Call, issue 2004/2)

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” [John 20:6,7]

The world of religious relics is a mysterious and controversial one, and has been so for many centuries. One of the most famous relics is lodged in Turin, and purports to be an ancient burial shroud. When tests upon this cloth revealed what appeared to be the image of a bearded man with bloody marks on his body and head as if from scourging and a crown of thorns, wounds on his hands and feet as if from crucifixion, and a wound in his side as if from a spear-thrust, there was much excitement. Was this, as Roman Catholic devotees claimed, the shroud which had wrapped Christ in His tomb?

When more tests, including carbon-dating, suggested that the artifact was no earlier than medieval, many people were not surprised. The middle ages were, it seems, awash with dubious relics – pigs’ bones masquerading as those of apostles, enough nails supposedly from the crucifixion to melt down and make a warehouse full of kettles, and so on. In the case of the Turin shroud, one could only marvel at the subtlety and ingenuity of the fake. Certainly the features of the man accorded with medieval ideas of Jesus’ face – bearded rather than the clean-shaven man of earlier icons – and that lent weight to the view that the shroud was bogus.

However, that was not the end of the story. Historical record showed that a box in Oviedo, in Spain, had been there several centuries before the now-established date of the Turin shroud. In that box was a small piece of cloth, said to have wrapped Christ’s head. When test were carried out of that piece of cloth, there were indications that the available DNA matched that retrieved from the shroud. The dating of the shroud was in doubt once more!

More detective work was done on the shroud – for example, how it must have been folded when it suffered water damage, which gave some clues as to how it had been stored. One of the more startling finds was some stitch-work in the shroud which was typical of that found only in 1st century Judea!

That is how things stand in what can only be considered a fascinating endeavour of religious archaeology. But what if it could be taken further? What if the archaeological equivalent of, say, Joseph of Arimathaea’s laundry-mark was found on the shroud, or a provenance for the Oviedo kerchief in the handwriting of the apostle Peter? Would that confer any kind of legitimacy on the current holder of either relic? Would either suddenly acquire miraculous properties? Would either prove what the Bible says about the death and resurrection of Jesus?

All of the above would be claimed – make no mistake about it – but the answer to the above questions is certainly “No”. Would there be, notwithstanding, and increase in religious fervour, attracting new devotees to the relics? Almost certainly yes!

But consider the apostle Thomas, who would not believe in the resurrection, until he had seen and touched Jesus. Upon seeing his risen master, he said, “My Lord and my God”. Jesus said to him, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” [John 20:28,29]. On one level, this is clearly a call to people to believe without any experiential evidence. But the nature of Thomas’ belief is astonishing, and the way it brings him to his knees before Christ is little understood.

One could arguably call Thomas the first Christian. He was totally overthrown by his experience. It went deeper than simply touching Jesus’ body – he himself was touched by something more profound than a mere physical experience, more convincing than a persuasion to intellectual belief. Thomas was the first believer truly to acknowledge Christ as the Word of God, who was with God and was God. What a stupendous thing for someone born and raised in Judaism to address Jesus thus. And Jesus does not rebuke him for that, knowing that the Truth has been revealed to Thomas. No one can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit [Phil 2:11].

Christ’s words do acknowledge Thomas’ belief, in all its spiritual depth. And, yes, they commend those who believed the accounts that Mary and Peter brought back from the garden, and those that come to believe now without physical proof. But they are also a call to the depth of belief that Thomas experienced, to calling out “My Lord and my God”! This is a realisation of the very thing that Jesus told his disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].

We are called by Christ to open ourselves to this deep, spiritual reality, in which we will know, by the Holy Spirit, that He is our “Lord and God”, by that very spiritual work in us that worked in Thomas. For those whom Christ gathers unto Himself in this way, there is no need to lay their hands, remotely, upon His wounds, by seeking a piece of cloth or some other relic – as there is no need for the light of sun or moon in the New Jerusalem. Blessed are those who, without such outward things, nevertheless come to the belief and faith of Thomas, and doubt no more.

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