God’s Covenant with Friends
In this hot time of persecution, Francis Howgill wrote, and gave forth the following paper for the encouragement of his friends:
HE cogitations of my heart have been many, deep, and ponderous some months, weeks and days, concerning this people which the Lord hath raised to bear testimony unto his name, in this the day of his power; and intercession hath been made often for them to the Lord, and a patient waiting to know his mind concerning them for the time to come; which often I received satisfaction in as to myself; but yet something I was drawn by the Lord to wait for, that I might comfort and strengthen his flock by an assured testimony. And while I was waiting out of all visible things, and quite out of the world in my spirit, and my heart upon nothing but the living God, the Lord opened the springs of the great deep, and overflowed my whole heart with light and love; and my eyes were as a fountain, because of tears of joy, because of his heritage, of whom he shewed me, and said unto me in a full, fresh, living power, and a holy, full testimony, so that my heart was ravished there with joy unspeakable, and I was out of the body with God in his heavenly paradise, where I saw and felt things unutterable, and beyond all demonstration or speech.
At last the life closed with my understanding, and my spirit listened unto him; and the everlasting God said, shall I hide any thing from them that seek my face in righteousness? nay, I will manifest it to them that fear me; I will speak, do thou listen, and publish it among all my people, that they may be comforted, and thou satisfied. And thus said the living God of heaven and earth; upon the 28th of the third month, 1662.
The sun shall leave its shining brightness, and cease to give light to the world; and the moon shall be altogether darkness, and give no light unto the night; the stars shall cease to know their office, or place; my covenant with day, night, times and seasons, shall sooner come to an end, than the covenant I have made with this people, into which they are entered with me, shall end or be broken. Yea, though the powers of darkness and hell combine against them, and the jaws of death open its mouth, yet will I deliver them, and lead them through all. I will confound their enemies as I did in Jacob, and scatter them as I did in Israel in the days of old. I will take their enemies, I will hurl them hither and thither, as stones hurled in a sling; and the memorial of this nation, which is holy unto me, shall never be rooted out, but shall live through ages, as a cloud of witnesses in generations to come. I have brought them to the birth, yea, I brought them forth; I have swaddled them, and they are mine. I will nourish them, and carry them as on eagles wings; and though clouds gather against them, I will make my way through them; though darkness gather together on a heap, and tempests gender, I will scatter them as with an east wind; and nations shall know they are my inheritance, and they shall know I am the living God, who will plead their cause with all that rise up in opposition against them.
These words are holy, faithful, eternal, good, and true: blessed are they that hear and believe unto the end; and because of them no strength was left in me for a while; but at last my heart was filled with joy, even as when the ark of God was brought from the house of Obed-Edom, when David danced before it, and Israel shouted for joy.
From William Sewel: The history of the rise, increase, and progress, of the Christian people called Quakers: with several remarkable occurrences intermixed (1695), Section VII, pages 404-405.
From Earlham School of Religion’s Digital Quaker Collection: http://www.esr.earlham.edu/dqc/
Jesus Christ Forbids War
Christianity armed is Christianity falsified. The gospel that God gives to men and women through Jesus Christ is a message of peace, and a gift of the power to live in peace. What happens if we accept this gospel is not that we are intimidated, forced, or persuaded by reason into laying down our weapons, but that we are transformed into new creatures. This new creature grows increasingly like Jesus Christ, of whom it is, indeed, now a “member” in the sense that an arm, a leg or an eye is a member of a human body.
Jesus accepted torture and death at the hands of his enemies rather than defend Himself by force, and it should come as no surprise that His disciples taught their own disciples not the arts of self-defense, but a way of accepting suffering as given from the hand of God, a trustworthy God who will one day “wipe away all tears from our eyes.” And so the living Christ teaches us today - to accept suffering without seeking to inflict it. This is One said to be “the same yesterday, and today, and forever,” so if we fancy that He’s come around to a more “realistic” view of warmaking since He walked the earth as Jesus of Nazareth, we’d better think again.
For Jesus Christ taught His hearers not to fight back against evil, but to love their enemies. The Biblical records tell us that when two disciples urged revenge on villages that had refused them hospitality, Jesus rebuked them, saying that He had come “to save men’s lives, not to destroy them.” Though He drove the money-changers from the temple like trespassing cattle, there is no indication that He injured them. When a party of His enemies came to arrest Him and one of His defenders cut off an enemy’s ear, Jesus disarmed the defender and healed the ear. Finally, when the combined forces of the priesthood and the occupying army had crucified Jesus, He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To become a member of this Person is to become incapable of waging war. War and fighting, taught the Apostle James, come from uncontrolled desires, and the determination to snatch by force what God may not be granting because it is not in our best interests to have it. Though we are admonished to show respect and obedience to the civil authorities, we are also warned to take no part in the “futile works of darkness,” and in all cases we must choose obedience to God over obedience to men and women. This is not to pass judgment on fellow Christians that may hear the voice of Christ and obey it, but feel they have not been told to abandon weapons. To them we say, in all love and respect: just keep listening.
Today a great lie is masquerading in Christ's robes. It sits in the seats of American state power, and among many American Christians that support the United States’ wars, deliberate injustices and deceits, as if oblivious that these are the works of Antichrist. We - America's voters, taxpayers, consumers - have all been complicit in the destruction of cities, the accidental firing on wedding parties and innocent children, the murder of detainees hung by their wrists from the ceiling, and the sending of our own young people to die in a war evidently sold to us on fraudulent claims. The more clearly we see it, the uglier it gets. But it mirrors us: our self-satisfaction, our small integrity, our heedless and self-centered everyday lifestyle choices that call for the continued binge-guzzling of Middle Eastern oil by the American economy. One might see this last item as part of a larger pattern of importing pleasure and exporting pain, whereby we in the United States also enjoy cheap consumer goods often produced by sweatshop or slave labor elsewhere. At the heart of our condition stands a willingness to say, “let us do evil, so that good can result from it.”
To say this is to serve two masters, which Jesus warned us we cannot do. The one master is God, who speaks to every human soul through the conscience and demands that it be kept clean. The other master is the spirit of this sleepwalking world, which allows double standards, tells us “I’m OK - you're OK” no matter how we live, and tries to reassure us, if we believe in a God, that God sees things just as we do. Thus theologians have long made themselves popular by arguing for a “sensible” double standard of behavior, a turn-the-other-cheek for private individuals and a go-ahead-and-kill for rulers. Thus your Christian neighbor “homogenizes” the Bible, pulling divine approvals of war out of pre-Christian scriptures, ignoring Jesus’s clear message that He had come to teach a deeper and more compassionate understanding of the preexisting Law.
This “let us do evil that good may come of it” is a temptation always knocking at the believer’s door, ever seductive because we are so terrified of standing unarmed in an armed world and depending solely on the protection of God - even though that protection is very real. As we've seen described above, even Jesus’s disciples failed to grasp the spirit of His message - calling for revenge, defending Him with violence - so we should hardly be surprised to find Christians of later ages falling into such error. Jesus knew our potential for self-deception. He told His flock, “the time will come that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God.”
The apostle Paul clearly repudiated “carnal warfare” and “carnal weapons” many times, but later generations seem to have treated his statements as mere pious rhetoric. With the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in 312 it became accept-able to mix Christianity with domination by the sword, and by the time of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica in the Thirteenth Century, the “just war” theory had become standard Christian doctrine. Christians who sought to reclaim their original nonviolent tradition over the centuries were often silenced or killed, but ultimately the Anabaptists, Quakers and others in the modern era rediscovered it, stood by it, and survived - though only as a minority. Minority status may persist so long as men and women seek security more than truth from religion.
The peace testimony that such faithful ones recovered from the life and ministry of Jesus is rarely preached on street corners, because it can’t be promoted like a political program, with appeals to self-interest or humane ideals. For it can't be separated from the gospel faith in which it is rooted, which converts us into a “new creature” capable of both understanding it and living it, filled with an infectious inner peace that endures, with God's help, as well under oppression as under outward liberty. But the old creature can neither understand nor live it: “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.”
And this is the glorious gospel that provides the only reliable alternative to the world’s warfare: the One who made you wants you to come home to your God at the end of your earthly wanderings. God means you to enjoy the peace, knowledge, and joy of the Divine Fullness, beyond time and change. God dwells in your heart, sees through your eyes, and knows your every thought - yes, including all the ones you wish no one knew. But there is not a foolish, or shameful, or evil thing you have done, or wished to do, or willingly had others do for you, that God is not willing to forgive, so that it may no longer keep you from perfect enjoyment of your heavenly inheritance. But to receive this forgiveness, you must turn to God and ask to be freed from “bondage to sin” - a technical term, often misunderstood as a matter of outward offenses, for an inward addiction to what draws us away from God's light and love.
For this reason, people that have experienced this “repentance to salvation” have described it as being “born again” or being given “a new heart.” However, this process does not magically leave us immune to temptation, or incapable of error or further growth. We must still “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” But from now on, whenever we find ourselves lacking in the courage, or wisdom, or faith to do what God asks of us, we learn that God will give it to us merely for the asking. This means that we are free to live without our old defenses, “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” For no one harms us except by “power given from above,” so that we may say with the Psalmist, “I will not fear what flesh can do to me.” This same creation, once seen as a battlefield of mutually opposing elements, now appears to us as one organism in which “all things work together for good.”
This is the essence of the “good news” of salvation in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to free us from slavery to sin, and who still lives, teaches, and reigns as king in the hearts of those here on earth who accept Him - whether as Jesus, as God, as Higher Power, or under some other name. This new life in Christ is a good life, the best of lives; but it requires us to die to the old self we knew, and so frightens many not ready for it. This is why so many of us choose what might be called Religion Lite, which gives us formulae for relating to our God but allows us to keep conforming to the everyday world, which is run by force, ruled by fear, and stinking with injustice. But this Religion Lite will fail us in trouble and death, and must be outgrown and discarded, along with most of our former opinions about how the world might be “fixed.”
This is a time of great fear. As a civilization we have responded to it shamefully, and as individuals, inadequately. Our actions and inactions have injured many, and, as all the world’s religions have taught, we must reap as we have sown. If we see that it is our nature to do harm, then we must ask to have our nature changed, for we cannot do it ourselves. Will we repent in time? Or will Christ tell us, on that final day when Truth confronts us, “inasmuch as you did this to these, you did it to Me?”