Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
In August 1976 at Haverford College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lewis Benson gave a series of five lectures titled “A New Foundation to Build On.” The second lecture in this series is called “The Power of the Gospel.” It begins with a brief history of George Fox’s early life at the time he felt near despair of finding a way to live a right and true life, a crisis that was resolved when he was given to know Christ experientially. In this essay, Benson alludes to the same stultifying difficulty early in his own life. As a result of having passed from darkness to light, both Fox and Benson, for the remainder of their lives, made their first concern the presentation of the gospel and its message, for the gospel conveyed the power to overcome the human condition of alienation from God.
Though Scriptures bear witness to the availability of and necessity for coming into the gospel, the church of Fox’s time no longer taught this message, and it was no longer known. Though isolated groups throughout the centuries had known and practiced this faith, it had been absent from the church for 1600 years. It was the Quaker mission to recover the gospel and present it to the world.
Benson spends a major portion of the lecture describing the content of the gospel message that Quakers preached; it was most briefly formulated in the statement “Christ is come to teach his people himself.” In the seventeenth century, this summary expressed a unique understanding of Christ’s salvific work: his being present and active, with particular emphasis on his prophetic office or function as the teacher of righteousness.
Whenever [Fox] preached the gospel, he preached the “offices of Christ,” and especially the office of prophet, because it is by hearing Christ the prophet that the knowledge of God’s righteousness is received and the power to obey is given (Benson).
The essay concludes by referring to the 1945 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a discovery that confirmed seventeenth-century Friends’ assertion that the gospel they preached was the same that was held by the Jewish Christians of the first century. Though it was a significant discovery, it had little impact on Quakers then or since, nor on Christians in general, for an apostasy is overcome not through gospel-corroborating scholarship but through the gospel itself.
This lecture series can be found at the New Foundation Fellowship site (nffquaker.org) under the Resources tab and Lewis Benson’s writings.