Elias Hicks, reason/rationalism, and some atonement theory

In response to this thread I looked up  a bunch of stuff in "Elias Hicks: Quaker Liberal" about Hicks and reason/rationalism, his influences, and how that influenced his theology, because I mentioned his use of reason being criticized in his life and was asked for sources. Here are selected excerpts . I'm only posting one of them in that thread. 

Some about Hicks' view on page 224, from the chapter "The Evangelical Invasion":

[Anna Braithwaite] declared Elias said the fullness of the Godhead rested in man and "in every blade of grass." Elias ended his interview with an assertion that the Discipline should extend to matters of moral conduct but never to matters of faith.

Elias declared to the English visitor that he could not see how the cruel persecution and crucifixion of Jesus Christ could expiate his sins. It was grace of God which gave power to live a sober, righteous, and godly life. Hicks told Anna Braithwaite, "So long as I feel that peace, there is nothing in the world that makes me afraid, as it respects my eternal condition. But if any of my friends have received any known benefit from any outward sacrifice I do not envy them their privilege." "But surely," he added, "they would not be willing that I should acknowledge as truth, that which I have no kind of knowledge of."

Then page 225:

In Sandy Spring, Maryland, Roger Brooke declared that Elizabeth Robson was sowing seeds of dissension and the Meeting refused permission for her to make family visits. New York followed the same procedure. She corresponded with many leaders while in America, and did not hesitate to write to Priscilla Hunt, "It appeared to me that thy present state is a dangerous one....I believe there is not anything more injurious to the cause of religion than exercising the reasoning faculties in order to comprehend divine truths."

I can't find the page, but later in the book there's also a quote that directly alludes to that "no kind of knowledge of" bit. 

Another bit with Hicks & reason, from chapter "Christ in you, the hope of glory", page 196:

Although Elias Hicks laid great emphasis on the experience of the Indwelling Christ, he added a note not found among first-generation Quakers—the place of reason. He wrote that all matters of truth should be “first brought…to the test of the light in our own consciences”; second, judged by the test of “the reason of things”; third, checked by the test of “consistency with the precepts and example of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and fourth, “if relating to our duty to our fellow creatures,” examined in the light of the golden rule.

To my reading, what's really going on is a disagreement about theories of atonement. Hicks used reason to arrive at a different conclusion than the English ministers were teaching, and so his use of reason (versus orthodox Christian tradition) is what is attacked. From page 200 :

He shocked the Evangelicals when he wrote, "I have never been able to see how the sacrifice of the outward Body of Christ would do more for me than the prove...we ought to sacrifice everything related to the body even life itself."

Elias Hicks rejected what he considered to be some of the grosser concepts concerning the vicarious atonement. He taught that sin originated in man's self-will, not in inherited evil. He said that Adam made satisfaction for his sin of disobedience by showing penitence, and God's clothing his nakedness with skins was a symbol of the nakedness of the soul reclothed with the Holy Spirit. Hicks did not accept the commonly held doctrine that righteousness was ever "imputed." He believed that a man could only be made righteous by his own consent and knowledge, not by an act in the historic past. He went so far as to say "the perfectly just, all-wise, and merciful Jehovah [could not perform] so cruel an act as that of slaying his innocent and righteous Son, to atone for the sins and iniquities of the ungodly. Surely, it is impossible, that any rational being that has any right sense of justice and mercy, would be willing to accept forgiveness of sins on such terms! Would he not rather go forward and offer himself wholly up to suffer all the penalties due to his crimes, rather than the innocent should suffer?"

(It says Hicks goes on about how "merit" and "satisfaction" aren't even in the Bible, and he believes the saving flesh and blood are inward not outward and what God really wants is surrender of the human will in obedience)

A ecclesiastical history book Elias read is mentioned by Forbush. It's "An Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern" by John L Mosheim, which Forbush says occupies a middle position between German Pietists and German Rationalists (he's "orthodox in doctrine but moderate in feeling"), and goes over the many different interpretations of Christianity there have been. 

Reading Mosheim gave Elias Hicks a broader understanding of Christianity, and strengthened his resolve that members of the Society of Friends should be tolerant of divergent points of view

Views: 360

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 29, 2015 at 3:48pm

George Fox was clear that the outward work done by Christ on the Cross was insufficient for Man's salvation; it was through the light within that actual atonement with God was known. So, he was opposed to the Puritans of his time on this issue and would also have opposed the Orthodox Friends that came later. The first Quakers were accused of setting up another atonement, other than the outward, but Fox firmly stated that the inward was the true atonement:

None know the atonement of Christ but by the light within...Mark! He saith, the light is that which gives the knowledge, and the light within doth not set up another atonement: but they that deny the light within set up another atonement than Christ. We should be made free from the law of sin and death while we are upon the earth. And here the blood of Jesus is witnessed, and the atonement, and the Father and the son; and this is all seen with the light within (Works, iii:121).

The outward atonement of the Orthodox would have been rejected as salvific by early Friends. Their understanding of reason was that it was valid only as man was in the faith, knowing the light within. Then his reason would function well, unlike autonomous reason: reason without the light. Here is Fox on the relationship between reason and faith:

NO MAN WALKS BY THE LIGHT OF REASON BUT HE WHO IS IN THE FAITH, who is in the light of the gospel, and all other reason is as the beasts of the field; that which makes man reasonable is faith, and all that are in the faith, are in the light of the gospel, and this is one, which all unreasonableness is out of, and in the transgression; FOR NONE ARE IN THE REASONABLENESS, BUT SUCH AS COME OUT OF THE TRANSGRESSION; and such as are reasonable walk by the light of the gospel (Works, iii:441).

In twentieth-century language, Emil Brunner in Revelation and Reason helps show the relationship Fox was describing between the light and reason: 

  • Jesus Christ is not the enemy of reason, but only of the irrational arrogance of those who pride themselves on their intellect, and of the irrational self-sufficiency of reason.
  • ...revelation does not extinguish the human reason, but claims it wholly for this process of reception
  • The reformers were not hostile to reason as such, but only to the self sufficient autonomous reason (p. 16).

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