John Wilbur and immediacy or The Way Not Mediated

Thinking out loud ...

Please read the 10 quotations below from Wilbur's Journal.

In the Journal of the Life of John Wilbur he writes:

"A disposition is making its appearance in divers places in this nation, and among Friends, to think very little of the cross of Christ, practically, and to plead for liberality, both of faith and practice; the perceptible influence of the Holy Spirit is mournfully deprecated by many members of our Society ; some of them in conspicuous standing, are now disposed to put the Scriptures in the place of the Spirit, and seem ready to hold them as the only rule of faith and practice, or guidance of Christians." pgs. 150-151

He goes on the speak of  "a want of experience, and of the true knowledge of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." In quotation number three below, Wilbur suggests Gurney has turned from the early Quakers faith in "immediate revelation" to the "divinations of  his own brain."  This is the core of Wilbur's labor against Gurney. Gurney, and those who labored against Wilbur, gave space for the rational, abstract, or "creature." That is, he suggested, according to Wilbur, that "waiting upon God for the influence of his Spirit (see 1 below)" was not necessary but that the outward doctrines of the Scriptures are sufficent unto themselves.

Gurney represents a fundamental departure from the early Quakers experience of and faith in the immediate revelation or guidance of the inner Spirit. Resting in and waiting on the quickening of Divine Truth was a distinguishing characteristic of the early Quaker spiritual experience (see 9 below). In fact, the early Quakers were the restoration of the immediate revelation of the apostles:

"the testimony of Jesus, which is revelation, had been much withheld therefrom until our early Friends were prepared to receive it, and to walk faithfully by its guidance, as the rule of life, and thus this unspeakable blessing to the church was again restored" (see 9 below).

This renewal of the mind through focus on and faith in the direct and unmediated guidance of the Spirit is a turning from abstract or reflective thought for guidance or direction. It is not a bending of the mind toward external ideas, ideologies, institutions, doctrines, etc. for guidance, it is anchoring consciousness in the Spirit and being guided by immediate revelation in all things and activities in life.

This testimony to and focus upon faith in immediate revelation over faith in and focus upon outward ideological and institutional constructs is what is so captivating  about Wilbur's struggle against Gurney.  Being present in the Presence ,so that the mind is no longer a tool for the manipulation of abstract or outward thoughts (the carnal mind) and ideas but a conduit for the immediate guidance of the Spirit is a powerful testimony and one that speaks directly to and nurtures the Spirit within me. It is a giving up or dying of the self-conscious ago anchored in the sensual; toward the self-conscious ego anchored in the Spirit ... the Eternal.

It is no wonder Wilbur took issue with those who said the reading and belief in the written Gospel of Scripture was sufficient to salvation. Or the the Bible is the Word of God rather than the inner Spirit.

Immediate Revelation

Quotations from "Journal of the Life of John Wilbur" 

1) I was led to speak of the ministry, — of the times and seasons, as well as of the immediate quickening of Divine Truth, as the only qualification for rightfully and profitably preaching the gos pel of Christ I had no information of there being any one present, who professed such a calling, but found afterwards, that there was a preacher there, who, it seems, felt very rest less under my testimony ; and he opened to me, next morning, his mind upon the subject, saying, that he was disposed to think such an one might leach the people properly enough,, without waiting upon God for the influence of his Spirit. The discovery of such a sentiment as this, entertained by a professed minister of our Society, was, indeed, a great grief tome. And I could but see, that if this should become general, our testimonies concerning worship and the ministry would be lost and trodden under foot of men ; for if our ministers abandon that patient, reverent, and silent waiting upon God, for strength and a renewed qualification, as well as for the matter to communicate, their offerings will certainly be no better than salt which has lost its savor ; and we should soon get into the form, without the power.

2) It is very evident, that if we should come to believe that the Scriptures, of themselves, are a sufficient guide in all the walks of a Christian life, then our silent, spiritual worship will ere long, sink into disuse, and our faith in the immediate renewing of the Divine Spirit, on every occasion of the ministry, will be exploded. This result is a consequence that must unavoidably follow such a faith concerning the Holy Scriptures, however excellent they are, in subordination to the Spirit which gave them forth. pg. 152

3) The above mentioned Friend [J.J. Gurney] has been visiting families in our Quarterly Meeting for a long time at intervals, and especially giving lectures on religious subjects ; which is a sort of new gift that has sprung up in these days, wherein the performer has more liberty to follow the divination of his own brain, than in speaking by immediate revelation, as the Spirit lays under a necessity and gives ability and utterance ; thus there is more room for the creature to take a part. pg. 199

4) The Hebrew and Greek languages being very limited, one word in them will sometimes embrace several significations, some of which will be in entire contrast with others ; this he (J.J. Gurney) has caught at, and then made use of those opposite senses to vary the present translation of the Scriptures, and to promote his purpose in undervaluing and contradicting the solid sense and judgment of our ancient Friends, that he may the more readily introduce and propagate Episcopalian doctrines. He tries to make out that the eating of the flesh, and drinking the blood of Christ, means a belief in his incarnation, thus lowering down that deep experience and blessed fellowship in spirit with the Lord Jesus, in his baptisms and sufferings, to a mere assent of the human mind — that the gospel which is preached in, or to every human being, means the outward preaching of the gospel doctrines, that is, the declaration of the atonement of Christ ; that the name of Jesus does not signify his power, but only to ask of the Father that he would grant our petitions, merely because of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ ; that therefore we are not to look for the immediate influence of the Spirit as a qualification to pray, but to push forward into this offering when ever we incline to it ; and many other changes he makes which I can call by no other name than perversions. He endeavors to make out that our primitive Friends were under mistaken views ; in order that he may, with more facility, lay waste our attachment to the doctrines and testimonies they held, and prepare us to embrace new schemes 'which will be more acceptable to the unregenerate man ; liberate us from the mortifying operation of the cross of Christ, and cause us, as a Society, to be more respected by the carnal, superficial professors of religion in the several denominations. pg. 229

5) But the liability of men and Christians to a declension and departure from the immediate government of Truth, as individuals and as a body, induced George Fox and his fellow-helpers to institute and establish a written discipline, both for the church and for the members, as a guide to the ordering of church government, and for the deciding of all questions that might after arise in the Society. pg. 268

6) In the enemy's attempts to destroy Quakerism in 1827, his army was nothing like so strong and formidable as at the present time ; for now, the whole body of professors, save a little remnant of our Society, are joined in concert against the doctrines of a religion immediately revealed to the mind and understanding of man. pg. 360

7) But how can any expect to be favored with the living spring and life of the gospel ministry who give their strength to those who are laying waste this blessed faith of the inward and immediate revelation of God's will to men, by upholding and defending those who have resorted to so many turnings and windings in order to weaken and dissipate our faith in this very doctrine — I say how can such expect to preach the gospel by the revelation of Jesus Christ, or in the demonstration of the Spirit and with power! How vain is the repetition of many words in our assemblies, (however good in themselves those words,) without the renewed anointing! pg. 432

8) The misgivings which an enemy has introduced into our Society of later time touching our faith in the inward light, life, and power of Christ the Lord, has done incalculable mischief both in your country and ours. It has undoubtedly caused hundreds of our ministers to let go their hold of the faith of immediate revelation, whereby there has been, (sorrowful to say,) a lamentable falling back from the spirit to the letter ; holding to the form, but practically denying the life and power ! This degeneracy has been seen and known not only by the living among us, but by other people also ; and it seems very strange how those ministers who have heretofore been favored to preach in demonstration of the Spirit and with power, can now be satisfied only to preach themselves, or to preach the letter. pg. 446

9) Next day we attended meeting at Croydon, and therein referred to Christ's exhortation to one of the churches, namely, " Hold fast that which thou hast," referring to the circumstance that there had been a direct intercourse between the heavens and the earth, through the days of the Patriarchs and the Prophets ; that God had continued to reveal himself through Jesus Christ, immediately to his creature man, but that the professing Christian church had become enveloped in darkness ; and since that time, by reason of the unfitness of its professors, the testimony of Jesus, which is revelation, had been much withheld therefrom until our early Friends were prepared to receive it, and to walk faithfully by its guidance, as the rule of life, and thus this unspeakable blessing to the church was again restored ; and how exceedingly essential is it for her that " she hold fast that which she hath." pg. 523

10) Although, my dear friend, I do sometimes nearly come to want, and necessarily so, for the frequently reminding me of whence all good cometh, as also of my own poverty and wretchedness, without the immediate supplies from the Fountain of all good ; yet when permitted to look back upon my late journey, and a little to realize the marvellous and gracious preservations of infinite goodness, amid the dangers which awaited us, by sea and by land, and through the enmity of false brethren, and subtleties of an enemy's assaults upon untried ground, I seem to be lost in admiration of the goodness of God, extended to an unworthy creature, and leading to language like some on record : " Give thanks unto the Lord, oh ! my soul, for his mercies endure for ever." pg. 553

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Comment by Bill Samuel on 11th mo. 27, 2013 at 11:05am

I find the spirit of fear strong in Wilbur's words, but doesn't Christ take away that spirit? This seems a rather legalistic understanding of early Quaker insights. And like all legalism, it winds up trying to put God in a box. I am amazed at the many ways God works through us humans. Shouldn't we be marveling at the many ways God manifests God's self through those that seek to follow Christ, not seeking to find the one perfect manifestation which is a mirage, an illusion?

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 28, 2013 at 1:05am

Hello Bill.

Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. You are correct the Wilbur struggled with a spirit of fear over the state of Quakerism at the time. His frustration and disapprobation over the deprecation of the sustained influence of the Holy Spirit in all things through outward beliefs and practices manifested in ways that frustrates me when reading. His decision to engage in "spiritual warfare," in the end probably undermined the import of his testimony.

With that said, I also share deep empathy and sympathy with his ministry. My relationship with Wilbur, through his writings, has multiple layers. Ultimately, my interest is in highlighting the many positives of the testimony and experience Wilbur strove to witness to in his ministry. The testimony to the redirection and daily renewal of the mind through immediate revelation in the Spirit is a powerful testimony and those who share in that experience need to speak it as did Wilbur.

I do not share your characterization of Wilbur's words as legalistic understanding of Quaker insights although I acknowledge that it is your understanding of him. Wilbur's witness speaks to and nurtures freedom in immediate revelation through a direct and sustained personal experience of the Spirit so that the very way through with the individual cognizes is redirected through the inner Guide rather than external doctrine, profession, or institutions.

In the Spirit of Christ human beings experience and know eternal life; individuals live in eternity through direct personal experience. Individuals can become aware in the presence of Christ, anchoring consciousness to the Presence, no longer bound to the bodily nature. This is the beauty of  Wilbur's testimony of immediate revelation.

To affirm this experience is witnessing to it through personal experience. Wilbur's fault was in judging those who did not know this experience or who did not know it fully. I affirm the "immediate influence of the Spirit" and testify to it. I have no interest in judging those who do not share this experience and who reject it outright.

I agree it is right to marvel at the manifestations of God. However, it is also edifying to speak specific manifestations and leave it to the inner Guide concerning how that testimony is received by those hearing it. The problem is not in the speaking ... it is in getting out ahead of the Guide through imposition and judgementalism.

John Wilbur's Journal is a powerful testimony to the self-conscious ego anchored in the Presence rather than the bodily nature. It is my leading to affirm it ... to speak it ... in the Spirit. It is for me to affirm ...

This is not about finding "one perfect manifestation" this is about sharing the inner Guide.

While, I do not share comments completely, I am grateful you took the time to share them.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 28, 2013 at 1:38pm

Look, we're all there; it's like being a child of The Fall. You don't go back to the Garden, but onward to what that Fall is meant to develop into.

I don't know a single Friend who doesn't start thinking as his first reaction to a question. We can't go back immediately to immediate experience of revelation; we have to reason our way to the realization that this is indeed possible --

and that as Deepak Chopra [whom I can't unreservedly endorse!] put it: ~ 'The mind of Christ was revelation.' That is, when asked a question he would simply give the response shown him by God. We are supposed to reach that point ourselves, but our mind is not supposed to fall out & go splat at that point, but to go from the best seat at the table back to someplace lesser; we need our minds to appreciate what we've being Shown -- as many time, even as we are, we truly are being shown Truth directly by God. (Thinking is just a good way to work up an appetite for whatever understanding will be granted when we're ready to receive.)

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 28, 2013 at 6:35pm

John Wilbur wrote: "...the testimony of Jesus, which is revelation..."  The wording in Revelation 19:10 is "...the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."  Does anyone care to speculate on why Wilbur substituted "revelation" for the "spirit of prophecy"?  Is this an insignificant change in wording, or does it indicate something more about Wilbur's point of view?

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 28, 2013 at 10:11pm

Hello William. Your questions are compelling. However, they come across as leading. It would be helpful if you would be declarative instead of interrogatory so I can better understand the direction of your leading. Are you willing to answer your questions yourself? I apologize if I have misread the intent of the questions.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 28, 2013 at 11:48pm

More to the point, what is the truth of this? Did Jesus 'habitually' speak from immediate revelation rather than from what contemporary people call 'thought'? And is this the practice we are meant to learn from his example?

I believe early Friends, still framing their thoughts largely in the terms of 17th Century theologies, were mistaken in their absolute opposition to the commonsense personal mind, which after all was created by God and should have some due place in the form God intends us to grow into.

But they'd seen certain things directly, been convinced that people must not let their small-self personal minds rule their lives; and we can't help recognizing the truth at work in that conviction. Wilbur saw that Gurney was missing it, opposing it, unwilling to put his trust in that truth -- and thereby undermining the very revelations that had produced the Society of Friends in the first place. But it isn't an easy truth for us to recognize or to put our faith in, is it?

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 29, 2013 at 6:58am

Dear Forest. Thank you for this contribution. Your words have edified and given shape to a particular testimony, the intention of which is to give expansiveness to immediate revelation through holdfast affirmation. I pray guidance in this task toward edification.

The words in the second paragraph of your response made me mindful of the words Gurney wrote at the beginning of his “Comments on certain texts of Holy Scripture which are frequently misunderstood by Friends:”

“When we assert that nothing short of the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit can give us sufficient or saving knowledge of the truths set forth in Scripture, we, of course, do not mean in insinuate that, in our researches into the storehouse of Divine knowledge, the use of our natural faculties is to be superseded.”

These words are a line in the sand distinguishing Wilbur from Gurney. The testimony of those (including Wilbur) who know the presence of Christ through immediate revelation is that, in fact and literally, the natural faculties are superseded.

Immediate revelation is a way of being. It is  new consciousness. It is the transformation of the natural faculties. The natural faculties are a result of bending the mind away from the moment by moment and daily, renewal and quickening of the inner Presence. Natural faculties are the result of turning from God. Being bound to the natural faculties is being or consciousness anchored in the outward body. If the natural faculties of the body ... hearing, taste, smell, touch, sight and thoughts and feeling mirrored through brain function ... are taken away, being or consciousness goes dark. Consciousness or being anchored in the eternal presence of inner Christ supersedes the natural faculties. Literally, the self-conscious is born again, no longer anchored in the natural faculties, but anchored in the eternal Presence. The life of Jesus manifest in our mortal flesh.

Your judgment that the early and later (like John Wilbur and Job Scott) Quaker “opposition to the commonsense personal mind” is “mistaken” spoke to me deeply (for which I am grateful) because it strengthened, nurtured, and affirmed Christ’s testimony and working within me, of the correctness of their opposition. To holdfast to the immediate revelation in Christ’s presence is the renewal of the “commonsense personal mind.” It is affirmation of the new birth, of the self-conscious ego no longer anchored in the commonsense personal mind or natural faculties, in all aspects of life; the manifestation of the life of Jesus in individual mortal flesh.

The intent of the original post is the affirmation that the “illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit” supercedes our natural faculties toward the transformation of them by the manifestation of the life of Jesus in the mortal flesh.

When re-upholstering furniture or chopping wood, or reading Scripture, I am anchored in the eternal Presence moment by moment.  And immediately renewed, refreshed, and quickened by the Divine Spirit; the natural faculties superseded.

In 1837 John Barclay wrote to John Wilbur:

“Many there are, who have retired from all other persuasions and systems, and walk much alone in religion, and these often say, Friends are not what they once were; that they unite with G. Fox, Barclay, &c., but not with modern Friends. Many hidden, precious, seeking characters there are, scattered up and down ; so that I have been ready to think the messengers will have to go more into the highways and hedges, and ask who is worthy, and gather them to their Teacher, and to sit down under his teaching, and follow their inward convictions, without reference to any gathered people, till they come to see there is a remnant—a poor and afflicted remnant, already gathered; and then they may be in time prepared to flock as doves to the windows.”

Source: Wilbur, John, 1774-1856. Journal of the life of John Wilbur : a minister of the gospel in the Society of Friends. Providence : G. H. Whitney.

There is another Way. A Way not mediated by the abstracted natural faculties of the bodily nature. A Way wherein the inner Guide, through immediate revelation, is the one and only Mediator.

May the inner Presence transform these feeble words toward edification and affirmation.

My sense is that you and I are, in generally, cordially minded, even though we may differ in some specifics or at least in how those specifics are articulated. So often, Wilbur and Gurney stepped all over each other, even on those occasions when they are really not the far apart.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 29, 2013 at 1:30pm

Gurney essentially said, at one point, that of course we have inward divine revelation -- but that this is too dangerous for people to depend on because we're such fallible beings. (Of course it's really too dangerous for people not to depend on direct inspiration, because we are such fallible beings. A seemingly more-objective guide such as scripture is subject to our fallible faculties for interpretation -- unless we simply get the meaning through direct revelation, which shows us once more needing to acknowledge our dependence on inspiration.)

So Gurney's nod toward immediate revelation  was so much undermined by his distrust that he was effectively denying its availability.

I think that as you say we're differing mainly in "how those specifics are articulated"; but that can add up to a divergence in practice. For example, I see you still exercising your natural intellectual faculties even though you've found and recognized a more dependable source of Truth -- This, as I see it, doesn't mean that you should have abandoned their use, merely that our dependable Truth comes to us filtered through such facilities.

Erich Schiffman~'Of course you'll experience Divine Guidance as your own thoughts -- whatever other mind do you have to receive them with?' The point is, our mind is more like an internet connection than like machinery doing computations on its own. The eye processes the data it takes in -- but its light comes in from elsewhere. Food nourishes us, even though this isn't what makes us alive. Our created minds were created; but they only work properly in relation to their Creator.

God could have constructed a humanity of remotely-controlled robots -- but did not. Could have designed us to function as isolated beings; but truly we function very poorly in that mode. What God did make was a complex ongoing relation that needs to be worked out with much practice -- like dancing with a more competent partner (as my wife Anne once put it in a Friends Journal piece.)

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 29, 2013 at 7:25pm

Hello, Keith!

You wrote: "Hello William. Your questions are compelling. However, they come across as leading. It would be helpful if you would be declarative instead of interrogatory so I can better understand the direction of your leading. Are you willing to answer your questions yourself? I apologize if I have misread the intent of the questions."

Of course, I have an opinion about this change in wording but, if I state it, I will be influencing possible observations by others.  I am not trying to "set anyone up" for a "counter answer" from me; I am not that type of person.

My question is genuine, and not some kind of debating ploy.  If no one cares to venture an answer, I guess I'll have to be satisfied with that!

Comment by Bill Samuel on 11th mo. 29, 2013 at 7:54pm

"When re-upholstering furniture or chopping wood, or reading Scripture, I am anchored in the eternal Presence moment by moment.  And immediately renewed, refreshed, and quickened by the Divine Spirit; the natural faculties superseded."

I find this mind boggling. Yes, we need to be anchored in the eternal Presence moment by moment. But to suggest the superseding of the natural faculties when re-upholstering furniture or chopping wood seems, frankly, rather ludicrous to me. I don't know that even Wilbur took such an extreme position. And as they are needed in this physical tasks, they may be useful in reading the Bible as well.

God gave us the natural faculties for a good reason. This negative view of them winds up, IMHO, being a negative view of God.

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