Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Hastings, in Sussex, 8th mo. 1837
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: Journal of the Life of John Wilbur
In the summer of 1837 John Barclay wrote John Wilbur a long letter detailing his labors with those who no longer shared the faith of the early Quakers; anchoring their faith in outward religious forms and practices. In that letter he wrote the above words.
For well over one-hundred years there has been those who do not unite with "modern friends" but who profess unity with the early Quakers in the experience of the Presence of Christ as sufficient and the source of salvation from the loss of consciousness upon the death of the body.
The early Quaker witness to a consciousness anchored in and a conscience informed by Presence is the distinguishing characteristic of the early Quaker faith and what made them unique as a gathering. A people gathered in a shared direct experience of the inward light as sufficient to govern, instruct, and guide. The gathering was the result of the experience. The mystery of consciousness anchored in and conscience informed by the personal experience of the inward Christ and new Self or identity gathered people together and also broke people apart. Those who know this mystery of a faith anchored and informed by the immediacy of Presence, did not and do not gather around outward religious and social forms like church buildings, scripture, thoughts about God, moral, ethical, and intellectual constructs, various spiritual practices and rituals, or statements of faith. Presence was and is all these things and is sufficient to sustain the individual, and by extension, a gathering of individuals. Quaker history has been a movement away from this inward mystery and an embracement of outward form to mitigate against this turning from the inward Witness. Barclay, in his letter, speaks of individuals who "walk much alone in religion" following their "inward convictions without reference to a gathered people." These ungathered folk rejected the Quakerism of their day as outside of the early Quaker witness ... finding them enchanted by outward form rather than sustained in the LIfe.
It is cordial to my mind reading of those, among the Quaker gathering, who are re-turning to the mystery of a pure consciousness and conscience, and smashing the idols of outward form built by those Quakers who lack faith in the mystery ... anchoring themselves in outward ways and practices.
I've visited Quaker gatherings in various places around the country during my fifty plus years. I am that guy who walks in, sits down, and does not say a word. I might visit your gathering for two or three weeks, depending on my work schedule, then I leave. In Meeting I am a guest and merely Watch.
Barclay described me perfectly as one in Presence without reference to a gathered people. Barclay held hope that one day maybe those Present will gather again in a prefect day. This perfect day happens every day, however, not in outward religious contexts with religious forms. There is no outward context and no outward "things" to hold onto and unite. No outward leaders or guides. No ministers or teachers leading the way. Only shared Presence ... inward essence ... the inward leader and teacher. Quakerism fades. Christianity fades. Religion fades. The spirit that was in Jesus, the true God ... Being (the verb not the noun) ... will fill consciousness and conscience; manifesting new Self ... Being. This Perfect Day happens is every moment among those without reference to a gathered people. In Presence, the ungathered ... gather. Presence is the window sill upon which the doves flock. Presence is the sill itself turned outside in.