Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
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.
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