Phebe Willis, 5th month 19th 1818, Jericho
My Dear Friend,
Thy acceptable epistle I have perused, and believing it to be the product of real friendship, it was gratefully received. And the language it utters would not many years since, have been my own. But having, for a considerable time past, found from full conviction that there is scarcely anything so baneful to the present and future happiness and welfare of mankind as a submission to tradition and popular opinion, I have, therefore, been led to see the necessity of investigating for myself all customs and doctrines - whether of a moral or of a religious nature, either verbally or historically communicated, by the best and greatest of men or angels - and not to sit down satisfied with anything but the plain, clear, demonstrative testimony of the Spirit and Word of Life and Light in my own heart and conscience - and which has led me to see how very far all the professors of Christianity are from the real spirit and substance of the Gospel.
And among other subjects, I have been led - I trust carefully and candidly - to investigate the effects produced by the book called the Scriptures, since it has borne that appellation. And it appears from a comparative view to have been the cause of fourfold more harm than good to Christendom since the apostles' days - and which I think must be indubitably plain to every faithful, honest mind that has investigated herd history, free from the undue bias of education and tradition.
Mark the beginning of the apostasy, when the professors of Christianity began to quarrel with and separate from each other. It all sprang from their different views and different interpretations of passages, of Scripture. And to such a pitch did their quarrels arise, as that recurrence to the sword was soon deemed necessary to settle the disputes_. And the strongest party in that line, finding that as long as the people were at liberty, and had the privilege of searching the Scriptures, and putting their own interpretations upon them, and making them their rule - diversity of opinion and differences would increase. This led the strongest party to that disagreeable and unchristian alternative of wresting them out of their hands and forbidding their being read by the people at large. And this state of things continued for many years, until the beginning of reformation by Martin Luther.
It will be now necessary to consider whether the Scriptures were in anywise accessory to this infant beginning of reformation - I think it is clear they were not. But as Luther and his adherents gained strength, they began to shake off the yoke of Papal oppression. And among other things, the restriction on the Scriptures was taken off and every citizen that joined Luther's party had the privilege of reading the Scriptures at his pleasure. And what was the result? A diversity of sentiment respecting what they taught, which soon set the reformers one against another, and which soon produced such divisions and animosities among the reformers that recourse was again had to the sword to settle disputes.
In this condition, things continued until George Fox was raised up to bear testimony to the Light and Spirit of Truth in the hearts and consciences of men and women as the only sure rule of faith and practice - both in relation to religious and moral things - and which was complete and sufficient without the aid of books or men, as his doctrine and example clearly evinces, as his reformation was begun and carried on without the necessary aid of either. But as the professors of Christianity, then held the Scriptures (or their interpretations of them) as their chief idol - and such was their veneration for them that, for anyone to hold up anything else as a rule, he was immediately pronounced as a heretic or Schismatic and not fit to company or associate with in any way.
This led George and his Friends to show that their doctrines were in nowise derogatory to those written by those who were inspired by the same Spirit in former days. And all [this] goes to prove that every step of reformation from the fall, in every age of the world, has been begun and best carried on when the reformers kept close to the leading and inspiration of the Spirit of Truth, and suffered nothing - whether books or men – to turn them aside from their ever-present and ever-blessed, Sure Guide – seeing they have the Anointing to be their teacher and the Spiritual Lamb to be their Light.
And I conceive every man and woman, who has a right understanding and correct ideas of the Divine Character, must have the same views. For otherwise, they must contradict their own professions, as every one who believes in the existence of God attributes to him justice, mercy, and love and that he is unchangeable in his nature, and incapable of partiality. Hence he must - and no doubt has - given to every man and woman complete and sufficient rule of faith and practice without the aid of books or men. And [God] hath so ordered, in the course of events, that the more strictly and faithfully every man and woman lives up to the guidance and teaching of this Inward Anointing - and never turns aside to the right hand or left for the precepts and traditions of men - the more instruction and help they afford one another. And to suppose a written rule to be necessary or much useful is to impeach the divine character, and charge the infinite Jehovah with partiality and injustice, as the greater part of his rational creation has never been furnished with those means. And had they been needful, he certainly would - in order to deal with an even hand of justice - [have] furnished all his rational creatures with them, as it was equally in his power so to have done from the beginning.
But as man's fall principally consists in his turning from his Inward Spiritual Guide to the direction of his outward senses and animal passions and affections - so that he lost almost all right knowledge of this Inward Guide - the Lord in mercy dispensed to him divers12 outward manifestations as a means to lead his attention back to his Spiritual Guide. And these means have always been suited to the states of those to whom they were dispensed and therefore very different often to different nations and people. To the family of Abraham, he dispensed a very peculiar system of rituals and outward shadows to which he required obedience in order to bring them back to a submission to his will as manifested by his Spirit in their hearts. But he dispensed them to no other people but to Israel and those that came of their own accord and joined them. And as soon as the effect was produced, by bringing them back to their Inward Guide, all those outward means became obsolete and useless.
So likewise, he made use of the ministry of Jesus Christ and his apostles for the same end - to turn [people] from darkness to the Inward Light.13 And when that was effected, their ministry had done all it could do, and to such (as they continued to walk in the Light) their doctrine became obsolete and useless. And so in every age where any real reformation has been produced, it has always been by instruments newly raised up by the immediate operation of the Spirit. And where any people have depended upon what has been written to former generations, such rake no advancement, but just sit down in the labors of their forefathers, and soon become dry and formal, and fall behind those they are copying after - or propose to follow.
This is very manifestly the case with our Society, although so highly favored with almost every possible means to gather them from all outwards to their true inward teacher, who teaches as never man taught -nothing but the Truth. And this is the cause why many turn from him to the teachings of men or books, because they can mostly turn their teachings to suit their own ends. Hence, plain truth is disagreeable to them, but teachings that they can interpret to suit their own inclinations - as most men do with the Scriptures - these they cry up and speak highly of. And such as these cause all the animosities and divisions in Christendom. And from hence, most of their quarrels and wars have arisen. And there is great cause to fear that if those in our Society who are united with those among others in very improperly setting up the Scriptures above their true value are adhered to, they will finally divide and scatter us, as they have all other professors of Christianity - for considerable disputes have already arisen concerning passages of the first importance.
I will mention one wherein the very leaders are divided. And surely, if it is so wrapped up in mystery that we cannot understand it alike, -how much better should we be without it? It is Peter's testimony concerning the "more sure word of prophecy,” which many of those considered as the most wise and learned amongst us tell us is the Scriptures. And should I be by them convinced that Peter really meant the Scriptures, it would to me render all his writings as unworthy much attention.
And I have no kind of doubt, that if Friends generally of the foremost ranks should honestly and plainly speak their sentiments on the Scriptures in general, so great would be their diversity of prospects that little help or edification (in a Society capacity) could be derived from them. And it is altogether reasonable it should be so in the dispensings of a wise Providence. Seeing as we have the Scriptures at our command, that if there was sufficiency in them to point the way to heaven, we might then (by our own strength and labor) arrive at that happy place and outstrip the sons of Noah. But the all-wise Jehovah, who hath declared that he will not give his glory to another nor his praise to graven images, hath also decreed that should all the varied professors of Christianity associate and bind themselves together by the strongest ties that he within the reach of human contrivance to circulate the Scriptures in their own will and wisdom or pursue any other means or method to promote the spiritual interest of immortal souls, it will all prove abortive. And confusion of language - if not in a natural, yet in a spiritual sense - will be their portion. For in my view, there has no event transpired since the building of the Babel Tower on Shinar's plain that is so fully representative thereof as the multiplied Bible Societies of the present day.
But my views respecting the Scriptures are not altered, although thus abused by others. And [I] trust I shall - as I heretofore have done, as my mind is opened to it - call upon them as evidence to the truth of inspiration, and to show that the upright and faithful in former ages were led and instructed by the same Spirit as those in the present day, and that the Lord is graciously willing to reveal himself as fully to the children of men in this day as in any day of the world, without respect of persons, as each is attentive to his inward and spiritual manifestations.
And how much more reasonable is it to suppose, that an inspired teacher in the present day should be led to speak more truly and plainly to the states of the people to whom he is led communicate than any doctrines that were delivered seventeen-hundred years ago to a people very differently circumstanced? To those in this day I leave every rational mind to judge.
And that the doctrines of George Fox and our primitive Friends should be easier to understand - and plainer, being written in our own language - than the doctrines of the primitive Christians appears very reasonable. But we are all, or have been, so bound down by tradition -being taught from the cradle to venerate the Scriptures, and people generally considering them so sacred as not to be investigated, but [we are] bound to receive them as we have been taught. Hence, we have all been more or less dupes to tradition and error. I well remember how oft my conscience has smote me when I have been endeavoring to support the Society’s belief of the Scriptures (that they so very far excelled all other writings) that the fear of man had too great a share in leading me to adopt the sentiment. And custom rendered it more easy, but I never was clear in my own mind as to that point. And had I carefully attended to my own feelings, I should have persevered (I believe) in a line of more consistency in that respect.
And I may now acknowledge to thee that I never expressed my own genuine feelings and prospects so clearly - and so much to the peace of •.my own mind - as in our last quarterly meeting. And indeed, such was the view I had, and the clearness of the opening, that I apprehended there could not have been a rational mind present, acquainted with the subjects of my communication, but would have assented thereto.
Much more might be said in proof of the foregoing, but my time and leisure will not reasonably admit me to proceed further. And what I have written has been done in scraps of time that I have, as it were, stolen from my other many avocations - without any time to copy it or give it much examination. Therefore, I hope thou wilt excuse the improprieties that may have escaped my notice, believing that thou wilt be able to apprehend the main drift20 of the arguments, and be willing to put the best construction on such parts as may to thee appear erroneous.
Thy assured friend,
Christ is the Word of God, not the Scriptures
... enjoyments and setting their affections on heavenly treasure and by the instruction of his Light would become sensible of their lost and undone conditions.
And this state of darkness and ignorance, it is to [be] feared, is greatly strengthened by an unwarrantable reverence paid to the Scriptures and letting in an erroneous belief that they are sufficient, not only to open the way, but are the rule of faith and practice in things appertaining to the kingdom of God and that they are the "Word of God," which for any to assert is to oppose and reject the whole sense and tenor of Scripture. For first, as to their being the Word of God, they testify as close as words can express that they are not that Word.
John 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God ... All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the Light of men. And the Light shined in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
"There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world...
"He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
With which Paul concurs, saying, "The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight, but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
I have enlarged this quotation, that it might be clearly manifested at one view that the Scriptures are not the Word of God, but that Christ is the Word of God. And that he (and not the Scripture) is also the Light of men, and that this Light shineth into the dark hearts of the children of men s and that the darkness (that is man in his natural state) cannot comprehend it. Howbeit, those that receive him (the Light), to them he gives power to become the sons of God.
Hence, it is clearly proved, first, that Christ (and not the Scriptures) is the Word of God. Second, that he is the Light of men, and as Paul testifies that whatever maketh manifest is Light8 and as Christ only is the true Light that lighteth every man coming into the world, therefore, whatever maketh manifest to man his way must be this Light, whereby it appears that Christ the Light (and not the Scriptures) is the only rule of faith and practice. This we likewise hear from his own lips,
"I am the Light of the world."
"I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
"He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber ... I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved."
For as the outward sun is the only light of this visible world, by whose light the moon and stars afford the glimmering prospect in proportion as they receive from that glorious ...