Saturday, 5 December 2015

James Nayler's Tract - 'Milk for Babes and Meat for Strong Men'

The first part of this post was published in The Friend on 6th November 2015
 
a. introduction

Previously, we considered James Nayler’s tract The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin, which was written in prison following his brutal punishment for blasphemy (The Friend, 9th October). Milk for Babes and Meat for Strong Men was also written at this time and published posthumously in 1661. The title is a reference to the New Testament book Hebrews:


…for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But meat is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)
 
The writer of Hebrews is warning his readers about the dangers of falling away from the true faith in the face of severe persecution. This is Nayler’s intention too. The tract reveals the importance of suffering within early Quaker spirituality and demonstrates that, in the way of Jesus, evil is always overcome non-violently. Below is a simple summary of Nayler’s message:
 
Suffering leads to spiritual maturity and brings us closer to God – Nayler suggests that the experience of suffering plays a significant role in our spiritual development. He argues that, when we bear all things with patience and fortitude, we come to know God’s love and understand God’s ways. Faithfulness in times of trial leads to a true understanding of evil, the purpose of Jesus’ death and the power of God to overcome our darkness. Like many of the great spiritual teachers of the Christian tradition, Nayler associates suffering with purification and cleansing. He suggests that there are two powers working within people: the sinful nature is like a strong man and the heavenly nature is like a newborn baby. We have to subdue the strong man before the baby can be born (Mark 3:26-27). Therefore, in order to bear all things in meekness and patience, we have to experience Christ’s suffering and death within us. The old self must die so that a new life can be born. When Christ is born within us, our darkness and evil are overcome, just as Jesus overcame darkness and evil in his own physical life. In the new birth, the way of Jesus becomes increasingly visible in the way we live our lives.
 
God’s people suffer at the hands of the world – Nayler warns his readers not to be surprised when they encounter suffering and persecution; God’s people have always suffered at the hands of the world. Jesus was condemned, rejected and denied, so his followers should expect to be treated in the same way too. The closer we are to God and the more we follow the way of Jesus, the more we will suffer. However, this should not be regarded negatively. Such trials are precious because, through them, we come to know God and overcome evil. We may have to endure shame and ridicule, but this will lead to glory, honour and eternal life. This is illustrated by the Exodus story: the Children of Israel suffered great hardship during their escape from Egypt, but they received liberation from slavery and became God’s chosen people.
 
The way of suffering love – Christ, by his own example, shows us that the world’s evil and darkness can only be overcome by bearing all things in meekness and patience. Evil can never be overcome by evil means, only by suffering love. We must share in Christ’s willingness to bear all these things. Meekness and love overcome anger and conflict. Patient suffering overcomes the temptations of comfort and an easy life. It is in Christ that we come to know the spirit that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty. When this Spirit works within us, it also changes our lives in the world. The way to the kingdom of God is the way of suffering love.

The dangers of ‘fleeing the cross’ and seeking comfort – Nayler warns his readers to resist the temptation to ‘flee the cross’ by opting for comfort over the way of suffering love. This is dangerous because it draws us away from God. He points out that Christ paid a very high price to purchase our freedom from darkness (the idea that, in his death and resurrection, Christ achieved victory over the devil and freed us from bondage to evil and darkness). We should not throw this invaluable gift away by returning to the ways of the world. Seeking pleasure and comfort may seem attractive but it leads nowhere. We must all stand firm and fight against all the temptations that draw us away from God. 
 
The importance of faithfulness and patient endurance – Nayler exhorts us to trust Christ even when the darkness that surrounds us seems overwhelming. He is the one who can guide us through the storm. We must remain attentive to our inward teacher throughout the darkest times and keep our wandering minds under control. Patient faithfulness creates the space in which Christ can work within us, taking away our darkness and evil. If we accept suffering with patience and meekness we will become aware of the joy and beauty of God. The value of careful and patient discernment cannot be overestimated. We should turn inwards, focus on Christ and maintain our attention.
 
The importance of a strong and cohesive community – Nayler is writing to a community that is experiencing increasing persecution. He explains that, in order to survive this, we need both the guidance and empowerment of the Spirit of Christ and a strong and cohesive community. Very few people can endure such suffering on their own. Nayler counsels his readers to maintain their unity and to avoid speaking or thinking evil of one another. He also emphasises the importance of meeting together regularly to nurture the work of the Spirit among them. This will enable them to overcome evil and endure anything that the world might do to them.
 
The promise – “God will always be with you!” – Nayler reassures his readers that God will be with them in their suffering and will provide the power they need to overcome evil. He points out that Christ was accompanied by the Father through all his trials on earth and that those who accept Christ receive his power and protection. Despite all he has been through; the flogging, the boring, the branding, imprisonment, the ridicule and rejection by his own people, Nayler proclaims that God has kept his promise of being with him at all times. In response, he writes a moving psalm of praise to God for never abandoning him. This psalm is included in Quaker Faith and Practice (20.21).
 
Nayler’s message is extremely challenging and one that might well make us feel uncomfortable. He tells us that to be a true follower of Jesus will always bring persecution, that suffering is essential for spiritual growth, and that evil can only be defeated through a willingness to bear persecution and suffering without retaliation. Given his own experiences, Nayler is able to address such demanding matters with conviction and authenticity. How often do we ignore the promptings of love and truth in our hearts because we are fearful of the consequences? How often do we evade the leadings of God because we want to maintain our reputation and our comfortable lives? What does it really mean to attend to what love requires of us?
 
If you would like to read the original tract, it is available online at the Quaker Heritage Press website - http://www.qhpress.org/texts/nayler/milkmeat.html


Milk for Babes and Meat for Strong Men

James Nayler (1658)


A Paraphrase in Modern English


The Preface to the Reader


This is a message of love and life delivered by a follower of Christ who has been baptised into his death by the Spirit and by fire (Matt 3:11) and who, through suffering, has been become like him. Christ is the source of our salvation and he clothes us in his virtue and grace and brings us to righteousness. Christ had the mind of God and he understood God’s intentions. Through all his trials on earth, Christ was accompanied by God and his death was not just to for sins but to silence all human will so that God’s will might rule in everyone. Whoever controls you is like the potter who has control of the clay and depending on who the potter is, the vessel he makes with be either good or bad. God is all powerful but humans are merely dust. Therefore no human should glory in his/her own strength or wisdom because this strength and wisdom is temporary and perishable like the grass and the flowers of the field. Instead, people must be guided by the Spirit and not by earthly powers. Christ was set up as a sign to demonstrate the eternal power of God compared to the ephemeral power of humans, for although those with power on earth did devour him like wolves, God in his love and mercy saved him and raised him. Now everyone who has the faith of Jesus will also experience this salvation and resurrection and for this we praise God.
 
Christ completed the work the Father gave him to do and is now the judge of all. The outward temple has been destroyed but Christ lives and will never die. His spirit will rise up within many people and God’s blessing will come by the seed that has been planted in human hearts for this brings reconciliation and peace. He will destroy his enemies, those who have hardened their hearts and will not receive him (like Pharaoh) and those that stand in his way (like Amalek). However, those who accept him receive his power and protection and witness his work. His rule will extend over the whole earth and no enemies shall overcome him.
 
Milk for Babes and Meat for Strong Men
 
My soul is in unity with all those who have been transformed by God’s love and now prefer righteousness to the ways of the world. If you remain focused on the Spirit that brings this righteousness you will receive more of the riches of God. However, beware of the temptations, desires and thoughts of the world because these act as a barrier between you and God. You can resist all this by fixing your sights on the Spirit of Christ which will keep you in a state of calm amidst the turmoil around you. You must experience his sufferings and death within you in order to share in his willingness to bear all things in meekness and patience. You must faithfully follow him even though you will experience reproached and be put on trial because it is through this process that you will learn his ways of love, obedience, meekness and longsuffering. This will enable you to share in his resurrection and obtain eternal life.
 
If you seek this resurrection and life you should not be surprised when the world condemns, rejects and denies you. You will face great temptations and suffering which must be borne with fortitude and patience because this way will bring you to the love of God. Do not think that you are equal with God and do not pull away from this path because if you do, all your efforts will have been wasted. “Keep your eye to your beloved beauty” and with faith maintain your patience and meekness throughout your trials. All this serves to remove the barriers between you and God. Let Christ within you keep you strong and refreshed, let him destroy all that is contrary to God in you and let him protect you. Christ will lead you to your goal. Without him you can do nothing because only he has the power to overcome evil. Through all the turmoil and suffering Christ will be there with you helping you on your way with his power and peace.
 
When times are hard and the darkness is so overwhelming that you feel you’ve lost sight of Christ, continue to love and trust him and he will be present pulling you through the storm and guiding you. When Christ is all that you see and hear and you bear temptations and suffering with meekness and patience, this is true faithfulness.
 
If you look to earthly things for your redemption you will inherit the fallen state of Adam and Eve. However, if you are obedient to Christ and accept all sufferings in meekness and patience, you will inherit Christ’s glory and shall become your life.
 
If you remain faithful during these trials, Christ will uncover the roots of evil and as he works within you, you will learn his way. Do not trust the urge to avoid suffering and find comfort by outward means because this will draw you away from God and the guidance of Christ. However, if you show obedience and accept suffering with patience and meekness you will become aware of the joy and beauty of God. Then you will feel and see Christ as your redeemer in your midst. He has achieved your liberation by his sacrifice which was endured in faith and patience. He will bring you out of the darkness and liberate you from the things that have held you in bondage by destroying all that is contrary to God. Nothing else can achieve this.
 
Once you have followed Christ’s way and learned this righteousness you may be able to direct others to this path. Christ’s power and life will be revealed in you.
 
The more attention you pay to the Spirit within you, the more you will receive the righteousness of Christ. Your on-going communion with him enables Christ to replace your earthly self with his immortal heavenly self. Then all your thoughts, words and actions will arise from Christ rather than from your earthly self which disappears from view. Sin and death are overcome and you will find yourself dwelling in the heavenly city (the New Jerusalem) which is filled with the Holy Spirit. You will find perfection through the Christ the Lamb who is the source of light and salvation. He bought your liberation through his suffering and it is by this faith that you are redeemed. Those who obtain this faith find that it is built on a solid and everlasting foundation (Christ).
 
Sink down within you and feel Christ taking you over (the election). Do not concern yourself with the pride and vain ways of the world because these cannot bring you through the trial. Accept your sufferings and be obedient to Christ and he will be with you in all things. Whatever you have to go through on earth and to whatever depths you are taken, Christ will raise you spiritually. You are weak but you will be raised up in power. You may experience shame and ridicule but you will receive glory, honour, eternal life and the power and strength to do the will of God in good conscience. In order to be joined to Christ, the old self must die. The first born is earthly and under the power of sin. Those who are born again in the Spirit live in righteousness and obedience.
 
The old self is not capable of following Christ’s commandments (e.g. love your neighbour as yourself) but must die in order to receive the Spirit that brings obedience and righteousness. By turning the mind to the second birth, the power needed for obedience is received which is a power above that of the outward law. When the old self dies and the new self is born, there is no need any longer for the outward law because this was created to guide those living in the first birth. Christ who was the source of the law is also the one who fulfills it. If you live by Christ’s guidance you inherit his righteousness. By faithfulness to the Light you come to know Christ who brings an end to the old way and raises the new way. You become aware that the old way was death and that the new way is life. The trials that come as a result of your new faith are precious because through them you will experience God and eternal life and gain the power needed to overcome the evils of the world. Those who profess Christ but either do not know him or do not listen to him are held captive by the evil of the world even though they may have been taught about Christ by others. Those who patiently and faithfully endure suffering will understand God’s ways and will live in the heavenly state with the Lamb. They will be liberated from sin and be free of the power of evil and death.
 
So friends, be faithful to the light and beware of doubt in case it draws you away from the Spirit of Christ and you fall beck into the old ways.
 
If through this process any aspect of your old fallen self remains it will be a constant threat to your new life in Christ. It will undo all you have achieved and take you back to the sinful state. You must remain faithful to Christ so that righteousness will rise in you and sinfulness will be destroyed for good.
 
As sin grows in people it appears to offer pleasure but eventually brings suffering and destruction. However, the seed of Christ grows in you through suffering, sorrow and struggle but it leads to God and therefore to heaven. If you suffer for Christ’s sake you will receive his power, his nature, his meekness and his patience even in the face of the most sever trials or tribulations. This is what your soul truly seeks and needs so you must fight against anything that attempts to draw you away from Christ. This means fighting against the ways of the world such as outward forms which do not have God’s no power because they are under the power of sin. It is only the light of Christ that can reveal this sinfulness to you and show you that only the destruction of sin will satisfy your souls. Only the life and power of Christ can give you peace by destroying sin at the root. The pleasures of the world are of no use since only the Spirit, which is strengthened by hardship, can bring you to perfect peace.
 
Scripture tells us that Christ brings us this inheritance but this does not come without struggle and the experience of death. When you come to Christ you realize that there is two powers working within you and there is a great deal of work to be done before you come to rest. You have to control (bind) the strong man before the baby can be born in you and the strong man is heavily armed in order to protect himself. If you are unable to achieve this, all else will be in vain. In their earthly state, people are slaves to earthly powers and are therefore unable to achieve immortality. The sinful state (the strong man) must die so that Christ (the Son of Righteousness) can be born in you and bring you into his life.
 
Be faithful to the light of Christ which condemns the ways of the first birth and you will come into his lowly way of the cross. Like him you will be led through much suffering and many troubles by the Spirit and in these conditions there is nothing for sin to feed on since sin feeds on comfort and pleasure.
 
With diligence control your wandering mind and faithfully paying attention to the Spirit so that you come to know a dwelling place within which your pure mind can live and take rest. This is a refuge from the turbulence of the world. By resisting everything that draws you away from the Spirit and finding meekness and lowliness, the way of God will grow in you. In this state you will meet Christ in his kingdom on earth (the human body) which is a place he delights to be in. Listen to him and feel his fellowship and he will show you all the things that might divide you from him and take you away from eternal life and he will give you the power needed to resist this. With his power you will wage spiritual war until everything that separates you from God is destroyed and heaven becomes your dwelling-place. In this meek spirit you will feed on heavenly food and find protected from the spirit of the world that might draw your soul away from this state.
 
As you enter into this heavenly dwelling place be watchful and ensure that nothing distracts you from the seed of God growing within you for this temptation must resist with the power of God’s love.
 
Make sure that you do not return to the old ways because the innocent Christ suffered and died in order to deal with sin. Until sin has been defeated Christ will not reign within you. He must bring righteousness to you before you can enter into this holy dwelling place. When you remain in the ways of the first birth you frustrate this work that Christ has to do in you. This is why many people seek the heavenly dwelling place but are unable to find it. God cannot dwell in a temple given over to idols.
 
If you retain any aspect of your old life or let any new thing draw you away from the growing plant of righteousness and truth within you, this will prevent you from entering the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, you must find against these things and overcome them to enter into the kingdom. There are many powers that seek to prevent your entry and with the Lamb you must make war against these powers and overcome them. Once the strong man has control of you it is not easy to restrain and remove him. Christ’s power is greater than the strong man and with him you will achieve victory.
 
Use the power of the heavenly spirit to overcome the power of the earthly spirit. Strive for the faith and patience that is required to resist the temptations of the world. Meekness and love will overcome all anger and conflict. Patient suffering will overcome the temptations of an easy life. You will be strengthened by heavenly power to withstand your enemy’s assaults. Christ brings salvation, eternal life and glory. When you turn to the heavenly spirit which is contrary to your own will, you will be filled with a power from above that overcomes the powers from below.
 
Keep focused on the virtues of the Spirit of Christ until you experience it in fullness and use Christ’s power to resist whatever is contrary to him. As you stand with Christ against his enemies his power will cleanse you and give you life. If you faithfully and patiently depend upon the Spirit of Christ your way will become the way of love, obedience will seem delightful, suffering easy to bear and the loss of your former life will feel like a something gained. Following this way enables you to overcome the world and be free of its ways.
 
So as you are led to a life that is not of this world, come to the one who is free of earthly things, who was rejected by men and denied by his own people and forsaken by all, and you will see if you too can accept all these things in his name. You will know if he is rising within you if you can withstand contempt and reproach and bear all these things because it is his power that enables this. This power breaks down the houses of the world and builds the house of God in their place.
 
Beware of the temptation to turn away from God and focus instead on the world. This makes you an enemy of Christ. Recognise that this temptation must be resisted and that if you do so patiently and consistently it will grow weaker and your faithfulness will grow stronger.
 
Do not be surprised if the nearer you draw to God the more you suffer because this is how Christ leads people to perfection and teaches them the way of God. Through faithfulness in suffering you will become aware of the wickedness of the world, the purpose of Christ’s death and the power of God at work. This power lifted the saints in the Spirit and destroyed all that was contrary to God within them. The nearer you come to God, the closer you get to righteousness and truth and the end of all sin. This is the end of all suffering and the realization of joy purity, peace and glory. There is no other way to this than through suffering.
 
As you come closer to God, be careful that you don’t race ahead faster than the Spirit takes you. This temptation comes from your own fear and distrust and will distract you from your focus on God. If you keep yourself humble with patient and faithful obedience to the Spirit you will be raised out of this world and a new person will be built up. Christ is the foundation and the cornerstone of this holy city (the human body as a temple that the Spirit builds up). As you grow into the fullness of Christ’s Spirit you will find that he is the source of repentance, faith, doctrine, baptism, resurrection and eternal judgment.
 
As you receive Christ’s life and power you will come to understand the power that death has in the world but also the power that Christ has to overcome it. This is demonstrated in the life of the prophets and the apostles. You too will share in this inheritance and come into fellowship with them. The life of Christ will be revealed in you because this has been the intention of God throughout the ages. This is the end of all the suffering and struggles of the righteous as they find themselves back in harmony with God again. In order to achieve this, the righteous have been prepared to give up all earthly pleasures and desires. They know that the love of earthly things hinders the Spirit’s work within them by tempting them with earthly pleasures and delights that block the path to their heavenly inheritance. Many deliberately ignore their alienation from God and do not recognise that no one has ascended to heaven other than the one who came down from heaven. This is the Word of God which lives forever.
 
However, the minds of those in whom the Spirit moves are drawn away from the ways of the world and towards the heavenly life. When you die to the world you no longer crave earthly pleasures but instead hunger after righteousness and thirst for holiness. If you hunger with Christ and suffering with Christ and listen to his guidance you will be raised with him for he is the foundation of God and you are built on that foundation as a living stone. The resurrected Christ reveals the nature of all things, the intentions of God and offers a way back to God to all who follow him. If you open your minds fully to Christ and don’t allow anything distract you from that, nothing can stand between you and God.
 
Don’t let anything divide you from God. Instead make sure that your hearts are always open to him. If you do that you will come into a covenant relationship with him. Where guidance comes from God the earth becomes fruitful.
 
Keep your eye on Christ and away from the world. If you turn to the ways of the world you will be enslaved by its power. The heavenly life is only able to establish itself within you if you are free from the ways of the world. It is through Christ alone that God makes himself known and works these things within you. If you turn to his enemy then the work of God within you will end. Once in this state it is not easy to get out of it or even to recognise its nature. If you are tested in this way you must turn patiently and diligently to the light so that through the power of the cross the fallen life is ended. The enemy of God must not dwell within you because he dulls your senses and blocks your path to the heavenly inheritance. You must hold on to the grace that you have received from God and resist anything that might lead you astray. Be a faithful steward of the Spirit you have received and seek to increase it. Those who have not accepted the spirit are full of their own ideas and notions. Those who have received the Spirit are aware of Christ’s coming and go ahead of him to prepare his way. Their hearts are turned away from evil and they are fruitful on earth so that when Christ comes to overcome all of God’s enemies they will be with him.
 
Feeding the mind on outward knowledge, forms and practices stands in the way of the Spirit, blocks the path to the holy life and draws you away from God. You must struggle to hold on to the power and life of God because when you feed on this your strength and your virtue will grow. Those who have the form of knowledge and truth but not the spiritual substance of it do not truly worship God. They are focused on their own ideas and imaginations and are filled with unrighteousness. They do not receive the truth that comes with real faith.
 
Let your food be in the life of the spirit and rejoice in the power that comes with obedience. The spirit feeds your soul but crucifies your old earthly self. Focus on what leads you to your heavenly being. Obedience will bring you into conformity to Christ. This is a new life that takes you out of the old life. By the obedience of faith you may enter into the life of the holy kingdom. You will leave behind the old life in which you were separated from God and in a state of death and through Christ’s sacrifice enter into God’s presence.    
 
By paying attention to the Spirit of Christ you will come to know the way of God and Christ and become aware of the evil in the world. If you are faithful you will take an axe to everything that is not from God. If you do not do this thoroughly you will continue to be tempted by the ways of the world which will stand in the way of spiritual development.
 
The light will reveal those things that seek to draw you away from God. These things need to be rejected if the truth is to rise up within you. When this happens you will no longer want to live in darkness nor have fellowship with anything that is opposed to God.
 
This faith overcomes the world and this Spirit resists everything that separates people from God. The ways of the world corrupt that ways of Christ. The righteous live by a faithfulness that opposes the enemies of God.
 
Be sure to discern carefully what you should do. Any way that makes you vulnerable to temptation and unwilling to suffer and deny yourself is false and betrays the work of Christ within you. The true way is always characterised by struggle and hard labour. By accepting the easy life and enjoying the pleasures of the world, people loose communion with God. By following the Spirit in obedience you will become aware of sin and of what God requires of you. Election is coming into fellowship and unity with God.
 
Do not be tempted rush off with your own ideas and notions in haste but rather pay attention meekly and patiently to God’s guidance in faith and obedience. You must allow your rebellious self to be subdued if a new life and a new creation is to arise in you. It is not always easy to distinguish between the Spirit of evil and the spirit of God.  The deceiving spirit will try to encourage you into eagerness/haste and if this does not work into sloth and idle carelessness. Your best defense against this is to practice a diligent and patient dependence on the godly principle within you and follow its guidance faithfully and obediently. The idle and disobedient mind cannot hold this godly principle for it comes with diligence, patience and meekness.
 
If you are wise in the light you will find perfect redemption which liberates you from the earthly nature. This nature is greedy and wants to possess worldly things and is not content unless it has these things in its control. This also includes a wish to possess a place in heaven but heaven cannot be found in this way. It can only come through faith, patience and obedience and even then it will come in its own time. The righteous live by faith and are free of the ways of the world. It is in this way that the heavenly inheritance is received.
 
Before you can experience the freedom of righteousness you must be led through all things by the light and out of the powers of the world. Only then, as you are born again, can you know the liberty of the new creation which is above all created things.
 
The freedom you gain through the sufferings and patience of Christ working within you should not be given up due to the influence of earthly things. This was a costly purchase do not just let it go. Remember that the liberation of Israel from Egypt involved much hardship and suffering so God was aggrieved when they said that they wanted to return. When facing hardships there is always the temptation to turn back but you must stand firm in that which has brought you liberty and don’t look back. If you do, the old ways will overtake you again. You must keep your mind exclusively on the leadings of the Holy Spirit. You cannot know in advance where God is leading you. All you can do is remain in obedience because this purges you of the old ways which prevent God from dwelling in you.
 
Give all your attention to the motions and leadings of the Spirit both in terms of what it condemns and what it leads you to. God is in the process of making all things new and this means a new creation, new heavens, a new earth, a new heart and mind, a new law and a new humanity that lives happily with its creator. If you pay attention to the leadings of the Spirit you will come into communion with God and see how he is bringing you back into his heavenly delights that you had lost. Through the Spirit your old self must die so that you can become a new creature who is acceptable to God, with a new heart and mind and spirit.
 
You will not be able to understand these things if you minds are not fully changed from the old to the new. If you don’t keep your eye exclusively on God you will experience confusion. In particular you will be tempted to look back at your old life and move back into this way. If your eye is focused on God alone then you will be full of light and you will have the power to overcome the world. You will be regenerated. If you abide in the meek, patient and suffering spirit you will be raised out of the world and its turmoil.
 
This is a Psalm of James Nayler who is a servant of Christ. It is a song of praise that he sang on the day of his deliverance which declares the wonders that God performed during his time of testing and suffering. The Lord was always with him even in the most difficult times and brought him safely through these trials. God overcame his enemies, lifted him out of the earth and poured out his grace on him. He brought him back into the love of the people of God. This will help uphold the tender hearted people so that they might not despair in times of great suffering, temptation and trial but instead patiently seek the guidance of God.
 
I must praise you my God. Let me never forget what you have been to me in the night when I have felt your presence and in the times of trial when I faced great difficulties alone and experienced strong temptations. In all these things, your presence upheld me and in humbleness I felt close to you. You have guided me through the storms. When I found myself in a state of helplessness and struggling to survive, when I was at my lowest point and my enemy appeared to have an advantage over me, you were with me, supporting me. When I faced danger and was so full of fear that I continually cried out for your help, you always answered me and helped me overcome my fears. I believed in you and you strengthened me. You were on my side when I wrestled with death and when I was enclosed in total darkness and then your light shone upon me. I was not overcome by my enemy because I saw you and believed in you. When I look back on all this I am unable to praise you too much. My heart is full of thanksgiving and my soul does give you the glory. You have shown me so many wonders and you have filled the earth with your virtue. You have brought my Friends back to me and won their support even though previously they had forsaken me. When this happened joy overcame sorrow and I forgot about all my troubles. It is good that you can teach people the error of their ways.
 
Dear Friends, live by the power of God that works within you and be drawn together into a community. Don’t judge one another but let Christ alone do the judging. It is good to achieve a unity of spirit and mind. The soul that finds peace in self-denial is precious. God is close to you and is aware of all your evil thoughts and ways and these cause God great grief. God’s Son is not concerned for himself but is prepared to lay down his life for all of us. Wait patiently and feel his Spirit and life rising up within you bringing peace and holiness so that your life shines in his glory. The Lamb (Christ) will speak through his people (his temple) and all that is contrary to God will wither away. Only the meek will receive this inheritance because they have sought the praise of God rather than the praise of men. Make sure that you remain in unity with God (the covenant). Don’t speak or think evil of your brothers and sisters for this makes you guilty before God and undermines your ability to resist the enemy when he tests you. Evil thoughts undermine your unity with God enable the darkness to overcome you. If you live by God’s power, holiness, love and peace, then he will protect you from evil and be guided to a better way and given spiritual weapons to destroy all wickedness. God will crucify your old selves and raise up Christ in you so that you become freeborn children who are redeemed into a perfect liberty with him. Dear Friends meet together regularly to nurture the Spirit among you so that you can collectively overcome the world and enter into peace and everlasting life. The day of God’s reign is coming soon and on that day only those who are united with him will remain. All that is contrary to God will be destroyed.
 
I encourage you to consider what spirit animates you? Is it the spirit of earthly things and wandering thoughts that do not come from God? If so you are in fellowship with the world which works against God and Christ (the Lamb). If you are guided by this spirit you cannot serve God because this spirit is opposed to God. You are separated from God’s guidance and from the people of God. Everything that this spirit does in you must be subdued if you don’t want to be alienated from God forever. Instead, accept God’s judgment and wait for the stable heavenly Spirit that gives you new birth and rules over you so that you can overcome the world. Then you will find an eternal life of freedom in God and Christ whatever you have to face. When you are in obedience to God’s covenant you will find that your mind is kept still and peaceful in all circumstances. Through the blood of Jesus you have been purchased as a redeemed soul. May God fill you with his Spirit and may you be buried in Christ’s death so that he might rise up within you, destroying all evil and making his ways known to you. I pray that none of you will lose the power of God once you have received it. May the eternal God build you up into his life and fill you with the desire to seek out the lost and help bring them back into the fold. Dear Friends, you can see that I am concerned for those who are tempted or in a fallen state. Forgive one another endlessly so that you will be forgiven. Separate yourselves from the ways of the world and anything that might corrupt you. However, don’t fear the world or the ways of man. Instead, fear the living powerful God of heaven and earth who is a sanctuary to all those whose hearts have been cleansed. I trust that you will turn to God who rules over the world and works within you so that you might come into unity with him and be his sons and daughters forever. I give thanks and praise to God for ever more, Amen.
 
You are often in my thoughts,
 
James Nayler.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

‘V’ is for 'A Visit to the Spirit in Prison' by Sarah Blackborow

The first part of this post was originally published in The Friend on 16th October 2015.

Sarah Blackborow (d. 1665) was a prominent Quaker minister in London during the 1650s and 1660s. She helped to establish a meeting at Hammersmith and was probably influential in the development of separate women’s business meetings. She wrote and published the tract A Visit to the Spirit in Prison in 1658. It is a good example of the kind of early Quaker writing that combined strong words of warning and admonishment with positive and joyful messages of spiritual guidance and encouragement. She also uses a feminine image of God. Below is a simple summary of Blackborow’s message.

Turn to God’s Spirit within you - all people can find God’s true and faithful witness within them if they are prepared to see and hear. You should turn to the Light and give up your wicked ways. Those who are in the Light have a duty to condemn all false practices. The clergy preach for money and persecute righteous people because they are following their own spirit rather than the Spirit of God. This is the way of the world, not the way of God. Quakers are a poor, despised and persecuted people who have been sent by God to take people away from all false practices and bring them to the Truth.

Salvation is available to everyone - the eternal love of God is in all people, and everyone is offered the opportunity to receive this gift and be brought into communion with God. I know this is possible because it has happened to me. It was not always an easy path because, at first, the Spirit revealed all my sins and darkness. I was lost and confused. However, I was given the power to overcome sin, and the mysteries of God’s everlasting kingdom were revealed to me. When I first met Quakers they turned me to the Spirit of God within me and I ministered to them in return. It is the Spirit of Jesus within each of us that can turn us away from outward things and toward the seed of God deep within us. So, I encourage everyone to turn to the Light of Christ Jesus within you. He is the Prince of peace. His love is eternal and beyond limits.

Salvation brings great love and joy - having experienced God’s Spirit cleansing me of all evil and darkness and having received God’s everlasting love, I now feel a great love for all people and want everyone to benefit from this too.  In love, I implore you to worship the living God and attend to God’s Spirit within you. Why do you talk about your fear of God but refuse to submit to his transforming power? Words are not enough; real transformation in the power of God’s Spirit is what is required. Your continued disobedience causes me great pain. What can I do to help you see the Light? Christ is near you in Spirit; do not ignore him. Allow Christ to rule within you and humble yourselves before his mighty power. The spirit of this world is a poor and temporary thing compared to God’s eternal presence and power.

Choose the way of God not the ways of the world - there are two ways: the way of eternal, unchangeable truth and the way of outward, corruptible things. You have to choose. If you love the one way, you will hate the other. Will you choose the way of resurrection and life or the way of darkness and death? Don’t be distracted and misled. Turn away from the many and varied ways of the world and face up to God’s witness within you. Pay attention to it and live with it. Follow divine leadings and know God’s power. This is the only way to eternal life. If you are faithful, you may well experience suffering, but you will also be given the strength to endure this and be delivered from all trouble. But you must stick with it. The love of God will be with you and will comfort you. It will lead you out of the changeable ways of the world and to the eternal life. This Spirit will crucify your darkness, enabling you to break free from the things that prevent you from entering the Kingdom of God.

Sit at the feet of your Inward Teacher - If you rely on the second-hand words and ideas of other people, you are missing the real thing, which comes directly from the living God. Turn away from the teaching of others; stop worrying about your reputation and turn instead to the Light within you, which will show you the truth. If you are willing to submit to your inward teacher and accept what is revealed and what is taught, you will hear God’s voice calling you to the heavenly dwelling place. Turn to the Light of Christ, which reveals all evil and darkness. Give yourself fully to this Light, whether it praises you or condemns you. For this is your true Mother, who has conceived you and who loves you.  This is what love really means, but too many people are preoccupied with their own wisdom and their earthly riches, so leave no room for God. Christ is trying to make a dwelling place within you but he is left rejected and homeless.

Be thankful for God’s love and grace - people have drifted far away from God. This makes them spiritually dead and miserable. They have lost the guidance of God and so stray further and further away from the eternal being, and into captivity to earthly and temporary things. But, because of his great love for the world, God sent his Son to liberate people from this bondage. Now everyone has a measure of the Spirit of Christ within them which acts as a witness to God in the human conscience. If you pay attention to the measure of Light you been given, you will come to understand how things really are. You will become sensitive to the work of the Light in your consciences which reproves you when you do wrong. If you pay attention to God’s leadings and are obedient to them, you will gain the power of God to overcome sin. You will become aware of your feelings and impulses as they arise and understand what motivates you. You will receive the faith of Jesus, be given the ability to discern right and wrong and become what God really intended humans to be. We should all give thanks and praise to God for offering us such an invaluable gift.

Sarah Blackborow’s tract is a classic description of Quaker spirituality. She makes clear that access to the kingdom of God is available to all because everyone has the Holy Spirit within them. This Spirit has the power to destroy evil and raise up a new life in harmony with God, with other humans and with the rest of creation. She describes a convincement process that was common among early Friends. First, the Light reveals the darkness within, causing a spiritual crisis. However, if the person sticks with their discipline and practice, a sense of great joy, love and liberation is experienced. This is only possible when the individual turns away from the temporary and changeable things of the physical world and focuses instead on God as an eternal and unchanging Spirit. If we wish to enter the kingdom of God, we must all sit at the feet of our inward teaching and follow the divine guidance we receive.

If you would like to read the original tract, use this link to the Earlham School of Religion Digital Collection:


The tract is also available in the excellent book Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women’s Writings, 1650-1700 edited by Mary Garman, Judith Applegate, Margaret Benefiel and Dortha Meredith (pp.47-57)


A Visit to the Spirit in Prison and an Invitation to all people to come to Christ the light of the World, in whom is life, and doth enlighten every one that cometh into the World. And a warning to all people to take heed how they join any longer with that which turns them from him

Sarah Blackborow (1658)

A Modern English Paraphrase

All people can find God’s true and faithful witness within them if, with divine assistance, they are prepared to see and hear. This is far better than what is offered by you clergy who preach and teach for money taken from others. It is not right that righteous people (Quakers) are put into prison because God calls them to criticise you in this way.  The righteous must always do what God leads them to do. You should turn to the Light and give up your wicked ways. Those who are in the Light have a duty to condemn all such false practices.

You clergy who preach for money and persecute righteous people are following your own spirit rather than the Spirit of God. This is the way of the world not the way of God and your actions reveal this fact. For example, if righteous people come into your church services to ask questions or express what God has given them to say, you react with impatience and anger and encourage the people who are present to attack them. God has sent a poor, despised and persecuted people (Quakers) to take your congregations out of your churches, away from your false teaching and to bring them to the Truth.

The eternal love of God is in all people, including the clergy, and everyone is offered the opportunity to receive this love as a blessing and to be brought into communion with God. I know this is possible because it has happened in my own experience. It was not always an easy path because the Spirit at first revealed all my sins and darkness to me. I was lost and confused. However, I was given the power to overcome sin, and the mysteries of God’s everlasting kingdom were revealed to me. When I first met the servants of the living God (Quaker ministers) they turned me to the Spirit of God within me and I ministered to them in return. This convinced me of the rightness of their way. It is the Spirit of Jesus within each of us that can turn us away from outward things and toward the seed of God deep within us. Having experienced this I began to understand that I had always had this seed within me, even in my earliest childhood.

I encourage everyone to turn to the Light of Christ Jesus within you. What a difference it would make if every person and every nation came to know Christ within them and to obey him! He is a great counsellor. He is the Prince of peace. His love is eternal and beyond limits.

Having experienced God’s Spirit cleansing me of all evil and darkness and having received God’s everlasting love, I now feel a great love for all people and want them to benefit from this experience too.  In love, I implore you to worship the living God and attend to God’s Spirit working within you. You have ignored this for too long. Will you continue to profess your faith in God while at the same time refusing to embrace and possess God’s Spirit and the change that it brings? Why do you talk about your fear of God but refuse to submit to his transforming power? Words are not enough, real transformation in the power of God’s Spirit is what is required. Your continued disobedience causes me great pain.  Isn’t it about time you turned to the Spirit of God within you and allowed it to reveal your darkness and transform you? Your fine words will not help you when you face God’s judgement. The righteous ones are concerned for your salvation. They can see the state of your soul which is caught up in sin and the unhealthy way of life that this produces. I lament for your souls. 

What can I do to help you see the Light? Christ is near you in Spirit, do not ignore him. Turn to him and recognise how things really are. Your concern for comfort and pleasure prevents you from understanding this. Allow Christ to rule within you and humble yourselves before his mighty power. Why do you oppose God? Has this ever resulted in anything good? If you would only obey the leadings of the Spirit, you would understand what stand between you and salvation. The spirit of this world is a poor and temporary thing compare to God’s eternal presence and power. I am worried that you might face punishment. My concern is to help you overcome your current state and feel God’s Spirit working within you which enables you to distinguish between right and wrong. When you resist the work of Christ within you, you are led instead by the many lords of this world and the way to salvation and resurrection remains a mystery to you.

You choose to ignore your inward teacher because you don’t want to be confronted with your darkness. You would rather stay in the dark than turn to the Light. God’s wisdom is available within you but you prefer to remain focused on outward things. This is the reason you make no progress. There are two ways: the way of unchangeable and eternal truth and the way of changeable and corruptible things. You have to choose one or another, there is no other option. If you love the one way, you will hate the other. Will you choose the way of resurrection and life or the way of darkness and death? Those of you who, prompted by the Spirit, seek the living God but are distracted and misled by the clergy and by outward forms, stop being deceived. Turn away from the many and varied ways of the world and face up to God’s witness within you. Pay attention to it and live with it. Follow divine leadings and know God’s power. This is the only way to eternal life. If you are faithful, you may well experience conflict and suffering but you will be given the strength to endure this and you will be delivered from all trouble. But you must stick with it. The love of God will be with you and will comfort you. It will lead you out of the changeable ways of the world and to the eternal life.

This Spirit will crucify your darkness, enabling you to break free from the things that prevent you from entering the Kingdom of God. You must stick with your guide and keep on the right path. Any faith you still have in the ways of the world is misplaced and dangerous because you may be tempted to turn back and move further away from God. You must not be deceived by the teachers of the world. They will send you on a wild goose chase and down a blind alley. You will lose sight of the cross, which is God power, working to transform you and free you from the ways of the world. The light of Christ will never deceive you but without this light you will achieve nothing. All the clever ideas of the world will not help you. You will be like the builders of Babel who rejected the corner-stone which is required if the building is to stand. All your ways will be lost in the confusions and delusions of Babel. If you want to see the glorious city of God, all the false buildings of Babel must be torn down and their false foundations removed.

If you rely on the second-hand ideas and words of other people, you are missing the real thing, which comes directly from the living God. This way is the way of deception; you cannot really know God in your own will or the will of others. When you do this, you are killing the witness of God in you just like Cain killed Abel. Turn away from the teaching of others; stop worrying about your reputation and turn instead to the Light within you, which will show you the truth. If you are willing to submit to your inward teacher and accept what is revealed and what is taught, you will hear God’s voice calling you to the heavenly dwelling place. You must surrender to this cleansing and purifying process even if it is a painful experience. Change direction and turn to the Lord. The Spirit will help you discern right from wrong and protect you from the spirits that seek to deceive you.

Turn to the Light of Christ which reveals all evil and darkness. Give yourself fully to this Light whether it praises you or condemns you. For this is your true Mother, who has conceived you and who loves you.  This is what love really means but too many people do not understand. They are too preoccupied with their human wisdom and their earthly riches and so leave no room for God. Christ is trying to make a dwelling place within you but he is left rejected and homeless. Christ is the Light, there is no darkness in him, but the darkness always resists him. Many people seek Christ but they are not prepared to fully submit to him and accept his teaching. Our Lord who is loved by the Father and came to earth to gather us all and bring us into the kingdom, is a light in the darkness, strength in weakness, wisdom in foolishness and life in death. He is here for all of us; men and women, sons and daughters. So love the Spirit that brings you to Christ. My heartfelt desire is that you all come into his embrace.

People, through their own actions, have drifted far from the presence of God. This leaves them in a kind of spiritual death where they are miserable and cannot understand the state they find ourselves in. They have lost the guidance of God and so stray further and further away from the eternal being, and into captivity to earthly and temporary things. But, because of God’s great love for the world, God sent his Son to liberate people from this bondage. Now everyone has a measure of the Spirit of Christ within them which acts as a witness to God in the human conscience. Unfortunately, most people remain oblivious to this gift which has the power to bring them into communion with God. They refuse to see and they refuse to hear. They talk about Christ but do not to possess him and are therefore not convinced by him. If they love, believe in and obey the Light then they will come to know the difference between darkness and light, good and evil. The first, earthly birth and nature leads to death but the second, spiritual birth and nature leads to heaven and to life.

If people pay attention to the measure of Light they’ve been given, they will come to understand how things really are. They will become sensitive to the work of the Light in their consciences which reproves them when they do wrong.  Those who turn away from this guidance, achieve nothing at all. On the other hand, those who pay attention to God’s leadings and are obedient to them, benefit from the power of God to overcome sin. They become aware of their feelings and impulses as they arise and understand what motivates them; they receive the faithfulness of Jesus, they are given the ability to discern right and wrong and to become what God ultimately intended humans to be. We should all give thanks and praise to God for offering us such an invaluable gift.

The End.