The following quote from Isaac Penington, selected by Brian Drayton, is provocative:
Q. ...In a case of doubt or difference, which shall be the judge; the measure of life within, or the testimony of others without? Shall I judge as I feel the thing in the measure of my own life? Or shall I submit to others against my own sense and judgment, because I have an esteem of them, as being much above me in the growth, sense, and understanding of truth?
Ans. It is a great matter to judge aright, and to discern and know the measure of truth (the voice, motion, and judgment thereof) from all the enemy's false appearances, and from all the deceits of the heart. This is most certain; Jerusalem (the heavenly building, the church of the first-born) is at unity with itself. Truth is pure, eternal, unchangeable, always the same; the same in every member, in every vessel, throughout the whole body.
And this I may say concerning its appearance in this our age, Was ever the like unity known and brought forth since the days of the apostles? How hath the Spirit been One, the demonstration and testimony of truth One, the doctrine One, the conversation and practices One in us all! Why, or how so? Because we have had our begetting, birth, and teaching from the same life, the same Spirit; the same fountain springing up, and opening in us all, that have been gathered into its nature and power. Now from this fountain, from this spring of life, never issueth any thing that is contrary to the life in any. Therefore if there appear a contrariety, there must be a waiting to feel who is erred from, or at least not yet fully gathered into, the measure of life. And such as are of an inferior stature and growth in the body, are (in an especial manner) to watch and wait in sobriety and fear, till the Lord clear up, and make things manifest; and likewise in the mean time to take heed of a hasty concluding, according to what riseth up in the understanding or judgment (though with ever so great a seeming clearness and satisfaction) as if it must needs be of and from the life in the vessel.
Well, Old Chatham Monthly Meeting is a liberal Quaker meeting—not liberal in the political sense, but liberal in that its members hold a diversity of spiritual beliefs with no dogmas or doctrines to which we must conform. How, then, is our Spirit one? Where is the Unity that Penington speaks of? Have we fallen away from the Truth that is “pure, eternal, unchangeable, always the same.”
I think not. Diversity of belief there may be at Old Chatham, but—in our best moments—we are united in Love. The Truth Penington speaks of is not, fundamentally, a belief. It is what the Ancient Greeks called ἀγάπη (agape), the love of God for humankind, our reciprocal love for God, and our selfless love for one another.
But what about those among us who don’t believe in God? Well, atheism or agnosticism are beliefs, no better or worse than beliefs about Jesus or the Buddha. The unity between Jesus and Buddha is their exemplification of agape love. May we always strive to live in that Love which transcends belief!
~ Richard Russell
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