Quaker View of the Holy Spirit

[This is taken from Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume II.]

Except a man has a portion of the same spirit, which Jesus and the prophets and the apostles had, he can have no knowledge of God or spiritual things— Doctrine of St. Paul on this subject—This confirms the history of the human and divine spirit in man—These spirits distinct in their kind—This distinction farther elucidated by a comparison between the faculties of men and brutes—Sentiments of Augustine—Luther—Calvin—Smith—Taylor—Cudworth.

The Quakers believe, that there can be no spiritual knowledge of God, but through the medium of his holy spirit; or, in other words, that if men have not a portion of the same spirit which the holy men of old, and which the Evangelists and Apostles, and which Jesus himself had, they can have no true or vital religion.

In favor of this proposition, they usually quote those remarkable words of the Apostle Paul; “for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” And again—“but the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

By these expressions the Quakers conceive that the history of man, as explained in the last chapter, is confirmed; or that the Almighty not only gave to man reason, which was to assist him in his temporal, but also superadded a portion of his own spirit, which was to assist him in his spiritual concerns. They conceive it also to be still farther confirmed by other expressions of the same Apostle. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he says, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God;” and in his letter to Timothy he desires him “to hold fast that good thing which was committed to him by means of the holy Ghost, which dwelled in him” Now these expressions can only be accurate on a supposition of the truth of the history of man, as explained in the former chapter. If this history be true, then they are considered as words of course: for if there be a communication between the supreme Being and his creature man, or if the Almighty has afforded to man an emanation of his own spirit, which is to act for a time in his mortal body, and then to return to him that gave it, we may say, with great consistency, that the divinity resides in him, or that his body is the temple of the holy spirit.

The Quakers conceive again from these expressions of the Apostle, that these two principles in man are different from each other; they are mentioned under the distinct names of the spirit of man, and of the spirit of God. The former they suppose to relate to the understanding: the latter conjointly to the understanding and to the heart. The former can be brought into use at all times, if the body of a man be in health.  The latter is not at his own disposal. Man must wait for its inspirations. Like the wind, it bloweth when it listeth. Man also, when he feels this divine influence, feels that it is distinct from his reason. When it is gone, he feels the loss of it, though all his rational faculties be alive. “Those, says Alexander Arscott, who have this experience, certainly know that as at times, in their silent retirements and humble waitings upon God, they receive an understanding of his will, relating to their present duty, in such a clear light as leaves no doubt or hesitation, so at other times, when this is withdrawn from them, they are at a loss again, and see themselves, as they really are, ignorant and destitute.”

The Quakers again understand by these expressions of the Apostle, which is the point insisted upon in this chapter, that human reason, or the spirit of man which is within him, and the divine principle of life and light which is the spirit of God residing in his body or temple, are so different in their powers, that the former cannot enter into the province of the latter. As water cannot penetrate the same bodies, which fire can, so neither can reason the same subjects as the spiritual faculty.

The Quakers, however, do not deny, that human reason is powerful within its own province. It may discover in the beautiful structure of the Universe, and in the harmony and fitness of all its parts, the hand of a great contriver. It may conclude upon attributes, as belonging to the same. It may see the fitness of virtue, and deduce from thence a speculative morality. They only say that it, is incompetent to spiritual discernment. But though they believe the two spirits to be thus distinct in their powers, they believe them, I apprehend, to be so far connected in religion that the spirit of God can only act upon a reasonable being.  Thus light and the power of sight are distinct things. Yet the power of sight is nothing without light, nor can light operate upon any other organ than the eye to produce vision.

This proposition may be farther elucidated by making a comparison between the powers of men, and those of the brute-creation. An animal is compounded of body and instinct. If we were to endeavor to cultivate this instinct, we might make the animal tame and obedient. We might impress his sensitive powers, so that he might stop or go forward at our voice. We might bring him in some instances, to an imitation of outward gestures and sounds. Bat all the years of his life, and centuries of life in his progeny would pass away, and we should never be able so to improve his instinct into intellect, as to make him comprehend the affairs of a man. He would never understand the meaning of his goings in, or of his goings out, or of his pursuits in life, or of his progress in science. So neither could any education so improve the reason of man into the divine principle of light within him, as that he should understand spiritual things; for the things of God are only discernible by the spirit of God.

This doctrine, that there is no understanding of divine things except through the medium of the divine principle, which dwells in the temple of man, was no particular notion of George Fox, or of the succeeding Quakers, though undoubtedly they have founded more upon it than other Christians. Those, who had the earliest access to the writings of the evangelists and apostles, believed the proposition. All the ancient fathers of the church considered it as the corner stone of the Christian fabric. The most celebrated of the reformers held it in the same light.  The divines, who followed these, adopted it as their creed also; and by these it has been handed down to other Christian communities, and is retained as an essential doctrine by the church of England, at the present day.

The Quakers adduce many authorities in behalf of this proposition, but the following may suffice.

“It is the inward master, says St. Augustine, that teacheth. Where this inspiration is wanting, it is in vain that words from without are beaten in.”

Luther says, “no man can rightly know God, unless he immediately receives it from his holy spirit, except he finds it by experience in himself; and in this experience the holy spirit teacheth as in his proper school, out of which school nothing is taught but mere talk.”

Calvin, on Luke 10. 21. says, “Here the natural wisdom of man is so puzzled, and is at such a loss, that the first step of profiting in the school of Christ is to give it up or renounce it. For by this natural wisdom, as by a veil before our eyes, we are hindered from attaining the mysteries of God, which are not revealed but unto babes and little ones.  For neither do flesh and blood reveal, nor doth the natural man perceive, the things that are of the spirit. But the doctrine of God is rather foolishness to him, because it can only be spiritually judged.  The assistance therefore of the holy spirit is in this case necessary, or rather, his power alone is efficacious.”

Dr. Smith observes, in his select discourses, “besides the outward Revelation of God’s will to men, there is also an inward impression of it in their minds and spirits, which is in a more especial manner attributed to God. We cannot see divine things but in a divine light.  God only, who is the true light, and in whom there is no darkness at all, can so shine out of himself upon our glossy understandings, as to beget in them a picture of himself, his own will and pleasure, and turn the soul (as the phrase is in Job) like wax or clay to the seal of his own light and love. He that made our souls in his own image and likeness, can easily find a way into them. The word that God speaks, having found a way into the soul, imprints itself there, as with the point of a diamond, and becomes (to borrow Plato’s expression) ‘a word written in the Soul of the learner.’ Men may teach the grammar and rhetoric; but God teaches the divinity. Thus it is God alone that acquaints the soul with the truths of revelation.”

The learned Jeremy Taylor, bishop of Down and Connor, speaks in a similar manner in his sermon de Viâ Intelligentiae. “Now in this inquiry, says he, I must take one thing for granted, which is, that every good man is taught of God. And indeed, unless he teach us, we shall make but ill scholars ourselves, and worse guides to others. No man can know God, says Irenaeus, except he be taught of God. If God teaches us, then all is well; but if we do not learn wisdom at his feet, from whence should we have it? It can come from no other spring.”

Again—“those who perfect holiness in the fear of God, have a degree of divine knowledge more than we can discourse of, and more certain than the demonstration of Geometry; brighter than the sun, and indeficient as the light of heaven—A good man is united to God—As flame touches flame, and combines into splendor and into glory, so is the spirit of a man united to Christ by the spirit of God. Our light, on the other hand, is like a candle; every word of doctrine blows it out, or spends the wax, and makes the light tremulous. But the lights of heaven are fixed and bright and shine for ever.”

Cudworth, in his intellectual system, is wholly of the same opinion:

“All the books and writings which we converse with, they can but represent spiritual objects to our understanding, which yet we can never see in their own true figure, color, and proportion, until we have a divine light within to irradiate and shine upon them. Though there be never such excellent truths concerning Christ and his Gospel, set down in words and letters, yet they will be but unknown characters to us, until we have a living spirit within us, that can decipher them, until the same spirit, by secret whispers in our hearts, do comment upon them, which did at first indict them. There be many that understand the Greek and Hebrew of the scripture, the original languages in which the text was written, that never understood the language of the spirit.”


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