Quaker View of Spiritual Understanding

By Thomas Clarkson (1806)


The Almighty created the Universe by means of his spirit—and also man—He gave man, besides his intellect, an emanation from his own spirit, thus making him in his own image—But this image he lost—A portion, however, of the same spirit was continued to his posterity—These possessed it in different degrees—Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, had more of it than some others—Jesus possessed it immeasurably, and without limit— Evangelists  and apostles possessed it, but in a limited manner, and in different degrees.

The Quakers believe, that when the Almighty created the Universe, he effected it by means of the life, or vital or vivifying energy that was in his own spirit. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

This life of the spirit has been differently named, but is concisely styled by St. John the evangelist “the word” for he says, “in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made, that was made.”

The Almighty also, by means of the same divine energy or life of the spirit which had thus created the universe, became the cause also of material life, and of vital functions. He called forth all animated nature into existence; for he “made the living creature after his kind.”

He created man also by the same power. He made his corporeal and organic nature. He furnished him also with intellect, or a mental understanding.  By this latter gift he gave to man, what he had not given to other animated nature, the power of reason, by which he had the superiority over it, and by means of which he was enabled to guide himself in his temporal concerns. Thus when he made the natural man, he made him a rational agent also.

But he gave to man, at the same time, independently of this intellect or understanding, a spiritual faculty, or a portion of the life of his own spirit, to reside in him. This gift occasioned man to become more immediately, as it is expressed, the image of the Almighty. It set him above the animal and rational part of his nature. It made him know things not intelligible solely by his reason. It made him spiritually minded. It enabled him to know his duty to God, and to hold a heavenly intercourse with his maker.

Adam then, the first man, independently of his rational faculties, received from the Almighty into his own breast such an emanation from the life of his own spirit, as was sufficient to have enabled him both to hold, and to have continued, a spiritual intercourse with his maker, and to have preserved him in the state of innocence in which he had been created. As long as he lived in this divine light of the spirit, he remained in the image of God, and was perfectly happy; but, not attending faithfully and perseveringly to this his spiritual monitor, he fell into the snares of Satan, or gave way to the temptations of sin.  From this moment his condition became changed. For in the same manner as distemper occasions animal life to droop, and to lose its powers, and finally to cease, so unrighteousness, or his rebellion against the divine light of the spirit that was within him, occasioned a dissolution of his spiritual feelings and perceptions; for he became dead as it were, in consequence, as to any knowledge of God, or enjoyment of his presence. (It was said that, in the day in which Adam should eat forbidden fruit, he should die; but he did not lose his animal life, or his rational nature. His loss therefore is usually considered by the Quakers to have been a divine spiritual principle, which had been originally superadded to the animal and rational faculties.)

It pleased the Almighty, however, not wholly to abandon him in this wretched state, but he comforted him with the cheering promise that the seed of the woman should some time or other completely subdue sin, or to use the scriptural language, “should bruise the serpent’s head;” or, in other words, as sin was of a spiritual nature, so it could only be overcome by a spiritual conqueror; and therefore that the same holy spirit, or word, or divine principle of light and life, which had appeared in creation, should dwell so entirely and without limit or measure, in the person or body of some one of his descendants, that sin should by him be entirely subdued.

As God then poured into Adam, the first man, a certain portion of his own spirit, or gave him a certain portion of the divine light, for the regulation of his spiritual conduct and the power of heavenly intercourse with himself, so he did not entirely cease from bestowing his spirit upon his posterity; or, in other words, he gave them a portion of that light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world. Of the individuals therefore who succeeded Adam, all received a portion of this light. Some, however, enjoyed larger portions of it than others, according as they attended to its influences, or according to the measure given them. Of those who possessed the greatest share of it, some were the ancient patriarchs, such as Noah and Abraham, and others were the ancient scriptural writers, such as Moses and the prophets.  The latter again experienced it in different measures or degrees; and in proportion as they had it, they delivered more or less those prophecies which are usually considered as inspired truths, from a belief that many of them have been circumstantially completed.

At length, in the fullness of time, that is, when all things had been fulfilled which were previously to take place, this divine spirit, which had appeared in creation, this divine word, or light, took flesh, (for, as St. John the Evangelist says, “the word was made flesh, and dwelled among us,”) and inhabited “the body which had been prepared for it;” or, in other words, it inhabited the body of the person Jesus; but with this difference, that whereas only a portion of this divine light or spirit had been given to Adam, and afterwards to the prophets, it was given without limit or measure to the man Jesus. “For he whom God hath sent, says St. John, speaketh the words of God, for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” And St. Paul says,  “In him the fullness of the Godhead dwelled bodily.” In him, therefore, the promise given to Adam was accomplished, “that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head;” for we see in this case a human body, weak and infirm, and subject to passions, possessed or occupied, without limit or measure, by the spirit of God. But if the man Jesus had the full spirit of God within him, he could not be otherwise than, perfectly holy. And if so, sin never could have entered, and must therefore, as for as relates to him, have been entirely repelled. Thus he answered the prophetic character which had been given of him, independently of his victory over sin by the sacrifice of himself, or by becoming afterwards a comforter to those in bondage, who should be willing to receive him.

After Jesus Christ came the Evangelists and Apostles. Of the same spirit which he had possessed immeasurably, these had their several portions; and though these were limited, and differed in degree front one another, they were sufficient to enable them to do their duty to God and men, to enjoy the presence of the Almighty, and to promote the purposes designed by him in the propagation of his gospel.





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