THE INWARD LIGHT. A very empowering spiritual teaching of Christ
Light of God, Light of Christ, Christ within,That of God, Spirit of God within us, Light within, inward light and inner light are related phrases commonly used within the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) as metaphors forChrist’s light shining on or in them. It was propagated by the founder of the Quaker movement, George Fox, who “preached faith in and reliance on ‘inward light’ (the presence of Christ in the heart).” The first Quakers were known to sit in silence and meditate on the words of the Bible until they felt the inward light of God shining upon them and theHoly Spirit speaking.
The Key to the Faith and Practice of the Religious Society of Friends states that the Inward Light is “both the historical, living Jesus, and as the Grace of God extended to people that simultaneously makes us conscious of our sins, forgives them, and gives us the strength and the will to overcome them” and “teaches us the difference between right and wrong, truth and falseness, good and evil”. As such, the word light is commonly used by Christians (including Quakers) as a metaphor for Christ, derived from many Biblical passages including John 8:12, which states:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Quakers take this idea of walking in the Light of Christ to refer to God’s presence within a person, and to a direct and personal experience of God, although this varies to some extent between Quakers in differentyearly meetings. Quakers believe not only that individuals can be guided by this light, but that Friends might meet together and receive collective guidance from God by sharing the concerns and leadings that he gives to individuals. This is often done in meeting for worship; Pierre Lacout, a Swiss Quaker, describes a “silence which is active” causing the Inner Light to “glow”, in his book God is silence. In a Friends meeting it is usually called “ministry” when a person shares aloud what the Inner Light is saying to him or her. The term inward light was first used by early Friends to refer to Christ’s light shining on them; the term inner light has also been used to since twentieth century to describe this Quaker doctrine. Rufus Jones, in 1904, wrote that: “The Inner Light is the doctrine that there is something Divine, ‘Something of God’ in the human soul”. Jones argued that his interpretation of the Quaker doctrine of the inner light was something shared by George Fox and other early Quakers, but some Quaker theologians and historians, most notablyLewis Benson reject this viewpoint.
Historically, Friends have been suspicious of formal creeds or religious philosophy that is not grounded in one’s own experience. Instead one must be guided by the Inward Teacher, the Inner Light. This is not, however, a release for Friends to decide and do whatever they want; it is incumbent upon Friends to consider the wisdom of other Friends, as one must listen for the Inner Light of others as well as their own. Friends have various established procedures for collectively discerning and following the Spirit while making decisions.
Friends procedure is to collect together their best advice in a book of “Faith and Practice,” which is revised gradually over time. Many or most books of Faith and Practice contain the following, which was originally attached to a list of “Advices” published in 1656, and illustrates Friends’ emphasis on the Inner Light:
Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.