This is a paraphrase of 'Proposition Six' from Robert Barclay's APOLOGY. His book was first published in Latin, in 1675. The first English edition appeared in 1678.

The "Micro'pology series" was first published in the WHF newsletter, in the 1990's.

Proposition Six


In the last chapter, we turned our attention to the Light of Christ. We considered the location of this Light (it is within all people). We also considered the function of this Light (it works to bring about transformation and salvation). But what is the nature of this Light? What is it? Where did it come from and how does it work? It is to this line of thought that we now direct our attention.

First of all, the Light within is a manifestation of Christ. To resist the Light is to crucify Christ. To surrender to the Light is to allow Christ to be resurrected in you. Barclay and the early Friends were quite clear about this: the Light within is Christ within.

The Light dwells within us as a spiritual substance. This term is very important to Barclay, because it helps him make a very careful distinction.

To get at Barclay's point, imagine a big mound of Jell-O. Now, imagine that I point to the quivering blob and say, "There is green in that Jell-O." Most likely, you would hear my words as a description. You'd think that "green" happens to be a characteristic of this Jell-O.

But what if "Green" was a substance? What if "green" could float suspended in the Jell-O like a slice of banana? If "green" could be in the Jell-O as a separate substance, then the Jell-O itself might appear to be uniform shade of bright red. Do you see? The character of the Jell-O might not reveal the substance within it.

In the same way, the Light can be in someone, even though nothing in their character reflects the Light. Christ could be in someone as a substance, even though they are not at all Christ-like in their character.

Furthermore, the Light of Christ is not a part of human nature. For example, the Light of Christ is not the "light" of human reason.

Barclay certainly does not dismiss the power of reason. Living in the middle of the 17th Century, Barclay was more-or-less a contemporary of Descartes, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton. It was an age that held human reason in the highest possible esteem.

So Barclay does not dismiss reason, but he does suggest that its sphere is limited.

"For as God gave two great lights to rule the outward world, the sun and the moon, the greater light to rule by day and the lesser light to rule the night; so hath God given us the light of God's Son, a spiritual and divine light, to rule us in things spiritual, and the light of reason to rule us in things natural."

For all its power, Barclay saw limits to what reason could accomplish. In the spiritual realm, the Light of Christ can melt us, the way wax is melted in the heat of the sun. The Light of Christ can change who we are. Reason, on the other hand, has no such power. It simply changes what we know. And no accumulation of outward knowledge can ever trigger our spiritual renewal.

The Light of Christ is not our conscience, either.

The role of the conscience is to remind you when you are acting in a way that does not square with your beliefs. But the conscience is active no matter what you believe! If you perceived it to be your duty to wear a hat on Tuesday, then your conscience would prick at you for not doing so. If you believed it to be your duty to rise at 4:00 am every morning, then your conscience would bother you for sleeping in until 5:00.

On the other hand, some people can toss rubbish out the window of their cars, or raise their fists in anger and feel quite at peace with their actions. If their actions conform to their beliefs, then their conscience is not stirred.

The conscience follows after our beliefs like a dog on a leash. However, the Light of Christ is free to challenge our beliefs. The Light of Christ can re-orient us, so that our eyes are opened and our conscience is transformed.

Both human conscience and human reason need to be redeemed. Human reason can produce a polio vaccine to save lives, or a terrible new missile to end them. As a matter of conscience, some people enlist to fight wars on behalf of their clan. Others are led by their conscience to see all people as brothers and sisters and all wars as wrong.

Both our reason and our conscience must be informed and transformed by the Light of Christ.

The Light of Christ is not a human faculty (it is not reason, or conscience, or anything else along those lines). Barclay's final argument about this is perhaps the most interesting. He points out that healthy people have control over their faculties. We can employ our senses when we so desire. We can employ our reason when we so desire. But we cannot control the way the Light works within us. The Spirit of God moves as it will, and we cannot control it.

What is the Light? It is a supernatural substance within us. It is not a human faculty, but the presence of Christ. It has power in our lives when we surrender to it.

Here are a few questions:

1. How have you experienced the Light of God's presence?

2. How has the Light informed and transformed your reason? How has it transformed your conscience?

3. What do you think about the statements, "To resist the Light is to crucify Christ. To surrender to the Light is to allow Christ to be resurrected in you"?

Continue reading Proposition Seven