Inner Light is a concept which many Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, use to express their conscience, faith and beliefs. Each Quaker has a different idea of what they mean by "inner light", and this also varies internationally between Yearly Meetings, but the idea is often taken to refer to God's presence within a person, and to a direct and personal experience of God. Quakers believe that God speaks to everyone, and that in order to hear God's voice, it helps to be still and actively listen for it.
They believe not only that individuals can be guided by this Inner Light, but that Friends might meet together and receive collective guidance from God by sharing the concerns and leadings that he gives to individuals. In a Friends meeting it is usually called "ministry" when a person shares aloud what the Inner Light is saying to him or her.
Based on the teachings of Fox, Barclay, and other respected leaders, the liberal branches of the Society of Friends subscribe, in one form or another, to Universalism. Some Friends today subscribe to Christian Universalism, which is the belief that all people are already saved from sin, or eventually will be saved from it, through the death of Jesus and the presence of His Spirit within. In other words, because the Light is within everyone, nobody will end up condemned to hell. Other Friends, such as the Quaker Universalist Group, go further and believe in Universalism in the broader sense. They believe that people need not acknowledge Jesus Christ at all – that people of any faith or even no faith are indwelt by the Light and therefore do not need to be saved. A third segment of the Society of Friends, Evangelical Friends, are not universalists. They believe that all people have the Light within them and have the possibility of being saved, but that only those who avail themselves of the Light and accept the salvation provided by Jesus Christ actually are saved.
Contrast with other inner sources
It is important to note that many Friends consider this divine guidance (or "promptings" or "leadings of the Spirit") distinct both from impulses originating within oneself and from generally agreed-on moral guidelines. In fact, as Marianne McMullen pointed out, a person can be prompted to say something in meeting that is contrary to what he or she thinks. In other words, Friends do not usually consider the Inner Light the conscience or moral sensibility but something higher and deeper that informs and sometimes corrects these aspects of human nature.
Contrast with rules and creeds
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.
In the Bible
Friends are not in complete agreement on the importance of the Inner Light in relation to the Bible. Most Friends, especially in the past, have looked to the Bible as a source of wisdom and guidance. Many, if not most of them, have considered the Bible a book inspired by God. But Quakers have generally tended to regard present, personal direction from God more authoritative than the text of the Bible. Early Quakers, like George Fox and Robert Barclay, did not believe that promptings which were truly from the Spirit within would contradict the Bible. They did, however, believe that to correctly understand the Bible, one needed the Inner Light to clarify it and guide one in applying its teachings to current situations. In the United States in the nineteenth century some Friends concluded that others of their faith were using the concept of the Inner Light to justify unbiblical views. These "Orthodox" Friends held that the Bible was more authoritative than the Inner Light and should be used to test personal leadings. Friends remain formally, but usually respectfully, divided on the matter.
- Pierre Lacout (1969). "Quaker Faith and Practice; Chapter 2 - Silent Waiting". Britain Yearly Meeting. http://quakersfp.live.poptech.coop/qfp/chap2/2.12.html. Retrieved 2008-03-26. "In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow - a tiny spark..."
- Britain Yearly Meeting (1994). "Quaker Faith and Practice (Third edition) - Advices and Queries". Britain Yearly Meeting. http://quakersfp.live.poptech.coop/qfp/chap1/1.02.html. Retrieved 2008-03-26. "We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God's presence."
- Richard Vann. "Review of Rosemary Moore, The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain 1646-1666," H-Albion, H-Net Reviews, July, 2001.
- ^ Quotes by George Fox in his journal
- Edward Grubb (1925). "Quaker Thought & History; Chapter 1 - George Fox and Christian Theology". The MacMillan Company. http://www.strecorsoc.org/grubb/qth01.html. Retrieved 2008-12-17. "Now ye that know the power of God and are come to it— which is the Cross of Christ..."
- Margaret Hope Bacon, 1986
- NY Yearly Meeting on Faith
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