Inner light

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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 as metaphors for Christ's light shining on or in them. The inward light is a much older phrase used by early Friends to refer to Christ's light shining on them; whilst the inner light is a twentieth century doctrine of the liberal branch of the Religious Society of Friends. The doctrine of the inner light was defined by Rufus Jones, who first brought the phrase into popular use in 1904, thus: "The Inner Light is the doctrine that there is something Divine, ‘Something of God’ in the human soul".[1] Jones argued that the doctrine of the inner light was something shared by George Fox and other early Quakers, but some Quaker theologians and historians, most notably Lewis Benson reject this viewpoint.[2]

The word light is commonly used by Christians (including Quakers) as a metaphor for Christ, derived from many Biblical passages including John 8:12

Liberal Quakers take this idea of walking in Christ's light 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 different yearly meetings.

Liberal 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.[3] 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".[4] 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.

Related terms

Related terms for Inner Light include Light of God, Light of Christ, Christ within, That of God, Spirit of God within us, and Light within. These are often used interchangeably by modern and arguably early Friends. Some people also identify it with the expression "that of God in everyone," which was first used by one of the co-founders of the Society of Friends, George Fox.[5]

The related term “Inward light” appears in older Quaker writings, but is not used as often now.[citation needed] Originally, Inward Light was used much more often than “Inner Light.”[6] This term evokes an image of people being illuminated by the light of God or Christ, rather than having a light of their own inside them. Although the terms are now often used interchangeably, according to Quaker historian Pink Dandelion, not until incorrectly Rufus Jones used the terms interchangeably were the terms thought of as equivalents.[7]


Quaker belief in the Inner Light extends back to founder George Fox

[dubious ][citation needed]

The Quaker belief that an Inner Light resides in each person is based in part on a passage from the New Testament, namely John 1:9, which says, "That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." Friends emphasize the part of the verse that indicates that every person is born with the Light within him or her. Early Friends took this verse as one of their mottos and often referred to themselves as "Children of the Light."

The principal founder of what became the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox, claimed that he had a direct experience of God. Having explored various sects and listened to an assortment of preachers, he finally concluded that none of them were adequate to be his ultimate guide. At that point he reported hearing a voice that told him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." He felt that God wanted him to teach others that they need not depend on human teachers or guides either, because each one of them could experience God directly and hear his voice within. He wrote in his journal, "I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God; even that divine Spirit which would lead them into all Truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any."[8] Fox taught: that Christ, the Light, had come to teach his people himself; that "people had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women" (the anointing they had received);[8] if people would be silent, waiting on God, the Light would teach them how to conduct their lives, teach them about Christ, show them the condition of their hearts; they loving the Light, it would rid them of the "cause of sin"; and soon after, Christ would return in his glory to establish his Kingdom in their hearts. Fox called the Light destroying sin within as the Cross of Christ, the Power of God.

Regarding this, Fox wrote, "Now ye that know the power of God and are come to it—which is the Cross of Christ, that crucifies you to the state that Adam and Eve were in the fall, and so to the world—by this power of God ye come to see the state they were in before they fell, which power of God is the Cross, in which stands the everlasting glory; which brings up into the righteousness, holiness and image of God, and crucifies to the unrighteousness, unholiness and image of Satan." The Cross is no "dead fact stranded on the shore of the oblivious years," but is to be a living experience deep in the heart of the believer, and changing his whole life. "You that know the power and feel the power, you feel the Cross of Christ, you feel the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." All real experience of the Cross must lead, he thought, to the same way of life that brought the Master there—to the way of humility and non-resistance, of overcoming evil by the sole force of love and goodness. To Fox it seemed that a high profession of Christianity often went with a way of life in flagrant opposition to this. He writes to the persecutors: "Your fruits have manifested that you are not of this (wisdom from above); and so out of the power of God which is the Cross of Christ; for you are found in the world, out of the power of God, out of the Cross of Christ, persecuting."[9]

Later, Robert Barclay, an apologist for the Society of Friends, wrote: "This most certain doctrine being then received, that there is an evangelical and saving Light and grace in all, the universality of the love and mercy of God towards mankind, both in the death of his beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the Light in the heart, is established and confirmed, against all the objections of such as deny it." As the quotations demonstrate, both Barclay and Fox connected the Light not only with an experiential knowledge of God but with the grace and mercy that leads to salvation from sin and acceptance by God.


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.[dubious ] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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 fundamentalist 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.

See also


  1. Jones, Rufus (1904). Social Law in the Spiritual World: Studies in Human and Divine Inter-Relationship. pp. 167–168.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Benson, Lewis (1969). That of God in every man: What did George Fox mean by it?.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Britain Yearly Meeting (1994). "Quaker Faith and Practice (Third edition) – Advices and Queries". Britain Yearly Meeting. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lacout, Pierre (1993). God is silence (in French and translated into English). John Kay (trans.) (Pocket ed.). London: Quaker Home Service. p. 20. ISBN 0-85245-253-5. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. John L. Nickals, ed. (1975). Journal of George Fox. Religious Society of Friends. p. 774.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> light of Christ, xl,xliii,xliv,12,14,16,29,33–5,60,64,76,80,88,92,115,117,135,143–4,150,155,173,174–6,188,191,205,225–6,234–7,245,274–5,283–4,294–6,303–5,309,312,317-19335,339–40,347–8,361,471–2,496–7,575,642
  6. 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.
  7. Dandelion, Pink (2007). An Introduction to Quakerism. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 132-132.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Quotes by George Fox in his journal
  9. Edward Grubb (1925). "Quaker Thought & History; Chapter 1 – George Fox and Christian Theology". The MacMillan Company. Retrieved 2008-12-17. Now ye that know the power of God and are come to it— which is the Cross of Christ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Margaret Hope Bacon, 1986
  11. NY Yearly Meeting on Faith

External links