Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Christ the Head of Every Man" : F.D. Maurice’s Quaker Idea






On the surface, few Christian traditions seem more incongruous than Anglicanism and Quakerism. Anglican piety is sacramental and built on the Book of Common Prayer as a prescription for the Church’s liturgical life. It emphasizes the authority of the historical Episcopate, the importance of the creeds, and the traditions of the early Church. Quakerism, in contrast, is iconoclastic and restorationist. The Early Quakers railed against the hierarchy of the Church, the observance of any outward ritual, and rejected prescribed liturgy in favor of spontaneous guidance of the Spirit. Oddly enough, however, Anglican priest and theologian Frederick Denison Maurice begins his sprawling treatise on the constitution of the Catholic Church, TheKingdom of Christ, with a dialogue between himself and a young Quaker named Samuel Clark. He expresses a hope that Clark would not abandon the central principle of the Society of Friends. Clark was caught up in an internal conflict within the Society of Friends between old guard Quakers and those who were being influenced by evangelicalism and advocating an abandonment of Quaker idiosyncrasies. Maurice was more sympathetic to the old Quakers, believing that—although they were disastrously misguided in what they rejected—there was a truth in their central doctrine that was an essential witness to the Catholic Church. He writes, “it seemed to me that the old Quakers were affirming a most grand and fundamental truth; but that it had become narrow and contradictory, because they had no ordinance which embodied it and made it universal.”[1] Maurice believed the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, to have been, “…raised up to declare a truth, without which the Gospel has no real meaning, no permanent existence.”[2]
 Maurice sums up the essential Quaker idea this way, “The early Quakers testified that there was a Kingdom of Christ in the world, and that it would subdue all kingdoms to itself.”[3] He quotes William Penn’s preface to Fox’s Journal, “They were directed to the light of Jesus Christ within them as the seed and leaven of the kingdom of God; near all, because in all, and God’s talent to all. A faithful and true witness and just monitor in every bosom, the gift and grace of God to life and salvation, that appears to all, though few regard it.”[4] George Fox and the early Quakers believed that there is a witness within the heart of every person through which they are made accountable to God, which convicts them of wrong, directs them to do what is right, and urges them to seek something above themselves. It is the root of the religious impulse in human beings. In the words of the Gospel of John, it is “the true light that gives light to everyone who comes into the world” (John 1:9). Human beings were created to know their creator, be in fellowship with him, and live as his image bearers. Quaker scholar Lewis Benson explains George Fox’s conviction this way,

The Creator has imparted a unique status to man. He communicates with man in such a way that his wisdom and power are made accessible to man. This is the glory of man - that his life can be informed and shaped by the word that proceeds from the Creator. Man is not compelled, by his human nature, to hear this word or to obey it. When he hears and obeys he is brought under the authority of the Creator, and his life reflects the image of the Creator. When he closes his ear, or refuses to obey, he loses the divine image and the consequence is death, darkness, and captivity to demonic forces. By refusing to hear and obey the Creator, man loses his favored position among God's creatures and becomes instead the destroyer of himself, of human community, and of his natural environment. Man cannot truly live except by the word that comes from the Creator.[5]


Maurice believed, with Fox and the early Quakers, that this vital connection and personal relationship with the Word of God was fundamental to what it meant to be human—created in the image of God—and part of humanity’s essential constitution. Maurice connects this principle to Jewish philosopher Philo’s interpretation of the Old Testament Prophets, who he believed taught that all human beings were instructed by the Divine Word and that the witness to the truth found in heathen philosophies was an indication of this. A principle, he says, which was embraced by many of the Early Church Father’s as well.

They [the Quakers] said what Philo the Jew, and a number of the Christian fathers had perceived that all the prophets of the Old Testament were saying; what they perceived was implied in the true words and acts of every heathen. They said what I found enabled me to read the Bible with open eyes; to accept its words literally; to feel their connection with each other. They said what enabled me to understand the contradictions in myself; to feel how the light had always struggled with the darkness; how the darkness had tried to comprehend it and could not.[6]


This Divine Word and light is more than simply an abstract principle, it is Christ in every man. It is an indication of the union between man and God in Christ. Christ is the representative of the human race, its spiritual head, in perfect union with the father. All of humanity was created and redeemed in him. Christ is the original prototype of humanity. Maurice writes, “The proper constitution of man is his constitution in Christ.” We are only truly human—only truly ourselves—when we are in him. God has blessed humankind with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Before God created anything that is, he chose us to be his children in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-6). Maurice writes, “This relation is fixed, established, certain. It existed in Christ before all worlds. It was manifested, when He came in the flesh. He ascended on high, that we may claim it.”[7] According to Maurice, we are to look upon the incarnation “as the revelation of the Son of God in whom all things had stood from the first, in whom God had looked upon His creature from the first.”[8]
It is from this original constitution of humankind that Adam departed when he fell into sin. Our sin is that we have chosen our self over and against our relationship to God in Christ. We have not acknowledged him as the fountain head and sustainer of our life nor walked in him as our light. Whatever human beings choose to do, even if we deny God, we cannot alter our essential constitution. Maurice writes, “The truth is that every man is in Christ; the condemnation of every man is,  that he will not own the truth, he will not believe that which is the truth, that, except he were joined to Christ, he could not think, breathe, live a single hour.”[9] Although humankind knew God, they failed to acknowledge him as God, and so became foolish and darkened in their understanding, worshiping created things in the place of the living God (Romans 1:21-23). The difference between the believer and the unbeliever is not that one is in Christ and the other is not, it is rather that one walks in truth and the other in darkness,

What, then, do I assert? Is there no difference between the believer and the unbeliever? Yes, the greatest difference. But the difference is not about the fact, but precisely in the belief of the fact. God tells us, ‘In Him,’ that is in Christ, ‘I have created all things, whether they be in heaven or in earth. Christ is the head of every man. Some men believe this; some men disbelieve it. Those who disbelieve it ‘walk after the flesh.’ They do not believe that they are joined in an almighty Lord of life.”[10]


Maurice calls humankind to walk in the light which enlightens all who come into the world, which is Christ, the same who is the Son of God, the Divine Word who was from the beginning with God and who is God.

There is a light within you, close to you. Do you know it? Are you coming to it? Are you desiring that it should penetrate you through and through? Oh, turn to it! Turn from these idols that are surrounding you, --from the confused, dark world of thoughts within you! It will reveal yourself to you! It will reveal the world to you![11]

This teaching about the spiritual constitution of humankind in Christ and his nearness to human beings as their light, their originator, and the sustainer of their existence, was the essential, gospel principle of the old Quakers, which Maurice believed had been obscured by their system and discredited because of their negations. This spiritual Kingdom of Christ in and among humankind was in fact the foundation of all the doctrine that the Quakers came to despise, and the eternal ground of the sacraments they rejected.
This “Quaker idea” is the keystone for all of Maurice’s theology. Maurice believed that God’s union with humankind in Christ is the key to the interpretation of all facts—the kernel mystery of the universe.  Because humankind was created in Christ and chosen in him as God’s covenant partner from before the foundation of the world, it follows that humankind is only truly understood in Christ. Jesus Christ is not only the true and authoritative revelation of the nature and character of God, he is also the true revelation of humankind. Maurice writes, “The incarnation and sacrifice of Christ (is) a full declaration concerning man and God, a full revelation of the nature of both.”[12] Humankind’s true nature is its Christ-nature and not its Adam-nature, for humankind was created in Christ but fell in Adam.  Maurice believed that it was a mistake to build a doctrine of humankind from the ground up beginning with the empirical facts about human nature. Instead Maurice believed that theology should begin with the revelation of God’s triune nature in Christ. He writes,

My desire is to ground all theology upon the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, not to begin from ourselves and our sins; not to measure the straight line by the crooked one. This is the method I have learned from the Bible. There everything proceeds from God; He is revealing himself; He is acting, speaking, ruling.[13]

It was Maurice’s contention that the dominant emphasis of Christian theology in his day was exactly backwards in beginning with Adam and treating the fallen state of humankind of more primary than its original constitution in Christ. He writes, “Romish and Protestant divines, differing in the upshot of their schemes, have yet agreed in the construction of them. The fall of man is commonly regarded by both as the foundation of theology—the incarnation and death of our Lord as provisions against the effect of it.”[14] Maurice is consistent with George Fox in this point when he writes, “…live in Life, the Love and Power of God, which was before man and woman fell….”[15] and “sit not down in Adam in the Fall, but in Christ Jesus that never fell…that was with the Father before the world began.”[16] Maurice does not see this notion as being an oddity of Quakerism but rather as being the most faithful interpretation of scripture. He writes,

“If we follow the writers of the New Testament, we cannot make the event of Adam's fall the centre of our divinity, for they never give it that position. That Adam appears in them as the dying head of the race, Christ as the living head of it. That if we take St. Paul literally, we must regard the appearing of Christ in our flesh as the manifestation of that truth which had been hidden for ages and generations in God. That if we take St. John literally, we must speak of Christ as having been the Light that lightened every man before He was clothed in the garments of our humiliation.”[17]


Not only is it most biblical to begin with Christ as the primary fact about humankind, it is also most Anglican and Catholic, being embodied both in the Catholic creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles. Maurice insists,

That this idea of the New Testament Revelation is the idea that is embodied in our Creeds, which contain no allusion to Adam, which are wholly conversant about God and Christ and the Spirit. That this is the Order of our Articles, the second being on Christ taking the nature of Man, and there being no allusion to the Fall till the ninth ; the ground of Humanity being thus laid in Christ, the depravity that is naturally engendered in the offspring of Adam being treated as a departure from that standard.[18]


Only once we have grasped the high calling of humankind in Christ, can we begin to talk about its falleness as a depravation from that state.  Again, speaking of the 39 Articles of Religion, Maurice writes, “Not till the ninth article, do we speak of the Fall; and then not historically, as if it explained the condition of mankind, but morally, as accounting for 'an infection and corruption of nature which exists in every man of the progeny of Adam, even in the regenerate.'”[19] The emphasis upon humankind’s fall in Adam—its treatment as the primary fact about humankind—is so commonplace, Marice says, that anyone who speaks as he does is bound to be treated as if “denies the doctrine of man's depravity; that he is utterly ignorant of the necessity and nature of the Divine Atonement; that he is a Mystic, a Neo-Platonist, a German Rationalist, a Pantheist, etc. etc. etc.”[20] As shown above, however, Maurice believed he was only being consistent with scripture and the Catholic faith in these assertions.  In denying the primacy of humankind’s fallen Adam-nature, Maurice was definitely not trying to downplay the seriousness of sin or the corruption of human nature apart from Christ. No person, whether Christian or non-Christian, is unaffected by the universality of sin; however, sin can never be the primary fact about human nature because it is contradictory to the very notion of what it means to be human. Maurice has an Augustinian conception of sin as a depravation. Its existence is entirely negative. It has no real existence of its own and so it can never be a positive fact of human nature, but only a negation of the true fact that humankind was created in Christ. Sin is a contradiction of reality. Sinful humankind lives a lie and is in rebellion against its true nature. The gospel—the message about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—replaces the lie of sin with the truth of both humankind’s creation and redemption in Christ. It is not Adam who is the head of the human race, but Christ. Jesus Christ comes after Adam as “the Second Adam” and as the redeemer of humankind, but he in fact precedes Adam, being the eternal son of the Father and the one in whom and through whom humankind was created. Long before Adam fell, God chose to redeem us in Christ. The incarnation was more than a plan B, or a rescue mission; it was the intention of God from the beginning of creation. Humankind was destined to be joined to Christ as the true children of his Father.  Maurice writes,

…The Catechism, which we teach to all children who have been baptized, tells them that they are members of Christ, children of God, inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven. The Prayers framed for all the motley body which frequents our Churches, assume that all may call upon God as a reconciled Father. Here was the article translated into life. Human beings were treated as redeemed, — not in consequence of any act they had done, of any faith they had exercised; their faith was to be grounded on a foregone conclusion; their acts were to be the fruits of a state they already possessed.[21]


God’s love and his purposes for humankind is stronger than its sin and rebellion.  Jesus Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection is the seal and assurance that nothing shall ever separate humankind from the love of God.
            Maurice believed that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the true and original constitution of man was revealed. Some critics have accused Maurice of being ‘Abelardian’ or merely exemplarist in his doctrine of the atonement. Many liberal broad churchmen during Maurice’s day fiercely rejected the Penal-Substitutionary Doctrine of the Atonement and argued instead for the Moral Influence Theory proposed by the medieval theologian Abelard. Abelard’s was a subjective theory that suggested that atonement happened in the mind of the believer when they were moved to repentance by contemplating Jesus’ example of obedience upon the cross.  Michael Ramsey records Dr. Grensted as offering an interpretation of Maurice as an advocate of the Moral Influence theory, “…it is difficult to draw out any clear theory of Atonement from Maurice’s writings. But it is obvious how similar his general standpoint is to that of contemporary German and English exponents of the Moral Theory.”[22] Maurice seems, like the early Quakers, to emphasize the inward and subjective elements of the atonement at the expense of the objective sense. George Fox did not put much emphasis on the historical event of Jesus’ crucifixion, but instead emphasized the inner or subjective meaning of the cross as death to our sinful nature. Rachel Hadely King writes that for Fox, “the cross of Christ was the power of God within that is in opposition to, or goes contrary to the evil in human nature.”[23] The relationship to this spiritual experience and Jesus’ crucifixion is never clearly defined in Fox. However, early Quaker apologist Robert Barclay is clear in his denunciation of the charge that Friends deny any need for Jesus’ actual death. He writes,

We firmly believe it was necessary that Christ should come, that by his death and suffering he might offer up himself a sacrifice to God, for our sins, who his own self ‘bore our sins in his own body on the tree; so we believe, that the remission of sins, which any partake of, is only in, and by virtue of that most satisfactory sacrifice, and no otherwise.[24]

Maurice’s doctrine of the atonement does have some things in common with the subjective emphasis of Abelard and the Quaker notion of the cross as a revelation of Christ within, but despite what Grensted claims, his view is not purely a Moral Influence Theory. In response to Grensted’s reading of Maurice, Ramsey writes, “I do not think that is a true verdict.”[25] It is true that Maurice shares many of the objections to Penal-Substitution common to the Moral Theory School, but he goes significantly beyond them. Ramsey continues,

Without a doubt Maurice is developing the ‘manward’ aspect of the Atonement, and without doubt he is obscure. But I think that the obscurity is because Maurice’s thought fails to fit the familiar classification  of Atonement theories…Christ indeed bore our penalty—yet we cannot call his death penal, because his penalty-bearing was presented through and through by his gracious, loving obedience. Christ indeed made satisfaction—yet we cannot equate that satisfaction with the bare fact of his death, since the death was the expression of an obedience which made all the difference to it. Christ indeed bore instead of us what we could not ourselves bear—but it was not by a divine transference of penalty to him from us as a substitute, so much as by his coming into our region which lies under the divine wrath and from the midst of it  making the perfect acceptance of that wrath as our representative.[26]

Maurice’s theory of the Atonement was tied to his belief that Christ is the true head of humankind. Whereas all of humanity shared in the disobedience of Adam and universally came under the power of sin, humankind now share in the perfect obedience of the second Adam, Christ, and come under the power of his perfect sacrifice. The sacrifice of Christ is the sacrifice that which 1 Peter 1:19-20 describes as being made before the foundation of the world. The sacrifice that God requires is prefigured in the Old Testament, and consummately realized in the cross of Jesus, but ultimately has its roots in the triune being of God. The Son is in perfect obedience to the will of the Father from all eternity. To quote Maurice’s protégé George Macdonald, “When he [Jesus Christ] died on the cross, he did that, in the wild weather of his outlying provinces, in the torture of the body of his revelation, which he had done at home in glory and gladness.”[27] Jesus’ sacrifice was a revelation of the original constitution of humankind, but also an act of redemption performed vicariously as our representative which defeated the power of sin.  Maurice writes,

We see beneath all evil, beneath the universe itself, that eternal and original union of the Father and the Son…that union which was never fully manifested till the Only-begotten by the eternal spirit offered himself to God. The revelation of that primal unity is the revelation of the ground on which all things stand. It is the revelation of an order which sustains all the intercourse and society of men. It is the revelation of which sin has ever been seeking to destroy, and which at last has overcome sin. It is the revelation of that perfect harmony to which we look forward when all things are gathered up in Christ…when the law of sacrifice shall be the acknowledged law of all creation.[28]

Maurice’s doctrine of the atonement, while not merely subjective, is still deficient in failing to adequately account for the sense in which the cross is a judgment on human sinfulness. Maurice’s theology is enriched when read in light of Karl Barth’s doctrine of election, with which it shares so much in common. In Barth’s view, Christ is elect both in respect to blessing and reprobation. In Christ’s role as the head of humankind—as its representative—we see not only our victorious champion but also the condemnation we so richly deserve. Judgment is not God’s final word to humankind, however, and instead he forgives and redeems us in Jesus Christ.
            Maurice’s belief that every human being is in Christ, whether s/he recognizes it or not, is an affirmation of the universal scope of Jesus’ atonement beyond what any person does or does not do. Is Universalism—the belief that everyone at last will enjoy the felicity of God’s saving grace—the inevitable conclusion of such a view? Maurice’s view takes the so-called ‘universalistic text’ of the New Testament at face value. When scripture says that God “is the savior of all men” (1 Timothy 4:10), it really means that all people are saved, and does not merely refer to all kinds of people, or to some kind of potential or possible redemption. Does this then preclude any possibility of some rejecting what God has done and continuing to live a lie? Maurice writes,

I ask no one to pronounce, for I dare not pronounce myself, what are the possibilities of resistance in a human will to the loving will of God. There are times when they seem to me—thinking of myself more than others—almost infinite. But I know that there is something which must be infinite, I am obliged to believe in an abyss of love which is deeper than the abyss of death: I dare not lose faith in that love.[29]

 Maurice recognized a tension between God’s inexhaustible love, his power to save, and the unexplainable propensity of human beings to resist that power. Maurice refused to resolve that tension by either affirming or denying Universalism. Instead he believed that we should leave the question in God’s hands, while hoping and praying for the ultimate salvation of all people. What Maurice could not conceive is how a person could claim “that Christ came not into the world to save it but to pronounce the condition of ninety-nine out of every hundred of its inhabitants hopeless.”[30] Maurice’s ‘Quaker idea’ is a kind of Christocentric-inclusivism which sees the grace of God as including all humankind, while still affirming the uniqueness and centrality of Christ. Leslie Newbigin’s words could have been written about Maurice’s theology which,

…is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian Church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ.[31]

In a world that technological advances make to seem ever smaller, and within a culture that is increasingly more pluralistic, F.D. Maurice’s ‘Quaker idea’ offers a basis for presenting a Gospel that offers hope for all people. It allows us to recognize that God is at work in the lives of all people and to point them to that light which enlightens all who come into the world.
































[1] Frederick Denison Maurice, TheLife of Frederick Denison Maurice: Chiefly Told in His Own Letters (Macmillan, 1884), 236.
[2] Frederick Denison Maurice, Kingdom of Christ Or Hints to a Quaker 1883 (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 13–14.
[3] Frederick Denison Maurice, The Kingdom of Christ (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), 46.
[4] Ibid., 49.
[5] Lewis Benson, That of God in Every Man—What did George Fox mean by it? (from Quaker Religious Thought, Vol. XII, No. 2, Spring 1970; retyped for electronic distribution by Simon Watson) Online: http://www.qhpress.org/essays/togiem.html
[6] Frederick Denison Maurice, TheDoctrine of Sacrifice Deduced from the Scriptures: A Series of Sermons (Macmillan, 1893), xix–xx.
[7] Frederick Denison Maurice and John Frederick Maurice, The Prayer Book and the Lord’s Prayer (Attic Press, 1977), 378.
[9] Frederick Denison Maurice and Jeremy N. Morris, To Build Christ’s Kingdom: F. D. Maurice and His Writings (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2007), 37.
[10] Ibid., 36.
[11] Frederick Denison Maurice, TheologicalEssays (Macmillan, 1871), 30.
[13] Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice Deduced from the Scriptures, xli.
[14] Maurice and Maurice, The Prayer Book and the Lord’s Prayer, 118.
[16] Ibid., 60.
[18] Ibid., 249.
[19] Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice Deduced from the Scriptures, xxii.
[20] Maurice, Sequel to the Inquiry, What Is Revelation?, 248.
[21] Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice Deduced from the Scriptures, xxi–xxii.
[22] Michael Ramsey, F. D. Maurice and the Conflicts of Modern Theology (University Press, 1951), 62.
[23] Rachel Hadley King, George Fox and the Light Within, 1650 - 1660 (Friends Book Store, n.d.), 161–162.
[24] Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Being an Explanation and Vindication of the Principles and Doctrines of the People Called Quakers (Classic Reprint) (Forgotten Books, 2012), prop. V-VI, sect. XI, 123.
[25] Ramsey, F. D. Maurice and the Conflicts of Modern Theology, 62.
[26] Ibid.
[27] George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons (MobileReference, 2010).
[28] Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice Deduced from the Scriptures, 197.
[29] Maurice, Theological Essays, 323.
[31] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1989), 182–183.