That of God via William Penn

Asked what we believe many mod­ern Friends will reply “That there is that of God in every­one.” It’s an ear­ly Quak­er phrase but what exact­ly do we mean by it? Part of its cur­rent pop­u­lar­i­ty is its ambi­gu­i­ty. We live in a fierce­ly indi­vid­u­al­is­tic age and it can be read as a call to per­son­al inde­pen­dence: “I don’t need to care what you think because I’ve got that of God in me!”

So it’s use­ful to read William Penn’s thoughts on spir­i­tu­al indi­vid­u­al­ism in The Rise and Progress of the Peo­ple Called Quak­ers. He’s talk­ing about those mem­bers of the still-new Soci­ety of Friends who had become the “great­est trou­ble,” who “fought domin­ion over conscience”:

They would have had every Man inde­pen­dent, that as he had the Prin­ci­ple in him­self, he should only stand and fall to that, and no Body else: Not con­sid­er­ing that the Prin­ci­ple is one in all and though the Mea­sure of Light or Grace might dif­fer, yet the Nature of it was the same; and being so, the struck at the Spir­i­tu­al Uni­ty, which a Peo­ple, guid­ed by the same Prin­ci­ple, are nat­u­ral­ly led into: So that what is an Evil to one, is so to all, from the Sense and Savour of the one uni­ver­sal Prin­ci­ple which is com­mon to all, and which the Dis­af­fect­ed also pro­fess to be the Root of all true Chris­t­ian Fel­low­ship, and that Spir­it into which the Peo­ple of God drink, and come to be Spiritually-minded, and of one Heart and one Soul.

For Penn, that of God is the spir­it of the inward Christ – a spir­it we can drink from to find spir­i­tu­al uni­ty. It is an author­i­ty root­ed not in our own human weak­ness but in  uni­ver­sal spir­i­tu­al truths that are acces­si­ble to all.

  • Grellet06

    I’ve actu­al­ly read the essay by Lewis Ben­son, “That of God in Every Man: What Did George Fox Mean By It?” While the expres­sion is rarely used by Friends these days in the way Fox used it, I’ve nev­er heard it used as “a call to per­son­al independence.”