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.