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“Shakerism, Its Meaning and Message”

Excerpts from: Chapter XIV, pages 255-264

NEW IDEAS


 

The revisers of the “Millennial Church” assert that as “the light of Divine Truth is progressive in the Church, and as the preparatory work of salvation and redemption increases on earth,— so the solemn and important truths of the Gospel will continue from time to time to be more clearly manifested to mankind.”

Among the revelations to Ann Lee and imparted through her life and teachings, were ideas new to the Christian world.   Contrasting these ideas with the formulas of belief cherished and insisted upon by Christians of her day and for one hundred years later, the claim of a special gift of spiritual enlightenment is not extravagant; comparing them with the thought of the Churches of today, it will be apparent that the masses of Christian thinkers are slowly climbing up to the standard set more than a century ago by Ann Lee.  Among these great truths are:

God is Dual.

Shakers believe in One God — not three male beings in one, but Father and Mother.  And here the Bible reader turns at once to Genesis 1:26.  “And God said” — in the beginning of creative work, whether by fiat or evolution matters not — “let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  Did three masculine beings appear, in contradistinction to every form of life heretofore known?  Nay!  Verse 27 says: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.”

The ancient language of Scripture distinguishes God when power or truth are emphasized as masculine; when love or wisdom is the important attribute, the masculine name has the feminine complement.  O Theos agapa estin, God is Love (feminine).  The term Adam is well known to mean humanity, male and female.  How can it “image” a Being utterly unlike itself?   Simple and beautiful becomes the relation between God and man when the true meaning is accepted.   Hence comes

Equality of Sex.

Woman appears in her rightful place, at once the equal of man in creation and office at the hand of God.  Ann Lee's followers, 1900 years after Jesus uttered the words, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more;” and sent Mary to tell the Good News of a risen Lord and living Savior, alone of all humanity, have taught the doctrines that have placed woman side by side with man, his equal in power, in office, in influence and in judgment.  To Ann Lee may woman look for the first touch that struck off her chains and gave her absolute right to her own person.  To Ann Lee may all reformers among women look as the one who taught and through her followers teaches still perfect freedom, equality and opportunity to woman.  The daughters of Ann Lee, alone among women, rejoice in true freedom, not alone from the bondage of man's domination, but freedom also from the curse of that desire “to her husband” by which, through the ages, he has ruled over her.

God the Father-Mother.

Fatherhood and motherhood exist in the complete human being.  One is correlative of the other.  The apostle said: “The invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that He has made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”  And as all life in the “things that He has made” originates, as scientists tell us after most careful experiments, not from spontaneous generation, but always from seed or germinal principle, from a father and mother, so in the highest form of earth life, humanity, in the spiritual realm are souls born of God, the Absolute, Self-existent, infinite Perfection of Being, Father and Mother.  The very name God, Almighty, in its original Hebrew form El Shaddai, reveals the infinite quality. El, God, its first meaning, Strength: Shaddi, the plural whose singular, Shad, signifies a Breast and is feminine.

In the beautiful and lofty strains of that magnificent psalm found in the eighth chapter of Proverbs, “Doth not Wisdom Cry,” etc., Wisdom is feminine, and all through the wondrous passage the Mother in Deity utters her voice.  In the forty-fifth Psalm, the Queen is pictured standing at the right hand of the King.  The King's daughter is described in the beautiful vision that follows.  “She is all glorious within, her clothing is of wrought gold.   She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needle work,” wrought piece by piece, thread by thread, by her own patient efforts.  “The virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee.  With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought.  They shall enter into the King's palace.  Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.”   The spiritual children of Ann Lee, who forsook all fathers of church and creed and covenant, of old relationships of blood, old ties and bonds of idea, custom and conformity, and through supreme toil and anguish came to the heritage of spiritual motherhood, render easy of fulfillment the promise, —“I will make thy name to be remembered in all generations; therefore shall thy people praise thee for ever and ever.”  We may look up through Nature to God .  Our natural father and mother, with their united strength and wisdom, truth and love are types of that Perfect Parentage, our Father and Mother which are in Heaven.

Resurrection.

Mother Ann taught that there is no resurrection of the body. “I am the resurrection and the life,” said Jesus Christ.  The life of Christ is in itself, by its very nature, a resurrection out of, above, the natural, carnal life.  “The time cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live!”  The Christian resurrection is a resurrection of the soul from death in sin to a life of righteousness, as judged by the Christian standard, not the revivification of the dead physical body.   “Resurrection is unearthing.”  Whoever hears the voice that calls to the life of the Gospel and obeys, does rise from the death of sin and from the natural, carnal plane of existence into the life of regeneration.

Regeneration.

“By following in the footsteps of Jesus and in obedience to his precepts, man may be fully saved from sin in this life and ultimately redeemed from sin and all temptations to evil.  The true Christian salvation is from the commission of sin, not merely from the consequences of committed sin.  The blood (life) that Jesus gave for man's salvation was his life of consecration and obedience to God's will, an example and winning incentive to follow him.   The death Jesus died to aid humanity in the work of salvation was his death to a sinful nature, by which he overcame the world within, thus becoming the great Mediator for our race. ‘In that he (Jesus) died, he died unto sin once.’  No vicarious atonement.  As well have vicarious nutrition and respiration as vicarious obedience.   The true cross is not of wood but a life of self-denial, a crucifixion of the lower nature.  Every soul must work out its own salvation by practising the self-denials of Jesus, aided by baptisms of the Holy Spirit of Christ, an influx of the saving power of the Divine Creator; salvation is not otherwise found.”

Atonement.

As a new, practical and living sense is found in the terms resurrection, regeneration, so do the followers of Mother Ann Lee learn from her a new rendering of this old theologic term, which is at-one-ment.  By the life of the resurrection, by following in the steps of Jesus, living out his principles, man works out his salvation and comes to be at one with God.

The Judgment.

“The day of judgment for any soul commences when brought to the Christ tribunal, whether in this or the spirit world. This judgment is initiated by the voluntary confession of all the confessant's sins to God, in the presence of a Christ witness, who likewise has confessed all sin.”   The end of the world shall come to every soul who is born of the Spirit into the Kingdom of Heaven and by growth and patient effort will eventually attain unto the Kingdom of God.

The Soul's Eternal Progression.

Against the favorite doctrines of her time — Election, Reprobation, Hell Torment for the persons of those decreed by the fiat of Eternal justice to a lake of fire and brimstone, Ann Lee taught the mercy and love of the Eternal Father-Mother.  The souls of all men have endless existence.   Every soul is subject for the spiritual resurrection to eternal life, by obedience to Christian principles; thus, and thus only, may it inherit eternal soul life.

The soul’s probation is not limited to this world, but extends to the world of spirits, the future state.  Thus only can the justice and mercy of God be manifest to souls who are not privileged to hear the testimony of Christ in this life.  Jesus Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison (1Peter iii, 19, 20).  Heaven and hell are conditions and states of the soul.  Heaven is opened and entered by repentance of sin and a life of righteousness.  Hell is formed by disobedience to God's laws and persistence in sin.   Mother Ann taught that whenever and wherever a soul felt true repentance, that moment it turned toward God; that mercy was everlasting; that pure, ministering spirits watched over, led and taught repentant souls, both in this world and in the world beyond, and that the soul's advance was continuous in knowledge and goodness, in spiritual power and glory, toward the perfection of the Divine character.

Christ of the Ages.

To Ann Lee came by revelation of the Spirit and through her was imparted to her followers the teaching that Christ (not Jesus) is the manifestation of Deity, — “Immanuel, God with us.”  Many times and in different races has the Christ Spirit rested upon, entered into and manifested itself through human beings,— special witnesses.  The most complete and all-embracing endowment of the manifesting Spirit of God rested upon Jesus of Nazareth, who was born a Jew.  Struggling with a nature like our own, “tempted in all points like as we are,” he conquered by self-control and daily cross-bearing, as we must conquer our natures, “learning obedience by the things that he suffered.”  When the multitudes came to John in the wilderness, confessing their sins, and were baptized of him in Jordan unto repentance, Jesus came with the rest.  John recognized the superior sanctity of his character and refused to baptize him, as himself unworthy of so sacred a privilege.  The short dialogue between them was ended by the word of Jesus: “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”  After receiving at the hands of John, the appointed witness, the sign of spiritual cleansing in the baptism with water, immediately followed the descent upon him of the Christ Spirit, which, in the form of a dove, was apparent to John.  Then came the consecrating voice: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.”  Jesus the man had become Jesus Christ the Anointed, and through the rest of his life his works were those of the loving, pitying, Heavenly Father.  Jesus Christ expresses to man the nature and character of God the Father.  Jesus lived a pure life, uncontaminated by sensuality, by any lust of flesh or pride of life.  His followers gave up all, shared all things in common, lived in peace, without wars or fightings, and were known by their great love for one another.

The Coming of Anti-Christ.

Jesus Christ and his immediate followers foretold a time when there would be a great falling away, when heresies and divisions would creep in among the disciples.  That time soon came.   Constantine, the first Christian emperor, made the church a channel for war and conquest.  Simplicity and purity were lost and all traces of the early faith as taught by Jesus disappeared.  One dogma after another was propounded and adopted by councils of priests, as opposed to the simple truth and pure love of the early church as light is opposed to darkness; until Jesus would not have known those who claimed his name, had he come to earth, nor would he have been recognized by them.  Christ has not been recognized when He has come, wherever some strong voice has taken up the word of truth, bravely and simply, uttering it out of a loyal heart untrammeled by priest or book.

Christ Revealed in Woman.

Jesus Christ not only foretold the falling away, the coming of antichrist, he also foretold a reappearing, a coming again to gather and save.  In his last interviews with his disciples he uttered some mysterious words, over which theological quibbling has spent itself in vain.  At the end of the last opening of the heavens of inspiration, before the darkness of antichristian night settled down upon a world that had once trembled to the angel chorus, there comes a beautiful vision — a vision of a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, of a Being wondrous in brightness and glory, resplendent as the sun.  There is a Bridegroom and a Bride, and the two utter a heavenly harmony, whose opening chord was the song on Bethlehem's hills. “The Spirit and the Bride say Come!”  Come! to all humanity!  Come to the rest, the feast, the home, the harmony!  Come to purity, truth and love!  Come to fruition, redemption, perfection!

Not to the wise nor prudent of this world came the word of revelation, but to the child in simple trust with heart of faith.   The apocalypse of mystery that descended from cloud to sea at Patmos opened its meanings, when to the child spirit of Ann Lee came the call of God.  We have watched her follow that call.  We have seen her wrestlings and conflicts as flesh strove with spirit, as the cross, heavy and death bringing, was taken bravely up.  We have watched her. as she subdued and slew the weakness and sin of her lower nature.  We have heard her cries and moans of agony as the weight of a world's woe pressed upon her heart.  We have watched her in prison, every nerve throbbing with the torture of that forsaken, narrow cell, where for fourteen days she was nourished by God's gift, sustained by His power.  We have seen her in the prison cell in Manchester, baptized with the Christ Spirit.  From that time she never faltered in her calm assurance of knowledge that to her had been given the revelation of the Maternal Spirit of God.

Ann Lee always acknowledged Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, the Head of the Church; but, when the two anointed leaders, before whom she had confessed her sins and whom she had obeyed as her spiritual guides, recognized in her a superior endowment of Divine Maternity, and with the rest of the little circle acknowledged her as now their Spiritual Mother, she did not refuse the recognition.

Once, in 1781, a large assembly of Believers were gathered at Watervliet, among them Joseph Meacham, Calvin Harlow and three of the Goodriches.  Mother Ann reproved the people sharply for their unbelief.   Especially the men and brethren, “I upbraid you,” she said.  She spoke of the unbelieving Jews in the time of Jesus, and continued: “Even his own disciples after he arose from the dead, though he had often told them that he should rise on the third day, believed it not.  They would not believe that he had risen because he had appeared first to a woman.  So great was their unbelief that the words of Mary seemed to them like idle tales!  His appearing first to a woman showed that his second appearing would be in a woman.”  So great was the power of the Spirit of God in which she spoke that many could not stay in her presence.  After this she sang with great joy and love, gathering the people about her. “Her countenance was beautiful and glorious,” says one who was of the company.

End of Excerpts   —  File 1 of 4
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