Tonight I've been reading more Calvin--this week's systematic theology topic is the doctrine of sin, and I don't think I'm ready to tackle that one yet, so I'll stick with the nice doctrine of the Inner Light. =)
Calvin is talking about how although humans were created in the image of God, they sinned and so lost their capacity for spiritual insight apart from God's grace, and although we still have the ability to be rational and to use our will, these have been perverted by the Fall (although we won't tell Calvin that the term "Fall" doesn't appear in the Bible, or even in Hebrew literature until about 200-100BCE...but that's another topic).
So Calvin's saying that we don't have the ability to recognize God apart from God's revelation to us, which I suppose is true, but I think it would be true whether we were perfect or not. Anyway, where this connects with the Inner Light is that Calvin talks about John 1:5 where the author says, "this light shines in the darkness, but the darkness comprehends it not." Of this Calvin says, "[God] shows that [hu]man's soul is so illumined by the brightness of God's light as never to be without some slight flame or at least a spark of it; but that even with this illumination it does not comprehend God" (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.II.19).
This sounds like an Inner Light to me. I think I agree with Calvin here. If the world is somehow in darkness, meaning that there is evil present in the world and we are not all in full communion with God at all times, if there is any light in the world we probably all see a flicker of it, and keep this flicker alive in ourselves if we try. At the same time, we can't fully comprehend God, of course. We can see a glimmer of light and we can walk toward it, we can cultivate it in ourselves, but we'll never understand or possess it completely--else it isn't God!
This is where I differ from Calvin, however, because he would say that there is nothing we can do to recognize or move toward the light. Only God can cause us to recognize God's self, and only God can make God's self more comprehensible to us. Calvin doesn't believe in free will to do good--everything good is from God. I agree in a sense, in that God created everything good and therefore every good thing has its root in God. But I think God has created us in such a way that we can choose good. We know what is good because of God impolanting knowledge and recognition of God's character in us, but we have the free will to choose what to do with that knowledge. If all we can do is choose evil, why wouldn't God cause all of us to choose good? Why only the "elect" few?
Instead, I think God offers the Light to the entire world, and most of the world doesn't comprehend it although God makes that recognition available to all. We can choose to move toward the Light, to fan the flame of the Light within ourselves and our communities, or choose to keep our distance, remaining in darkness and incomprehension.
Does anyone know of a Quaker systematic theological work besides Barclay? (I know, it's kind of an oxymoroan--Quaker systematic theology--but hey, I think it's an interesting way of dialoguing with other groups.) Reformed theology is interesting and all, but it would be nice to read a Quaker perspective, but I don't know of any that are more recent than Barclay's.