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GEORGE FOX - An Autobiography

INTRODUCTION

by Rufus Jones


Introduction

There are mysterious moments in the early life of the individual which we call "budding periods." They are incubation crises, when some new power or function is coming into being. The budding tendency to creep, to walk, to imitate, or to speak, is an indication that the psychological moment has come for learning the special operation.

There are, too, similar periods in the history of the race, mysterious times of gestation, when something new is coming to be, however dimly the age itself comprehends the significance of its travail. These racial "budding periods," like those others, have organic connection with the past. They are life-events which the previous history of humanity has made possible, and so they cannot be understood by themselves.

The most notable characteristic of such times is the simultaneous outbreaking of new aspects of truth in sundered places and through diverse lives, as though the breath of a new Pentecost were abroad. This dawning time is generally followed by the appearance of some person who proves to be able to be the exponent of what others have dimly or subconsciously felt, and yet could not explicitly set forth. Such a person becomes by a certain divine right the prophet of the period because he knows how to interpret its ideas with such compelling force that he organizes men, either for action or for perpetuating the truth.

In the life history of the Anglo-Saxon people few periods are more significant than that which is commonly called the Commonwealth period, though the term must be used loosely to cover the span from 1640 to 1660. It was in high degree one of these incubation epochs when something new came to consciousness, and things equally new came to deed. This is not the place to describe the political struggles which finally produced tremendous constitutional changes, nor to tell how those who formed the pith and marrow of a nation rose against an antiquated conception of kingship and established principles of self-government. The civil and political commotion was the outcome of a still deeper commotion. For a century the burning questions had been religious questions. The Church of that time was the result of compromise. It had inherited a large stock of mediæval thought, and had absorbed a mass of mediæval traditions. The men of moral and religious earnestness were bent on some measure of fresh reform. A spirit was abroad which could not be put down, and which would not be quiet. The old idea of an authoritative Church was outgrown, and yet no religious system had come in its place which provided for a free personal approach to God Himself. It has, in fact, always been a peculiarly difficult problem to discover some form of organization which will conserve the inherited truth and guarantee the stability of the whole, while at the same time it promotes the personal freedom of the individual.

The long struggle for religious reforms in England followed two lines of development. There was on the one hand a well-defined movement toward Presbyterianism, and on the other a somewhat chaotic search for freer religious life -- a movement towards Independency. The rapid spread of Presbyterianism increased rather than diminished the general religious commotion. It soon became clear that this was another form of ecclesiastical authority, as inflexible as the old, and lacking the sacred sanction of custom. Then, too, the Calvinistic theology of the time did violence to human nature as a whole. Its linked logic might compel intellectual assent, but there is something in a man as real as his intellect, which is not satisfied with this clamping of eternal truth into inflexible propositions. Personal soul-hunger, and the necessity which many individuals feel for spiritual quest, must always be reckoned with. It should not be forgotten that George Fox came to his spiritual crisis under this theology.

Thus while theology was stiffening into fixed form with one group, it was becoming ever more fluid among great masses of people throughout the nation. Religious authority ceased to count as it had in the past. Existing religious conditions were no longer accepted as final. There was a widespread restlessness which gradually produced a host of curious sects. Fox came directly in contact with at least four of the leading sectarian movements of the time and there can be no question that they exerted an influence upon him both positively and negatively. The first "sect" in importance, and the first to touch the life of George Fox, was the Baptist -- at that time often called Anabaptist. His uncle Pickering was a member of this sect, and, though George seems to have been rather afraid of the Baptists, he must have learned something from them. They already had a long history, reaching back on the continent to the time of Luther, and their entire career had been marked by persecution and suffering. They were "Independents," i. e., they believed that Church and State should be separate, and that each local church should have its own independent life. They stoutly objected to infant baptism, maintaining that no act could have a religious value unless it were an act of will and of faith. Edwards, in his "Gangræna," 1646, reports a doctrine then afloat to the intent that "it is as lawful to baptize a cat, or a dog, or a chicken as to baptize an infant." Their views on ministry were novel and must surely have interested Fox. They encouraged a lay ministry, and they actually had cobblers, leather-sellers, tailors, weavers and at least one brewer, preaching in their meetings. John Bunyan, who was of them, proved to general satisfaction that "Oxford and Cambridge were not necessary to fit men to preach." Still stranger, they had what their enemies scornfully called "She-preachers." Edwards has recorded this dreadful error in his list of one hundred and ninety-nine "distinct errors, heresies and blasphemies": "Some say that 'tis lawful for women to preach, that they have gifts as well as men; and some of them do actually preach, having great resort to them"!

Furthermore, they held that all tithes and all set stipends were unlawful. They maintained that preachers should work with their own hands and not "go in black clothes." This sad error appears in Edwards's chaotic list: "It is said that all settled certain maintenance for ministers of the gospel is unlawful." Finally many of the Baptists opposed the use of "steeple houses" and held the view that no person is fitted to preach or prophesy unless the Spirit moves him.

The "Seekers" are occasionally mentioned in the Journal and were widely scattered throughout England during the Commonwealth. They were serious-minded people who saw nowhere in the world any adequate embodiment of religion. They held that there was no true Church, and that there had been none since the days of the apostles. They did not celebrate any sacraments, for they held that there was nobody in the world who possessed an anointing clearly, certainly and infallibly enough to perform such rites. They had no "heads" to their assemblies, for they had none among them who had "the power or the gift to go before one another in the way of eminency or authority." William Penn says that they met together "not in their own wills" and "waited together in silence, and as anything arose in one of their minds that they thought favored with a divine spring, so they sometimes spoke."

We are able to pick out a few of their characteristic "errors" from Edwards's list in the "Gangræna." "That to read the Scriptures to a mixed congregation is dangerous." "That we did look for great matters from One crucified in Jerusalem 1600 years ago, but that does no good; it must be a Christ formed in us." "That men ought to preach and exercise their gifts without study and premeditation and not to think what they are to say till they speak, because it shall be given them in that hour and the Spirit shall teach them." "That there is no need of human learning or reading of authors for preachers, but all books and learning must go down. It comes from want of the Spirit that men write such great volumes."

The "Seekers" expected that the light was soon to break, the days of apostasy would end and the Spirit would make new revelations. In the light of this expectation a peculiar significance attaches to the frequent assertion of Fox that he and his followers were living in the same Spirit which gave forth the Scriptures, and received direct commands as did the apostles. "I told him," says Fox of a "priest," "that to receive and go with a message, and to have a word from the Lord, as the prophets and apostles had and did, and as I had done," was quite another thing from ordinary experience. A much more chaotic "sect" was that of the "Ranters." There was probably a small seed of truth in their doctrines, but under the excitement of religious enthusiasm they went to wild and perilous extremes, and in some cases even fell over the edge of sanity. They started with the belief that God is in everything, that every man is a manifestation of God, and they ended with the conclusion which their bad logic gave them that therefore what the man does God does. They were above all authority and actually said: "Have not we the Spirit, and why may not we write scriptures as well as Paul?" They believed the Scriptures "not because such and such writ it," but because they could affirm "God saith so in me." What Christ did was for them only a temporal figure, and nothing external was of consequence, since they had God Himself in them. As the law had been fulfilled they held that they were free from all law, and might without sin do what they were prompted to do. Richard Baxter says that "the horrid villainies of the sect did speedily extinguish it." Judge Hotham told Fox in 1651 that "if God had not raised up the principle of Light and Life which he (Fox) preached, the nation had been overrun with Ranterism." Many of the Ranters became Friends, some of them becoming substantial persons in the new Society, though there were for a time some serious Ranter influences at work within the Society, and a strenuous opposition was made to the establishment of discipline, order and system. The uprising of the "Fifth-monarchy men" is the only other movement which calls for special allusion. They were literal interpreters of Scripture, and had discovered grounds for believing in the near approach of the millennium. By some system of calculation they had concluded that the last of the four world monarchies -- the Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman -- was tottering toward its fall, and the Fifth universal monarchy -- Christ's -- was about to be set up. The saints were to reign. The new monarchy was so slow in coming that they thought they might hasten it with carnal weapons. Perhaps a miracle would be granted if they acted on their faith. The miracle did not come, but the uprising brought serious trouble to Fox, who had before told these visionaries in beautifully plain language that "Christ has come and has dashed to pieces the four monarchies."

The person of genius discovers in the great mass of things about him just that which is vital and essential. He seizes the eternal in the temporal, and all that he borrows, he fuses with creative power into a new whole. This creative power belonged to George Fox. There was hardly a single truth in the Quaker message which had not been held by some one of the many sects of the time. He saw the spiritual and eternal element which was almost lost in the chaos of half truths and errors. In his message these scattered truths and ideas were fused into a new whole and received new life from his living central idea.


It is a strange fact that, though England had been facing religious problems of a most complex sort since the oncoming of the Reformation, it had produced no religious genius. No one had appeared who saw truth on a new level, or who possessed a personality and a personal message which compelled the attention of the nation. There had been long years of ingenious, patchwork compromise, but no distinct prophet. George Fox is the first real prophet of the English Reformation, for he saw what was involved in this great religious movement.[1] Perhaps the most convincing proof of this is not the remarkable immediate results of his labors, though these are significant enough, but rather the easily-verified fact that the progress of religious truth during the last hundred years has been toward the truth which he made central in his message.[2] However his age misunderstood him, he would to-day find a goodly fellowship of believers.

The purpose of this book is to have him tell his own story, which in the main he knows how to do. It will, however, be of some service to the reader to develop in advance the principle of which he was the exponent. The first period of his life is occupied with a most painful quest for something which would satisfy his heart. His celebrated contemporary, Bunyan, possessed much greater power of describing inward states and experiences, but one is led to believe on comparing the two autobiographical passages that the sufferings of Fox, in his years of spiritual desolation, were even more severe than were those of Bunyan, though it is to be noted that the former does not suffer from the awful sense of personal sin as the latter does. "When I came to eleven years of age, I knew pureness and righteousness," is Fox's report of his own early deliverance from the sense of sin. His "despair," from which he could find no comfort, was caused by the extreme sensitiveness of his soul. The discovery that the world, and even the Church, was full of wickedness and sin crushed him. "I looked upon the great professors of the city [London, 1643], and I saw all was dark and under the chain of darkness." This settled upon him with a weight, deep almost as death. Nothing in the whole world seemed to him so real as the world's wickedness. "I could have wished," he cries out, "I had never been born, or that I had been born blind that I might never have seen wickedness or vanity; and deaf that I might never have heard vain and wicked words, or the Lord's name blasphemed."

He was overwhelmed, however, not merely because he discovered that the world was wicked, but much more because he discovered that priests were "empty hollow casks," and that religion, as far as he could discover any in England, was weak and ineffective, with no dynamic message which moved with the living power of God behind it. He could find theology enough and theories enough, but he missed everywhere the direct evidence that men about him had found God. Religion seemed to him to be reduced to a system of clever substitutes for God, while his own soul could not rest until it found the Life itself.

The turning point of his life is the discovery -- through what he beautifully calls an "opening" -- that Christ is not merely an historic person who once came to the world and then forever withdrew, but that He is the continuous Divine Presence, God manifested humanly, and that this Christ can "speak to his condition."

At first sight, there appears to be nothing epoch-making in these simple words. But it soon develops that what he really means is that he has discovered within the deeps of his own personality a meeting place of the human spirit with the Divine Spirit. He had never had any doubts about the historical Christ. All that the Christians of his time believed about Christ, he, too, believed. His long search had not been to find out something about Christ, but to find Him. The Christ of the theological systems was too remote and unreal to be dynamic for him. Assent to all the propositions about Him left one still in the power of sin. He emerges from the struggle with an absolute certainty in his own mind that he has discovered a way by which his soul has immediate dealings with the living God. The larger truth involved in his experience soon becomes plain to him, namely, that he has found a universal principle, that the Spirit of God reaches every man. He finds this divine-human relation taught everywhere in Scripture, but he challenges everybody to find the primary evidence of it in his own consciousness. He points out that every hunger of the heart, every dissatisfaction with self, every act of self-condemnation, every sense of shortcoming shows that the soul is not unvisited by the Divine Spirit. To want God at all implies some acquaintance with Him. The ability to appreciate the right, to discriminate light from darkness, the possibility of being anything more than a creature of sense, living for the moment, means that our personal life is in contact at some point with the Infinite Life, and that all things are possible to him who believes and obeys.

To all sorts and conditions of men, Fox continually makes appeal to "that of God" within them. At other times he calls it indiscriminately the "Light," or the "Seed," or the "Principle" of God within the man. Frequently it is the "Christ within." In every instance he means that the Divine Being operates directly upon the human life, and the new birth, the real spiritual life, begins when the individual becomes aware of Him and sets himself to obey Him. He may have been living along with no more explicit consciousness of a Divine presence than the bubble has of the ocean on which it rests and out of which it came; but even so, God is as near him as is the beating of his own heart, and only needs to be found and obeyed.

Instead of making him undervalue the historic revelations of God, the discovery of this principle of truth gave him a new insight into the revelations of the past and the supreme manifestations of the Divine Life and Love. He could interpret his own inward experience in the light of the gathered revelation of the ages. His contemporaries used to say that, though the Bible were lost, it might be found in the mouth of George Fox, and there is not a line in the Journal to indicate that he undervalued either the Holy Scriptures or the historic work of Christ for human salvation. Entirely the contrary. As soon as he realized that the same God who spoke directly to men in earlier ages still speaks directly, and that to be a man means to have a "seed of God" within, he saw that there were no limits to the possibilities of a human life. It becomes possible to live entirely in the power of the Spirit and to have one's life made a free and victorious spiritual life. So to live is to be a "man" -- for sin and disobedience reduce a man. The normal person, then, is the one who has discovered the infinite Divine resources, and is turning them into the actual stuff of a human life. That it happens now and then is no mystery; that it happens so seldom is the real mystery. "I asked them if they were living in the power of the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures" is his frequent and somewhat naïve question, as though everybody ought to be doing it.

The consciousness of the presence of God is the characteristic thing in George Fox's religious life. His own life is in immediate contact with the Divine Life. It is this conviction which unifies and gives direction to all his activities. God has found him and he has found God. It is this experience which puts him among the mystics.

But here we must not overlook the distinction in types of mysticism. There is a great group of mystics who have painfully striven to find God by a path of negation. They believe that everything finite is a shadow, an illusion -- nothing real. To find God, then, every vestige of the finite must be given up. The infinite can be reached only by wiping out all marks of the finite. The Absolute can be attained only when every "thing" and every "thought" have been reduced to zero. But the difficulty is that this kind of an Absolute becomes absolutely unknowable. From the nature of the case He could not be found, for to have any consciousness of Him at all would be to have a finite and illusory thought.

George Fox belongs rather among the positive mystics, who seek to realize the presence of God in this finite human life. That He transcends all finite experiences they fully realize, but the reality of any finite experience lies just in this fact, that the living God is in it and expresses some divine purpose through it, so that a man may, as George Fox's friend, Isaac Penington says, "become an organ of the life and power of God," and "propagate God's life in the world." The mystic of this type may feel the light break within him and know that God is there, or he may equally well discover Him as he performs some clear, plain duty which lies across his path. His whole mystical insight is in his discovery that God is near, and not beyond the reach of the ladders which He has given us.

But no one has found the true George Fox when he stops with an analysis of the views which he held. Almost more remarkable than the truth which he proclaimed was the fervor, the enthusiasm, the glowing passion of the man. He was of the genuine apostolic type. He had come through years of despair over the wickedness of the world, but as soon as the Light really broke, and he knew that he had a message for the world in its sin and ignorance, there was after that nothing but the grave itself which could keep him quiet. He preached in cathedrals, on hay stacks, on cliffs of rock, from hill tops, under apple trees and elm trees, in barns and in city squares, while he sent epistles from every prison in which he was shut up. Wherever he could find men who had souls to save he told them of the Life and Truth which he had found.

Whether one is in sympathy with Fox's mystical view of life or not, it is impossible not to be impressed with the practical way in which he wrought out his faith. After all, the view that God and man are not isolated was not new; the really new thing was the appearance of a man who genuinely practiced the Divine presence and lived as though he knew that his life was in a Divine environment.

We have dwelt upon the fundamental religious principle of Fox at some length, because his great work as a social reformer and as the organizer of a new system of Church government proceeds from this root principle. One central idea moves through all he did. His originality lies, however, not so much in the discovery, or the rediscovery, of the principle as in the fearless application of it. Other men had believed in Divine guidance; other Christians had proclaimed the impenetration of God in the lives of men. But George Fox had the courage to carry his conviction to its logical conclusions. He knew that there were difficulties entailed in calling men everywhere to trust the Light and to follow the Voice, but he believed that there were more serious difficulties to be faced by those who put some external authority in the place of the soul's own sight. He was ready for the consequences and he proceeded to carry out both in the social and in the religious life of his time the experiment of obeying the Light within. It is this courageous fidelity to his insight that made him a social reformer and a religious organizer. He belongs, in this respect, in the same list with St. Francis of Assisi. They both attempted the difficult task of bringing religion from heaven to earth.

1. In the light of his religious discovery Fox reinterpreted man as a member of society. If man has direct intercourse with God he is to be treated with noble respect. He met the doctrine of the divine right of kings with the conviction of the divine right of man. Every man is to be treated as a man. He was a leveler, but he leveled up, not down. Every man was to be read in terms of his possibilities -- if not of royal descent, certainly of royal destiny. This view made Fox an unparalleled optimist. He believed that a mighty transformation would come as soon as men were made aware of this divine relationship which he had discovered. They would go to living as he had done, in the power of this conviction.

He began at once to put in practice his principle of equality -- i. e., equality of privilege. He cut straight through the elaborate web of social custom which hid man's true nature from himself. Human life had become sicklied o'er with a cast of sham, until man had half forgotten to act as man. Fox rejected for himself every social custom which seemed to him to be hollow and to belittle man himself. The honor which belonged to God he would give to no man, and the honor which belonged to any man he gave to every man. This was the reason for his "thee" and "thou." The plural form had been introduced to give distinction. He would not use it. The Lord Protector and the humble cotter were addressed alike. He had an eye for the person of great gifts and he never wished to reduce men to indistinguishable atoms of society, but he was resolved to guard the jewel of personality in every individual -- man or woman.

2. His estimate of the worth of man made him a reformer. In society as he found it men were often treated more as things than as persons. For petty offenses they were hung,[3] and if they escaped this fate they were put into prisons where no touch of man's humanity was in evidence. In the never-ending wars the common people were hardly more than human dice. Their worth as men was well nigh forgotten. Trade was conducted on a system of sliding prices -- high for this man, low for some other. Dealers were honest where they had to be; dishonest where thy could be. The courts of justice were extremely uncertain and irregular, as the pages of this journal continually show. Against every such crooked system which failed to recognize the divine right of man George Fox set himself. He himself had large opportunities of observing the courts of justice and the inhuman pens which by courtesy were called jails. But he became a reformer, not to secure his own rights or to get a better jail to lie in, but to establish the principle of human rights for all men. He went calmly to work to carry an out-and-out honesty into all trade relations, to establish a fixed price for goods of every sort, to make principles of business square with principles of religion. By voice or by epistle he called every judge in the realm to "mind that of God" within him. He refused ever to take an oath, because he was resolved to make a plain man's "yea" weigh as heavy as an oath. He was always in the lists against the barbarity of the penal system, the iniquity of enslaving men, the wickedness of war, the wastefulness of fashion and the evils of drunkenness, and by argument and deed he undertook to lead the way to a new heroism, better than the heroism of battlefields.

3. The logic of his principle compelled him to value education. If all men are to count as men, it is a man's primal duty to be all he can be. To be a poor organ of God when one was meant for a good one belongs among the high sins.[4] If it was "opened" to him that Oxford and Cambridge could not make men ministers, his own reason taught him that it is not safe to call all men to obey the voice and follow the light without broad-basing them at the same time in the established facts of history and nature. Fox himself very early set up schools for boys and girls alike in which "everything civil and useful in creation" was to be taught. It is, however, quite possible that he undervalued the aesthetic side of man, and that he suffered by his attempt to starve it. In this particular he shared the puritan tendency, and had not learned how to hold all things in proportion, and to make the culture of the senses at the same time beautify the inner man.

4. On the distinctive religious side his discovery of a direct divine-human relationship led to a new interpretation of worship and ministry. God is not far off. He needs no vicar, no person of any sort between Himself and the worshipper. Grace no more needs a special channel than the dew does. There is no special holy place, as though God were more there than here. He does not come from somewhere else. He is Spirit, needs only a responsive soul, an open heart, to be found. Worship properly begins when the soul discovers Him and enjoys His presence -- in the simplest words it is the soul's appreciation of God. With his usual optimism, he believed that all men and women were capable of this stupendous attainment. He threw away all crutches at the start and called upon everybody to walk in the Spirit, to live in the Light. His house of worship was bare of everything but seats. It had no shrine, for the shekinah was to be in the hearts of those who worshipped. It had no altar, for God needed no appeasing, seeing that He Himself had made the sacrifice for sin. It had no baptismal font, for baptism was in his belief nothing short of immersion into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- a going down into the significance of Christ's death and a coming up in newness of life with Him. There was no communion table, because he believed that the true communion consisted in partaking directly of the soul's spiritual bread -- the living Christ. There were no confessionals, for in the silence, with the noise and din of the outer life hushed, the soul was to unveil itself to its Maker and let His light lay bare its true condition. There was no organ or choir, for each forgiven soul was to give praise in the glad notes that were natural to it. No censer was swung, for he believed God wanted only the fragrance of sincere and prayerful spirits. There was no priestly mitre, because each member of the true Church was to be a priest unto God. No official robes were in evidence, because the entire business of life, in meeting and outside, was to be the putting on of the white garments of a saintly life. From beginning to end worship was the immediate appreciation of God, and the appropriate activity of the whole being in response to Him.

William Penn says of him: "The most awful, living, reverent frame I ever felt or beheld was his in prayer." And this was because he realized that he was in the presence of God when he prayed. He believed that the ministry of truth is limited to no class of men and to no sex. As fast and as far as any man discovers God it becomes his business to make Him known to others. His ability to do this effectively is a gift from God, and makes him a minister. The only thing the Church does is to recognize the gift. This idea carried with it perfect freedom of utterance to all who felt a call to speak, a principle which has worked out better than the reader would guess, though it has been often sorely tested.

In the Society which he founded there was no distinction of clergy and laity. He undertook the difficult task of organizing a Christian body in which the priesthood of believers should be an actual fact, and in which the ordinary religious exercises of the Church should be under the directing and controlling power of the Holy Spirit manifesting itself through the congregation.

Not the least service of Fox to his age was the important part which he took in breaking down the intolerable doctrine of predestination, which hung like an incubus over men's lives. It threw a gloom upon every person who found himself forced by his logic to believe it, and its effect upon sensitive souls was simply dreadful. Fox met this doctrine with argument, but he met it also with something better than argument -- he set over against it two facts: that Divine grace and light are free, and that an inward certainty of God's favor and acceptance is possible for every believer. Wherever Quakerism went this inward assurance went with it. The shadow of dread uncertainty gave place to sunlight and joy. This was the beginning of a spiritual emancipation which is still growing, and peaceful faces and fragrant lives are the result.

No reader of the Journal can fail to be impressed with the fact that George Fox believed himself to be an instrument for the manifestation of miraculous power. Diseases were cured through him; he foretold coming events; he often penetrated states and conditions of mind and heart; he occasionally had a sense of what was happening in distant parts, and he himself underwent on at least three occasions striking bodily changes, so that he seemed, for days at a time, like one dead, and was in one of these times incapable of being bled. These passages need trouble no one, nor need their truthfulness be questioned. He possessed an unusual psychical nature, delicately organized, capable of experiences of a novel sort, but such as are today very familiar to the student of psychical phenomena. The marvel is that with such a mental organization he was so sane and practical, and so steadily kept his balance throughout a life which furnished numerous chances for shipwreck.

It is very noticeable -- rather more so in the complete Journal than in this Autobiography -- that "judgments" came upon almost everybody who was a malicious opposer of him or his work. "God cut him off soon after," is a not infrequent phrase. It is manifestly impossible to investigate these cases now, and to verify the facts, but the well-tested honesty of the early Friends leaves little ground for doubting that the facts were substantially as they are reported. Fox's own inference that all these persons had misfortune as a direct "judgment" for having harmed him and hindered his cause will naturally seem to us a too hasty conclusion. It is not at all strange that in this eventful period many persons who had dealings with him should have suffered swift changes of fortune, and of course he failed to note how many there were who did not receive judgment in this direct manner. One regrets, of course, that this kindly spiritual man should have come so near enjoying what seemed to him a divine vengeance upon his enemies, but we must remember that he believed in his soul that his work was God's work, and hence to frustrate it was serious business.

He founded a Society, as he called it, which he evidently hoped, and probably believed, would sometime become universal.[5] The organization in every aspect recognized the fundamentally spiritual nature of man. Every individual was to be a vital, organic part of the whole; free, but possessed of a freedom which had always to be exercised with a view to the interests and edification of the whole. It was modelled exactly on the conception of Paul's universal Church of many members, made a unity not from without, but by the living presence of the One Spirit. All this work of organization was effected while Fox himself was in the saddle, carrying his message to town after town, interrupted by long absences in jail and dungeon, and steadily opposed by the fanatical antinomian elements which had flocked to his standard. It is not the least mark of his genius that in the face of an almost unparalleled persecution he left his fifty thousand followers in Great Britain and Ireland formed into a working and growing body, with equally well-organized meetings in Holland, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. His personality and his message had won men from every station of life, and if the rank and file were from the humbler walks, there were also men and women of scholarship and fame. Robert Barclay, from the schools of Paris, gave the new faith its permanent expression in his Apology. William Penn worked its principles out in a holy experiment in a Christian Commonwealth, and Isaac Penington, in his brief essays, set forth in rich and varied phrase the mystical truth which was at the heart of the doctrine.

This is the place for exposition, not for criticism. It requires no searchlight to reveal in this man the limitations and imperfections which his age and his own personal peculiarities fixed upon him. He saw in part and he prophesied in part. But, like his great contemporary, Cromwell, he had a brave sincerity, a soul absolutely loyal to the highest he saw. The testimony of the Scarborough jailer is as true as it is unstudied -- "as stiff as a tree and as pure as a bell." It is fitting that this study of him should close with the words of the man who knew him best -- William Penn: "I write my knowledge and not report, and my witness is true, having been with him for weeks and months together on diverse occasions, and those of the nearest and most exercising nature, by sea and land, in this country and in foreign countries; and I can say I never saw him out of his place, or not a match for every service or occasion. For in all things he acquitted himself like a man, yea, a strong man, a new and heavenly-minded man; a divine and a naturalist, and all of God Almighty's making."[6]


Notes and Links

[1] "But of 'prophets' there are very few. The good God does not seem to need many. Centuries pass, as He orders history, in which there are none. So we call them Dark Ages. Then comes some John in the desert, and the world is wakened, some Wesley in the Church of England, and there is a revival of religion.

"For our English races, since there were English races, I count three or four such prophets; for the world of Europe I count perhaps eleven worthy of our gratitude to-day. I mean the gratitude of all mankind. Saint Paul and Saint John are two; Augustine of Hippo is three; Dante and Francis of Assisi are two more; Thomas à Kempis and Jacob Böhme, two more; and, coming across to England, Wiclif, John Milton, George Fox, and John Wesley." -- Edward Everett Hale, in an Address at the Wesley Bicentennial Celebration in People's Temple, Boston.

"The three most influential Englishmen of the last three centuries were George Fox, John Wesley and John Henry Newman. Those who wish really to understand those three centuries must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Fox's Journal, Wesley's Journal, and Newman's Apologia. The entire future of England and the English Empire depends upon the answer to this question: Will Newman defeat Fox and Wesley, or will Fox and Wesley defeat Newman?" -- Editorial in "The Methodist Times."

[2] "The Quaker religion which he (George Fox) founded is something which it is impossible to overpraise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gospel truth than men had ever known in England. So far as our Christian sects to-day are evolving into liberality, they are simply reverting in essence to the position which Fox and the early Quakers so long ago assumed. No one can pretend for a moment that in point of spiritual sagacity and capacity, Fox's mind was unsound. Every one who confronted him personally, from Oliver Cromwell down to county magistrates and jailers, seems to have acknowledged his superior power." -- James's "Varieties of Religious Experience," page 6.

[3] At this epoch there were more than two hundred capital offenses.

[4] "Dear friends and brethren that have gone into America and the islands thereaway, stir up the gift of God in you and improve your talents. Let your light shine among the Indians, the blacks and the whites, that ye may answer the truth in them and bring them to the standard and ensign that God hath set up, Jesus Christ. Grow in the faith and grace of Christ that ye be not like the dwarfs, for a dwarf shall not come near to offer upon God's altar." -- From an Epistle of George Fox written in 1690.

[5] "In 1658 there was not a Quaker living who did not believe Quakerism to be the one only true Church of the living God." -- Hancock's "Peculium," page 8.

[6] From William Penn's "Preface to the Journal of George Fox."