George Fox

Biography

Born the son of a puritan weaver in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire.

"When I came to eleven years of age I knew pureness and righteousness; for, while I was a child, I was taught how to walk to be kept pure. The Lord taught me to be faithful, in all things, and to act faithfully two ways; viz., inwardly to God, and outwardly to man”

Known for honesty, simplicity and integrity: his relatives "thought to have made me a priest" but he was instead apprenticed to a local shoemaker. He felt God say to him: "Thou seest how young people go together into vanity, and old people into the earth; thou must forsake all, young and old, keep out of all, and be as a stranger unto all."

At times he actively sought the company of clergy but found no comfort from them as they seemed unable to help with the matters troubling him. In Warwickshire, one advised him to take tobacco and sing psalms; another, in Coventry, became mad when Fox accidentally stood on a flower in his garden; a third suggested bloodletting. Eventually after a year of depression, he was converted (i).

Began a preaching ministry in fields and churches after services. Spent several spells in prison: At Derby in 1650 he was imprisoned for blasphemy; a JP mocked Fox's exhortation to "tremble at the word of the Lord", saying Fox was the only quaker in the room. His sentence was doubled for refusing to fight for parliament.  In June 1652 Fox felt that God led him to ascend Pendle Hill where he had a vision of many souls coming to Christ (ii)

Based himself at the home of Thomas and Margaret Fell, Swarthmoor Hall, Ulverston.  Suspected of being part of royalist plots he was arrested and taken under guard to London,  was able to speak with Cromwell for most of the morning about the Friends and advised him to listen to God's voice and obey it so that, as Fox left, Cromwell "with tears in his eyes said, 'Come again to my house; for if thou and I were but an hour of a day together, we should be nearer one to the other'; adding that ‘he wished him no more ill than he did to his own soul’.

Despite this, 1000 Friends were in prison in 1657. Travelled to America and Holland preaching, in-between spells in prison for not taking oaths. Married Margaret Fell (‘Great Heart’) when she was widowed. He spent many of his last years organising Quakerism

Beliefs:

  • Rituals can be safely ignored, as long as one experiences a true spiritual conversion.
  • The qualification for ministry is given by the Holy Spirit, not by ecclesiastical study.
  • God "dwelleth in the hearts of his obedient people": religious experience is not confined to a church building.
  • All violence is always wrong; oaths should never be taken.

Controversy

  • Heard God speaking directly to him as may all believers
  • Disrupted others’ worship
  • Referred dismissively to ministers as ‘priests’ and puritans as ‘professors’, churches ‘steeple houses’.
  • "George Fox is come to the light of the sun, and now he thinks to put out my starlight’, Nathaniel Stephens
  • Believed in women and children preachers if the Holy Spirit dwells in them.
  • Recognised no social distinction: refusing to use or acknowledge titles, take hats off in court or bow to those who considered themselves socially superior: when a judge challenged him to remove his hat, Fox riposted by asking where in the Bible such an injunction could be found.
  • Rejected all ceremonies such as baptism and communion
  • Invoked by many traditional Quakers today in their disputes with liberal Quakerism which seems shamed of its Christian foundation.

Quotes:

 ‘As I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let (i.e. prevent) it? And this I knew experimentally (i)

 As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered (ii)

 All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world. That spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world. Declaration to Charles II, 1660

 The light checks you, when you speak an evil word, and tells you that you should not be proud or unrestrained, nor fashion yourselves like the world; for the fashion of this world passes away

 The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people's hearts... his people were his temple, and he dwelt in them.

 Take care that all your offerings be free, and of your own, that has cost you something; so that ye may not offer of that which is another man's, or that which ye are entrusted withal, and not your own.

 Why should any man have power over any other man's faith, seeing Christ Himself is the author of it?

Pacifism:

 But this word of the Lord came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. (1 Chronicles 22:8)

 They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4)

You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13)

 Matthew 5-6

 Just War Theory: Thomas Aquinas, Hugo Grotius et al.

Just cause, right intention, last resort, proportionate force, peace re-established.

 1 Samuel 15:18: 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.'

 Other forms of violence: the death penalty? Smacking children?

 Exodus 21:12: You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13)

Prov 22:15: Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him



Please be advised that this is the hand-out used at the Bible Study in August 2016; its prose may reflect its original purpose.