Lewis Benson began his 1964 lecture series at Woodbrooke with a lecture on The Place of the Quakers in Christian History. (These five lectures were later published under the title Catholic Quakerism, (Catholic meaning universal).) In this lecture, Benson stated,
In order to understand Catholic Quakerism in all its comprehensiveness one must be willing to make the effort to look at Christianity with new eyes and to see it as a new thing. For those who are steeped in the Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions this requires nothing less than a major reorientation to the Christian revelation. (Catholic Quakerism, p. 16)
Fox underwent such a major reorientation as described in the early part of his Journal. In a later publication,Lewis Benson described this in the following terms:
In his early years Fox’s seeking was directed toward two major objectives. He was in deep personal trouble. He lived for years on the brink of total despair and was tempted to do away with himself. The crisis in his personal life was not resolved until he had reached the point where he lost all hope of getting any help from the Christian leadership of his day. He was brought through his long ordeal by means of a personal encounter with the living Christ. Christ, he says, ‘opened the door of light and life unto me … he it was that opened to me when I was shut up and had not hope nor faith.’ He found in Christ a teacher who opened the truth of God’s righteousness to him and showed him that, through Christ, we can experience the power of God for righteousness which is greater than the power of temptation, sin and evil.
The second part of Fox’s quest was concerned with the nature of the church. Why, he asked, had he not been instructed by church leaders that Christ has the power not only to forgive and pardon for past sins but to deliver his people from captivity to sin? Why had he not learned from `experienced’ Christian leaders that Christ is alive and present in the midst of all who gather in his name as a teacher of God’s righteousness and as a leader, governer, ruler and orderer of his new covenant people? His encounters with the church of his day caused him to ask whether it bore the marks of God’s new covenant people. (The Truth Is Christ by Lewis Benson, New Foundation publications #5, p. 48-49. Available at http://www.foundationpublicationsnffusa.org/publications/)
We now come to the part of Fox’s Journal where he is sent by God to proclaim the gospel. And it is this part that is especially relevant. Fox’s commission is the lens through which we can begin to view Christianity with new eyes. By his own experience of consulting the notables of the Christian Church, the established Church as well as the Separatists, he had proven them no better than miserable comforters. There was nothing there that could speak to the problem of man, that could release man from the death-grip of the Serpent and renew him into the image of God. Yes, the Church could advise “sing songs, take tobacco, join the army, get married.” But they could point to no escape from temptation, show no way to be remade into the image of God.
So, when God sent Fox into the world to proclaim the everlasting gospel, Fox said:
When the Lord God and his son Jesus Christ sent me forth into the world to preach his everlasting gospel and kingdom, I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God; even that divine spirit which would lead them into all truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any.
What follows is a list of things Fox was to call people out of, and this list includes most of what comprises current practice of the Christian religion. Along with the I-was-to-bring-people-off list is a list of what he was to bring people to. Fox states, “But with and by this divine power and spirit of God, and the light of Jesus, I was to bring people off from:”
- all their own ways to Christ the new and living way
- from their churches, which men had made and gathered, to the church in God, the general assembly w ritten heaven, which Christ is the head of
- off from the world’s teachers made by men, to learn [from] Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life…
- off from all the world’s worships, to know the spirit of truth in the inward parts, and to be led thereby…
- off from all the world’s religions [including the Christian religion], which are in vain; that they might know the pure religion, might visit the fatherless, the widows, and the strangers, and keep themselves from the spots of the world…
- off from all the world’s fellowships, prayings, and singings, which stood in forms without power, that their fellowship might be in the holy ghost, the eternal spirit of God; that they might pray in the holy ghost,, sing in the spirit, and with the grace that comes by Jesus; making melody in their hearts to the Lord…
- off from Jewish ceremonies, from heathenish fables, from men’s inventions and windy doctrines, by which they blowed the people about, this way and the other way, from sect to sect;
- off from all their beggarly rudiments, with their schools and colleges, for making ministers of Christ, who are indeed ministers of their own making, but not of Christ’s
- off from all their images, crosses, and sprinkling of infants, with all their holy-days, (so called.) and all their vain traditions, which they had got up since the apostles’ days, which the Lord’s power was against.
For the complete text, go to Fox’s Commission.
In the dread and authority thereof was I moved to declare against them all, and against all that preached and not freely, as being such who had not received freely from Christ. (Works of Fox, Vol. I, pp. 90-91)
This brings us to the point of this blog post, which I will make by asking the following questions:
- Was Fox mistaken in his discernment of the commission God gave him?
- If he was mistaken, by what power did he gather the early Quakers?
- If he was correct, what does that say about current practice of Christianity?