Something to Say…Part 3: The Vitality of George Fox’s Message

My first post touched upon James Tower’s assertion that the adoption of the pastoral system was necessary due to the rapid expansion into the American West. The second post began to look at how the gospel preached by Fox is different from that preached by Evangelical and Friends United Meeting Friends. In this post I will continue pointing out differences as begun in post 2, and I want to look at why the message preached by George Fox found fertile soil in the 1600s, why it will work in any age, and why I am convinced it will answer the crying need of today.

The 1600s were as hostile to the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers as any environment we have faced in our history in the U.S. or that which confronts us today. Yet it flourished.

Fox described the situation into which he was sent to preach the gospel thus:

Some time after, the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world which was like a briery, thorny wilderness. When I came, in the Lord’s mighty power, with the word of life into the world, the world swelled and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea. Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like a sea, when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance to them. (Works of Fox, Vol. I pp. 89-90 or Fox’s Commission)

The description of a briery wilderness does not sound at all hospitable. But that was not the worst, the Quakers were beaten with staves, sticks, and Bibles. They were threatened with swords and knives. They were stoned. Three were hung on Boston Common. They were thrown into prison where many died. Laws were enacted by Parliament against them. In the face of all this, they continued to work to bring the gospel into every parish in England, into Scotland, Ireland, the Colonies of the New World–everywhere they could go. By the time of Fox’s death in 1691, one out of every hundred Englishmen was Quaker, plus the movement had spread to a number of other countries.

What was it about the message they preached that caused people to be convinced of the truth of it and to turn from the Christianity they had been practicing to embrace something that was startlingly new?

Fox exhorted:

DEAR FRIENDS AND BRETHREN, Who are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God, who are believers in the light, which is the life in Christ, and are become children of the light and of the day, grafted into Christ, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, and are gathered in the name of Jesus, in whom ye have salvation, and not in any other name under the whole heaven. For Christ Jesus saith, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt. xviii. 20. So you being gathered in the name of Jesus, he is in the midst of you, a Saviour, a mediator, a prophet, a shepherd, a bishop, a leader, a counsellor, the captain of your salvation, who bruises the serpent’s head, and destroys the devil and his works. Therefore, brethren in Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For you are made partakers of Christ, if ye hold fast the beginning of your confidence steadfast to the end. Heb. iii. 14. Therefore, hear Christ’s voice ; for he is in the midst of you a teacher. (Works of Fox, Vol. II, p.260)

And in “A warning to the magistrates, priests, and people of the city of Hamburgh, to humble themselves before the Lord, and not to be high-minded.” Fox said:

Therefore take warning; for your priests and people are too high, are swallowed up too much in this world…therefore I am to warn and advise you, both high and low, priests and people, to come to the grace, light, and truth that comes by Jesus Christ; to the manifestation of the good spirit of God, which is given you to profit withal; that with this grace, truth, light, and spirit of Christ, you may turn to him from whence it comes, who saith, “Learn of me;” and God saith, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, do hear Christ their prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their teacher and priest. So now, God doth speak to his people by his Son, as he did in the apostles’ days. The Lord is come to teach his people himself by his grace, light, truth, and spirit, and to bring them off from all the world’s teachers, made by men since the apostles’ days; who have kept people always learning, that they may always be paying of them…. (Ibid., pp. 379-380)

I have spoken with people who would take Fox’s statement, “So all the children of the new covenant, that walk in the new and living way, do hear Christ their prophet, that God has raised up, and anointed to be their teacher and priest” and apply the following logic. “I am a child of the new covenant, therefore, I must hear Christ.” But the intent of Fox’s warning is to point out that only those who hear Christ, their prophet whom God has raised up, and experience Him teaching them are children of the new covenant. If you know this by personal experience, you will be drawn to know it as the community of God’s people.

We get a thumbnail sketch of the message Fox preached in his account of the meeting at Firbank Fell.

In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers. It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours;

(The following bulleted items are excerpts from Fox’s narrative.)

  • [I directed] all to the spirit of God in themselves that they might:
    • be turned from the darkness to the light, and believe in it, that they might become the children of it,
    • be turned from the power of satan unto God;
    • be led into all truth, and sensibly understand the words of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles;
    • all come to know Christ to be
      • their teacher to instruct them,
      • their counsellor to direct them,
      • their shepherd to feed them,
      • their bishop to oversee them,
      • their prophet to open divine mysteries to them;
    • [I directed all to the spirit of God in themselves that they might know] their bodies to be prepared, sanctified, and made fit temples for God and Christ to dwell in.
  • In the openings of the heavenly life, I opened unto them the prophets, and the figures and shadows, and directed them to Christ, the substance.
  • I opened the parables and sayings of Christ, and things that had been long hid; showing the intent and scope of the apostles’ writings, and that their epistles were written to the elect.
  • I showed also the state of the apostacy that hath been since the apostles’ days;
    • the priests have got the scriptures, but are not in the spirit which gave them forth;
    • [They] have put them [the scriptures] into chapter and verse, to make a trade of the holy men’s words;
    • the teachers and priests now are found in the steps of the false prophets, chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees of old, and are such as the true prophets, Christ and the apostles cried against,and so are judged and condemned by the spirit of the true prophets, of Christ, and of his apostles: and that none in that spirit and guided by it now could own them
  • I was moved to inform the people, that the steeple-house, and the ground whereon it stood, were no more holy than that mountain;
  • those temples, which they called the dreadful houses of God, were not set up by the command of God and of Christ;
  • nor their priests called, as Aaron’s priesthood was;
  • nor their tithes appointed by God, as those amongst the Jews were;
  • but that Christ was come, who ended both the temple and its worship, and the priests and their tithes; and all now should hearken to him: for he said, “Learn of me;” and God said of him, “This in my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”

I declared that the Lord God had sent me to preach the everlasting gospel and word of life amongst them; and to bring them off from all these temples, tithes, priests, and rudiments of the world, which had got up since the apostles’ days, and had been set up by such as had erred from the spirit and power that the apostles were in.’ Very largely was I opened at this meeting, and the Lord’s convincing power accompanied my ministry, and reached home to the hearts of the people; whereby many were convinced, and all the teachers of that congregation, (who were many) were convinced of God’s everlasting truth that day. (Ibid., pp. 142-143)

Contrast this message preached by Fox with that proclaimed by a Quaker pastor of the American West:

Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ, and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If “hearing His voice” is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something—hearing His voice. (Excerpt from a group email exchange following a New Foundation Fellowship event.)

This modern proclamation of how Jesus saves mankind is not a recent development. Though shorter, it does not differ in its main points from the Richmond Declaration of Faith, subsection “Justification and Sanctification.” This sort of theology was in existence in the 1600s when Fox and the other early Quaker preachers were confronting priests and people with the gospel message similar to that delivered at Firbank Fell. (Fox fleshes out his understanding of salvation in his To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom, which is the opening piece in Vol. IV of his Works and is available for download at the above link.) [The above link does not take you to the correct place. Use this link instead: To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom.] In spite of its antiquity, trying to live by “salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven…” left (and still leaves) a gaping hole in people’s inward experience. Embracing the message preached by Fox and experiencing the power and work of Christ within us brings the satisfaction of knowing (i.e. experiencing) the work of regeneration and being made conformable to the image of Christ within us. This was the experience of the people at Firbank Fell. Because of the inward satisfaction, they were willing to embrace the message preached by Fox, even to the extent of severe suffering at the hands of family, neighbors, “Church” members, and magistrates.

Edward Burrough was one of those convinced at Firbank Fell. Seven years later he wrote an account of the rise of the Quakers in the North of England, which appears as the introduction to Vol. III of the Works of Fox. That document shows the fullness of the experience of the message Fox preached. (See my posts Who Is Your God and The New Covenant.)

In reading Burrough’s narrative, it becomes clear that a principal part of the experience of embracing the gospel proclaimed at Firbank Fell consisted of coming to Christ our teacher. He wrote:

First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal…

  • They found this light sufficient to reprove and convince them of every evil deed, word, and thought.
  • By this light within them, they came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of and according to God from what is of the devil, which is contrary to God in motion, word, and works.
  • By this light within them they were able to discern between truth and error, between every false and right way, and it showed them the true state of all things.

So that all these things concerning man, and concerning the times and seasons, and the changing and renewing of times, and all things that pertain to salvation, and redemption, and eternal life, needful for man to know, all these were revealed, discovered, and made known to us, by the light which was in us, which Christ had lighted us withal.

And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation

And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing. (Works of Fox, Vol. III, pp. 12-13)

Burrough’s comment is, “And after this manner was our birth or bringing forth…” (Ibid., p. 14)

There is nothing comparable to the above in the Evangelical tradition (Friends or otherwise). Not even after many years of experience, let alone at “birth”. So remarkable is this difference that the Quaker pastor quoted above stated that it was an extraordinary thing God did in and for that generation of Friends.

My contention is, “No. What Edward Burrough described is normal Christianity. The experience of knowing Christ in all His offices (or functions) within ourselves and among us as we gather to wait upon Him is what brings us into harmony with God and His purpose in history. This is salvation in its true sense. There is no other path to this salvation than that laid out by Fox above. The remarkable, extraordinary thing is that the possessors of such a precious pearl as the gospel preached by Fox would (like Esau) trade it for a mess of pottage.”

This is the pearl hidden in the field and is the rejected inheritance of all sons and daughters of Adam. Because this gospel Fox proclaimed is the inheritance of all mankind, it speaks to the condition of all mankind and satiates the hunger for righteousness in all mankind of all times. Unlike Esau, we can reclaim our inheritance, but to do so we must sell all.

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About Ellis Hein

I am a woodturner and the author of The Woodturner's Project Book. I have a life-long interest in the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. You can see some of my material on that subject at http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blog/list?user=1zw2th7nj9p89.
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One Response to Something to Say…Part 3: The Vitality of George Fox’s Message

  1. Ellis Hein says:

    Correction: The link concerning “To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom” does not take you to what I was expecting. My apologies for misleading anyone. I will insert a correction in the text when I can.

    Like

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