Recalling George Fox

Recalling George Fox January 13, 2022




George Fox died on this day, the 13th of January, 1691, 331 years ago.

He was born into a Puritan family in Leicestershire, England sometime in July, 1624. His father a weaver and so the family was financially secure. He doesn’t seem to have been formally educated, although he was literate. George apprenticed as a shoemaker. But he was also known for his spiritual calling and his quest for simplicity.

Following an inner voice he began to wander, seeking out clergy and other religious leaders. For various reasons he felt all failed in their calling. Often this was for moral lapses like drinking or smoking. But he also felt a calling toward sanctity. Turning inward he came gradually to a number of conclusions about the spiritual life. The Wikipedia article on his life lists the principle ones.

1. Rituals can be safely ignored, as long as one experiences a true spiritual conversion.

2. The qualification for ministry is given by the Holy Spirit, not by ecclesiastical study. This implies that anyone has the right to minister, assuming the Spirit guides them, including women and children.

3. God “dwelleth in the hearts of his obedient people”: religious experience is not confined to a church building. Indeed, Fox refused to apply the word “church” to a building, using instead the name “steeple-house”, a usage maintained by many Quakers today. Fox would just as soon worship in fields and orchards, believing that God’s presence could be felt anywhere.

4. Though Fox used the Bible to support his views, Fox reasoned that, because God was within the faithful, believers could follow their own inner guide rather than rely on a strict reading of Scripture or the word of clerics.

5. Fox also made no clear distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Preaching out of these principles he began to gather a following. They called themselves by several names, the first was Children of the Light, and later Friends of the Truth. Gradually they settled on Friends.

Fox railed against social injustices and was imprisoned several times for blasphemy and his refusal to swear oaths or take up arms. Despite persecutions people recognized something compelling in his message and the community grew.

In 1669 he married Margaret Fell, one of his followers and a lady of social standing. She appeared to be the organizational genius in the family. She was also a true follower of the inner light.

They continued to travel and preach individually and together, including to North America, suffered the odd imprisonment, and continued to gather converts.

In addition to preaching Fox was credited as a healer and a collection of records of his healings was published as the Book of Miracles. Sadly, now lost. His Journal was also published, and is not lost. It has been compared to Augustine’s Confessions, and justly.

In the United States his followers would eventually divide into meeting and structured. The structured hired ministers and from time to time flirted with more fundamentalist forms of Christianity. The meeting follow a practice of silent meditation, and have over time attracted many who do not consider themselves Christian in anything resembling a credal assertion.

George Fox’s mystical way and active commitment to the betterment of humanity has proven one of the more attractive expressions of the Christian tradition.

A person whose life should be remembered and celebrated.

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