A Classic Memoir by the Founder of Quakerism
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George Fox founded The Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, a form of Christianity which has had an immense influence on religious thought throughout the world, and which also played a large role in the early days of the American colonies.
Friends rely on orthodox Christian scriptures, but otherwise lack a formal creed. They believe that Jesus speaks to each of us directly, through an inner voice. Worship was originally unplanned, with spontaneous testimony from worshippers as the voice speaks to them. Quakers were also originally pacifists, although practice has come to vary in this too. Simple living, good works, and emulating Jesus’ own life are all central tenets.
About the Author
George Fox (1624-1691 in England) had an absolutely indomitable will, which carried him through beatings, imprisonment, and other severe trials. The story contained in his journal is vivid and hard to put down. Remarkably, Fox survives and even has time to visit America and help establish his Church there.
About the Editor
Hunter Lewis, co-founder of global investment firm Cambridge Associates, has written nine books on economics and moral philosophy. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen leading not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.
1: Boyhood—A Seeker (1624–1648)
2: The First Years of Ministry (1648–1649)
3: The Challenge and the First Taste of Prison (1648–1649)
4: Year in Derby Jail (1650–1651)
5: One Man May Shake the Country for Ten Miles (1651–1652)
6: A New Era Begins (1652)
7: In Prison Again (1653)
8: A Visit to Oliver Cromwell (1653–1654)
9: A Visit to the Southern Counties which Ends in Launceston Jail (1655–1656)
10: Planting the Seed in Wales (1656–1657)
11: In the Home of the Covenanters (1657)
12: Great Events in London (1658–1659)
13: In the First Year of King Charles (1660)
14: Labors, Dangers, and Sufferings (1661–1662)
15: In Prison for Not Swearing (1662–1665)
16: A Year in Scarborough Castle (1665–1666)
17: At the Work of Organizing (1667–1670)
18: Two Years in America (1671–1673)
19: The Last Imprisonment (1673–1678)
The Testimony of William Penn concerning that Faithful Servant George Fox
George Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, a form of Christianity which has had an immense influence on religious thought throughout the world, and which also played a large role in the early days of the American colonies.
Friends rely on orthodox Christian scriptures, but otherwise lack a formal creed. They believe that Jesus speaks to each of us directly, through personal revelation, which takes the form of an inner voice. This has been called a form of mysticism, but at least initially it accepted scripture as an unimpeachable authority, and it did not lead its adherents to a monkish withdrawal from the world, but rather to just the opposite a spirited engagement in everyday life, along with a very active proselytizing of the world.
This proselytizing was energetic and utterly fearless, but it was also pacifist, just as Jesus was. The rules forbade any violence, even self-defense, and certainly any military service. A Christian life above all emulated Jesus’s. It should be simple and consist of good works and honorable service. It should not be apart from one’s faith, but directly reflect it.
A Quaker’s life was also a shared life. Persecution deepened the sense of community, but it was always strong, even when free of persecution in New World refuges. Community centered on Sunday meetings. These were largely unplanned, with spontaneous testimony from participants listening intently to the calm, quiet, spiritual voice within, which was then shared with the group.
At first, Quakers were often shunned by the outside world. A cobbler could sell no shoes, a baker no bread. But soon, just the reverse happened. Customers came to see that these merchants were truly honest and reliable—they did not undercharge the rich and overcharge the poor, as others did. If they made a promise or an appointment, they kept it. They were tidy, well organized, frugal, worked hard, and educated their children. Not surprisingly, many became prosperous, even rich, especially after the authorities stopped seizing all their worldly possessions. This was a kind of human laboratory, and possibly one of the sources for Max Weber’s ideas on the ethical foundations of capitalism.
There were some other striking features of the Quakers. As serious-minded as they often seemed to others, even puritanical in their avoidance of worldly pleasures and strict Sabbath observance, they nevertheless completely abjured the then prevalent Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination, which held that many, perhaps a majority even of Christians, were damned from birth. Compared to Calvinism, Quakerism was indeed a joyful religion, full of hope and expectations of eternal life, not just for the elect, but for everyone, man, woman, and child. No one held a higher position over anyone else. Paid clergy were forbidden; church leaders and lay people held equal rank. Women were respected as equal in the sight of God. This was a true democracy, and a very radical idea for 17th century England.
From: Chapter Three – The Challenge and the First Taste of Prison (1648 – 1649)
The Lord said unto me, “Thou must go cry against yonder great idol, and against the worshippers therein. . . .” The Lord’s power was so mighty upon me, and so strong in me, that I could not hold, but was made to cry out and say, “Oh, no; it is not the Scriptures taught here!” . . .
As I spoke thus amongst them, the officers came and took me away, and put me into a nasty, stinking prison; the smell whereof got so into my nose and throat that it very much annoyed me. . . .
. . . After some discourse between them and me, they sent me back to prison again. . . . This time, I lodged at the sheriff ’s, and great meetings we had in his house. Some persons of considerable condition in the world came to them, and the Lord’s power appeared eminently amongst them. . . .
The Lord’s power was with this friendly sheriff, and wrought a mighty change in him; and great openings he had.
The next market day, as he was walking with me in the chamber, he said, “I must go into the market, and preach repentance to the people.” Accordingly he went in his slippers into the market, and into several streets, and preached repentance to the people. Several others also in the town were moved to speak to the mayor and magistrates, and to the people, exhorting them to repent. Hereupon the magistrates grew very angry, sent for me from the sheriff ’s house, and committed me to the common prison. . . .
After I was set at liberty from Nottingham jail, where I had been kept prisoner a pretty long time, I traveled as before, in the work of the Lord. . . .
Many great and wonderful things were wrought by the heavenly power in those days; for the Lord made bare His omnipotent arm, and manifested His power, to the astonishment of many, by the healing virtue whereby many have been delivered from great infirmities. . . .
. . . While I was at Mansfield-Woodhouse, I was moved to go to the steeple-house established church there, and declare the truth to the priest and people; but the people fell upon me in great rage, struck me down, and almost stifled and smothered me; and I was cruelly beaten and bruised by them with their hands, and with Bibles and sticks. Then they . . . pulled me up, though I was hardly able to stand, and put me into the stocks, where I sat some hours; and they brought dog whips and horse whips, threatening to whip me.
After some time they had me before the magistrate, . . . a knight’s house, where were many great persons; who, seeing how evilly I had been used, after much threatening, set me at liberty. But the rude people stoned me out of the town, for preaching the Word of life to them. . . .
Passing thence, I heard of a people in prison at Coventry for religion. As I walked towards the jail, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “My love was always to thee, and thou art in my love. . . .”
Then, speaking to the people in jail who . . . said that they were God, I asked them if they knew whether it would rain tomorrow. They said they could not tell. I told them God could tell. I asked them if they thought they should be always in that condition, or should change. They answered that they could not tell. “Then,” said I, “God can tell, and He doth not change. You say you are God, and yet you cannot tell whether you shall change or no.” So they were confounded, and quite brought down for the time.
After I had reproved them for their blasphemous expressions, I went away; for I perceived they were Ranters. . . . Not long after this one of these Ranters, whose name was Joseph Salmon, published a recantation; upon which they were set at liberty.
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[George Fox’s Journal.pdf]