Gleanings from the Works of George Fox
RELIGION OF LIFE SERIES.
GLEANINGS FROM GEORGE FOX.
UNIFORM VOLUMES IN
Religion of Life Series.
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE.
THE CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT.
Cloth, 1s. net. Leather, 2s. net.
FROM THE WORKS OF
DOROTHY M. RICHARDSON
“The Quakers: Past & Present.”
|1. BUSINESS LIFE||31|
|2. THE INWARD LIGHT||35|
|4. MEETINGS AND MINISTRY||46|
|6. RESPECTING PERSONS||66|
|7. THE SCRIPTURES||69|
|1. SOCIAL LIFE||93|
|2. GENERAL EXHORTATIONS||103|
George Fox may be variously described.If we look at him from the standpoint oforthodox Catholicism we shall see a hereticalgenius, a man who tried to re-organise the churchand succeeded in establishing a sect—indefiance of the fact of the rarity of the religiousand the still greater rarity of the mysticaltemperament—upon a basis of mysticalopportunism, in a condition of divorce fromsacraments, culture and tradition.
From the Protestant point of view he becomesthe man who made a temporarily successfulattempt to undermine the authority of theScriptures; his failure being attested by thereturn of the majority of the Quakers, from thethird generation onwards, to biblicism—theirtacit throwing up of their earlier position withregard to the inward light.
The “free” churches find in Fox the collectorand organizer of a type of Christian believerswhose shining record has so fully justified hisessential soundness and unity with the mainpurpose of Christendom that minor differencesmay be ignored.
Students of mysticism, Christian mysticismin particular, seeing Fox as one in the long lineof those who have adventured into the undividedtruth they find stirring within their own souls,have placed him amongst the grand “actives”of European mysticism.
Here and there an attempt has been madeto disentangle the essential distinction of theman himself from his relation to groups andabstract ideas, and to show that distinctivecharacter working itself out in his life andwritings, and in the varying history of thechurch he founded.
To the present writer George Fox appealsnot only by the inherent strength of his mysticalgenius, not only because amongst his fellowsin the mystical family he is, characteristically,the practical western layman, the market-placewitness for the spiritual consciousness in everyman, but also because he is, essentially, theEnglish mystic—because he represents, at theheight of its first blossoming, the peculiar geniusof the English “temperament.” He is Englishparticularism, English independency and individualismexpressed in terms of religion, andoffering its challenge, for the first time, in theopen to all the world. This is his unique contributionto the evolution of Christendom.
His fellows and predecessors, the Germanmystics of the fourteenth and seventeenthcenturies, brought, it is true, the same message,the same account of the pathway to reality asdid Fox, but they brought it in a restricted form.They were largely dominated by tradition,they remained, most of them, within the officialchurch, and those who did not met secretlyand laboured behind closed doors. It was inGeorge Fox that religious particularism, theoutcome of the civilization whose cradle was thelittle isolated homesteads upon the Scandinavianfiords, reached its full flower. With him therere-appears in the form of an experiment in everydaylife, in the heart of the modern state, the truththat dawned in Palestine sixteen hundred yearsbefore, the truth that was side-tracked butnever quite lost amidst the policies, expedienciesand jealousies of the official church, that hasbeen clearing and elaborating itself withincreasing steadiness ever since the seventeenthcentury, the truth that only in individualitycarried to its full term can we find the basis ofunity. Unity amongst Fox and his followers isthe fruit and fulfilment of separateness. Inorder truly to love his neighbour, a man mustfirst love himself. He must achieve singlenessof soul, must discover that within him which isof God; that which “speaks” with him onlyin the solitude of his inner being.
The unit, with Fox, is never, except incidentally,the group; never, except incidentally,the family; but the single human soul faced withits individual consciousness, the germ of truth,goodness, beauty, light, love, God, it bears withinitself, the seed of God present in all human kind.
He stands for liberty, for trust and tolerationin a day of unchallenged religious and civilantagonisms and authoritarianisms. He standsfor love, for the essential harmony of the creationin a day when warfare was the unquestioned and“divinely-appointed” method of settling internationaldifferences, and litigation and debatethe accepted steersmen of private relationships.
This particularist genius and his fellowsrepresent the keenest moment in one of thoseperiods in its religious experience when humanitybecomes aware of the wider life to which itbelongs, when working on, God-led and God-inspired,part blind, part seeing, making in darkand desert places the uttermost venture of faith,suddenly, on an instant, it finds God.
A subsequent enormously enhanced fruitfulness,the amazing development of “thought”and “science,” our long sojourn amidst thegreat desert of “facts,” the final well-nighdespairing state of spiritual aridity thatsynchronised with the neo-Darwinian mechanisticdefinitions of life, is now once more in our daygiving place to a home-coming, a new phase ofspiritual realization.
It is just at this turning moment, in the dawn-lightof this new liberating contact, world-widethis time, free altogether from the swathingbands of cloister and cult that we begin tohave a clearer understanding of the message ofthe mystics in general and in particular of thechallenge of our own George Fox.
Fox’s message found instant response fromthe heart of the most vital religious life of hisday. From the midst of the small isolatedgroups who—surrounded by the institutionaland doctrinal confusion following immediatelyupon the decentralization of authority in theart and science of the religious life, and persistingthroughout the post-reformation century—werefeeling their own way to God, his followers cameforth. They, these friends of truth as theycalled themselves, were to live out the firstphase of the liberation of the religious life.Dispensing with symbols and observances, theystrove to sink the whole personal life into thedivine life and love they felt stirring withinthem, to seek this perpetually, to let it flow outand through all the circumstances of theirdaily commerce, to seek and appeal to this alone,in all mankind.
If Fox had been only the liberator of themystical forces moving and quickening underthe drying crust of official and authoritariantheology, he would have left on the outward formof the religious life of his country as little markas did his great brother Boehme on his. Buthe was more than liberator. He was also steersman.It was his organizing genius that laid thefoundation of a new religious culture; a culturein which sacraments and symbols, politics andauthoritarianism should play no part—a culturewhich took no account of “persons,” “notions,”or “theories,” which put being before“knowing,” intuition before intellection, whichdared to trust in and enquire of women, not inname only, but in fact.
The vitality of the society he founded is thetest of the organizing genius of this “madman.”
It has had its critical period. At the beginningof the eighteenth century it sank into Quietism,and thence back to a pre-Quaker pietist biblicism,in which the nature of Fox’s contribution toreligion—his restatement, both in life and inchurch method of the immediacy, the “originality”of the Christ-life, the life of God in man—wasalmost lost to view. But the culture-ground,the means of grace, the Quaker “method” ofquiet waiting on God, the unflinching faith,remained untouched, the little church survivedand in due time revival took place. To-day,in spite of the strong leaven of biblicism,the Quaker church serves (as I have pointed outelsewhere) as a sorting-house for mystics andpersons of the mystical type, and lies a radiatingcentre of divine common-sense, of practical lovingwisdom at the heart of English religious life.
What Fox did with the unconsciousness ofgenius, modern thought is elaborating andexplaining. “Experts” in all departmentsof knowledge are at the confessional declaringtheir bankruptcy. Science admits her helplessnessto do more than collect and describephenomena, and begs implicitly to rank as aservant rather than a guide (thereby, incidentallycoming for the first time to her full height andvalue).
Metaphysic, come out at last from heracademic seclusion to the light of common day,points the way to the threshold of reality,declares that we may possess and be possessedby it, not via the intellect, but directly by intuition.This reality that we ignorantly worshipthe mystics have declared to us as goodness,beauty and truth. Fox called it God in man,the life, the seed, the divine light latent in everyson of man, and once in the life of this planetfully and completely informing a human frame.
The reference “C.J.” indicates the Cambridge editionof Fox’s Journal, compiled from original MSS. (Cambs.Univ. Press. 1911); “Works,” refer to the Philadelphiaedition of Fox’s printed works. Punctuation, whichvaries in the different editions and is almost lackingin MSS. and of course in literal transcripts, has beenaltered or inserted by the compiler, as seemed needful.
Then the Lord gently led me along, and letme see His love, which was endless and eternal,surpassing all the knowledge men have in thenatural state or can obtain from history orbooks, and that love let me see myself as Iwas without him. I was afraid of all company,for I saw them perfectly where they were,through the love of