Copyright
William Evans.

The Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) online

. (page 7 of 105)
Online LibraryWilliam EvansThe Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 105)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


into the commission of some sin. But it
pleased the Lord, who saw the integrity of his
heart, and knew his close trials, to support
his mind and eventually to deliver him out of
them all.

Hearing that his relations were uneasy with
his absence from home, he returned, and re-
mained some time with them. They seem to
have been in great measure strangers to the
nature of his religious exercises ; and in order
to remove his deep thoughtfulness respecting
the everlasting welfare of his soul, and the
things which belong to the kingdom of heaven,
some proposed that he should marry, and



others that he should enter the army. Such
proposals, however, were little suited to the
state of his feelings, and rather added to his
sorrows. He sought lonely places and there
poured out his cries to the Lord, from whom
alone he expected true comfort.

During this season of conflict, he applied to
several ministers for counsel and aid ; but
none of them could help him, nor indeed did
they appear to understand his disconsolate
condition. But though afflicted, he was not
forsaken ; and by the teachings of the Holy
Spirit, which our blessed Saviour promised
should lead his followers into all truth, his
mind was instructed in many of the mysteries
of Christian redenfiption. He gave a striking
evidence of this on one occasion, when Na-
thaniel Stevens, the priest of his native town,
asked him " Why Christ cried out on the
cross, My God, my God, why hast thou for-
saken me ? and why he said, If it be possible
let this cup pass from me, yet not my will but
thine be done." " I told him," says George,
" that at that time, the sins of all mankind
were upon him, and their iniquities and trans-
gressions with which he was wounded, and
which he was to bear and be an offering for,
as he was man ; but that he died not, as he
was God. So in that he died for all men,
tasting death for every man, he was an offer-
ing for the sins of the whole world." Thus
early in his Christian experience did this faith-
ful servant of the Lord bear his testimony to
the truth of that consoling and fundamental
doctrine of the Gospel, that our dear Redeemer
came into the world to save sinners, and laid
down his precious life as a sacrifice and pro-
pitiation for the sins of mankind.

In the year 1645 he went to Mansetter in
Warwickshire, then to Tamworth and Co-
ventry ; at each of which places he had con-
versation with those called ministers, respect-
ing the state of his mind ; but their attempts
to assuage his grief, and the advice they of-
fered, showed them to be very deficient in
solid religious experience, and left him with-
out relief. One advised him to take tobacco
and sing psalms — and another began to ques-
tion him as to Christ's parentage. " I told
him," says he, " that Mary was his mother,
and that he was supposed to be the son of Jo-
seph, but was the Son of God."

Speaking of his situation at this time, he
remarks, " My troubles were so great that I
could have wished I had been born blind, that
I might never have seen wickedness or vani-
ty ; and deaf, that I might never have heard
vain and wicked words, or the Lord's name
blasphemed."

Instead of spending the time called Christ-
mas, in feasting and merriment, as was too



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



29



generally the case, his benevolent disposition
induced him to go from house to house, seek-
ing out destitute and needy widows and other
objects of charity, to whom he extended re-
lief; having the means not only of keeping
himself from being chargeable, but of admin-
istering to the necessities of others. In 1646
he appears to have fixed his residence at Co-
ventry, where he remained for a considerable
time.

It is interesting to trace the gradual unfold-
ing of the Christian testimonies now held by
the Society of Friends, as they were opened,
one by one, to the mind of this eminent ser-
vant of the Lord. His attention had been early
directed to the Spirit of Christ in his own
heart, as the great Teacher, under the gospel
dispensation. By obedience to its discoveries
he not only grew in grace and obtained the
victory over sin, but the Holy Scriptures were
so clearly opened to his understanding, that
he became deeply instructed in the knowledge
of divine things. The perceptible influences
of the Holy Spirit in the mind of man, was a
fundamental doctrine with him ; and it is only
by a belief in the same doctrine, and a hum-
ble submission to its operations in the soul,
that we of the present day can sincerely em-
brace and practically maintain those religious
principles which, through the faithfulness and
sufferings of our worthy forefathers, have
been transmitted to us.

Of the opinions then generally prevalent
among professors, one of the first which was
clearly shown him to be an error, was calling
persons believers and Christians merely be-
cause they made a profession of religion. He
was taught that none were true Christians or
believers, but such as were really born of
God, and passed from death unto life ; and
that all others, however high their pretensions
to religion, were deceiving themselves. The
effect of this sentiment was to strike at the
root of a formal ceremonious religion ; to lead
to close self-examination, and an earnest en-
deavour to experience the great work of re-
generation begun and carried on in the heart,
that thus they might become true believers in
Christ.

At another time, while walking in the fields
on a first-day morning, the Lord gave him to
see that being bred at college, or acquiring
human learning, was not a sufficient qualifica-
tion for gospel ministry ; at which he greatly
wondered, because the prevailing ide^a then
was, that men could be fitted by education for
that sacred office. But he was now convinced
that nothing short of an immediate call and
qualification from Christ, the Head of the
Church, was a sufficient authority to preach
in his name ; and that before persons could



properly declare to others, the mysteries of
life and salvation, they must become in mea-
sure practically acquainted with them, in their
own experience : That as Christ called, com-
missioned and sent forth his apostles, in the
beginning of the Christian dispensation, so all
those now who had a part in the ministry,
must be called and qualified by Him. These
views were so clearly impressed on his mind,
that he was fully satisfied of their truth, and
greatly admired the Lord's goodness in thus
instructing him. He perceived that they sti-uck
at the priests' ministry, and he could not go
any longer to hear their preaching, but took
his bible and retired alone into private places,
there waiting on the Lord in- silence. His re-
lations were troubled at his conduct, and en-
deavoured to persuade him to attend their
place of worship, but he could not feel at lib-
ei'ty to do so, nor yet to join with any class
of dissenters, but became as a sti'anger to all,
relying wholly on the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the further progi'ess of those openings,
he was shown that " God who created the
world, did not dwell in temples made with
hands," and that it was therefore improper to
call the houses erected for the public worship
of the Almighty, " the temples of God" and
" dreadful places ;" or the land on which they
were built, " holy ground ;" which terms were
at that time commonly applied to them both
by priests and people. He apprehended that
the use of such epithets had a tendency to
keep the minds of the people too much out-
ward, and to prevent them from realizing the
truth of the gospel declaration, that the hearts
of sincere Christians ai'e the temples of the
Holy One. Both Stephen and the Apostle
Paul declared that the Most High did not dwell
in temples made with hands, not even in that
which he commanded to be built at Jerusalem,
after he put an end to the legal dispensation ;
but that according to the new covenant of the
Gospel, he dwelt and walked in his obedient
people. Thus divinely instructed, he could
say with David, " Day unto day uttereth
speech, and night unto night showeth know-
ledge." " When I had openings," he observes,
" they answered one another, and answered
the Scriptures: for I had great openings of
the Scriptures."

Yet at times he was still under great con-
flict of mind, and many temptations beset him,
insomuch that when it was day he wished for
night, and when it was night he longed for
the coming of the day. Early in 16-17 he
felt his mind drawn to go into Derbyshire, in
the vicinity of the Peak, Mdiere he met with
some friendly people. From thence he went
through parts of Leicestershire and Xotting-
Immshire, where he found a number c (tender,



30



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



seeking persons, with whom he had meetings.
EHzabeth Hooton, one of these, appears to
have been the first person who openly joined
in rehgious profession with him, and also the
first minister in the Society of Friends, him-
self excepted.

His exercise of mind was not so constant
but that he had intervals of consolation ; and
at times was brought into a state of heavenly
enjoyment, which he compares to being in
Abraham's bosom. " As I cannot," says he,
" declare the misery I was in, it was so great
and heavy upon me, so neither can I set forth
the mercies of God to me, in my misery. Oh !
the everlasting love of God to my soul when
I was in great distress ! When my torments
and troubles were great, then was his love ex-
ceeding great. Thou, Lord, makest the fruit-
ful field a barren wilderness, and a barren
wilderness a fruitful field. Thou bringest
down and settest up. Thou killest and makest
alive. All honour and glory be to thee, O
Lord of glory. The knowledge of thee in the
Spirit is life."

Not finding in his intercourse with different
professors of religion, that comfort and settle-
ment which he longed for, he continued to live
in retirement ; and when all hope of help from
man was gone, and he had nothing outward
to look to, he heard a voice, as in the secret
of his soul, saying, " There is one, even Christ
Jesus, that can speak to thy condition."
" When I heard it," he says, " my heart did
leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why
there was none upon the earth that could
speak to my condition, namely, that I might
give him all the glory. For all are concluded
under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had
been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-
eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace,
faith and power. Thus when God doth work,
who shall let it ? This I knew experimentally.
My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and
zeal in the pure knowledge of God and of
Christ alone ; without the help of any man,
book or writing. For though I read the Scrip-
tures, that spake of Christ and of God, yet I
knew Him not but by revelation, as He who
hath the key did open, and as the Father of
Life drew me to his Son by his Spirit. Then
the Lord gently led me along, and let me see
his love, which was endless and eternal, sur-
passing all the knowledge that men have in
the natural state, or can get by history or
books."

After being thus highly favoured, he was
again assailed with temptation to despair, as
though he had sinned against the Holy Ghost,
and was in great perplexity and trouble, yet
still gave himself up to the Lord. " One day,
when I had been walking solitarily abroad,"



he says, " and was come home, I was taken
up in the love of God, so that I could not but
admire the greatness of his love ; and while I
was in that condition, it was opened unto me
by the Eternal Light and Power, and I therein
clearly saw, that all was done, and to be
done, in and by Christ, and how he conquers
and destroys this tempter, the devil, and all
his works, and is atop of him, and that all
these troubles were good for me, and tempta-
tions for the trial of my faith, which Christ
had given me. The Lord opened me that I
saw through all these troubles and tempta-
tions. My living faith was raised, that I saw
all was done by Christ the Life, and my be-
lief was in Him."

In the year 1647, when about twenty-three
years of age, George Fox commenced his pub-
lic appearance as a minister of the gospel, at
Duckenfield, Manchester, and places in the
neighbourhood. Some were convinced there
by his ministry ; and also at a great meeting
held at Broughton, in Leicestershire, where he
attended. The success accompanying his
ministry was great, and the report of his piety
and zeal having spread far, many came from
different parts of the country, to see and con-
verse with him on religious subjects. This
brought a fear upon his mind, lest he should
be improperly drawn out into words, or elated
by the attention shown to him, and this fear
proved a preservation to him. Others were
exasperated at the reception which his doctrine
met with. They could not endure to hear of
perfection, and living a holy and sinless life ;
and began to plead for sin and imperfection,
by which the tender convictions and attrac-
tions of the Spirit of Grace are quenched.

" Of all the sects in Christendom (so called)
that I discoursed with," says he, " I found
none who could bear to be told, that any
should come to Adam's perfection ; into that
image of God, that righteousness and holi-
ness that Adam was in before he fell ; to be
clean and pure without sin as he was. There-
fore how should they be able to bear being
told, that any should grow up to the measure
of the stature of the fulness of Christ, when
they can not bear to hear that any shall come,
whilst upon earth, into the same power and
spirit that the prophets and apostles were in ?
Though it be a certain truth, that none can
understand their writings aright, without the
same spirit by which they were written."

The universal appearance of the Light of
Christ in the heart, by which he enlightens
every man that cometh into the world, was a
doctrine of which George Fox was early con-
vinced, and which, like the primitive ministers
of Christ, he and his fellow-labourers in the
Gospel frequently declared to their hearers.



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



31



His convictions of this truth are thus de-
scribed. " The Lord God opened to me by
his invisible power, how every man was en-
lightened by the divine light of Christ. I saw
it shine through all, and that they that believed
in it came out of condemnation, to the light
of life, and became the children of it ; but
they that hated it, and did not believe in it,
were condemned by it, though they made a
profession of Christ."

In describing his commission as a minister,
he says he " was sent to turn people from
darkness to Ught" — " to the grace of God and
to the truth in the heart, which came by Je-
sus," " that all might come to know their sal-
vation nigh." " I saw that Christ died for all
men ; was a propitiation for all," " and that
the manifestation of the Spirit of God was
given to every man to profit withal. These
things I did not see by the help of man, nor
by the letter, though they are written in the
letter ; but I saw them in the light of the Lord
Jesus Christ and by his immediate spirit and
power, as did the holy men of God, by whom
the Holy Scriptures were written. Yet I had
no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures ; they
were very precious to me, for I was in that
spirit by which they were given forth ; and
what the Lord opened in me, I afterwards
found was agreeable to them. I could speak
much of these things, and many volumes
might be written ; but all would prove too
short to set forth the infinite love, wisdom, and
power of God, in preparing, fitting, and fur-
nishing me for the service he had appointed
me to ; letting me see the depths of satan on
the one hand, and opening to me, on the other
hand, the divine mysteries of his own ever-
lasting kingdom."

He now travelled more extensively, and la-
boured abundantly in preaching the word.
Many were convinced of the doctrines which
he promulgated, and during the years 1647
and 1648 several meetings of Friends were
settled. But as the nature of his principles
was opposed to the outward and lifeless pro-
fession of religion which too much prevailed
in that day, tending to draw the people from
a dependence on human teaching and extei'nal
ceremonies, to the work of regeneration by
the Holy Spirit in their own hearts, he met
with much opposition and cruel usage. His
first imprisonment took place in 1648, at Not-
tingham, where he entered the place of public
worship on a first-day morning, and spoke to
the people on the subject of the Holy Scrip-
tures, showing that the Spirit of Christ, by
which the holy men of old wrote the Scrip-
tures, was that by which only they could be
rightly understood. As he was speaking, the
officers arrested him and took him to a filthy



prison, where he was detained until the sheriff,
taking compassion on his uncomfortable situa-
tion, removed him to his house. How long he
remained there docs not appear, but he says it
was " a pretty long time ;" and after being
discharged, he travelled, as before, in the work
of the ministry.

At Mansfield Woodhouse, in 1649, he en-
tered the place of public worship, and attempt-
ed to speak to the people, but they fell upon
him and cruelly beat him with their hands,
bibles, and sticks ; then put him into the stocks,
where he remained some time ; and, finally,
stoned him out of the town.* By this un-



* After the dissolution of the monarchy by the
death of Charles, and the consequent suspension of
the national form of worship, much greater lati-
tude was allowed to the ministers of religion.
During Cromwell's victorious campaign in Scot-
land, the ministers of that nation objected against
him, for "opening the pulpit doors to all intruders;"
to which he replied, " We look on ministers as
helpers of, not lords over, the faith of God's peo-
ple. I appeal to their consciences, whether any,
denying their doctrines or dissenting from them,
will not incur the censure of a sectary. And what
is this but to deny Christians their liberty, and as-
sume the infallible chair 1 Where do you find in
Scripture that preaching is included [limited] with-
in your functions 1 Though an approbation from
men has order in it, and may be well, yet he that
hath not a better than that, hath none at all. I
hope He that ascended up on high, may give his
gifts to whom he pleases, and if those gifts be the
seal of missions, are not you envious, though El-
dad and Medad prophesy 1 You know who has
bid us covet earnestly the best gifts, but chiefly
that we may prophesy ; which the apostle explains
to be a speaking to instruction, edification and com-
fort, which the mstructed, edified and comforted,
can best tell the energy and eflcct of.

" Now if this be evidence, take heed you envy
not for your own sakes, lest you be guilty of a
greater fault than Moses reproved in Joshua, when
he envied for his sake. Indeed you err through
mistake of the Scriptures. Approbation is an act
of convenience, in respect of order, not of neces-
sity, to give faculty to preach the Gospel. Your
pretended fear, lest error should step in, is like the
man that would keep all the wine out of the coun-
try, lest men should be drunk. It will be found
an unjust and unwise jealousy, to deny a man the
liberty he hath by nature, upon a supposition he
may abuse it. When he doth abuse it, then judge."

This letter shows to what length Cromwell was
disposed to go, as respects the license for preach-
ing, and taking his sentiments as indicative of the
opinions on the subject generally prevalent among
the Independents, a great change fi'om the previ-
ous restriction is obvious. Whether the practice
of going into the places of worship and addressmg
the assembly, was at all times warrantable, it
would be difficult at this day to decide. That it
was not uncommon is evident, and tlie peculiar
circumstances of the times, ftu-nish reasons in de-
fence of it which do not now exist. It was by no



32



MEMOIR OF GEORGE FOX.



christian usage he was so injured as scarcely
to be able to stand or walk ; but meeting with
some persons who pitied his situation, they ad-
ministered to his relief, and through the mercy
of the Lord he was soon healed. From there
he went through Leicestershire, by Bagworth,
Coventry, Atherstone, Market Bosworth, and
Twy Cross, and into Derbyshire, preaching
the Gospel of life and salvation, and warning
the people to repent and turn from their wick-
edness.

" About this time," says he, " I was exer-
cised in going to courts to cry for justice, in
speaking and writing to judges and justices
to do justly, in warning such as kept public
houses for entertainment, that they should not
let people have more drink than would do
them good, in testifying against wakes, feasts.
May games,* sports, plays and shows, which
trained people up to vanity and mirth and led
them from the fear of God ; and the days set
forth for holy days were usually the times
wherein they most dishonoured God by these
things. In fairs also, and in markets, I was
made to declare against their deceitful mer-
chandize, cheating and cozening ; warning
all to deal justly, to speak the truth, to let
their yea be yea, and their nay nay, and to
do unto others as they would have others do
unto them, forewarning them of the great and
terrible day of the Lord that would come upon
all. I was moved also to cry against all sorts
of music, and against mountebanks playing
tricks on their stages, for they burdened the
pure life, and stirred up the minds of the peo-
ple to vanity. I was also much exercised with
school-masters and mistresses, warning them
to teach children sobriety in the fear of the
Lord, that they might not be trained up in
lightness, and vanity, and wantonness. I was
made to warn masters and mistresses, fathers
and mothers, in private families, to take care
that their children and servants might be
brought up in the fear of the Lord, and that
themselves should be examples of sobriety and
virtue to them."

Among other subjects which engaged the
attention of George Fox, was the gaiety and



means peculiar to our Society, and in most cases,
where Friends did it, there is reason to believe
they waited until the stated preacher had done,
before they attempted to speak.

* The reader will recollect that James I. had
issued a proclamation encouraging these sports
and revels, and that it was revived by Charles I.
The licentiousness which grew out of the indul-
gence thus given, furnishes an explanation of the
distress of mind which George Fox experienced
on account of the prevailing wickedness, and the
earnest manner in wliich he warned the people to
repent and amend their lives.



extravagance which prevailed among the peo-
ple. He believed that the Christian religion
led all those who faithfully obeyed its requir-
ings, into simplicity and self-denial in their
manner of life. That instead of being con-
formed to the world, they were to renounce
its vain fashions and customs, and avoid every
thing which pi'omoted pride or luxury. Hence
he inculcated, by example as well as precept,
a plain and simple mode of living, free from
needless show and expense. Convinced that
the use of compliments and flattering titles,
bowing, and putting off" the hat, and of the
plural number when speaking to one person,
had their origin in the pride of the human
heart, which seeks honour from man, he was
conscientiously bound to refrain from the use
of everything of the sort, and keep to the
Scripture language of thou and thee, to one
person, according to the correct grammar
rules. " The Lord showed me," says he,
" that it was an honour which he would lay
in the dust and stain : an honour which proud
flesh looked for, and sought not the honour
that comes from God only. That it was an
honour invented by men, in the fall and alien-
ation from God, who were offended if it was
not given to them, yet would be looked upon
as saints, church members, and Christians.
But Christ saith, ' How can ye believe, who
receive honour one of another, and seek not
the honour that cometh from God only?' 'And
I,' saith Christ, ' receive not honour of men.'
O the blows, punchings, beatings and impri-
sonments, we underwent, for not putting off"
the hat ! The bad language and evil usage we
received on this account, is hard to be express-
ed ; besides the danger we were sometimes in
of losing our lives for this matter, and that by
the great professors of Christianity." Scarce-
ly any testimony held by our worthy prede-



Online LibraryWilliam EvansThe Friends' library : comprising journals, doctrinal treatises, and other writings of members of the religious Society of Friends (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 105)