Friday, July 7, 2017

"The Lord Opened Unto Me": passages from George Fox's Journal in which he reveals a radical approach to religion

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, saw himself as a prophet, called by God to lead people to their Inward Teacher, the Light of Christ. He felt that God had given him this message to share with the world. It was a radical message intended to transform society as well as individuals.
Several passages from Fox's Journal are included here, each with "queries" (open-ended questions) to help you reflect more deeply. The first passage describes Fox’s awakening to his new understanding of religion, one based upon an inward experience of Truth, not upon externals such as dogma or credentials. As you read this, imagine yourself as a young seeker, twenty-two years old, wandering about England, trying to find answers to life’s most important questions. Instead of going to church, you go for a walk in the meadows and something extraordinary happens….

The Lord Opened Unto Me…

About the beginning of the year 1646, as I was going to Coventry, and approaching towards the gate, a consideration arose in me, how it was said that "All Christians are believers, both Protestants and Papists"; and the Lord opened to me that if all were believers, then they were all born of God, and passed from death to life; and that none were true believers but such; and, though others said they were believers, yet they were not. At another time, as I was walking in a field on a First-day morning,[75] the Lord opened unto me that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ; and I wondered at it, because it was the common belief of people. But I saw it clearly as the Lord opened it unto me, and was satisfied, and admired the goodness of the Lord, who had opened this thing unto me that morning. This struck at priest Stephens's ministry, namely, that "to be bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to make a man fit to be a minister of Christ." So that which opened in me I saw struck at the priest's ministry.—Chapter 1.


·         How do you think Fox felt when he had this revelation?
·         Have you ever had an insight about religion that changed your life? How did this happen, and how did you feel? How was your life changed?
· Do you feel that having a degree or certification is a necessary qualification for religious leadership and teaching?
·      If not, what do you feel best equips a person to practice and guide others in a genuinely religious life?

Speaking Truth that Transforms Lives and Challenges Those in Power

Fox was a controversial figure, and a charismatic speaker, who drew huge crowds wherever he went. This passage describes a time when he was given a chance to speak at a church, but some locals were so opposed they threatened his life. He was attacked by a man with a knife who slashed his jacket, but that didn’t deter Fox. The “landed gentry,” the economic elite, were so anxious to silence this itinerant preacher they hired a boy to murder him.
Some of the gentry of the country had formed a plot against me, and had given a little boy a rapier, with which to do me mischief. They came with the boy to Joseph Nicholson's to seek me; but the Lord had so ordered it that I was gone into the fields. They met with James Lancaster, but did not much abuse him; and not finding me in the house, they went away again. So I walked up and down in the fields that night, as very often I used to do, and did not go to bed.
Despite being threatened, and lacking sleep, Fox showed up at the church and found it crowded to overflowing with people. He was led to speak for three hours.

When the people were settled I stood up on a seat, and the Lord opened my mouth to declare His everlasting Truth and His everlasting day. When I had largely declared the Word of life unto them for about the space of three hours, I walked forth amongst the people, who passed away well satisfied. Among the rest a professor followed me, praising and commending me; but his words were like a thistle to me. Many hundreds were convinced that day, and received the Lord Jesus Christ and His free teaching, with gladness; of whom some have died in the Truth, and many stand faithful witnesses thereof. The soldiers also were convinced, and their wives.—Chapter 2.


·     Have you ever felt led by Spirit to speak during meeting for worship? What did it feel like?
·        What response did you receive? Were you encouraged? Eldered? How did you feel about the responses?
·       Have you ever heard a message during Meeting that seemed Spirit-led and deeply affected you? What was memorable and powerful about this message?
·     Have you ever heard a speaker outside of Meeting who inspired and challenged you in significant ways? Describe your experience.

Questioning Conventional Wisdom and Assumptions of the Elite

In his article, “Was George Fox a Prophet?” William Durland describes George Fox as “a nobody, a weaver’s son, a poor speller who had little schooling, who lived in an undistinguished village, and who was persecuted for his religious ideas like the Old Testament prophets.” Despite, or maybe because of his lack of conventional education, Fox was a powerful and original voice advocating new approach to religion, one based on inward experience. The following “opening” occurred in 1648 when Fox was around twenty-four years old. Minister and religious leaders often ridiculed or dismissed this young man for his lack of formal education, but he was convinced that he had something of value to impart to the world—a moral and spiritual vision that had transformed his life and could transform society.

While I was there the Lord opened to me three things relating to those three great professions in the world,—law, physic, and divinity (so called). He showed me that the physicians were out of the wisdom of God, by which the creatures were made; and [99] knew not the virtues of the creatures, because they were out of the Word of wisdom, by which they were made. He showed me that the priests were out of the true faith, of which Christ is the author,—the faith which purifies, gives victory and brings people to have access to God, by which they please God; the mystery of which faith is held in a pure conscience. He showed me also that the lawyers were out of the equity, out of the true justice, and out of the law of God, which went over the first transgression, and over all sin, and answered the Spirit of God that was grieved and transgressed in man; and that these three,—the physicians, the priests, and the lawyers,—ruled the world out of the wisdom, out of the faith, and out of the equity and law of God; one pretending the cure of the body, another the cure of the soul, and the third the protection of the property of the people. But I saw they were all out of the wisdom, out of the faith, out of the equity and perfect law of God.
And as the Lord opened these things unto me I felt that His power went forth over all, by which all might be reformed if they would receive and bow unto it. The priests might be reformed and brought into the true faith, which is the gift of God. The lawyers might be reformed and brought into the law of God, which answers that [indwelling Spirit] of God[31] which is [in every one, is] transgressed in[100] every one, and [which yet, if heeded] brings one to love his neighbour as himself. This lets man see that if he wrongs his neighbour, he wrongs himself; and teaches him to do unto others as he would they should do unto him. The physicians might be reformed and brought into the wisdom of God, by which all things were made and created; that they might receive a right knowledge of the creatures, and understand their virtues, which the Word of wisdom, by which they were made and are upheld, hath given them.-Chapter 2


·         Do you agree with Fox’s assertion that professionals need an education that helps them to develop ethically and spiritually? How could professionals be given that kind of grounding?
·         Has being a Quaker helped you in your professional life or occupation? If so, how?
·         As a young person, did you ever question conventional education? Did you have a vision for how people could be taught in a way that honored their intrinsic value and unique God-given gifts?
·         Have you ever experienced education that helped you to grow spiritually and ethically? If so, describe what that was like.

What Does the Bible Have to Do with Truth?

On a certain time, as I was walking in the fields, the Lord said unto me, "Thy name is written in the Lamb's book of life, which was before the foundation of the world": and as the Lord spoke it, I believed, and saw in it the new birth. 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.
I was sent to turn people from darkness to the Light, that they might receive Christ Jesus; for to as many as should receive Him in His light, I saw He would give power to become the sons of God; which power I had obtained by receiving Christ. I was to direct people to the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures, by which they might be led into all truth,[103] and up to Christ and God, as those had been who gave them forth.
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 upon them; but all would prove too short to set forth the infinite love, wisdom, and power of God, in preparing, fitting, and furnishing me for the service to which He had appointed me; 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 everlasting kingdom.


·         Fox clearly felt he had found the Truth and led to share his truth with others. How do you feel about doing sharing your understanding of truth?
·         How do you respond when you hear lies being spread by those in power?
·         How do you feel about the Bible? Do you find wisdom and truth in it? If not, where do you find wisdom and truth?

Getting Down to Business: How Do We Organize To Stay in Tune with Spirit?

I was moved of the Lord to recommend the setting up of five monthly meetings of men and women in the city of London (besides the women's meetings and the quarterly meetings), to take care of God's glory, and to admonish and exhort such as walked disorderly or carelessly, and not according to Truth. For whereas Friends had had only quarterly[460] meetings, now Truth was spread, and Friends were grown more numerous, I was moved to recommend the setting up of monthly meetings throughout the nation.[147] And the Lord opened to me what I must do, and how the men's and women's monthly and quarterly meetings should be ordered and established in this and in other nations; and that I should write to those where I did not come, to do the same.—Chapter 10.


·         How do you feel about the way that Quakers conduct business at the monthly, quarterly and yearly level?
·         Do you see ways to improve our governance (the way we conduct business) so we can be more in touch with Spirit and follow God’s leadings?
·         Have you ever been led to start a new meeting or worship group or Bible study or some other Quaker-related project? Describe your experience.

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