This phrase was a question asked by George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, during the 17th Century and seems to be still pertinent today. During this last semester, I studied the Reformation period and wrote my summary essay on George Fox. I included the context of the time along with his life story. I found it quite impactful and decided to share pieces of it here with you.
Outside of Quaker circles, George Fox is not widely known. His life was one of seeking out God and then faithfully following the God he discovered. As he sought out God and lived out his life as faithfully as he knew, people were impacted. What he discovered about God’s character changed how he viewed, lived around, and ministered to people. Even though we haven’t heard much about him in Evangelical Christianity, his thoughts have impacted what we hold true about God.
To understand Fox’s story, we first need to look at the context of the time in which he lived. The 17th Century wasn’t a time when religion was neglected. In fact, religion was generally on everyone’s minds. People talked about doctrine and the practice of living out one’s faith. They argued over the rightness and the wrongness of minute points of doctrine, religious understandings, practices of worship, and proper dietary restrictions. When a public meeting on religion was offered, people attended in crowds. Many came to enjoy the debates and to judge for themselves the validity of the arguments presented.(1)
We see arguments throughout Church History, one side claiming rightness over another. This time, in particular, was a time when people believed in religious liberty for themselves but were unwilling to grant it to others. Intolerance ruled when it came to understanding God and living a life of faith. People felt it not only their right but their duty to enforce their own convictions on one another.(2)
Quakerism, as a movement, started during the English Civil War, when religion was breaking away from the institutional church, the economy was suffering from inflation and depression, and there was a political revolt against the Stuart Monarchy. British historian Christopher Hill is quoted as saying “the world turned upside down.” Quakerism was a response to this tumultuous time. William Penn suggested that Quakerism was “primitive Christianity revived.” It is thought of as a way of life in contrast to living out a set of beliefs, theology, or doctrine. As Fox and his followers shared what they felt were God’s revelations for them and the world, they faced many trials with the religious and legal authorities.(3)
Let’s enter Fox’s journey as he started seeking answers to tough questions. He attended the local parish with his parents until he was 19. At this time, he stopped attending because he became more confused and acted on his feelings of spiritual unrest. He could not understand why religion did not make “bad” people “good.” Those in the church talked about faith and God, yet they looked just like the world. Fox started going around seeking answers from the different streams of Christianity. No one could speak to his “condition.” With no answers that met his questions, he left his friends and family to wander for three to four years. He sensed this move to be commanded by God.(4)
During this time, he read Scripture and sought God. He continued to ask ministers and professors questions and discussed with them his findings. They would reason with him but did not have answers for what he was seeking. God met him in his questions but outside of the leaders of the church or academia. He called these new understandings from God, “openings.” In a world dividing between Protestants and Catholics, he sensed God tell him that all Christians were believers, born of God. Also, he sensed that it wasn’t an education that qualified one to be a minister of Christ in contrast to this commonly held belief.(5)
Understanding that God did not approve of men as ministers due to education and that God did not dwell in specific buildings, brought a freedom to Fox that opened a way to discover God outside of both of those culturally approved means.(6) In anguish at times, Fox continued seeking answers from God to appease his soul hunger. In this place, he sensed God met him and wrote this oft-quoted phrase.
And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.(7)
In this place as a “heart hungry seeker,” Fox became a “joyous finder.” Other seekers who desired a satisfying experience with God listened to Fox and joined together in small groups. Next time we will discuss more of Fox’s message to a culture being greatly influenced by defining moral rightness and wrongness.(8)
(1) Walter R. Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism (Newberg, Or.: Barclay Press, 1987), 13.
(2) Ibid., 24.
(3) Wilmer A. Cooper, A Living Faith: An Historical Study of Quaker Beliefs (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1990), 2.
(4) Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, 3-4.
(5) George Fox, George Fox, an Autobiography (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903), 66; Punshon, Portrait In Grey, 41, 74-75.
(6) Ibid., 76.
(7) George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, ed. John Nickalls (Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 11.
(8) Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, 5.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!