George Fox blossomed in a most unlikely setting. The embers of the Reformation had all but died out. The great Puritan Movement that had risen to maintain the simplicity of the gospel had had its day, too. It had become negative, stern and uncompromising. It was overly occupied with denunciations and external habits of behavior and dress.
It was, therefore, a dark day into which George Fox had been ushered. The church was impotent and blase'. Formalism had by and large taken over the church and infidelity the world. Now upon the horizon appears a man...a prophet of God to the nations. The flash point was not far distant. It could hardly be otherwise.
George Fox was born in Leicester, England in 1624. His parents were devoted Christians and members of the Church of England. When George was eleven years old he committed his life to Christ and from that day continued steadfast, with what light he had, in his pursuit of God. He resolved that he woujldlive a pure and righteous life, would be faithful in all things and would be aman who kept his word. He would practice moderation in his eating and drinking habits. These two latter resolves were in direct opposition to the spirit of the day [whichw as just like our own, which is centered on pleasure seeking and self and ndulgment of every kind of vice and passion and lust and addition you can name! It is the "You Can Have It All!" mantra of Ophrah and her so-called friends that typifies this age and this American generation and culture.--Ed.].
Fox had little formal training. He was trained in the shoe making profession, but when he was 19 years of age his restless soul took leave of his surroundings and he began to wander over the land just so he could be alone with God. Up to this time his Christian experience had not been a satisfactory one. The void in his heart belied the promised peace spoken of in the bible. What was even worse was that no one seemed able to help him. No one had what he was looking for. Finally he went to a Pastor who was recommended to him as being a spiritual man. They stood conversing in the flower garden when Fox inadvertently stepped on one of the flower plants. This drew the ire of the clergyman and a disillusioned George Fox walked sadly away. Help from his fellowman was never forthcoming.
One day God spoke to him and said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." It was pointed out to him that the reason he had not found any help from man was in order that the credit for his deliverance should be given to God and that Jesus Christ should henceforth have the preeminence in his life. After more darkness and severe tempation he emerged into the sunlight. He was now anchored and settled in God. Men would never shake him no matter how severe the opposition.
There were two illusions that had ensnared the people. First, that all church members were believers and were on their way to heaven [this illusion and delusion is still very prevalent, is it not? In the Lutheran denomination and in others like it people believe that infant baptism or some other form of it will save their souls, and they can live like the devil too, they are still saved and going to heaven!--Ed.]. The other, that if the pastor had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge he was qualified to be a minister of Jesus Christ [I was in the conservative Quaker church in Oregon, where education was so highly esteemed, that degrees put you in the pulpit, not necessarily the Spirit of God; and I understood that it was education and degrees and seminary training that qualified a man to be a shepherd of the flock--that was primary, and without these credentials, you might as well forget being one, nobody was going to listen to you! This was the subtle arrogance of the university elite that had crept into the church, and for all I know it is still going strong in contemporary Quakerism, with George Fox University in Oregon being touted as the best in the whole country in its class, when actually it may not be producing one true woman or man of God who is truly called of God to bring the word or to lead a flock of God or prophesy or do the other things Christ has commanded us to do as his disciples.--Ed.]. As Fox studied the scripture he began to see the folly of such teaching [which goes to show that many of those who call themselves Quakers today often are the least like him in spirit and practice!--Ed.]. Then he was further led to see that what people called the church was not the church at all. It was God's people who made up the temple of God. The so-called church buildings he called Steeplehouses. It was not uncommon for George Fox to stand up at the close of a church service and challenge the messenger that had spoken or the people who were listening. Pandemonium followed and then the jailhouse. But he did get their attention.
From no followers at all in the beginning he slowly gathered a people so totally changed and committed that the authorities were hard pressed to know what to do with them [sounds like the days of old Rome again, or the time of the Reformation under Luther's leadership!--Ed.]. They were disturbers of the peace, but only beclause of their righteous lives condemned those about them. Consequently, many of them went to prison. No religious renewal, as far as we know, had such a large percentage of its constituency behind prison bars. It is estimated that in 1662, no less than 4,500 Quakers were in prison in England and Wales. The persecution was even more severe in America.
The world owes a debt of gratitude to Fox and his followers. They spoke out against slavery 200 years before anyone else. They have consistently been opposed to carrhying arms.
(It may interest the reader to know that Quakers never lost a man, woman or child in the Indian uprising of our country.)
They were also the early champions of women's rights. Consequently, many of the women became evangelists, ministers and teachers int he work of God.
George Fox was not a leader except by his example. No attempt was made to organize his followers for many years, yet the Friends, as Quakers were also known, made a tremendous contribution to the ongoing cause of Christ by garnering in the poor, needy, and hungry and discipling them into becoming true followers of Jesus Christ.--C.B.F.