George Fox Reformer and Mystic
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
Reformer & Mystic
RESEARCH PAPER: REFORMER GEORGE FOX
Dr. Sarah Sumner
A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary
The sixteenth century was a time of great reformation within the Church with writings from Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others leading the way. Puritans arose during the reign of Bloody Mary with the first schism among the English and Protestants revolting against Episcopal domination in 1554. Many English Protestants avoided extreme persecution or death during these frightful years by escaping to Holland and Germany.  During the seventeenth century a new movement, the Quakers, was inaugurated by George Fox who came out of the Puritan Revolution having a Puritan mother and Protestant father. Living in England, Fox was exposed to the Puritan revolution, the Commonwealth and the Restoration. In fact the early Quakers were also puritans who held the same ethics and forms of worship. The Quaker movement was based on experiencing the sovereignty of God.  Quakers are commonly known by their modest attire and use of “thee and thou” in their speech when addressing others.
This paper is written with the endeavor to look at the Quaker movement through the life of founder, George Fox. His mystical experiences developed a passion and conviction within him that lead others in a quest for truth balanced with theological insight in Jesus Christ that differed from those who previously departed from papal rule.  These differences being so great that Quakerism was born and continues to present day. We will discuss the Ministry of George Fox, Fox the Mystic, Fox the Reformer, and Reflection on Fox as it pertains to the Quaker movement that has shaped history and advanced God’s Kingdom on Earth.
George Fox was born in 1624, son of a weaver, in a humble home in the tiny village of Leicestershire, England. His mother, a tenacious believer in her Puritan roots, desired for George to receive instruction in elementary religious training. But, even as a youth, he had internal struggles and doubts regarding the Puritan faith. At the age of nineteen he left his apprenticeship as a shoemaker to stay with an uncle in London. There too he became frustrated with the unholy lifestyle of those he met within the Baptist faith. Looking for answers, George Fox, sought counsel from many denominational clergy only furthered his frustration and restlessness. Disheartened with the established Church and their methods whether Popes, Bishops, Presbyters, or Ruling Elders, he yearned for more spirituality that was pure in nature, “less theological, more ethical, and less dogmatic, more practical and less ceremonial, than the dominant.”
Wonderings and Enlightenment
Fox’s journey for truth began in September of 1643. He desired clarity through “divine revelation and intensive study of the Bible.” Desperately desiring spiritual illumination he began an extended quest in the Midlands and south of England only to feel greater despair. During this time of wondering George Fox is said to have heard a voice which lead him to Christ as his one true Comforter and Advisor.  It was approximately 1646 when Fox began to encounter God in a “set of revelations” that he referred to as “openings” which empowered his life, setting him on a road of renewed health. Insights that he claimed to receive included that true ministry was not merely for the university-educated clerics who were bred at Oxford or Cambridge.
He believed God dwells in the hearts of the faithful. Through his personal encounter with the Lord, Fox acquired what he called “pure fire” with greater discernment of truth he believed to have deeper understanding of humanity and creation. He was not satisfied with keeping this “pure fire” to himself, but as a zealot longed to share these truths with others.
Ministry and Persecution
It was in Nottingham, early in 1649 where he publicly challenged existing religious systems. This overt behavior as an itinerant preacher began a series of arrests and imprisonments that continued throughout his lifetime. Similar to the name Puritan, the Quaker faith came upon their name through criticism or accusation. Fox shares in his journal that in 1650, it was Justice Bennet of Derby, “who was the first that called us Quakers, because we bid them tremble at the word of the Lord.” After spending a full year incarcerated in Derby, with six months in the House of Correction, and the remainder of the sentence in the dungeon or common jail - Fox was finally released in 1651. He then ventured to Westmorland hills where he associated himself with a group known as the Seekers. Soon he found himself speaking on a rock, for three hours, to a group of over a thousand at a fair in Sedbergh. Many of them became Quakers, yet preferred being called the Society of Friends uniting with Fox in his service to God.
Again in 1653 he was imprisoned in Cumberland for being outspoken regarding his convictions. Yet, despite great persecution, the Quaker movement began to grow rapidly in 1655. It was during his freedom that Fox met his wife, Margaret Fell, who also became extremely active in the faith. But, there came strong political legislation opposing Quakers in 1660 with support from the Church of England and restoration of the monarchy. The Quaker Act of 1662 and the Conventicle Acts of 1664 and 1670 forbad Quakers to openly congregate. Yet, they failed to obey these laws opting for a supreme law (authority) which caused them huge persecution where other faiths met underground. The Quaker movement spread through England, Ireland, the West Indies, America, and Netherlands.
Once again, Fox was imprisoned from 1663-1666 for his unyielding stand for his faith. It is remarkable that Fox survived eight imprisonments, and several beatings. None of which tempered his firmly held optimistic belief in the love of God and his desire to bring hope to humanity. He continued to write and speak until the day of his death. Focusing on the value of purification that comes through “waiting on the Lord” for the inner Light with relationship to Jesus Christ was of great importance to him as well as promoting religious freedom and tolerance for all. On January 13, 1691, this courageous reformer, mystic, prophet, priest, who demonstrated great love and devotion to God and humanity, George Fox, died at age sixty-six in London, England.
FOX THE MYSTIC
Probably the most controversial issue surrounding George Fox was his mystical experience with God that he called “openings.” Fox along with other sects began to emphasize guidance and inspiration from the Spirit. Orthodox puritans were horrified. Yet thousands of Puritans who converted to Quakerism were already indoctrinated, to some degree, by the teaching and books within the spiritual puritan faith.  Actually, spiritualism was not a new concept to the Christian faith as proved in Timothy George discussion on Mysticism in his book Theology of the Reformers -citing Jean Gerson, from the early fifteenth century. Gerson taught on the three paths to the knowledge of God. The first path was natural theology, the second, dogmatic theology with the third path being mystical theology.
He provides Biblical examples of Paul rapturing to the third heaven (2 Cor.12:1-4) as well as naming Thomas Aquinas’s writing Summa Theologica signifying that all three paths were possible for the believer. Some medieval mystics were thought to carry their piety to eccentric extremes. In 1329 Eckhart was accused as a heretic because of his theology and was condemned. He proclaimed that “deep within each individual there was an “abyss of the soul” (Seelenabgrund), a spark of divine life which held the possibility for union with, or absorption into God.”
Fox and his followers would call this “spark” the “inner Light” or “Christ within.”These seekers, including Fox, “became finders of a satisfying spiritual way of life based on a first-hand experience of God, mediated not by clergy or ritual but by the immediate presence of the living Christ.” It was during silence and contemplation that Quakers felt they communed with God. Douglas Steer addresses the mystical dimension in Quaker Spirituality stating: In Quakerism this mystical dimension in Christianity unfolds and assumes a corporate character. From the very beginning, it focused on the mystical witness to the active presence of the “Beyond that is within,” and for Quaker this Beyond is Christ, the Seed, the Spirit, the Light, which is able to speak to the condition of one who turns to it. It finds great assistance in this turning by sharing in the corporate silence of a meeting for worship, but the sense of Presence may come anywhere at any time.
This “Presence” is what Fox anticipated daily in his journey as we see from his Journal. In his first “opening,” Fox recounts that in time of desperation he heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” Hearing directly from God caused him to leap for joy. His experiences continued as walked solitarily and was “taken up” in the love of God. All of the openings that Fox experienced were meaningful, but one truly set in motion his calling. Fox declares that he was instructed to, “… direct people to the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures, by which they might be led into all Truth, and so up to Christ and God, as they had been who gave them forth.” In a series of encounters revelation came to him regarding difficult questions that he struggled with. These answers to these questions lead George Fox to passionately pursue his calling in ministry as a reformer establishing the Quaker movement.
FOX THE REFORMER
Reformation through Impartation
Known as a reformer of the seventeenth-century in England, George Fox, contributed to society by voicing through rhetoric the insight received during his “openings.” It was in these encounters with God that revelation came, answering the agonizing questions, which he pondered. Asking God question like: What is a Christian? What is the Church? Yet to many, Fox and Quakers appeared to be the ultimate separatists as they rejected the validity of all churches other than their own; choosing to disobey all ungodly laws for the greater authority of God. Thus refusing to take oaths or adhere to traditional religious beliefs. Like Luther, Fox concentrated on the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
He was willing to learn from former reformers like Luther and Calvin echoing them and building upon their foundation. Luther produced an impressive work concerning the priesthood of all believers. The Quakers are thought to have misunderstood his stance as some “argued the abolition of the ministry as a distinct order within the church.  Building on the Calvin’s priesthood teaching in the Institutes, Fox affirms “Christ as the sole and sufficient ruler of, and provider for, His church.” The Friends believed that the power of God fell on people as they waited in silence and through the Holy Spirit anyone could speak. Therefore, they had no official priest or pastor.
Equality for All
The difference seen in Luther and Fox concerning the priesthood of all believers was that Fox during his “openings” desired clearer understanding regarding equality of women in the priesthood duties. “Fox lovingly expatiated on a church order like that of the Society of Friends in which women shared equality of status.” Using the Scriptures as defense, he would share stories of women like Mary Magdalene in the New Testament. Stating, “If male and female have received the testimony of Jesus, they have received the spirit of prophecy.”  He also cited Joel 2 and Acts 2: The Lord would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh - firmly declaring that women were “heirs of Life, Grace and of the Gospel of Salvation and of Christ Jesus, as well as the men. So, that all, males and females are one in Christ Jesus.” Where Luther regarded that everyone was a Priest around non-believers, but he excluded women from official ministry of the church with the exception of an emergency.
Position on Truth
Fox was definite on his position of equality, but also embraced Paul’s teachings which placed him firmly within the Protestant tradition in accepting the Scriptures ultimate authority. Discussing the inerrancy of the Bible, he wrote in The True Christians Distinguished (1689):
The holy scriptures of truth are the truest history that is on the earth of the creation of God; of what God has done himself; and what God has done by his prophets and holy men and women; what God has done by Christ his son…..So the scripture of truth is the best book of truth upon the earth to be read, believed, fulfilled and practiced.
Recognizing that the divine Truth is within everyone; Fox, believed the measure of truth is given according to the ability of the person receiving it. This measure increases as the believer grows in their relationship with God. He also felt that it was through this measure that a person was shown their sin and that which was evil. Nothing that was unclean could enter the kingdom of God so it is vital that people “wait patiently upon the Lord – to wait and be filled with the power of God.” “Wait for the grace and truth that comes with Jesus; for if ye do so, there is a promise to you, and the Lord God will fulfill it in you.” Basically, Fox believed that everyone has a measure of Christ in them whether they live by that inner Light or not is a personal choice.
Sacraments, Water Baptism, and Trinity
The Quakers beliefs toward critical foundational principles within mainline Protestant and Catholic faiths brought them much persecution as seen through George Fox’s life. Fox shares that through the light of God and scripture he no longer agreed that communion was necessary. He was absolutely convinced that infant sprinkling was actually a carnal tradition. The Society of Friends agreed with Fox, breaking with all Christian tradition by rejecting the necessity of communion and water baptism. Fox erred in his theology to the Trinity. Deeply desiring not to be part of the Catholic Church, Quakers felt justified by puritan principles. The goal was to look at the inward person hoping that they would transform into the will of God. 
It was the Baptism of Fire, the washing of the Word and the inward “Water of Life” that was needed for followers. The Eucharist was thought to be merely symbolic.  Their emphasis was on the inner baptism, drawing the individual closer to God, and making continual successive changes within their lives.  “Fox carefully distinguished the physical Last Supper before the Crucifixion and the inward “marriage-supper of the Lamb” that followed. Some could discern the Lord’s body in the Christian community, and most talked in the inward cleansing by Christ’s blood, but on these points, too, the puritans gave them little argument.”
Fox addressed the courage of those relying upon spiritual provision and who’s substance they were merely shadows. This courage was so great, is rooted in experience: “they knew the Divine ordination, they were baptized with the washing of the regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, they had found their spiritual food and communion in Christ Himself.”
Where Fox truly became misguided and erred was in his thoughts regarding the Trinity - in not separating Jesus and Spirit and teaching that Christ was not distinct from the Father. Linked with puritan theology, Fox’s stance was one that God’s grace was largely moral power rather than one of forgiveness. He stated, “…if we be not renewed by the Spirit, and saved from Sin; then…grace is no more use…to us.” Both puritan and Quaker doctrine where shaken on the issue of Christ and Spirit. But, they held fast to their beliefs of the inner Light and Spirit with which was Christ. Fox was actually arrested because of statements regarding the power of Christ in him. As a pacifist he surrendered to authorities, refusing to break his conscious religious beliefs by taking oaths or denying his convictions.
It is common knowledge that the Quaker faith historically has held a belief in peaceful resolution of conflicts with conviction that all wars and fighting are morally wrong. Many Friends prefer to be thought of as peacemakers rather than pacifist. Believers would choose to be imprisoned as an alternative to fighting in a war. Instead of taking up arms, Quakers would provide social service as patriots to the community. There were Quakers who served in both world wars assisting with humanitarian needs while holding their stance against arms. 
Fox and Friends held their position based on scriptures found in the Old Testament commandment stating, “Thou shalt not kill,” and Jesus teaching to “turn the other cheek” (Ex.20-13 & Matt. 5:39). In 1660 they delivered to the king of England the Quaker Peace Testimony to prove they had no intention to overthrow the present reign. This declaration stated, Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and welfare and doing that which tends to the peace of all… All bloody principles and practices, we…do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any presence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.
Fox felt that war and fighting took away from living in the true virtues for which humanity was called to by God.
The Quaker ideal was and is to a people of peace who bring peace through the presence and power of Christ. This was demonstrated by their testimony as it is recorded that when Quakers, including Fox, where lead off to prison, many times, cheerfully without resistance.
It would be imprudent to neglect the countless contributions that where made to society due to George Fox’s theology and that of the Quaker movement. Quakers have always held a willing heart to answer the ‘call to arms,’ not for war as we discussed above, but for the welfare of society. Bold as lions, individuals have stepped forward to assist community efforts using their experience and abilities to contribute peaceably, wholeheartedly, and generously as a demonstration of joy and virtue that in deed would please God. Their benevolence efforts have touched countless lives - reaching the poor, battling against alcoholism, justice in trade, commerce, antislavery movement, economic issues, environmental causes, and philanthropic endeavors to assist humanity. 
Fox’s teaching that everyone has a measure of the “inner Light” within them no matter whether they are a believer or not, gave regard and importance to all humans. This position of an individual’s worth contributed to Quakers desiring to meet the needs of others through humanitarian works. This is clearly portrayed in their basis of faith: The Religious Society of Friends holds as the basis of its faith the belief that God endows every human being with a measure of His own Divine Spirit. He leaves no one without witness, but gives the light of His truth and presence to men of all classes and races. “Friends find this manifestation of God in man exemplified in Jesus of Nazareth. The divine Spirit became so wholly Jesus’ own that His teaching, example, and sacrificial life are a full revelation in humanity of the will of God.
Friends have been effective in makings their ideas known through public protests against social evils and moral injustice. They have influenced political and private organization to bring social reform. Quakers willingness to learn from others, including foreign countries, has aided them to accomplish great exploits for the good of civilization. They feel a strong sense of social responsibility as mandated from God to be self-sacrificing, like Christ who gave his life. Perhaps it is best said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is longer I who live, but Christ lives I me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
REFLECTIONS ON FOX
Rufus Jones wrote the introduction to The Journal of George Fox in comparing him with St. Francis of Assisi as two spiritual leaders which were “living forces.” He also shared:
George Fox, from about the year 1648, began to give articulate expression to the dreams and faiths and hopes which lay, more or less unuttered, at the heart of the best of these movements and fellowships. He began at first a “voice” crying in the rural districts, but he soon became a personal leader, an organizer and a vital interpreter – a prophet, in fact – of the mystical and seeking groups which abounded in the land and which were waiting for someone who could give them co-ordination, direction and vision. Just this Fox did. He rendered conscious, explicit and visible in an organized form what had before been vague and more of less subconscious.
Rufus Jones speaks admirably of Fox as he discusses the pain and struggles which were endured within this saint’s psyche. Experiencing exhausting inner torment and several literal incarcerations, because of his faith, would have broken many. Yet, Fox never denied his faith; standing strong and poised, relentless in his claims that He did, absolutely - with all certainty, “come into direct and immediate correspondence with God.” It is this man, George Fox, who experienced what he called a “living presence” so tremendous within his soul that he was filled with passion, zeal, and conviction. Fox’s experience with God was so powerful, the Quaker movement was formed. He touched thousands of lives as an “organ of the living Christ in the seventeenth-century England.”
William Penn, a personal friend of George Fox, wrote a short epitaph to Fox’s name stating, “He was a man that God endued with a clear and wonderful depth, a discerner of others spirits, and very much a master of his own.” His desire was to set the kingdom of God into the hearts of man. Believing that God’s finger and hand had stretched forth from heaven to bring revelation to humanity not to be presented by only those of education with elegant speech, but with love from all who were saved the testimony of truth of Jesus Christ. Penn when referring to Fox said, that he excelled in prayer, was not a busy-body, self-seeker, or critical person. He was, like so many long to be, contented, tender, steady, meek, and actually enjoyable to be around: Holding virtues of love, compassion, with an “excellent spirit.”
Humbly laboring in England, Scotland, and Ireland amidst his suffering to study and share the word and the doctrine. “As he lived, so he died; feeling the same eternal power, that had raised and preserved him, in his last moments. So full of assurance was he, that he triumphed over death…saying, “the Lord’s power is overall weakness and death; the Seed reigns, blessed be the Lord”: which was about four or five hours before his departure out of this world.”
Elton Trueblood also spoke admirably regarding George Fox stating, “If Penn’s witness had stood alone it would be very impressive, but it does not stand alone for it is supported by the reports of many others.” Fox demonstrated strength and humility characterized by his lack of seeking power and status when it could have easily been attained. He gained recognition from leading historians and thinkers including Thomas Carlyle and George Bancroft. 
Simply remarkable, is the life of seventeenth century reformer George Fox who has shaped history through his sacrifice to God and humanity. A man of little education from a modest Christian background, who admittedly struggled internally, yet found his place through salvation of Christ. This salvation brought on through various encounters with God which he called “openings,” empowered him with a passion to speak to the hearts of man regarding the love of God and importance of intimately seeking him.
George Fox founder of the Quaker movement did not seek the honor of man, but that of God. His quest was to please God and fulfill the commission given him by God to share with humanity the edicts presented to him through revelation and scripture. The inerrancy of scripture, unwillingness to take oaths, equality of all humanity, living in peace, and authority of God above all governing authority were highlights of his beliefs.
He traveled and preached to all who would listen - an optimistic message of love and hope in God who would meet them personally if only they would silently waiting on Him. Fox was a man of conviction, who did not negate his faith even under persecution and imprisonment. He was a beloved friend and honored among his associates. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:9-12). Surely, George Fox is honored with God as he endured great hardship in his life, yet stayed true to his faith.
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Trueblood, Elton. The people called Quakers. Friends United Press ed. Richmond Ind. Friends United Press, 1971.
 Timothy George, Theology of the reformers (Nashville Tenn. Broadman Press, 1988), 15.
 Auguste Jorns, The Quakers as pioneers in social work. (Montclair N.J. Patterson Smith, 1969), 19.
 William Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism., 2nd ed. (Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1955), 1.
 Sallie B. King, “Transformative Nonviolence: The Social Ethics of George Fox and Thich Nhat Hanh,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 18 (1998): 4, (accessed March 22, 2011).
 Hugh Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 2.
 Jorns, The Quakers as pioneers in social work., 23.
 Hans Hillerbrand, The encyclopedia of Protestantism (New York : Routledge,, 2004), 759.
 Jorns, The Quakers as pioneers in social work., 24.
 George Fox, The journal of George Fox, (London & Toronto ;New York: J.M. Dent & Sons;;E.P. Dutton & Co., 1924), 8.
 Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism., 2.
 Fox, The journal of George Fox,, 34.
 Elton Trueblood, The people called Quakers, Friends United Press ed. (Richmond Ind. Friends United Press, 1971), 22.
 Hillerbrand, The encyclopedia of Protestantism, 759.
 Trueblood, The people called Quakers, 26.
 King, “Transformative Nonviolence,” 5.
 Walter Elwell, Evangelical dictionary of theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids Mich. ;Carlisle Cumbria U.K. Baker Academic ;;Paternoster Press, 2001), 760.
 Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England., 28-29.
 George, Theology of the reformers, 44-45.
 Edwin Bronner, American Quakers today. (Philadelphia: Friends World Committee American Section and Fellowship Council, 1966), 47.
 Douglas Steere, Quaker spirituality : selected writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 16.
 Trueblood, The people called Quakers, 30-31.
 Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England., 15.
 George, Theology of the reformers, 95-96.
 Hillerbrand, The encyclopedia of Protestantism, 760-761.
 Thomas Hamm, The Quakers in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 21.
 King, “Transformative Nonviolence,” 16.
 George, Theology of the reformers, 97.
 Hillerbrand, The encyclopedia of Protestantism, 761.
 King, “Transformative Nonviolence,” 9.
 Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism., 59.
 Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England., 144.
 Hamm, The Quakers in America, 21.
 Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England., 144-145.
 Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism., 137-138.
 Hamm, The Quakers in America, 161-163.
 King, “Transformative Nonviolence,” 16.
 Jorns, The Quakers as pioneers in social work., 9-13.
 Bronner, American Quakers today., 47.
 Ibid., 234-236.
 Fox, The journal of George Fox,, ix.
 Ibid., xviii.
 Trueblood, The people called Quakers, 21.