George Fox and Christian Theology

George Fox (July 1624 – 13 January 1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends.

The son of a Leicestershire weaver, Fox lived in a time of great social upheaval and war. He rebelled against the religious and political authorities by proposing an unusual and uncompromising approach to the Christian faith. He travelled throughout Britain as a dissenting preacher, for which he was often persecuted by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs.

An attempt to set forth the Theology of George Fox would resemble the celebrated chapter on Snakes in Iceland: “There are no snakes in Iceland.” Neither of the words “Theology” and “Divinity” is to be found in the Index to the Cambridge or the Ellwood edition of his Journal; he rarely used either.

His education, from the scholastic standpoint, was very imperfect; he read little except the Bible (which, however, he is said to have known almost by heart); and he had been unfortunate in his intercourse with theologians—not one of whom, during his early years of deep inward distress, had been able to “speak to his condition.”

Before light came to him, he records how “the Lord opened to 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 the people.” When at last the clouds rolled away, in 1647, it seemed to him that what man could not do God Himself had done: “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.” From that time onwards the centre of his teaching was that “God (or Christ) is come to teach His people Himself,” and that therefore they have no need of divines to instruct them.

He simply assured his hearers that God had met him, and that what he had found they could find also; that to every man God was speaking in the depth of his own soul, if only he would listen and obey. What Harnack says of Jesus Christ might be truly said of Fox: “Individual religious life was what he wanted to kindle and what he did kindle; it is his peculiar greatness to have led men to God, so that they may thenceforth live their own life with Him.”

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