So, every one must witness Christ born in them passing through death to him, through the world, through the law, through temptations, through the wilderness, and out of the world; and the son of God ye will witness to arise, who doth overcome, who was born of God. And the same spirit, that raised up Jesus Christ, the same spirit raiseth you up, and quickeneth your mortal bodies; and he that hath not the same, is none of his (The Works of George Fox (1831), VII, 56).
On Sixth month, the 20th, nine gathered to read and discuss George Fox’s Epistle 45, which begins on page 54 of volume 7. In this epistle, Fox concerns himself with “the heirs of the kingdom of God, and how Christ was, and his saints are tempted”(54). He begins this piece by identifying the heirs of the kingdom of God as those who “live out of the kingdom of the wicked world . . . following after Christ (54): beginning in “Egypt, the house of darkness,” passing through the wilderness temptations, suffering the cross and “contradiction of sinners”(55), and “ascend[ing] above all principalities and powers.” It is the same today as ever it was, Fox affirms: “the same world . . . the same temptations, and the same devil, and the same vain worship of the world, twining into another form and colour”(55). Thus Fox presents a worldview that is centered on the Christ-assisted soul heroically passing through the deceitful, demonic forces of the world that are intent upon preventing the soul’s progress toward the Kingdom where peace and righteousness are enjoyed.
And all who can witness the second birth, and are born again, know the promises of God in and to the seed are yea and amen; and ye coming out of that which was in time, ye come up to God, who was before time was. This is a mystery, he that can receive it let him; and he that hath an ear to hear it, let him hear what the spirit saith. Abel was the second birth, he was no murderer, nor no sinner; for God called him (57).
Our discussion begins at 11:40 with a brief look at Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, and from there to parsing a key sentence denoting the Way of Christ toward his (and our) reward. An examination of verses Hebrews 2:10 and 12:3 engages several participants beginning at 20:35 in the recording. Openness to receive Christ finds metaphors in “gate” and “door,” as well as “birth,” each brought forward at various points in our discussion. At 32:45 is a distinction made between proactive and reactive approaches to obtaining Christ. Synonyms for the word “darkness” are listed beginning at 37:45. The necessity of becoming aware of what needs to change within is addressed at 45:00. At 49:52 in the recording, one participant recognizes this spiritual endeavor in which we’re engaged is a “life and death” struggle. Throughout this epistle, Fox upholds the difference between those who are born of God and those who know not God (57).
And “he that is born of God overcomes the world”; he that is born of God, is not of this world. . . . He that committeth sin is of the devil, and hath not seen God at any time. Hereby are the children of God made manifest from the children of the devil; for he that sins is of the devil, and knows not God (57).
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So the Lord’s power being over all, Friends were refreshed therein (The Works of George Fox, I, 393).
On Sixth month, the 12th, three Friends met to continue our New Foundation Fellowship monthly study of George Fox’s journal, and in this session, we read from volume 1, pages 391-394. The time was 1659; Fox had returned to London from his travels to “many counties in the Lord’s service” where “many were convinced”(391). At the beginning of the passage, Fox speaks of a vision of London he’d had “long before,” of the city lying “in heaps,” and of then seeing that vision realized several years later when fire had ravaged the city.
Fox’s work in London was to lay before the city’s influential a charge of “backsliding, hypocrisy, and treacherous dealing”(392), and the majority of this three-page journal passage is comprised of a scathing letter addressed to “the several powers.” Following his work in London, Fox’s spirit was drawn to Friends in western England, and he briefly describes meetings in those parts as “precious,” “blessed,” and “great”(393). Our reading concluded with a description of “a wicked man [who] put a bear’s skin on his back, and undertook with that to play pranks in the meeting,” and who shortly thereafter met with a gory but just end. Fox attributes the man’s demise to “divine vengeance,” and writes he would have such examples “teach others to beware”(394).
Our discussion begins at 9:38 with a look at Fox’s vision of destruction in London. Then follows one participant’s recounting of intimations of future events that he’d received over the years. From there, our discussion centers on the mystery of time, and inferences drawn from experiential insight into eternity (16:27). Issues of apostacy and idolatry occupy much of the discussion from 27:20 through 47:50: the conceptual image replacing the thing itself; doctrines supplanting experience; and the mind’s reflection usurping substance: all maneuvers that presage a soul given to idolatry. At 47:55, reference is made to Lewis Benson’s affirmation of “the outsider” as necessary to the gospel endeavor, this prompting a line of thought that leads to naming the primacy of the relationship with Christ, not the social group. Concluding our discussion is a personal story followed by a summary of the main gist of our discussion: the mutual exclusivity ever-present between idolatry and faith in Christ, the Substance: the latter being where true happiness is found.
Hence all their thinking has ended in futility, and their misguided minds are plunged in darkness. They boast of their wisdom, but they have made fools of themselves, exchanging the splendour of immortal God for an image (Rom. 1:22-23 NEB).
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But in the light of God all wait, which will bring you to see where wisdom’s gate is; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of it. Pure wisdom is let out of the treasury into the pure heart, which sees God; and fearing the living God, it keeps the heart pure and clean, to receive the wisdom from the treasury freely, who doth not upbraid. And as ye depart from evil and iniquity, he breaks the bonds by showing mercy; and then the understanding grows pure and clear (Works, VII, 54).
On Fifth month, the 16th, nine people met to read and discuss Fox’s Epistle 44. In this epistle, written in 1653, Fox calls Friends to wait for the power to unify them into one spiritual body. Our discussion begins at 3:58 in the recording and centers on the distinct, significant change that occurs in man as he is given the light of Christ, and thereby enabled to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Discussion on the meaning of the phrase “baptizes into one body” (53) follows, starting at 13:36. The conversation then moves into the topic of our tradition’s increasingly refined standards of righteousness, which direct us toward the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God. The final standard and beginning of wisdom has been found to be the fear the Lord (starting at 22:38). A passage from Penington is read at 36:55:
The pure fear, the holy fear, the heavenly fear, which is of a clean and heavenly nature, and endureth for ever, is also in this seed. The child-like fear is in the nature of the child; and the more it grows in the true child-like nature, the more it grows in this kindly fear, wherein there is no torment, but the pure pleasure of life, and of holy obedience to the Father of life. The child-like fear is a promise of the new covenant; and given to the children of the new covenant, by virtue of the new covenant; God putting it into their hearts from the seed of life springing up in them, which preserves them from departing from the Lord (Works, IV, 343).
At 45:10 there is a moving personal testimony on the ordinary moments in which the Lord manifests himself to us through his mercy and love, allowing us to grow in heavenly wisdom. This lovely passage will hearten anyone who loves the light of Truth and delights to see it prosper!
“Wisdom is justified of her children.” He that knows not the principle of the eternal light, who is not born of it . . . he cannot justify it in his paths; but he justifies the earthly wisdom and reason of man, by its setting up appearances of good, instead of good, and would make all acknowledge and bow to them as good; whereas that which is indeed acquainted with the good, living in the principle thereof, cannot bow to the false appearance, but only to the truth itself. When man’s spirit and wisdom is wearied out of all its paths, and he broken with the misery which will certainly overtake him therein; at last the path of God will be welcome to him, and that principle which, through the operation of God, is able to rectify him and make him happy (Works, II, 197).
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Our monthly study of George Fox’s journal took place on the morning of the 8th of Fifth month. Eight were present, and we began by reading volume 1, pages 389-391 in The Works of George Fox (1831 edition). The material covered comprised two sections: the first featuring an epistle in which Fox cautions Friends “to keep out of the powers of the earth” (389) and “fight for [the kingdom] with spiritual weapons . . . and set up as many as ye can with these weapons” (390); in the second segment, Fox tells of a large meeting in Norwich in which a priest accused him of blasphemy (390). Fox responded:
Then said I, all people take notice, [the priest] said this was error and blasphemy in me to say these words; and now he hath confessed it is no more than the holy men of God in former times witnessed. So I showed the people, that as the holy men of God, who gave forth the scriptures, were moved by the holy ghost, did hear and learn of God, before they spake them forth, so must they all hearken and hear what the spirit saith, which will lead them into all truth, that they may know God and Christ, and may understand the scriptures (391).
Our discussion begins at 9:02 in the recording with responses to Fox’s epistle. The peace one seeks to secure through outward strife is instead to be found within: in Christ where relief from conflict is instantaneously afforded. Christ does “real things” witnessed one participant (found at 36:45 in the recording). The power of fear to influence behavior was acknowledged (beginning at 24:47) and wove throughout a number of comments, including reference to fear’s unconscious expression: aggression. Likewise, “conformity” was identified as another refuge taken in fear.
In the last third of our conversation, we threshed whether or not armed force has a rightful place in society. All agreed that those who knew Christ Within are led to not use carnal weapons, yet some of us realized destructive behavior must at times be forcefully contained, a position supported by early Friends’ acknowledgment of a legitimate use for the magistrate’s sword. They themselves engaged in the Lamb’s War, using spiritual weapons to turn people to the Spirit of God, where the occasion of war and the necessity of the magistrate’s sword had been superseded.
Following our discussion, I researched early Friends’ stance on “magistrates’ or people’s defending themselves against foreign invasions” and found their position confirmed the view offered in this discussion (at 52:34 and 1:03:07): namely, that society’s use of physical force to suppress the violent and evil-doers is necessary (“for this the present estate of things may and doth require”). At the same time, there must be a forward movement in society precipitated by those who know the inward Christ, “which the Lord hath already brought some into” (157). In the following excerpt taken from volume 2 of his Works, Penington holds forth the requirement to protect society from destruction through armed force, even while the spiritual work goes forward through those to whom the Lord has made Himself known, those who through speaking the Word and teaching the doctrines of faith are to lift and move society into “a better state. . . which nations are to expect and travel towards.” Here is the Penington passage:
I speak not this against any magistrates’ or people’s defending themselves against foreign invasions, or making use of the sword to suppress the violent and evil-doers within their borders (for this the present estate of things may and doth require, and a great blessing will attend the sword where it is borne uprightly to that end, and its use will be honorable; and while there is need of a sword, the Lord will not suffer that government, or those governors, to want fitting instruments under them for the managing thereof, to wait on him in his fear to have the edge of it rightly directed); but yet there is a better state, which the Lord hath already brought some into, and which nations are to expect and travel towards” (Penington, vol. 2, p. 157).
The recording has been edited to reduce pauses between speakers.
The following is a copy of an email exchange that occurred May 4th – 6th between Marilyn Vache and me. Marilyn has been attending our New Foundation Fellowship (NFF) Fox study group, as well as Zoom classes offered by Henry Jason under the care of Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative): classes I also attend. She begins her correspondence by referring to an essay by Lewis Benson titled “The Future of Quakerism.” Benson, along with several others, founded NFF half a century ago to be a vehicle for presenting the writing of Fox to modern Friends, who had wandered far from the original faith. Our NFF work today continues his own: to proclaim and speak of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).
Dear Pat, As an introduction to Lewis Benson’s work I am reading None Were So Clear (nice to see you and the Heins acknowledged). In the lecture on “The Future of Quakerism” he describes much of modern Liberal Friends’ thought and states it more clearly than anyone I’ve read before: I find your answers to questions to be deep and wise, so I’m addressing mine to you.
The religion of the modern Friend is a philosophical structure whose chief cornerstone is the affirmation of the inherent native spirituality of man. This is what the modern Friend means when he uses George Fox’s phrase “that of God in every man”…Christ, or rather Jesus, is understood to be a rabbi who taught that we must follow our Inner Light…He is not the Light, but he received it in the same manner we do. Thus, the Inner Light is one thing and Jesus is another(Benson).
I think somewhere else in the essay he indicates that modern Friends no longer see the necessity of Christ as intermediary between God and man.
The support for this modern belief seems to come, as well, from early and current-day Quakers’ universalism, saying that the Inner Light existed in all people well before Jesus and exists within everyone. My question is this: What were the early “evangelists” doing when they traveled as far as Turkey to talk with a Sultan or when Fox encouraged Friends to speak with American Indians? Were they saying that the full expression of the Light required familiarity with or acceptance of the direct teachings of Jesus? Did they believe that only with that could the Light be fully present or active? Another way to ask this is, can there be two legitimate tracks for Friends, one that relies on Christ as both message and messenger and another that relies on a shared sense of the presence of the Light?
I think that Benson goes on in that lecture to say, basically, that the second form of belief is anemic, that it won’t support an eternal fellowship in the same way the first one does. The argument against that might be (within a very time-limited framework) that modern Liberal thought seems to be more robust and attractive than the Benson version. It’s a small group, of course, but all mainline denominations are. And the reply to that is yes, of course, they’re small because they’ve lost nearly everything of early Christianity to secularism.
Well, I will be interested to see you reply if you have the time. If you’d rather just talk, I can be reached at [xxx-xxx-xxxx] most mornings. I want you to know that I am still interested in the Fox studies, though I believe that I have a conflict again this Saturday. I’ll be certain to listen to the session when you post it in “Abiding Quaker,” which I greatly appreciate.
In grace, Marilyn
Thank you for writing and for posing these questions, Marilyn. I’ve often felt that your questions in our Fox study groups show a seriousness and an intelligence that is welcome. I’ve been considering your email since first reading it yesterday, and feel I may be able to shed some light, though perhaps not fully clear up the matter for you. If that’s the case, please let me know, and I’ll try again.
You had asked about the evangelical work of early Quakers to non-Christian people, such as the sultan in Turkey and the American Indians: whether in evangelizing, Friends were saying that “the full expression of the Light required familiarity with or acceptance of the direct teachings of Jesus. . .that only with that could the Light be fully present or active?” Barclay in his sixth proposition in his Apology refutes that idea when he states “that as some of the old philosophers might have been saved, so also may now some – who by providence are cast into those remote parts of the world, where the knowledge of the history is wanting – be made partakers of the divine mystery, if they receive and resist not that grace, ‘a manifestation whereof is given to every man to profit withal'” (1 Cor. 12:7). He goes on to identify where the true distinguishing event of salvation lies: “they may be made partakers of the mystery of his death (though ignorant of the history) if they suffer his Seed and Light (enlightening the hearts) to take place; in which Light, communion with the Father and Son is enjoyed” (italics mine). Verses 9 through 12 in the prologue of John likewise state that the light is universally given but not universally received.
Benson recognized that modern Friends – for the most part – had not entered in at the strait gate, had not received the light of Christ, but instead had misconstrued the relationship between Christ Jesus and themselves. As he wrote in the passage you quoted, they attributed the divine nature to themselves as an “inherent” function of their human nature. It is this claim of a natural inherency that stands in opposition to original Quaker faith. Early Quakers received Christ, knowing his being to be wholly other than themselves, having a different will and wisdom beyond their natural human capacity but which, nevertheless, could visit, enlighten, and direct them. Benson picks up on Fox’s use of the idea of “the offices of Christ” which emphasizes the distinction between Christ and human beings, who yet, though distinct from one another, can be in relationship: one entity to another.
Modern Friends sometimes claim to be in unity with early Friends and feel entitled to use the same terms to describe their spirituality, but the way in which they use these terms show that their understanding is different from early Friends. For example, a modern Friend believes he possesses his own unique “inner light,” which “leads” him in ways that differ from the ways others’ unique inner lights lead them. (This idea is held forth in the Quaker song “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”) For early Friends, the light of Christ is not a personal possession, and one cannot control whether or not it shines within. They felt and knew Christ reveal himself to them within. This specific revelation brought them into unity with others who likewise felt the same being descend upon them from above; Fox wrote: “your faith being in the power you are all one if ye be 10,000” (The Works of George Fox, vol.7, p. 58). Unity in Christ, arising from an inward conviction, engendered an assurance and strength both in individuals and in the corporate body that is evident in their writings and history. They had a clarity, power, and unity which is non-existent in modern Quakers, leading Benson to use the term “anemic” to describe what the Society has come to.
In your email you asked, “can there be two legitimate tracks for Friends, one that relies on Christ as both message and messenger and another that relies on a shared sense of the presence of the Light?” Perhaps the previous paragraph has answered this already in presenting the idea that a legitimate shared sense of the Light will occur only upon the visitation from Christ, the transcendent Being. Unity can be engineered by human means, but it is not the unity of spirit that is revealed from heaven, which exhibits a specific quality of grace and truth that leads those who have known it into a unity with one another. This unity extends beyond the people gathered in a particular space; it is found among those from different times and cultures, allowing us to read and understand the Scriptures, understanding them as did the early Friends, because we know – as they knew – the Spirit of Christ in which the Scriptures were written. Modern Friends tend to avoid the Scriptures, whereas early Friends highly valued both the Scriptures and the Spirit they spoke of; they knew and loved that Spirit, in which they lived and moved and had their being (Acts 17:28).
Please let me know if this response has sufficiently clarified the matter, or if not, feel free to pursue it further.
Dear Pat, This was most helpful, and I appreciate the time you took to think it through and write back to me.
The main question that remains for me, the larger body aside, is about receiving Christ. About thirty years ago I had a “born again” moment in which, in accepting Christ, I was promised abundant and eternal life. As satisfying as that was, I recognize that receiving Christ is not a one-time event. Since I first heard of it, when I was young, I was moved by the instruction to “pray without ceasing.” I am still trying to understand what it takes to maintain that connection: some study (I know scripture is important), willingness, openness, desire, paring away of distractions, or….something. How do you see that continued work? How do you listen for Christ’s leadings? Are there early Friends who speak of it and might help me expand into that state?
With much gratitude,
I appreciate your writing of your present condition and doing so in such a concise, essential way. My condition mirrors your own: I was given knowledge of God several decades ago, and since that time, have been striving to “maintain that connection.” To live in the fear of God is one principle that has become a part of me. It is within our human capacity to sustain and is usually present, a consequence of knowing and desiring life: a spiritual survival “instinct.” Like an instinct, the fear alerts me to situations where I’m spiritually endangered. It preserves me, keeping me safe from sin that would take my life. But that’s all it does; as an embodied principle, fear of God doesn’t and can’t precipitate the bestowal of grace, as grace is God’s alone to give.
You also asked how I listen for Christ’s leadings. I am open to being judged, knowing what has prevented my receiving Him are my natural – perhaps unseen – shortcomings, sometimes subconsciously hidden so that I’m unaware of them. To get these errors visible, I open myself to receive any information that I’ve kept hidden away from sight; I trust God to reveal whatever is necessary and to sustain me through the indictment, as I’ve experienced this process so many, many times. Listening also requires focus, and one technique I find helpful is to repeat the Lord’s prayer at the beginning of worship, one phrase at a time, allowing each one to deepen and focus my attention. Following that exercise, I simply wait, alert and scanning the inward horizon for signs of any movement of the Spirit.
Having friends who are honest and dedicated to the same goal is helpful, for the obvious reason that having another’s perspective can add information and understanding. Reading of Scripture and early Friends writings are useful for the same reason. I like Isaac Penington’s writings for his sensitivity to and articulation of the inward workings of mind and heart. His four-volume Works are available from Quaker Heritage Press http://www.qhpress.org/books/penington.html#v1 and Friends Library has published a two-volume set of his Works, “conscientiously abridged,” https://www.friendslibrary.com/isaac-penington/writings-volume-1. Here’s an example of his insightful writing taken from a treatise that is titled “Some Questions and Answers, Conducing Towards the Further Manifestation and Opening of the Path of Redemption And Eternal Life to the Eye of Spiritual Israel”:
Now the more the spirit is broken by the hand of the Lord, and taught thereby to fear him; and the less strength it hath in itself, to grapple with the persecuting spirit of the world; the fitter it is to stand in God’s counsel, to wait for his strength and preservation, which is able to bear up its head above all the rage and swelling of the waters of the worldly spirit in the men of this world (vol. 2, p. 249).
Thanks again for sharing your interest and progress in these matters. I look forward to engaging in joint efforts in the work with you.
Once again I feel deeply heard and attended to. You have set before me a banquet.
To you all, who are enlightened with the light of the spirit, that is the light which shows you sin and evil, and your evil deeds and actings, and the deceit and false-heartedness; it will teach you holiness, walking in it, and bring you into unity; and it will draw your minds up to God, and in it ye will see more light. But hating the light, there is your condemnation. –The Works of George Fox, VII, 53
A group of 11 people gathered the evening of April 18th for the monthly New Foundation Fellowship study of George Fox’s epistles. We read Epistle 43 in which Fox focuses on the opposition between the triumphant power of God and His Truth over the deceit found in the worldly dominion of Satan. A discussion dealing with some of the dynamics of this spiritual conflict begins at 13:55 in the recording with a question of what Fox saw as “devour[ing] the creation”: “And ye that are led forth to exhort, or to reprove, do it with all diligence, taking all opportunities, reproving that which devours the creation, and thereby destroys the very human reason” (52).
Several participants affirmed Fox’s advice to those who “cannot witness [the freedom of Christ]”: to not give up but ”wait and mind the pure, and then the burden will be easy” (52). Early Friend Stephen Crisp was brought to mind as having heard an inward voice address him after he had lost patience while waiting upon the Lord in meeting for worship. (This story is found at 11:55 in the recording.) Some ideas on Fox’s words “And your strength is, to stand still” (52) can be found at 45:45 in the recording.
Fox’s addressing his readers as “you who are elected, called, chosen and faithful” (52-3) prompted a question about whether Quakers believed that they were elected before the foundation of the world and therefore called and chosen. The way in which Quakers understand those terms is different from the way Presbyterians do, and this discussion begins at 42:15 in the recording.
Epistle 43, written in 1653, acknowledges the “discourag[ing] and dishearten[ing]” maneuvers of the “enemies without, which are without God in the world” (51-2), yet encourages Friends to “be bold all in the power of truth [which] triumph[s] over the world” (52).
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“Live in peace, in Christ the way of peace;” therein seek the peace of all men and no man’s hurt. In Adam in the fall is no peace; but in Adam out of the fall is the peace: So ye being in Adam, which never fell, it is love that overcomes, not hatred with hatred, nor strife with strife. Therefore live all in the peaceable life, doing good to all men, and seeking the good and welfare of all men. – The Works of George Fox, volume 1, page 389.
Seven attended our meeting for the study of Fox’s journal on Fourth month, the 10th, in which we read and discussed pages 385-389 of volume 1. This passage recounts a time of “great confusion and distraction,” when “the powers were plucking each other to pieces” (385). Fox speaks of his “great travail of spirit” as he witnesses the descent into chaos and violence by those in whom “[t]here had been tenderness,” and he recognizes that “all must be brought down to that which convinced them, before they could get over that bad spirit within and without” (386).
A theme that ran throughout our discussion was the necessity for unity with the spirit of Christ, the second “Adam that never fell” (368). In this spirit, one is empowered to maintain peace and withstand the temptation to be “drawn into that snare” (387) that leads to the “rage and madness” (385) of the world. In this passage, Fox foresees God overturning the disorder burdening the nation, disorder brought on by “hypocrisy, treachery, and falsehood.” Through presenting an exchange he had with “a company of unclean spirits” (387), Fox illustrates the efficacy of travailing with the witness of God through which one may come “to have ease; and the light, power, and spirit, shining over all” (387).
Near the end of our time together (beginning at 56:35 in the recording), we discuss the meaning of “metanoia”: a change of mind or a getting beyond one’s own mind to receive the mind of Christ. The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is brought up as describing a change in Jesus’s form that initially prevents others’ recognition of him. Then the story is interpreted as being an act of discovery in which the disciples discover the new and living way (Christ) is no longer confined to embodiment in Jesus (Jesus’s form) but may now be embodied in others. The disciples in the Emmaus story first recognize Christ upon his breaking bread. Providing bread is a type or figure for providing spiritual sustenance: in effect, saying, the spirit of Christ is recognized through his providing our spiritual sustenance, a provision that may occur either within oneself or through others who have his spirit, though not his form.
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“I am the light of the world,” saith Christ, and he doth enlighten every one that cometh into the world; and he that loves the light, and walks in the light, receives the light of life: and the other, he hates the light, because his deeds are evil, and the light doth reprove him (Works, VII, 51).
George Fox’s Epistle 42 was the focus of our New Foundation Fellowship study on Third month, the 21st, which was attended by 11 people. The writing can be found in the 1831 edition of The Works of George Fox in volume 7 on pages 50-51. Preceding the body of this epistle addressed to Friends, Fox informs us of its subject: the Light in which people “may see their saviour, and the deceivers” (50). He proceeds to contrast the nature and capacities of those who dwell in the Light with those opposed and who turn from it. Dwelling in the light, people are “new creatures,” “led by the spirit” in which there is “no condemnation”; they “see the deceivers.” By contrast, the deceivers “are turned from [the Light] and hate it.” Fox lists many specific behaviors that are common to deceivers, false prophets, and antichrists: they “bear rule by their means,” “have chief seats in the assemblies,” “speak a divination of their own brain,” and “steal words from their neighbors”; these are a few of the many evil deeds pointed out. From start to finish, this 1653 epistle is a litany of contrasts between the elect who dwell in the light and those who turn from it.
Our discussion began and largely remained centered on how one may distinguish the natural capacity for discernment – by means of reason and conscience – from the perfect guidance of the Light of Christ. Some participants answered this question by alluding to the attentive waiting that precedes Christ’s appearance; some gave examples of the Light’s guidance in their personal history; and some described the different quality of the experience of knowing Christ, compared to that found in natural discernment. Much of the epistle dwelt on the capacity given to see, comprehend, and cry against deceivers, which extended the discussion contrasting natural discernment with Light-given knowledge.
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Dwell in faith, patience, and hope, having the word of life to keep you, which is beyond the law; and having the oath of God, his covenant, Christ Jesus, which divides the waters asunder, and makes them to run all on heaps; in that stand, and ye will see all things work together for good to them that love God. In that triumph, when sufferings come, whatever they be. –The Works of George Fox  vol. 1, p. 385)
On the morning of Third month, the 13th, six gathered via Zoom to study a 1658 passage from Fox’s journal (1:381-5). Fox speaks of this time as one of “great suffering” for Friends who were being held in noxious prisons, despite their petitions and warnings to professors in parliament admonishing their persecution and hypocrisy: “ye imprison them that are in the life and power of truth, and yet profess to be the ministers of Christ; but if Christ had sent you, ye would bring out of prison, out of bondage, and receive strangers” (page 382).
A brief second epistle (page 385) shows Fox encouraging Friends – “in prison or out of prison” – to not let reports of persecution frighten them, but to stand in the covenant, Christ, where triumph is found. Offsetting the threats around them, Friends met to worship, and in this passage, Fox describes two gatherings as powerful in the Lord’s presence: one at Isaac Penington’s in Buckinghamshire, and the other near London where “the scriptures were largely and clearly opened, and Christ exalted above all, to the great satisfaction of the hearers” (page 384).
Our discussion begins at 14:12 with the observation that Fox asserts the power of the Lord is stronger than suffering or sin. From there, the mention of “fasting” in the text turns our thoughts to how forms of the tradition can be used to oppose Christ. Fox’s reference to Matthew 25:43 (page 382) brought forward some ideas on Jesus’s direction throughout Matthew 25 to those awaiting the coming of the Son of Man (23:25 in the recording). A new participant to our study offered a few initial responses to Fox’s writing (beginning at 31:15), and also some thoughts on the ability to grasp Fox’s thought requiring some knowledge of the Bible, a knowledge that often is lacking among present-day Quakers.
The recording has been edited to reduce silent times between speakers.
To you all this exhortation is from the word of the Lord: Dwell in the life, that with it ye may see the Father of life. And dwell in the light, with which light the world is condemned; which light comprehends the world’s wisdom; which light comprehends the world and their knowledge, and all the deceivers, which are entered into the world, (who are turned from the light,) with which light they are condemned, that is, the world, who hate the light, because their deeds are evil, and they will not bring their deeds to the light, because the light will reprove them, they hating it, and you that live in it. –The Works of George Fox  vol. 7, p. 49-50)
On the evening of February 22, ten gathered for New Foundation Fellowship’s monthly study of Fox’s epistles. The beginning sentences of Epistle 41 (quoted above) introduce most of the themes presented in this writing: an exhortation to dwell in the Life and Light; the Light’s comprehension and condemnation of the world’s knowledge and deceivers, who are turned from the Light; and deceivers’ hatred of the Light and those who live in it.
We began by discussing the convincing, self-authenticating power of the Light that is recognizable by the elect, who are not deceived by man-made replication of it. The world’s hatred of the Light is one of the epistle’s themes and is examined beginning at 27:00 in the recording. That the Light actively leads out of sin is asserted starting at 37:50, and is followed by a detailed description of this life-giving activity, beginning at 39:30. A distinction is made between the nature of sin and its particular manifestations around 44:45, which includes a reference to Rom. 6:3-4 and Penington’s words on obedience:
There is no birth can believe aright but one; nor is there any birth can obey aright, but that birth which believes aright. The true believing is from the quickening virtue of God’s Spirit (all other faith is but dead faith); and the true obedience is in the newness of the Spirit Rom. 6:4 and 7:6 (Works, III:295)
The recording has been edited to reduce silence between speakers and runs a little short of an hour