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to turn people to the Spirit of God, where the occasion of war and the necessity of the magistrate’s sword had been superseded.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.