Powers of Endurance and a Challenging Legacy: The Uniqueness of George Fox, Quaker


Anne Evans wrote her article about the life and contributions of George Fox just over a hundred years ago.* She described him as a man sufficiently like ourselves – “speaking our own tongue, to a people of like traditions, within our own historical consciousness” – that reading his journal enables us “to actually feel the solid reality of the man…It is as though a portrait had been painted for us by his great Dutch contemporary, so Rembrandt-like is its compelling domination of the varying background, so golden the light, so rich and sombre the shadow.

George Fox: http://www.georgefox.edu/

The Essence of Fox’s Message
Fox left his home village as a young man and describes himself as “a man of sorrows…Traveling up and down as a stranger in the earth…” He had a powerful personal revelation which transformed his values and established his mission for the rest of his life. “…all things were new, and all creation gave unto me another smell than before…I saw all the world could do me no good; if I had a king’s diet, palace and attendance. all would have been as nothing, for nothing gave me comfort but the Lord by his power.

His message to one and all was simple and profound, “There is that of God within you. Hark!” If he could only express this truth with sufficient power, his work would be finished. His audience would be able to “shift for themselves and he was free to pass on to the work of arousing other men.” Fox made no distinction between different social classes, “regarding each and all as equal in their high heritage.” He paid no attention to the normal niceties of social manners or conventions.

In fact, writes Evans, “the seemingly trivial eccentricities of his manner and speech were what first riveted attention and insured him a hearing.” He could have preached rationally about the equality of men, and met with little resistance.  But because he refused to take off his hat, he “roused such a storm of rage and abuse among the smug class-worshippers, that all his powers of argument and eloquence were given full scope in lulling it.” Fox was frequently imprisoned for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, and this meant that magistrates were forced to listen his arguments for refusing.

Fighting for Justice
One aspect of pre-reformation England that most infuriated Fox was the “devious and procrastinating methods” of the courts of justice which made justice for ordinary people “almost non-existent.” The conditions in the prisons, in which Fox and thousands of his Quaker Friends found themselves so frequently, were absolutely deplorable. It is no wonder, writes Anne Evans, “that the Quakers have then and now felt prison reform as one of their sacred trusts.”

Incredible Endurance
Evans marvels at Fox’s powers of endurance. He carries on with his mission, in all seasons, frequently without shelter or food. He is severely beaten, often bleeding, he endures violence “not merely with stoical calm, but with grim joy in his opportunities.” She attributes the poise and equilibrium which he maintained “without deviation” to “an entire freedom from ambition, a high resolve to make use of all spiritual gains for the common good…

There were a few times when the constant persecution of himself and his followers became overwhelming. One such time was in the year 1670 when he suffered a “remarkable psychic crisis.” Seriously ill, he took refuge in the home of a faithful Friend. Few thought he would survive. Under successively more repressive laws, simply to be a Quaker was grounds for imprisonment. “It was a cruel, bloody time, yet in due course it pleased the Lord to allay the heat of this violent persecution….As persecutions ceased…I began to recover beyond all expectations.”

Organizational Achievements
Fox lived for more than twenty years after this episode, spending most of his time in London. These years “were largely concerned with organization, certain disruptions during his long imprisonments proving that the Society was too loosely knit to insure future usefulness.” He was also constantly involved in the founding of schools, for he felt it important that the members of his Society be taught “whatever things were civil and useful in creation.”

Until his death in 1691, Fox oversaw phenomenal growth in the Society of Friends. In England alone there were fifty thousand followers, and flourishing branches in Holland and in America, where William Penn had succeeded in instituting his “holy commonwealth.”

George Fox’s Legacy  
Anne Evans writes that Fox “undoubtedly believed that his Society…would become universal, each member a vital organic part, acting freely for the good of the whole…Why should it not embrace the world?” But she says that he greatly underestimated the power of his own personality. When de died without having arranged for effective successors, “he left his people without a leader who could march forward gathering recruits by the mere force of his presence. The remarkable growth inevitably slackened…

Nevertheless, Fox left a challenging legacy. The religion of the Friends is both an inward religion and a call to action. Fox was against war, and refused to fight. He spoke out against slavery and for the admission of women to the ministry. He wanted both boys and girls to study “everything practical and useful under creation.” He believed that all human beings have “that of God within them,” a potentially powerful inner voice to guide them. Because of this conviction, Fox believed that all – whether they were king or beggar, friend or enemy, English or (American) Indian or African – deserved equal respect.

Anne Evans concludes that it was a hundred years before an advocate for spiritual awakening and social justice as powerful as George Fox was heard in Britain. The “new prophet” was John Wesley. Anne Evans’ account of Wesley’s life and contributions was the subject of previous blogs.

* George Fox by Anne Evans. Article in Theosophical Quarterly Vol. 8, No. 3, pages 203-209, January, 2011.


  1. Kathi Bernier says:

    It is interesting to read about George Fox and the Quakers. As a child I was quite interested in the Quakers. They seemed to be able to have a different way of creating their place in religion.To me then and now I am always interested in finding my way to learn from the Quakers and other groups. They were quite different than the people in my Lutheran church. I was able to learn a great deal about George Fox and the effect that he had as he learned much about himself, the Quakers and the changes in religion.

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Kathy,
      It is so gratifying to hear that someone like you gets new information from any of my blog posts or newsletters. Thank you. Barbara

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