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future revolutions. Of the one can only be narrated what he ate and what he drank, and what he wore, how he sported and made inglorious dalliance with the frivolous and the idle, while, in delineating the other we must speak of the most exciting ideas which ever moved the minds of men, and which, when once declared, shall never perish.
How much greater are ideas than men.
How much more interesting are the principles of Fox, than his wanderings, persecutions and miseries.
There is nothing especially worthy of our attention in his life until his religious experience commenced. He was born in those tumultuous times which produced a Cromwell, but it was during the inglorious reign of Charles II., that he appeared upon the stage.
Nor did he start with the notion of being a reformer, or the founder of a great school. No more did Luther or any of the great lights of our world. His peculiar doctrines grew out of his religious experience, and as these were a life to him, he declared them with zeal and fidelity, and the discussion of them produced agitation, persecution, martyrdom and religious triumph. It was these which drew together a peculiar class of thinkers, and bound them together in a single cause, and affected future generations.
It is interesting to see how the great question of all time, what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul, has been the chief cause of the revolutions and changes in the religious history of society. It has produced the Basils, the Jeromes, the Bernards, and the Luthers of the world. It induced men, in primitive ages, to retreat to deserts and solitudes, and thus gave birth to monastie life. It led St. Francis to institute a new order of monks. It led Luther to study diligently the Bible, and then to seek justification through faith in Christ alone, and then to declare the greatness of the doctrine to bewildered millions, and then to denounce those Roman priests, as well as the arts by which they kept the ignorant in bondage, and then to establish his position by an appeal to Scripture, and then to declare the duty of all to study those eternal oracles, and then the right of private judgment, and other principles which shook Europe to its centre, and which were the parent of future revolutions, and the origin of doctrines of unlimited application.
In like manner it was the religious experience of Fox which, taking another direction, gave birth to a system which has lasted to our own times, and modified the general opinions of society on several most important points.
George Fox, when quite young, was distracted with religious ideas. He was moral, obedient, and amiable from his boyhood. But mere outward morality did not satisfy his anxious and inquiring mind. He was burdened with doubts and perplexities. He was tempted by the snares and suggestions of the spiritual enemy.
He broke off from all intercourse with the world, and with his friends. He courted solitude and meditation. But solitude did not relieve his mind, nor did celestial beings come to comfort him. He sought the oracles of wisdom in the great metropolis, but all London seemed enveloped in darkness and wickedness. He returned to his friends, and they advised him to get married. He asked direction from a clergyman of great repute, who recommended him to sing psalms and use tobacco. He consulted another, and he advised physic and bleeding. None understood his malady, none could minister to a mind diseased, which led him to set a light value on men educated in universities, since they could not give him the consolation he required. At last, when all hopes in man had fled, he heard what he supposed a heavenly voice speaking to his soul : " Only Christ can administer to thy condition.”
A new light dawned upon his distracted mind, his heart leaped for joy. He obtained hope and consolation. It was not man, or his reason, or even the ordinary reading of the Scriptures which had enlightened him, had removed the burden from his soul. It was, as he supposed, a special revelation from God himself. It was the voice of the Spirit. It was the inner light, revealing new and glorious mysteries.
We will not, as yet, dwell on this first, cardinal principle of Quakerism, the recognition of a direct spiritual influence from God Almighty on the human soul, so powerful and so clear that it could not be mistaken, and all sufficient to guide a man in the perplexities of life, revealing to him the loftiest spiritual truths. This will be discussed when we shall show what is transient and what is permanent in the system of Fox. At
present we simply wish to unfold his views as they gradually dawned upon his mind.
Being persuaded that he was specially enlightened by the Spirit of God, even as the prophets and apostles were, he now felt called upon to declare to others that spiritual liberty which he enjoyed, and exhort them to the practice of virtue, and explain to them the mysteries of revelation. He maintained that by faithful obedience to the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit, men would not only acquire a clear understanding of the Scriptures, but could attain perfection. Believing in the certain guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that it would lead all men, if sought, into the way of truth, he began to doubt the necessity or expediency of the institution of the ordinary ministers of religion. Not the clergy were to teach men, but the Spirit alone, and he therefore felt commissioned to bring people away from the forms and ceremonies of the established church, which he regarded as unnecessary, and a perversion of spiritual Christianity. He made the worship of God to consist in a patient and humble waiting in silence for the guidance of the Spirit, and looked upon the ordinary observances as so many forms by which God was mocked and dishonored. The inner light had revealed to him, as he supposed, the absurdity and folly of the external economy of the church, which he entirely swept away, the ordination of the clergy, baptism, the Lord's Supper, the regular service, even churches, the music of the choir, all emblematical ceremonies, and the peculiar dresses of the officiating clergy. He would institute a purely spiritual church, and make religion entirely a matter between the soul and its Maker.
He then found that the Lord forbade him to put off his hat to any man, high or low; that he was required to say thou and thee to every man and woman without distinction, and not to bid people good morrow or good evening, nor to bow and do reverence to people in authority, as was the custom of the times. He looked upon all these things as marks of honor which man ought not to bestow on his fellow-man, but only
But that which most wounded the mind of Fox, was what seemed to him the earthly spirit of the clergy in accepting tithes and offerings for their preaching. It seemed to him that they sold the word of God, which should be free to all the world. Nor did he like the sound of the church bell. It rung in his ears like the bell of the market calling the people together for the selling of wares. So he abolished what he called a hireling priesthood, and bells on the churches which he called steeplehouses, and insisted that no man ought to receive an earthly recompense for preaching the word, or be summoned to worship the Almighty by the sound of a bell. 'He also objected to oaths in a court of law as anti-christian, in direct opposition to the commands of our Saviour. The literal injunctions of the Scriptures were never to be slighted, and, in obeying them no principles of expediency should divert him from his course. He was to obey God indifferent to all consequences.
If the first great principle of Quakerism was the spirit of God, specially acting on the mind as the only interpreter of truth and the only guide to duty, rather than the light of reason or the voice of authority, the second great principle was the literal interpretation of the Scriptures, in spite of all the commentators of the world, and all the aids of human learning and the traditions of the early church. This Fox strenuously declared, and it led him not merely to reject the ordinary oaths administered in courts of law, but to refuse to enlist as a soldier in the army, not because many of the primitive Christians refused to do so, but because the Bible told him not to kill. Hence he regarded war as not merely an evil, but a crime in all conceivable circumstances, an evil per se, and he would not fight to gain or retain any worldly blessing, not even liberty, or the sanctity of the family circle, or honor, or life itself. He would die even rather than kill the assassin who threatened the life of his wife or children, or who would take away the dearest interests of society. He would dispense with armies, and firearms, and strife of war. He would coerce nothing, if coercion required the life of man. No circumstances could induce him to take life, even of the convicted culprit. He would abolish all capital punishments. And if he could not confine the murderer or the robber in a prison without killing him, if he made resistance, he would, if true to his principles, let him go at large, and strive to remedy the evil by moral suasion alone. Hence he was led to magnify the force of love. He believed it was the only omnipotent principle of society, that it reigned in heaven and ought to reign on earth. By moral suasion the world was to be converted and saved. It was of more power than armies, even in subduing murderers and ruffians and robbers. He was led to adopt absolute non-resistance. His principles of literal interpretation pushed him there, and he was not ashamed of the doctrine, for it seemed in harmony with the spirit of the Gospel and the great fundamental law of love, which requires us to forgive our enemies, and to return good for evil. Even Christ himself seemed to have set the example by yielding up his life as a martyr, when he could have commanded legions of angels.
This law of love became the third great principle of his ethical creed, and he was willing to give it the most indefinite application. He would interfere with no man's rights. He would allow all the spiritual freedom which he enjoyed. He would punish no one for heresy. He would abolish all penal laws for religious opinions not in accordance with the established church.. He would divide his substance with the poor. He would knock off the fetters of the slave. He would inculcate a universal philanthropy. There was to be no limitation to the objects of charity, forbearance and love.
And as the Scriptures were to be literally obeyed, since God had revealed them by his Spirit to favored men of old, and since they could not be in opposition to what his Spirit taught in all ages, he would comply with their plain directions without regard to consequences. The laws of expediency were his peculiar abomination. They were, as he thought, the invention of Satan, of Antichrist. He based his ethics on the immutable principles of morality. He acknowledged no distinction between the laws which should regulate individuals and communities. He would do right though the world should perish. Nor would he entangle an obvious duty by sophistries and paradoxes, and ingenious theories, and artful supposition. Only one course was open to him, and to all mankind : to do right, because it was right, because God commanded it, leaving results to him. Honesty was the best policy, but he would welcome it, not because it was politic, but because it was his duty. "He would