“The Liberator of Spirit” The church is the pillar and ground of the truth, made up of living stones and lively members; a spiritual household of which Christ is the head. But He is not the head of a mixed multitude, or of an old house composed of lime, stones, and wood.
When the Protestant Reformation seemed to be gaining ground toward the end of the 16th century—George Fox took reform to an entirely new level. As the earlier reformers sought to bring the Church back to Scripture, Fox sought to bring the power of the Holy Spirit into the life of every believer. Not only did he challenge the entire institution of organized religion, but he reintroduced the gifts of the Spirit—including healing, faith, prophecy and tongues, and taught on the authority of the believer.
Fox took reformation further than any reformer before him by proclaiming that the Holy Spirit alone is qualified to lead and teach individual believers, and that true Christianity is not a matter of church attendance, certificates, or any ritual or legalistic practice, but is simply the condition of one’s heart before God. He preached salvation comes only by being born again and that only God Almighty has the authority to call a believer into ministry.
What most set Fox apart was his holistic approach to faith. More than any other reformer, Fox incorporated his convictions into every area of life. He scrutinized every religious practice in light of Scripture, from traditions of marriage ceremonies to the celebration of holidays. He lived out holiness on every level, including how he dressed, what he ate and drank, and how he spoke. Modesty, temperance, and honesty governed all he did. His followers became known as the Quakers (or the Society of Friends), and their reputation for moral conduct and their strength of fortitude in the face of persecution preceded them wherever they went.
Only One is Worthy to Teach
Young George Fox was different from other boys. He didn’t play the frivolous games of his peers or get into mischief. He was quiet, serious, and thoughtful. At the tender age of eleven, he came into a profound revelation of Christ which forever transformed his life. From that time on, he determined to pursue purity and righteousness, speak only the truth, and seek moderation in all things.
By the time he was nineteen, he knew he had a prophetic call on his life. He was tormented by the hypocrisy and ignorance he witnessed. He searched fruitlessly for answers to his deep questions. Traveling from church to church, inquiring of priests and pastors, he could not find answers to satisfy the yearning for truth in his heart. In despair, he cried out to God for light. Daily he sought the Lord and the Holy Spirit faithfully guided him from one revelation to another. The Lord taught young Fox the true meaning of faith.
From Revelation to Reform
Initially, the Holy Spirit led Fox into four main areas of Truth. The first was regarding the New Birth. The second was that only God calls and anoints—not people or organizations. The third was that believers who worshipped God in spirit and truth were the true Church, not cathedrals, buildings, or any form of organized religion. Fox daringly proclaimed that God lives in the hearts of born-again believers, not behind the altar in a brick sanctuary. Fourthly, Fox had the audacity to declare that all believers could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit for themselves— with no man to teach them, they could be instructed by God Himself.
Fox went to the churches and challenged ministers as they preached from the pulpit. He traveled extensively, attending services and causing uproar and riot. He learned to seek out dissenting groups and preach to them his message of deliverance. These disassociated groups received him well and soon he had a faithful following. As the group grew, so did the persecution, but jail was nothing in comparison to the anointing that broke religious yokes and set those who had been spiritually captive free.
The Prophet’s Mantle
In 1647, while traveling from village to village, he came across an old prophet who lay dying. The elderly man, who we only know by the name of Brown, asked to speak with Fox and prophesied many wonderful things concerning his future. When Brown passed away, a great mantle of anointing came on Fox and for two weeks people came from everywhere to hear Fox minister. His prophetic anointing had come into full operation as he saw into the personal lives of his listeners.
After this tremendous outpouring, he attended a gathering of various denominations called to dispute the issues that divided them. As a woman rose to speak, the presiding minister declared that women were not permitted to speak in church and rebuked her. This infuriated Fox who stood up and sharply rebuked the minister. He challenged him by asking if such a place could be called a church where no Spirit of Truth could be detected. This is when he stated that Christ was the head of the living church made up of the body of believers, and not the head “of and old house composed of lime, stones, and wood.”
At that, the entire congregation burst into a yelling match and Fox was ousted from the building. From that day on, Fox was targeted as an enemy of established religion. He didn’t hold back in publicly challenging ministers and their congregations from the deception and sin that governed their lives. He suffered terrible beatings, and still he persisted. His followers also began entering churches and exposing empty traditions. It was not long before Fox and his disciples were marked as targets for violent persecution and imprisonment.
Fox’s followers humbly endured whatever persecution they faced. Like Fox, they considered it a mark of success in following Christ if they suffered for His Name’s sake. Over the course of his life, Fox would be imprisoned nearly a hundred times. In 1650, while serving his first six-month sentence, Fox reprimanded a justice for not trembling at the Word of God. The justice mocked Fox calling he and his followers “Quakers” because of the reference to trembling. The name stuck, as they were also known to tremble or shake at their meetings under the power of the Holy Spirit.
Due to Fox’s convictions about institutionalized religion, he refused to call his meetings church services. Instead he referred to his gatherings simply as meetings. The Holy Spirit was given full reign at these meetings where the group would sit and wait in silent prayer for the Spirit to minister. The early Quakers would experience such manifestations of the Spirit that they would fall out on the ground for hours at a time, pray in other tongues, and prophecy to one another.
A Lifestyle of Imprisonment
The Quakers were a marked people and persecution followed them wherever they went. They dressed, spoke, and behaved differently making them easy targets. They interrupted church services to openly rebuke false religious practices and held evangelistic meetings in the most average places. They allowed women to teach, and proclaimed themselves ordained of God to minister in unconventional ways. Tongues, prophecies, and falling out under the power of the Holy Spirit were seen as threatening to organized churches. Demanding order and control, religious authorities considered this new sect in open rebellion to the established church, if not teetering on blasphemy and heresy.
Fox was imprisoned for everything from refusing to take off his hat to refusing to take an oath. By 1656, over a thousand Quakers had been imprisoned for non-criminal actions. No Quaker was spared the humiliation and agony of the hostile persecutors. Many of their women were accused of witchcraft and publicly beaten before being thrown into the dungeons. Children were taken from their parents and sold into slavery. Even the sick were snatched from their beds and dragged through the streets to prison. If a sympathizer attempted to visit a Quaker while in prison they were severely whipped.
As Fox continued to itinerate, he not only preached to his growing followers and confronted lethargic ministers, but he also cast out demons and ministered divine healing. His life demonstrated his conviction that every believer should walk in the spiritual authority and power given to him in Christ. It was common for him to wage spiritual warfare, casting down dark spirits so the way could be made clear. He would feel the presence of darkness and take immediate authority over it. In his day, this kind of teaching was unheard of and caused even greater suspicion.
There are many stories of Fox casting demons out of the mentally disturbed and laying hands on the gravely ill who would rise up healed. God gave him insight into the use of herbs for healing and he taught his followers how to use them as medicines. From praying against powers and principalities in the heavens, to commanding demons to flee, to healing through faith and a divinely given knowledge of medicinal herbs, Fox broke new ground in the hearts of men whereby the Spirit of Truth could bring new light and liberty.
The Cromwell Connection
As a true activist, Fox not only fought for freedom in the spirit, but he took his battle into the homes of high-ranking officials. He brought the cause of the Quakers to their personal lives. He wrote the heroic leader of England, Oliver Cromwell, pleading on behalf of the Quakers who suffered unjustly. Cromwell granted Fox a meeting and was moved by all he heard Fox say. Fox had found a new friend in Cromwell who invited him to visit often. From that point, all the charges were erased from Fox’s record and dropped against the imprisoned Quakers.
Fox wrote Cromwell regularly, advising him on matters of political and social reform. He reminded him often of his promises regarding religious reform and admonished him to guard his personal conduct. There was a high degree of mutual respect between the two leaders, and Fox deeply mourned when he had foreknowledge of Cromwell’s death months before he died in 1658. Cromwell’s son, Richard, ruled in his place until the Scots invaded England and Charles II took control of the throne.
The Swarthmoor Alliance
Probably the most significant alliance in the life of George Fox stemmed from his friendship with Thomas and Margaret Fell, the prominent owners of Swarthmoor Hall. Fox happened upon the mansion as the Lord led him to travel northward past the famous moors. The Fells had a reputation for their generous hospitality, and as he approached the great estate, another minister approached with him.
The two men were invited inside by Margaret where they soon began a heated discussion about religious doctrine. Fox was invited to stay on as a houseguest while the other minister returned to his home nearby. Fox remained at Swarthmoor Hall over the next several days during which time Margaret invited him to attend a church “lecture day” with her. Initially, Fox refused to go inside, but when he heard the error being proclaimed from the pulpit, he rushed into the church to loudly rebuke the preacher.
The leaders and congregation were outraged and demanded Fox be thrown out. Surprisingly, the highly respected Margaret Fell stood in his defense and the crowd was silenced. Later, he preached to the entire household at Swarthmoor and all were convicted. Margaret admitted that before his arrival she had seen a vision of “a man in a white hat that would come and confound the priests.”
Swarthmoor Hall became the Quaker headquarters, and Margaret Fell became a trusted and respected leader in the movement. Six years after Fox arrived at Swarthmoor, Thomas passed away. He had served as an instrumental supporter of Fox and the Quakers, helping to bring in an era of renewed solidarity, order, and impact. His backing gave Fox the stability he needed to establish the growing denomination, which quickly spread to all corners of the world.
After a long and fruitful ministry partnership, nearly eleven years after Thomas’ death, George and Margaret married on October 27, 1669.
Fox Sets Sail
Fox felt increasingly compelled to visit the Quakers residing in the West Indies. Only a few short years after his marriage to Margaret, he left for a two-month voyage across the ocean and stayed in Barbados for three months before deciding to visit the colonies in America. He spent nearly two years ministering to the Indians and colonialists residing in the newly established regions of New England and Maryland. He traveled down to Carolina and through portions of Virginia.
He developed a strong relationship with the Indians and they welcomed him wherever he went. Persecution was severe for those who deviated from the Puritan tradition, but Fox encouraged and strengthened the Quakers everywhere he traveled. After feeling he had done what he could to secure the growing Quaker movement there in the new world, he felt released to return home to England.
Finishing the Race
Days after arriving in Bristol, having made his way back to London, he was arrested. Fox’s health began to fail him. He was now in his fifties and had endured a lifetime of physical pressures and hardships for the cause of the Gospel. Margaret pleaded with the public officials and wrote letters to influential leaders such as William Penn. Penn’s strong influence, along with countless letters from supporters around the region, in addition to Margaret’s persistent appeals to the magistrates, set in motion Fox’s release.
Weak in body, but strong in spirit, Fox did not neglect his duties in overseeing the growing body of Quakers while teaching and admonishing them at every opportunity. In 1690, he settled down in London and met almost daily with his followers. By January of 1691, though Fox was frail, he insisted on attending a meeting. After the meeting, he complained of a pain in his chest and was escorted to the house of a nearby Quaker to rest. It was there that he passed away three days later on January 13 at the age of sixty-six. Fox had finished his race; he closed his eyes and with a look of great peace and satisfaction on his face, breathed his last breath.
- Major Douglas, George Fox—The Red Hot Quaker (Cincinnati, Ohio: Revivalist Press, n.d.): 39.
- Cecil W. Sharman, George Fox and the Quakers (Philadelphia: Friends General Conference; London: Quaker Home Service, 1991): 92