No one has asked, but I will – so that I can respond with a hyperfocused mini-review: instead of working through the early section of George Fox’s Journal, as I am in my “George Fox, Metanarrator” series of posts, why not just rely on Larry Ingle’s biography of Fox, First Among Friends (FAF), to understand Fox’s experience?
I read FAF sometime late in the last century, within a few years of an extended and very disappointing online discussion with Friend Ingle and others about the basic theological concept of sin. I read FAF warily, appreciative of the breadth of scholarship and the clear presentation of facts but sometimes not convinced by inferences drawn from those facts. In particular, Ingle’s speculation about the cause of Fox’s depression gave me pause.
Ingle speculates that Fox’s depression, which Fox often describes in terms of temptation and despair, was related to a failure to preserve chastity.* I know of no evidence for that in the Journal, and the support that Ingle adduces does not convince me. As he traveled, Ingle points out, Fox happened to stay in some areas that were known for loose sexual morals, and Fox later wrote in a letter that “I have drunk the cup of fornication.” Apparently, those two facts, coupled with Fox’s struggles with despair, led Ingle to decide that Fox sinned sexually, if not by fornication then by masturbation. But staying in a town where some folks act immorally is not evidence of sexual sin, nor, unless it was accompanied by some crucial context that Ingle did not quote, is the statement in the letter.
From early on, Fox tells us in the Journal, he found the morals of people around him to be much too loose, and he resisted joining those people in their sin. Certainly, sex can be much more alluring than drinking a pitcher of beer with some buddies, but to argue that Fox must have yielded to that allure seems to presume too much. Evidence is needed, sufficient evidence to disprove Fox’s own statement to God that he “was never addicted to commit those evils.” (“Addicted” is not necessarily a weasel-word: in the passage, Fox has been talking about the “natures” of sinners, so his statement appears to be an affirmation that he has always been of a different nature.) And Fox repeatedly talks about temptations in his Journal, but, to my knowledge, he never admits to being overcome by them.
That leaves the single line from a letter: “I have drunk the cup of fornication.” I have no access to that letter and so have no idea what the context of that statement is. I may be “way off base” here, but I can only work with what I’m given, and it’s clear to me that the statement itself doesn’t necessarily imply sexual sin. The “cup of fornication” image is from the Revelation (17:4-5), the final book of the Christian scriptures:
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
This is the “great whore” to whom Fox referred in the title of his collection of rebuttals to critics, The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded; and Antichrist’s Kingdom Revealed unto Destruction. The imagery of fornication, adultery, and whoring is sometimes used in the Bible to refer to the worship of false gods. (See, e.g., Hosea 1-5, Jeremiah 3.) For Fox, the whore “with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (Rev. 17:2) represents Rome and her children, the false religion of the age of apostasy (from the end of the apostolic age to Fox’s time), “drunken with the blood of the saints and … the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6).
Now all the blood that hath been shed since the days of the apostles, hath been by this fenced city, this whore, this mystery Babylon, [this] false church that is set up, and the kings of the earth have drank her cup, [they] are in the fornication, by the beast, and by the dragon, about religion, since the days of the apostles, and since the true church fled into the wilderness.**
Fox applied that imagery to all who had chosen the false Christianity of externals and acceptance of sin over the true religion of moral perfection in the immediate life and power of Christ in the heart. For example,
And all men and peoples were made drunk with the wine of whoredoms, and the whore’s cup they had drunk, and were committing fornication with the great whore, and she reigned over the kings and peoples of the earth. And the antichrist was set up in the temple of God, ruling over all ….***
The cup of fornication would likely have contrasted, in Fox’s mind, with the cup of the new covenant, the cup of the blood of Christ: those who drink of the whore’s cup of false, external religion are lost, but those who drink the blood of the Son are saved by internalizing the life of Christ (John 6:53) . It’s about something much more important for Fox than sex.
Unless, again, there’s more in Fox’s letter, and given that he otherwise nowhere (to my knowledge) makes confession of sexual sin, Fox’s reference can be read as a confession of his own earlier tendency to look for truth in external religion, which he would come to recognize as the “great whore.” Although he says in the Journal that “I was never joined in profession of religion with any” (he “held himself aloof from formal association,” as Ingle put it on p. 36), the Journal also reports that he made many attempts to obtain guidance from “priests” — i.e., to find an authoritative spiritual mentor — before coming to understand that the realities of religion are not external but internal, and that he must and could rely solely on the inner leadings of Christ. (Ingle also says, on p. 35, that “Fox attended services in various churches in [London],” although he gives no source for that.) I think it likely that, in Fox’s religious thinking, to sincerely seek the guidance of priests and “professors,” pimps for the great whore (or personifications of her), would be to drink of “the cup of fornication.” That interpretation has the merit of respecting Fox’s own story as well as his use of Revelation in his doctrinal works. At the least, FAF should have pointed out the image’s connection with Revelation — and provided readers with context from the letter.
Ingle’s treatment of the famous “There is one, even Christ Jesus …” experience is another matter that I may want to consider. I think I’ll need to devote at least one full post to discussing that experience, however, so I’ll defer any comments until then.
* Ingle’s endnotes reference an assumption that the young George Fox had problems with sex and masturbation in an essay by Stephen A. Kent of Waterloo University and in the source credited by Kent, a 1978 book called The Dissenters (Vol. 1) by Michael R. Watts. Neither Watts nor Kent offered more than an undocumented hypothesis.
** George Fox, Gospel Truth Demonstrated, Vol. 4 of the 1831 edition of his Works, p. 236.
*** George Fox, The Great Mystery, Vol. 3 of the 1831 edition of his Works,, p. 17.