George Fox Series, Part 8: “There is one”

Having described his ongoing depression and the changes in his behavior and thinking that accompany its remissions, George Fox, in the most well-known passage in the Journal, next provides a narrative account of his awakening. The passage is, of course, the one in which we find the famous “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” I find it useful to approach the passage as I would a narrative in the Christian scriptures: as a story that relates events that may or may not have happened, but that dramatizes and communicates religious experience in a memorable way. And Fox’s story certainly does that.

In the beginning of the narrative, which appears in the Journal after he has begun presenting events of 1647, Fox takes us back in his chronology in order to work forward from the second “opening,” which apparently had happened sometime in 1646. It was of 1646 that Fox wrote, “So neither them, nor any of the dissenting people could I join with; but was as a stranger to all, relying wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ” (Journal, p. 72, 1831 Works). On the surface, that’s a one-sentence summary of what he is about to portray in narrative detail. But there’s much beneath the surface.

The remarks leading up to the narrative, although written from a later perspective, can serve as a kind of introduction.

[T]he apostates [i.e., defectors] from the life in which the prophets and apostles were, have got their words, the holy scriptures, in a form, but not in the life nor spirit that gave them forth. So they all lie in confusion, and … to fulfill the law and command of Christ in his power and spirit, … that they say they cannot do [they are quoting scripture to “plead for sin”]; but to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, that they can do with delight.

After that complaint, Fox launches into his story, in which we will learn the surprising meaning of what he has just described.

After I had received that opening from the Lord, that to be bred at Oxford or Cambridge, was not sufficient to fit a man to be a minister of Christ, I regarded the priests less, and looked more after the dissenting people. … But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them that could speak to my condition.

His condition, as we have seen in previous installments, was that he was upset and depressed about what he had described above: Christianity manifestly did not deliver people from the evil within them, no one could tell him why that was so or how it could be changed, and consequently he had become fearful, isolated, and near despair.

The climax builds quickly.

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” And when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.

I am reminded of Luke’s story of Mary and Elizabeth, in which Elizabeth says that, at the sound of Mary’s salutation, “the babe [which would become the prophet John the Baptist] leaped in my womb for joy.” But I’m more strongly reminded of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain:

[Lk. 6:22] Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. [23] Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

Fox is becoming a prophet, and he has already learned that, like the prophets of old, he will be rejected and called evil or mad by family members, “professors,” religious authorities, and others who are not “tender.” But of course he had first to reject the teachings and beliefs of all of those others. And as a prophet instructed directly and only by the Lord, Fox’s job will be to speak God’s judgment upon the seducers and call them to turn to the living Christ for enlightenment.

Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have pre-eminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power.

Now Fox understands why he could be helped by no one: he would have become a follower of some humanly-devised system, some “invention of men,” and remained “shut up in unbelief.” He may never have awakened to the true faith, and he may never have realized that he was to be the prophetic vehicle for God’s restoration of the church. But Fox is sure now that the church is to be restored in Christ through him; what Fox is describing in this narrative, what he is experiencing in himself, is to be the norm for all. Through Fox, people will be directed to the light and power of Christ within, the only one who can lead them out of ignorance and sin. This is the time of God’s decisive action for salvation; the Kingdom of God is now arriving in power. In the next two sentences, Fox tells us why he is certain of that.

Thus when God doth work, who shall let [i.e., hinder] it? And this I knew experimentally.

In modern Quaker materials, I have seen the narrative presented in a condensed form in which “who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power” is directly followed, through the magic of the ellipsis, by the reference to experimental knowledge. That gives the impression that what Fox knew “experimentally” was the voice directing him to Christ, or, by implication, Christ himself speaking in Fox’s head. And then we are told that “experimentally” simply means “experientially.” But why would Fox go to the trouble of telling us that an experience was experiential? And if he did, why not insert that redundancy immediately, rather than interpose a few sentences?

I suggest that if we attend to Fox’s syntax (remembering, too, that he was dictating) and to the overall direction of his thought at this point, we will see that, when he says he knew experimentally, Fox may be saying that he has learned from his own life experience the answer to the question, “When God doth work, who shall [hinder] it?”

If that is his assertion, then what has he learned? In the King James Version, the word “let” is used in the sense of “hinder” in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. The passage is dense, but it leads us to an important insight into Fox’s experience.

[2Th 2:1] Now we beseech you … [2] That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled … as that the day of Christ is at hand. [3] Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; [4] Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. [5] Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? [6] And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. [7] For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. [8] And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: [9] Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, [10] And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

The “falling away” (verse 3) is the 1,600-year apostasy of Christianity. The “man of sin” is the Antichrist, who, both within us and without, usurps the place of God as revealer of truth and even object of worship. The epistle says that the reign of the man of sin is part of the divine plan, and that he will be “revealed,” unmasked, at the appointed time. Until then, “he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” Who could it be who hinders the revelation of that man of sin “whose coming is after [i.e., according to] the working of Satan”?

Fox recognizes that hinderer as Satan himself: until now, Satan has prevented the exposure of the man of sin at the heart of the individual and the church. But, more importantly, Fox now knows “experimentally” that God has begun to work: Satan is being “taken out of the way.” Fox has experienced that in his own life as he has been freed from the seduction of Antichrist’s false religion; he has seen the man of sin unmasked in his heart and in the church. Now that the “mystery of iniquity” has been revealed for Fox through the interplay of life experience and scripture, the reign of Antichrist will end as Fox exposes him, turning people away from the man of sin to the living power of Christ within, the “hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4).

And that is the point of Fox’s story: the final work of God has begun. The end is at hand for Satan’s minions, the “priests and professors,” as it is for the man of sin in the heart: Christ the Light is come to teach his people himself, and the Antichrist he “shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” It is time for people to reject the impotent external religions and to look to the transforming power of the Light within. The priests’ and professors’ days of selling lies and “pleading for sin” are coming to an end. And God has chosen George Fox to tell them so. There is one, even George Fox, that can speak to their condition.

Next post in this series: George Fox’s Metanoia
Previous: “Heavens in the Heart”

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