George Fox Series, Part 9: Fox’s Metanoia

This post is the (long overdue) conclusion to my historical analysis, in the “George Fox, Metanarrator” series, of George Fox’s conversion.

In the previous post (#8) in this series, we analyzed Fox’s famous report of his “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition” experience. We discussed the strong possibility that Fox’s statement, “this I knew experimentally,” referred not to the auditory phenomenon, if that’s what it was, but to something much more momentous: his recognition that, in his deliverance from the delusion that human beings could lead him to spiritual truth, life, and power, the unmasking of Christianity’s apostasy and the coming of the new age of the Kingdom of God – i.e., the eschaton – had begun.

But as Friends often do, we stopped reading before reaching the end of the story. So in this post we look at the final section of Fox’s narrative. Although it is seldom quoted, that section is an essential part of the narrative and is at least as theologically significant as what precedes it. We’ll join Fox there.

When I was in the deep, under all shut up, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great, that I often thought I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me how he was tempted by the same devil, and had overcome him, and had bruised his head; and that through him and his power, light, grace, and spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in him.1

Again, as we’ve noted previously in this series, the “openings” or revelations that Fox receives from God and Christ are essentially passages from scripture. Fox here recalls the Genesis story of God’s promise to Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would bruise the tempter’s head.2 The seed, Paul taught,3 is Christ, who in Jesus overcame the temptations of Satan.4 The same Christ is known within as the “power, light, grace, and spirit” by which we, too, overcome the tempter. The key is to rely on that power and on nothing else. “There is one [i.e., only one], even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”

So he it was that opened to me, when I was shut up, and had neither hope nor faith. Christ, who had enlightened me, gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope, which is himself, revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness. Thus in the deepest miseries, and in the greatest sorrows and temptations that beset me, the Lord in his mercy did keep me. I found two thirsts in me; the one after the creatures, to have got help and strength there; and the other after the Lord the creator, and his son Jesus Christ; and I saw [that] all the world could do me no good. … But the Lord did stay my desires upon himself, from whom my help came, and my care was cast upon him alone.5

“Christ … had enlightened me.” Early in this series, we saw that Fox had always been scrupulously moral and had felt that he was directly guided by God even as a child. He has at length learned to rely completely on the Christ-light that has always been active within him, understanding it to be the only sufficient power not only for interpreting scripture but also, much more importantly, for living in harmony with God’s will – that is, for salvation. With that understanding comes transformation: when one has  surrendered to the guidance and power of the light, one is reborn into the body of Christ; that is, one is brought out of one’s former way of being and into inner unity with the love that is God. One then lives by divine power and wisdom. And so Fox says that “Christ … revealed himself in me”: in, not to. And Christ, as Paul said,6 is the power and wisdom of God, “that which is known of God … in them.”7 George Fox recognizes that he has that power and wisdom within himself, available always to guide and energize him, and that nothing can supplement or substitute for it. He gratefully surrenders himself to that inward Christ.

As the narrative continues, Fox reports a second audition.

Again, I heard a voice which said, ‘Thou serpent, thou dost seek to destroy the life, but canst not; for the sword which keepeth the tree of life shall destroy thee.’ So Christ, the word of God, that bruised the head of the serpent, the destroyer, preserved me; my mind being joined to his good seed…. This inward life sprang up in me, to answer all the opposing professors and priests, and brought scriptures to my memory to refute them with.8

This time, the voice addresses the serpent; that is, Satan, the tempter. It seems to me that we have here further evidence for the hypothesis of our previous post. Satan is “he who now letteth [i.e., hinders] … until he be taken out of the way,”9 and what Fox knows “experimentally” is the unmasking and dethroning of Satan within him and in the world (as Christianity). “Thus when God doth work, who shall let it?” Fox knows, therefore, that the eschaton has dawned. The age of apostasy is ending; sin is being destroyed; Christ is returning in the bodies of living saints – particularly in the body of George Fox.

But the return of Christ is, for the present, wholly inward. Fox speaks of Christ the Word (Logos) of God, the inner “light that enlightens all.”10 Enlightened by that Christ, he has been “joined” to him: he now has “the mind of Christ.”11 He is so intimately united to Christ that his thoughts are, or can be, the thoughts of Christ. Fox will later assert – and not only for himself, but for all the saints – that the two of them are “not distinct.”12 He feels within himself the germination of the seed of the Word, the Word who is the sword of God13 which controls access to the sinlessness of Paradise and which is even now destroying Satan the destroyer.

The image of the seed is a prominent one in primitive Quaker theology. As we saw above, it originates in Genesis when God says that the seed of the woman will bruise the serpent. Later in the same book, God promises Abraham that his seed will be a great people, innumerable as the stars.14 The two promises are combined with other biblical images in Fox’s mind. In the Christian scriptures, as we have noted, Paul states that “the seed is Christ,” and John teaches that Christ the Logos is the light in all. The seed of promise is, therefore, the Christ-light that can lead everyone into membership in Christ’s body. Christ, who “is but one,”15 nonetheless is, or will be, a great people, “as the stars of heaven.” The one body of Christ comprises the countless saints – persons who die to the ungodly ways of the world and are joined to the judgment, life, and power of the Christ-spirit within them. George Fox is now incorporated into that body. He has been re-created in Christ; his life is new. “This inward life sprang up in me,” he says. The life of the Christ-seed is become Fox’s own life; he can say with Paul that “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”16

In addition to that of the seed, other biblical images can also represent the Christ-life within. One of those, that of water, will recall Fox’s words from a little earlier in the passage. In the Johannine story of Jesus and the woman at the well (a story that is central to the Quaker theology of worship), Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he offers “living water.”

“Jesus … said unto her, ‘Whosoever drinketh of this [physical] water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.'”17

As we saw above, Fox recalled that “I found two thirsts in me; the one after the creatures, to have got help and strength there; and the other after the Lord the creator, and his son Jesus Christ; and I saw all the world could do me no good.” Having learned experimentally that the world cannot give him the life he needs, Fox has chosen to drink of the living water, to satisfy the thirst for eternal life in Christ. Reborn thereby “of water and the Spirit,”18 he  passes through the flaming sword into Paradise, reaching, in his union with Christ, a state better even than the innocence which Adam “was in before he fell,” a state of perfection from which there is no falling.19 If Fox’s depression was the beginning of the baptism in which the “old man,” the man who in his weakness and confusion almost fell for Antichrist’s ploy, would be crucified and buried, then this springing up of divine life within him is his resurrection with and in Christ.

George Fox knows that he has passed from death to life.20 He also knows that the defeat of Satan and the raising of the perfection of Christ in him signal the beginning of a new world of righteousness and peace, the fullness of the Kingdom of God to which he will bear very public witness. Now he must attain a deeper understanding of and maturation in his new condition and role. In the passage following our narrative, Fox will speak of that process of deepening and maturing – in, as always, biblical terms. But his metanoia, the inwardly sacramental conversion experience that we have explored here, is the birth in Christ from which the new self develops.

Before concluding this post, I can’t resist noting that, while Fox may have been given a new self “in the image of God” (see note 19), the new self is evidently not wholly discontinuous with the old. I smile at his “This inward life sprang up in me, to answer all the opposing professors and priests, and brought scriptures to my memory to refute them with.” Always the competitor, Fox will use the Christ-light within him not only for discerning and doing good but also for denouncing the beliefs of ministers and other Christians – and, from his perspective, winning arguments against his detractors.21 That’s our George.

This is the final installment of historical analysis in the “George Fox, Metanarrator” series. I may continue the series with discussion of how we might appropriate or “translate” the rather foreign story of our Quaker origins into a contemporary idiom. In any case, exploring these parts of Fox’s Journal has been a fascinating and enlightening project for me. Thanks for joining me.

____________
NOTES

[1] George Fox’s Journal, pp. 74-75 in the 1990 reprint of the 1831 edition. Available on line here.

[2] See Genesis 3:15 – “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

[3] Galatians 3:16 – “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

[4] See Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.

[5] Journal, p. 75.

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:24 – “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

[7] Romans 1:19 – “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.”

[8] Journal, p. 75.

[9] 2 Thessalonians 2:7 — “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [i.e., “the day of Christ”] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition …. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 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 ….”

[10] John 1:9 – “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

[11] 1 Corinthians 2:16 – “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.” Also, Phillipians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus….”

[12] “Christ is not distinct from his saints” was stated more than once by George Fox in his writings. William Penn, however, claimed that it was a misprint, thus showing that Quaker theology was by then already distancing itself from its beginnings in Fox just a few decades before.

[13] Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

[14] Genesis 22:17-18 – “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

[16] Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

[17] John 4: 13-14.

[18] John 3:5.

[19] Journal, pp. 84-85: “Now was I come up in spirit, through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus; so that I was come up to the state of Adam, which he was in before he fell. … But I was immediately taken up in spirit, to see into another or more steadfast state than Adam’s in innocency, even into a state in Christ Jesus, that should never fall. And the Lord showed me, that such as were faithful to him, in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell; in which the admirable works of the creation, and the virtues thereof may be known, through the openings of that divine word of Wisdom and power by which they were made.”

[20] Journal, p. 71: “About the beginning of the year 1646, as I was going into Coventry, a consideration arose in me, how it was said, that ‘all christians are believers, both Protestants and Papists;’ and the Lord opened to me that if all were believers, then they were all born of God, and passed from death to life; and that none were true believers but such: and though others said they were believers, yet they were not.”

[21] For the flavor of Fox’s style of argument, see The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded, a full volume of Fox’s written counter-attacks, often denunciatory and triumphalist, against specific individuals who had publicly disagreed with him.


Previous post in this series: “There Is One”

One thought on “George Fox Series, Part 9: Fox’s Metanoia

  1. Hi,

    This looks an excellent series – which I will try to take the time out to read from the beginning (I am not a Quaker but am reading around the subject quite a lot over the last few months).

    I look forward to reading future posts.

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