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More exalted language, to and from Fox

Last night, re-reading Douglas Gwyn's excellent Seekers Found, I found yet more "exalted language" about Fox and other early Quakers.

First, people writing to George Fox and Margaret Fell:

Dorothy Howgill (wife of Francis) wrote to Fox... She recalls Fox telling her that "a pure light was arising in me... yet I could not believe because I felt no such think... but now I know thou hast the anoynting of the Holy one and thou knowes all things... thou art my own heart and my soule lyes in thy bosom."

Exalted language like this was commonly directed by Friends toward those who had convinced them, and most of all toward George Fox and James Nayler. Shortly after her convicement, Fel and her children wrote to Fox as:

Our dear father in the Lord... We are your babes. Take pity on us, whom you have nursed up with the breasts of consolation... Oh, our dear nursing father, we hope you will not leave us comfortless, but will come again... My own dear heart... you know that we have received you into our hearts...

Mary Howgill addressed Fox as "Dear Life" in a 1656 letter. Such letters were also addressed to Fell. For example, John Audland wrote to Fell, exclaiming that she "inhabits eternity," finding her countenance "more bright than the sun." He went on to confess that his soul was refreshed by her and that by God's power he was "kept bold to declare the way of salvation." (240)

A few paragraphs later, Gwyn presents some of Fox's own claims. Some pieces of this story are familiar from the Journal and other letters, but Gwyn presents a letter (published earlier by Larry Ingle) that pushes the story a bit further.

Most disturbing to Puritan authorities were Fox's sporadic claims to be "the Son of God," which continued as late as 1661. This issue had arisen as early as his Derby arrest in 1650. During his interrogation, his claims to perfection led straight to his assertion of Christ's indwelling. Asked if he or his associates were themselves Christ, he answered "Nay, we are nothing, Christ is all." During a trial at Lancaster late in 1652, Fox was charged with claiming to be equal with God. He denied making such a claim, but countered that "he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one in the Father and the Son and that ye are the sons of God. The Father and the Son are one, and we of his flesh and of his bone" (Heb. 2:11, Eph. 5:31). In 1653, Fox wrote a letter "to Margaret Fell and to every other friend who is raised to discerning." Apparently aiming to clarify his own words and speculations upon them, Fox did not back away from his earlier affirmations:

Accordinge to the spirit I am the sonne of God and according to the flesh I am the seed of Abraham which seed is Christ which seed is but one in all his saints.... Accordinge to the spirit I am the sonne of God before Abraham was... the same which doth descend, the same doth ascend and all the promises of God are yea come out of time from god, into time to that which is captivated in the earth in time, and to it the seed which is Christ, they are all yea and amen fetched up out of him, where there is noe time... and as many received the word, I say unto ye: yee are gods, as it is written in your law [John 10:34].... Now waite all to have these things fulfilled in ye, if it never be so little a measure waite in it, that ye may grow to a perfect man in Christ Jesus.

This passage is not terribly coherent. But it shows that Fox claimed sonship, though in a way that could be claimed by others who wait faithfully upon the Lord and grow into perfection in Christ. Those who had gone through the harrowing convincement process of death to the self had found a "measure" of freedom from captivity in earthly time and its realm of cause and effect. Thus, to be a child of God in the Spirit was to be "before Abraham was." To have Christ within was to be of Christ's flesh and bone, eating it and becoming the same substance with it. (241-2)

I'm guessing that such claims helped keep this letter from finding home in the Epistles that became part of Fox's Works.

This is strong reinforcement for the hypothesis that early Quakerism wasn't merely about following God, it was about uniting with God. The Inward Light, "Christ is come to teach his people himself", pointing toward union rather than reflection.

I wonder whether Fox himself ever abandoned that set of ideas, even if he did write much more cautiously after the 1650s, and edited earlier letters. I'm guessing that he didn't, though such a guess is hard to substantiate.


Braithwaite had quite a bit to say, and did a fair amount of tut-tutting, about this very subject. I've turned the book back to the meeting library, so I can't quote him exactly, perhaps something about the "excesses" of early Friends in their enthusiasm.

The question of meaning is interesting...George believed that the Seed existed before Abraham, and maybe because he so much identified the Seed as being in him, as a believer, he attributed this existence to himself. I'm personally uncomfortable with this step.

I can't help but think about the question of men become gods in our own day. Many who have studied the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, the major denomination of Mormonism, know that they believe that they will become gods one day if they're faithful to their church's teachings. They believe they will possess their own planets and produce spirit-children.

It's interesting that whatever they mean by this, from comments I've heard, some LDS are particularly drawn to Joel Osteen, the televangelist who seems to have been influenced by the Word of Faith movement. There are those in the Word of Faith movement who would also say that humans are gods, and have the ability to create with their words as God created with His words. Joel, though, seems to focus on the language of believing to achieving great potential and success.

All of this is to say that I think it's remarkable that people are drawn to have these thoughts about human beings, maybe because my own experience, both before and after being a Christian, has been so different. I certainly know that I'm not divine. As far as spiritual success goes, if I scrutinize my own life I see some success, for which I'm thankful, but that's over a protracted period of time. From day to day failure is more common. I praise God for His grace.