George Fox (1624-1691)

  • Every believer has the power of direct communication with God.
  • It is God, rather than the institution of the church, who will guide us into the ways of truth.
  • We experience God as a power coming from the ‘Inner Light’ of our own hearts - the light of Christ.

These ideas are central to the faith of the Society of Friends, the Quakers, founded by George Fox in the 17th century.

George Fox was born in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire in1624, the son of a Puritan weaver, and was himself apprenticed to a shoe-maker. As a young man he became disillusioned with the forms of religion he saw around him, particularly the authoritarian tendencies of Presbyterianism and what he saw as hypocrisy and sterility in corporate worship. ‘Young people go together into vanity and old people into the earth.’ During a period in which he was much troubled, he abandoned regular churchgoing to ‘walk solitary abroad’ as a wayfarer for about three years. During this time he experienced a powerful sense of renewal:

I knew nothing but pureness, and 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 before he fell…

Fox moved into Nottinghamshire, preaching on the indwelling Christ and against the falsehood of ‘customary worships’ (presumably including worship at St. Peter’s!). There he was constantly harassed, frequently imprisoned, and sometimes savagely beaten, but he remained uncompromising and steadfast in his beliefs. This was of course in the early years of the Civil War, a volatile and dangerous time for individualists, when intolerance was rife, religious unorthodoxy a matter of deep suspicion, and public order variable in its effect.

His society ‘The Friends of Truth’ was founded in the late 1640s and gained many believers. They were given the nickname Quakers by a critic, Gervase Bennet, as a term of abuse - due to the way people’s bodies moved when welcoming God into the soul, often whilst in a trance. However it quickly became accepted and used by members themselves.

Fox took his mission to the north of England where it prospered, and he made his base at Swathmoor near Ulverstone, in the house of Judge William Fell who gave protection to his movement without ever becoming a member himself. After marrying Fell’s widow in 1669, Fox spent the remainder of his life in exhaustive missionary journeys round England, in Ireland, Holland, North America and the West Indies. He died in 1691 leaving a remarkable journal, which was published in 1694.

His charismatic personality, clear convictions and organising abilities provided a solid foundation for the movement he created to continue after his death and continue today, providing an access to spiritual life that people cannot find in other ways.

After Fox’s death, William Penn wrote of him: ‘Many sons have done virtuously in this day, but dear George thou excellest them all.’

Jim McLean
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 27th December 1998