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Readings for Reflection: December 2005
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel


This Reading is the first two paragraphs of Chapter III, pp. 36-37, in Rufus M. Jones’s  The Faith and Practice of the Quakers, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1927, 7th ed., 1949. In the preceding chapter, Jones has briefly described George Fox's life and his travels among the Seekers, the Anabaptists, and other religious experiments in seventeenth-century England.

Chapter III:  The Type of Christianity

George Fox and his contemporary Friends sincerely believed that they were engaged in the momentous business of reproducing in the world the New Testament type of Christianity.  One of their most common phrases was, “primitive Christianity revived,” and that stood in their minds as an exact equivalent for what the world called “Quakerism.”  They did not favour any word ending in “ism.” They never remotely thought of themselves as forming, or belonging to, a “sect” or a “denomination.”  They were engaged, as they believed, in reviving Christianity in its original form and power, and they believed implicitly that their “truth,” as they called it, would eventually sweep the world, convince, and finally include all branches of Christendom.  They were not starting something new and divisive, but were rather recovering something that had been lost, like the prodigal, and found again.  . . .

They believed that at last all things were being made new.  Fox seemed to them a new apostle, a divinely chosen messenger of the Spirit to inaugurate a spiritual era.  They believed that he was commissioned with divine authority to end the time of apostasy and wilderness wandering, and to begin the new stage of the reign and sway of God in the hearts and lives of men.  One feels everywhere in the early accounts the throb and thrill of great expectation.  The mirage is to become a pool, the highway for holy feet is to run over hill and valley, the trees are ready again to clap their hands, and there seems to be a touch of the marvellous and miraculous in many of the events they record.  The wonder is that there is so much poise and restraint and not a greater outbreak of Schwärmerei [fervor or fanaticism--literally “swarming”], for they assumed that the lily, the symbol of the new era, had bloomed and that the “Seed” of God was born to usher in a new day.  This intense faith is unmistakable to one who reads beneath the surface in the glowing words which come from the first flush of the Quaker movement.  The later writers and compilers toned down the exuberance and marvel as much as they dared.  They had themselves slowed down to a steadier pace, the glow had cooled away and they were not quite so sure that they were the bearers of a priceless hope for the world, but the evidence is clear enough that the “first Publishers of Truth,” as they called their early preachers, believed that they were in the true apostolic succession and had a glorious torch of light to transmit.

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