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AN APPRECIATION OF GEORGE FOX
By George C. Chase, D.D., LL.D. AMONG English-speaking men that have kept a record of their thoughts and deeds few, if any, have on the whole exerted a wider and more helpful influence both upon their contemporaries and upon posterity than the mystic, George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends. To those who associate the shapers of human destiny with the battle field, the forum, the commercial mart, the laboratory, or the sanctum of the scholar and philosopher, this statement may seem extravagant or absurd. But to those who realize the significance of spiritual forces and movements, it will not appear strange or startling. Indeed, the wisest and most reflective of our historians and critics may be cited as its sponsor. John Fiske, Edward Everett Hale, and Professor William James, no less emphatically than Carlyle, have borne witness to the eminence of the humble Quaker among the men that have experienced and impressed upon their fellows truths at once profound and vital to human welfare. More clearly than in any other man in the last three centuries George Fox saw, experienced, and taught the immediate relations of every human being to his Maker—the birth-born privilege for every soul, however trammeled by ignorance or fettered by environment, of immediate, conscious fellowship with his Creator.
From early youth to young manhood his soul was in travail with solemn questionings and agonizing doubts, fears, and forebodings until it gave birth to the conviction that henceforth was the mainspring of his life—the conviction that God is in direct, life-giving communication with all who will listen to the inner voice; that all are accessible to “the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." To George Fox the realization and application of this truth was the new birth by which men became in fact, what they all are potentially, the sons of God. To him this experience was the one thing of cardinal importance in human life. Without it men were lost—"without God and without hope in the world.” With it they were His dear children and heirs to all real good. So possessed and inspired was he by this truth, made valid and dominant in his own being, that he could not but proclaim it to all whom he might reach. By the wayside to his fellow traveler, in the public inn, in private homes, in clustered gatherings of kindred souls, in forest, field, market,-in great congregations assembled for whatever purpose, wherever he could find hearers, few or many, he was true to his compelling commission. Before courts and justices, in the presence of priests, bishops, and princes, to constables, sheriffs, and jailors, commissioned to arrest and imprison him, amid privations, persecutions and sufferings paralleled only by those of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, he ceased not to pour into ears, willing or unwilling, his all-superseding message. And the results testify to his power.
Thousands, gathered from all classes of society—many of them degraded, scorned, and shunned, and not a few of them social and civic leaders, men and women of reputation and influence—responded to his teachings and became his faithful adherents. Brutal, murderous men that thirsted for his blood and threatened his life were transformed into humble Christians. “Those who came to scoff” not seldom “remained to pray.” Entire communities accepted his teachings; and thousands in England, Scotland, and Ireland , and subsequently in Holland, Germany, and America, became faithful Friends. Hundreds of meetings that he established continue to this day.
Nor was the influence of George Fox limited to those who accepted him as their spiritual leader and became known as Quakers. “The basis of his teachings,” as stated by John Fiske, “was the belief that each soul is in religious matters answerable not to its fellows, but to God alone, without priestly mediation, because the Holy Spirit is immediately present in every soul and is thus a direct cause of illumination.” “From this belief,” says Fiske, “flowed two important practical consequences, both essentially modern; one was complete toleration, the other was complete equality of human beings before the law."
Is it too much to say that for the now well-nigh universal acceptance in civilized countries of the principle of toleration in matters of conscience and for the prevalence and already foreshadowed triumph of democracy throughout the world the human race is indebted to George Fox to a degree scarcely approached by any other man?
Granted that he was eccentric, narrow, too often, in his interpretations of the Scriptures, an extremist in his demand for simplicity in dress and manners, and sometimes fanatical in spirit and method, still every candid reader of his autobiography must confess that in his grasp of the essentials of Christ's teachings and in the persistence, self-denial, heroism and faith with which he performed his life-long, God-given task he did for humanity a work peculiarly his own and gained an eminence as a Christian teacher and leader unchallenged by well-read, reasonable men.
Without genius, learning, poetic imagination, charm of personality, breadth of human interest, and social or political ambition; by his sincerity, singleness of purpose, and unhesitating devotion to the propagation of a great truth flashed upon his consciousness in hours of intimate companionship with the Divine Spirit, he renewed for his generation that vitalizing conception of God as “Him in Whom we live and move and have our being,” which the best and wisest of all faiths and politics now cherish as the pith and substance of true religion. So intent was he upon this great, inspiring thought of God in man that in the most exciting period of English history—that of the deposition and execution of Charles the First, of the clashings and conflicts of Roundheads and Cavaliers, of the Commonwealth and the great Protector, of the Restoration of the Monarchy, of the corrupt and humiliating reigns of Charles Second and James Second, and of the return of England to dignity and strength under Protestant William and Mary-his well-kept and matter-offact journal affords only occasional glimpses of the stirring events, the dramatic changes, the long struggle between autocracy and democracy, and the final triumph of liberty under law that have imparted thrilling interest to the pages of Macaulay, Knight, and Green.
For him there was but one cause and one struggle worthy of men made in God's image. His journal is the thrilling record of his own experiences as a leader in this struggle. In this record he presents a vivid but seemingly unconscious picture of himself. He is known to the reading world almost solely through his autobiography. References to him are frequent enough in the annals of his time: but with the exception of a glowing tribute from William Penn they shed little light upon this peace-loving yet aggressive Christian warrior.
But in his autobiography we see and feel the man in his entirety,-a man of such individuality, force, and spiritual insight that he abides with us even when we turn from his life story to our own special cares and interests.
He holds us by no charm of style but by the solid qualities that won for him the attention and respectoften reluctantof all who looked into his earnest face or heard his glowing denunciations of worldliness and hypocrisy and his fervent appeals for fidelity to the inner light.
Among all forms of literature there is no other so moving as the faithful story of an earnest and heroic life. And the self-told story of one who has nobly lived and effectively wrought for the larger interests of his kind in a great, crucial period of history is predestined to immortality. Such is the life story of George Fox, the non-resisting, fighting pacifist, in the most turbulent and passion-tossed period in the history of England.
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THE WORK OF JOHN BUNYAN
By Winthrop E. Stone, Ph.D., LL.D. AMONG all the figures which lend interest to the days of Roundhead and Cavalier none is more unique than that of John Bunyan. His origin, his history and his work comprise a combination as unusual as striking. What was there in his ancestry to account for the poetical and the visionary elements in his composition? What was there in the dissolute times to bring forth so pure and lofty a Christian note as he struck? Our theories and our sciences are baffled by the problem of accounting for such appearances as John Bunyan and, in our own times, as Abraham Lincoln or Booker T. Washington. Born in a tinker's hut as he says “Of that rank that is meanest and the most despised of all families in the land,” he achieved that of which Welsh declares “Wherever thoughts find expression or there are hearts to be impressed, the tinker of Bedford will shape character and destiny.” Such a life is fascinating beyond measure, but to appreciate it fully one must have regard for the social and historical background of his day. To come up from the lowest stratum through the hard conditions of a "tinker's brat,” a period of wild oats, a taste of the soldier's life; to exist on the meager returns of his poor trade and with the most elementary education, to become the greatest popular exponent of Christianity of his day and to produce from the prison cell the greatest religious allegory of all times, is a dramatic career. It is the kind of thing which appeals to Americans especially. This is the sort of man who must have been impelled by internal spiritual forces, and what the nature of them was is revealed in his writings, Grace Abounding, Pilgrim's Progress, The Holy War, and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman. These all mirror the struggle of his conscience, his passion for truth, his yearnings for spiritual heights, expressed in quaint terms but rare imagery. The world was to him the scene of a struggle between the forces of Good and Evil; and Christian's progress through a region full of snares and temptations was in some