*Note: this series begins with Quakers and Jesus: First Things
George Fox, a young shoemaker, began to seek God afresh, convicted by a deep sensitivity toward his own sin. After seeking help from various preachers and teachers of his day, he found no help for his restless soul. He went up on a hilltop at perhaps the moment of his greatest despair. At that moment, he felt a voice in his spirit that spoke to his broken condition. That voice was the voice of Jesus Himself. Fox declared, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” Fox’s great discovery was that God can speak into the lives’ of His people, unmediated by sacrament or priest. Soon he began to preach about this inward discovery, and launched an explosive evangelical movement to bring the gospel of Jesus all across England and out into the wider world.
This is the story of Quakerism’s birth in a nutshell. Our individualism, and our skepticism of others overplaying the “God card” to shut down a conversation have made us understandably reluctant to speak of our experiences and encounters with God on the one hand, and perhaps worried of those who do freely on the other. Yet how do we, as Friends today, allow for this tension early Friends fearlessly pursued? How do we keep a healthy tension in which we take both the Bible and our experiences with the Living Christ both with the utmost seriousness, and yet not suffer the same fracturing that characterized every Quaker split that came before?
In describing his experience with the immediacy of Christ, Fox coined a term for Jesus long lifted up by Friends. He spoke of Jesus as both Present Teacher and Lord. This was a burning experience for Fox, a mystical reality that Christ had come to teach his people Himself. Francis Howgill, another early Friend, had a similar encounter of spiritual opening where he felt himself surrendered in inward process of inward Judgment and renewal by the Spirit. This did not entail a lack of struggle, for in the midst of this becoming a new creation was the “old man” who resisted and denied the inward Teacher. Early Friends often kept these two metaphors for Jesus in tension with one another. The great Quaker Poet John Greanleaf Whittier’s poem “The Master,” reflects well this tension:
But warm, sweet, tender, even yet
A present help is He;
And faith has still its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.
The healing of the seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch Him in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole again.
Through Him the first fond prayers are said
Our lips of childhood frame;
The last low whispers of our dead
Are burdened with His name.
O Lord and Master of us all,
Whate’er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine!
George Fox traveled the world proclaiming to all who would listen that your teacher is within you. As Thomas Kelly would rather speak of it, there was an understanding that an outward teacher could only take you so far, what was needed was a personal discovery of Christ that would draw a person toward Christ’s ongoing work of sanctification in their hearts. Yet, this personal discovery was not something Fox intended to use for creating a new sect, but to reform Christendom toward a lost mystical orientation of universal scope and importance. Rather than point faith to an individualistic “personal relationship with God,” this discovery had powerful practical implications for what it meant for Christ to be head of the church, for where people gathered in meeting for worship the real presence of Christ dwelled in their midst.
Query: Is my relationship with God too personal? Where do I see Christ at work in my life, my meeting, our world?
Continue on to part IV
Other Posts in this series:
 Walter R. Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism, ed. Paul N. Anderson (Newberg, Or.: Barclay Press, ©1987), 39-106.
 Thomas R. Kelly, The Eternal Promise: A Sequel to a Testament of Devotion, A Contemporary Quaker Classic (Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1988, ©1966), 69.
 Creasey, Early Quaker Christology, 58.
 Robert Barclay, Barclay’s Apology in Modern English, 110.
 Rufus M. Jones, The Faith and Practice of the Quakers, 51.
 Douglas V. Steere, ed., Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, ©1984), 83.
 Ibid, 306-307
 Ibid, 311.
 Ibid, 313.