Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
In my first three posts I outlined a proposal which seeks to understand George Fox’s view of the “Second Coming” (parousia) of Christ, particularly as he saw it being realized in the Quaker movement of his own time. I pointed to the fact that Fox believed that Christ’s coming (at least in some sense) had already happened, and was an ongoing reality, and that this was one of the arguments he used to make his case against celebrating Eucharistic rituals or sacraments. I pointed out that later Quakers down-played considerably this remarkable “Second Coming” aspect of Fox's message (see my last post).
In his book, The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction, Ben Pink Dandelion identifies this shift as early as the second generation of Quakers. He points specifically to the early Quaker apologist Robert Barclay. Speaking of Barclay’s The Apology, Dandelion says frankly: “Any mention of the Second Coming was absent from his volume and the end chapter, where it might be expected, was confined instead to advice on how to live in the world.” (Dandelion, Chapter 2, Section title “Quakers in the 18th Century”, Location 478 on my Kindle).
Clearly the Second Coming was not a topic which post-Fox Quakers were anxious to discuss in their apologetics, probably because they were uncertain how to handle Fox's "openings" theologically and exegetically, or how to make them understandable and convincing for the conventional Christians of their day.
My intended purpose in this series is to point out that Fox’s original insight was remarkably perceptive (as one might expect of someone with prophetic “openings”) especially when viewed from the perspective of contemporary Christian scholarship. Two areas of theological study which are particularly relevant are: 1.the preterist approach to biblical eschatology (see my second post for an explanation of what a "preterist approach" means), and 2. New Testament studies (particularly Johannine studies) relevant to Christ and the Holy Spirit. These are themes I hope to develop more fully in future posts.
In this post I want to focus on a particular, fairly typical and representative passage from George Fox. This passage is especially useful because it reveals so much about the way Fox applied Scripture. As I mentioned in my last post, it would be wrong to say that Fox was a preterist in the full technical sense – he very likely had never even heard of the term. He was a gifted preacher and prophet with an expansive knowledge of the Bible; but he was not a systematic theologian, and he wasn't trained in the schools of man. However, anyone familiar with current studies in biblical eschatology would immediately recognize that Fox often used a preterist approach in applying biblical passages. Also, his applications of related New Testament material regarding the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit are remarkably perceptive in view of current scholarship.
In this post I simply want to draw attention to some of the things Fox actually says. In future posts I’ll address in more detail how I believe his insights are corroborated by much excellent Christian scholarship. The passage I want to examine is from Fox’s Gospel Truths, Edition 1706. It is quoted at length in Thomas Kimber’s Early Friends and Outward Ordinances, pp. 16-17. It’s available at :
Here are Fox’s words:
“Christ took the Bread and Wine and gave it to His Disciples when He was with them, before He was crucified: but now He is risen and ascended and stands at the Door of your hearts and knocks. And if any man will hear His voice and open to Him – with His Grace and Light and Spirit, by joining to it – Christ tells you in Revelation III, that He will come in and sup with you and you with Him. And here Christ sups with you and you in Him, which is the last supper spoken of in the Revelations: and this is the Spiritual and Heavenly Marriage Supper; and here Christ’s words are fulfilled, who said that He would come again and doth not leave His followers comfortless.
And John that took the element of Bread and Wine, in remembrance of Christ’s death at the Passover, before He was crucified, he preaches to the Christians and brings them to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb; for its like they had taken the Bread and the Cup in remembrance of Christ’s death till He came, and now John tells them Christ is come. This is a nearer Supper than to take the Elements of Bread and Wine, etc… Here you may see a distinction between the last Supper the same night that Christ was betrayed, before He was crucified, and the Heavenly Marriage Supper of the Lamb, that Christ calleth People to, after he was ascended into Heaven at the right hand of God. May not Reprobates take the Elements of Bread and Wine in remembrance of Christ’s death, and say they will do it till Christ come yet Christ sayeth Behold I stand at the door and knock, and though He is come yet they will not open the door and hear His Spiritual voice that He might come in and sup with them and they with Him.”
Rather than spend much time on analysis for now, I'd just like to point out a few significant ideas found in this rich passage. Consider their implications for yourself:
Note in the first paragraph Fox says that the risen and ascended Christ (who appeared to John in Revelation 3) is the same Christ who now offers genuine spiritual presence and fellowship with anyone who answers His call. This spiritual experience replaces the material Last Supper of bread and wine which Jesus celebrated with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. Fox says this is, in fact, the Heavenly Marriage Supper (which is described much later in the book of Revelation chapter 19 and is clearly in the context of Second Coming events). Additionally, Fox connects this Marriage Supper with Christ’s promise in John 14:18 that He would come again to be with His disciples (specifically those very ones to whom he was speaking, and seeking to give comfort in view of his impending departure).
In the second paragraph Fox re-states this same thought regarding the true, spiritual Supper; then, very significantly, he adds a reference to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:26. This is the verse that traditional Christianity bases the continuing practice of Eucharistic rituals upon; that is, they believe Christ has not yet come, so they logically follow Paul’s instruction to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” But for Fox, according to the prophet John (in the book of Revelation and also John’s gospel) Christ is already come, so the material meal has already been made obsolete. It has been replaced with the spiritual meal –the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Fox again emphasizes that it's the risen and ascended Christ (as He's "revealed" in the book of "Revelation") whose presence (parousia) has been accessible to all since the time John had his vision (probably around 66-67 AD - I’ll discuss in another post the two views on when the Revelation was most likely given to John, but suffice it to say for now that all scholars agree that it was sometime in the 1st Century AD). I submit that in setting all of these "parousia" passages in a First Century historical time context George Fox was using a classic preterist method of interpretation. If this is the case, then perhaps preterism can be a helpful tool in better understanding, and better communicating Fox's message. The world is waiting to hear the good news!!!
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This is the first of a couple of comments I wanted to leave you. Much of Fox's experience of and teaching about Christ being come now is tied up in Moses' prophecy of a prophet like himself being raised up, in whose mouth God would put his words, and who would faithfully declare those words to the people of God. Hearing (and obeying) this prophet would be the primary consideration for a right relationship with God. This prophet like Moses the apostles declared to be Jesus and this is the center of much of Fox's teaching about Christ, The thumbnail sketch of the gospel -- Christ is come to teach his people Himself -- is all about this prophet being now come, now active in the life of the people of God. Fox gives this full weight in his declarations about the way of salvation, which few have done since the days of the apostles or since the days of the early Quakers. Is this prophet like Moses understanding of Christ being come at all connected with preterist's teaching?
2nd comment. The following excerpt comes from Vol. 4 of the Works of Fox p.47. The connection with your topic of looking at Fox's use of Revelations is that phrase, or those phrases "praises, praises, be to him for ever", and other hints that connect this passage from Fox with his thinking about what John wrote in Revelations. The text has been scanned in and may have some errors I have missed. I have replaced the footnote marks with numbers. The OCR program was a bit funny about recognizing the other marks.
Ellis, in writing a response to Comment 1, I realized it was becoming very lengthy so I decided to develop it into my next post. It'll probably be ready to post later this evening. Hopefully it'll tie a lot of things together for you (and for other readers as well).
In regard to Comment 2:
I certainly agree there are many allusions to themes and ideas from the book of Revelation to be found in the passage you quote here. This is true of very many of Fox's writings and sermons. In fact, Douglas Gwyn says that the themes and language of Revelation are "infused in page after page, volume after volume, of his collected works." He also claims that the book of Revelation "is the only book of the Bible for which Fox especially notes a breakthrough in interpretation, and the only one that receives an extended step-by-step interpretation in his writings." (The Day of the Lord: Eschatology in Quaker Perspective, page 70). There's no doubt that Fox's message and his expression relied heavily on the book of Revelation!
I'm glad you've found something worthwhile in this series of posts, Caleb. I'm afraid my thoughts on the topic didn't gain much traction with the folks here at NFF, for the most part. If you'd like to get in touch I'd be happy to discuss things with you. My email address is email@example.com. God bless.