New Foundation Fellowship

Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

Introduction to "The Christian Universalism of George Fox"

When I began to concentrate my studies on all the writings of George Fox more than forty years ago, it was during the period of Quaker history that might be called the “high tide” of the mystical interpretation of Quakerism. And when I had first encountered Fox’s Journal just fifty years ago, I was not a professing Christian. If I had any bias when I read the Journal for the first time, it was in the direction of hoping to find in Fox the “perennial philosophy” of the mystics. But as I continued to study Fox, I became convinced that the great work on which he labored so faithfully all through his life was to preach the good news concerning Jesus Christ and how he saves people, and I became convinced of the truth of this gospel message.  – Lewis Benson

“The Christian Universalism of George Fox” is the tenth and final lecture in the series Rediscovering the Teaching of George Fox that Lewis Benson gave at Moorestown (N.J.) Meeting in 1982. These lectures were prepared with those in mind who had been reached through hearing gospel ministry and, as a result, had wanted to “become involved in the work of preaching it again.” Each of the first eight lectures in this series covers a specific area of Fox’s teaching. The final two lectures (this and the previous one: “Fox’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit”) were included to prepare those who will go out to preach the gospel, and who can expect to “run into questions about holy spirit religion and about non-Christian universalism.”

In this essay, Benson distills significant points from various scholars’ writings regarding the interface between universal mystical faith and Quakers. Rufus Jones figures prominently in this inventory, and Geoffrey Nuttall, Melvin B. Endy, and John Yungblut are mentioned as well. Going beyond scholarly positions, however, Benson presents Fox’s moving past intellectualism and into the wisdom of sequential, inward experience, which culminates in the knowledge of the inward Christ as person (i.e., having a face). The verse from 2 Corinthians 4:6, encapsulated in the following, was frequently referred to by Friends:

Believers in Christ Jesus and the apostles and disciples…preach Christ the covenant of light among the Gentiles, and so bring them from the darkness to the light, from the power of Satan to God…and brought them inwardly to the light that shines in their hearts, to give them the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

A frequent charge from the earliest decades of the movement was that Quakers eliminated from their faith Jesus Christ “who dwelt in Galilee and Judea and was crucified, buried, and rose on the third day.” Though Friends always denied the accusation, and owned Christ’s “appearance of him in his body of flesh,” they formally stated their position in “The Christian Doctrine of the People called Quakers Cleared.”  Benson quotes from this document, which was prepared in 1694 by trusted ministers and leaders in the Society. Here is one statement from that document: “The son of God cannot be divided…nor is the sufficiency of his light within set up by us in opposition to him.”

Benson identifies a more recent challenge to the early Quaker message as “denominational-mindedness.” The principle behind this thinking is that different “natures” require different philosophies or theologies, thus accounting for the many denominations. Since Benson’s time, denominational-mindedness has gained ground among Quakers, and a diversity of philosophies is now seen as valid not only for those outside of the Society but for those within. A tightening conformity to the doctrine of individualism has accelerated the proliferation of ideologies within the Society. Resisted by most is the observation that human nature is intrinsic and universal, the same in every time and place, and that Jesus Christ speaks to this universal condition.

Benson concludes this lecture series with the following:

[Early Quakers] were proclaiming that Christ, who is present in the midst of his people in all his offices, is the means that God has provided to save not just the Jews, or the Christians, but all people, all nations. The need today is for more men and women who are prepared to go forth and proclaim this gospel to Quakers, Christians, and people of all faiths, or none. “It is a wonderful thing to be called to the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  

This tenth lecture can be found under the Resources tab in Lewis Benson Writings. 

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Comment by Ellis Hein on 5thMo. 12, 2018 at 11:53

In lecture 6 of this series, Lewis Benson gives background to this phrase: “It is a wonderful thing to be called to the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Both worship and ministry were weighty things to early Friends and to Friends in the 18th and 19th centuries, but how weighty are they today? I had occasion to ponder this more than forty years ago, while attending a yearly meeting of Conservative Friends in Ohio. A highly esteemed minister came to me and said that he would like to have an opportunity with me. This word “opportunity” has largely gone out of style among modern Friends, but in the old days and among the Conservatives it meant a time of worship and quiet in which there would be real communication, real communion. I knew enough Quaker history to know what I was being invited to. We sat in silence in one of the classrooms of the Friends boarding school in Barnesville, and after about fifteen minutes this Friend reached toward me and touched me, and he said, “It is wonderful thing to be called to the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then we sat silently for a few more minutes, and that was it. How often this must have happened in Quaker history: that an older minister took the trouble and the interest to reach out to a younger person and hold up to him how weighty it is to be called to the ministry of the gospel. This is something I have never forgotten.

In lecture 5 of his series of five lectures given at Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, August 2 - 6, 1976, Lewis expands further upon this theme. In this lecture (Fellowship in the Work of Proclaiming and Building) he points out that the ministry of the gospel is an inherent part of living in the kingdom of God.

The announced theme or overall subject of this conference is "A New Foundation To Build Upon." If any have come here hoping to find an unshakable foundation for their lives I hope that the witness that has been made will help to turn them to Christ, the one foundation that stands sure. It is a wonderful thing to be turned to Christ, the Truth, and to receive truth in the love of it and to become settled and established in it. But all who gather in the name of Christ and look to him as their rock and foundation will be gently led to see that there is work to be done. There is something to be built on this foundation. The same God who calls you and enables you to establish your life on this gospel foundation is also calling you to the task of laying this gospel foundation again in the whole world. The Christian Church is not just a kind of consumers union. It has a mission. We are not only to receive truth and become established on it but we are to spread it abroad and we are to be valiant for it. "Be valiant," says Fox, "the Lord God of power give you courage, manhood, boldness." (1) God . . . give you power and courage to be valiant for his Truth." (2) He exhorts the Quakers to be valiant "for the name of Jesus and his Truth upon the earth, and not to be ashamed of Christ your teacher and prophet, that God raised up in his new covenant . . . whom you are to hear." (3) He tells them: "Ye will be as bold as lions," (4) and that they are to "bow down to nothing but the Lord God." (5) To be gathered and settled on Christ the foundation is only the beginning. There is a superstructure to be built on this foundation and there is a valiant spirit to be received that sustains and enables God's New Covenant people to raise up God's ensign, which is Christ, everywhere in the world so that all the nations may flock to it. If we do not heed the call to "spread the Truth abroad," we will be unable to dwell securely on the one sure foundation. Fox says: "Be faithful and valiant for God's Truth upon the earth...that you may all be with his light built upon hirn your Rock and Foundation that stands sure." (6) Be valiant for God's Truth upon the earth, that you may all be settled upon Christ, the Rock and Foundation." (7)

These things go together: being settled and built upon Christ the foundation involves being faithful and valiant for God's Truth upon the earth. (8)

The work of spreading the Truth abroad is not a task for a few, but it must be begun by a few….
So, let us take stock of our present situation. The gospel of power that Fox preached is being recovered and preached again and people are now ready to hear it and receive it again and to be gathered to Christ the foundation and to build on this one true foundation. "Truly, the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few."

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