QUAKERISM has made distinctive contributions to Christian thought. Its women were spiritually inclined, domestically skilled, and had courage like steel. Quaker stock was exceedingly practical and hard working. In the seventeenth century the "inner light" religion was being tried in the fires of persecution from which women did not escape. In fact, the tenacity of Quaker women made history.
Margaret Fell Fox was the wife of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. One of the early Quakers referred to her as "a precious jewel in the hands of the Lord." Well educated for her time, and in Quaker parlance "filled with a spirit of wisdom, meekness, sincerity and supplication," Margaret brought into the movement pioneering enthusiasm, boundless energy, and homespun inspiration.
Swarthmoor Hall was the rallying point of the Quakers. It had become Margaret's at the time of her first marriage to Judge Thomas Fell. They had enjoyed a happy marriage for a quarter of a century. Thomas Fell had been connected with Parliament, and when Margaret married George Fox after Fell's death, her influence brought favors to the Quakers. The Fells had been blessed with seven daughters who were sympathetic with their mother's beliefs, and two of them distinguished themselves in the leadership of the Quaker movement.
At the time of Margaret's marriage to George Fox he was in his late twenties. The Fell household had been impressed with this tall, wandering preacher. The ministry of Fox fired the imagination of Margaret and she joined the movement, although Quakerism was not popular in England at that time.
Headquarters at Swarthmoor Hall
Margaret became both preacher and teacher, and the organizer of women's meetings in her home. It was her ability to organize that was behind the establishment of a fund to assist poor preachers in their travels. This fund brought help to the believers in prison, and provided clothing and books and often safe passage to distant lands. Margaret also organized the Association of Friends who would meet together to seek the Inner Light. It was she who suggested that such an organization remain informal. The Foxes had no idea of beginning a new church. They would quietly wait on the Lord in their gatherings, and like other Fox followers, "trembled at the word of the Lord." Its significance became responsible for their being dubbed "Quakers."
One of their family friends was William Penn whose father was a personal friend of King James II. The younger Penn preferred the association of the Quakers, and these two families brought some distinction to the movement.
For her beliefs, Margaret faced imprisonment three times. Courageously she maintained the right of the Quakers to meet at her home. At one of her trials she refused to swear on the Bible, explaining that this was not the way of Christ. She denied the right of government to prosecute while she was seeking to do God's will. With her Bible as a friend, the long months of imprisonment in a damp cell brought rich compensation in a closer walk with God.
Although Margaret and George Fox were greatly devoted to each other, their first allegiance was to God. The progress of the movement, as well as its constant vicissitudes, regulated their frequent separations. This noble couple faced such partings in the light of God's will, George Fox preaching eloquently that women should always recognize that they were "helpmeets for men."
Margaret was inspired by her husband to write tracts and letters on many religious themes. Among these was her defense of Paul's statement to Corinthian women to keep silence in the church. She was practical enough to hold a good balance on Bible admonition, and when the occasion called for it, she could well expound the broader principles of the faith. She definitely believed in a woman's ministry for the church.
One of Margaret's greatest services to the Quaker cause was her establishing women's meetings for directing social service. She personally trained them for a larger welfare work. Widow's aid funds and various timely projects were led by Margaret and her daughter Sarah.
George Fox died in 1691. William Penn's condolence to Margaret included the statement "A prince indeed is fallen in Israel today." Margaret's last work for the movement, at the age of eighty-three, was to appeal to the new king for protection for her people. To keep aglow the candle of the Inner Light and to stand for God and truth was her last desire for the persecuted Quakers. She died on April 23, 1702.
Quaker Missionary Zeal
The conversion of a Yorkshire servant girl was recognized as the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy for "the handmaids." Fox had preached at the home of Richard Tomlinson, and the whole household, including the maid, Mary Fisher, joined the Quaker movement.
Mary's zeal to witness for God soon caused her to be sent to prison. When released she and another young woman decided to take the message of the Inner Light to the college where John Milton and Oliver Cromwell had studied; but they were again imprisoned. Their sufferings for the faith, and the story of their unmerciful floggings while in prison were publicized in Quaker literature, which spoke of this as the first Quaker persecution.
Later Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, an older woman missionary, set sail for America. The two women reached Boston in May, 1656. However, the authorities had decided they did not wish this new religion in their community. The trunks of the women were searched on the ship and all their books were burned. The missionaries were then imprisoned and might have perished had not God provided a kind friend when they landed. However, they were soon shipped back to Barbados, and from there Mary returned to England.
Soon after this experience in America, Mary, now in her early thirties, with five other missionaries journeyed to Turkey. Thrilling experiences indicated that God had led her in her meeting with wandering shepherds in the Middle East. She was accorded the hospitality of a peasant people. She gave as her credentials that she was the bearer of a message from the most high God to the king. After arduous travel she found her way to the sultan's tent unafraid. This former servant girl was now given the respect of an ambassador. The old ruler encouraged her to bring the message to them.
When asked by the Turks regarding her estimate of their prophet, Mohammed, her reply was very discreet. She admitted that she did not know him, but that she did know Christ, the true prophet who enlightened all men. On her return to England, Mary witnessed to her love for the Mohammedan people.
Mary Fisher later married a Quaker preacher and raised three children. She is known as the first Quaker missionary, and she helped to bring to the movement in America a strong woman's leadership, which the Quakers have well fostered in their philanthropic interests. She died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1698.
The Roots of Methodism
Susanna Wesley was the mother of nineteen children, she herself having been the youngest of twenty-five in her family. Her son, John, her fifteenth child, was the founder of Methodism. Charles, her eighteenth child, was its famous hymn writer. In the household of Epworth rectory of the Church of England, Susanna planted the first seeds of Methodism; and those seeds were nourished with Christian love and methodical direction. The Wesleys recognized the exemplary missionary work of their mother. John was disappointed that his mother's ideals could not be found in the helpmeet he had chosen. But this did not deter Methodism from its start to make room for woman's ministry to the church.
Charles and John Wesley studied at Oxford where Charles had become a member of the Holy Club, which consisted of devout young men who had come together to study the New Testament in Greek, and to visit the poor, the prisoners, and debtors. John joined this club and became its leader. The members were nicknamed "Methodists."
Susanna was a frail woman and had many sorrows raising a family. Ten of her nineteen children never reached adulthood. In her busy household Susanna set aside two hours daily for her private devotion. Although she had her children to care for, she would stop her work at the stroke of the clock to observe her pledge of devotion to God. Susanna's husband was not a practical man, and they were often in debt. While Susanna's story is one of hardship, pain, and sacrifice, spiritually she succeeded in her Christian living.
For twenty years she had a daily school schedule for her children. Susanna taught them thoroughly. They were cultured and had a great interest in learning as well as godly living. Lessons in obedience and the training of the will of each child began at birth. Drinking and eating between meals was never allowed, unless there was sickness. Family prayers preceded supper. At eight they were put to bed and expected to go to sleep. Lullabies for the fretful child were out of the question.
Much of the girlhood of Susanna Wesley had been spent in a religious circle. She was keen and understanding. The merits of the controversy between the Church of England and the Nonconformists were then being debated. Her husband, Samuel, was a son of a Nonconformist minister. They later returned to the established church, however.
Susanna wrote three religious textbooks for the education of her children. She methodically trained them on the Ten Commandments and Scripture drills, and held regular "religious conferences" with each of her children at definite times of the week. Susanna could later ably counsel her son as to his ministerial reading. She trained her children for useful service in the home, for the church, and in the community. Susanna believed in the ministerial household being a training school. Many a lay woman was encouraged by her noble instruction and example. In dress she was neat and clean, simple, and ever conscious that she represented her Master.
When the Wesley brothers accepted a call to go as missionaries to Georgia, John expressed concern at leaving his aging mother for distant America; but this 'wonderful woman said with a holy glow in her eyes, "Had I twenty sons, I should rejoice that they were all so employed, though I should never see them more."
In refreshing our memory on Susanna Wesley and while preparing this series on God's candles in the night, we reflected on the ministerial women of the Advent message. May they too catch the glow of Susanna's life in this late hour of earth's history. My Adventist sisters, how does your ministry to this cause stand? How discreetly do you occupy your time to make gospel workers of your sons and daughters? Is there not reason for some concern? Are our Adventist mothers giving their children's spiritual needs first attention?
Brailsford, Mable R. Quaker Women. London: Duckworth and Co., 1915.
---------, Susanna Wesley, Mother of Methodism. London: Epworth Press, 1938.
Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. Harper and Brothers, New York.
Van Etten, Henry. George Fox and the Quakers. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959.
While we have been "priming the pump" to lead our shepherdesses into inspirational material for their woman's meetings, we suggest that you include in your biographical sketches, Elizabeth Fry, Quaker minister and leader of prison reform. She is referred to as The Angel of the Prisons. You will also find excellent material in Edith Deen's book Great Women of the Christian Faith. Remember, shepherdess gatherings should be occasions of fellowship, devotion, inspiration, and education.