The Seed Reigns over Death 1679-1691
[The year 1679 was spent almost entirely in retirement at Swarthmore, but in 1680 the activity and travels begin again. This last decade of Fox’s life finds him much of the time in or about London, for there are new storms to be met, and he could not lie at ease in the “North.” The Wilkinson-Story movement in opposition to a settled system of government and discipline made his presence in the “South” necessary. But even more than for this was he concerned over the fresh spasm of persecution which during the closing years of Charles’ reign filled the prisons and jails with Quakers. Whenever or wherever the “Conventicle Act” was enforced Friends were sure to have the large end of the suffering to bear.]
After this I was moved of the Lord to visit Friends in some parts of Surrey and Sussex. I went to Kingston by water, and tarried certain days; for while I was there, the Lord laid it upon me to write both to the great Turk, and the Dey of Algiers, severally, to warn them, and the people under them, to turn from their wickedness, fear the Lord, and do justly; lest the judgments of God should come upon them, and destroy them without remedy. To the Algerines I wrote more particularly concerning the cruelty they exercised towards Friends and others, whom they held captives in Algiers.
At Hertford I met with John Story, and some others of his party; but the testimony of Truth went over them, and kept them down, so that the meeting was quiet.
It was on a First-day; and the next day being the men’s and women’s meeting for business, I visited them also, and the rather because some in that place had let in a disesteem of them. Wherefore I was moved to open the service of those meetings, and the usefulness and benefit thereof to the Church of Christ, as the Lord opened the thing in me; and it was of good service to Friends.
I had a meeting also with some of those that were gone into strife and contention, to show them wherein they were wrong; and having cleared myself of them, I left them to the Lord.
I abode at London most part of this winter, having much service for the Lord there, both in and out of meetings: for as it was a time of great suffering among Friends, I was drawn in spirit to visit Friends’ meetings more frequently; to encourage and strengthen them both by exhortation and example. The Parliament also was sitting, and Friends were diligent in waiting upon them, to lay their grievances before them.
We received fresh accounts almost every day of the sad sufferings Friends underwent in many parts of the nation. In seeking relief for my suffering brethren I spent much time; together with other Friends, who were freely given up to that service, attending at the Parliament-House for many days together, and watching all opportunities to speak with such members of either House as would hear our just complaints.
Indeed, some of these were very courteous to us, and appeared willing to help us if they could; but the Parliament being then earnest in examining the Popish plot, and contriving ways to discover such as were Popishly affected, our adversaries took advantage against us (because they knew we could not swear nor fight) to expose us to those penalties that were made against Papists; though they knew in their consciences that we were no Papists, and had had experience of us, that we were no plotters.
Sufferings continuing severe upon Friends at London, I found my service lay mostly there; wherefore I went but little out of town, and not far; being frequent at the most public meetings, to encourage Friends, both by word and example, to stand fast in the testimony to which God had called them.
At other times I went about from house to house, visiting Friends that had their goods taken away for their testimony to Truth; because the wicked informers were grown very audacious, by reason that they had too much countenance and encouragement from some justices, who trusting wholly to their information, proceeded against Friends without hearing them; whereby many were made to suffer, not only contrary to right, but even contrary to law also.<
Now I had some inclination to go into the country to a meeting, but hearing that there would be a bustle at our meetings, and feeling a great disquietness in people’s spirits in the city about choosing sheriffs, it was upon me to stay in the city, and go to the meeting in Gracechurch street upon the first day of the week. William Penn went with me, and spoke; and while he was declaring the Truth to the people, a constable came in with his great staff, and bade him give over, and come down; but he continued, declaring Truth in the power of God.
After a while the constable drew back, and when William Penn had done, I stood up, and declared to the people the everlasting gospel, which was preached in the apostles’ days, and to Abraham; and which the Church in the apostles’ days received, and came to be heirs of.
As I was thus speaking, two constables came in with their great staves, and bade me give over speaking, and come down; but, feeling the power of the Lord with me, I spoke on therein, both to the constables and to the people. To the constables I declared that we were a peaceable people, who meet to wait upon God, and worship Him in spirit and in truth; and therefore they needed not to come with their staves amongst us, who were met in a peaceable manner, desiring and seeking the good and salvation of all people.
Then turning my speech to the people again, I declared what further was upon me to them; and while I was speaking, the constables drew out towards the door; and the soldiers stood with their muskets in the yard.
When I had done speaking, I kneeled down and prayed, desiring the Lord to open the eyes and hearts of all people, both high and low, that their minds might be turned to God by His Holy Spirit; that He might be glorified in all and over all. After prayer the meeting rose, and Friends passed away; the constables being come in again, but without the soldiers; and indeed, both they and the soldiers carried themselves civilly.
William Penn and I went into a room hard by, as we used to do, and many Friends went with us, and lest the constables should think we would shun them, a Friend went down and told them that if they would have anything with us, they might come where we were, if they pleased.
On First-day it was upon me to go to Devonshire-House meeting in the afternoon; and because I had heard Friends were kept out there that morning (as they were that day at most meetings about the city), I went sooner, and got into the yard before the soldiers came to guard the passages. But the constables were there before me, and stood in the doorway with their staves.
I asked them to let me go in. They said they could not, durst not; for they were commanded the contrary, and were sorry for it.
I told them I would not press upon them; so I stood by, and they were very civil.
I stood till I was weary, and then one gave me a stool to sit down on; and after a while the power of the Lord began to spring up among Friends, and one began to speak.
The constables soon forbade him, and said he should not speak; and he not stopping, they began to be wroth. But I gently laid my hand upon one of the constables, and wished him to let the Friend alone. The constable did so, and was quiet; and the man did not speak long. After he had done, I was moved to stand up and speak.
I then sat down; and after a while I was moved to pray. The power of the Lord was over all; and the people, the constables and soldiers put off their hats.
When the meeting was done, and Friends began to pass away, the constable put off his hat, and desired the Lord to bless us; for the power of the Lord was over him and the people, and kept them under.
I tarried in and near London, visiting Friends’ meetings, and labouring in the service of the gospel, till the yearly meeting came on, which began on the 28th of the Third month. It was a time of great sufferings; and much concerned I was lest Friends that came up out of the country on the Church’s service, should be taken and imprisoned at London. But the Lord was with us; His power preserved us, and gave us a sweet and blessed opportunity to wait upon Him, to be refreshed together in Him, and to perform His services for His truth and people for which we met.
As it was a time of great persecution, and we understood that in most counties Friends were under great sufferings, either by imprisonments or spoiling of goods, or both, a concern was weightily upon me lest any Friends that were sufferers, especially such as were traders and dealers in the world, should hazard the losing of other men’s goods or estates through their sufferings.
On the First-day following I went to the meeting at Gracechurch street. When I came there, I found three constables in the meeting-house, who kept Friends out; so we met in the court.
After I had been some time there, I stood up and spoke to the people, and continued speaking some time. Then one of the constables came, and took hold of my hand, and said, “You must come down.” I desired him to be patient, and went on speaking to the people; but after a little time he pulled me down, and took me into the meeting-house.
I asked them if they were not weary of this work. One of them said, “Indeed we are.” They let me go into the widow Foster’s house, which joined the meeting-house, where I stayed, being hot.
When the meeting was ended, for one prayed after I was taken away, the constables asked some Friends which of them would pass their words that I should appear, if they should be questioned about me. But the Friends told them they need not require that, for I was a man well known in the city to be one that would neither fly nor shrink. So they went away, and I heard no further of it.
I continued yet at London, labouring in the work and service of the Lord, both in and out of meetings; sometimes visiting Friends in prison for the testimony of Jesus, encouraging them in their sufferings and exhorting them to stand faithful and steadfast in the testimony, which the Lord had committed to them to bear. Sometimes also I visited those that were sick and weak in body, or troubled in mind, helping to bear up their spirits from sinking under their infirmities. Sometimes our meetings were quiet and peaceable; sometimes they were disturbed and broken up by the officers.
As I was speaking in the power of the Lord, and the people were greatly affected therewith, suddenly the constables, with the rude people, came in like a sea.
One of the constables said to me, “Come down”; and he laid hands on me.
I asked him, “Art thou a Christian? We are Christians.”
He had hold of my hand, and was very fierce to pluck me down; but I stood still, and spoke a few words to the people; desiring of the Lord that the blessings of God might rest upon them all.
The constable still called upon me to come down, and at length plucked me down, and bade another man with a staff take me and carry me to prison. That man led me to the house of another officer, who was more civil; and after a while they brought in four Friends more, whom they had taken.
I was very weary, and in a great perspiration; and several Friends, hearing where I was, came to me in the constable’s house; but I bade them all go their ways, lest the constables and informers should stop them.
After a while the constables led us almost a mile to a justice, who was a fierce, passionate man. After he had asked me my name, and his clerk had taken it in writing, upon the constable’s informing him that I had preached in the meeting, he said in an angry manner, “Do not you know that it is contrary to the King’s laws to preach in such conventicles, contrary to the Liturgy of the Church of England?”
There was present one — — Shad (a wicked informer, who was said to have broken jail at Coventry, and to have been burned in the hand at London), who, hearing the justice speak so to me, stepped up to him and told him that he had convicted them on the Act of the 22d of King Charles the Second.
“What! you convict them?” said the justice.
“Yes,” said Shad, “I have convicted them, and you must convict them too upon that Act.”
With that the justice was angry with him, and said, “You teach me! what are you? I’ll convict them of a riot.”
The informer hearing that and seeing the justice angry, went away in a fret; so he was disappointed of his purpose.
Now had I drawings in Spirit to go into Holland, to visit the Seed of God there. And as soon as the yearly meeting was over I prepared for my journey. There went with me from London Alexander Parker, George Watts, and Nathaniel Brassey, who also had drawings into that country.
We took coach the 31st of the Third month, 1684, and got to Colchester that night. Next day being First-day, we went to the meeting there; and though there was no notice given of my coming, yet our being there was presently spread over the town, and in several places in the country at seven and ten miles distance; so that abundance of Friends came in double-horsed, which made the meeting very large.
I had a concern and travail in my mind, lest this great gathering should stir up the town, and be more than the magistrates could well bear. But it was very quiet and peaceable, and a glorious meeting we had, to the settling and establishing of Friends both in town and country; for the Lord’s power was over all; blessed be His name for ever!
Truly the Lord’s power and presence was beyond words; for I was but weak to go into a meeting, and my face (by reason of a cold I had taken) was sore; but God manifested His strength in us and with us, and all was well. The Lord have the glory for evermore, for His supporting power!
It was the latter end of the summer when I came to London, where I stayed the winter following; saving that once or twice, my wife being in town with me, I went with her to her son Rous’s at Kingston. And though my body was very weak, yet I was in continual service, either in public meetings, when I was able to bear them, or in particular business amongst Friends, and visiting those that were sufferers for Truth, either by imprisonment or loss of goods.
Many things also in this time I wrote, some for the press, and some for particular service; as letters to the King of Denmark and Duke of Holstein on behalf of Friends that were sufferers in their dominions.
The yearly meeting coming on, I was much concerned for Friends that came up to it out of the country, lest they should meet with any trouble or disturbance in their passage up or down; and the rather because about that time a great bustle arose in the nation upon the Duke of Monmouth’s landing in the West. But the Lord, according to His wonted goodness, was graciously pleased to preserve Friends in safety, and gave us a blessed opportunity to meet together in peace and quietness, and accompanied our meeting with His living, refreshing presence: blessed for ever be His holy name!
Considering the hurries that were in the nation, it came upon me at the close of this meeting to write a few lines to Friends, to caution all to keep out of the spirit of the world, in which trouble is, and to dwell in the peaceable Truth.
I came back to London in the First month, 1686, and set myself with all diligence to look after Friends’ sufferings, from which we had now some hopes of getting relief. The sessions came on in the Second month at Hicks’s-Hall, where many Friends had appeals to be tried. I was with these from day to day, to advise them, and to see that no opportunity was slipped nor advantage lost; and they generally succeeded well.
Soon after the King was pleased, upon our often laying our sufferings before him, to give order for the releasing of all prisoners for conscience’ sake that were in his power to discharge. Thereby the prison-doors were opened, and many hundreds of Friends, some of whom had been long in prison, were set at liberty.
Some of those who had for many years been restrained in bonds, came now up to the yearly meeting, which was in the Third month this year. This caused great joy to Friends, to see our ancient, faithful brethren again at liberty in the Lord’s work, after their long confinement. And indeed a precious meeting we had; the refreshing presence of the Lord appearing plentifully with us and amongst us.
[Gradually Fox was growing physically weaker, and though his pen was busy with documents and letters, he records almost nothing in his Journal.]
In the Seventh month I returned to London, having been near three months in the country for my health’s sake, which was very much impaired; so that I was hardly able to stay in a meeting the whole time; and often after a meeting had to lie down on a bed. Yet did not my weakness of body take me off from the service of the Lord, but I continued to labour in and out of meetings, in His work, as He gave me opportunity and ability.
I had not been long in London before a great weight came upon me, and the Lord gave me a sight of the great bustles and troubles, revolution and change, which soon after came to pass. In the sense thereof, and in the movings of the Spirit of the Lord, I wrote “A general epistle to Friends, to forewarn them of the approaching storm, that they might all retire to the Lord, in whom is safety.”
About this time great exercises and weights came upon me (as they had usually done before the great revolutions and changes of government), and my strength departed from me; so that I reeled, and was ready to fall, as I went along the streets. At length I could not go abroad at all, I was so weak, for some time, till I felt the power of the Lord to spring over all, and had received an assurance from Him, that He would preserve His faithful people to Himself through all.
About the middle of the First month, 1688-9,I went to London, the Parliament then sitting, and engaged about the bill for indulgence. Though I was weak in body, and not well able to stir about, yet so great a concern was upon my spirit on behalf of Truth and Friends, that I attended continually for many days, with other Friends, at the Parliament-House, labouring with the members, that the thing might be done comprehensively and effectually.
I remained at London till the beginning of the Ninth month, being continually exercised in the work of the Lord, either in public meetings, opening the way of Truth to people, and building up and establishing Friends therein, or in other services relating to the Church of God. For the Parliament now sitting, and having a bill before them concerning oaths, and another concerning clandestine marriages, several Friends attended the House, to get those bills so worded that they might not be hurtful to Friends. In this service I also assisted, attending on the Parliament, and discoursing the matter with several of the members.
[Here follows (January 10th, 1691) the last entry in the Journal, with the letter written to the Irish Friends who were enduring almost indescribable sufferings, occasioned by the civil war in Ireland.]
Not long after I returned to London, and was almost daily with Friends at meetings. When I had been near two weeks in town, the sense of the great hardships and sore sufferings that Friends had been and were under in Ireland, coming with great weight upon me, I was moved to write an epistle, as a word of consolation unto them.
[The next day he went to Gracechurch Street Meeting, which was large and in which he preached a long and powerful sermon, “opening many deep and weighty things.” He then offered prayer, and the meeting closed. When some Friends came to his room in White-Hart-Court, later in the day, he told them he had “felt the cold strike to his heart, as he came out of meeting”; “yet,” he added, “I am glad I was here (i. e., in the meeting). Now I am clear, I am fully clear!” Later, when Friends were visiting him, he said: “All is well; the Seed of God reigns over all and over death itself. And though I am weak in body, yet the power of God is over all, and the Seed reigns over all disorderly spirits.” “Lying thus in a heavenly frame of mind, his spirit wholly exercised towards the Lord,” he fell asleep in peace on the evening of January 13th, 1691. The funeral was attended by a very large concourse of people, and the body was laid in the burying-ground near Bunhill Fields, where the grave is now marked with a modest stone. Few men in the dying hour could say more truly, “I am clear.”]