And so he went on, and said, “That Christ was the Light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and by this Light they might be gathered to God,” ………And I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, “The scriptures were the prophet`s words, and Christ`s and the apostle`s words, and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord”: and said, “Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, `Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;` but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?” This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”
~~ The Testimony of Margaret Fell concerning her late husband ( George Fox) ~~
Margaret Fell is generally considered to be the Mother of Quakerism; an obscure Christian religious sect which emerged from the tumultuous years of the English Civil War, when it competed for people`s attentions with a multitude of other sects such as the Ranters, Levellers and Diggers. It is hard to believe now, but in the England of the mid-seventeenth century, religious debate occupied people`s minds as much as social media, sport and the cult of celebrity does nowadays; it was the great topic on everyone`s lips. Religion was the primary opinion former which moved and shook every root and branch of the social tree; so what did the Quakers have to survive the persecutions and ravages of time and changing fashion, which all the other sects didn`t? Well, people like Margaret Fell, and the man who “convinced” her, as she sat in that cold, draughty Cumberland church, George Fox – later, her husband, and always the keeper of her heart. George Fox made numerous visits to Margaret`s home at Swarthmoor Hall, and it became not only the nerve centre of the Quakers spiritual network, but also a major communication and administrative focal point. Her spiritual and material assistance was vitally important in furthering the word, in spite of fierce, hostile, and even murderous opposition from some quarters.
“My luck is getting worse and worse. Last night, for instance, I was mugged by a Quaker.”
~~ Woody Allen ~~
Despite the deprivations and hardships of persecution and imprisonment for a great many Quakers during the second half of the seventeenth century, their belief in Truth, Equality, Peace and Love pulled them through the darkness, helped in no small part to Margaret Fell`s indomitable will and love for all those who sought to exterminate her voice. While languishing in the deepest, and most unpleasant dungeon of Lancaster Castle into which she had been thrown for over two years, she wrote King Charles II a letter admonishing him on her unjust incarceration – like all Quakers, she had refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the king because they considered everyone of equal worth, none being above the other. After a while, her fiery words were heeded, and she was released back into God`s fresh air. She was born Margaret Askew in 1614 in Lancashire, England. Her family were landed gentry, and married Thomas Fell ( also landed gentry) in her late teens; Fell was a judge and several times a Member of Parliament. As he was away for long periods, Margaret was left in charge of their estate of Swarthmoor. She served simultaneously as mother, administrator of a large estate, and then, after meeting, and being smitten by the great Quaker preacher – in – chief, George Fox, coordinator of the scattered network of travelling Friends and ministers. After she was convinced of the truth by Fox in 1652, she swung her considerable administrative talents behind the Friends, and her support, encouragement and organisational skills proved invaluable to the cause.
In 1660, following the restoration of Charles II, and a time of great suffering for the Friends, a declaration explaining the movement`s principles, was sent to Charles; A Declaration and an Information from Us, the People called Quakers, to the present Governors, the King and Both Houses of Parliament, and All Who It May Concern. It is a plea for religious toleration, and the fact that Margaret Fell was the person who wrote this important declaration demonstrates her importance to the movement. it is the first public declaration of the Friend`s famous Peace Testimony, and in it she sets forth the Quaker concept of the Lamb`s War, a spiritual war against evil, and states that Friends “….bear our testimony against all strife, wars, and contentions that come from the lusts that war in the members……….” She was obviously a great advocate of women`s rights; from the get go, Quakers practiced equal rights, and one of her pamphlets is entitled “Women`s Speaking Justified”, and is a quite vigorous advocacy of women`s spiritual equality and justifies women being active in public ministry….Even now, in organised global religions, women are second class citizens and denied full participation in religious life…….Not so in Quakerism. After the death of her first husband, Margaret married the Keeper of her Heart, George Fox, but in the six years until his death, their respective active ministries and periods of imprisonment kept them mostly apart. Margaret Fell was a woman who clearly understood George Fox`s dynamic understanding of the original Christian gospels better than anyone else; they were soul mates on the road to salvation which carried the Quakers from a small, insignificant religious movement, to still being one small in numbers, but enormous in influence. It`s not unfair to claim that most of the social reforms which have taken place in Britain over the intervening centuries, were brought about by Quaker pressure groups constantly badgering, pushing, cajoling and creating the right political environment for reform. Margaret Fell is one of the key founders of Quakerism, and “She retained a sincere and constant love to all faithful Friends and bretheren to the end…….”