George Fox’s use of Conscience

Source: A journal or historical account of the life, travels, sufferings, Christian experiences, and labour of love in the work of the ministry of that ancient, eminent, and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, George Fox Vol. 2

1. ' Friend, who art the chief ruler of these dominions, here is a list of some of the sufferings of the popple of God, in scorn called Quakers, that have suffered under the changeable powers before thee, by whom there have been imprisoned, and under whom there have suffered for good conscience sake, and for bearing testimony to the truth, as it is in Jesus, " three thousand one hundred and seventy-three persons;" and there lie yet in.prison in the name of the commonwealth, " seventy-three persons," that we know of. pg. 6

2. When the jury was sworn and instructed, as they were going out, one who had been an alderman of the city bid them, ' have a good conscience ;' and one of the jury, being a peevish man, told the justices there was one affronted the jury; whereupon they called him up, and tendered him the oath also, which he took. pg.13

3. Many of them being poor men, without any thing to maintain their families by but their labour, which now they were taken from, several of their wives went to the justices who committed their husbands, and told them, ' if they kept their husbands in gaol for nothing but the truth of Christ and for good conscience sake, they would bring their children to them to be maintained.' pg. 30

4. ' This is Oliver Atherton, of Ormskirk parish, persecuted to death by the countess of Derby for good conscience sake towards God and Christ, because he could not give her tithes,' &c. Setting forth at large the reasons of his refusing to pay tithes, the length of his imprisonment, the hardships he underwent, her hard-heartedness towards him, and the manner of his death. After his death, Richard Cubban, another of her prisoners for tithes, wrote a large letter to her, on behalf of himself and his fellow-prisoners at her suit, lay ing their innocency before her ; ' and that it was not out of wilfulness, stubbornness, or covetousness, that they refused to pay her tithes, but purely in good conscience towards God and Christ ; letting her know, if she should be suffered to keep them there till they every one died, as she had done their fellow-sufferer, Oliver Atherton, they could not yield to pay her. pg. 31

5. For it is tenderness of conscience, and in obedience to the command of Christ, that I do not swear : and we have the word of a king for tender consciences. pg. 32

6. Then said the judge, 'I am a servant to the king, and the king sent me not to dispute with you, but to put the laws in execution; therefore tender him the oath of allegiance.' ' If thou love the king,' said I, ' why dost thou break his word, and not keep his declarations and speeches, wherein he promised liberty to tender consciences ? I am a man of a tender conscience, and in obedience to Christ's command I cannot swear.' ' Then you will not swear,' said the judge ; ' take him away, gaoler.' I said, ' it is for Christ's sake that I cannot swear, and for obedience to his command I suffer ; and so the Lord forgive you all.' So the gaoler took me away ; but I felt the mighty power of the Lord was over them all. pg 33

7. For many of you have sworn first one way and then another. So we leave it to the spirit of God in thy conscience, Justice Fleming, who wast so eager for the taking of George Fox, and so offended with them that had not taken him, and now hast fallen upon thy poor neighbours. pg 35

8. How wilt thou answer, when thou and thy works come to be judged, when thou shalt be brought before the judgment-seat of the Almighty, who in thy prosperity hast made widows and fatherless for rightousness sake, and for tenderness of conscience towards God? pg. 36

9. When the uproar was at Ephesus about Diana's shrine, Demetrius, who bore great sway among the craftsmen, did not call Paul " sirrah," but Paul. Acts xix. And when Paul was brought prisoner before the high priest Ananias and council of the Jews, and told them, " he had lived in all good conscience towards God until that day;" though they, who professed the scriptures but lived out of the life of them, could not abide to hear of living in a good conscience, as professors of the scriptures now, that live not in the life, cannot abide to hear of living in a good conscience nowadays ; but Ananias caused Paul to be " smitten on the mouth ;" yet he did not call him " knave," nor " sirrah." Acts xxiii. pg. 40

10. I told him I was a man of a tender conscience, and if they had any sense of a tender conscience, they would consider, that it was in obedience to Christ's command that I could not swear. pg. 48

11. He told me, ' He was in a strait how to act between us and some other Dissenters. ' For, (said he,) you cannot swear, and the Independents, Baptists, and Fifth- monarchy-people say also, they cannot swear ; therefore, (said he,) how shall I know how to distinguish betwixt you and them, seeing they and you all say, it is for conscience sake that you cannot swear V I answered, ' I will show thee how to distinguish. They, or most of them thou speakest of, can and do swear in some cases, but we cannot swear in any case. pg 83

12. When he could not avoid sending to prison, he sent some for a few hours, or a night. At length he went to the king and told him, ' He had sent some of us to prison contrary to his conscience, and he could not do so any more.' Therefore, he removed his family from Limehouse, where he lived, and took lodgings near James' Park. He told the king, ' If he would be pleased to give liberty of conscience that would quiet and settle all ; for then none could have any pretence to be uneasy.' And indeed he was a very serviceable man to truth and Friends in his day. pg. 84

13. Therefore we being innocent, and not the people this act concerns, we keep our meetings as we used to do; and I said, I believed that he knew in his conscience we were innocent.' After some more discourse he took our names, and the places where we lodged, and at length, as the informer was gone, set us at liberty. pg. 99

14. But they that are out of the grace, truth, light, spirit, and power of God, such as resist the holy ghost, quench, vex, and grieve the spirit of God, who hate the light, turn from the grace of God into wantonness, and do despite to the spirit of grace, such as have erred from the faith, made shipwreck of it and of a good conscience, who abuse the power of God, and despise prophesying, reve lation, and inspiration, these are the dogs and unbelievers that are with out the city. pg. 104

15. … any oath, for conscience sake ; and I did believe he and they all knevr in their consciences that it was for conscience sake I could not swear at all. I declared amongst them what I could say and what I could sign, in owning of the king's right to the government, and in denying the pope and his pretended power, and all plotters, plots, and conspiracies against the government.' pg. 157

16. Yet they caused the oaths to be read to me, and afterwards read an indictment, which they had drawn up in readiness, having a jury ready also.' When the indictment was read, the judge asked me, ' if I was guilty V I said, ' nay, for it was a great bundle of lies ; which I showed and proved to the judge in several particulars, which I instanced ; asking him, if he did not know in his conscience they were lies V He said, ' it was their form.' I said, ' it was not a true form.' pg. 159

17. ' We are a people, who, in tenderness of conscience to the command of Christ and his apostle, cannot swear ; for we are commanded in Matt. v. and James v. to keep to yea and nay, and " not to swear at all ; neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath, lest we go into evil, and fall into condemnation." pg. 164

18. There hath been an apostasy, since the apostles' days from the divine light of Christ, which should have given them the " light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus ;" and from the holy spirit, which would have led them into all truth ; and therefore have people set up so many leaders without them, to give them knowledge ; and also from the holy and precious faith which Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of, which faith purifies the heart, and gives victory over that which separates from God ; through which faith they have access to God, and in which faith they please God, the mystery of which is held in a pure conscience. And also from the gospel which was preached in the apos tles' days (which gospel is the power of God) which brings life and immortality to light in man and woman, by which people should have seen over the devil that has darkened them ; which gospel will preserve all them that receive it in life and immortality. pg. 192

19. Therefore my desire is, that ye all may be steadfast, whether in bonds or out, in the faith of Christ Jesus, which is the gift of God ; by which faith the valiants over came the devil and all their enemies ; in which faith they had vic tory and access to God, and in that was their unity ; which mystery of faith is held in a pure conscience, hidden from the world. I do believe, that your imprisonments and sufferings in that place will be for good in the end (as it hath been in other places,) ye standing faithful to the Lord, who is all-sufficient. pg. 203

20. We are a people that exercise a good conscience towards God through his holy spirit, and in it do serve, worship, and honour him ; and towards men in the things that are equal and just, doing to them as we would have them do unto us ; looking unto Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith ; which faith purifies our hearts, and brings us to have access to God; without which we cannot please him : by which faith all the just live, as the scripture declares. pg. 214

21. We intreat the king to read some of the noble expressions of several kings, and others, concerning liberty of conscience ; and especially Stephanus king of Poland's sayings, viz. " It belongeth not to me to reform the consciences; I have always gladly given that over to God which belongeth to him ; and so shall I do now, and also for the future. pg. 215

22. In point of true conscientious tenderness I have so often declared, how little I desire my laws and sceptre should intrench on God's sovereignty, who is the only king of conscience." pg. 216

23. • Lucernus said, " He that commandeth anything wherewith he bindeth the conscience, this is an antichrist." — In de Bemise Disp. fol. 71. ' Irenaeus affirmed, "That all forcing of conscience, though it was but a forbidding of the exercise which is esteemed by one or another to be necessary to salvation, is in nowise right nor fitting." He also affirmed, " That through the diversity of religions the kingdom should not be brought into any disturbance." pg. 217

24. Now, O king, seeing these noble testimonies concerning liberty of conscience of kings, emperors, and others, and the liberty that Paul had at Rome in the days of the heathen emperor, our desire is, that we may have the same liberty at Dantzick to meet together in our own hired houses, which cannot be any prejudice either to the king or the city of Dantzick, for us to meet together to wait upon the Lord, and pray unto him, and to serve and worship him in spirit and truth in our own hired houses ; seeing our principle leads us to hurt no man, but to love our enemies, and to pray for them, yea, them that persecute us. pg. 218

25. We lee the same rough, and high spirit cries now for liberty (which the power and spirit of Christ cannot give.) and cries " Imposition," yet is imposing cries, " Liberty of conscience," and yet is opposing liberty of conscience ; cries against prescriptions, and yet is prescribing both in words and writing. So with the everlasting power and spirit of God this spirit is fathomed, its rise, beginning, and end ; and it is judged. This spirit cries, " We must not judge conscience, we must not judge matters of faith, we must not judge spirits, nor religions," &c. Yes : they that are in the pure spirit and power of God, which the apostles were in, judge of conscience, whether it be a seared conscience, or a tender conscience; they judge of faith, whether it be a dead one, or a living one ; they judge of religion, whether it be vain, or pure and undefined ; they judge of spirits, and try them, whether they be of God, or no; they judge of hope, whether it be that of hypocrites, or the true hope that purifies, even as God is pure; they judge of belief, whether it be that which is born of God, and overcometh the world, or that which runs into the spirit of the world, which lusts to envy, and doth not overcome the world; they judge of worships, whether they be -will-worships, and the worship of the beast and dragon, or the worship of God in spirit and in truth ; they judge of angels, whether they be fallen, or those that keep their habitation ; they judge the world, that grieves and quenches the spirit, hates the light, turns the grace of God into wantonness, and re sists the holy ghost. pg. 221

26. Important

' All Friends, — Keep in the tender life of the Lamb, over that unruly, puffed up and swelling spirit, whose work is for strife, contention, and division, drawing into looseness and false liberty, under a pretence of conscience, and endangers the spoiling of youth. Those that encourage them will be guilty of their destruction, and set up a sturdy will, instead of conscience, in their rage and passion ; which will quench the universal spirit in themselves, and in every man and woman ; and so that spirit shall not have liberty in themselves, nor in others; thus they shut up the kingdom of heaven in themselves, and also in others. So a loose spirit getting up under a pretence of liberty of conscience, or a stubborn will, making profession of the words of truth in a form without power, all looseness and vileness will be sheltered and covered under this pretence, which is for eternal judgment: for that doth dishonour God. Therefore keep to the tender spirit of God in all humility, that in it you may know that ye are all members of one another, and all have an office in the church of Christ. All these living members know one another in the spirit, and not in the flesh. So here is no man ruling over the woman, as Adam did over Eve in the fall ; but Christ, the spiritual man, among and over his spiritual members, which are edified in the heavenly love that is shed in their heart from God, where all strife ceases. pg. 224

27. Important

By this holy spirit all your hearts, minds, and souls may be knit together to Christ, from whence it comes ; and by the grace and truth, which is come by Jesus Christ, which all should be under the teachings of in the new covenant, and not under the law, as the outward Jews were in the old covenant. By this grace and truth in the new covenant, all may be made God's free men and women, to serve God in the new life, the new and living way ; showing forth the fruits of the new heart and new spirit, in the new covenant, over death and darkness. Glory be to the Lord for ever ! in this grace and truth is heavenly, gra cious, and true liberty to every spiritual mind, which makes you free from him that is out of truth, where your bondage was. Also your liberty in the holy, divine, and precious faith, which gives you victory over that which once separated you from God and Christ, by which faith ye have access to God again through Jesus Christ. So in this divine and holy faith, ye have divine, holy, and precious liberty, yea and victory over him that separated you from God; and this faith is held in a pure conscience. So the liberty in the spirit of God is in that which baptizes and plunges down sin and iniquity, and puts off the body of death and sins of the flesh, that are got up by transgressing God's command. And also the liberty of the gospel, which is sent from heaven by the holy ghost, which is the power of God, which was and is again to be preached to all nations; in this gospel is the true liberty, and the gospel-fellow ship and order. So that the evil spirit or conscience, or false dead faith, that which is ungracious, out of truth, and not in the spirit of God, nor in his gospel, nor in the divine faith, its liberty is in the darkness; for all true liberty is in the gospel, and in the truth that makes free ; in the faith, in the grace, and in Christ Jesus, who destroys the devil and his works, that hath brought all mankind into bondage. So in this heavenly, peaceable spirit, truth, and faith, which works by love, and in the gospel of peace, and in Christ Jesus is all the saints' peace, and pure, true, and holy liberty ; in which they have salt, sense, feeling discerning, and savour, yea and unity and fellowship one with another, and with the Son and the Father, that heavenly, eternal fellowship. So all being subject to the grace and truth, and to the faith and gospel (the power of God,) and to his good spirit, in this they distinguish all true, pure, and holy liberty from that which is false. This will bring all to sit low ; for patience runs the race, and the Lamb must have the victory ; and not the rough, unruly, and vain talkers, unbaptized, uncircumcised, and unsanctified.

28. But as to swearing and fighting, which in tenderness of conscience we cannot do, ye know that we have suffered these many years for our conscientious refusal thereof. pg. 236

29. There were many particulars in our answer, but it would not be accepted without an oath. I told the judge, that both tithe and swearing among christians came from the pope ; and it was matter of conscience to us not to pay tithes, nor to swear ; for Christ bid his disciples, who had freely received, give freely ; and he commanded them, ' not to swear at all.' pg. 241

30. I told him, they had brought those charges upon us, by requiring us to put in our answer upon oath ; which they knew before we could not do for conscience sake ; and as we could not pay any tithe, nor swear, so neither should we pay any of their charges. pg. 242

31. Important

 I wrote also concerning meditation, delight, exercise, and study ; showing from the scriptures of truth what true christians ought to meditate upon, exercise their minds and take delight in, and what they should study to do. For in these things not profane and loose people only, but even great professors of religion, are very much mistaken ; taking delight in earthly, fading, perishing things; whereas they ought to meditate on heavenly things, delight in the law of God after the inward man, and exercise themselves to have always a ' conscience void of offence towards God and towards men,' as the apostle Paul did. pg. 250

32. … that many Friends there were under great sufferings for the testimony of a good conscience. pg. 255

33. Some of the Friends bid the constable ' take heed what he swore, lest he were perjured ; for he took them in the entry, and not in the meeting.' Yet the constable, being an ill man, swore ' that they were in the meeting.' However, the justice said, 'seeing there was but one witness, he would discharge the rest ; but he would send me to Newgate, and I might preach there.' I asked him, ' if it stood with his conscience to send me to Newgate for praising God, and for confessing Christ Jesus V He cried, ' conscience ! conscience !' but I felt my words touched his conscience. He bid the constable ' take me away, and he would make a mittimus to send me to prison when he had dined.' I told him, ' I desired his peace, and the good of his family ; and that they might be kept in the fear of the Lord,' So I passed away, and as I went the constable took some Friends' word that I should come to his house the next morning by the eighth hour. pg. 268

34. they were not willing to persecute others for conscience sake, who had looked upon persecution on that account in their own case as antichristian," &c. pg. 277

35. I assisted the Friends of the city in distributing certain sums of money, which our Friends of Ireland had charitably and very liberally raised, and sent over hither for the relief of their brethren who suffered for the testimony of a good conscience ; which monies were distributed amongst poor suffering Friends in the several counties in proportion, according as we understood their need. pg. 290

36. For we have this charity, that wc hope and believe the king of Poland and his people, with the magistrates of Dantzick, own the writings of the New Testament as well as of the Old ; therefore we beseech the king and the magistrates of Dantzick, to take heed that their work of imprisoning an innocent people, for nothing but their meeting together in tenderness of conscience to serve and worship God, their Creator, may not be contrary and opposite to the royal law of God, and to the glorious and everlasting gospel of truth. pg 292

37. Soon after, the king was pleased, upon our often laying our sufferings before him, ' to give order for the releasing all that were imprisoned for conscience sake ; which were in his power to discharge.' pg. 299

38. Important

Let none abuse the power of the Lord, nor grieve his spirit, by which you are sealed and kept to the day of salvation and redemption ; but always exercise yourselves to have a " good conscience void of offence towards God and towards all men ;" being exercised in holiness, god liness, and righteousness, in the truth, and in the love of it. All study to be approved unto God in innocency, virtue, simplicity, and faithful ness, labouring and studying to be quiet in the will of God. pg. 300

39. Labour to exercise a good conscience towards God, in obedience to him in what he requires, and in doing to all men the thing that is just and honest ; in your conversations and words giving no offence to Jew or Gentile, nor to the church of God. pg. 319

40. John saith Christ was the true light, " which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." John i. 9. And that " as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, ver. 12, which were born not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God." ver. 13. The reason why people do not become the sons of God, is because they do not receive Christ. The Jews, ( he great professors, who had the promises, prophecies, figures, and shadows of him, would not receive bim when he came. And now the priests and high professors of Christ are so far from receiving the light of Christ, and believing in it, that they hate the light and scoff at it, calling it a natural conscience, and some, " Jack in the lanthorn." Such are not like to become the sons of God, nor to see the glorious kingdom of Christ, which stands in righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy ghost. For the light that shines in the heart gives the " light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus." They that do not receive Christ Jesus, but hate his light (which is the life in him) and yet profess him in words, neither know the children of the light, nor true fellowship in the light … pg 326

41. For I have had a concern upon me, in a sense of the danger of young people's going into the fashions of the world, and old people's going into the earth, and many going into a loose and false liberty, till at last they go quite out into the spirit of the world as some have done. The house of such hath been built upon the sand on the sea shore, not upon Christ the rock ; that are so soon in the world again, under a pretence of liberty of conscience. But it is not a pure conscience, nor in the spirit of God, nor in Christ Jesus ; for in the lib erty in the spirit there is the unity, which is the bond of peace ; and all are one in Christ Jesus, in whom is the true liberty : and this is not of the world, for he is not of the world. pg. 352

42. Many have suffered death for their testimony, in England and beyond the seas, both before and since the king came in ; which may be seen in an account given to the king and both houses of parliament ; being a brief, plain, and true relation of the late and sad sufferings of the people of God in scorn called Quakers, for worshipping and exercising a good conscience towards God and man. pg. 368

43.  Important

… one that keeps this true fast, their health shall grow, and when they call, the Lord will hear them ; " he will be their guide continually, satisfy their souls in drought, make their bones fat, and they shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Now you, that keep not this true fast, when you call upon the Lord on your own fasting-days, does the Lord answer you, and say, " Here am I ?" Doth the Lord guide you continually ? Are your bones made fat by him, and your souls satisfied in drought ? Are you like a watered garden, and like a spring whose waters fail not ? You that keep not this true fast, do you not want these waters which fail not 1 so your souls are not satisfied in drought, but your bones are lean, and you hear not the voice of the Lord, who saith, " Here I am :" so you lose the he ritage of Jacob, and ride not upon the high places there ; but come under. Therefore, every man and woman, shut your hearts against all manner of evil whatsoever, and trade not with Babylon's merchants of confusion ; but keep the supernatural day of Christ, that is sprung from on high, that is kept by believing and walking in the light of Christ, and being grafted into him. This will bring you to the true fast, from feeding upon any evil, and to the true praying in the spirit, as Christ and the apostles have taught. The fruit of the spirit is love, &c. The birth of the spirit is not a persecuting birth ; but he that is born of the flesh will persecute him that is born of the spirit, because he will not follow the birth of the flesh, with its weak, beggarly elements, that entangles with its yoke of bondage, and its observing of days, months, times, fasts, feasts, and years ; which the birth of the spirit is to stand fast against in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made it free. ' Do you not know that the Turks keep their sabbath on the sixth day, the Jews upon the seventh day, and the Christians meet together on the first day of the week ? And that day which the Turks keep, the Jews' and Christians' shops are open; and that day the Jews keep, Christians' and Turks' shops are open ; and the first-days, that the Christians keep both Jews' and Turks' shops are open ? The Turk does not force the Jews nor the Christians to shut up their shops on their meeting- days, but lets them have their liberty in Turkey. And where do you read that ever the Turks forced any Christians to observe any of their holy days, fasts, or feasts ? if not, should not Christians be beyond the Turks in giving liberty to all tender consciences to serve God, seeing Christ and the apostles command not nor force people to observe holy days, or times, or months, or years, but should pray always in the spirit, and fast always from strife and debate, from all manner of sin and evil ; and that will keep down the fist of wickedness, and the bond of iniquity ? why should not people of a tender conscience have their liberty to exer cise their consciences towards God, that they may have a " good conscience always, towards God and man," to perform that which God re quires, and " to do unto all men as they would have them to do unto them, and to love their neighbours as themselves ;" seeing so many de bauched, evil and seared consciences, as with a hot iron, have liberty in their loose lives and conversations, and in their loose words, whose tongues are at liberty to swear and curse, and their spirits at liberty in drunken ness and uncleanness ? let the magistrates look and see how this evil seared conscience hath its liberty to be exercised in all manner of evil things all Christendom over : which is a great shame and dishonour to God, Christ, and christianity, yea, and humanity. Therefore why should not God's people have liberty to exercise their good and tender consciences towards God and man? the mystery of faith, which Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of, is held in a pure conscience ; and should not the work of the true christian magistrate be to encourage the exercise of this pure conscience towards God and man, and to discourage the exercise of this evil seared conscience that dishonours both God and Christ, and true christianity 1 if not, how are they a praise to them that do well, and a terror to evildoers? pg. 375, 376

44. So you have no command from Christ or his apostles to persecute, im prison, banish, or spoil the goods of any for matter of pure conscience and religion, worship, faith, and church in the gospel-times. pg. 379