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I went down a rabbit fox hole reading the original sermons of the founder of the Quakers (pun intended). I was not that familiar with George Fox and I found it very illuminating to read his works directly.

He certainly had a lot to say about the "inner light". At first I just thought he was meaning the illumination of scripture by the Holy Spirit whereby our faith is lit and kindled. However as I kept reading different parts of his works he simply would not stop talking about this "inner light" and in fact barely talked about anything else. In the end, I grew to dislike the phrase. He also seemed quite envious of leaders in the other churches. But that’s just my initial impression.

I began to realize it is not the illumination of scripture but something else that actually put his mind in anger against the written word in some strange way that is hard to pin down. The difficulty is that he correctly identified the difference between the inner life of a Christian as described in the scripture and the mere external form, but from there he amplified the difference into a much bigger issue and kept ranting about the "word" of scripture not being the Word (the Son), as though they can’t both be the Son in different senses.

It is very difficult sometimes to read in between the lines to fully unravel the threads and I don’t have the time and have already lost interest to work out a fuller understanding.

Does anyone actually know what George Fox meant by "inner light" and how it is different from the mainstream idea of the inspiration of the Holy Word and the illumination of the scripture by the Holy Spirit?

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  • Relevant: quaker.org/the-inner-light
    – Mark
    Commented May 19 at 3:09
  • Does this Wikipedia article answer your question or at least provides a clue? Commented May 19 at 3:11
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    @GratefulDisciple - sort of but not really, they talk around the ‘inner light’ without explicitly saying how it is any different from ordinary illumination of the Spirit through the written word. However it does seem they consider the inner light something ‘all humans have’, which would be different from the unique saving illumination of the Spirit to the few, so possibly inner light is a different concept from the biblical concept where we have a natural light of the law and a spiritual illumination of the gospel separated, They seems to mix these two lights into one and give them to all.
    – Mike
    Commented May 19 at 6:56
  • @GratefulDisciple - I can’t confirm but I suspect that they do not see this inner light as a direct ‘effect ‘of the spirit opening up the scriptures (gospel illumination - the true light of Christ) - but is something independent of the scriptures and just goes around, bouncing around, in some flow of wonderful magic, or something along this line. But they speak about it in such away that it might seem to be the light of the written word, and then not.
    – Mike
    Commented May 19 at 7:03
  • @NigelJ - Slight misunderstanding. I have not lost all interest, otherwise, I would not raise the question. I have lost interest only ‘to fully work out an answer for myself’ as it tales a lot of effort to accurately try and determine what the ‘inner light’ that he talks about is. I spent several hours reading his works directly and could still not determine what he means, even though it’s all he talks about. I am hoping someone in the world actually knows. Unless ones ‘knows’ they can’t presume confidently and conclusively in ‘anything’ good or bad about the man. It seems neither of us know
    – Mike
    Commented May 19 at 13:17

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It has to be remembered that George Fox grew up in a day of formal and dead religion , ruled over by an exalted clergy who were paid by enforced tithing upon the general populace. He discovered true religion alone in his own devotions and had none to teach him but his bible.

It is easy to criticise his personal, partially-formed, doctrine but who would care to find fault with his zeal, his devotion, his love for the Lord and his ardent preaching to lost sinners ?

Here, George Fox, himself, speaks of 'waiting in the light' and 'shunning the darkness' :

All Friends everywhere, keep you meetings waiting in the light which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ; so will ye receive power from him, and have the refreshing springs of life opened to your souls, and be kept sensible of the tender mercies of the Lord. And know one another in the life, (ye that be turned to the light,) and in the power, which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is you light, who is your life; that ye may all in the life see Christ to reign among you, who is the truth, from whence ye have light.

Here the old serpent is chained, and put into the bottomless pit, and Christ is known to reign, and ye to reign with him; heirs with him, joint heirs, and heirs of God. Here is the dominion received and witnessed of the word that is without end, and the promise of life from the Father of life to you, who are turned to the Son, who to the Father is the way, who is the mediator between the Father and you.

All wait to receive the everlasting priest, the everlasting covenant of God, of light, or life, and peace; into which covenant no sin, no darkness, nor death comes, but the blessing of the only wise God, the Father of life, here is known, where no earthly man can approach. But he that is of God knows God's truth; and he that is of the devil, doth his lusts, who was a murderer from the beginning, in whom is no truth, who in it abide not.

So he it is that speaks a lie, and speaks of himself, and not God's word; for he is out of the truth. But ye that are turned to the light walk in the light, walk in the truth, with which light, that never changeth, ye may come to see that which was in the beginning, before the world was, where there is no shadow or darkness. In which light as ye wait, ye will come to receive into your hearts the word of faith, which reconciles to God, and is as a hammer, to beat down all that is contrary; and as a sword, to divide the precious from the vile; and as a fire, to burn up that which is contrary to the precious: which word is pure, and endureth forever; which was in the beginning, and is now again witnessed and made manifest.

Therefore wait in the light, that ye may all receive it, the same word that ever was, which the scriptures were given forth from.

Sermon Index - George Fox 'Believers in the Heavenly Light 1669

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  • It sounds very beautiful if I understand ‘the light’ to be what we naturally assume it to be. If this is true my question would be closed and I hope you are right. However my question remains open to disturb me. I did just find this from an introduction to one of John Owen’s latin works (a contemporary of Fox) that makes me still wonder: ‘ Quakers affirm that the light of nature is from Christ, is enjoyed by all, and is sufficient for salvation, without the enlightenment of the Spirit or the teaching of Scripture.’ Was John Owen one of the cold hearted proponents of dead religion?
    – Mike
    Commented May 19 at 23:52

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