When the Earth Shook: Christ Is as Close as He Ever Was

Jacques GĂ©rard Milbert (Artist); Charles Etienne Pierre Motte (Lithographer); View of Flushing (Long Island), North America, oak-trees, under which George Fox, Quaker, preached the truths of the Gospel; 1825. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Early in George Fox’s ministry, the Lord moved him to travel to Mansfield, where he had lived, worked, and experienced several revelations. There, a group of professing Christians from various sects and denominations were meeting in a house, arguing about what Fox called their “windy notions.” He was still in his early 20s, having recognized and been changed by the presence and sufficiency of the Living Christ only a year before.

When Fox arrived at the house, he was moved to pray: not by reading the words of others, but in the power of the Spirit as it gave words and the strength to speak them. As he prayed aloud, his Journal records, “the Lord’s power was so great that the house seemed to be shaken.” Indeed, it was often said of early Quaker preachers that the earth shook for miles around when they ministered, so great was their reliance on the presence and power of God. When Fox finished praying that day in Mansfield, some of those in the house turned to each other and wondered in amazement whether the days of the apostles had come again.

At the time, it was widely believed that the days of the disciples and apostles were over. Long ago, people had walked and ate with Christ, had known his presence in their midst, had received his teaching in their hearts. But this was history. We could read these stories in the Scriptures and discover there what God had said to the disciples and the Hebrew prophets, but God no longer spoke directly to his people as he had long ago. Before we had prophets, now, interpreters.

Fox and the early Friends rejected this idea that an impassable wall separated them from the days of the apostles, just as the apostles rejected the idea that a partition separated them from the days when God spoke to the prophets before them. The early Friends discovered, as they waited together on hillsides and in each other’s homes, that Jesus, our inward Teacher, is as close as he ever was to the disciples and apostles—that he can still teach, help, empower, and lead us, and that his presence in these ways is, as Fox so wonderfully puts it, the one thing that is “sufficient in the deeps and in weakness.”

We sometimes speak as if the days of the early Friends are long gone. In some ways, their time was very different from our own. It is a blessing that we do not feel the need to become a seventeenth-century reenactment society, that we can hold our history lightly. In doing that, however, we must be careful not to persuade ourselves that a great wall divides us from the days when Fox prayed, the earth shook, and God was near at hand. Let’s hold our history lightly because we know—experimentally—that Christ is as close as he ever was. Just as Fox did, just as the apostles did, we can know Christ for ourselves as our Friend and Guide; we can be anchored on this everlasting foundation; and we may then be gathered and transformed, again and afresh, in our day.

Matt Rosen

Matt Rosen is a convinced Friend and member of Britain Yearly Meeting. He worships with young adult Friends in Oxford and travels in the gospel ministry throughout the United Kingdom. He was the Henry J. Cadbury Scholar at Pendle Hill study center in Wallingford, Pa., in 2023.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.