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In 1648, after a whole generation of mortal combat, Catholicism and Protestantism stood face to face, bleeding and breathless, yet mutually defiant and irreconcileable. Germany was half-depopulated. Once flourishing cities were ruined, and fertile districts had fallen back to forest. All Europe had taken part in the conflict, and the nations were drained of life-blood and treasure. Slowly and sullenly kings and priests recognised the exhaustion of their resources, and terminated by the peace of Westphalia the Thirty Years War. The attempt to restore the Unity of the Church by the sword had failed. Luther and Leo X. had rent the Church in twain, and the schism was irreparable. The two sections into which western Christianity was then split have diverged farther with the years, and to-day they eye each other across a great gulf; neither party seriously essaying the conversion of the other; each regarding the evangelization of Asia and Africa as an easier enterprise, more likely to
be rewarded by speedy success, than any effort to reunite Christendom.
In England, in the year 1648, Puritanism was triumphant. King Charles was a prisoner, for whom the axe was sharpening, to fall in the coming January. Episcopacy was suppressed. Romanism, hated and feared as Antichrist embodied, was too weak in Britain to cause serious alarm. On our island soil, Protestantism stood, a strong man armed, who had bound his foe and taken possession of his goods. Flushed with victory, confident that the Lord of Hosts was on his side, the strong man may even have dreamt for a moment of crossing the waves, and renewing the war against Rome. Just at this time, in this puritan England, a new Reformer appeared, who challenged Protestantism in its strongbold, denounced the reformed churches as unsparingly as they denounced the Papacy, and proclaimed through the length and breadth of the land, the return to the world of that primitive and spiritual Christianity, the temporary disappearance of which from the earth was pre-figured, he said, in apocalyptic vision, by the flight of the Woman arrayed with the sun, and with the mcon under her feet, who, after the birth of the Man-child, was compelled to flee from the dragon, and to hide in the wilderness, until the appointed time.
This precursor of the new Reformation, by name George Fox, was born in 1625, and was twenty-three years old when the Westphalian peace was signed. Well-nigh forgotten now, except by the small sect which traces its origin to him, readers of this generation catch a glimpse of him, though the spectacles of one who was in some respects a kindred spirit, Thomas Carlyle.
Perhaps the most remarkable incident in modern history," Carlyle makes his Teufelsdröckh say, “is not the Diet of Worms, still less the battle of Austerlitz, Waterloo, Peterloo, or any other battle ; but George Fox's making to himself a suit of leather. This man, the first of the Quakers, and by trade a shoemaker, was one of those to whom, under ruder or purer form, the Divine idea of the Universe is pleased to manifest itself, and across all the hulls of Ignorance and earthly degradation, shine through in unspeakable Awfulness, unspeakable Beauty, in their souls; who therefore are rightly accounted Prophets, God-possessed, or even Gods, as in some periods it has chanced.”
Whatever the exact meaning of this language, it shows that the great moral teacher of the nineteenth century, to whom also something of a prophetic character has been attributed, held the Quaker prophet in sincerest reverence, and in sense believed in his mission. The “suit of leather” is not quite historical. In his journal Fox wrote that in many places the priests, that is the clergy, were so afraid of him, that they would get out of the way when they heard that, “the man in leathern breeches is come.”1 Nor was he altogether a shoemaker. He tells us himself: “I was put to a that
shoemaker by trade, and that dealt in wool, and used grazing, and sold cattle; and a great deal went through my hands.” 2 William Penn says: “As to his employment, he was brought up in country business, and as he took most delight in sheep, so he was very skilful in them, an em1 Journal Edition 1827. Vol I. page 146.
2 Ibid. page 76.