Margaret Fell never intended to be the mother of a movement.
But that was before George Fox came to town.
Born in 1614 in Lancashire, Margaret Askew married Thomas Fell, a lawyer, member of parliament and vice-chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. During their marriage, the two sought ways to serve the Lord, and part of that included allowing traveling ministers to stay with them.
While Thomas was away on business in 1652, George Fox made his first visit to Swarthmoor. George asked the question, “Art thou a child of Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?”
Margaret and her family responded, with Margaret later saying, “this opened me so, that it cut me to the heart, and then I saw clearly we were all wrong.”
Neighbors were shocked at the turn of events and sent word to Thomas to warn him of the change in his household. He never became a Quaker himself, but he allowed his home to be used as a meeting place and refuge for them.
Thomas died in 1658, and Margaret inherited Swarthmoor. Without his protection, the estate became the target of the authorities who arrested George there in 1659. For 15 months, Margaret argued from his release, keeping her away from her family, but giving her occasion to write many letters that have been preserved.
George was released, but Margaret herself was arrested in 1664 for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the king. She was sentenced to life in prison and her property was turned over to her son.
During her time in prison, Margaret wrote many pamphlets, including her best-known work, Women’s Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ’s Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father. The work was a defense of her right to speak in the church.
Margaret was released in 1668, and married George a year later. It wasn’t long, though, until Margaret was again arrested. This time for allowing Quakers to meet in her home.
Separation became commonplace for the couple.
When she was released, George left for America. He was arrested immediately upon his return in 1673, and Margaret once again went before the king to ask for his release.
After being released, George then went to Holland in 1677. When he returned to England in 1679, he remained in London where he continued his ministry until his death in 1691.
When King James II came to the throne in 1686, life for the Quakers improved. An act of tolerance was signed and a meeting house was built at Swarthmoor.
Margaret’s final words when she died in 1702 were, “I am in peace.”
When Margaret committed her life to the Lord, and by extension the Quaker movement, did she understand what she would sacrifice for the cause? The politics of the times may have given her some indication of what might happen, but did she know she would be imprisoned multiple times and endure long separations from her husband?
Her final words, I believe, give us a clue of how difficult it was for her.
We don’t face the same challenges Margaret did, but we do face obstacles when we prioritize a life with Christ over the demands of the world. We do so knowing, as James says:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
I can’t give you tips. I can’t give you advice. I can’t tell you how to endure your trials and gain perseverance.
What I can tell you is that Christ will lead you through.
Think about the ways he has guided you in the past. Praise him for his faithfulness, and remember that he is always with you.
This is the 17th post in my Write 31 Days series for 2017 in which I am taking a devotional look at key women in Christian history. For more information, or to start the series from the beginning, visit the introductory post.