Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
A Man of a Tender Conscience
By George Fox (16241691)
From the Journal
I WAS brought before judge Twisden on the 14th day of the month called March, in the latter end of the year 1663. When I was set up to the bar, I said, Peace be amongst you all. The judge looked upon me, and said, What, do you come into the court with your hat on! Upon which words the jailor taking it off, I said, The hat is not the honour that comes from God. Then said the judge to me, Will you take the oath of allegiance, George Fox? I said, I never took any oath in my life, nor any covenant or engagement. Well, said he, will you swear or no? I answered, I am a Christian, and Christ commands me not to swear, and so does the apostle James likewise; and whether I should obey God or man, do thou judge. I ask you again, said he, whether you will swear or no? I answered again, I am neither Turk, Jew, nor heathen, but a Christian, and should shew forth Christianity. And I asked him, if he did not know that Christians in the primitive times under the ten persecutions, and some also of the martyrs in queen Marys days refused swearing, because Christ and the apostle had forbidden it. I told him also, they had had experience enough, how many men had first sworn for the king and then against the king; but as for me, I had never taken an oath in all my life; and my allegiance did not lie in swearing, but in truth and faithfulness, for I honour all men, much more the king. But Christ, who is the great prophet, who is the King of kings, who is the Saviour of the world, and the great judge of the whole world, he saith I must not swear; now, whether must I obey, Christ or thee? For it is in tenderness of conscience, and in obedience to the commands of Christ, that I do not swear; and we have the word of a king for tender consciences. Then I asked the judge if he did own the king. Yes, said he, I do own the king. Why then, said I, dost thou not observe his declaration from Breda, and his promises made since he came into England, that no man should be called in question for matters of religion, so long as they lived peaceably. Now if thou ownest the king, said I, why dost thou call me into question, and put me upon taking an oath, which is a matter of religion, seeing thou nor none else can charge me with unpeaceable living. Then he was moved, and looking angrily at me, said, Sirrah, will you swear. I told him, I was none of his sirrahs, I was a Christian; and for him, that was an old man and a judge, to sit there and give nick-names to prisoners, it did not become either his gray hairs or his office. Well, said he, I am a Christian too. Then do Christians works, said I. Sirrah, said he, thou thinkest to frighten me with thy words. Then catching himself and looking aside, he said, Hark! I am using the word (sirrah) again, and so checked himself. I said, I spake to thee in love, for that language did not become thee, a judge; thou oughtest to instruct a prisoner in the law, if he were ignorant and out of the way. And I speak in love to thee too, said he. But, said I, love gives no nick-names. Then he roused himself up and said, I will not be afraid of thee, George Fox; thou speakest so loud thy voice drowns mine and the courts, I must call for three or four criers to drown thy voice; thou hast good lungs. I am a prisoner here, said I, for the Lord Jesus Christs sake; for his sake do I suffer, and for him do I stand this day; and if my voice were five times louder yet I should lift it up, and sound it out for Christs sake, for whose cause I stand this day before your judgment seat, in obedience to Christ, who commands not to swear, before whose judgment seat you must all be brought, and must give an account. Well, said the judge, George Fox, say whether thou wilt take the oath, yea or nay? I replied, I say as I said before, whether ought I to obey God or man, judge thou? If I could take any oath at all, I should take this; for I do not deny some oaths only, or on some occasion, but all oaths, according to Christs doctrine, who hath commanded his not to swear at all. Now if thou or any of you, or any of your ministers or priests here, will prove that ever Christ or his apostles after they had forbidden all swearing, commanded Christians to swear, then I will swear. I saw several priests there, but never an one of them offered to speak. Then said the judge, I am a servant of 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 Christs command I cannot swear. Then you will not swear, said the judge; take him away, jailor. I said, It is for Christs sake that I cannot swear, and for obedience to his command I suffer, and so the Lord forgive you all. So the jailor took me away; but I felt the mighty power of the Lord was over them all.