Camelford & Fox at Staveley-in-Cartmel

George Fox is something of hero of mine. Although much of modern Quakerism is a pale reflection of scriptural Christianity, its founders were driven by evangelical zeal. Gabriel Camelford, though lesser known, is also something of a hero. He was ejected from his living in 1662 for his puritanism and helped found Tottlebank Baptist, a church that still gathers. Yet these men were once at loggerheads. The two met when the former attended the latter’s parish church in 1652. Fox wrote in his Journal:

I went to one priest Camelford’s  chapel  at Staveley,  and  after  he  had  done  I began  to  speak  the  word of  life  to  them.  Camelford was in such a rage,  and  such a fret  and  so  peevish  that  he  had  not  patience  to  hear. All was on a fire, and  the  rude  multitude  struck  me, and  punched  me,  and  took  me  and  threw  me  headlong over  the  stone  wall  of  the  graveyard,  but,  blessed  be  the Lord,  his  power  preserved  me.  The kirk-warden was one John Knipe,  whom  the  Lord  after  cut  off,  who  threw  me down  headlong  over  the  wall.  And there was a youth in the chapel that  was  writing  after  the  priest;  and  I was  moved to speak to him  and  he  came  to  be  convinced  and  became a fine  minister  of  the  Gospel, whose name was  John Braithwaite.

As an ordained parson living off tithes, Fox dismisses him as a ‘priest’, a somewhat pejorative term among seventeenth-century Protestants, likening an opponent to a Roman Catholic cleric. He clearly thought little of his sermon, suggesting his own impromptu preaching contained words of life, in contrast. Evidently, the congregation preferred their own minister’s to Fox’s, a view they communicated with rather too much enthusiasm. He delights in the church warden’s demise though rejoices in one youngster present who became a Friend. If Fox had some ill words for Camelford, Camelford was able to return the compliment:

QUERIES sent by Gabriel Camelford, to the People who out of reproach and envy of the blinde and dark world are called Quakers.

Though Fox and Camelford disagreed on issues of church government, the relationship between church & state and even points of doctrine, they were soon hounded by the same state and persecuting laws. I suspect both are in heaven, saved by the same Saviour’s shed blood. Before the throne, there is no quarrel, dissention or acrimony. Would that fellow disciples might live in greater concord here on earth, anticipating heaven’s unity. This is no dewy-eyed call to ecumenical compromise on fundamental truth, but for real believers to recognise that differences of opinion may coexist within the Spirit’s bond.