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Ask Tom: Where Did The Phrase “That Of God In Everyone” Originate?

Where did the phrase “that of God in everyone” originate? What did early Friends mean by “answering that of God in everyone”?

“This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.”

So wrote George Fox in 1656 in what he called “an exhortation to Friends in the ministry.” What did he mean?

First, we need to define what George Fox and early Friends meant by “that of God in everyone.” The explanation that I find most convincing is that they meant Christ, the inward teacher. Fox’s contemporary, Richard Farnworth, one of the “valiant Sixty,” articulated this well: “Everyone, mind the Light of God in you, that shows you sin and evil . . . loving the light within, you love Christ . . . thy light within, obey it, it is your teacher, and will show you the way that leads to salvation.” The center of early Quaker preaching was to call hearers to examine themselves, to look inward.

There they would find the illumination that would make them aware of their sinful natures and need for a savior. And that experience could be terrifying, even though it was necessary. As Quaker historian Hugh Barbour writes, “To modern Friends it is startling to find the inward Light described in terms of such fierce judgment. The Light that ultimately gave joy, peace, and guidance gave at first only terror.” But from this terror came repentance and obedience to the Light that led to salvation. Thus “answering that of God in everyone” was a call to look inward and “mind the light,” which would bring happiness both to the believer and to God.