William Penn and the Quaker Movement
William Penn was born in London on October 14, 1644, to a prosperous English family. Even from his grammar school days, young Willy took a great interest in religion, but couldn't find anything that suited him. From grammar school, he went to Oxford University, entering Christ Church College at the age of 15. While at Oxford, William went to hear Thomas Lowe, a Quaker, who had been preaching about the Society of Friends, a new church with new ideas.
This had a dramatic impact on William Penn, who took great interest in the new ideas that the Society of Friends brought to the table. However, William was still a nonconformist, and he resented the strict discipline that was inflicted upon him at Oxford. Eventually, he was expelled for "ejecting the surplice and rioting in the quadrangle." Whatever “surplice” means, William's father was furious at him, and sent him off to France in the hope of refining him. Well apparently it worked, and William ended up in Ireland at his family estate. While there, he once again met Thomas Lowe.
It was during one of Lowe’s sermons that a passage from scripture really spoke to William Penn. "There is a faith which overcomes the world, and there is a faith which is overcome by the world." This is what William had been waiting for, a faith in God that is immutable and concrete. It is said that William Penn officially became a Quaker at that moment.
Soon, William Penn was active in the Quaker movement and befriended the founder of the church, George Fox. William even went as far as springing George from jail several times. Some say the term “Quaker” was actually developed because of one of Fox's arrests. When he was in court defending against a blasphemy charge, he said, “Everyone should tremble and quake at the Word of God." So the term, Quaker, was coined. Originally it was used as an insult, but the Quakers adopted the term in a “we don't really care what you think” kind of way.
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