You may have missed the event when George Fox out did Robin Hood. He converted the Sheriff of Nottingham! The first thing the sheriff did was to confess and make restitution to a woman he had cheated. Then he went into the market place to preach repentance to people. Fox’s letters emphasize purity of life and called people ‘out of the world’s evil ways, words, worships, customs and fashions’. Here is the ethical aspect of the Gospel. God’s power, felt in one’s life enables us to change, to throw off the bondage of contemporary culture and live lives pleasing to God.
I found myself working this week in the Book Romans. That material is two thousand years old. We no longer take a three story universe seriously. The early Quaker material that I was reading is nearly 400 years old. Some of my preparation required reading some of Rufus Jones’ work. He did his best work between the two world wars and with the generation most effected by Darwin and continental Biblical Criticism which tore Denominations apart in this country. We really can’t understand what these writers were attempting to impart to us when we read what they wrote through twenty first century lenses.
The Apostle Paul began his letter to the church Rome introducing himself. He begins :Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve got to tell you that our contemporary translations have been badly watered down. For instance in this passage Paul identifies himself as a “slave”, not “servant.” Those who have a real feel for the times in which Paul wrote understand that Paul sees himself completely at the discretion of his master. In our time it’s easier to understand servant – the concept of slave is beyond us to imagine. He is his master’s envoy. Where Paul says that he is ‘set apart’ the Greek reads “separated”, actually it’s even more severe than that. The better translation is “severed” into the Gospel of God. Remember that the Greek word for the church is ‘ecclesia’ – the called out ones. You might wonder, called out from what? called out for what?
In the sixteenth verse of the first chapter Paul wrote: For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God… for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Ever thought about that phrase before? It is from this passage that George Fox based his ministry. He wrote: The Gospel it is the Power of God to Salvation, for he that believes receives the Power, receives the Gospel, by which Life and Immortality is come to Light, And the Power of God expels away that which Darkens Life, and Immortality from People; and Captivates their Souls, Spirits and Minds, & keeps them in bondage, which Power of God expels that away, and sets them at Liberty, and gives them Dominion over that which burthened them, and to feel and see before that was, which Darkens Life and Immortality from them; And through this Power of God, Life and Immortality shines over that, in which the Saints Fellowship, the Church Fellowship, wherein they come to be Heirs of the Power of God, Heirs of the Gospel, Heirs of the Fellowship, Church Members, Members one of another in the Power of God (the Gospel) that was before the Power of Darkness was.
The Gospel is the power of God. The Gospel isn’t a message about the power of God. You see, our confusion comes from thinking that we know what a gospel is. It is a message of good news. But that isn’t Fox’s meaning. When Fox says, with Paul, the “gospel of God is the power of God” they are not describing what most of us what call ‘a gospel’. When Fox was asked ‘what is the gospel’ here was his answer. “The priest told me Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the Gospel. I told him the Gospel was the power of God.” In Fox’s 8 volume set of his works Fox uses the word ‘gospel’ about 1800 times and 429 of those times he explicitly equates the Gospel with the power of God. Never does he uses the phrase ‘gospel message’ and never says that a proposition or a message is the power of God or that preaching a particular message will release into the world God’s power.
When Fox does speak of preaching the Gospel you might think this gospel was a message. But it becomes quickly clear that there is no proposition to be proved or debated. What is the power of God? Fox answers “Friends … know the power in one another and in that rejoice: for then you rejoice in the Cross of Christ…which Cross is the power of God to all them that are saved. So you know the power and feel the power, you feel the cross of Christ, you feel the gospel, which is the power of God unto Salvation to everyone that believeth.” So instead of a proposition it is a power which can be felt in one’s self and in others; it works to save believers; it is one with the cross of Christ. It’s work is liberation. He wrote the Power of God expels away that which Darkens Life, and Immortality from People; and Captivates their Souls, Spirits and Minds, & keeps them in bondage, which Power of God expels that away, and sets them at Liberty…” Now that sounds like good news to me.
Let me try this one more way. For Fox, the gospel is not a verbal thing. He wrote: For the Jews that heard not, and saw not within, stood against the gospel: and Christ said , ‘their ears were stopped and their eyes were closed;’ and so they heard words but the gospel, the power of God, they could not hear, … so none hear but they that hear within….”
Robert Barclay, the scholarly contemporary of George Fox quotes the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16 in his attempt to contrast the Quaker understanding of the gospel with the conventional one. He wrote: For the gospel is not a mere declaration of good things, being “the power of God unto salvation to all those that believe” (Rom 1:16). Though the outward declaration of the gospel be taken sometimes for the gospel; yet it is but figuratively, and metonymy. For to speak properly the gospel is the inward Power and Life which preacheth glad tidings in the hearts of all men, offering salvation unto them and seeking to redeem them from their iniquities, and therefore it is said to be preached in ‘every creature under heaven” …
Fox’s hearers knew that they were being called, not merely to preach a message, but to change their way of life, and that was immediately.
You may have missed the event when Fox out did Robin Hood. He converted the Sheriff of Nottingham. The first thing the sheriff did was to confess and make restitution to a woman he had cheated. Then he went into the market place to preach repentance to people. Fox’s letters emphasize purity of life and called people ‘out of the world’s evil ways, words, worships, customs and fashions. Here is the ethical aspect of the Gospel. God’s power, felt in one’s life enables us to change, to throw off the bondage of contemporary culture and live lives pleasing to God.
As Friends went out they were not content to make this proclamation in a passive manner. They believed that they were to make this proclamation in a way that challenged the existing order and called all men and women to come out of it. Fox wrote:
All husbandmen, and dealers about husbandry whatsoever, cattle, or ground, to you all this is the word of the Lord God: do rightly, holily, justly, honestly, plainly, and truly to all men and people, whomsoever ye have to deal withal; wrong not any in any case, though it be never so much to your advantage. Deny yourselves, and live in the cross [Luke 9:23] of Christ, the power of God [1 Cor 1:24], for that destroys injustice; and ‘without holiness none can ever see the Lord [Heb 12:14]; and out of righteousness there is no true peace.’ Therefore all, of what sort soever, or what calling soever, do justly, (whether ye be masters or servants, fathers or mothers, sons or daughters,) to one another, and to all, do that which is just and righteous, uprightly and holily; in that you will have peace, and see God. . . . For ‘the kingdom of God stands in righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy ghost [Rom 14:17].