George Fox and Romans 7

During a lengthy discussion, Xxxxxxxxxx, asked me to look into what Fox had to say concerning Romans chapter 7. Did Fox consider this the normal Christian experience? Is it the portrayal of an unbeliever coming to Christ? I searched the eight volumes of The Works of Fox for “Rom. vi” or “Rom. 7” but turned up very few references. So I turned to searches for the concepts or phrases Fox used when he identified Romans 7 in his writing. Here is what I found.

Fox does not deal with Romans 7 exclusively but brings together concepts from chap. 6 (“newness of life”), chapter 7 (“oldness of the letter”), chapter 8 (“the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death”), chapter 10 (“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness’ sake.”), and many other parts of the Bible. Fox’s associations of scripture passages range the full gamut of the scriptures. See for example:

And as Moses in the old covenant sprinkled the people with the blood, the life of beasts; so Christ our high priest sprinkles the hearts and consciences of his people in the new covenant with his blood, his life, from their dead works, that they may serve the living God in newness of life:’ and as the blood of the old covenant was the life of the beasts, so the blood of the everlasting covenant is the life of Christ the Lamb, ordained before the foundation of the world, who is the great shepherd of his sheep, through the blood of his everlasting covenant he makes his saints perfect in every good work to do his will, working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight.’ (Works, Vol. V, pp.362-363)

Here we have the Pentateuch, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hebrews, and Romans all rolled together to form the picture of the distinction between the newness of life and the oldness of the letter. Fox used this distinction over and over, portraying the contrast between those who live by the law of life in Christ Jesus and those who live by some other law. In Vol. 7 of his Works, Fox stated:

For ye may see, how far many may go, and did go, and were led out of many things; yet did turn again into the world. So mind your present guide, and your present condition, and your call, what ye are called from, and what ye are called to; for whom the Lord hath called and chosen, are the Lord’s freemen. And so, abide every one in your calling with God, where God hath called you, and there walk in newness of life, and not in the oldness of the letter; for he that turneth from him that calleth, walks not in the life of God. Therefore, all Friends, walk in the truth and in the love of it up to God; and every one in particular mind your guide, that ye may grow up in wisdom, and improve your own talents, and the gift which God hath given you. And take heed of words without life, for they tend to draw you out of the power to live above the truth, and out of your conditions; which nature will not have peace, except it have words. But every particular submit to that which is of God in you, to guide you to God. (pp.88-89)

Paul contrasted life under the law (portrayed in Romans 7) with life under Christ who is the end of the law for Righteousness sake (Romans 8 and 10). His rhetorical question and answer, which many quote as proof that man can’t live righteously before God, that sin will be taken care of finally at some future time, is:

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:24-25)

But for Fox, Romans 7 is not the end of the story. Like Edward Burrough, Fox could say, “But of that birth are we which hath no crown, no glory, nor rest under the sun: a birth is brought forth amongst us which is heir of another kingdom, and possessor of another crown, whose glorying is in the Lord all the day long; and he is our refuge, our rock, and our fortress against all our enemies.” (Vol. III, p. 6) In epistle CIV, Fox exhorts Friends to dwell in the power of God and to know (that is, to experience) the power of God to keep you. In epistle CV, he spells out how this is to be done.

CV.—Concerning the Light. (To be read amongst Friends.) All Friends every where, keep your meetings waiting in the light which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ; so will ye receive power from him, and have the refreshing springs of life opened to your souls, and be kept sensible of the tender mercies of the Lord. And know one another in the life, (ye that be turned to the light,) and in the power, which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is your light, who is your life; that ye may all in the life see Christ to reign in you, who is the truth, from whence ye have light. Here the old serpent is chained, and put into the bottomless pit, and Christ is known to reign, and ye to reign with him; heirs with him, joint-heirs, and heirs of God. Here is the dominion received and witnessed of the world that is without end, and the promise of life from the Father of life to you, who are turned to the son, who to the Father is the way, who is the mediator between the Father and you. All wait to receive the everlasting priest, the everlasting covenant of God, of light, life, and peace; into which covenant no sin, no darkness, nor death comes, but the blessing of the only wise God, the Father of life, here is known, where no earthly man can approach. But he that is of God knows God’s truth; and he that is of the devil, doth his lusts, who was a murderer from the beginning, in whom is no truth, who in it abode not. So he it is that speaks a lie, and speaks of himself, and not God’s word; for he is out of the truth. But ye that are turned to the light walk in the light, walk in the truth, where no darkness is; with which light, that never changeth, ye may come to see that which was in the beginning, before the world was, where there is no shadow nor darkness. In which light as ye wait, ye will come to receive into your hearts the word of faith, which reconciles to God, and is as a hammer, to beat down all that is contrary; and as a sword, to divide the precious from the vile; and as a fire, to burn up that which is contrary to the precious: which word is pure, and endureth for ever; which was in the beginning, and is now again witnessed and made manifest. Therefore wait in the light, that ye may all receive it, the same word that ever was, which the scriptures were given forth from.

Thus, with Fox’s admonition, we do not find ourselves in a state of impotency having to wait for some future time when Christ will take away sin. Neither are we consigned to struggle and failure until some further work of grace descends upon us. Fox wrote in Vol. III:

Every man that cometh into the world, though they be in the first Adam, have a light from Christ the second Adam, the bishop of their souls. So every one being turned to the light which Christ the second Adam hath enlightened them withal, they shall see the bishop of their souls, Christ the power of God, which is immortal, and brings the immortal soul into the immortal God. Christ is their sanctification, who sanctifies their spirits, and bodies, and brings the soul up into God, from whom it came, whereby they come to be one soul. For in the lusts of the world, and the affections of it, is the war against it, and there are the powers of wickedness. The soul must be in the higher power, higher than the flesh, which stains the man, spirit and body, and the powers of wickedness. So the light being turned to, man receiveth the spirit of God, which sanctifies him, the spirit of sanctification in Christ Jesus the sanctification and redemption. So every man that cometh into the world has a light from Christ Jesus, the way out of the fall, the second Adam, and receiving the light he receives his redemption and sanctification, whereby his spirit, body, and soul are sanctified. (p.168)

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About Ellis Hein

I am a woodturner and the author of The Woodturner's Project Book. I have a life-long interest in the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. You can see some of my material on that subject at http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blog/list?user=1zw2th7nj9p89.
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