George Fox was the organizer, if not the founder, of Quakerism, officially known as The Society of Friends. He traveled throughout Britain and the Caribbean, taking his message to whomever would listen and organizing the bands of followers who left the day’s official churches to worship more simply. Fox’s Journal is very interesting, if for no other reason than that it gives you a picture of life in 17th century Britain, and what people believed. It’s fascinating to read the encounters and arguments he had with Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, and Anglicans.
For example, here is how Fox remembered a conversation he had with a prominent Roman Catholic man about salvation, sometime in 1668:
And I said unto him that seeing he was a great and leading man amongst the papists: and had been taught and bread up under the Pope: ‘And seeing thou says there is not salvation but in your church, I have two questions to ask thee.
‘The first is, what is it that does bring salvation in your church?’ He answered, ‘A good life.’
‘And nothing else?’ said I: ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘good works’: ‘And is this it that brings salvation in your church?: a good life and good works, is this your doctrine and principle?
‘Yes,’ said he. Then I, ‘Neither the papists, Pope nor thee does know what it is that brings salvation.’” (Fox, Journal, p. 389).
So, as Fox remembered it, this Roman Catholic man very clearly believed in salvation by good works. That is what he was taught in the Roman Catholic Church in 1668.
After hearing this answer, Fox flatly told the man he “does not know what it is that brings salvation.” So what is the right answer, according to Fox?
Then he asked me what brought salvation in our church: I told him the same that brought salvation to the church in the Apostles’ days, the same brought salvation to us: and not another: which is the grace of God which brings salvation which hath appeared unto all men: which taught the saints and teaches us: then and now: and this grace is it which brings salvation which teaches to live godlily, righteously and soberly and to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.
So this grace which teaches to deny the bad work and the bad life: and to live the good life and to do the good work: this grace is it which brings the salvation.
So it is not the good work nor the good life that brings it but the grace (Fox, Journal, p. 389).
Instead of appealing to a good life or to good works as the ground of salvation, Fox appealed to grace.
Fox had memorized the King James Bible. I don’t think he understood it all, but he could recite it all from memory. And his answer to the Roman Catholic man comes from a passage in Titus:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12).
First, grace brings you salvation. Then grace teaches you to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.
Grace then godliness.
I think that is a good initial answer to help someone who is thinking in terms of works salvation. Yes, living a good life is important, but why? Is it to be saved at all? No. Grace brings salvation, then discipleship happens.
That is a good initial answer, but there is a glaring omission in what Fox said to this Roman Catholic man. Fox does not explain how grace brings salvation. Salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ, apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). To be saved, you must believe in Jesus for your salvation.
I’m not sure what Fox believed about belief, so I am not claiming him for our side. However, if there are any Quakers or Roman Catholics who come across this blog, like Fox, I want to make sure you know that grace comes before godliness. But you must enjoy that grace by believing in Jesus. That’s the key to both salvation and to godliness.