CHAPTER 2 – Searching for the Truth
AMONG those who were baptized with Andrew Fuller, was one Mr. Joseph Diver, a middle-aged man of about forty years of age. He appears to have been a quiet, retiring man, fond of reading, and "not less devoted to universal practical godliness." He had, moreover, not only a great delight in reading the thoughts of others, but in comparing them with his own, and seeking for fresh light on old problems. With this man, Andrew Fuller formed an intimate friendship, which was interrupted only by death. It was just such a companionship as he needed. For what intercourse is more blessed than that of two souls knit together in seeking for more knowledge and light, and rejoicing in each new discovery? Andrew Fuller, at least, accounted it "one of the greatest blessings of his life." One can imagine these two friends slowly searching for the hidden pearls, the unusual gravity of the youth at seventeen not ill assorting with the habits of the staid recluse of forty. Notwithstanding their disparity of years, they loved each other "like David and Jonathan;" and concerning one summer of happy communion, Andrew Fuller quotes Dr. Watts’s lines –
"The day glides swiftly o’er their head,
Made up of innocence and love,
And soft and silent as the shade
Their nightly minutes gently move."
But what was there in the quiet life at Soham to stimulate the discussions of these two searchers? Their libraries were but scantily supplied with books; lectures were scarcely known at that time; nor did they come into contact with other minds likely to aid them in their inquiries or suggest new themes of thought. There were none of these things to help them; yet in that out-of-the-world place there were two things about which all the solemn problems gather, over which acting heads have bent, – sin, with its sad courses; Divine grace, with its heavenly visitations.
It happened in the autumn of 1770 that one of the members of the church was guilty of drinking to excess, and that this was first known to Andrew Fuller. Accordingly, in obedience to what he deemed the Divine will, he went and remonstrated with him on his sin. Whatever he might have learned from the pulpit on the inability of man, he was startled with the reception he encountered. The man declared "it was not his fault that he could not save himself from sin, and that, though his accuser bore so hard upon him, he was not his own keeper." "At this," says Andrew Fuller, "I was indignant, considering it as a base excuse. I therefore told him that he could keep himself from such sins as these, and that his way of talking was to excuse what was inexcusable." Acting thus on the practical instinct of the moment, he had righteously rebuked the man for charging God with his sin; but he went home burdened with a strange sorrow. A new problem had to be solved, which, though it cost him years of toil to master, even then began to exercise his mind; and, ere he reached his home, the sin of one man had widened into the mighty question of "the power of sinful man to do the will of God."
Is is surely worthy of note, that in this long and earnest course of inquiry he started from the "living subject" It was no mere love of metaphysical speculation, but the dread realities of sin and responsibility, that forced such themes upon his attention. Those who are familiar with his life and writings will call to mind how thoroughly this same spirit appears in them both. He ever brought truth to the living test, casting aside a priori schemes of reasoning as out of his ken, and judging of the life from the fruit.
In this sore perplexity he had recourse to three councillors, – his minister, Mr. Eve; his friend, Mr. Joseph Diver; and the writings of Dr. Gill. Added to this, but scarcely sought, was the discipline of the church in conclave upon the sin of the offender. The question, opening, as the reader will easily perceive, into a much wider one, was, whether the culprit had the power to have abstained from the guilty act; and, if so, where this power was to be found, and whether it was within his reach? His pastor highly commended him for the rebuke he had administered, and suggested the following solution of the perplexity: – "We certainly could," he said, "keep ourselves from open sins. We had no power to do things spiritually good; but, as to outward acts, we had the power both to obey the will of God and to disobey it."
Of Dr. Gill’s solution he shall give his own account: – "I met with a passage," he says, "in Dr. Gill’s ‘Cause of God and Truth,’ in which he distinguishes between a thing being in ‘the power of our hand, and in the power of our heart.’ This, thought I, is the clue to our dispute. Every man has it in the power of his own hand to do good, and to abstain from evil; and this it is which makes us accountable beings. We can do, or forbear to do, this and that, if we have a mind; but many have not a mind, and none would have such a mind but for the constraining grace of God. We have it in the power of our hands to do good: but we are disposed to do evil, and so to do good is not naturally in the power of our hearts."
It will be seen that this explanation was kindred in some particulars with that offered by Mr. Eve; both involving a suspicious distinction between things external and spiritual, which may catch the ear, but cannot satisfy the judgment. In the first case it had respect to the sort of act; and in the second, to the instrument and power by which it was performed.
Mr. Joseph Diver’s comments, though scarcely touching the metaphysics of the matter, were, as a practical direction, just what was wanted. "We ought," he says, " to hate evil and love the Lord; but it is the grace of God alone that can make us what we ought to be." He would often speak of the equity of the Divine requirements in the words of David: "I esteem all Thy precepts in all things to be right; and I hate every false way." And, again, "Thou hast commanded us that we should keep Thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes!" "Thus it is," said Mr. Diver, "that we should turn every precept into a prayer, instead of inferring from it a sufficiency in ourselves to conform to it. All our conformity to the Divine precepts is of grace: it will never do to argue from our obligations against our dependence, nor from our dependence on grace against our obligations to duty. If it were not for the restraining goodness and persevering love of God, we should be a kind of devil, and earth would resemble hell."
The majority of the church strongly censured their young member’s remonstrance, and even more severely their pastor’s defence of it. They excused the former, as being "a babe" in religion, but could not forgive the heresy of their teacher. He accordingly resigned, and left the church so divided into parties, that it was thought it would be dissolved.
In these disputes, Andrew Fuller at first took the same view as his pastor; but the more he considered the matter, the more unsatisfactory his explanation appeared, and the difficulties of the subject made him "more and more unhappy." "I perceived," he says, "that some kind of power was necessary to render us accountable beings. If we were like stocks and stones, or literally dead, like men in a burying-ground, we could with no more propriety than they be commanded to perform a duty; if we were mere machines, there could be no sin chargeable upon us. Yet, on the other hand, the Scriptures expressly affirm that ‘the way of a man is not in himself,’ and represent the godly as crying to heaven for preservation from evil, ascribing all the good that was in them ‘ to Him who worketh in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure.’ "
The question still remains unsettled; but he has found some help in the practical wisdom of his chosen friend. He has at least fixed the attitude of the tempted saint, – seeking help of God, while he has accepted his full accountability. It is indeed to be doubted whether he ever got any nearer the truth than this, after examining the elaborate subtleties of Jonathan Edwards. Though the range of his practical duties widened as he more clearly comprehended the genius of the Gospel, at present his thinkings were narrowed to the question of man’s accountability and power, in his conflict with sin, without touching what afterwards became his favourite theme – "the duty of sinners to believe in Jesus Christ." They proved a help, however, in leading him onwards.
"These pursuits," he tells us, "though they were the ‘gall and wormwood’ of my youth, yet were the occasion of my turning my thoughts to most of the subjects on which I have since written, and so were the occasion of my engaging in the Christian ministry."
The history of these inquiries must for a time be interrupted to narrate engagements which ended in his becoming "an able minister of Jesus Christ." Never did a life seem led on more naturally to its true work and mission. There were no startling changes, no freaks of fortune; but he was as one waiting patiently for a guidance which never failed him, and which responded to his desires with a precision which sets us wondering how far our way is hindered, and our trust in those unseen agencies which gird and guide us enfeebled, by our feverish haste and impatience.
Never was more distinctly set forth the difference between morbid speculation and an earnest pursuit of truth. The mere speculator loses relish for all practical work, leaves the sin and sorrow which surround him, untouched, because he cannot solve Divine equations or pierce fully the mysteries of faith and providence; courts the miseries of a shattered faith, or else, if his hold in first principles mercifully abides, amuses himself "in cracking the nuts, which spoil the children’s teeth," while the bread of heaven awaits the lips of the perishing, – like an emperor of notorious memory, scraping the well-worn strings while the city is burning.
"In reviewing some of these questions which occupied my attention," says Andrew Fuller, "at an early period, I have seen reason to bless God for preserving me at a time when my judgment was so immature. When I have seen the zeal which has been expended on maintaining some such peculiarities, I have thought it a pity. They have appeared to me as a sort of spiritual narcotics, which, when a man once gets a taste for them, he will prefer to the most wholesome food. A man who chews opium or tobacco may prefer it to the most wholesome food, and may derive from it pleasure and even vigour for a time; but his pale countenance and debilitated constitution will soon bear witness to the folly of spending his money for that which is not bread."
With Andrew Fuller, a doctrine was not a curiosity to be left to rust on the highway, but a weapon to be sharpened for battle; hence we must not be surprised that what little he knew soon found its way into practical discourse. The members who yet held together in the scattered church having no minister, met for singing and prayer, and the expounding of the Scriptures. Mr. Joseph Diver having the greatest reputation of the little band for "the gift of utterance," "took up part of every Lord’s day in public exercises."
How Andrew Fuller rejected a tempting offer to leave Soham and seek his own fortune in the world, and how he came to share the Sabbath exercises with Mr. Diver, maybe given in his own words.
"In November, 1771, as I was riding out on business, my mind fell into a train of interesting and affecting thoughts upon that passage of Scripture, ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ I never had felt such freedom of mind in thinking on a Divine subject before; nor do I recollect ever having had a thought of the ministry; but I then felt as if I could preach, in a manner, as I rode-along. I thought no more of it, however, but returned home when I had done my business. In the afternoon of the same day I went to meet my mother, who had been to London to see her mother, who was then very unwell. As we rode a few miles together, she told me she had been thinking much about me while in town, and added: ‘My dear, – you have often expressed your wish for a trade. I have talked with your uncle, at Kensington, about it, and he has procured a good place in the city, where, instead of paying a premium, you may in a little while, if you give satisfaction, receive wages and learn the business. I thought,’ continued she, ‘that as we have lost the Gospel, and perhaps shall never have it again, you could have no reason for wishing to continue here.’ That which my mother suggested was very true. I had always been inclined for trade; but how was it? – I cannot tell, – my heart revolted at the proposal at this time. It was not from any desire or thought of the ministry, nor anything else in particular, unless it were a feeling toward the little, scattered society of which I was a member; – a kind of lingering to see what would become of the city. I said but little to my mother, but wished for a time to consider it. This was Saturday evening.
"The next morning, as I was walking by myself to meeting, expecting to hear the brethren pray, and my friend Joseph Diver expound the Scriptures, I was met by one of the members, who said: ‘Brother Diver has, by accident, sprained his ankle and cannot be at meeting to-day, and he wishes me to say to you, that he hopes the Lord will be with you.’ The Lord be with me, I thought; what does Brother Diver mean? He cannot suppose that I can take his place, seeing I have never attempted anything of the kind, nor have been asked to do so. It then occurred, however, that I had had an interesting train of thought the day before, and had imagined at the time I could speak it, if called to it. But though I had repeatedly engaged in prayer publicly, yet I had never been requested to anything further, and therefore thought no more of it.
"We walked on to the meeting and took our places, when, after singing, one of the brethren went to prayer. After which the eldest deacon asked me if I would read some part of the Scriptures, and if I found liberty, drop any remarks as I went on which might occur. At first I was startled, but conscious of what had passed in my own mind the day before, I thought, as Brother Diver was absent, it might be my duty to try; and, therefore, making no objections, which, as it appeared to me, would have been mere affectation, I rose and spoke from Ps. xxx. 5, for about half an hour, with considerable freedom."
Shortly after this he was again invited by Mr. Diver to speak on the Lord’s day. But this time his "liberty of speech" forsook him, and he returned home sorely discouraged.
Consistently with the pausing habits of his life, he could not be persuaded to speak again for more than a year. Fortunately, however, his lay-brother was again absent through affliction, and he was induced to renew the attempt. He spoke from the words: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." On this occasion the question of his engaging in the ministry was settled once for all, for there "fell upon him," as Bunyan has it, "the blessing of him that was ready to perish." Several young persons of the congregation were so impressed by the earnestness of the preacher that they were constrained to cast in their lot with the little band. From that time forward the labours of the Sabbath day were divided between the two friends. In January, 1774, an elderly member of the church died, leaving a request, if the church did not think it disorderly, that Andrew Fuller should preach the funeral sermon. This dying wish seemed to lead the minds of the people to him, as one fitted to be their pastor.
A whole day previous to the funeral solemnities was set apart for fasting and prayer, after which they unanimously called him to the ministry, and from that time he "exercised from the pulpit."
His settlement as a pastor, with all its new responsibilities and duties, gave a new impulse to his inquiries. The question, "What is truth?" widened to his view as he became a teacher of the "oracles of God," and had the care of other souls in his keeping. In simple, manly language, he speaks of the new work before him: "Being now settled as a minister, I took a view of the doctrine I should preach, and spent pretty much of my time in making up my mind as to the various things relative to the Gospel. Impressed with the importance of the connexions I should probably form, both as a man and a minister, I earnestly besought the Lord to be my guide." Once more the old words were very helpful to him: "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." He thought of them not in vain, as "one would think of a friendly hint given in early life."
He turned his attention first of all to the great questions involved in the Calvinistic controversy. Hitherto they had only occupied his thoughts as they affected the power of a saint to keep himself from sin, but now he began to wonder whether the doctrine in which he had been trained, "that nothing was to be addressed to the unregenerate but exhortations to external obedience, was a correct one," and in some such way as this the subject reopened to his mind. Outward services might, according to his old teachers, be requested of all, such as attendance on the means of grace, and abstinence from gross evil might be enforced, but nothing was said to sinful men about Christ’s salvation, or fleeing from the wrath to come. Was not this distinction between external and internal actions most suspicious and untrustworthy? Was not one but the fruit of the other? Did not the will of God necessarily go beyond mere outward action, and extend to the inmost thoughts and intents of the heart? He had already recognised the utter blame-worthiness of the drinking professor’s sin, and his accountability to God for his transgression, – would not that principle lead him further? If accountable for a sinful act, why not for many? for a sinful state? But this reasoning, if correct, would affect the whole tenor of his preaching, therefore he moved with slow and trembling steps, "as one feeling his way out of a labyrinth," so that for some years he did not address invitations to sinners as such.
While this solemn matter was slowly moving to its true solution, his mind was directed to other subjects of inquiry. Men were writing pamphlets in those days on such subjects as "The Pre-existence of the Human Soul of Christ," "The Eternal Worship of Christ," "The Permission of Evil," &c. One after another these subjects engaged his attention. On one of them – "The Pre-existence of the Soul of Christ" – the young Soham minister met some of his brethren in solemn conclave, one of them defending the dogma. Here is the "volunteer" whetting his sword for future battle, and obtaining an easy victory over the assembled polemical wisdom. " I offered," he says, "to prove that it led to Atheism, or relinquish the argument. They accepted my offer. I began by saying, ‘You suppose the human soul of Christ to be a party in the everlasting counsels of God. Yet God could not counsel with Himself, for a counsel implies more than one; but God is one. Yet you do not suppose the soul of Christ to have always existed? No; it was created, and therefore could not be eternal. Then you must suppose that until the great God had a creature to take counsel with He had no plan; prior to the act of creation He was without counsel, without plan, without design. But a being without plan, purpose, or design, is not God !! Then you are landed on Atheism.’"
Slowly move the events which bring the fulness of that work which he performed in the world. A whole year of probation was passed at Soham before he is formally ordained as pastor of the church. Those wore not the days when men took churches by storm after a couple of Sabbath services. Andrew Fuller at least felt his way to see if he could do his work truly for his people, as well as to submit himself to their approval. There was much fasting and prayer before the union of pastor and people was fairly formed; but when once they were united, events proved how hard it was to separate.
In the spring of 1775 his ordination took place. Among the ministers present was one Mr. Robert Hall, of Arnsby, already known among the churches as breaking away from the narrow boundaries of an ultra-Calvinistic creed, and rejoicing in the freedom of a better faith. Concerning him, another of his name has written: "He appeared to the greatest advantage upon subjects where the faculties of most men fail them – for the natural element of his mind was greatness." Between this minister and the chosen pastor of Soham a discussion took place on the controversy which had divided the church. It ended in Mr. Hall expressing his pleasure at the course of events, and recommending to Andrew Fuller "Edwards on the Will," as the most able performance on the power of man to do the will of God. So little, however, was he acquainted with books at that time, that he confounded the work of Dr. John Edwards, of Cambridge, an Episcopalian Calvinist, with that of Jonathan Edwards, of New England. Though he liked the book, it did not seem to answer to Mr. Hall’s recommendation. In time, however, he lighted on the real Jonathan, and was much confirmed in his views by its contents. It is only fair to say that he had written out the substance of those views, which he permanently adopted, before this book came into his possession; and indeed, any one that has studied both the character and workings of his mind, must have thought this likely. It was not so much through metaphysical research that he reached the position afterwards defined in "The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation." The value of these inquiries will be referred to when we come to speak of his controversial writings. It may suffice now to say that they have been, certainly, over-estimated.
Four things contributed to his hearty reception of those views of the full accountability of man, and the obligation to preach the Gospel to all men, from the adoption of which his life receives a new impulse, and takes a new direction:-
First, the examination of books unfolding the argument from Scripture.
Secondly, the persevering examination of the Scriptures themselves.
Thirdly, the success attending the preaching of the Gospel, in the missionary labours of Brainerd and Elliott.
Fourthly, the companionship of Sutcliffe and Ryland, men who became his co-workers in after days, and whose inquiries were then tending in the same direction as his own.
Two books he especially mentions as contributing to the settlement of his views in the way indicated. The one, a pamphlet by Dr. Abraham Taylor, which was called "The Modern Question." There was little in the reasoning which attracted his attention, until he lighted on his reference to the preaching of John the Baptist, our Lord, and the apostles. That strange crowd on the banks of the Jordan seemed a fair representation of an ungodly world. To the tax-gatherer, in his injustice; to the soldier, in his rude violence; to the Pharisee, in his hypocrisy, the words came with smiting power: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The Saviour himself came to seek and to save the lost; the "children’s bread’ was given to the ignorant and out of the way; and publicans and sinners pressed to hear the message of salvation. The preaching of the apostles completed the argument. With the dying commission of their Lord, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature," they went to the very centre of the world’s busiest activity; they selected no chosen company, but wherever the people gathered, there they preached. So strikingly did Providence work with them, that the very persecutions of their enemies were but as rough winds which scattered the seeds they went forth to sow.
About the same time he met with a pamphlet on "The Causes and Consequences of not Submitting to the Righteousness of God." The design of the discourse was to show that the rejection of the Gospel was not owing to the will of God, but to the "wilful ignorance, pride, prejudice, and unbelief" of man. He was equally unable to answer the argument; and to charge God with the guilt of the world seemed too awful a thing to contemplate. "I began to think," he says, "on perusing these two books, that my views were unscriptural; I read, thought, and prayed. Sometimes I conversed with my friend Joseph Diver, and sometimes he was nearly as much at a loss as myself"
The diligent examination of the Scriptures with the commentaries of these pamphlets led to the same conclusion.
Most interesting is it to find a powerful influence in a like direction exerted by the simple and beautiful narratives of Elliott and Brainerd. Precisely the same result, he reasoned, which flowed from the apostolic labours, followed from the preaching of those who had been bold enough to be their successors. The embracing of those views which he afterwards so ably expounded, compelled him to his missionary labours; and those very labours, already commenced in scattered places in the field, contributed to the formation of his opinions! Thus it is that work and thought act and react upon each other. The influence of one of these books is thus referred to in his Diary: "I found my soul drawn out in love to poor souls, while reading Millar’s account of Elliott’s labours among the North American Indians, and their effect upon these poor barbarous savages. I found also a suspicion that we shackle ourselves too much in our addresses; that we have bewildered and lost ourselves in taking the decrees of God as the rules of action. Surely, Peter and Paul never felt such scruples in their addresses as we do. They addressed their hearers as men – fallen men; as we should warn and admonish persons who were blind and on the brink of some dreadful precipice. Their work seemed plain before them. O that mine might be so before me!"
Finally, help came in the "familiar and faithful" intercourse of men who, partly "by reading and partly by reflection," had begun to doubt the system of false Calvinism to which they had been inclined when they first entered the ministry. As he then lived sixty or seventy miles from these brethren, and in those days such a distance was a serious obstacle to intercourse, he saw them but seldom. These are the men, Ryland, Sutcliffe, and Carey, with whom he stood shoulder to shoulder in the strife of after years. Good is it to know that they were a help to each other while yet struggling for more light. Such occasional glimpses as were permitted to them must have relieved their loneliness and stimulated their researches.
Moved by all these influences, yet toiling much in solitude, he wrote, in 1776, the substance of what he afterwards published under the title of "The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation; or the Obligations of man cordially to believe whatever God makes known." He has now arrived at the turning point of his life. We have reached the position where we can survey and understand it, with all its varying incidents and chequered scenes. A great life, like a great work of art, has some grand yet simple principle underlying it. Whatever variety there may be in the building, the bending of its arches, the tracery of its windows, the wreathing of its columns, are all the following up of one thought of beauty. There is just such a oneness in the details of the life before us. It was a moving forward to grasp the infinite love of the Father in a Gospel of salvation to be preached in the name of the Redeemer to all men; thereafter it was a carrying out of that truth to its utmost consequences. As the fulness of the views were slowly wrought out and realised, so slowly are the full consequences they involved reached! But from the moment Andrew Fuller had fairly adopted them, his life and work began to widen, as a bank widens with the flow of a river. At first, the effect of the change is only seen in the fretting of the little church over which he presided, and in his removal to Kettering: then again afterwards when his heavy metal broke upon the Antinomian entrenchments at home; and finally, in the great missionary labours he sustained until his death.
In reading the history of these changes of opinion, how little can we enter into the solemn heart-searchings and mental sufferings they involved! So single was he in his desire to know the will of God, so mistrustful of himself, so eagerly seeking for more "light, and fuller," yet so careful not to break carelessly away from old paths, and adopt opinions because they were new, we are often reminded of the "song from the higher choir:" "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God." A few glimpses of these spiritual exercises are given in his Diary:-
"Jan. 10, A solemn vow or renewal of covenant with God. O my God (let not the Lord be angry with His servant for thus speaking), Thou knowest I have heretofore sought for Thy truth; I have earnestly entreated Thee that Thou would’st lead me unto it, that I might be rooted, established, and built up in it, as it is in Jesus. I have seen the truth of that saying: ‘ It is a good thing to have the heart established with grace;’ and now I would thus solemnly renew my prayer to Thee, and also enter a fresh covenant with Thee."
"O Lord God! I find myself in a world where thousands profess Thy name; some are preaching, some writing, some talking about religion. All profess to be searching after truth; to have Christ and the inspired writers on their side. I am afraid lest I should be turned aside from the simplicity of the Gospel. I feel my understanding full of darkness, my reason exceedingly imperfect, my will ready to start aside, and my passions strangely volatile. Oh! illumine mine understanding; teach my reason, reason; my will, rectitude; and let every faculty of which I am possessed be kept within the bounds of Thy service." . .
"Oh! let not the sleight of wicked men lie in wait to deceive, nor even the pious character of good men (who yet may be under great mistakes) draw me easily aside, nor do Thou suffer my own fancy to misguide me, Lord; Thou hast given me a determination to take up no principle at secondhand, but to search for everything at the fountain of Thy Word. Yet, Lord, I am afraid, seeing I am as liable to err as other men, lest I should be led aside from truth by mine own imagination. Hast Thou not promised, ‘The meek Thou wilt guide in judgment, and the meek Thou wilt teach Thy way’? Lord, Thou knowest at this time my heart is not haughty, nor are mine eyes lofty; ‘guide me by Thy counsel, and afterwards receive me into glory.’
"One thing in particular I would pray for, namely, that I may not only be kept from erroneous principles, but may so love the truth as never to keep it back. O Lord, let me never, under the specious pretence of preaching holiness, neglect to promulgate the truths of Thy word; for this day I see, and have all along found, that holy practice has a necessary dependence on sacred principle. O Lord, if Thou wilt open mine eye to behold the wonders of Thy Word, and give me to feel their transforming tendency, then shall the Lord be my God; then let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I shun to declare, to the best of my knowledge, the whole counsel of God."
Would that all had waited at the " Temple Gate" with a spirit such as this! Such words are the solemn litany of a reverent inquirer who enters to be taught of God. Not to the shallow empirics, with their affectation of originality, is the Divine will made known, but to those who wait, like the priest in the holiest of all, with the seeking breastplate, until the answering oracle kindles the gems with strange unearthly radiance!
With affectionate devotion, Mr. Fuller laboured for the little flock at Soham. His power out of the pulpit was felt by all his hearers, and sustained as only life can sustain, Sabbath ministrations. It was not his habit to pay a number of formal and meaningless visits, but to render real help when his sympathy was needed. Very few are the direct references made in his Diary to his work, but such as they are, they plainly reveal its character: "June 14. Went out to see some fallen brethren; convinced that there is no art necessary in religion, resolved to proceed with all plainness and openness: did so, and hope for good effects. I left each party with weeping eyes. But oh, how liable to sin myself! Surely, I do not study the cases of the people enough in my preaching. I find, by conversation to-day with one seemingly in dying circumstances, that but little of my preaching has been suited to her case. Visiting the sick, and conversing with the unconverted portion of my hearers about their souls, more especially with the godly, would have a tendency to make my preaching more experimental."
The reader cannot but observe how near was the pastor’s communion with God, and how well balanced was his devotional and active life. All his motives were subject to the severest scrutiny, and carried into the solitude of prayer and meditation, to be judged by another standard than that which prevailed among men. He saw clearly enough that judging of our own actions, we are too ready to take the verdict of admiring and attached friends, rather than to carry them to a truer but severer tribunal. His judgments his labours and preaching are full of fidelity and thoroughness. Indeed, his desire to keep a diary seems to have been prompted by the wish to write the "whole truth" about himself, so that he might not be led astray by conventional criticism. After he has written thus faithfully about himself and his doings, he exclaims with deep earnestness: What a difference between the book which I keep and the one which God keeps! Oh! what an awful black diary could He produce against me in judgment." One extract will illustrate the searching character of these meditations. He is speaking of his temptations when in company with others: "Surely," he exclaims, "I am unfit for any company. If I am with a superior, how will my heart court his praise, by speaking diminutively of myself, not forgetting to urge the disadvantages under which I have laboured, to excuse my inferiority; and here is a large vacancy, left in hope he will fill it up with something like this, – Well, you must have made good improvement of what advantages you have enjoyed. On the other hand, when in company with an inferior, how full of self am I, while I seem to be instructing him, by communicating my observations. How apt to lose sight of his edification, and everything but my own self-importance, aiming more to discover my own knowledge than to increase his!"
But even this fiery test does not satisfy the analyst. The crucible must be put to the fire once more. "While I make these observations," he continues, "I feel the truth of them. A thought has been suggested to me, to write them not as having been working in my heart to-day, but only as discovered to-day. Oh! horridly deceitful and desperately wicked heart! If I am saved, what must the Son of Man have endured!" In the light of such inward wrestlings, we can understand that singular conscientiousness, that stern and unbending integrity, which frowned away all that was unreal and mean, and drew towards it all who had need of deeper wisdom and maturer judgment.
Meanwhile we are able to gather from a few scattered references, that he is possessing himself of such books as his scanty means will furnish, and perusing them eagerly. "Edwards on the Affections" follows "Edwards on the Will," and after that is finished he goes through "Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History." His short, pithy comments on the latter work are very characteristic. "Really," he says, "I am sick of reading so much about monks, mendicant friars, &c. I could have wished the history had more answered to its title, a history of the Church, but it seems little more than a history of locusts." The next day he comments in a somewhat happier mood: "Some sacred delight to-day, in reading more of Mosheim on the coming forth of the champions of the Reformation, – Luther, Melancthon, Zwingle, Calvin, &c., into the field; I think I feel their generous fervour in the cause of God and Truth. How were the arms of their hands made strong by the mighty God of Jacob!" He is not satisfied, however, when he reads a later chapter of the Reformation. "I was occupied to-day with Mosheim, whose partial account of the English Baptists would lead me to indulge a better opinion of various sects who have been deemed heretics." The reader has found a flavour in these short criticisms with which he will grow more familiar.
In tracing the progress of this inquiry, we can see how this one belief in the Gospel as "worthy of all acceptation," began to affect his reception of doctrinal truth generally. A very slight acquaintance with the theology of ultra-Calvinism will have taught the reader how all doctrines are cramped to its narrow issues. There is no sacrifice for the sins of the world; the justification of the believer is lost sight of in its aspect to the great redemption, and referred alone to the eternal counsels of the Almighty; its realisation being but the transient passage of the blessing from the Almighty to His child. The following criticism on a passage of Dr. Gill’s, will show how he was laying broader and deeper the foundations of his faith:-
"When I first set out in the ministry I had no other ideas of justification than those which are stated by Dr. Gill. ‘Justification,’ he says, ‘may be distinguished into active and passive. Active justification is the act of God. It is God that justifteth. Passive justification is the act of God terminating on the conscience of a believer, commonly called a transient act passing upon an external object. The former is an act internal and eternal, taken up in the Divine mind from eternity, and is an imminent, abiding one in it. It is, as Dr. Ames expresses it, a sentence conceived in the Divine mind by the decree of justifying.’
"In his Bod. Div. vol. ii., p. 797, the doctor speaks of justification as it ‘terminates in the conscience of a believer, and which (he says) the Scriptures style justification by faith.’
"These, till within a few years, were my views. But, thinking over these subjects, I felt dissatisfied; I felt that my views did not quadrate with the Scriptures; I endeavoured, therefore, to examine the matter closely. It occurred to me that, whatever disputes had arisen on this subject, all parties that I had read were agreed in considering justification as the opposite of condemnation. I found this idea also plentifully supported by the Scriptures, Deut. xxv. 1; 1 Kings viii. 32; Rom, viii. 33, 34. I therefore set myself to examine – What is condemnation? Is it, said I, the decree of God finally to condemn a sinner? No; for every unbeliever, elect or non-elect, is under condemnation, John iii 18, 36, ‘the wrath of God abideth on him.’ Believers ‘were by nature children of wrath, even as others:’ Saul, therefore, while a persecutor, was a child of wrath, or was under condemnation: yet God ‘had not appointed him to wrath, but to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ.’
"Hence, I concluded, if condemnation be not the decree of God finally to condemn, justification is not the decree of God finally to acquit. It also appeared to me inconsistent with the nature of things to conceive of justification as Dr. Ames expresses it, namely, as ‘a sentence conceived in the Divine mind;’ for, whatever purpose may be conceived in a judge’s mind in favour of a prisoner, it is not justification till it is declared in open court.
"Further, Does condemnation, said I, consist in any sense or persuasion which a sinner possesses that he shall be condemned? No; for many who are under condemnation according to the Scriptures have no such persuasion, but the reverse, as was the case with the Jews, who were persuaded that God was their Father, while in fact they were of their father the devil; and others, who are not under condemnation according to the Scriptures, are yet at times under apprehension that they are so. But if condemnation, continued I, consists not in a sense or persuasion that we are or shall be condemned, justification consists not in a sense or persuasion that we are or shall be justified.
"On the whole, it seemed evident that the sentence of justification was neither a purpose in the Divine mind, nor a sense or persuasion in the human mind. The question then returned, What is it? Still keeping hold of my clue, I proceeded to inquire, Is not condemnation that state or condition of a sinner in which, according to the revealed will of God in His holy law, all the threatenings and curses stand against him? Is it not the same thing as a being under the curse, which all are who are of the works of the law, whether they be elect or non-elect? And, if so, is not justification that state or condition of a sinner believing in Jesus, in which, according to the revealed will of God in the Gospel, all the promises and blessings of the new covenant belong to him? Is it not the same thing as a being under grace (Rom. vi. 14), and which is true only of believers? The sentence of justification is not a revelation or manifestation of something to the mind which was true before, though unknown to the party; but consists of the voice of God, in the Gospel, declaring that whosoever believeth shall be saved. In this court, believers in Jesus stand acquitted from all things from which they could not have been acquitted by the law of Moses."
In the month of July, 1780, it pleased God to remove his beloved friend, Mr. Joseph Diver. The loss was a severe one to Andrew Fuller. Not only had he been his companion in all his mental perplexities, helping him with many a clear and forcible exposition of truth, but he had stood by him in all his church troubles. Mr. Fuller’s altered mode of preaching had alienated several of his hearers, whose conduct was most trying, not only in their personal antagonism to their pastor, but in their lax regard for the obligations of morality. Under date of July 17th he bitterly bewails his loss: – "Oh! my brother Diver, when shall we recover our loss in losing you? What disorders have we now in the church! Our hands, heads, and hearts, how full! Oh! my father, my father, the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof! Methinks I shall go all my days in the bitterness of my soul. Ah! we took sweet counsel together, and walked together to the house of God; but all is over; as he said on his dying bed, ‘I have done with that life.’ Alas! he has done with all of us." Very often is it that God in His providence sends us a trouble that is as a shadow of many more to come, shewing us in what direction our lot is to be cast. Andrew Fuller’s pilgrimage was full of solitude. Perhaps the severance of this first companionship prepared him thus early for the loss of many more.
To understand aright the hopes and fears of the last two years of his stay at Soham, we must bear in mind that he had received an invitation to become the pastor of the church at Kettering, in Northamptonshire. During this time he was perpetually agitated by conflicting convictions on the question of his removal, and yet there was never a case in which immediate compliance with such a request would have been more justifiable. The history of these two years gives us an insight into his character we cannot spare. It does not differ from that which we may find at any period of his life; but the desire to know and to do the will of God, – to act for the good of men, and for His glory, – is so utter, the sacrifice of his own interests so entire, that it is impossible to withhold a feeling of the deepest reverence. Let it be remembered, that he never had more than fifteen pounds per annum while he was at Soham, and that this scanty pittance necessitated inroads upon his little property, not yielding enough to save him from poverty, most ruinous to the prospects of his family. Yet so careful was he lest any ambitious motives should move him, that he repeatedly and absolutely refused this invitation; and but for the fact that the church at Kettering waited with unexampled patience, he would never have been their pastor. "Well may Dr. Ryland declare that "men who fear not God would risk the welfare of a nation with fewer searchings of heart than it cost him to determine whether he should leave a little dissenting church scarcely containing forty members besides himself and his wife." The fact of his poverty, and the wearying anxieties thereby occasioned, are alluded to more than once in his Diary, – not, indeed, with any murmuring, but with an undertone of sadness, revealing with what determination it was borne, though its pressure was so heavily felt. "I have found my heart," he writes, "tenderly afflicted several times, especially to-night, in prayer respecting my critical situation. Oh, Providence! how intricate! If rough roads are marked out for me, may my shoes be iron and brass. I found a peculiar sympathy towards poor people under trying providences, thinking I may have to go that road." He continues in the same strain, only a few days later: – "Dejected through worldly and church concerns, but had some relief to-night in casting all my care upon the Lord, hoping that He careth for me. The Lord undertake for me! Oh, Thou that managest worlds unknown without one disappointment, take my case into Thy hands, and fit me for Thy pleasure. If poverty must be Thy pleasure, add thereto contentment!" Yet while he was writing such words he was refusing an invitation to a larger sphere, the acceptance of which would have relieved him of his perplexities!
To add to his scanty means, he attempted to keep a school, and then a shop, but both enterprises failed. We can all imagine that one who gave his "absorbed" attention to higher problems, would find a continued mechanical employment most irksome. We who know him only through the distance of years can scarcely picture the grave divine, with his serious presence and his sombre look, dealing out articles over the counter, or plodding through the elements of knowledge with the youth of Soham.
Meanwhile the church at Kettering was patiently, yet importunately, renewing its invitation. The temper of his own mind in regard to it, is indicated in more than one passage, full of true and earnest feeling. "The thought of my situation now returns and overpowers me ! To-night I was exceedingly affected in prayer, earnestly longing that I might know the will of God. I have entered to-night into a solemn vow, which I desire it may please God to accept at my worthless hands. With all the powers of my soul, with the utmost effusion of feelings, I have vowed to this effect before the Lord. Oh! Lord, if Thou wilt give me so much light as plainly to see in this case what is my duty, then, if I do not obey the dictates of conscience, let my tongue for ever cleave to the roof of my mouth; let my ministry be at an end; let me be made an example of Thy displeasure against falsehood. The case of those who asked counsel of Jeremiah seemed to excite in me a jealousy of my own heart; but so far as I know anything of myself, I am resolved to stay or to go, as it should please God, did I but know His will." In order to assist his own judgment, and to satisfy the church at Kettering, he sought the counsel of several brethren in the same Association. After being supplied with all particulars, they unanimously urged his removal to Kettering. This advice, however, he could not be prevailed on to adopt, and the matter was once more referred to the judgment of Mr. Robinson, of Cambridge, who advised him to try a year longer at Soham, the church being enjoined to raise his salary another ten pounds per annum.
The correspondence was conducted on behalf of the church at Kettering by a Mr. Beeby Wallis, who was afterwards one of Mr. Fuller’s most attached and valued friends. In one of his letters, urging the acceptance of the invitation, Mr. Wallis ventured on a little speculative argument. Was it likely, he asked, that God would have excited the desires of the church at Kettering only to be disappointed? Was not the fact that these longings were excited within their breasts a proof that they were meant to be realised? This was entering upon Mr. Fuller’s chosen field of inquiry, viz., the relation of man’s power to the will of God. He took up the question with eager yet affectionate interest. We are quite sure that Mr. Wallis never conceived that his reasoning would draw upon him such heavy artillery. Yet we are equally certain he would welcome his defeat, under the hope that he might see the same metal shiver stronger and more dangerous positions. Let the reader say whether there is any escape from the reply, and admire the simple yet effective generalisation with which it concludes.
"You ask in yours, ‘Will the Lord raise desires in His own people merely to disappoint them?’ You think not, seeing that God hath said, The desires of the righteous shall be granted. Certainly if God doth excite desires, and then disappoint them, it is for some higher end than merely their disappointment. You will not think, dear sir, that I mean to discourage you, if I should say the above explanation of the text in Proverbs is inconsistent with truth. I once heard a sermon (NOTE: Since ascertained to have been his own.) from Psal. cxlv. 19. The minister proposed first to explain his subject, and in so doing he delivered something like this: – ‘God will not grant us every desire. That is our mercy; for, (1) Some of them are sinful. David desired to be revenged on Nabal and his innocent family. Jonah desired Nineveh’s ruin. (2) Others would not be for our good. David desired the life of the child he had by Bathsheba; David also desired the life of Jonathan; neither of which would have been for his good. (3) Nay, not every righteous desire. It is a righteous desire for a minister to desire the salvation of those that hear him. So Paul declared, I would to God that all present were altogether such as I am (Acts xxvi. 29). So, again, I could wish myself accursed from Christ, for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Rom. ii. 1). David desired to build a house for God, and it was a righteous desire, for God took it well at his hands; yet He did not grant it. Kings and prophets desired to see the Lord Messiah, and yet did not see Him. How, then, are we to understand it? Answer: The sum or substance of their desires shall be fulfilled. What is the main desire of a seaman? That he may arrive at the haven. So saints will be brought to their desired haven. What of a pilgrim? see Heb. ii. 16. So all the desires of a Christian are summed up in this – That he may eternally enjoy God and be like Him; see 2 Sam. xxiii. 2.’ Doubtless there is great mystery in these things. However, I think it certain that when God raises a spiritual desire in a person, it is often, though not always, with an intention to bestow the object desired."
At length, after much importunity from the friends at Kettering, and much sorrow on the part of those at Soham, he removed to the former place in the October of 1782. During the latter part of his stay at Soham he had been much more comfortable and had enjoyed very tender intercourse with his church, and the removal was always referred to as one of the bitterest trials of his life. The cost to him, and to them, and, at the same time, his earnest desires towards the brethren at Kettering, appear in the following extracts from his letters, and his ordination address at Kettering: – On the 20th of August, 1782, after a visit, from Mr. Wallis, he thus addresses him: "Since I saw you, though it is but a little time, yet I have had great exercises. The day I parted with you, calling in the evening on one of my friends, my feelings were tried by what you know is the most effectual battery on my heart of anything, – I mean bitter weeping. The Lords day following, the meeting, to say all in one word, was a Bochim." The whole matter is summed up with much feeling at the close of his ordination address:-
"I imagine it will not be expected that I should enter upon a vindication of my conduct in that affair. I only say this: several things concurred to make me, first, hesitate whether it was my duty to abide where I was; and, afterwards, to think it was not. Desirous, however, of doing nothing rashly, I was determined to wait a considerable time before I did anything. My chief desire, I think, was to preserve a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. I had, all along, much jealousy of my own heart, and many fears. I frequently laid my case before God in prayer, with much more importunity than I usually feel. I sometimes devoted days on purpose for fasting and prayer, on the occasion. On some of those days, partly for the church at Soham, and partly for myself, I had, I think, the most earnest outgoings of heart to the Lord that ever I felt in my life. I consulted many friends, ministers upon the spot (who knew the case) and ministers at a distance. I think to nine of them, some of whom are here present, I told the case as impartially as I was able, and asked their advice. Still my heart felt reluctant at the thoughts of a removal. I submitted the case to three or four different persons, who heard the particulars on both sides. The issue was, I stayed another year. At that time, it was my purpose to remain for life. I told the church at Kettering, in a letter, to that effect. But I soon found that reproach – reproach unlamented – had broken my heart! The bond of my affection was dissolved. I could not feel a union of spirit, without which I could not continue. In proportion as I despaired of this, I felt my heart incline towards the church at Kettering. At length, impelled by several motives (of some of which, especially, I think I shall not be ashamed at the day of judgment), I removed! – a painful event to me. I have, however, one consolation remaining – that, as far as I know, I acted herein to the best of my judgment and conscience. Yet, after all, I have had many relentings, and many reflections upon some parts of my conduct; as well as fears lest the Lord should blast me in the future part of my life: for though I have never, to this day, thought the thing itself to be wrong, yet I have, upon review, seen a great deal of vanity mixing itself in my motives, and a great deal of folly in some parts of my conduct, for all which I desire to be ashamed.
"Since my removal hither, I have found much outgoing of heart for the welfare of Christ’s kingdom, particularly in this part of Zion. When repeatedly requested to take this office upon me, I have not been without my fears; and, might I have indulged that sort of feeling, I suppose I should not have accepted their invitation for the present. But I wish to attend to the voice of duty. Duty seemed to call for my compliance. I therefore applied for, and received, a dismission from the church at Soham to the church at Kettering; and have resigned myself up, to serve them in the Lord. I wish it may be for the glory of Christ and their good; though, I must own, the pleasure of this day is marred to me, because a union with the one church cannot be effected but by a disunion of the other."
In another letter he says: "How deep are the designs of Providence! ‘Too deep to sound with mortal line.’ Since I have been here, I have had various exercises of mind; but the state of the church at Soham has lain nearest of anything. Such has been the union of affection between them and me, that I suppose no events in time, and I hope none in eternity, will ever dissolve it. This, I know, some would think to be scarcely reconcilable with my conduct in leaving them; but, however it may appear, so it is. I can truly say, ‘Who among them is afflicted, and I burn not?’ My earnest prayers have been in their calamity. I have not yet seen any reason to repent of what I have done. The Lord, I think, has been with me hitherto, in my work and in my private retirements. But alas! poor people, they are destitute! This, after all, wounds me. Oh may He whose name is Jehovah-jireh see and provide for them! I trust in God they will be provided for. I hear that they keep together, and are in a good spirit. The Lord, who loves His cause better than we can, will not suffer, I think, people of such a spirit to fall to the ground. I have many other things to say to you; but I trust shortly to see you. Meanwhile, farewell. The Lord be with you!"
These are the first extracts from Mr. Fuller’s letters, though many more will be given before the Memoir closes. The reader will not fail to notice how fully they reveal the character of the writer. Perhaps it would be difficult in any remains to find letters more worthy of perusal. There is no great brilliance in them, – no sparkling points or laboured antithesis, – no effort at letter-writing: but they possess a fulness of feeling, a wisdom and a strength, and sometimes even a power of humour, that, no matter how incidental the occasion which called them forth, seldom fails to communicate itself to the reader. If ever they should be collected in a volume, they will do more to bring Mr. Fuller’s true character into prominence than the most carefully written memoir.
The year before he left Soham, Mr. Fuller had married Sarah Gardiner, a member of the church at Soham. She appears to have had a meek and gentle temper, and while she lived, quietly but worthily filled up her place, a solace to her husband in his many sorrows, and a helpmeet in his work. Her mind, so peaceful in its short activity, was tormented at its close by a fearful visitation.
The sad eclipse cast a shadow on her husband’s life, which well-nigh overwhelmed it.
Mr. Fuller left Soham with his mind calmly and firmly established in those truths with which his name is associated. His time of apprenticeship may be said to have been over; for though things both old and now were still drawn from the treasury, his opinions did not materially alter. He went to a wider sphere with a soul in full sympathy with the great message of salvation to a guilty world, and doctrinal views slowly harmonising with it; – a sympathy that ere long extended beyond the boundaries even of his "wider sphere," and is felt even now " far over land and sea."
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