CHAPTER 3 – Removal to Kettering
DURING the first two years of Mr. Fuller’s residence at Kettering, his time was taken up in the usual engagements of ministerial life. There was the same tender interest in the affairs of his flock that we have already found at Soham, and the same earnest desire to serve his Master.
Yet even during these two years of quiet labour there are incidents and reflections that point onwards to the great labour of his life. We must remember, in looking at them, that he was unconscious that any such enterprise would be committed to his care. So much so, that when, afterwards, his help was challenged by the eager earnestness of Mr. Carey, he at first kept back from hearty co-operation. Yet from the time he had made up his mind to the one great truth, that salvation was to be preached to all men, how clear is the preparation that was going on! A more wonderful chapter in the history of Providence it would be hard to read; – not wonderful in startling events, but in the way in which everything contributed to open up the channel along which his life and work was to flow. His new associations at Kettering, his course of reading, the directions of his secret meditations, – all move forward to the gathering at Kettering, when the Baptist Missionary Society was formed.
The Association of Baptist churches to which Kettering belonged at that time, spread over several neighbouring counties, so that Mr. Fuller’s removal brought him into contact with many brethren and churches. If ever the value of what amount of collective life we have as a denomination has been shown, it was at that time in our history. The most marked results followed the collision of thought and feeling which it produced. We may depend upon it, it will be a bad day for us when we find out that all Associations are useless, and settle down into cold isolation. The immediate practical good may be difficult to realize, but when many pages of their history are written, and read in the broad light of contemporary events, we shall find they have not been without rich results.
Some of the brethren in this Association had been reading a pamphlet of President Edwards’s on the importance of general union in prayer for the revival of true religion. "Read to our friends," says Andrew Fuller, in a portion of his Diary, "a part of Mr. Edwards’s attempt to promote prayer for the revival of true religion, to excite them to a like practice. Felt my heart profited and much solemnized by what I read." It does not appear whether he introduced this matter to the Association; but it seems to have been discussed at a meeting at Nottingham, and that he had appended an exhortation to the same effect to a sermon which he had published on "Walking by Faith." A resolution was passed recommending the setting apart of the first Monday evening in every month for prayer for the extension of the Gospel. These services were the commencement of the well-known missionary prayer-meetings of modern days. They met, then, when the stillness of death rested upon the churches, and no voice was heard crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," but now a thousand labourers in all parts of the earth are commended to the keeping of the "King of kings." These gatherings may very often be found profitless and formal, but let it be remembered that from that day their succession has been unbroken. The voice of prayer awoke the zeal it still feeds!
We must not omit to mention that the ministerial communion of these two years brought Mr. Fuller into contact with a young man whose brilliant powers and commanding genius were already making themselves known to the world. The staid divine and grave thinker, whose training had been kept within the boundary marked by his religious career, was not a little startled, perhaps a little alarmed, at the eloquent young preacher drawing his illustrations from every realm of knowledge, and asserting a fellowship of faith and philosophy that had little place in the pulpit instruction of that day. A mark of his impression is found in his Diary, under date May 7th, 1784: "Heard Mr. Robert Hall, jun., from ‘He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.’ Felt very solemn in hearing parts of it. The Lord keep that young man." The next day: "Conversation with Robert Hall on various subjects. Some tenderness and earnestness in prayer after his departure." And so the prayers of the grave, tender-hearted servant of Christ, followed the young preacher in the fulness of his power, as he traversed paths unknown to the petitioner; paths full of danger, yet full also of possible triumph. Those prayers were answered! No cloud save that of bodily pain dimmed the splendour of those powers, mellowing with advancing years. The homage of statesmen and philosophers never marred that humility that shone with meek peacefulness, in one who lived as if he were "less than the least of all saints," while the eyes of many lands were turned upon him.
Meanwhile his reading and meditation are also preparing the way for "The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation." Two months after the last extract, he writes: "Read a poem by John Scott, Esq., on. the cruelties of the "English at the East Indies, causing artificial famine, &c. My heart felt most earnest desires that Christ’s kingdom might come, when all these cruelties shall cease. Oh for the time when neither the sceptre of oppression nor the heathen superstition shall have any sway over them! Lord Jesus, set up Thy glorious and peaceful kingdom all over the world. Found earnest desires this morning in prayer that God would hear the right as to them, and hear our prayers, in which the churches agree to unite for the spread of Christ’s kingdom. On the 15th, wrote a few thoughts on the desirableness of the coming of Christ’s kingdom."
At one of the Association meetings already alluded to, Mr. Fuller preached a sermon which produced a remarkable effect, and was afterwards published. This sermon has some remarkable passages in it, revealing the working of the preacher’s mind at the time. The reader’s attention is the more earnestly directed to it, because in a "History of the Baptist Missionary Society," by the late excellent Dr. Cox, these workings in the mind of Mr. Fuller are utterly ignored. He is represented as almost dragged into the matter by the persuasions of Mr. Carey. It is true, indeed, that in bringing the matter to a direct issue, Carey was first and foremost, yet it will be hereafter shewn that Carey himself was strongly influenced by the spirit of Mr. Fuller’s sermon and another publication to be referred to directly. The writer of this Memoir has adopted no theory for the sake of giving unity to his work, but after examining carefully Mr. Fuller’s writings he is forced to the conclusion that his early life was one solemn preparation for the missionary work. You cannot open a page of his Diary without finding some anxious aspiration after it. Let the reader peruse the following extract from the sermon just mentioned, and remember that it was preached eight years before the establishment of the mission. Some of these lines burn with the promise of the work which was so soon to be undertaken. When we further call to mind that all this time the writer was unconscious "whereunto the matter would grow," the hand of Almighty God becomes more clearly visible. After giving some illustrations of the power of faith, as exercised in prayer, when the church was low in estate, he goes on to say:-
"This may encourage and direct us in larger concerns; concerns which respect the whole interest of Christ in the world. If we compare the present state of things, or even the past, with the glorious prophecies of the Word of God, we cannot think, surely, that all is yet accomplished. By these prophecies the Christian church is encouraged to look for great things at some period or other of her existence. She is taught to look for a time when ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;’ when ‘a nation shall be born at once;’ when ‘the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ;’ and He ‘shall reign from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.’ But surely, for the present, though great things, upon the whole, have been done in the world, yet nothing like this has ever come to pass. Instead of the world being conquered, what a great part yet continues to stand out against Him! Heathenism, Mahomedism, popery, and infidelity, – how extensive still their influence! In all probability not a single country, city, town, village, or congregation has ever yet been brought wholly to submit to Christ! Nay, is it not very rare to find, in any one of these, so many real friends as to make even a majority in His favour? May not the Christian church then, for the present, adopt that language, ‘We have been with child; we have, as it were, brought forth wind, we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen’? What, then, shall we despair? God forbid! ‘ The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry;’ and, meanwhile, ‘the just shall live by faith.’
"Let us take encouragement, in the present day of small things, by looking forward, and hoping for better days. Let this be attended with earnest and united prayer to Him by whom Jacob must rise. A life of faith will ever be a life of prayer. O brethren, let us pray much for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon our ministers and churches, and not upon those only of our own connexion and denomination, but upon ‘all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.’ Could we but heartily unite to make a real earnest effort, there is reason to hope that great good might follow. Whenever those glorious outpourings of God’s Spirit shall come all over the whole world, no doubt it will be in answer to the prayers of His people. But suppose we should never live to see those days, still our labour shall not have been vain in the Lord. To say the least of it, God would have been glorified, and that would be no small matter. It would at least convey this piece of intelligence to the world, that God had yet some hearty friends in it, who continued to pray to Him in the darkest times. And if, as in the case of David’s building the house, He is not pleased to grant our requests, yet He will take it well at our hands; and who can be said to have lost his labour, who obtains the approbation of his God?
"But this is not all; our petitions may prove like seed in the earth, that shall not perish, though it may not spring up in our days. The prophets laboured, and the apostles entered into their labours; and what, if we should be the sowers and our posterity the reapers; shall we think much of this? Perhaps as great an honour, at the last day, may attend Isaiah, who hardly knew who had believed his report, as ‘Peter, by whose sermons thousands were converted in an hour. Neither is this all: there are different degrees of prosperity bestowed upon different parts of Zion, and these favours are often granted to those particular communities where ardent prayer, love, and holiness most prevail. Add to this, the prosperity of our own souls is generally connected with an earnest pursuit of God’s glory and Christ’s kingdom. Consolation, like reputation, will not do to be sought directly for its own sake. In that case it will flee from us. But let us first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto us. One great reason, perhaps, why so many Christians go destitute of comfort is, because they care so little about anything else; God, therefore, justly withholds it from them. If they were more to seek His glory, and the extending of His kingdom in the world, they would find consolation come of its own accord. He that cannot lie, when speaking of His own church, hath said, ‘They shall prosper that love thee.’"
The publication of this sermon, and the gatherings for prayer, did much to unite the hearts of the ministers, and fit them to share still greater labours. "The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation," which was published soon afterwards, did just the same for the world at large. By this eminently pointed and practical treatise, the minds of men were directed just at the right time to the theme of which it treated. True, many were unconvinced, and it gave occasion to much controversy, but the agitation of thought was the beginning of truth.
The treatise set forth the duty of all men cordially to receive the message of the Gospel. It may be said to have been built on a double foundation. First and foremost, it set forth the plain declarations of the Divine word, referred to before, in describing the formation of his views on these subjects. Then, secondly, it was shown that the nature of man, as it stood in relation to these obligations, was not out of harmony with a full responsibility for his belief. In answer to the objection that, apart from the grace of God bestowed upon him, man was unable to receive the Saviour, Mr. Fuller maintained "that his inability was moral, and not actual or physical; in other words, that the inability ascribed to man with respect to believing arose from the aversion of the heart, – in a sense he can, but will not come to Christ. ‘Ye will not come unto me, that ye may have life.’ This admitted, the obligation to believe remains in full force, but if the inability had been natural and physical, it was clearly swept away. As, for instance, if we should say of a dumb man, he would not speak, no obligation to utter sound could rest upon him; but if such silence were the result of any powerful passion, we should describe his inability as moral, and so hold him accountable."
If it were objected that this universal obligation to receive the Gospel was inconsistent with the doctrine that believers are made such by the power of the Spirit, and that this Spirit was narrowed in its effectual operations to those who are predestinated by His grace, Mr. Fuller replies: "There is no dispute about the doctrine of election, or any of the discriminating doctrines of grace. They are allowed on both sides; and it is granted that none ever did or ever will believe in Christ but those who are chosen of God from eternity. The question does not turn upon what are the causes of damnation. No man is an unbeliever, but because he will be so; and every man is not an unbeliever, because the grace of God conquers some, changeth their hearts, and leads them to Christ. God’s Word, and not His secret purpose, is the rule of our conduct."
These positions are maintained in three parts. The first explains the subject; the second argues it; and the third anticipates objections. The treatise is distinguished by a calm, full, and clear statement of the whole question. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the book is its patience. There is none of the heat which so often distinguishes polemical writing; the arguments are slowly and quietly advanced, and the conclusions drawn with great fairness. The controversial aspects of the subject are little cared for as such, but there is a deep concern to impress soul-saving truths upon the reader. The style conveys admirably the meaning of the writer. Though severely simple, the point and vigour always save it from dulness. The illustrations, not unfrequently used, although not brilliant pictures, are so easily and naturally employed as greatly to help the elucidation of the subject. If it be a correct definition of true teaching that it is the conveyance of a thought from one mind to another, so that it may grow there, Andrew Fuller’s writings certainly deserve that description, for they ever suggest more than they state.
It will be readily imagined that such views, enforced at such a time, would provoke discussion and controversy; accordingly four or five champions quickly entered the lists. Controversy was, however, never desired by the author. "O peace!" he exclaims, " thou most valuable jewel. The Lord grant I may never enter the polemical lists!" "Many misgivings of heart," he says humbly, "about engaging in defence of what I esteem truth, lest the cause of Christ should be injured through me. Surely, if I did not believe that, in defence of which I write, important truth, I would hide my head in obscurity all my life."
The views of Mr. Fuller were opposed in two opposite directions. The ultra-Calvinists, with Mr. Button as their champion, assailed his position as incompatible with the doctrine of predestination; while the Arminians, led by Philanthropos (Mr. Dan Taylor), agreeing with the greater portion of the treatise, declared its moderate Calvinism to "be fatal to the main argument. A third antagonist appeared in Scotland, in the person of Mr. Mc Lean, whose keen and ingenious criticisms proceeded on the assumption that faith in the Saviour was a purely intellectual exercise, – an opinion zealously and ably propagated in the North by Mr. Sandeman.
If the original treatise calls forth our admiration for its simplicity and clearness, these replies have a piquancy and power scarcely excelled in controversial writing. With calm strength, fallacy after fallacy is exposed, with sharp home thrusts at manifold inconsistencies and misrepresentations. The eager attacks of his opponents, while they called for a watchful and prompt defence, enabled him more clearly to set forth the points of agreement and difference with both their systems. While, however, it had this advantage, it was not without its drawbacks. It is impossible not to admire the quick-witted writing on the Arminian side, which in spirit and clearness far exceeded that of Mr. Button, yet it is hard to give it any higher praise than that of great ingenuity. Consequently it scarcely needed any other quality to follow it. Mr. Fuller’s metaphysical reading was almost confined to the writings of Jonathan Edwards, whose works are characterised by great yet most unsatisfying subtlety. It appears to the writer, and he offers his judgment with sincere diffidence, that the metaphysical part of these controversies, or the reasonings from the nature of things, are the least conclusive. While nothing can exceed the manly candour and strength with which Mr. Fuller maintains his belief, on the one side, in the full accountability of man; and on the other, in the sovereign grace of God; the clearness with which he marshals his texts from Scripture, and the wisdom and fairness with which he generalises; yet, when he is following his opponents into their metaphysical subtleties, the limited range of his reading is constantly apparent.
The position maintained by Mr. Button, on the Calvinistic side, is not difficult to describe. He did not deny that God claimed obedience of all men, but this was an obedience of an external kind. All matters that belonged to "spiritual illumination," and the exercise of faith in Christ, could not, he maintained, be classed under the category of duty or obligation. The reader will scarcely be prepared to learn the extent to which this view was carried. Such passages as. "Put your trust in the Lord," are explained as a "natural duty," having no concern with "evangelical trust." When Mr. Fuller quotes the second Psalm, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry," Mr. Button replies, that kissing is not a spiritual act, but is nothing more than a token of allegiance. He even admitted that everything "that man was, in a state of innocence, might be required of him" and, therefore, was within his power, and yet all of it have nothing to do with salvation. Such obligations might rest on a doomed man: he might toil his way back to the gates of Paradise, and yet have no power whatever even to breathe the prayer for salvation through Christ!
This, Mr. Button truly declared, was placing man lower in the scale of being than Mr. Fuller’s system. On which Mr. Fuller remarks, with caustic power: "It is true Mr. B. does lay man lower than we do; but it is observable that, so far as this is the case, it is not in the character of a sinner, but of a creature of God, and not on account of what God has made him; and if this is the way in which we are to be humbled, it might be done still more effectually if we were reduced to the condition of a stock or a stone."
All the invitations addressed by the Saviour to sinful man, Mr. Button limits according to the system of his school, referring them to what are called "sensible sinners." Mr. Fuller thus describes and ably refutes his position:-
"Mr. B. thinks, it seems, that the declaration, ‘Whosoever will, let him come,’ is not indefinite, but limited, and so is not a warrant for any sinner to come to Jesus Christ. ‘All,’ says he, ‘have not a will; therefore it is not a warrant for every man,’ – p. 46. That multitudes of men are unwilling to forego self-will, self-conceit, and self-righteousness, and to venture their souls wholly upon the Lord Jesus, is a melancholy fact; but to conclude thence that they have no warrant so to do is a very extraordinary species of reasoning. If ‘whosoever will, let him come’ be not an indefinite mode of expression, Mr. B. should have pointed out what sort of language should have been used for such a purpose.
"A generous benefactor, in the hard season of the year, procures a quantity of provisions to be distributed amongst the poor of a country village. He orders public notice to be given that EVERY POOR MAN WHO IS WILLING TO RECEIVE IT SHALL IN NO WISE MEET WITH A REFUSAL. A number of the inhabitants, however, are not only poor, but proud, and cannot find in their hearts to unite with the miserable throng in receiving an alms. Query. Would it be just for such inhabitants to allege that they had no warrant to apply, or that the declaration was limited, seeing it extended only to such as were willing; and, for their parts, they were unwilling? If it were expedient to give such objectors a serious answer, they might be asked, In what language could the donor have expressed himself to have rendered his declaration more indefinite?"
On the Arminian side, Philanthropes maintained that the distinction made by Edwards and Mr. Fuller between moral and natural inability would not bear the weight of his argument. The strain of his reasoning was somewhat as follows: – "Whatever you call the inability, it is inability still: your ‘will not’ amounts to a ‘cannot;’ for you admit it is total and invincible, except by ‘the grace of God,’ which grace is only given to a few. If, therefore, you desire by it to make man accountable for his rejection of the Gospel, although he may receive no spiritual illumination, you do not give him enough. You but give him a power which is only a name; you bring him into the world with palsied faculties, which nothing has been ever known to remedy, but that which he cannot possess." That Mr. Fuller at least did not shirk these difficulties, but looked them fairly in the face, will be seen from the following extract:-
"’According to my principles,’ I am told, ‘ men’s moral inability is invincible,’ – p. 68. If I have used that term in the former treatise or the present, it is for want of a better. It is easy to see that my principles do not so much maintain that the moral inability of men is such as to render all their attempts to overcome it vain, as that sin hath such a dominion in their heart as to prevent any real attempts of that nature being made. If a whole country were possessed by a foreign enemy, and all its posts and avenues occupied by his forces, and all the inhabitants dead that so much as wished to oppose him; in that case, to say his power was become invincible by any opposition from that country would hardly be proper, seeing all opposition there is subdued, and all the country are of one side. Invincible is a relative term, and supposes an opposition made, though made in vain. But moral inability is of such a nature, where it totally prevails, as to prevent all real and direct opposition being made. It is the same thing as for the ‘hearts of the sons of men’ to be ‘fully set in them to do evil’ – to be ‘full of evil while they live;’ for ‘every imagination of the heart’ to be ‘only evil, and that continually.’ Now if we say this moral indisposition is invincible, it is for the want of a better term. What we affirm is this, rather: that, suppose it very conquerable, there is nothing of real good in the sinner’s heart to conquer it. If sin is conquered by any efforts of ours, it must be by such as are voluntary. It is not enough that we be ‘rational beings,’ and that conscience suggests to us what we ought to be (p. 66); we must choose to go about it, and that in good earnest, or we shall never effect it. But where the thoughts of the heart are only evil, and that continually, it is supposing a plain contradiction to suppose ourselves the subjects of any such volition or desire."
Philanthropes declared that all men are enlightened by the Spirit, and that the difference between the saint and sinner is made by the one receiving, and the other rejecting, the mercy of Christ. So that the ultimate decision was referred to the will of the recipient If it were objected that this made his salvation his own act, it was replied: "There is no self-righteousness implied in receiving a gift of free grace; that such a charge might be correct, if it had been procured; and, further, that the guilt of rejection, which all admit, virtually refers the choice, one way or other, to the will." On this matter, Mr. Fuller writes, not without a generous feeling, to his opponent:-
"That there is a difference between believers and unbelievers all will allow; but if the question be asked, ‘Who maketh thee to differ?’ what must be the answer? If the scheme of P. be true, I should think it must be a person’s own self, and not God. If he reply, ‘No, I do not maintain that man of himself can do anything spiritually good; it is all by the grace of God.’ Be it so: this grace is supposed to be given indiscriminately to mankind in general. This, therefore, does not in the least alter the case. However the grace of God may be a remote cause of the good that is in me, yet it is easy to see that, upon this supposition, it is no cause whatever of the difference between me and another. My unbelieving neighbour had, or might have had, as much grace given him as I, but either he did not ask it, or did not improve the stock imparted to him which I did. He resisted the Holy Spirit; but I was of a pliable temper, and yielded to His persuasions. I have, therefore, by a good improvement of the grace given or offered to me in common with my neighbour, to all intents and purposes made myself to differ. But who am I personating? – Philanthropes? – No, surely! It is the language of his creed, not of him: no, no, whatever may escape from the lip or the pen. his heart must unite with ours, ‘NOT UNTO US, O LORD, NOT UNTO US, BUT TO THY NAME GIVE GLORY!’ "
The reader will remember how Jonathan Edwards attempts to show that the will itself is moved by a chain of causes in the shape of prevailing motives, and by arguing from the nature of things, seeks to rob the will of all independent power. Like many philosophers, however, he is more formidable in attacking the freedom of the will than in building up his own theory of its impotence; for if his reasoning be correct, there must be an infinite series of motives, which is in itself a contradiction; or else, where this set of influences from without have their rise, there must be some independent power of choice to give them their bias. So that, if we refer back to that which influences the will, we after all must find its action somewhere, in making these influences what they are. It may be conceded, on the other hand, that a difficulty equally formidable encounters the philosopher who attempts to reason out the full liberty of man. For on that side man is lost in the mystery of "absolute commencement;" while, on the other, he has proved an "infinitely dependent succession."
The discussion on either side has at least shewn the problem to be insoluble. It is, at least, one of the great uses of all such investigations, that they have done much to fix what is comprehensible by the exercise of the reasoning powers. It has been well said that there are two conceivable ways in which philosophic research may help us in our attempts to understand God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom: either, first, through a comprehensible resolution of their apparent contradictions; or, second, through a demonstration that the apparent contradictions result from the very finitude of human knowledge, and that a finite intelligence must be content to live for ever satisfied with this incomprehensible and merely negative solution. The profound and interesting discussions of the last few years, in which Sir William Hamilton, his accomplished successor, and Mr. Mosley, have taken part, have led most men to be content with the latter alternative.
A third opponent to Mr. Fuller appeared in one Dr. Withers, who announced his approach with a flourish of trumpets. "Some exercise of mind this week through an advertisement of Dr. Withers’s, in which he threatens to reduce my late publication to dust. I wish I may be kept in a right spirit. I find myself, in seeing what I have hitherto seen, much subject to a spirit of contempt; but I wish not to indulge too much of that temper. Doubtless I am wrong in some things. I wish I may be all along open to conviction. I found some desires go up to heaven for such a spirit as this. Some tremor of mind in hearing that Dr. Withers’s book is in the press." When the book appeared, Mr. Fuller took no notice of it, except in a raking foot-note in another edition of his treatise
‘Besides these public opponents, he was regarded by many of his brethren as a sad heretic. A neighbouring minister, after having begged a sight of his manuscript, returned it with a most abusive letter, concluding with the following complimentary sentence: – "Time was when no such calf would ever have been suffered to be born or nourished at the little meeting at Kettering." The reader may smile at this style of controversy, but it was a decided step in advance of the Reformation and Puritan discussions. Luther called Calvin a pig; and even John Milton thus writes to Salmasius: "Have you the impudence, you rogue, to talk at this rate of the acts and decrees of the chief magistrates of a nation?" John Bunyan, the divine dreamer, boldly advanced his creed on the matter of strong English. Writing to the Bishop of Gloucester, he says: "It cannot be worth our while to lay out any considerable matter of our heat, either for or against doubtful opinions, alterable modes, rites and circumstances of religion. It would be like apes blowing at a glow-worm, which affords neither light nor warmth." Yet the moderate supply of heat he brought to bear upon the bishop, involved such appellations as a "brutish man;" a "clambering thief;" an "eel at an angle."
Classing all such opponents with the one just noticed, Mr. Fuller writes: "Should any number of persons, instead of seriously attending to reason, take fire, call names, and set their churches in a flame; and should they after this upbraid me with having stirred up division in the churches, – for all, or any of this, I hope I shall never be thought accountable."
In this place may be noticed the strictures on Sandemanianism, in twelve letters to a friend. Though these letters were not published till some years afterwards, the reader will perceive their relation to "The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation." At the same time, he will readily see that any immediate reply to his brother critics was a matter of small importance. They could not be regarded as seriously affecting the real purpose of his book or interfering with its true work.
Mr. Sandeman and Mr. Mc Lean maintained the opinion that faith in Christ was a mere intellectual exercise – the "bare belief in the bare truth." "Every one," says Mr. Sandeman, "who obtains a just notion of the person and work of Christ, or whose notion corresponds to what is testified of Him, is justified, and finds peace with God simply through that notion." Mr. Sandeman further maintained that the mind was utterly passive in its belief: it was simply the subject of irresistible evidence. He therefore set himself against all exhortations, warnings, and expostulations with the sinner to believe in Christ. If asked what he would say to the ungodly, he replies: "I would tell him to the best of my belief what the Gospel said about Christ. If he still doubted, I would set before him all the evidence furnished me by the same Gospel. Thus, and thus only, would I press, call, or invite him to believe." It must be said, in justice, that Mr. Mc Lean, while enforcing Mr. Sandeman’s opinion, did not regard the mind as passive, but active, in its reception of the truth. The sinner might, therefore, seek to believe. It should, however, be remembered that, though these writers thus stripped faith of all moral or spiritual accessories, they believed that love and all other graces would follow in its track.
Mr. Mc Lean, and Mr. Sandeman likewise, were driven to maintain that sin was "simple ignorance," – an opinion thus ably encountered by Mr. Fuller: "That voluntary blindness," he says, "renders sinners estranged from God, I can easily understand; nor am I at any loss to conceive of its being ‘that by which Satan reigns and maintains his power over the minds of men;’ but I do not perceive in any of these facts the proof of an evil disposition, having its origin in ignorance. Two friends, whom I will call Matthew and Mark, were one evening conversing on this subject, when the following sentiments were exchanged: – ‘All sin,’ said Matthew, ‘arises from ignorance’ ‘Do you think, then,’ said Mark, ‘that God will condemn men for what is owing to a want of natural capacity?’ ‘Oh, no,’ said Matthew; ‘ it is a voluntary ignorance to which I refer, – a not liking to retain God in their knowledge.’ ‘Then,’ said Mark, ‘you reason in a circle; your argument amounts to this, All sin arises from ignorance, and this ignorance arises from sin, or, which is the same thing, from aversion to the light!’ "
It is needless to follow Mr. Fuller through his answers to these various positions. It must suffice to say, that these twelve letters are equal in force and point to any of his controversial writings. He compared their views with the Scripture statement, that repentance is needed before forgiveness, and with the general tenour of the Divine exhortations. The consequences of these errors, as they related to the responsibilities of man, are searchingly set forth. One cannot help mourning that so many pages should be wasted over mere word-catching problems and verbal quibbles. Mr. Sandeman, however, attached immense importance to his discoveries, and called the works of the elder Puritans "devout paths to hell." There is no contest so fruitless as that which disputes concerning the priority of those powers or graces, with which the soul holds fellowship with God. Mr. Mc Lean was terribly afraid lest Mr. Fuller, by giving faith a spiritual character, should affirm that a man had some spiritual good in him before he believed, and then afraid lest there should be any love that was not founded on a clear perception of evidence. Surely, in the soul’s first spiritual exercises, there is the germ of all these graces; and the man trifles about heavenly things who worries his brain as to which finds an entrance first.
Before passing from this book, and the controversies it evoked, let us not forget the effect it had upon his own mind and its spiritual work in the church. As we read his Diary during the time this treatise was preparing for the press, and the storm which followed was raging, we are struck with the humble desires to know the truth, and to defend it becomingly, which he uttered before God; and yet more with the renewed tenderness it gave to his ministry. The Gospel was "worthy of all acceptation," – then it was worthy the acceptance of those who were still far from God in his own congregation. It was the duty of all to embrace it; it was their duty, and he was their ambassador to proclaim it to them. But oh! how easy to lose sight of this home aspect of the truth in the bitterness of polemical strife. Let the reader read the following extracts from his Diary, and rejoice he was himself moved to renewed devotedness by the grand truths he had enunciated: "August 20, 1784. Many misgivings of heart about engaging in defence of what I esteem truth, lest the cause of Christ should be injured through me. Surely, if I did not believe that, in defence of which I write, to be important truth, I would hide my head in obscurity all my days. 2lst. The Lord direct my way in publishing. Assuredly He knows my end is to vindicate the excellence of His character, and His worthiness of being loved and credited. 23rd. The weight of publishing still lies upon me. I expect a great share of unhappiness through it. I had certainly much rather go through the world in peace, did I not consider this step as my duty. I feel a jealousy of myself, lest I should not be endued with meekness and patience sufficient for controversy. The Lord keep me! I wish to suspect my own spirit, and go forth leaning on Him for strength. 31st. Preached this afternoon on the dimensions of the love of Christ. Great delight at the Lord’s-Supper. Oh to know more of, and live upon, Christ! He must be our daily bread. Sweet pleasure to-night. Can hardly forbear singing as I go about,
"’Oh! for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,’"
Its effects on the church at large, altogether apart from the discussions it evoked, must not be overlooked. It was a page in the great missionary story. Many who were afterwards engaged with him in the great work of his life, felt its power, and openly acknowledged their obligation. Following pages will show how it found its way to one servant of God, then preparing by other training to engage in the same work. Meanwhile we must turn aside and find Andrew Fuller overwhelmed with home sorrows, yet made strong in them by the same grace that had equipped him for battle.
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