CHAPTER 6 – Holding the Rope
"FRIENDS," said Mr. Fuller, soon after the missionaries had departed, "talk to me about coadjutors and assistants, but I know not how it is, I find a difficulty. Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope!’ But before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit, to this effect, that while we lived we should never let go the rope. You understand me. There was great responsibility attached to us who began the business." Such words as these enable us to understand and appreciate the devoted and untiring service of Mr. Fuller’s life. He went about his work as one who
was constrained by vows given to God and man.
"In addition to the numerous collections made in various parts of the kingdom, and the management of the accounts, the correspondence of the secretary increased rapidly on his hands. To him was chiefly committed the drawing up of official letters to the missionaries, all of whom received additional tokens of his affection in private communications. The interests of the mission demanded a still more extensive correspondence at home; its cause required a frequent advocacy with cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and East India directors, not for the purpose of procuring exclusive privileges, but for securing a legal passage for the missionaries, and the protection justly due to every peaceable subject of colonial government. Nor were there wanting bitter and subtle enemies, both at home and abroad, who left no means untried to accomplish the ruin of the mission, and whose machinations were successively exposed and defeated by the unwearied pen of the secretary." (NOTE: Memoir of Mr. Fuller, by his son, A. G. Fuller)
His journeys took him into almost all the counties of England, Ireland, and Scotland. The amount of physical toil they involved was at that time something very serious. The luxury of coaches had been hardly introduced; for the first stage-coach blew its blast through the green fields of England, and crossed the Cheviot Hills, in the year 1788, on its way from London to Edinburgh. These were the days in which men made their wills, and left affectionate messages, before they ventured far from home. Moreover, his journeys were the more irksome because his writings had already gone before him, stirring up discussion and strife in all parts. Sharp, subtle controversialists everywhere waylaid him for a personal encounter. There was the Sandemanian in Scotland, and the high Calvinist in various parts of England and Wales. Think of Luther and Melancthon making a companion tour in Italy and Germany, and you will have a notion of what Andrew Fuller met with in some parts of the country. Some would seek advice on personal or ecclesiastical matters, for it was not often that one so wise in counsel journeyed through the country. And yet, with all the toil it involved, it is good indeed to think of one with so much tone and power of character going through the land. The savour of his visits, apart from their direct object, was felt in every part for many years, and indeed still remains. Men vexed and lonely, struggling with difficulties, felt the bracing influence of his character; children kept the memory of his solemn blessing; and the sick and weary found consolation in his grave and tender words. Moreover, glimpses are afforded to us of the religious state of the country in that day, which no other memoranda has furnished. No man could have thus entered into the religious and social life of all with whom he met, and have imparted so much help, without such an intensity and activity of mental and spiritual life as must have told upon the strongest frame. The living sacrifice finds the same end as if smitten with the knife or the fire !
Mr. Fuller was a reserved man – & lover of quiet communion and silence; and to one of such a nature the cost of these journeyings must have been far greater than to a man of freer temperament. " I am going," says he, in reference to his first journeys, " among faces which I have never seen. My spirit revolts at the idea, but duty calls. I am subject," he continues, "to many faults in company, and often incur guilt. The Lord keep me in the way I go, and enable me to keep my heart with all diligence. Oh ! that I may be spiritual, humble, and watchful in all companies. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ prosper my way. May the God of Israel preserve my family, friends, and connections during my absence !"
Mr. Fuller’s first movements led him into Scotland, where he was received with much kindness by some who were his theological opponents. Dr. Stuart, Mr. Mc Lean, Dr. Erskine, Mr. Haldane, and the venerable David Dale, all gave him a warm welcome. His fame as a writer had prepared the way for his appeals; everywhere large congregations were gathered, sometimes numbering more than four or five thousand persons. He returned to Kettering with upwards of £900 for the mission, and with earnest solicitations to repeat his visits, and promises of future help. While on his first journey, at Glasgow, he received the sad tidings of Samuel Pearce’s death. One of his dearest friends, and the warmest promoters of the mission, was thus taken away just as he commenced his toils. " Oh, Jonathan," he exclaimed, " very pleasant hast thou been to me. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan! Oh, Jonathan! thou wast slain upon thy high places." Sometime afterwards, when thinking of his friend, he says: " The God of Samuel Pearce be my God."
The warmth of his reception in Scotland encouraged him to repeat his visit. In 1802, we find him sailing along the Humber to Hull, with only elevenpence in his pocket. He had started with four guineas, but waiting for the passage-boat almost exhausted his store. " I was afraid," he writes, "I should be in the position of a number of small ships hereabouts at low tide – run a-ground! I am thinking "whether I must not take a walk before dinner, instead of having one. It was a fine sight," he writes of this passage, " to see the waves, each as large as the roof of a small house, continually beating against our vessel, while she rode triumphantly above them all. I felt no sickness, but stood above-deck, having hold of a rope with my hand, and gazed all the time with a kind of sublime pleasure at the majestic scene."
He stayed on his way at York, determined to see what he could do with "serious church people," and received some encouragement, for he went away with about £12. He met with several clergymen, and from his conversation with one of them, a Mr. ————, the author of a pamphlet called "The True Churchman," it will be seen that he did not succeed with "serious churchmen" by forgetting his own principles. The author of the "True Churchman" said, almost apologetically, "In the course of my work I have said some things which some Dissenters have thought severe." A. P. replies: " I suppose you mean in calling them schismatics ?" T. C.: " Yes, in part." A. F.: "I never felt it; for it did not appear to be aimed to hurt us, but merely to screen yourselves in the view of your bishops from the suspicion of favouring us. It did not hurt me, at all events, because I perceived no justice in it. The term schism is relative, and has reference to the society from which separation is made. Before you can fix the guilt of schism upon us, you must prove, 1, that the Church of England is a true church; 2, that it is the only true church in the kingdom." "He did not go about it," he adds, "and we were very sociable until eleven o’clock."
On his second visit to Scotland, notwithstanding that the kindly welcome was in no respect lessened, Mr. Fuller encountered more of the keen scrutiny of his northern friends. He received from the Baptists a letter on church "order and discipline," to which he sent a caustic reply in the shape of a parable. " In one of the new Italian republics, two independent companies are formed for the defence of the country. Call the one A and the other B. In forming themselves, and learning their exercise, they each profess to follow the mode of discipline used by the ancient Romans. Their officers, uniforms, and evolutions, however, are, after all, somewhat different from each other. Hence disputes arise, and B refuses to march against the enemy with A, as being disorderly. A gives his reasons why he thinks himself orderly; but they are far from satisfying B, who not only treats him as deviating from rule, but as almost knowing himself to do so, and wilfully persisting in it. A, tired of jarring, marches against the enemy by himself. B sits at home deeply engaged in studying order and discipline. ‘If your form and rules,’ says A, ‘are so preferable to ours, why do you not make use of them ? Discipline is a means, not an end. Be not always boasting of your order, and reproaching others for the want of it; let us see the use of it. It is true, like the Quakers in 1745, you have bought waistcoats for our soldiers, and we thank you for them; but we had rather you would fight yourselves.’ "
On his arrival at Glasgow, a Baptist church sent a messenger with the offer of their pulpit if they could be satisfied that Mr. Fuller’s faith accorded with theirs ! The pastor brought with him a statement of their own creed, which Mr. Fuller glanced at, with the remark that he approved of it, as far he could then judge, but added that he did not come to Glasgow as a candidate for their pulpit, and that it was an indifferent matter whether he occupied it or not. The matter appears to have been solemnly debated by the Scotch doctrinaires, and at eleven o’clock a deacon returned with their decision, that if he would not make a confession they could not receive him. "Very well," was the reply; " I shall go to the tabernacle, and consider your conduct as a renunciation of connexion with us as English churches; for it implies that you have no confidence in us." The Baptists repented, but it was too late. He preached in the tabernacle to between four and five thousand people, and collected £200. Eventually, however, the Baptist church became sincerely penitent, and he agreed to preach for them, receiving about £45 as their contribution. The indirect work he was doing all this while appears in his communion with these Scotch brethren. He told them he had heard of the Baptists in Scotland being negligent of free preaching to the unconverted, and of family religion. Whether this charge were true he could not tell, but he earnestly exhorted them to make it evidently appear that they were far more anxious that those around them should become Christians, than that they should embrace their opinions on baptism.
He never seemed to travel anywhere without leaving the savour of his presence behind him. In the coaches, or at hotels, he met with all sorts of characters – Jews, infidels, and libertines; and though he never obtruded himself upon their society, when he was drawn into conversation he spoke with such solemn earnestness, and dealt such home-thrusts, as to put to silence the scoffers. He describes meeting with a Jew, who began, he says, by " accommodating" him with curses and oaths on the most trifling occasions. Afterwards, in a discussion, the Jew warmly praised the Ten Commandments. Mr. Fuller acquiesced, and added: "I have been not a little hurt, Sir, in observing, since we have been together, how lightly you treat one of them – ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’" "I must own," said the man, " it is a bad habit." There was no more swearing.
His personal contact with extreme Calvinists proved a most useful supplement to his writings, enabling him to grapple with their objections and explain his meaning more clearly. Journeying southward, he met with a person at Portsea, who thus accosted him:- " Sir, I was greatly disappointed in you." – "Yes, and I in you." – "I mean in hearing you last Lord’s day morning; I did not expect to hear such a sermon from you." – " Perhaps so; and I did not expect such treatment from you. I had heard things of the Portsea people which gave me but a mean opinion of them; but I have hitherto no cause to complain; so that we are both agreeably disappointed." – "Well, but I do not like your book." – " You do not understand it." – " Oh, I cannot believe faith to be a duty: we cannot believe." – "You seem to think we ought to do nothing but what we can do." – "True." – "And we can do nothing." – "True." – "Then we ought to do nothing; . . . and if so, we have no sin, and need no Saviour." – " Oh no, no, no ! I want to talk more with you." – " Yes, but the mischief is, you cannot count five." – "What do you mean?" – "First, you say, we ought to do nothing but what we can do. Secondly, we can do nothing. Then I say, thirdly, we ought to do nothing. Fourthly, we have no sin. Fifthly, we need no Saviour." " After all, this person, and all of that stamp, were greatly interested in the preaching, and pressed me to go to their houses; would have it that I was of their principles, &c., and were much concerned when I went away. I told them I thought very differently from them in various respects; but they took all well; and I prayed with them before we parted."
His influence was not only felt in rebuking the narrowness of his own denomination, but individuals at least within the pale of the church were moved to unwonted liberality. At one time he was permitted to preach for the Bible Society in a parish church in Scotland. He thus speaks of it in his journal: – " About six o’clock we reached Saltcoats. Here I found that the parish minister, on hearing that I was to collect at the Burgher meeting-house, resolved to have a sermon at the same hour in the church, and a collection for the Bible Society. He said, however, that if I chose to preach the sermon in the church, and let the collection be applied to the Bible Society, I was welcome to do so. As soon as this was mentioned to me by another person, I immediately sent to the clergyman, offering to relinquish my own object, and, if he was agreeable, to preach the sermon in the church, in favour of the Bible Society. This he acceded to, and I called on him before worship. I then observed that he must be aware of what he had proposed being contrary to the rules of the Assembly of the Church of Scotland; and that I should be sorry if any ill consequences were to follow on my account. He replied that his presbyters were well disposed, and he had no fears on that head. I then preached the sermon, and pleaded with all the energy I could for the Bible Society. After worship, I went to my inn: then called to sup and lodge with the clergyman. (Such is the custom in Scotland.) While sitting in his house, I told him I felt happy in the opportunity of expressing my regard for the Bible Society, and requested him to add my guinea to the collection. But during my call at the inn, after worship, he had consulted with his friends on the subject of my having been deprived of a collection. He therefore answered me by saying, ‘I. cannot accept your guinea; and, moreover, I must insist on your accepting half the collection for your object; and you must make no objection whatever to it. Such is the conclusion of our session.’ Finding him quite resolute, I yielded, and took half the collection, which, however, did not amount to £6."
On one of his journeys, he called one day on a celebrated clergyman of the Church of England, being perhaps the most popular man at that time among the evangelical party. He asked, without telling his name, for a subscription for the mission. The clergyman refused, and spoke in slighting terms both of the movement and of the body from which it emanated. He added, however, "There is one great man among you, and his treatise, entitled ‘The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation,’ is one of the most masterly productions I know." The following colloquy ensued:-
"A. F.: "For all the faults in that work, Sir, I am responsible." – C. rises from his chair with eager apologies, and ultimately presses a subscription.
A. F. (in his own deep bass): "No, Sir, not a farthing! You do not give in faith." A little friendly conference, however, led to its acceptance. On one occasion he was even permitted to preach in a parish church in England, but that was not on behalf of the mission.
The readers of Mr. Marshman’s exhaustive book on the Serampore Mission will understand the amount of labour involved in defending the interests of the mission, and securing the liberties of the missionaries, by correspondence with the Government. He had interviews with several cabinet ministers, in which he pleaded the cause of the missionaries with dignity and effect. At one of them, one of the king’s ministers, probably Lord Liverpool, remarked, with genuine diplomatic courtesy, that he "quite approved of liberty of thought in matters of religion." A deep voice, in measured words, answered: " My lord, we do not wish for liberty to think: that you cannot give or take away: we ask for liberty to act." His lordship, it is said, quite started, and, looking round, encountered the stern eye of Andrew Fuller, who sat rather behind the rest of the deputation.
He had, moreover, to do battle through the press with the agents of the East India Company unfavourable to the missionary enterprise. His reply to Major Scott Waring is a powerful piece of irony. The hot, blustering style of the major led him into all sorts of inaccuracies, which are most mercilessly ridiculed by his critic; while his own cautious way of dealing with facts left not one break in his armour for the weapon of his opponent.
In addition to all the labours of his pastorate, Andrew Fuller was secretary to the mission, collector, defender of the brethren as well as the Faith, all at the same time. All these toils were pursued, amidst frequent attacks of illness, with an undaunted resolution and perseverance. The nature of his engagements, and their overwhelming pressure, are summed up in a letter to an editor who was soliciting a contribution to his periodical:-
"My labours will increase without any consent on my part As to magazines, there are several to which I contribute, for the sake of the mission and other public interests; and, through such a number of objects as press upon me daily, my own vineyard, my own soul, my family, and congregation are neglected. Every journey I take only makes way for two or three more; and every book I write only occasions me to write others to explain or defend it. ‘All is vanity and vexation of spirit!’ ‘ I gave my heart to know wisdom; I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.’ Some are pressing me to write more largely on the mediation of Christ, and others to review the second edition of Mr. Booth’s Glad Tidings. Controversies perplex me; and I am already engaged with a gross and subtle sophist. My northern correspondents are ever raising objections against my views of faith, &c.; all of which I could answer, but cannot get time. I have sent your remarks to my friend at Edinburgh; they will serve as a tub for the whale to play with, and perhaps for a time he will let me alone.
"Pearce’s Memoirs are now loudly called for. I sit down almost in despair, and say: ‘ That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is lacking cannot be numbered.’ My wife looks at me, with a tear ready to drop, and says: ‘My dear, you have hardly time to speak to me.’ My friends at home are kind, but they also say: ‘ You have no time to see or know us, and you will soon be worn out.’ Amidst all this, there is ‘Come again to Scotland – come to Portsmouth – come to Plymouth – come to Bristol.’
"Excuse this effusion of melancholy. My heart is willing to do everything you desire that I can do, but my hands fail me. Dear Brother Ryland complains of old age coming upon him, and I expect old age will come upon me before I am really old. Under this complicated load my heart has often of late groaned for rest, longing to finish my days in comparative retirement."
Thus the oath made at the mouth of the pit was faithfully kept. While every nerve was strained at home to fulfil the solemn pledge which had been given, the missionaries toiled on in the darkness abroad. It was seven years before the cry came cheerily up the shaft, that gems of strange beauty rewarded the hands that grasped the rope above and those that toiled below.
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