CHAPTER 8 – Private Life and Familiar Correspondence
TWO years after the formation of the mission, Mr. Fuller married Ann, the only daughter of the Rev. W. Coles, of Maulden. On the evening of the wedding-day he thus writes in his Diary: "This day I was married; and this day will probably stamp my future life with either increasing happiness or misery. My hopes rise high of the former; but my times and those of my dear companion are in the Lord’s hands. I feel a satisfaction that in her I have a godly character as well as a wife; I bless God for the prospect I have of an increase of happiness. It is no small satisfaction that everyone of our relatives was agreeable; that there are no prejudices to afford ground for future jealousies. Two days after our marriage we invited about a dozen of our serious friends to drink tea and spend the evening in prayer."
It is impossible to refrain from rejoicing at this interlude in the care and labour of such a life. Some one is at the house to welcome him home after his weary journeys; and to bear up his spirit as only a wife is able. The hopes he had cherished were more than realized. The year following his marriage brought great peace to his soul and comfort to his house. "Perhaps," he says, "I never lived a year in which I enjoyed more of the pleasures of religion than that of 1795. I have found my marriage contribute greatly to my peace and comfort, and the peace and comfort of my family, for which I record humble and hearty thanks to the God of my life."
The comforting minister came none too soon, for it pleased God to visit him, ere long, with severe family trouble. Into whatever sphere we follow Andrew Fuller, there seems more than enough to crush the spirit of a strong man. Yet, no doubt, under the loving control of his Almighty Father, the pressure of service in one direction was a relief to the burden of sorrow in another.
There was born to Mr. Fuller, by his first wife, a son named Robert, indeed his first-born child, who was the occasion of deep anxiety to his parents. He appears to have been a tender, loving lad, but with a restless, roving disposition, that prevented his settling down to any ordinary occupation. Through all his wanderings, however, it does not appear that he was ever addicted to vice, and possibly some of his father’s references to the sins of his prodigal child, were dictated more by his severe notions of propriety and duty than by the justice of the case. It is very likely that if some occupation suited to the free bent of his mind had been chosen, much anxiety would have been spared. Parents, in the training of their children, are often like a careless sculptor who begins at the wrong side of the marble, and comes upon a dark seam which mars every feature; whereas, if they had chosen the other side of the block all would have been well.
In May, 1796, a situation was procured for Robert, and he started to London. His father retired to his room and wrote this in his Diary: "May 12th. This day my eldest son is gone to London upon trial, at a warehouse belonging to Mr. Burles. My heart has been much exercised about him. The child is sober and tender in spirit; I find, too, he prays in private; but whether he be really godly I know not. Sometimes he has expressed a desire after the ministry, but I always considered that as arising from the want of knowing himself. About a year and a half ago, I felt a very affecting time in pleading with God on his behalf. Nothing appeared to me so desirable for him as that he might be a servant of God. I felt my heart much drawn out to devote him to the Lord, in whatever way He might employ him. Since that time, as he became of age for business, my thoughts have been much engaged on his behalf. As to giving him any idea of his ever being engaged in the ministry, it is what I carefully shun; and whether he ever will be is altogether uncertain; I know not whether he be a real Christian as yet, or, if he be, whether he will possess those qualifications which are requisite for that work; but this I have done, I have mentioned the exercises of my mind to Mr. B., who is a godly man, and if at any future time within the next five or six years he should appear a proper object of encouragement for that work, he will readily give him up.
"I felt very tenderly last night and this morning in prayer. I cannot say, ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk;’ but I can say, ‘God, who hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lad.”’
"July. I perceive I have great unhappiness before me in my son, whose instability is continually appearing; he must leave London, and what to do with him I know not. I was lately earnestly engaged in prayer for him that he might be renewed in his spirit, and be the Lord’s; and these words occurred to my mind – ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord, that goeth not forth out of feigned lips;’ and I prayed them over many times."
Situation after situation was procured for the restless lad, but in neither could he be prevailed upon to stay. His conduct caused his father the keenest suffering. He writes to a friend:-
"My heart is almost broken. Let nothing that I said grieve you; but make allowance for your afflicted and distressed friend. When I lie down, a load almost insupportable depresses me. Mine eyes are kept waking, or if I get a little sleep it is disturbed; and as soon as I awake my load returns upon me. O Lord, I know not what to do; but mine eyes are up unto Thee. Keep me, O my God, from sinful despondency. Thou hast promised that all things shall work together for good to them that love Thee; fulfil Thy promise, on which Thou hast caused Thy servant to hope. O my God, this child which Thou hast given me in charge, is wicked before Thee, and is disobedient to me, and is plunging himself into ruin. Have mercy upon him, O Lord, and preserve him from evil. Bring him home to me, and not to me only, but also to Thyself.
"If I see the children of other people it aggravates my sorrow. Those who have had no instruction, no pious example, no warnings or counsels, are often seen to be steady and, trusty; but my child, who has had all these advantages, is worthy of no trust to be placed in him. I am afraid he will go into the army, that sink of immorality; or, if not, that being reduced to extremity he will be tempted to steal. And oh, if he should get such a habit, what may not these weeping eyes witness, or this broken heart be called to endure! O my God, whither will my fears lead me? Have mercy upon me, a poor unhappy parent: have mercy upon him, a poor ungodly child."
The fear of his enlisting was unfortunately realized, and in 1798 he entered the army. Mr. Fuller thus writes to Dr. Ryland:-
"I have indeed had a sore trial in the affair you mention; but I do not recollect any trial of my life in which I had more of a spirit of prayer and confidence in God. Many parts of Scripture were precious, particularly the following: ‘O Lord, I know not what to do; but mine eyes are up unto Thee. – O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me. – Commit thy way unto the Lord, and He shall bring it to pass. – Cast thy burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. – All things work together for good,’ &c. Even while I knew not where he was, I felt stayed on the Lord, and some degree of cheerful satisfaction that things would end well. I know not what is before me; but hitherto the Lord hath helped me; and still I feel resolved to hope in His mercy."
His discharge was, however, obtained from the army, on the ground of his being an apprentice; but almost as soon as he was free he enlisted again in the marines. The coarse, wicked life around him soon sickened his soul, and he wrote entreating his father to use every effort to get him his liberty. Once again his freedom was secured, and he was received home with loving affection. He could not, however, even then be prevailed upon to remain, and his father, seeing it was hopeless to induce him to settle down, most wisely secured him a situation on board a merchant ship. But misfortune seemed to dog his steps. He had scarcely joined his ship when news was received of his impressment for a common sailor on board a man-of-war.
As if the facts of the case were not bad enough without any addition, a rumour reached home that he had been tried for desertion and sentenced to a severe punishment, under which he immediately expired. "Oh," says the agonised father, "this heart trouble! In former cases my sorrows found vent in tears; but now I can seldom weep. A kind of morbid heart-sickness preys upon me from day to day. Every object around me reminds me of him! Ah! . . . he was wicked: and mine eye was not over him to prevent it; . . . he was detected, and tried, and condemned: and I knew it not; he cried under his agonies: but I heard him not; . . . he expired without an eye to pity or a hand to help him!. . O Absalom, my son! my son! would God I had died for thee, my son!
"Yet, O my soul! let me rather think of Aaron than of David. He ‘held his peace’ in a more trying case than mine. His sons were both slain, and slain by the wrath of Heaven; were probably intoxicated at the time: and all this suddenly, without anything to prepare the mind for such a trial! Well did he say, ‘Such things have befallen me.’"
A few days afterwards a letter arrived which proved this report to be entirely without foundation. "Blessed be God," says the father, "I find the report is unfounded! I have received a letter from my poor boy. Well, he is yet alive, and within the reach of mercy!"
Driven hither and thither, wherever his ship was bound, enduring all the hardships of a man-of-war’s-man in those days, he wrote home to his father, pathetically entreating his forgiveness. This time, however, he asked for no interference in his behalf, but speaks of his sailing for Lisbon, and of a presentiment that it will be his last voyage. In reply to this letter, his father wrote the following epistle:-
"MY DEAR ROBERT, – I received with pleasure your dutiful letter, and would fain consider it as a symptom of a returning mind. I cannot but consider you as having been long under a sort of mental derangement, piercing yourself through, as well as me, with many sorrows. My prayer for you continually is, that the God of all grace and mercy may have mercy upon you. You may be assured that I cherish no animosity against you. On the contrary, I do, from my heart, freely forgive you. But that which I long to see in you is repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, without which there is no forgiveness from above.
"My dear son! you had advantages in early life; but, being continually in profligate company, you must be debased in mind, and, in a manner, reduced to a state of heathenism. In some of your letters I have observed your dashing, as it were, against the rocks of fatalism; suggesting as if you thought you were appointed to such a course of life. In others I find you flattering yourself that you are a penitent; when, perhaps, all the penitence you ever felt has been the occasional melancholy of remorse and fear.
"My dear son! I am now nearly fifty-five years old, and may soon expect to go the way of all the earth. But, before I die, let me teach you the good and the right way. ‘Hear the instructions of a father.’ You have had a large portion of God’s preserving goodness, or you had, ere now, perished in your sins. Think of this, and give thanks to the Father of mercies, who has hitherto preserved you. Think, too, how you have requited Him, and be ashamed for all that you have done. Nevertheless, do not despair! Far as you have gone, and low as you are sunk in sin, yet, if hence you return to God, by Jesus Christ, you will find mercy. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of sinners. If you had been ever so sober and steady in your behaviour towards men, yet, without repentance towards God and faith in Christ, you could not have been saved; and if you return to God by Him, though your sins be great and aggravated, yet will you find mercy."
His own foreboding was mournfully realised. He died off Lisbon, in March, 1809, after a long illness. "From the testimony of his captain," writes Dr. Ryland, "and one of his messmates, we learn that his conduct was good, and such as to procure him much respect; and from letters addressed to his father and his sister, a short time before his death, we hope still better things; we hope he was led to see the error of his way, and to make the Lord his refuge from the tempest and the storm."
It was characteristic of Mr. Fuller that any deep sorrow that pressed upon his soul was sure to find its way into his public exercises. It was not, we may be quite sure, a desire to parade his grief, but the strength of nature that welled forth whatever was stirring within, almost unconscious of listeners.
On the Sunday after he had received the tidings of his child’s death, he went to chapel and preached from Rom. x. 8, 9: "But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." The old, old theme can alone give him comfort, as he sets forth to the assembled congregation these ideas:-
1. The doctrine of free justification by the death of Christ is suited to sinners of all degrees. It asks not how long, nor how often, nor how greatly we have sinned; if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. 2. It is suited to the helpless condition of sinners. We have only to look and live. 3. It is suited to sinners in the last extremity. It answers to the promised mercy in Deut. iv. 29, "If from thence thou seek thy God, thou shalt find Him." Some are far from home, and have no friend, in their dying moments, to speak a word of comfort; . . . but this is near! When Jonah was compassed about by the floods, when the billows and waves passed over him, he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord heard him.
Here the preacher paused, utterly overcome, and wept bitterly. The congregation, who knew well the sad story just brought to a close, and could read the travail of the father’s soul, so thinly veiled by the discourse, wept with him. Afraid, however, lest his own sorrow should prevent his fulfilling his duties, he braced himself up, and closed with a pathetic appeal to the ungodly to seek Christ, lest the very greatness of the Divine love should be a swift witness against them.
Mr. Fuller’s social intercourse was characterized by great tenderness and fidelity. Sometimes it may appear as if he was unnecessarily stern and personal in his communications. Stern, indeed, he was, perhaps to a fault; but he was not hard, and his sternness arose more from a general depth of nature than from harshness of character. His own experiences of sin in a way forced him to deal with it in others with great directness. He was intensely real in all his dealings, both with himself and his fellow-men. He never understood the diplomacy that covers an attack with skilfully constructed sentences; perhaps not always the courtesy that softens a rebuke without concealing it. He was deeply interested in all the affairs of his friends. Their sorrows pierced him, and their joys made him glad. Two or three letters to intimate friends will well illustrate the character of his friendship.
"MY DEAR FRIEND, – I find, by a letter, that you are in constant expectation of losing your son. Since the time that you and I corresponded, our circumstances, temptations, afflictions, and almost everything else pertaining to us, have undergone a change. We have each had a portion of parental care; and now, having passed the meridian of life, we begin to taste the cup of parental sorrow. We often talk of trials, without knowing much of what we say: that is a trial, methinks, which lays hold of us, and which we cannot shake off. If we say, ‘Surely I could bear anything but this!’ this shall often be the ill that we are called to bear; and this it is that constitutes it a trial. And why are afflictions called trials, but on account of their being sent to try what manner of spirit we are of? It is in these circumstances our graces appear, if we are truly gracious, and our corruptions, if we be under the dominion of sin; and too often, in some degree, if we be Christians. When I have experienced heavy trials, I have sometimes thought of the case of Aaron. He had two sons, fine young men, colleagues with their father; God accepted of their offering, and the people shouted for joy: everything looked promising; . . . when, alas! in the midst of their glory, they sinned; and there went out a fire from the Lord and devoured them. Well might the afflicted father say as he did: ‘And such things have befallen me!’ yet he ‘held his peace.’ I say, I have sometimes thought of this case, when I have been heavily afflicted; and have employed my mind in this manner: – Such things befell Aaron, the servant of the Lord, a much better man than I am: who am I, that I should be exempted from the ills which are common to men, to good men, to the best of men? Such things befell Aaron as have not yet befallen me. He had two children cut off together; I have never yet lost more than one at once. His were cut off by an immediate judgment from Heaven, and without any apparent space being given for repentance: thus have not mine been. Yet even Aaron held his peace; and shall I murmur? ‘The just shall live by faith.’ God is telling us, in general, that all things work together for good to them that love Him; but He has not informed us how: nor is it common, under afflictions, to perceive the good arising from them. It is afterwards that they yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness. If the Lord should remove your son, perhaps you are not without hopes of his salvation; and if the event should cause you to feel more than you have yet felt of the perishable nature of all things under the sun, and draw your heart more towards Himself and things above, where Jesus is, you may have occasion in the end to bless God for it. God knows we are strange creatures; and that we stand in need of strange measures to restrain, humble, and sanctify us.
"Give my love to your afflicted child, and give me leave to recommend to him, Him in whom alone he can be saved. I doubt not but you have recommended Christ to him, as the Saviour of the chief of sinners; yet you will not take it amiss if I address the following few lines to him:-
"’MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND, – You know but little of me, nor I of you; but I love you for your parents’ sake. While health and spirits were afforded you, you thought, I presume, but little of dying; and perhaps what you heard by way of counsel or warning, from the pulpit or from other quarters, made but little impression upon you. A future world appeared to you a sort of dream, rather than a reality. The gratification of present desire seemed to be everything. ‘But now that Being against whom you have sinned has laid His hand upon you. Your present affliction seems to be of the nature of a summons: its language is, "Prepare to meet Thy God, O sinner!" Perhaps you have thought but little of your state as a lost sinner before Him; yet you have had sufficient proof, in your own experience, of the degeneracy and dreadful corruption of your nature. Have you learned from it this important lesson? If you have, while you bewail it before God, with shame and self-abhorrence, you will embrace the refuge set before you in the Gospel. The name of Christ will be precious to your heart. God has given Him to be the Saviour of the lost; and, coming to Him as worthy of death, you are welcome to the blessing of eternal life. No man is so little a sinner but that he must perish for ever without Him; and no man so great a sinner as that he need despair of mercy in Him. He has died, the just for the unjust, that He may bring us to God. His blood cleanseth from sin, and the benefits of it are free. The invitations of the Gospel are universal. Though God would never hear the prayers or regard the tears of a sinner like you, for your own sake, yet He will hear from heaven, His dwelling-place, that petition which is sincerely offered in the name of His Son. Repent of your sin, and you shall find mercy: believe His Gospel with all your heart, and you shall live. Plead the worthiness of Christ as the ground of acceptance, to the utter rejection of your own, and God will graciously hear, forgive, and save you. Everyone that thus asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh, the door of mercy shall be opened. In all your supplications for mercy, be sure you found your petitions on the worthiness of Christ alone. But if you can see no loveliness in Him, nor beauty that you should desire Him, depend upon it you are yet in your sins, and, so dying, you must perish. I do not know whether you have, at any time, been inclined to listen to the abominable suggestions of infidels; but if you have, you now perceive that those are principles that will not stand by you in the near approach of death. If the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world, be not now a comfort to you, you are comfortless. Look to Him, my dear young friend, and live.’ "
TO A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH
"MY DEAR FRIEND —–, – received your letter, and was affected in reading it. Ah! is it so, that you have indulged in secret sin for seven or eight years past, and that God, the holy and the jealous God, has now given you up to open sin, and that you have in a manner lost all power of resistance?
"It is not in my power, nor that of any creature, to enable you to decide upon your former experience, while you are in this state of mind. If an apostle stood in doubt of a backsliding people (Gal. iv. 20), we must do the same – and even of ourselves, or, which is worse, our confidence will be delusion. The tree can only be known by its fruits. If the reproaches of the world, and the censures of the church, lead you to repentance – if you not only confess but forsake both your secret and open sins, and return to God by Jesus Christ – you will yet obtain mercy; and these visitations of God will prove to have been the ‘stripes’ of a Father on a disobedient child. But if you persist in your sins, you will prove yourself an enemy, and ‘God will wound the head of His enemies; and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses;’ Psalm lxviii. 2l.
"There certainly is such a thing as for a man to ‘hear the Word and not do it;’ and this is compared to the case of one who ‘seeth his natural face in a glass, and straightway goeth away and forgetteth what manner of man he was,’ and such are described as ‘deceiving their own selves;’ James i. 22-24. Perhaps there are few who have long sat under the preaching of the truth, but have at times beheld their own character and condition by it. Simon trembled (Acts viii. 24), and Felix trembled (Acts xxiv. 25). Often will conscience answer to the truth of what is spoken, even while some lust has the dominion over the soul. If, instead of producing a change of heart and life, these convictions be only transient, – if, on going from the means of grace and plunging into worldly cares and company, all is forgotten – it is as when the seed was ‘picked up by the fowls of the air.’ And where these transient impressions are mistaken for the grace of God in the heart, there men ‘deceive their own selves.’
"In your present condition do not attempt to decide upon your past experiences. Your immediate concern is, whether you have ever repented and believed in Jesus before or not, now to repent and come to Him. You may not be able to come as a backsliding Christian, but come as a guilty, perishing sinner. The door of mercy is not yet shut upon you. Read and pray over the 130th Psalm; also the 32nd and 51st. When we think of the aboundings of sin, it would seem as if none could be saved; yet when we think of the superaboundings of grace, and of the preciousness of that blood that was shed upon the cross, and which cleanseth from all sin, we must acknowledge that none need despair. O friend —-, retrace your steps! Come back – come back! lest you plunge ere you are aware into the pit whence there is no redemption. – Read Jer. xxxi. 18-21.
"When a parent loses, or is in danger of losing, a child, nothing but the recovery of that child can heal the wound. If he could have many other children, that would not do it. Thus it was with Paul and the Corinthians:- ‘If I make you sorry, who is He that maketh me glad, but the same that is made sorry by me? 2 Cor. ii. 2. Thus it is with me towards you. Nothing but your return to God and the church can heal the wound. What is my hope or joy or crown of rejoicing? Are not ye? Do not bereave me of my reward! But and if it be so, the loss will be yours more than mine. If I have but the approbation of God, I shall be rewarded; my loss will be made up; but who is to repair yours? – I am still affectionately yours,
"September 19th, 1805.
"MY VERY DEAR BROTHER, – I have just now received a line informing me that Mrs. M. is no more. I feel much for you and your family. There are few events of this kind that occur to my brethren but they call to my remembrance the words of Aaron: ‘Such things have befallen me.’ The most intimate of earthly unions are dissoluble, and formed to be dissolved. We know these things at other times, and repeat them for the reconciling of others: but God will cause us all, sooner or later, to feel them. How often have you and I accompanied the mourners to the grave, as a matter of course, and conciliated their minds with the consolations of the Gospel. And in our turn we are glad of the same consolations ourselves. Things which otherwise would be deemed mere commonplace, shall thus become meat and drink to us.
"O my brother! though it may have been said a thousand times over, it will bear being said ten thousand times over again – ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’ What a blessed thing it is to give up our dearest relatives to Christ, instead of burying them without hope. When I have seen a pious young man marry an irreligious woman, it has occurred to me, How will he be able to bury her? You may lay your bones, or have them laid, some day by her side, or even mingle dust with her; but you will be parted at the resurrection. But when I see two who have been fellow-heirs of the grace of life, walking together in the fear of the Lord, though one must expect to be taken first, yet how cheering the hope of meeting again to part no more!
"We have several friends near the mouth of the grave, and it will soon be our own turn to follow. And soon let it be, if we may but be found ready. I seem of late to have the end of my life more constantly in view than formerly. The words of Paul have been sweet to me: ‘For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!’
"When I lost my late dear Mrs. F., I found it good to keep near to God, and to employ my mind constantly in my work. In this way I enjoyed a calmness and peace of mind which issued in comfort. We cannot come to see you; but we will pray for you and sympathise with you. The Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your affectionate brother,
The following affectionate letter to the children at Serampore has been kindly furnished by J. E. Ryland, Esq., of Northampton:-
"Kettering, January 7th, 1813.
"MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND, – Yours of January 7th, 1812, I duly received, and on the same day of 1813, sit down to answer it. There was no need for any apology for your addressing a letter to me, which, from my regard to your father and mother, as well as to yourself, could be no other than acceptable. It gave me and many others pleasure to hear of your progress, and that of the other youths, in the Chinese and other branches of literature; but to hear of any of you surrendering yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ surpasses everything of that kind. All attainments without this will prove but hoisted sails before the winds of temptation. I cannot write individually to all the young people of the mission: – will you excuse me if I answer yours by a few words addressed to them all, and will you read it to them?
"My dear young people, the hope of your parents, of the Society, and, I might say, of the Christian world! God has conferred an honour upon your parents in employing them as He has. He has wrought a work not only in their day, but by their hands, which has given a tone to the religious world, and may be reckoned as the first-fruits of the blessings of the latter days. It is a great blessing conferred upon you to have been born or educated, as you have, in the midst of this work. But, O my dear children, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Were you to live under the millennium itself; in unbelief, you would not see it, but, like the Jews, ‘despise, and wonder, and perish!’
"I was much interested a while ago in hearing Mr. Robert Hall, of Leicester, at the Nottingham Association, discourse on spiritual death, from Eph. ii. 1. I remember some of the sentiments, though I cannot do them justice as to the manner in which they were conveyed. He observed ‘that death was not merely a negative but a privative idea. We do not consider a stone as dead, because it was never alive. Spiritual death supposes that we were originally alive to God. It is not natural to us as creatures to be alienated from the life of our Creator, and averse to everything that resembles Him. No, it is an unnatural state of things introduced by sin.’ He added, ‘The privation is total. Nothing truly good exists in us while we are dead in trespasses and sins. There are degrees in the circumstances of death, but death admits of none. Some die calm and placid, others with horror and distorted features, but both alike dead: and the most amiable character, while dead in sin, is but a smiling corpse!’
"He showed the awfulness of a state of spiritual death by observing the kind of life of which it is the privation. ‘Life of every kind is valuable, and the loss of it an evil: but the evil rises in proportion to the value of the good which is lost. In witnessing the effects of a deadly blast upon the vegetable creation, we feel pensive "in seeing flocks and herds dragged to the slaughter-house, we are pained" in beholding a field of battle covered with slain, we are distressed,’ but what are these to viewing a world of immortal souls dead to God and all that is truly good!’
"My dear young people, some of you, I trust, can look back on this deplorable condition with thankfulness for delivering mercy; and where this is the case, a new world is opened to your view. You read the Bible, as it were, with new eyes; the Gospel, with which you have been conversant from your youth, instead of being an irksome, is become a joyful sound; the duties of religion, which you were as much at a loss how to go about in a right way, as king Saul was how to obey the commandments of the Lord, are become pleasant, nay delightful; you consider the work of the mission very differently from what you did, and feel both a pity for the unconverted, and a love to them who love the Saviour, which you never felt before.
"I should not wonder if you have often regretted that your parents were engaged in so unfruitful an undertaking as it respected your worldly prospects; but it may prove to be one of the greatest blessings even to you. It accords with the sovereignty of grace to convert and save children in answer to the prayers and as an encouragement to the disinterested labours of their godly parents. If we are saved and called, it is not according to our works; yet it may be according to the prayers and labours of others connected with us, not, indeed, as a meritorious cause, but as that which God delighteth to honour. The disinterested obedience of Abraham in surrendering even the life of his son to God, was followed with blessings upon Isaac. When is it that God has promised His people to ‘pour out His Spirit upon their seed, and His blessing upon their offspring’? Is it not in the latter days, when His people themselves shall be more entirely devoted to Him? (Isa. xliv. 1-5; lxv. 17-25.) Has not the Lord given specimens among the Hindoos of what He means to do, by gathering them, as it were, in clusters, sometimes in whole families. He has seldom blessed one without making him a blessing to others among his relations.
"But take heed ‘lest there be among you any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright:’ for you know how, that afterward when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance (or way to change his father, Isaac’s mind), though he sought it carefully with tears. Esau was Jacob’s elder brother, and, doubtless, had heard as much said in the family about the blessing that was in it, that is, about the Messiah and His kingdom springing from Abraham’s posterity, as you have heard in your families about the mission and the further spread of the Gospel. One day, being faint and hungry, he took a fancy to Jacob’s pottage: when asked to sell his, birthright for it, consented. ‘Here is a great ado made about this promise. It is something that I do not understand nor much care about; something far distant, and that I shall never live to see; give me good eating and drinking, and Jacob may have the promise, and he will.’ Thus Esau despised his birthright, which included the sacred promise of the Messiah as descending from His loins, denominated him profane. Take heed, my dear children, lest there be among you any profane person like Esau, who for sensual and present gratifications, despises the promises made to the Church of God, and dislikes being employed in their accomplishment. The time will come, as it did with Esau, and it may not be very distant, when the loss of the birthright will be severely felt, and when the Lord will refuse to change His mind, even though importuned carefully and with tears.
"Dear children, are your hearts with our hearts in the Work of God? Then give us your hands. We rejoice to see any embrace the Saviour, but especially the children of those whom we have known and loved. ‘I rejoiced greatly,’ said John to a pious lady, ‘that I found of thy children walking in truth.’ Yet it is observable he does not say, I found thy children, but I found of thy children. It appears that there were some amongst them who walked not in truth.
"Last Lord’s day I addressed the youth of my own congregation, for the thirtieth time, in an annual discourse on their eternal concerns. It was, this year, from 2 Tim. iii. 15, and the things I dwelt upon were: The principal means which the godly of old time were wont to use in the education of their children; ‘the Holy Scriptures,’ the high commendation of them, ‘able to make us wise unto salvation;’ and the way in which the Holy Scriptures themselves become of essential benefit, ‘through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’ Jesus is the sum and glory of the Scriptures: without faith in Him, therefore, though you know them from your childhood, know them in their original languages, know them as translators and critics, yet they will not make you wise unto salvation. It is faith in them that is the key to open all their treasures.
"You have most, and perhaps all of you been the subjects of convictions, have felt conflicts between conscience and inclination, have sometimes wept in secret in thinking what would become of you, have prayed for mercy, have entertained hopes of obtaining it, and yet all has subsided and been forgotten. Remember this, the promise is not made to them ‘that labour and are heavy laden,’ but to them that come to Christ with their burdens. Beware that you get not rid of your burdens without coming to Him, which many do; settling upon some self-righteous ground of hope, taking comfort from their convictions and tears, or plunging into worldly pleasures; borne to Him as lost sinners for salvation, take His yoke, and learn His spirit, and you will find rest for your souls.
"Remember me very affectionately to your brother Benjamin, and your sister Susanna, to Jabez and Jonathan Carey, and to all the dear children of the mission. I shall be happy in receiving a letter from all or any of you at any time. My two eldest children, John and Mary, I trust know and love the Lord. They are both coming to reside at Kettering in the spring, – Mary, whose husband (Levet) is a draper, and John, a printer. My three youngest children. Sarah, Andrew, and William, are a comfort to me and their mother. – I am, very affectionately yours,
Many of the most interesting facts in his life which have been recorded, both in this and other Memoirs, are gathered from his copious correspondence with his beloved wife. There remains still a small packet of letters, written to her during some of his journeyings, from which no extracts have yet been made. These communications were evidently intended for none but the eyes of those nearest and dearest to him. Yet it is so good and refreshing to see the gentle water¬springs rising in the secret places of great rocks, that we cannot forbear revealing some of these tender and loving words.
One morning, while at Lincoln, in the month of August, 1802, he was evidently in a humorous as well as happy vein. He writes as follows:- "It is almost nine o’clock, and my old lady and her daughters are not yet up; but I have hereby time to talk a little with my dear wife. I am where I can see more than twenty miles towards home. My chamber looks south. The house stands very high. The whole city of Lincoln is down before me – the tops of the houses twenty or thirty yards below me. Belvoir Castle, the seat of the Duke of Rutland, twenty-five miles off, I should think is visible from some parts of this hill, though I cannot see it. Riding yesterday from Nottingham to Newark, I saw on my right hand the castle and the vale of Belvoir, containing a great number of villages, among which is Granby, which gives title to a marquis of that name, and where lives a Miss Hall, who is a subscriber to our mission. But I want my breakfast. I took a newspaper up, and have read that, but I want something more solid."
At Barton-on-the-Humber, the same journey, he writes:¬ "We arrived here at ten. My sleep having been regular of late, I was not weary, and am now very well. With tenderness and earnest solicitude I have importuned Preserving Mercy for my dear family, and that I may visit it in due time and not sin."
The close of this letter was written two days afterwards, from Hull. "I have hitherto been mercifully preserved in all respects. My mind is peaceable and happy; and my approaches to a throne of grace, at which I do not forget you all, have been free and tender. I hope soon to receive a letter from my own dear. – Meanwhile I am, ever yours,
"P.S. – I shall begin another as soon as this is gone. By this I keep up a talk with you."
From Hull he journeyed northward, and the next letter quoted from is written at Dundee, in September of the same year. In this extract there is a combination of graphic description and picturesque writing which carries you pleasantly along. We can easily understand the pleased interest with which it would be read by the home circle at Kettering, and how glad they must have felt to be able for a little while to follow him in his wanderings from them.
"I am now sitting in my chamber, from which I have a full east view of Dundee close under me, and of the Frith of Tay down to the sea. A ship will sail from hence to London in three or four days, if the wind be fair. The Orkney and Shetland Isles are as far north of me as I am of you – nearly 400 miles. It is a fine romantic country between here and Perth, 21 miles, all along by the side of the Tay. High hills, some of them covered with wood, craggy rocks, and fruitful fields in pleasant valleys, form the view. They are now in the midst of harvest. The women reap as much, as the men. Necessity is the mother of invention: – the natural sterility of the soil in this country has stimulated agricultural improvement, which seems to be at a greater height than in England. From Edinburgh to Queen’s Ferry, fourteen miles, the land is worth £3 an acre. They are induced, I fancy, not only from friendship and hospitality to treat Englishmen well, but from a regard to the credit of their country, which some of our haughty gentry have too much depreciated. They have to say, and justly, ‘Though you say our country is sterile and poor, yet it is from hence that Smithfield is supplied with beef.’
"I preached three times last week in Edinburgh, and once at Dalkeith, and was not a little apprehensive that I should be laid by with hoarseness; but I went through very well. On the Lord’s day preached twice in the morning to about 1,500 people, and in the evening to about 4,000, when we had a collection of £130, and I was not at all hurt by it. On Monday morning, I took leave of friends at Edinburgh, who were many of them much affected at parting. I rode away to this place, 63 miles, in company with a young minister, a Mr. Wardlaw, who agrees to accompany me my whole journey through Scotland. Our first stage was to Queen’s Ferry. There we crossed the Frith of Forth, two miles wide."
Six years afterwards he was again in the neighbourhood of Barton-on-Humber, from which place he sent the following letter to his wife. It records so many interesting little incidents, that we venture to give it in full.
"Brigg, 12 miles south of Barton,
"Friday morning, September 30th, 1808.
"MY DEAR —-, – This is the first leisure hour I have had, and this is owing to waiting for the tide. I have felt something of the pain in my loins all the way, but nothing but what is tolerable; and my mind has been calm and happy. The first day I was rather driven for want of food, as I got only a bite of a cake from a lady in the coach from four in the morning till three in the afternoon. I reached the Great North Road four miles sooner than I expected, and the minute I arrived at it, nine o’clock, at a house called Greetham New Inn, the mail appeared in sight, and I was obliged to relinquish my breakfast and get into it. At Newark, 28 miles further, where we arrived at one o’clock, there was a fair, and I could get no dinner till three. Here, however, I was known; and riding over to Collingham, a distance of five miles, after tea, I preached. This day’s journey was 60 miles.
"Thursday, 25th September. Found Brother Nicholls comfortably situated; but the people seem to have had but little teaching. They are like the old nobility by the new – unwilling that their number should be increased, lest there should be less power, I fancy, for them. Hence they cannot understand village preaching, &c. This, however, is only the case with some of them. The church was twenty years without the baptism of a single man. I hope Brother Nicholls will bring them off such things by degrees. At ten o’clock, Mr. Nicholls and I left Collingham, and got into Lincoln by one. Here we parted. Finding the mail for Barton would start at five o’clock in the afternoon, I had a few hours to call on Mr. Jones and some of his friends. At five o’clock, the mail came in, but was full inside and out. Two other persons wanted places as well as I, so we took post-chaise, which is both cheaper and pleasanter. At the first stage we learned that there would be no passing the Humber to-day before one or two o’clock. Then, said we, we may as well stop at Brigg as go to Barton, and then we shall have a good night’s rest. We got in here last night at ten o’clock. On alighting from the chaise, Mr. George Greenwood laid his hand on my shoulder; spent an hour together, and retired to bed.
"Thus far I have copied the little incidents of the journey for want of others. By some conversation with Mr. G. G. about the Continent, which he visited some years since on trade, I learned something of the righteous acts of the Lord. His visit was in 1803, when there was peace. At that time, he said, the Hamburgers had a good stroke of trade in common with their neighbours; but having been used to the privilege of neutrality in all wars, at which time they engrossed nearly the trade of the world, they were not satisfied. Their language then was, ‘Let us have a good war, and then we shall have the trade of the world.’ They have had a war, and it has proved their ruin. But what a picture or sketch does it give of human nature! Selfishness is a gulf that swallows up every feeling of equity and mercy. And what a change is left for the Gospel to produce even in Christianized Europe!
"At the last stage between here and Lincoln, while the chaise was getting ready, I took up a book to read; it was a life of Oliver Cromwell. The author would not believe that he was such a fool as to believe anything about regeneration and grace, and that all he said about these things was only talking to people in their own way: for, said he, Cromwell was well educated, and had read much! Another sketch of human nature as depraved. O my dear! what a blessed thing it is for us to have been delivered from these delusions, and taught to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. God be thanked that we were the servants of sin; but we have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine into which we were delivered. I must leave a little to fill up at Hull.
"Barton, near twelve o’clock, Friday. Have got to preach to-night at Hull. Shall not be able to sail till between three and four in the afternoon. There is a Prussian in the room, who speaks broken English. F.: ‘What country¬man?’ – P.: ‘A Prussian.’ – F.: ‘Why, are we not at war?’ – P.: ‘Oh no; no Prussian like war with England. It is all force.’ Thus they come and trade, in spite of Buonaparte and his decrees.
"Hull, October 1. Arrived here last night at six, and at seven preached and collected. On going to my lodgings, found letters from Dr. Stuart, and Pengilly of Newcastle, which I have answered this morning. A pamphlet also was put into my hand, – a Socinian magazine, called the ‘Monthly Repository,’ – containing a letter addressed to me from the Socinian minister of this town, full of pretty heavy charges, but concluding with the offer of his mite to our treasury, if called upon. So I waited upon him this morning, partly to receive his mite, and partly to justify myself from his charges. I took two friends with me, and came away with a whole skin, and a guinea for the mission. I suspect he only made the offer to show his liberality, not expecting to be called upon; but if so, he was disappointed. My lumbago has hitherto diminished, though the wet and cold weather we have had might seem to be against it.
"Lord’s day morning. Have got to preach at three places to-day. By Tuesday morning I may get a piece of paper to enclose, and then I will send off my letter. Monday morning. Have had a good night after the labours of yesterday, and feel but little of the lumbago. Trade is very flat here, so that if I get £100 I shall get more than I expect, or full as much.
"Well, I have got a £100 bill, so I will send it off to-day. Have taken a place in the stage to go to York to-morrow morning. Grace and peace be with us! Remember me to Brother Morgan, and to all our friends who inquire. – With love also to mother and all of you, I am, ever yours,
While we exhibit his tender interest in others, we must not forget to make mention of his own sicknesses and sorrows. Though he was a firm-built man, he did not enjoy any continuance of health. There are frequent references in his letters home to hoarseness and affection of the liver, with attendant headache; and, indeed, during the last fifteen years of his life, he was constantly suffering from attacks of this sort. From his own account, it would appear that these sicknesses had their rise in the severe missionary labours of 1792, and that he deliberately entered on his still greater toils of public preaching and collecting, with the prospect of constant suffering. We find in his Diary the following entry:-
"July 18th, 1794. Within the last year or two we have formed a mission society, and have been enabled to send out two of our brethren to the East Indies. My heart has been greatly interested in this work. Surely I never felt more genuine love to God and His cause in my life. I bless God that it has been a good means of reviving my soul.
"My labours, however, in this harvest, I have reason to think, brought on a paralytic stroke, by which, in January, 1793, I for a week or two lost the use of one side of my face. That was recovered in a little time, but it left behind it a headache which, I have reason to think, will never fully leave me. I have ever since been incapable of reading or writing intensely. At this time I am much better than I was last year; but, even now, reading or writing for a few hours will bring on the headache. Upon the whole, however, I feel satisfied: it was in the service of God. If a man lose his limbs or his health in intemperance, it is to his dishonour; but not so if he lose them in serving his country. Paul was desirous of dying to the Lord: so let me!"
In the antumn and winter of 1802 he was for a time quite prostrated. "I suppose," he writes to a friend, "you will feel anxious to know how I am, and so will many whom I cannot gratify. Indeed, I can hardly inform you of my present state; but many have whispered that I am just in the situation of poor Pearce when he had been at Harborough. The means used to remove the cough and fever have brought me well-nigh to the grave; and the cause is not removed. I can just walk from one room to another, and creep up and down stairs; but my strength and spirits are gone. In reviewing my past life, I feel much cause for shame and self-abasement. I have been an unprofitable servant; and if the Lord discharge me from His work, He is righteous. Yet, while I feel abased, my hope, as a poor perishing sinner, is fixed upon the Rock of Ages. Into His hands I have committed my spirit, willing to live or die as it pleaseth Him. Pray for me that I may be fitted for whatever is before me."
During his illness he appears almost always to have been thinking and talking about the "seraphic Pearce." The memory of his holy and beautiful life quieted and soothed his mind. He writes, a week or two later: "I am exceedingly feeble; the cough is not removed, and the fever remains, with loss of appetite, strength, and spirits. I am teased with blisters; but perhaps they are necessary. They still say I am going after Pearce. Well, if it should be so, I hope to go whither he is gone. I feel at present calm and resigned to the will of God. I remember at the time when that dear man was wasting away at Plymouth, I was riding outside the coach from London; and, turning my back on the company, I wept for several miles, and put up this prayer: Let the God of Samuel Pearce be my God!"
Nowhere did the tidings of Mr. Fuller’s illness produce more concern than in Scotland. To relieve the anxiety of himself and his friends, Dr. Stuart undertook a journey to Kettering. This Dr. Stuart, who was a Sandemanian, and so differed seriously from Mr. Fuller on some points, appears to have been one of his warmest and most familiar friends. There is a letter in the packet from Mr. Fuller to his wife, with some very kind words in the corner, added by Dr. Stuart, earnestly inviting her to visit Scotland with her husband. When he heard of Mr. Fuller’s illness, from a mutual friend, he wrote in reply:- "With what feelings I perused your letter this morning, He only knows who knows my heart. I had some painful anticipation from a letter which our afflicted friend wrote to me August 5th. I heard no more, and remained anxious ever since. Previous to your letter, I had just perused the Periodical Accounts at one sitting, with such emotions as I scarcely ever felt; my heart was drawn forth, I know not whether with greater and more tender affection to the author of the Preface, or to the chosen and devoted band in Bengal. I cannot resist the impulse of my soul to obtain the satisfaction of beholding his face, and knowing what is done."
The author of this loving letter could not have been the Sandemanian of whom Mr. Fuller speaks, who prayed, "Lord give me head knowledge; the rest I leave to Thee."
Mr. Fuller was completely taken by surprise by the welcome visit of his northern friend. He seemed not only to have brought good advice with him, but to have rallied his sick friend by his cheerful wit. Towards the close of the year he began slowly to recover, and speedily began to use every grain of strength he gained. He tells us that in one week he "wrote three essays for the magazines, despatched twenty letters by post, and prepared about fifty other pages for the press. Pretty well," he says, "for a sick man."
From these few gleanings we see somewhat of the private life of this great and holy man. His children remember him as stern in his rebukes, yet infinitely tender in his yearning love for them. The communion of husband and wife was rooted in a deep esteem for each other, which yielded those sacred joys and treasures no other love can bring; and this esteem was strengthened by that knowledge of each other’s character, which the mutual bearing of affliction can alone reveal. They were blessed with the birth of several children, but the hand of death cut down many of these flowers that grew between the "bearded grain." In these times of trial, that most wonderful thing, the tenderness of a strong, great nature was fully revealed; and resting in his great strength, as well as having the deep sympathy of his spirit in her times of sorest suffering, Mrs. Fuller knew, in a way, that but for these griefs she never could have realised how he was "better to her than ten sons." On the day before the death of one little girl, who died shortly after his recovery from the lengthened illness of which we have been speaking, he poured out his grief and trust in the following lines. It is somewhat strange that verses so full of real poetry, and written in such expressive and exquisite rythm, should have been comparatively unknown. How plainly in them, in the midst of the tumult of sorrow, one hears the quiet voice of God comforting the heart!
"Sweet Babe! why fix thy wishful eyes on us?
We feel thy load, but cannot give thee aid.
Did’st thou know aught, we would direct thine eyes
To HIM from whom alone thy help must come.
But what shall we do now? We will convey
Thy looks expressive, up to Heaven’s high throne;
And plead on thy behalf with Him who gave
A blessing when on earth to babes in arms.
"On babes in arms our Jesus laid His hands,
And at the instance, too, of others’ prayers;
Were they not parents? Be it so, or not;
If others’ suit prevailed, why should not ours?
A mother pleaded once a daughter’s cause;
And ‘Be it to thee even as thou wilt,’
Was Jesu’s answer!
"Oh, our Redeemer and our God! our help
In tribulation – hear our fervent prayer;
To Thee we now resign the sacred trust,
Which Thou, ere while, didst unto us commend;
Soon we must quit our hold and let her fall,
Thine everlasting arms be then beneath.
In Thee a refuge may she find in death,
And in Thy bosom dwell when torn from ours:
Into Thy hands her spirit we commit,
In hope ere long to meet to part no more."
His friendships were but the expansion of his home fellowship. The grief of surviving friends, after his own death, can be well understood in the light of his sorrow for those who died before him. His memorials of Robert Hall, of Arnsby, and of Samuel Pearce, referred to in the chapter on his literary labours, are touching revelations of the depth and sincerity of his friendship. His epitaph on the tombstone of his beloved friend, Mr. Beeby Wallis, still bears witness, in the quiet graveyard at Kettering, to the loving communion of pastor and deacon:-
"Kind Sycamore, preserve, beneath thy shade,
The precious dust of him who cherished thee:
Nor thee alone; a plant to him more dear
He cherished, and with fostering hand upreared.
Active and generous in virtue’s cause,
With solid wisdom, strict integrity,
And unaffected piety, he lived
Beloved amongst us, and beloved he died.
"Beneath an Allon-Bachuth Jacob wept:
Beneath thy shade we mourn a heavier loss."
Such was Mr. Fuller in his domestic life and private friendships. We have already followed him in the earlier part of his religious life into his more solitary strifes and communings. We get occasional glimpses of these as he advanced in years, enough to show us that when others went to their own homes his retreat was often to the mount of prayer. Few men have been less carried away by the excitement of public life, and the secret is found in a constant jealousy of himself fed in these times of solitude: his last entry in his journal is a self-reproach for a want of spirituality in the midst of his journeyings, and an earnest and humble prayer that the Lord may keep him in His way. So in the quiet of his heart he prepares for his public work. And in him we have an illustration of the great fact that self-surrender in heart ever precedes all true deeds of self-sacrifice. Here and there, in home letters, he tells of times of quiet enjoyment after his more public engagements, and speaks of them in a way to make one enter into his refreshment of spirit, and feel deepened in one’s own life. His solitude has no unhealthy morbidness; it is not the stillness of death, but of life in repose; it has all the air about it of quiet valleys among hills – secret places wherein true life springs up – there is the low sunset light and the sound of falling waters.
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