CHAPTER 10 – Literary Labours Continued – Doctrinal and Practical Writings
No common qualities are needed to expound for us God’s dealings with His children in the early days of the world’s history. Logic, power of thought, or directness of statement, will do but little towards reproducing a history beginning with the creation of the world, and coming down to the high times when the "Divine presence shook the mercy-seat." There is in this part of Holy Scripture all the intense reality of human experience in living communion with God. The joys and sorrows of the patriarchs in their lonely pilgrimage, with their strange, beautiful dreams and solemn covenants of love with the Father of all; altars built on lonely wastes, where the pilgrim and the priest were one, calling down pledges of love resting on generations countless as the stars of heaven; the sorrows of the childless; the overflowing joys of a divinely-promised maternity; sins, sorrows, hopes, and fears, and all life’s vicissitudes, strangely woven, by an unseen hand, into one beautiful tissue; – all these things, and many more, belong to the "Genesis" of Revelation – the story of the "Fathers of Israel."
All the varied power which can depict the scenery of life, and read its holy meaning, is needed in one who would help us to understand that wonderful chapter in sacred history. It is a far different task to that of tracing the workings of a principle, or defining the boundary of a doctrine. That Mr. Fuller succeeded in this latter work is what we should have expected, from the character of his mind and the nature of his training; but we may not be so fully prepared for the versatility of power revealed in his exposition of Genesis. It flows on like a tender pastoral. The description of scenery, manners, and character, are thrown in with living touches; while the reflections which ally the history to the experience of all, are given with such delicacy and judgment, that, while avoiding the feebleness of "spiritualising," they bring the deeper meaning right home to the heart. Now and then words come in savouring more of the polemical than the descriptive; but, as a whole, they are admirably varied to the requirements of the subject.
In a short and suitable dedication to his beloved friends at Kettering, he speaks of his practice, continued for fifteen years, of expounding to them some portion of the Word of God on the Lord’s day morning, and asks their acceptanceof the discourses as memorials of the pleasure they had enjoyed together "in exploring the treasures of the lively oracles."
Without further preface, he enters upon his task. The reader will not expect in the opening chapters the elaborate disquisitions on "Science and Revelation" given by modern harmonists, and he may be possibly of opinion that they do not suffer from their absence. No pre-Adamite creation is referred to, because none had been declared by the geologists; but the comments on the great six days’ work are simple and sufficing. It is, however, when he comes to the life that began to people the world, and to the sad experiences of men in the travail of their sin and woe, that we begin to feel the true power of the author, – " when the gold had become dim, and the most fine gold changed." "Adam," he exclaims, "thou didst murder an unborn world, and thou shalt see the fruit of it in thine own family! Thou hast, however, witnessed a human death: go, see the first victim of the King of Terrors in the mangled corpse of Abel thy son!" As he passes on to describe the deluge, with the events that follow, we find real power of description. Whatever may be thought of the theory involved in the paraphrase of the words, "On that same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven opened," its picturesque strength will hardly be denied.
"What a scene of consternation and dismay must that day have exhibited, on the part of those who were left behind! The manner in which the rains set in would leave little or no hope of their being soon over. It was not a common rain: it came in torrents, or, as we should say, in a manner as though heaven and earth were come together. The waters of the subterraneous cavities from beneath, and of the clouds from above, all met together at God’s command, to execute his wrath on guilty men. The great deep seems to mean that vast confluence of waters said to have been gathered together on the third day of the creation into one place, and called seas, chap. i. 9, 10. These waters not only extend over a great part of the surface of the earth, but probably flow, as through a number of arteries and veins, to its most interior recesses, and occupy its centre. This body of waters, which was ordained, as I may say, unto life, was turned, in just displeasure against man’s sin, into an engine of destruction. Bursting forth in tremendous floods, multitudes were hereby swept away; while, from above, the clouds poured forth their torrents, as though heaven itself were a reservoir of waters, and God had opened its windows."
If we are introduced into any scene, in these solemn lifestories, where death or bitter distress are busy, he writes as one only can write who has himself been pierced with many sorrows. Most touchingly he describes the wanderings of Hagar and Ishmael, when Abraham sent them forth with the "portion of bread" and the "bottle of water," because, stung with envy, she had marred the joy of Sarah over the "child of promise."
"It was doubtless the design of Hagar, when she set off, to go to Egypt, her native country; but having to travel through a desert land, where there was ordinarily no water, it was necessary she should be furnished with that article. Whether ‘the wilderness of Beersheba,’ as it was called at the time Moses wrote the narrative, was directly in her way, or whether she went thither in consequence of having ‘wandered,’ or lost her way, so it was that she was reduced to the greatest distress. The bread might not be exhausted, but the water was; and no spring being to be found in this inhospitable place, she and Ishmael appear to have walked about, till he, overcome of thirst, could walk no longer. She had supported him, it seems, as long as she could; but fearing he should die in her arms, she cast him under a shrub, just to screen him from the scorching sun, and ‘went and sat herself down over against him, a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said, Let me not see the death of the child! And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice and wept.’
" A more finished picture of distress we shall seldom see. The bitter cries and flowing tears of the afflicted mother, with the groans of her dying son, are heard, and seen, and felt, in a manner as though we were present. And wherefore do they cry? Had there been any ear to hear them, any eye to pity them, or hand to help them, these cries and tears might have been mingled with hope; but, as far as human aid was concerned, there was no place for this. Whether any of them were directed to Heaven we know not. We could have wished, and should almost have expected, that those of the mother at least would have been so; for surely she could not have forgotten Him who had seen and delivered her from a similar condition about sixteen years before, and who had then promised to ‘multiply her seed,’ and to cause this very child to ‘dwell in the presence of all his brethren.’ But whether any of these expressions of distress were directed to God or not, the groans of the distressed reached His ear. ‘God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.’
"At this instant, lifting up her eyes, she saw a spring of water, which before she had overlooked; and, filling her bottle from it, returned to the lad, and gave him drink. ‘To God the Lord, belong the issues from death.’ He maketh strong the bands of the mocker; and again He looseth His prisoners, and delivereth those that were appointed to die. If Ishmael were, at any future time possessed of true religion, he must look back upon these humbling but gracious dispensations of the God of his father Abraham with very tender emotions."
Here is another short extract snatched from the history of Abraham’s hour of trial. Surely the man who penned these sentences is writing the story of something in his own life, and has himself heard the voice of the Lord God, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest." Familiarly he seems to speak of those hushed pathways of sorrow and sacrifice, where the soul must be alone with its God, as one who had often walked in them without fear or dread :-
" ‘ Abide you here,’ said he, ‘with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.’ This would intimate that he wished not to be interrupted. In hard duties and severe trials, we should consider that we have enough to ‘struggle with in our minds without having any interruptions from other quarters. Great trials are best entered upon with but little company. Such was the precaution taken by our Lord himself. It is admirable to see how, in this trying hour, Abraham possessed his soul. He lays the wood upon his son – takes the fire and the knife – they go both of them together – he so evades the cutting question of Isaac as to prevent disclosure, and yet in such a manner as to excite resignation to God – built the altar – stretched forth his hand – and took the knife with an intention to slay his son !"
But with all this high spirituality of thought, there is mingled a great power of practical teaching. He never seems to forget that the men in the pews beneath him are still men, whatever may be his hopes of their renewed character. If there is a tradesman in Andrew Fuller’s congregation whose business transactions are not what they should be, he will not escape chastisement because the preacher is a spiritual man, and his thoughts (many of them) such as only the spiritual can understand. On the contrary, the eye of the speaker, that is flashing with the thought that seems to have borne him away with it, is watching all the while for an opportunity of rebuking him. Presently the narrative gives him a chance of doing so, and his swift thought descends at once upon its prey :-
" Abraham calls himself a stranger and a sojourner: but they call him ‘a mighty prince among them;’ give him the choice of their sepulchres; offer anyone of them gratis; and when he insisted on paying for it, mention its value in the most delicate manner, intimating that such a sum was as nothing between them. Were commerce conducted on such principles, how pleasant would it be! How different from that selfish spirit described by Solomon, and still prevalent among men: ‘Naught, naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth!’ Civility, courtesy, and generosity adorn religion. The plainness of Christianity is not a rude and insolent one; it stands aloof from flattery, but not from obliging behaviour."
Farther on in the same history, when " Jacob erected an altar and called it El-elohe-Israel, i.e., God the God of Israel," I find this little snatch of beauty, as showing how earnestly his own heart was watching for its own lessons and rebukes through all his study of the lives of the patriarchs :-
"It were no less happy for us than consistent with our holy profession, if every distinguishing turn of our lives were distinguished by renewed resignations of ourselves to God. Such times and places would serve as memorials of mercy, and enable us to recover those thoughts and feelings which we possessed in our happiest days."
But the history of Joseph is still more full of that intense personality which so makes us feel that he is flinging himself into every life he touches. See how carelessly he lifts to the surface an experience like this, with the fearlessness of a man who, if he has known the power of sin, has felt, too, the strength of communion and grace :-
"In some cases sin begins upon a small scale, and increases as it advances; but the very first proposal in this case is murder! This shows the height to which their hatred had been previously wrought up, and which, now that opportunity offered, raged like fire with uncontrollable fury. But have they no apprehensions as to consequences? What tale are they to carry home to their father? Oh, they are at no loss for this. Malice has two intimate friends always at hand to conceal its dark deeds; namely, artifice and falsehood. ‘ We will cast him into some pit,’ say they, ‘and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams!’ Who will say that the workers of iniquity have no knowledge? They have all the cunning as well as the cruelty of the old serpent."
Or again: ‘" They said one to another, we are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us! ‘ God, in dealing with sinners, usually adapts the punishment to the sin, so as to cause them to read the one in the other. Hence adverse providences call our sin to remembrance; our own wickedness corrects us, and our backslidings reprove us. They would not hear Joseph in his distress, and now they could not be heard; they had thrown him into a pit, and are themselves now thrown into prison! These convictions are heightened by the reproaches of Reuben, who gives them to expect blood for blood. Reuben was that, methinks, to his brethren, which conscience is to a sinner; remonstrating at the outset, and, when judgment overtakes him, reproaching him, and foreboding the worst of consequences. His words are sharp as a two-edged sword: ‘Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? Therefore behold, also, his blood is required! ‘ "
The picture of Joseph’s meeting with his brethren is beautifully drawn; the original outline filled in with tender touches of light and shade, which seem to show us something of the home life of the speaker. A brother’s love and tenderness are here, such as the strong feel towards the weak and erring, with all the strange wonder of a child in the presence of the great mystery of human life; its separations, – wider than the grave – its sadder meetings, where we do not meet, but stand face to face, with a "great gulf" fixed between us.
His eyes seem to brim with tears as hot as Joseph’s, as he bends over the scene, more touching, more alive and warm with human sorrow, than any of the fair Hebrew story that has come down to us.
"And now, the business of the morning being over, Joseph enters. They immediately request his acceptance of the spices and sweet meats of Palestine, sent as a present by their father, bowing down their faces to the earth, as they had done before. Thus Joseph’s dream, which was repeated to him, is repeated in its fulfilment. There is nothing said of his manner of receiving it; but doubtless it was kind and affable. And as they would present it in the name of their father, this would furnish a fair opportunity to inquire particularly respecting him; a subject on which his feelings would be all alive. It is charming to see how he supports the character which he had assumed, "that of an Egyptian nobleman, who remembered what they had said about a venerable old man, of whose welfare he very politely inquires: ‘Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?’
"They answer very properly, and call their father his servant, and again make obeisance. Thus, in them, Jacob himself bowed down to Joseph; and thereby that part of his dream was also fulfilled.
"When Joseph saw his brethren, his eyes, perhaps without his being aware of it, were fixed on Benjamin, ver. 16. But having detected himself in that instance, he appears to be more upon his guard in this. He receives the present, and converses with them about their father’s welfare, without once turning his eyes towards his brother. But having done this, he thinks he may venture a look at him. He lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said to the others, but still under the same disguise, ‘Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me?’ If he could have waited for an answer, they would doubtless have told him it was; but his heart is too full. No sooner is the question out of his lips than (it may be with his hand upon his head) he adds, ‘God be gracious unto thee, my son!’ O Joseph, on what tender ground dost thou presume to walk! This benediction, though under the disguise of a good wish from a stranger, was in reality an effusion of a full heart, which in this manner sought for ease. Genuine love longs to express itself
"This little indulgence of affection, however, had well nigh betrayed him. Ardent desires will always plead hard to go a little way, and presume not to go too far; but to indulge them a little is like letting air into a room on fire. Joseph is so affected by what has passed that he is obliged to quit the company, and retire into his chamber to weep there.
"Having recovered himself, and washed his face, that they might not discover his tears, he re-enters, and behaves with much hospitality and attention.
" And now I apprehend it was Joseph’s wish to discover himself to his brethren, or rather to enable them to discover him. There are three things in particular, while they were at dinner, each tending to this end, and, as I conceive, designed for it. 1. The order of the tables. One for himself, one for the strangers, and one for the Egyptians. The design of this was to set them a thinking of him, and who he was, or could be. That the Egyptians and Hebrews should eat apart, they could easily account for: but who or what is this man? Is he not an Egyptian? Yet if he be, why eat by himself? Surely he must be a foreigner. 2. The order in which they themselves were seated: it was ‘before him,’ so that they had full opportunity of looking at him; and, what was astonishing to them, every man was placed ‘according to his age.’ But who can this be, that is acquainted with their ages so as to be able to adjust things in this order? Surely it must be some one who knows us, though we know not him. Or is he a diviner? Who or what can he be? They are said to have ‘marvelled one at another,’ and well they might. It is marvellous that they did not hence suspect who he was. 3. The peculiar favour which he expressed to Benjamin, in sending him a mess five times more than the rest. There is no reason to suppose that Benjamin ate more than the rest; but this was the manner of showing special favour in those times; see chap. xlv. 22, 23. It was, therefore, saying, in effect, I not only know all your ages, but towards that young man I have more than a common regard. . . . Look at all this, and look at me. . . . Look at me, my brother Benjamin. Dost thou not know me? – But all was hid from them. Their eyes, like those of the disciples towards their Lord, seem to have been holden, that they should not know him. Their minds, however, are eased from all apprehension, and they drank and were cheerful in his company."
All who have read Mr. Fuller’s exposition of Genesis must remember the account of Joseph’s discovering of himself to his brethren. No one could have so thrown himself into the scene unless he had tasted something of the blessedness of meeting again those long-lost. We have seen how truthfully all the approaches of the lord of Egypt and his brethren are described. And now, when Joseph has made himself known, and explained all the mystery to his astonished kinsmen, we have some manly teaching concerning forgiveness. It takes a man of some greatness of soul to understand and appreciate true forgiveness. We are so accustomed, when we forgive, to enlarge upon the bounty of our gift, that we are tempted always to look for the same poverty of love in others. Mr. Fuller shows how he could himself forgive, by the beautiful delight which he takes in Joseph’s conduct to his brethren. He seems to revel in Joseph’s delicacy and in the wonderful way in which he sets his brethren at ease. Thus exquisitely the whole scene is rendered:-
"The close of Judah’s speech must have been succeeded by a solemn pause. Every heart is full; but every tongue is silent. The audience, if they understood the language, would be all in tears. The ten brethren, viewing the whole as the righteous judgment of God upon them, would be full of fearful amazement as to the issue. Benjamin would feel both for his dear father, and his beloved brother who had offered to give himself for him! But what saith the judge? How does he stand affected? I have no doubt but that he must have covered his face during the greater part of the time in which Judah had been pleading; and now this will not suffice. The fire burns within him, and it must have vent. ‘Cause every man,’ said he, ‘to depart from me!’ And then he breaks out in a loud weeping, so that the Egyptians from without heard him. Their minds no doubt must be filled with amazement, and desire to know the cause of this strange affair; while the parties within would be still more confounded, to witness such a burst of sorrow from him, who, but awhile before, was all sternness and severity. But now the mystery is at once revealed, and that in a few words – I AM JOSEPH!! DOTH MY FATHER YET LIVE? If they had been struck by an electrical shock, or the most tremendous peal of thunder had instantly been heard over their heads, its effect had been nothing in comparison of that which these words must have produced. They are all struck dumb, and, as it were, petrified with terror. If he had been actually dead, and had risen and appeared to them, they could not have felt greatly different. The flood of thoughts which would at once rush in upon their minds is past description. No words could better express the general effect than those which are used: ‘They could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence !’
"A little mind, amidst all its sympathy, might have enjoyed the triumph which Joseph now had over them who once hated him, and have been willing to make them feel it; but he has made them feel sufficiently already; and having forgiven them in his heart, he remembers their sin no more, but is full of tender solicitude to heal their wounded spirits. ‘Come near unto me,’ saith he, ‘I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.’ This painful event he does not seem to have mentioned but for the sake of convincing them that it was he himself, even their brother Joseph, and not another; and lest the mention of it should be taken as a reflection, and so add to their distress, he immediately follows it up with a dissuasive from over much sorrow: ‘Now, therefore, be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land; and yet there are five years, in the which there shall be neither earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh,’ &c.
"In this soothing and tender strain did this excellent man pour balm into their wounded hearts. A less delicate mind would have talked of forgiving them; but he entreats them to forgive themselves, as though the other was out of the question. Nor did he mean that they should abuse the doctrine of providence to the making light of sin; but merely that they should eye the hand of God in all, so as to be reconciled to the event, though they might weep in secret for the part which they had acted. And it is his desire that they should, for the present at least, view the subject much in that point of light which would arm them against despondency and a being swallowed up of over much sorrow. Their viewing things in this light would not abate their godly sorrow, but rather increase it: it would tend only to expel the sorrow of the world, which worketh death. The analogy between all this and the case of a sinner on Christ’s first manifesting Himself to his soul, is very striking. I cannot enlarge on particulars; suffice it to say, the more he views the doctrine of the cross, in which God hath glorified Himself, and saved a lost world by those very means which were intended for evil by His murderers, the better it will be with him. He shall not be able to think sin on this account a less, but a greater, evil; and yet he shall be so armed against despondency as even to rejoice in what God hath wrought, while he trembles in thinking of the evils from which he has escaped."
No man has set forth his doctrinal belief with greater clearness and compactness than Mr. Fuller. We have not to labour through weary dissertations to get at his creed on any one point, but everything is arranged and paragraphed with such completeness, that it seems as if his views on these subjects were written designedly for ready reference. He gives us his opinions in a set of "Dialogues and Letters between Crispus and Gaius." A modern authority has objected to the dialogue form of controversial writing, oh the ground that if an author pulls the strings of both puppets, he can make them cut what capers he pleases. Mr. Fuller’s Dialogues are scarcely open to this objection, because the two companions do not discuss a great deal, but, by interrogations and conversational suggestions, bring out sharply the various points of the topics under consideration. Besides which, if he had employed it as a weapon of controversy, it may be fairly defended from the charge of unfairness. Anyone who writes on controversial matters, has to represent his opponent; he, therefore, for the time being, "pulls both strings;" and the form in which he accomplishes it has little to do with his impartiality.
But the use of the dialogue with Mr. Fuller had nothing artificial in it. He turns to that which he so well loves as a medium for conveying his thoughts. Andrew Fuller had few deeper enjoyments than a quiet talk on Christian doctrine and practice. In the opening words of the Dialogue, we can almost hear Mr. Fuller welcoming a friend who has dropped in to discuss some recondite topic :-
"Crispus. Good morning, my dear Gaius; I am glad to see you. The world is busy in grasping wealth, in discussing politics, and in struggling for dominion; all trifles of a moment: let us retire from the tumultuous scene, and discourse on subjects of greater importance.
"Gaius. I am glad, my dear Crispus, to find your mind exercised on such subjects. The present agitated state of the world is doubtless a great temptation to many to let go their hold of heavenly things, and to bend their chief attention to subjects which originate and terminate in the present life.
"C. My mind has of late been much engaged on divine subjects. I find in them a source of solid satisfaction. Yet I must confess I feel as well a variety of difficulties which I should be happy to have removed. I have often found your conversation profitable, and should wish to avail myself of this and every other opportunity for improving by it.
"G. Suitable conversation on divine subjects is commonly of mutual advantage; and I must say there is something, I know not what, in the countenance of an inquisitive, serious friend, which, as iron sharpeneth iron, whets our powers, and draws forth observations where otherwise they never existed. I think I have been as much indebted to you for asking pertinent questions as you have been to me for answering them."
The two friends discuss together the character of God and His law, the freedom and depravity of man. They have an introductory talk on the connexion between doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion; so that the reader is guarded at the outset against merely speculative love of doctrinal discussion. A few thoughts on this Third Dialogue are too good to escape us :-
"C. Experimental knowledge, we commonly say in other things, is knowledge obtained by trial.
"G. Very well; it is the same in religion. There are many truths taught us in the Divine Word, and which we may be said to know by reading; but we do not know them experimentally till we have proved them true by having made the trial.
"C. Mention a few examples.
"G. We read in the Scriptures of the doctrine of human impotency, and we think we understand it; but we never know this truth properly till we have had proof of it in our own experience. Further, we read of the corruption of the human heart, and think in our early years that we believe it; but it is not till we have passed through a variety of changes, and had experience of its deceitful operations, that we perceive this truth as we ought. Again, we read much of the goodness and faithfulness of God, and we subscribe to each; but we never realize these truths till, having passed through those circumstances in which we have occasion for them, they become imprinted upon our hearts. It is then that we feel their force and taste their sweetness: hence it is that ‘tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience.’ It was, no doubt, a cheering truth, at all times that ‘God was the portion of His people; but never did they realize that truth so fully as when they were stripped of their earthly all, and carried into captivity. It was then that they sang, as taught by the prophet, ‘The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in Him.’
"C. All experimental religion seems then to bear some relation to truth. If taken generally, for the exercise of spiritual affection, truth is here the cause, and these exercises are its immediate effects. If taken more particularly, for that proof or trial which we have of Divine things as we pass through the vicissitudes of life, truth seems here to be the object of which we have experience.
"G. True; and the more we have of experimental religion, the more we shall feel ourselves attached to the great doctrines of the Gospel, as the bread and water of life, whence arises all our salvation, and all our desire."
After a time the friends, instead of conversing with each other, write letters on the same topics, for the purpose of discoursing with greater continuity and length. The views held by Mr. Fuller on these subjects, and already indicated in this Memoir, are set forth with the most careful minuteness. Then follows a dialogue on the kindred subjects of Substitution and Imputation, between Peter, James, and John; Mr. Fuller putting his opinions in the mouth of James. One protest against a too literal interpretation of the Scripture representation of the death of Christ is earnestly given :-
"James. I apprehend, then, that many important mistakes have arisen from considering the interposition of Christ under the notion of paying a debt. The blood of Christ is indeed the price of our redemption, or that for the sake of which we are delivered from the curse of the law; but this metaphorical language, as well as that of head and members, may be carried too far, and may lead us into many errors. In cases of debt and credit among men, where a surety undertakes to represent the debtor, from the moment his undertaking is accepted the debtor is free, and may claim his liberty, not as a matter of favour, at least on the part of the creditor, but of strict justice. Or should the undertaking be unknown to him for a time, yet as soon as he knows it he may demand his discharge, and, it may be, think himself hardly treated by being kept in bondage so long after his debt had been actually paid. But who in their sober senses will imagine this to be analogous to the redemption of sinners by Jesus
Christ? Sin is a debt only in a metaphorical sense; properly speaking, it is a crime, and satisfaction for it requires to be made, not on pecuniary, but on moral principles. If Philemon had accepted of that part of Paul’s offer which respected property, and had placed so much to his account as he considered Onesimus to have ‘owed’ him, he could not have been said to have remitted his debt; nor would Onesimus have had to thank him for remitting it. But it is supposed of Onesimus that he might not only be in debt to his master, but have ‘wronged’ him. Perhaps he had embezzled his goods, corrupted his children, or injured his character. Now for Philemon to accept of that part of the offer were very different from the other. In the one case he would have accepted of a pecuniary representative, in the other of a moral one, that is, of a mediator. The satisfaction in the one case would annihilate the idea of remission; but not in the other. Whatever satisfaction Paul might give to Philemon respecting the wound inflicted upon his character and honour as the head of a family, it would not supersede the necessity of pardon being sought by the offender, and freely bestowed by the offended.
" The reason for this difference is easily perceived. Debts are transferable, but crimes are not. A third person may cancel the one, but he can only obliterate the effects of the other; the desert of the criminal remains. The debtor is accountable to his creditor as a private individual, who has power to accept of a surety, or, if he please, to remit the whole without any satisfaction. In the one case he would be just, in the other merciful; but no place is afforded by either of them for the combination of justice and mercy in the same proceeding. The criminal, on the other hand, is amenable to the magistrate, or to the head of a family, as a public person, and who, especially if the offence be capital, cannot remit the punishment without invading law and justice, nor, in the ordinary discharge of his office, admit of a third person to stand in his place. In extraordinary cases, however, extraordinary expedients are resorted to. A satisfaction may be made to law and justice, as to the spirit of them, while the letter is dispensed with. The well-known story of Zaleucus, the Grecian lawgiver, who consented to lose one of his eyes to spare one of his son’s eyes, who, by transgressing the law, had subjected himself to the loss of both, is an example. Here, as far as it went,’ justice and mercy were combined in the same act; and had the satisfaction been much fuller than it was, so full that the authority of the law instead of being weakened should have been abundantly magnified and honoured, still it had been perfectly consistent with free forgiveness.
"Finally, in the case of the debtor, satisfaction being once accepted, justice requires his complete discharge; but in that of the criminal, where satisfaction is made to the wounded honour of the law and the authority of the lawgiver, justice, though it admits of his discharge, yet no otherwise requires it than as it may have been matter of promise to the substitute.
"I do not mean to say that cases of this sort afford a competent representation of redemption by Christ. That is a work which not only ranks with extraordinary interpositions, but which has no parallel; it is a work of God, which leaves all the petty concerns of mortals infinitely behind it. All that comparisons can do is to give us some idea of the principle on which it proceeds."
Besides the volumes briefly analysed, Mr. Fuller contributed several practical and expository sketches of more or less value. The discourses on the "Apocalypse" and the " Sermon on the Mount" may be especially named. If the former of these has not greatly added to his reputation, he has but shared the fate of most interpreters of prophecy, while he can, at least, claim the negative virtue of abstaining from those prophetic nostrums so often palmed upon the religious public.
Instead of noticing these and many other "notes and sketches" separately, such extracts are given in a succeeding chapter as are likely to be of interest to the reader .
Particular Baptist Reading Group:
A memoir of the Life and Writings of Andrew Fuller Discussion Page:
The Full Book (coming soon – please check, it may be available):