CHAPTER 14 – Preaching
IT is strange that, almost at the same time, the Baptist denomination should have produced three preachers so known to fame as Robert Hall, John Foster, and Andrew Fuller. Perhaps it would be difficult to find any three men whose powers were more utterly different. The three faces of the men, as we have caught them even in pictures and engravings, will bring home the contrast. Robert Hall, with his full and lighted eye; John Foster, with his head slightly inclined, and his downcast gaze lingering among the shadows; Andrew Fuller, with his stern and solemn look, piercing the very depths of the souls before whom he is pleading.
Robert Hall poured forth to the assembled crowds at Bristol, that torrent of burning words which held his congregation spell-bound as he uttered those sentences of faultless finish, which, with all their symmetry, never gave the idea of elaboration or effort. It has been said by no common teacher that a picture half-finished and sketchy has a power of its own, because it is power in strife to reach the ideal of the artist, while the last colourings tone down the effort of the painter. It is the same in speech; oftentimes there is more felt power in a rugged half-finished outline, than in a discourse well-matured in all respects; but it is none the less true that, with the artist and the speaker, real completeness is to be desired. It must be borne in mind, however, that there is a difference between true finish and that shallow elegance which only glosses over poor work. The common grain of the wood, and the mark of badlyhandled tools, will show through the stain and varnish. Butlife has its own finish, which is inseparable from the beautiful work beneath, and which while it reveals, yet in a more wonderful sense veils, the toil of the workman. In such finish lay the beauty and the power of Robert Hall’s discourses; they did not come into his brain rough-hewn, for him to polish afterwards, but seemed to well forth from the depths of his mighty soul in all their marvellous perfection. By such power is he still remembered: he has left no great grasping thoughts for succeeding generations to draw their strength from, and see in new lights with new experiences, but the stream of his sacred eloquence still flows by us to gladden and refresh.
In John Foster’s Lectures and Essays there was far more of the appearance of effort, yet it was not effort opposed to the full and free exercise of power. The style of composition, with its long-drawn sentences, exactly harmonized with the meaning to be conveyed. He uttered and wrote great thoughts, that slowly struggled into birth. He lived too deeply in the realm of mystery, and his thoughts were too sorrowful, to express himself in pointed epigrams. As an idea grew in his mind, it gathered round it so many elements, that when it was uttered it came loaded with strange and beautiful relationships.
Andrew Fuller possessed neither the rich genius and polished diction of Hall, nor the reflective life of Foster.To an ever-present and profound feeling of the reality of eternal things, he added strong and sterling sense, ripe judgment, mature wisdom, and a pungent and pausing utterance. Though his words did not glow with the inspiration of his great contemporaries, his discourses were full of striking and weighty thoughts, arranged and illustrated with the ease of a master. Far more than either Foster or Hall, he touched men in their sins and sorrows, and reached the common experiences of life. Living men who were privileged to hear Andrew Fuller preach, speak of it with hushed awe, as a solemn visitation haunting their souls through half a century of changing experience. They bear in remembrance not only the matter of the discourse, but the deepmeasured tones in which it was uttered, the searching look, which seemed as if it pierced the veil of the flesh, and reached the inmost recesses of their soul. Those deep tones seemed equally powerful in tracking out the soul’s sins, and in soothing and quieting its sorrows. It is related of him, that once, at the close of a discourse, almost consumed with the solemnity of the theme upon which he was speaking, he seemed unable to find language adequately to express his meaning. He stopped and said, "I pause for a word." The effect was far more powerful than if he could have commanded at that moment the most appropriate phrase. It has been said of the ministry of two preachers, that after hearing the one, people went away exclaiming "How beautiful!" while after hearing the other they were unable to say anything. This may serve to indicate the difference between Andrew Fuller and some of his more brilliant contemporaries. His hearers felt much more inclined to be alone with themselves than to talk over his discourse.
The assemblies whom these men addressed answered to the character of their teaching. Many still remember the congregations that thronged Broadmead. It was not uncommon to see ministers of various denominations gathered as if by a common attraction towards the pulpit; while men ofletters, members of the bar, and even statesmen, formed part of the crowd in the body of the chapel. Andrew Fuller, Sutcliffe, and Ryland, have been seen sitting with bowed heads, weeping like children under the passionate appeals of the preacher, and Denman and Brougham audibly whispered their admiration to each other. Foster drew out his analogies, and set forth the royal dignity of faith, to a scanty but appreciating audience; while Andrew Fuller addressed crowds of almost every class in England and Scotland. Here and there would be seen the sullen Antinomian listening with lowering brow, and more numerously scattered were some who were eagerly yearning for a broader faith, and rejoicing in the annunciation of a free and full salvation: Others, again, long wedded to a different style of preaching, listened half doubtfully, yet wistfully, to the preacher’s bold words. Above all, "the common people heard him gladly;" and there fell ofttimes upon him "the blessing of him who was ready to perish." On one occasion, he saw a little ragged child pressing in vain to gain admission to the crowded meeting; he took him by the hand, and led him through the crowd, placing him in a convenient place for hearing. That child became one of the most impassioned preachers of the midland counties.
Andrew Fuller has himself given us an outline of his own manner of preaching; – not, indeed, designedly so; but in some letters to a young minister he describes, insensibly but most accurately, his own methods of discourse. No man felt more the solemn character of the preacher’s work. "To declare," he says, " ‘the whole counsel of God’ in such a way as to save yourself and them that hear you, or, if they are not saved, to be pure from their blood, is no small matter. The character of the preaching in an age contributes more than most other things to give a character to the Christians of that age; a great and solemn trust, therefore, is reposed in us, of which we must shortly give an account."
These thoughts reveal the secret source of his strength.The power to stir men’s hearts in such a fashion as Andrew Fuller was able to do, is not born with any man: it is rather the purchase of his own inward growth, – a "trust" it is; but it is a trust committed to the keeping of the man who can suffer to buy it. As we look into the history of this preacher’s life, we find how true it is that "he proved the power not else than by the pain." The man in whom a large portion of the Christian church throughout the country is resting as a bulwark of strength, is himself overwhelmed with a sense of his own weakness. He is expected to preach here and there to crowded and expectant audiences, who are running to and fro through the day in eager anticipation of his coming. How conscious of his power and influence must this man be! How like a conqueror he must feel as he enters the town! No! Andrew Fuller is sitting on the top of the coach, his face "turned away from the company," and big tears are rolling down his cheeks, and the noise of the coach-wheels drowns his stifled sobs, as he cries: "May the God of Samuel Pearce be my God!"
But all this the congregation knows nothing about, as the giant preacher walks with a firm and measured tread into the pulpit. His cheeks are tearless now, and his face is set like flint, "to pull down and to destroy," and no one ever dreams that those slow, pausing lips a few hours since were quivering in an agony of weakness. It is the old story: "Oh, my Lord, I cannot speak, for I am a child! But the Lord answered me, Say not, I am a child; for behold thou shalt go to all to whom I send thee, and I am with thee to deliver thee. Be not afraid of their faces, lest I confound thee before them."
He laid great stress in public teaching on a faithful exposition of Holy Scripture. He believed most deeply that a fair and full unfolding of the narratives and exhortations of Holy Writ would yield everything that men could need. In this way he went over the greater part of the Old and New Testament during eighteen years of his ministry. It was hisopinion that while it was advantageous to a minister to feel himself necessitated to understand every part of Scripture, in order to explain it to the people, it was advantageous to the people that what they heard should come directly from the Word of God, and that they should be led to see the scope and connection of the sacred writers. He preferred this method to that of topical preaching, by which, he was wont to say, the text was wrested from its connection with neighbouring passages, and so its true meaning often lost.
"The great thing necessary," he said, "for expounding the Scriptures, is to enter into their true meaning. We may read them, and talk about them, again and again, without imparting any light concerning them. If the hearer, when you have done, understand no more of that part of Scripture than he did before, your labour is lost. Yet this is commonly the case with those attempts at expounding which consist of little else than comparing parallel passages, or, by the help of a Concordance, tracing the use of the same word in other places, going from text to text till both the preacher and the people are wearied and lost. This is troubling the Scriptures rather than expounding them. If I were to open a chest of oranges among my friends, and in order to ascertain their quality, were to hold up one, and lay it down; then hold up another, and say, This is like the last; then a third, a fourth, a fifth, and so on, till I came to· the bottom of the chest, saying of each, It is like the other; of what account would it be? The company would doubtless be weary, and had much rather have tasted two or three of them."
The connection of a verse or sentence he thought to be of more importance than the most critical examination of terms, or the most laborious comparison of the use of them in different places. For want of attention to this, not only particular passages, but whole chapters, were frequently misunderstood. He most happily illustrates this opinion in a paragraph in the letters in question :-
"The reasonings of both Christ and His apostles frequently proceed not upon what is true in fact, but merely in the estimation of the parties addressed; that is to say, they reason with them on their own principles. It was not true that Simon the Pharisee was a little sinner, nor a forgiven sinner, nor that he loved Christ a little; but he thought thus of himself, and upon these principles Christ reasoned with him. It was not true that the Pharisees were just men, and needed no repentance; but such were their thoughts of themselves, and Christ suggested that, therefore, they had no need of Him; for that He came ‘not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Finally "It was not true that the Pharisees who murmured at Christ’s receiving publicans and sinners had never, like the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness, gone astray; nor that, like the elder son, they had served God, and never at any time transgressed His commandment; nor that all which God had was theirs: but such were their own views, and Christ reasons with them accordingly. It is as if He had said, ‘Be it so, that you are righteous and happy; yet why should you murmur at the return of these poor sinners?’ Now, to mistake the principle , on which such reasonings proceed, is to lose all the benefit of them, and to fall into many errors."
It is almost needless to add, that he insisted on the necessity of "drinking into the spirit" of the writers, in order to understand their meaning. "Who," he exclaims, "but a Pope or a Cowper could have translated Homer; and who can explain the oracles of God but he who, in a measure, drinks into the same spirit?" Every Christian knows by experience that in a spiritual frame of mind he can understand more of the Scriptures in an hour than he can at other times, with the utmost application, in a week.
It is by an unction from the Holy One that we know all things. "A humble sense of ignorance," he declared, "would often give us knowledge;" and "that which we communicate will freeze upon our lips, unless we have first applied it to ourselves;" or, to use the language of Scripture, "Tasted, felt, and handled the Word of Life."
It was always his wont, in seeking out the meaning of a psalm or chapter, first to examine it thoroughly by himself, and then afterwards to consult other expositors. It was his opinion, that if you first sought the judgment of the commentators, it would preclude the free exercise of your own; and that that which was furnished by the labours of another, though equally good, or even better, was of far less worth than that which was gained by your own application. The reader will remember his old experience, when he found his plough made wriggles by following the furrow of another man, and the prayer recorded in his Diary: "Oh, Lord, Thou hast given me a firm determination to take no truth at secondhand."
The subject-matter of his preaching was equally clear and impressive. It was a practical exposition of his own treatise on "The Gospel ‘worthy of all Acceptation.’ " He would quote as the motto of his mission to men, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." In one of his letters to the young minister, he sets forth in earnest language what he felt to be his own true mission. " In every sermon we should have an errand, and one of such importance that if it be received or complied with, it will issue in eternal salvation. I say nothing of those preachers who profess to go into the pulpit without an errand, and to depend upon the Holy Spirit to furnish them with one at the time. I write not for them, but for such as make a point of thinking before they attempt to preach. Even of these I have heard some who, in studying their texts, have appeared to me to have no other object in view than to find something to say in order to fill up the time. This, however, is not preaching, but merely talking about good things. Such ministers, though they think of something beforehand, yet appear to me to resemble Ahimaaz, who ran without tidings. I have also heard many an ingenious discourse in which I could not but admire the talents of the preacher; but his only object appeared to be to correct the grosser vices, and to form the manners of his audience so as to render them useful members of civil society. Such ministers have an errand, but not of such importance as to save those who receive it; which sufficiently proves that it is not the Gospel."
But while he thus impressively urged a direct errand in a sermon, and the plain setting forth of the Gospel of Christ, he never encouraged that "fastidious humour" manifested by some hearers, who objected to a sermon unless the cross of Christ were the immediate and direct topic of discourse. " There is," he says, "a rich variety in the Sacred Writings; so there ought to be in our ministrations. There are various important truths supposed by this great doctrine, and these require to be illustrated and established. There are various branches pertaining to it, which require to be distinctly considered; various consequences arising from it, which require to be pointed out; various duties corresponding with it, which require to be inculcated; and various evils inimical to it, which may require to be exposed." Thus, he always followed resolutely wherever a text might lead him, without bringing in a formal statement of doctrine into every discourse; while, at the same time, he ever kept in view the relation of these secondary matters to the leading doctrines of the Gospel. Pointed, practical teaching, the reproving of sin, or the exposition of narrative; he regarded as vain, unless, like lines of light, they radiated from the Great Sacrifice.
In the composition of his sermons, as in all other matters, Mr. Fuller was a lover of order. His short and pithy saying, "Many sermons are a mob of ideas," has already been quoted. "They may contain," he says, "very good sentiment, but they have no object in view; so that the hearer is continually answering the preacher, ‘Very true, very true; but what then; what is it you are aiming at? What is this to the purpose? A preacher, then, if he would interest a judicious hearer, must have an object at which he aims, and must never lose sight of it throughout his discourse. This is what writers on these subjects call a unity of design; and this is a matter of far greater importance than studying turned periods or forming pretty expressions. ‘ One thing at once,’ is a maxim in common life, by which the greatest men have made the greatest proficiency."
The introductions to his sermons much resemble the prefaces to his books. In a few concise, compact sentences he takes the heart out of his subject, and gives a clear notion of what he is going to do. In a short and simple discourse on John xiv. 2-4, "I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also; and whither I go ye know, and the way ye know," we have a good illustration of his compact summarising in the introduction.
"If our Saviour had been going to some unknown place, where we must not follow Him, we might well be unhappy; but ‘whither I go ye know.’ It is true we know nothing of an hereafter beyond what God in His Word hath told us; but these lively oracles are a light in a dark place, whose cheering beams pierce the otherwise impervious gloom of futurity. When a dying heathen was asked whither he was going, he replied, ‘O my friends, we know nothing of an hereafter!’ Such also must have been our answer, but for the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. As it is, we know whither our Redeemer is gone. He is gone to His Father, and to our Father; to His God, and to our God. He is gone to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, to the innumerable company of angels, to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to God the Judge of all. Whither He is gone we know, for we have had a foretaste of the bliss. As believers we also are already come to Mount Zion. The church below and the church above are only different branches of the same family, so that he who is come to one is come to the other.
"But how are we to follow Him, unless we ‘know the way?’ If He ‘come and receive us,’ He will be our guide. And this is not all: ‘the way we know.’ Thomas thought he knew not whither his Lord was going, nor the way that led to Him; yet he knew his Lord, and believed in Him as the Son of God and the Saviour of sinners. Jesus, therefore, answered him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life;’ knowing me, you know the way to the heavenly world. Yes, we not only know whither our Saviour is gone, but the way that leads to Him. The doctrine of the cross, as dear Pearce observed, is the only religion for a dying sinner.
"If an affectionate father had resolved to remove to a distant country, he might not take his family with him in the first instance, but might choose to go by himself, to encounter and remove the chief difficulties in the way, and make ready a habitation to receive them. Such in effect was the conduct of our Saviour. ‘I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there, ye may be also.’ His passage through the territories of death was attended with the most dreadful of all conflicts; but, having overcome, it renders ours an easy one. Death to us is Jesus ‘coming to receive us to Himself.”’
He always avoided the mistake made by so many preachers, of dwelling on the terms of the text instead of the proposition. Sometimes, if the words looked at singly yielded anything he deemed of importance to his subject, he would run over them rapidly before proceeding to his subject, but would never mistake this for the theme of his discourse. Thus, for example, in the text, "Thou openest Thy hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing," he dwells upon the terms to take advantage of what he calls "the judicious use of contrast. ‘Thou openest Thy hand.’ What an idea does this convey of the paternal goodness of the great Father of His creation! How opposite to the conduct of many of His creatures, one to another, whose hands and hearts are shut ! What an idea also does it convey of the ease with which the wants of the whole creation are supplied. In what a variety of ways are our wants supplied. The earth is fruitful; the air is full of life; the clouds empty themselves upon the earth; the sun pours forth its genial rays; but the operation of all these second causes is only the opening of His hand." Sometimes he would dwell on a term to give force to an appeal at the close, as in this same verse: "If Thou openest Thy hand, should I shut mine against my poor brother?"
The divisions of his subject are generally admirable, quietly yet thoroughly bringing out the meaning of his text. He had that most rare gift, the power of accurate generalization, carefully guarding against the needless multiplication of divisions. He seems to have been thoroughly weaned in this respect from the Puritan models. The sermon of the seventeenth century must certainly ever remain a problem in literature. It was not uncommon for the preacher to have twelve or fourteen divisions in his introduction. In a sermon on the Song of Solomon, the preacher inquires in his exordium why it is called a Song; then why it is called the Song; then why it is described as the Song of Songs; then how it came to be written by Solomon; the hearer all the while being bewildered with Hebrew points and emphaticums. Thus the shape and the form of the whole is utterly lost in the number of parts into which it is split. In Mr. Fuller’s well-known sermon on "The Magnitude of the Heavenly Inheritance," we have a fair illustration of his method of division. Quietly and patiently he draws out the meaning of each member of the sentence. In the first place he shows, SUCH IS THE MAGNITUDE OF THE GLORY TO BE REVEALED IN US, THAT THE SUFFERINGS OF THE PRESENT TIME ARE NOT WORTHY TO BE COMPARED WITH IT. Secondly,SUCH IS THE MAGNITUDE OF THE GLORY TO BE REVEALED IN US AT THE RESURRECTION, THAT ITS INFLUENCE EXTENDS TO THE WHOLE CREATION. Thirdly, SUCH IS THE MAGNITUDE or THE GLORY TO BE REVEALED IN US AT THE RESURRECTION, THAT THOSE CHRISTIANS WHO HAVE POSSESSED THE HIGHEST ENJOYMENTS IN THIS WORLD, WERE NOT SATISFIED WITH THEM, BUT GROANED WITHIN THEMSELVES, WAITING FOR THE POSSESSION OF IT. He did not always employ subdivisions, and seemed to have had little faith in the magic charm of the three times three.
Any display of vanity or attempt at ingenious spiritualizing moved Andrew Fuller’s anger almost more than anything else. "Can you," he writes in the ‘Evangelical Magazine,’ "think the Scriptures to be a book of riddles and conundrums? and that a Christian minister is properly employed in giving scope to his fancy in order to discover their solution? If we must play, let it be with things of less consequence than the Word of the Eternal God." The idea of marring the simple dignity of the preacher’s message by a sort of solemn buffoonery, or interjecting poor puns and sharp sayings for the sake of attracting attention, was to him too awful a thought to endure for a moment. He used to quote the saying that such men would "court a grin when they should woo a soul." He described the practice as "whipping the Word of God into froth." "No doubt," he said, "ignorant men would gaze, admire, and smile, and say one to another, ‘Well, what a man! who would have thought that he would have found so much in that text !’ Ah, very true! who, indeed?"
But the mechanical skill exhibited in the construction of his discourses was little compared with the living breath that filled them. He never read a discourse; there was so much of earnest persuasion in his addresses that he could as soon understand reading a remonstrance to one man as a sermon to a congregation. Although there was so much skill in the manner in which his materials were arranged, yet he did not consciously give much time to this sort of work; his materials fell into order, as troops fall into line at the word of command. "We must not," he said, "imitate the orator, whose attention is taken up with his performance, but rather the herald, whose object it is to publish or proclaim good tidings. There is in the one an earnestness, a fulness of heart, a mind so interested in the subject as to be inattentive to other things, which is not in the other. ‘We believe, and therefore speak.’ " In some of his sermons he breaks off almost suddenly from the expository part of his subject into discourse that glows and burns with a sort of inner fire. Thus he speaks to us in the third division of his sermon on "The Peace of God," under the heading of the great use of peace in the Christian conflict.
"’The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds.’ – The word here translated ‘keep’ is very expressive: it is a military term, and alludes to soldiers that are in a besieged town; or rather to soldiers that come in aid of others that are besieged. So the peace of God is that to a believer’s heart and mind which a relieving army is to those who are besieged. The heart and mind are supposed to be besieged by the temptations of the present world, and in danger of being taken; and the peace of God, like a reinforcement thrown in, affords relief, and prevents their being obliged to give up the contest. This word might perhaps be expressed by the term fortified – ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall fortify your hearts and minds.’ The terms heart and mind comprehend the whole soul; the one is put for the affections, the other for the judgment – the peace of God serves as a relief, a fortification, for both. Let us here be a little more particular.
"There is one set of temptations which assail the heart, another the mind; and the peace of God serves to fortify our souls against them both.
"1. Let us inquire what are those temptations which assail the heart. In times of persecution, the wrath, enmity, and outrage of a wicked world were such as assailed the heart. It must have been trying to the feelings of the primitive Christians, and all others who have lived in times of persecution. As for our parts, we have so long enjoyed religious peace that we can scarcely realize the scene. But only consider that those who were persecuted were men like you and me, and their property was, perhaps, obtained by the sweat of their brow – and it was hard to have that wrested from them by fines and imprisonment. They had families. It was hard to be torn flesh from flesh – bone from bone. Perhaps the tears of the wives and children might say, ‘Spare him for our sakes!’ It was cruel – it must needs come close to the heart – they had the feelings of men. Nothing but the peace of God could fortify them. ‘Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.’ If they throw you into dungeons – if they deprive you of the honest fruits of your industry – of your friends – your liberty – if they deprive you of all these, they shall not deprive you of one thing – the peace of God! This you shall be able to carry with you into the darkest dungeons, and it shall cause you to sing praises to God at midnight.
"There is another set of temptations which assail the heart – these are the allurements of the world. The former were in the days of yore principally – these in our times. The world seems to be friendly to us; its pleasures melt resistance. It sometimes captivates the heart; and I know not but enemies of this description are more dangerous to Christians than the others. Many have stood in the hour of persecution – they could fight like Samson against thousands when the Philistines set on them; but when the smiles of a Delilah come upon them, they, like him, would fall. There is nothing so good an antidote to this as the peace of God in the heart. But peace in the heart does not include carnal ease. I grant that this is no friend, but an enemy. Peace and union with God are the best fortification of the heart against the allurements of sense. Not all the terrors of Sinai, nor the curses of the law, are so good a preservative as the peace of God in the heart – and why so? It affords superior pleasure to that of the world. It rises infinitely above it. You know very well that when a superior light shines forth it eclipses an inferior one; so, when the sun shines forth, the smaller lights, the moon and stars, hide their heads – they are lost. The peace of God affords a so much superior pleasure in the soul as to overcome flesh and sense. Thus it is that faith overcomes. You have often read that expressive passage – ‘Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?’ Faith penetrates futurity; it rends the veil and pierces into an unknown world; it fixes its eye on eternity, and these little worlds disappear – the heart becomes dead to the pleasures of sense. It was thus that Moses, ‘seeing Him that was invisible,’ became dead to the pleasures of the Egyptian court. It is not, then, very difficult to perceive how the peace of God – a solid, well-grounded peace, communion with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – tends to make a man dead to the world through the cross of Christ."
But all this earnestness is accounted for if we seek him in his study before he goes into the pulpit, and hear him thus communing with himself and his God on the solemn task before him:-
"When I have been thinking of the approach of the Lord’s day, the questions have occurred to my mind, What message have I to deliver to the people of my charge? What important doctrine to establish? What sin to expose? What duty to inculcate? What case to meet? What acknowledged truth to improve? The method frequently used seems to afford an answer to none of these questions; but is rather saying, None at all, only I have a text of Scripture, on the different parts of which I may say something that will fill up the time."
Or again:-" I am expected to preach, it may be to some hundreds of people, some of whom may come several miles to hear; and what have I to say to them? Is it for me to sit here studying a text merely to find something to say to fill up the hour? I may do this without imparting any useful instruction, without commending myself to any man’s conscience, and without winning, or even aiming to win, one soul to Christ. It is possible there may be in the audience a poor miserable creature, labouring under the load of a guilty conscience. If he depart without being told how to obtain rest for his soul, what may be the consequence? Or, it may be, some stranger may be there who has never heard the way of salvation in his life. If he should depart without hearing it now, and should die before another opportunity occurs, how shall I meet him at the bar of God? Possibly some one of my constant hearers may die in the following week; and is there nothing I should wish to say to him before his departure? It may be that I myself may die before another Lord’s day: this may be the last time that I shall ascend the pulpit; and have I no important testimony to leave with the people of my care?"
Without any further analysis, the reader may not be displeased to have some specimens of the compass and power of Mr. Fuller’s preaching :-
THE WOMAN OF CANAAN.
"When John the Baptist sent a message to Jesus, saying, ‘Art Thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus gave an indirect answer, an answer containing a reproof. Whether John himself, retaining, like the apostles, the notion of a temporal kingdom, and therefore expecting on his being put in prison that a great revolution would follow in favour of the Messiah, and hearing of nothing but companies of poor people repairing to Him to be healed of their infirmities, began to hesitate whether he might not have been mistaken, or whether He only personated some of his disciples, somebody appears to have been stumbled at the simplicity of Christ’s appearance. Hence the indirect answer of Jesus: ‘Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he whosoever shall not he offended in Me.’ To be encompassed by crowds of afflicted people supplicating for mercy, and employed in relieving them, was sustaining a character, though far from what the world calls splendid, yet truly great, and worthy of the Messiah. The short account of this poor woman is more profitable to be read than a long and minute history of military exploits."
THE DISCIPLES AND THE PETITIONER.
"Here is a second application made on her behalf; and that is by the disciples; they ‘came and besought Him to send her away.’ I hope they meant that He would grant her petition. One might have expected something considerable from the intercession of the twelve apostles. He had consented to go and heal the centurion’s servant at the request of the Jewish elders; and surely His own disciples must have an interest with Him equal to theirs. If the poor woman knew of their becoming her advocates, it is natural to suppose her expectations must have been raised: and this it is likely she did; for while they were speaking, she seems to have held her peace. Neither need they have been at a loss for a precedent; for though she was a heathen, yet they had lately witnessed His kind attention to a Roman centurion; and had they pleaded this, He might have shown mercy at their request. But to what does their intercession amount? Alas, it is mean and pitiful; it does not appear to have a spice of benevolence in it, but to have been merely the effect of selflove: ‘Send her away,’ said they, ‘for she crieth after us.’ o disciples! and does the voice of prayer trouble you? How little at present do you resemble your Master! We never read of His being troubled with the cry of the poor and needy. And this is all you have to urge, is it? Your charity amounts to just so much as that of some wealthy persons, who give a poor man a penny, not out of compassion, but in order to get rid of him!
"What is the answer to this miserable petition? Our Lord takes no notice of the mercenary nature of the plea; and this was like Himself: amidst the numerous faults of His disciples, He often exercised a dignified forbearance towards them. But what answer did He make? ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ "
THE TRUE GROUND OF PRAYER.
"Let us hear the fourth and last application: ‘Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Most admirable! Such an instance of spiritual ingenuity, of holy and humble acumen, was perhaps never known before, or since. Now the conflict is at an end; the victory is gained; the kingdom of heaven is taken by the prayer of faith. Jesus, like Joseph, can restrain Himself no longer, but appears in His true character: ‘O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt !’ Let us review this charming crisis, and mark the ground from which this last and successful plea proceeded. It was the ground on which the Lord had placed her. He intimated that she was a dog, unworthy of the children’s bread; she readily admitted it, and as a dog presented her petition. Here, then, is the grand secret how to succeed in our approaches for mercy. We must stand upon that ground where the Scripture places us, and thence present our petition. Does the Lord tell us in His Word that we are guilty, unworthy, ungodly, deserving of eternal death? On this ground we must take our stand, and plead for that mercy which is provided for characters of this description. All applications for mercy, on any other ground, will be unsuccessful. "
ST. JOHN AT PATMOS.
"On seeing Him, the apostle fell at His feet as dead. He on whose bosom he could formerly lean with all the familiarity of a friend, is now possessed of a glory too great to be sustained by a mortal man. But yet how sweetly is this awful grandeur tempered with gentleness and goodness! ‘He laid His right hand upon me; saying unto me, Fear not, I am the first and the last; I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”’
APPROVING THINGS THAT ARE EXCELLENT.
"But, to go on a step further, the apostle prays not only that it may abound in knowledge, but ‘in all judgment.’ This is still more. There is a difference between knowledge and judgment; knowledge is more of the speculative, judgment more of the practical. Judgment is knowledge ripened into maturity; knowledge, as I may say, collects the evidences, and judgment sums them up and passes a decision. A man may possess much knowledge, but little judgment. We have known characters who have been very learned, have read many books, have seen many things, have had large acquaintance, and yet had no talents at associating the particulars, so as to form a solid and practical judgment of things. This I speak even of temporal and natural things. That which the apostle here calls judgment is in the margin called sense; that ye may abound in all sense; and wherefore? Because the judgment of which he speaks is that which arises very much from a holy sense of right and wrong; it is a compound of the feelings of the heart. That which is here called judgment, or sense, is that to a Christian. which a delicate sense of propriety is to a well-educated mind. You know what this is; it is something different from mere learning; it is different from mere knowledge; it is that quick sensibility which promptly, and, as I may say, instinctively, determines the right from the wrong, the good from the evil; it dictates the path of propriety in the twinkling of an eye. This is what we call a delicate sense of propriety in common life; and that which this is to a natural man, such is a holy tenderness of heart, such is a holy tenderness of conscience, to a good man. This is what he means in the next phrase, ‘That ye may approve things that are excellent,’ or, as the margin renders it, that ye may try things that differ. As a delicate sense of propriety enables a man in the common concerns of life to try things that differ; that is, he judges of propriety and impropriety by an immediate instinct, as I may say; so he that possesses a holy tenderness of heart, and a holy tenderness of conscience, tries instinctively those things which differ; chooses the good and rejects the evil. Perhaps you may ask, What things are they that differ, to which the apostle may here refer, and which such a holy judgment tends to distinguish? I answer, things earthly, and things heavenly; things true, and things false; things good, and things evil. Now all these things are continually passing before us, perpetually presenting themselves to our choice, to our practical judgment, as I may say, and we must decide upon them every day and every hour. Every hour you must decide either in favour of things heavenly or things earthly. Oh that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that you may try things that differ, and prefer the excellent! Choose heavenly things in preference to earthly, as your portion. Things true and things false are continually presenting themselves before your eyes or your ears; false doctrine as well as true doctrine is continually soliciting your attention. In books, in sermons, in company, and in conversation, you are continually hearing of false doctrine; atheistical, or some corruption of the pure doctrine of the text. Here is the beauty of things – to have such a holy sense maintained in our souls as in a moment to see which is false that you may reject it, and the truth that you may imbibe it. Things good and things evil are also continually passing before your eyes; the temptations and snares of the world are continually soliciting you; gold sparkles in your eyes, sensual pleasure is continually presenting itself and soliciting your affection, and God himself deigns to stoop and ask your heart, and He says: ‘Set your affections on things which are above, and not on things below.’ How happy you and I, if we possess that spiritual judgment, that Divine sense, to abhor the one and embrace the other! This is that holy judgment which the apostle prays for on behalf of the primitive Christians, and which is accompanied with nearness of communion with God."
"I may mention, besides this, a sort of religious narrowness of mind in that person whose chief concern it is to get comfort to his own mind – whose chief and almost sole concern it is that he may obtain a good ground to hope for everlasting life in the world to come – who cares little or nothing about the interest of Christ on the earth, the cause of God, the cause of righteousness, truth, and humanity – who does not grasp within the circle of his prayers his fellow men, his fellow Christians – he whose religion centres principally in himself. Alas! it is doubtful whether that man can be a Christian: at any rate he cannot have a prosperous soul; and I have generally remarked that those religious people who are continually poring over their own case, who are only anxious to discover evidences of their Christianity, who are perpetually poring over past experience to spell out whether they were truly converted or not, who hear sermons and read the Scriptures only to find out whether they can come in for anything to comfort them – I say I have found that those who spend their whole time in this are, generally, disappointed. You, selfish soul, that care little for the souls of others, take a course directly opposed to your own interest. Seek to bring peace to the souls of others; that will be the way to find comfort for yourself. Seek the good of the poor and the afflicted, and in seeking that you will find your own. By seeking the public good we should find a private good. I never knew a man of a large heart – whose soul grasped the well-being of others, who laid out his time and property for the good of others – greatly troubled about his own interest in Christ. It is in seeking the good of God’s cause in the world, and promoting the good of our fellow creatures, that God will give us the earnest of eternal life. A public spirit is the spirit of the Gospel, and largeness of heart is the mark of a prosperous soul."
WITHOUT SOUND OF AXE OR HAMMER.
"It is further observable from the foregoing prophecies, that whatever evils may precede the triumph of the Gospel, yet the thing itself will take place without bloodshed, treachery, intrigue, tumult, or parade. The overturning of those governments which set themselves against the preaching of it may be necessary to prepare the way; and this may be accomplished by wicked men and wicked means: but this will be only as the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, to the still small voice. The noise of hammers and axes, though necessary in preparing for the temple, was not to be heard, in the building of it. The kingdoms of this world are commonly founded either in violence or in deceit, and often in both; but that of ‘the Prince of peace’ will correspond with His character: justice and judgment will be the basis of His throne. He himself hath ‘done no violence,’ neither was ‘any deceit in His mouth;’ and however He may turn such measures in His enemies to the advantage of His cause, He will never allow His servants to have recourse to them. The peace produced by other conquerors is merely the effect of fear; it is the stillness of the oppressed, who dare not complain, lest their oppression should be increased; but the peace promised under the reign of Christ is ascribed to the earth being ‘filled with the knowledge of the Lord,as the waters cover the sea.’ His conquests are those of the heart. His subjects will be such from conviction and choice.
"The kingdoms of this world are introduced and supported by parade; but it will not be so with the kingdom of Christ. This, as he told the Pharisees, came ‘not by observation,’ or outward show; neither should they say, ‘Lo here, or Lo there;’ for it was already among them. And thus we may conclude it will come, when it shall fill the whole earth. Men shall not be able to point to this place or that and say, ‘Lo, it is here, or, Lo, it is there;’ for before they are aware it shall be among them. Worldly men may at the time be pursuing their schemes with such earnestness as to think no more of it than Festus did ‘of one Jesus, who was dead, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive;’ but while they are pursuing their schemes, God will have so pursued His as that they shall find themselves surrounded by it in every direction, and as unable to stop its progress as the Jewish rulers were, when they complained of the apostles for having ‘filled Jerusalem with their doctrine.’ In this silent and imperceptible way the Gospel continued to operate in the early ages, when it was left to its own evidence and the power of the Holy Spirit to recommend it. In the days of Tertullian, that is, in less than two hundred years after the death of Christ, that apologist could tell the Roman senate that it had overspread their empire. ‘Your cities, islands, forts, towns, and assemblies; your very camps, wards, companies, palace, senate, forum, all,’ said he, ‘swarm with Christians.’ Yet all appears to have been conducted without violence or tumult, save that which was found among unbelievers."
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE SAVIOUR.
"The connexion between the death of Christ on earth and His succeeding life in glory renders each of them more interesting. There is great joy derived from the consideration of salvation through the death of Christ. It is the burden of the heavenly song. But this would be no joy,were it not for the consideration of His life. What if we could all have obtained salvation; yet if it must have been at the expense of the everlasting blessedness of our Deliverer, who could have enjoyed it? What would the feast be, if the Lord of the feast were not there? Though, in the enduring death of the cross, He had ‘spoiled principalities and powers,’ and ‘made a show of them openly,’ yet if He had not lived to enjoy His triumphs, what would they have been to the redeemed, and even to the angelic world? If the King’s Son had been lost, the victory of that day would have been turned into mourning. If it had been possible for Him to be holden of death, the loss to the moral empire of God must have exceeded the gain, and the saved themselves must have been ashamed to appear in heaven at the expense of the general good! But we are not called to so painful a trial. Our salvation, expensive as it was, was not at this expense. He was dead, but He liveth! ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!’
"And as the life of Christ adds to the joy arising from His death, so the death of Christ adds to the joy arising from His life. There is great joy, as we have seen, derived from His life; but it would not be what it is if this His life had not succeeded His death. The life of Isaac was dear to Abraham before he attempted to offer him up a sacrifice; but it would be much more so when he had received him as from the dead. The life of Joseph was dear to Jacob when he dwelt with him in the vale of Hebron; but it would be much more so after his having in a manner buried him. If Christ had never divested Himself of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, it would not have been to us that which it will be. The very angels, though He died not for them, nor for any of their species, yet honour Him as ‘the Lamb that was slain,’ And as to the redeemed themselves, their song is sweeter still: ‘Thou art worthy,’ say they, ‘for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth.’ "
"Holy beauty, in every stage and degree of it, is lovely.The character given to that generation of the Israelites which grew up in the wilderness, and which, warned by the crimes and punishments of its predecessors, clave in great numbers to the Lord, is charming: ‘Thus saith the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first-fruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend: evil shall come upon them, said the Lord.’ It was then that Balaam endeavoured in vain to curse them; and that, instead of cursing, he was constrained to bless them. Like an old debauchee awed by the dignity of virtue, he was compelled to desist, and even to admire the object which he could not imitate: ‘How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel ! – Let me die the death of the righteous, and ‘let my last end be like his!’ Such, I may say, was the youthful beauty of the Jewish church; and that of the Christian church was still greater. To read the Acts of the Apostles, and to see the faith, the love, the zeal, the disinterestedness, the diligence, and the patience of the first disciples, is very affecting. It was then that they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers; that great grace was upon them all; and that, having believed in Jesus, they rejoiced in being thought worthy to suffer for His name. But, lovely as both the Jewish and Christian churches were, neither of them could vie with the church made perfect. The disparity between the highest degrees of holiness and a state of sinless perfection, is inconceivable. The deliverance of the captives from mere temporal thraldom, and which was only the effect of sin, was so overcoming that they were like those that dream, scarcely believing themselves to be what and where they were; but for the church of God, in full remembrance of its foul revolts, to feel itself holy and without blemish, is an idea too great for sinful creatures to comprehend."
AN APPEAL TO THE YOUNG.
"O young people, a thousand arguments and examples might be adduced to show the force and propriety of the petition! If you have a spark of ingenuousness towards God in your hearts, you would not desire to put Him off with the refuse of a life spent in the service of sin. You would offer Him the first-fruits of your days; the best of your time, strength, talents, and influence. And this is not all. Time flies. Years roll over in quick succession. Death sweeps away the young as well as the aged. Of the burials that we have had this year in our congregation, five out of six have been young people; some of them under twenty years of age, and others of them but little past that period. None of them seem to have thought much of dying, yet they are gone from the land of the living! Hark! from their tombs I hear the language of warning and solemn counsel! ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth thee to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge in the grave, whither thou goest.’ Join with your pastor, join with your parents, join with all that seek your welfare, in praying, ‘O satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.’
"What shall I say more? Will you, my dear young people, will you drink and be satisfied at the fountain of mercy; a fountain that is wide open, and flows freely through our Lord Jesus Christ? You cannot plead the want of sufficient inducements. Ministers, parents, Christians, angels, the faltering voice of death, the solemn assurance of a judgment to come, and above all, the sounding of the bowels of Jesus Christ, all say, Come. But if, like those who refused the waters of Siloah, you prefer the follies and pursuits of the present life to the joys of immortality, our souls shall weep in secret places for you. Tribulation and anguish will overtake you even in this life; and under it, instead of the consolations and hopes of the Gospel, you will have to reflect, This I have brought upon myself; and these are but the beginnings of sorrows!"
ALL THINGS NEW.
"The Gospel is a system in direct opposition to selfishness. It not only enforces a benevolent disposition, but is fraught with principles adapted to promote it. It furnishes the mind with a new set of views and feelings, both toward God and toward man. It tells us of One who, when all other means failed, said, ‘Lo, I come – to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart;’ of One who laid down His life for us, even when we were yet enemies. Now, to imbibe this doctrine, is to become, in a measure, of the same mind. He that is born of God possesses the spirit of a little child. ‘Old things are passed away, and all things are become new.’ Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil-speakings, as a new-born babe he desireth the sincere milk of the Word, that he may grow thereby."
"In Observing my own mind, and the behaviour of my acquaintance, I see matter for both pleasure and pain. I see a goodly number of professing Christians who appear to me to live ‘not unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them and rose again.’ I see some of this description into whose hands God is pouring plenty, and who, though continually imparting, still increase. The poor people of Glasgow used to say of a late great and good man in that city, ‘David Dale gives his money by sho’elsful, and God Almighty sho’elsit back again.’ Characters like-minded still live; and long may they live and be blessings to the world! They afford a striking contrast to those described by David: ‘Let them be as grass upon the housetop, which withereth before it groweth up; wherewith the mower filleth not his hand, nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom; neither do they that go by say, ‘The blessing of the Lord be upon you! – we bless you in the name of the Lord!’ "
THE BEAUTY OF THE LORD.
"It is requested, thirdly, that God would impart to them His beauty: ‘Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.’ – All God’s works are beautiful; but saints, who are His workmanship, are the subjects of a holy beauty, or of the beauty of holiness. They are comely through the comeliness which He puts upon them. Conceive of the camp of Israel, after they had been humbled and taught to fear the Lord their God. Two or three hundred thousand godly young people, following Him implicitly in the wilderness, and trembling at the idea of repeating the iniquities of their fathers! This was a sight at which even a wicked prophet was struck with awe, and could not forbear exclaiming, ‘How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!’ Powerful are the charms of genuine piety. There is something in it that disarms malignity itself, and extorts admiration even from those who hate it. Milton represents the devil himself, on his approaching Paradise, as awed by innocence, as staggered, as half inclined to desist from his purpose, and feeling a kind of perturbation within him, composed of malignity and pity. Something like this existed, methinks, in Balaam. He wanders from hill to mountain, seeking for curses, but scattering blessings; sometimes half inclined to unite with God, and concluding with a vain desire to die the death of the righteous. Powerful, I repeat it, are the charms of genuine piety. Conceive of a society of Christians drinking into the spirit of Christ, and walking according to His commandments! What an amiable sight! ‘Beautiful as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, and terrible as an army with banners!’ So much as we possess of the spirit of true religion, so near as we approach its original simplicity, so far as our doctrine is incorrupt, our discipline pure and impartial, and our conversation as becometh the Gospel, so much of ‘the beauty of the Lord our God’ is upon us."
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