It is not meant, by these brief descriptions of the gospel, that there is no other truth necessary to be believed; but that the doctrine of the cross, properly embraced, includes all others, or draws after it the belief of them.
The import of this gospel is, that God is in the right, and we are in the wrong; that we have transgressed against him without cause, and are justly exposed to everlasting punishment; that mercy, originating purely in himself, required for the due honour of his government to be exercised through the atonement of his beloved Son; that with this sacrifice God is well pleased, and can, consistently with all his perfections, pardon and accept of any sinner, whatever he hath done, who believeth in him.
What say you to this? The truth of it has been confirmed by the most unquestionable proofs. It first began to be spoken by the Lord himself, and has been confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, with signs and wonders, and divers miracles. The witness of the three in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, is borne to this; namely, that “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son;” and to this also is directed the witness of the three on earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood. Can you subscribe to this great truth in all its bearings, and rest the salvation of your soul upon it? or do you doubt whether you be so guilty, so helpless, and in so dangerous a state as this doctrine supposes? Is it as one of the chief of sinners that you view yourself? or does it grate with your feelings to receive forgiveness in that humble character? In suing for mercy, are you content to stand on the same low ground as if you were a convict actually going to be executed? or does your heart secretly pine after a salvation less humiliating, in which some account might be made of that difference of character by which you may have been distinguished from the vilest of men, and in which you might be somewhat a co-operator with God? Does that which pleases God please you? or does your mind revolt at it? It meets all your wants; but not one of your prejudices, proud thoughts, or vicious propensities: all these must come down, and be made a sacrifice to it. Can you subscribe it on these terms?
I am well aware that the great concern of persons in your situation is to obtain peace of mind; and any thing which promises to afford this attracts your attention. If this gospel be believed with all your heart, it will give you peace. This is the good, and the old way; walk in it, and you will find rest for your soul; but it is not every thing which promises peace that will ultimately afford it. It is at our peril to offer you other consolation, and at yours to receive it.
Consider, and beware, I say again, as you regard your eternal salvation, that you take up your rest in nothing short of Christ!—With a few serious cautions against some of your principal dangers, I shall conclude this address.
First, Beware of brooding over your guilt in a way of unbelieving despondency, and so standing aloof from the hope of mercy. Say not, My sins have been too great, too numerous, or too aggravated to be forgiven. “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin:” believest thou this? You are not straitened in him; but in your own bowels. “God’s thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor his ways as your ways: as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his thoughts higher than your thoughts, and his ways than your ways.” On the sinner that returneth to our God he bestoweth abundant pardon. It is not, If thou canst do any thing, help me; but, “If thou canst believe—all things are possible to him that believeth.” Of what dost thou doubt—of his all-sufficiency? “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” Of his willingness? Ought not his gracious invitations to satisfy thee on this head? Can you imagine that he would proclaim, saying, “Whosoever thirsteth, let him come unto me and drink,” and yet be reluctant to gratify the desires of those that come to him? Objections on the ground of the greatness of guilt and unworthiness may seem to wear the face of modesty and humility; but, after all, it becomes you to consider whether they be any other than the workings of a self-righteous spirit. If you could find in your heart to accept of mercy as one of the chief of sinners, all your objections would vanish in a moment. One sees in your very tears of despondency a pining after acceptance with God by something in yourself. Were they put into words, they would amount to something like this:—If I had but somewhat to recommend me to the Saviour, I could go to him with assurance; or, if I had been less wicked, I might hope for acceptance. And what is this but making good the complaint of our Saviour? “Ye will not come to me that ye may have life!” Such longing after something to recommend you to the Saviour is no other than “going about to establish your own righteousness;” and, while this is the case, there is great danger of your being given up to imagine that you find the worthiness in yourself which your soul desireth.
Secondly, Beware of dwelling in a way of self-complacency on those reformations which may have been produced by the power of conviction. This is another of those workings of unbelief by which many have come short of believing, and so of entering into rest. There is no doubt but your convictions have driven you from the commission of grosser vices, and probably have frightened you into a compliance with various religious duties; but these are only the loppings-off of the branches of sin: the root remains unmodified. It is not the breaking off of your sins that will turn to any account, unless they be broken off by righteousness; and this will not be the case but by believing in Christ. The power of corruption may have only retired into its strong holds, from whence, if you embrace not the gospel way of salvation, it will soon come forth with increased energy, and sweep away all your cobweb reformations. Nay, it is very possible that, while the “lusts of the flesh” have seemed to recede, those of the mind, particularly spiritual pride, may have already increased in strength. If, indeed, you dwell on your reformations, and draw comfort from them, it is an undoubted proof that it is so; and then, instead of being reformed, or nearer the kingdom of heaven than you were before, your character is more offensive to God than ever. Publicans and harlots are more likely to enter into it than you.—Besides, if your reformations were ever so virtuous, (which they are not, in His sight by whom actions are weighed,) yet, while you are an unbeliever, they cannot be accepted. You yourself must first be accepted in the Beloved, ere any thing that you offer can be received. “It does not consist with the honour of the majesty of the King of heaven and earth to accept of any thing from a condemned malefactor, condemned by the justice of his own holy law, till that condemnation be removed.”
Thirdly, Beware of deriving comfort from the distress of mind which you may have undergone, or from any feelings within you. Some religious people will tell you that these workings of mind are a sign that God has mercy in reserve for you; and that if you go on in the way you are in, waiting as at the pool, all will be well in the end: but do not you believe them. They have no Scripture warrant for what they say. It is not your being distressed in mind that will prove any thing in your favour, but the issue of it. Saul was distressed, as well as David; and Judas as well as Peter. When the murderers of our Lord were pricked in their hearts, Peter did not comfort them by representing this their unhappiness as a hopeful sign of conversion; but exhorted them to “repent and be baptized, every one of them, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” And thus it was with Paul and Silas, when the jailer was impressed with fear and dismay; they gave him no encouragement from thence, but preached Jesus Christ as the only source of hope. If one who had slain a man in Israel had stopped short of the city of refuge, and endeavoured to draw comfort from the alarm which he had felt lest the avenger of blood should overtake him, would he have been safe? There is no security to you, or to any man, but in fleeing immediately to the gospel refuge, and laying hold of the hope set before you. If you take comfort from your distress, you are in imminent danger of stopping short of Christ, and so of perishing for ever. Many, no doubt, have done so; and that which they have accounted waiting at the pool for the moving of the waters has proved no other than settling upon a false foundation. Indeed it must needs be so; for as there is no medium, in one that has heard the gospel, between faith and unbelief, he that does not believe in Jesus for salvation, if he have any hope of it, must derive that hope from something in himself.
Fourthly, Beware of making faith itself, as an act of yours, the ground of acceptance with God. It is true that believing is an act of yours, and an act of obedience to God. Far be it from me that I should convey an idea of any thing short of a cordial reception of the gospel being accompanied with salvation—a reception that involves a renunciation of self-righteousness, and a submission to the righteousness of God. But if you consider it as a species of sincere obedience which God has consented to accept instead of a perfect one, and if you hope to be justified in reward of it, you are still “going about to establish your own righteousness” under an evangelical name. This is the commandment of God, that ye believe on the name of his Son. Faith is an act of obedience to God, yet it is not as such that it justifies us, but as receiving Christ, and bringing us into a living union with him, for whose sake alone we are accepted and saved. If you truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, you will think nothing of the workings of your own mind, but of his work who came into the world to save the chief of sinners.
Finally, Beware of taking comfort from any impulse, or unfounded persuasion that your sins are forgiven, and that you are a favourite of God. Many are deceived in this way, and mistake such a persuasion for faith itself. When a sinner is driven from all his former holds, it is not unusual for him, instead of falling at the feet of Christ as utterly lost, to catch at any new conceit, however unscriptural and absurd, if it will but afford him relief. If, in such a state of mind, he receive an impression, perhaps in the words of Scripture, that God has forgiven and accepted him, or dream that he is in heaven, or read a book or hear a sermon which is favourable to such a method of obtaining relief, he eagerly imbibes it, and becomes intoxicated with the delicious draught. The joy of hope being so new and unexpected a thing, and succeeding to great darkness and distress, produces a wonderful change in his mind. Now he thinks he has discovered the light of life, and feels to have lost his burden. Now he has found out the true religion, and all that he read or heard before, not affording him relief, is false doctrine, or legal preaching. Being treated also as one of the dear children of God, by others of the same description, he is attached to his flatterers, and despises those as graceless who would rob him of his comforts, by warning him against the lie which is “in his right hand.”
I do not mean to say that all consolation which comes suddenly to the mind, or by the impression of a passage of Scripture, any more than by reading or hearing, is delusive. It is not the manner in which we obtain relief that is of any account, but what it is that comforts us. If it be the doctrine of the cross, or any revealed truth pertaining to it, this is gospel consolation; but if it be a supposed revelation from heaven of something which is not taught in the Scriptures, that is a species of comfort on which no dependence can be placed. A believer may be so far misled as to be carried away with it; but if a man has nothing better, he is still an unbeliever.
To conclude: If ever you obtain that rest for your soul which will bear the light, it must be, not from any thing within you, but by looking out of yourself to Christ as revealed in the gospel. You may afterwards know that you have passed from death unto life by the love you bear to the brethren, and by many other Scriptural evidences; and, from the time of your embracing the gospel remedy, you may be conscious of it, and so enjoy the hope of the promised salvation; but your first relief, if it be genuine, will be drawn directly from Christ, or from finding that in the doctrine of salvation through his death which suits your wants and wishes as a perishing sinner.
Excerpt from: “The Great Question Answered,” in Miscellaneous Tracts, Essays, Letters, etc.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 546–549). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.