The Great Question Answered
“And he brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”—Acts 16:30, 31.
Part the First
That great numbers of people, even in this christianized country, are ignorant of the way of salvation, is too evident to be denied. It is manifestly no part of their concern, any more than if they were in no danger of being lost, or there had never been such a thing as salvation heard of. Nor is this true only of weak and illiterate people: men, who in all other concerns are wise, in these things have no knowledge, or sense to direct them. The evil, therefore, cannot be ascribed to simple ignorance, which, as far a it goes, tends to excuse; but to being willingly ignorant; saying unto God, “Depart from us—we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.”
God, however, has a witness in every man’s conscience. Every man, whatever he may pretend, feels himself to be a sinner, and to need forgiveness. Ignorant and idolatrous as the Philippian jailer had been all his life, yet, when death looked him in the face, he trembled and cried for mercy. And if it were thus with the heathen, much more with those who have been educated under the light of revelation. The most careless and thoughtless cannot stand the approach of death. The courage of the most hardened infidel commonly fails him at that solemn period.
Reader, Are you one of the many who scarcely ever think of these things; and whose chief concern is what you shall eat, what you shall drink, and wherewithal you shall be clothed? Let the anxiety of a heathen reprove you.
If, like other animals, you were made only to eat and drink, and figure away for a few years, and then to sink into nothing, you might well throw aside every care, except that which respects your present gratification. But you are of an order of beings distinguished from all others in the creation. In your nature is united mortality and immortality; the dust of the ground, and the breath of the Almighty. Life to you is but the introduction to existence, a short voyage which will land you on the shores of eternity. You are surrounded by a number of objects, and feel an interest in each. You build houses, plant orchards, rear animals, and form to yourselves a home; but you are not at home. Your feelings associate with these things; but they are not fit associates for you. You may have a portion in all that is doing in your family, and in your country; yea, in some sort, in all that is done under the sun: but this is not sufficient for you. The time draweth nigh when there will be an end to all these things, and they will be as though they had not been; but you will still live. You will witness the wreck of nature itself, and survive it; and stand before the Son of man at his appearing and kingdom. Can you think of these things and be unconcerned?
Or, though you be an immortal and accountable creature, (as your conscience tells you you are, whenever you consult it, and sometimes when you would gladly shut your ears against it,) yet, if you had not sinned against your Maker, there would be no cause for alarm. A sinless creature has nothing to fear from a righteous God. The approach of an assize, with all its solemn pomp, does not terrify the innocent: neither would judgment or eternity inspire the least degree of dread if you were guiltless. But you are a sinner, a corrupt branch of a corrupt stock. God placed, as I may say, a generous confidence in our species, and required nothing in return but love; but we have returned him evil for good. You, for yourself, are conscious that you have done so, and that it is in your very nature to do evil.
Or, though you be what is called a sinner, yet, if sin were your misfortune, rather than your fault, you might fly for refuge to the equity of your Maker. But this is not the case. Whatever may be said as to the manner in which you became a sinner, and however you may wish to excuse yourself on that ground, your own conscience bears witness that what you are you choose to be, and occasionally reproaches you for being so. You may speculate upon sin as a kind of hereditary disease, which is merely a misfortune, not a fault; but, if so, why do you feel guilt on account of it, any more than of the other? Why do you not also acquit others of blame, where the evil is directed against you? You do not think of excusing a fellow creature, when he injures you, upon any such grounds as you allege in excuse of transgression against God. If the party be rational and voluntary, you make no further inquiry; but, without any hesitation, pronounce him criminal. Out of your own mouth therefore shall you be judged. The inability that you feel to do good is entirely owing to your having no heart to it. It is of the same nature as that of an unprincipled servant, who cannot seek his master’s interest, but is impelled, by his selfishness, to be always defrauding him. You would not hold such a servant blameless, nor will God hold you so. You are not destitute of those powers which render us accountable beings, but merely of a heart to make use of them for God. You take pleasure in knowledge, but desire not the knowledge of his ways; in conversation, but the mention of serious religion strikes you dumb; in activity, but in his service you are as one that is dead. You are fond of news: but that which angels announced, and the Son of God came down to publish, gives you no pleasure. All these things prove, beyond a doubt, where the inability lies.
Or, if sin should be allowed to be your fault, yet, if it were a small offence, an imperfection that might be overlooked, or so slight a matter that you could atone for it by repentance, prayers, or tears, or any effort of your own, there might be less reason for alarm; but neither is this the case. If sin were so light a matter as it is commonly made, how is it that a train of the most awful curses should be denounced against the sinner? Is it possible that a just and good God would curse his creatures in basket and in store, in their houses and in their fields, in their lying down and rising up, and in all that they set their hands to, for a mere trifle, or an imperfection that might be overlooked? If sin were a light thing, how is it that the Father of mercies should have doomed all mankind to death, and to all the miseries that prepare its way, on account of it? How is it that wicked men die under such fearful apprehensions? Above all, how is it that it should require the eternal Son of God to become incarnate, and to be made a sacrifice, to atone for it? But if sin be thus offensive to God, then are you in a fearful situation. If you had the whole world to offer for your ransom, and could shed rivers of tears, and give even the fruit of your body for the sin of your soul, it would be of no account. Were that which you offered ever so pure, it could have no influence whatever towards atoning for your past guilt, any more than the tears of a murderer can atone for blood; but this is not the case; those very performances by which you hope to appease the Divine anger are more offensive to him than the entreaties of a detected adulteress would be to her husband, while her heart, as he well knows, is not with him, but with her paramours. You are, whether you know it or not, a lost sinner, and that in the strongest sense of the term. Men judge of sin only by its open acts, but God looketh directly at the heart. Their censures fall only on particular branches of immorality, which strike immediately at the well-being of society; but God views the root of the mischief, and takes into consideration all its mischievous bearings. “Know thou, therefore, and consider, that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast done; that thou hast departed from the living God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Finally, Though your sin be exceedingly offensive to your Creator, and though you can make no atonement for it, yet, if you could resist his power, escape his hand, or endure his wrath, your unconcernedness might admit of some kind of apology. Surely I need not prove to you that you cannot resist his power:—what is your strength when tried? You may in the hour of health and festivity, and when in company with others like yourself, look big, and put out great words, but they are words only. If God do but touch you with his afflicting hand, your strength and your courage instantly forsake you: and will you go on to provoke Omnipotence? “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, how wilt thou contend with horses? If in the land of peace thou hast been overcome, how wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan?” Neither canst thou “escape” his hand; for whither wilt thou flee? If, attentive to thy safety, the rocks could fall on thee, or the mountains cover thee, yet should they not be able to hide thee “from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”—“God hath beset thee behind and before, and laid his hand upon thee. Whither wilt thou go from his Spirit? Whither wilt thou flee from his presence? If thou ascend to heaven, he is there! Or, if thou make thy bed in hell, behold, he is there!”—The only question that remains is, whether you can “endure his displeasure?” And this must surely be a forlorn hope! By the horrid imprecations which we so commonly hear from hardened sinners, who call upon God to damn their bodies and souls, it would seem as if they laid their account with damnation, and wished to familiarize it; as if they had made a covenant with death, and with hell were at agreement: but when God shall lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, these refuges of lies will suddenly be swept away.
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. 540–543). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.