It is not enough that you should be what is called a popular preacher. A man may have gifts, so as to shine in the eyes of the multitude, almost as bright as he does in his own eyes; and yet possess little or nothing of spiritual light—light, the tendency of which is to transform the heart. So also a man may burn with zeal, as Jehu did, and yet have little or no true love to God, or affection for the souls of men. Spiritual light and holy love are the qualities which Christ here commends.
You will give your candid attention, my dear brother, while I endeavour to remind you of the necessity of each of these, in the different parts of your important work:—in the great work of preaching the gospel—in presiding in the church—in visiting your people—and in your whole demeanour through life.
I. In the great work of preaching the gospel.—O my brother, in this department we had need resemble the living creatures mentioned by Ezekiel, (chap. 1:18,) “full of eyes.” We had almost need, in one view, to be made up of pure intellect—to be all light. I shall not attempt to decide how much knowledge is necessary, of men and things, of past and present times, of the church and the world; but shall confine myself to two or three particulars, as specimens.
1. How necessary is it to understand in some good degree the holy character of God!—It is this to which you will find that men in general are blind. They conceive of God as if he were such a one as themselves.… And hence they fancy they are not enemies to him. You will have to point out the true character of God, that the sinner may see his own deformity, and not have the enmity of his heart concealed from his eyes. A just view of the holy character of God will also be one of the best preservatives against error in other respects. Almost all the errors in the world proceed from ignorance of the true character of God. To what else can be attributed the errors of Socinianism, Arianism, and Antinomianism? From degraded views of God’s character arise diminutive notions of the evil of sin—of its just demerit—of our lost condition—of our need of a great Saviour—and of the work of the Spirit. O my brother, may you shed abroad this light with unsullied lustre! And, in order to this, commune much with God in private; since there is no way of knowing the true character of another so well as by personal, private intercourse.
2. A knowledge of Christ, as the Mediator between God and man, is necessary.—“This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Here, also, men are greatly ignorant. He is in the world, and the world knows him not. It must be our concern, as ministers, to know him; and, comparatively speaking, “to know nothing else”.… and this that we may diffuse the knowledge of him to others. The glory of Christ’s character is such that if he were but viewed in a true light, and not through the false mediums of prejudice and the love of sin, but through the mirror of the gospel, he must be loved, John 4:29, 39–42. Here, my brother, we need to be intimately acquainted with Christ, that we may be able on all occasions to give him a just character—that we may be able to tell of his dignity, his love, the generous principles of his undertaking, and how nobly he executed the arduous enterprise.
3. A knowledge of human nature as created is necessary.—We shall be unskilful workmen, unless we are acquainted with the materials on which we have to work. It is not more necessary for a surgeon or a physician to understand the anatomy of the human body, than it is for ministers to understand what may be called the anatomy of the soul. We had need enter into all the springs of action. In particular, we must be very careful to distinguish between primary and criminal passions. God habitually addresses the former, and so should we, but not the latter; the latter being only the abuse of the principles implanted in our nature. To be more explicit, God has created us with the love of possession, but the excess of this love becomes covetousness and idolatry. God has implanted within us a principle of emulation; but the abuse of this is pride and ambition. God has created us with the love of pleasure; but this indulged to excess becomes sensuality. Now the gospel never addresses itself to our corrupt passions; but the word of God is full of appeals to those principles of our nature with which we are created. For example: in his word, God addresses himself to our love of possession; and points to “an inheritance, incorruptible, undefined, and that fadeth not away”—to the principle of emulation; and presents to our view “a crown”—to our love of pleasure; and informs us that “in his presence there is fulness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore.” And, in short, in the same way, he addresses the principles of zeal, love, hatred, shame, fear, revenge, &c. And so must we.
4. A knowledge of human nature as depraved is necessary.—Without this knowledge, we shall be unable to trace and detect the workings of a wicked heart. Sin is a deceitful thing, and we are apt to be imposed upon by its specious names. Parsimoniousness is called frugality; prodigality, generosity; bitterness of spirit in reproving, fidelity; and resentment, a becoming spirit. We need therefore to know the root of the disease, and the various ways in which it operates. In order to effect a cure, the knowledge of the disease is indispensable; and in order to attain to this knowledge, we must study the various symptoms by which the disorder may be distinguished.
5. A knowledge of human nature as sanctified by the Spirit is necessary.—Without this, we shall be unable to trace the work of God in the soul; and unable to fan the gentle flame of Divine love in the genuine Christian, and to detect and expose the various counterfeits.
You will need also, my brother, a heart warmed with Divine things, or you will never be “a burning and a shining light.” When we are thinking or preaching, we need to burn, as well as shine. When we study, we may rack our brains, and form plans; but unless “our hearts burn within us,” all will be a mere skeleton—our thoughts mere bones; whatever be their number, they will be all dry—very dry; and if we do not feel what we say, our preaching will be poor dead work. Affected zeal will not do. A gilded fire may shine, but it will not warm. We may smite with the hand, and stamp with the foot, and throw ourselves into violent agitations; but if we feel not, it is not likely the people will—unless, indeed, it be a feeling of disgust. But suppose there be no affectation, nor any deficiency of good and sound doctrine; yet if in our work we feel no inward satisfaction, we shall resemble a mill-stone—preparing food for others, the value of which we are unable to appreciate ourselves. Indeed, without feeling, we shall be incapable of preaching any truth or of inculcating any duty aright. How can we display the evil of sin, the love of Christ, or any other important truth, unless we feel it? How can we preach against sin, without feeling a holy indignation against it? It is this that will cause us, while we denounce sin, to weep over the sinner. Otherwise, we may deal in flings and personalities; but these will only irritate; they will never reclaim. O! if ever we do any good in our work, it must be the effect of love to God and love to men—love to the souls of men, while we detest, and expose, and denounce their sins. How could Paul have pursued his work with the ardour and intenseness which he manifested, if his heart had not burned with holy love?
Excerpt from: “Spiritual Knowledge and Love Necessary for the Ministry,” A charged delivered to a young Minister at his Ordination.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 479). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.