[Written in 1799.]
I have been a good deal impressed with a persuasion that in our missionary undertakings, both at home and abroad, we shall not be remarkably successful, unless we enter deeply into the spirit of the primitive Christians; particularly with respect to faith in the Divine promises. I am apprehensive that we are all deficient in this grace, and therefore presume that a few hints on the subject may not be unseasonable.
When Israel went out of Egypt, they greatly rejoiced on the shores of the Red Sea; but the greater part of them entered not into the Promised Land, and that on account of their unbelief. The resemblance between their case and ours has struck my mind with considerable force. The grand object of their undertaking was to root out idolatry, and to establish the knowledge and worship of the one living and true God; and such also is ours. The authority on which they acted was the sovereign command of Heaven; and ours is the same. “Go preach the gospel to every creature.” The ground on which they were to rest their hope of success was the Divine promise. It was by relying on this alone that they were enabled to surmount difficulties, and to encounter their gigantic enemies. Those among them who believed, like Joshua and Caleb, felt themselves well able to go up; but they that distrusted the promise turned their backs in the hour of danger. Such also is the ground of our hope. He who hath commissioned us to “teach all nations” hath added, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” The heathen nations are given to our Redeemer for an inheritance, as much as Canaan was given to the seed of Abraham; and it is our business, as it was theirs, to go up and possess the land. We should lay our account with difficulties as well as they; but, according to our faith in the Divine promises, we may expect these mountains to become a plain. If the Lord delight in us, he will bring us into the land; but if, like the unbelieving Israelites, we make light of the promised good, or magnify the difficulties in the way of obtaining it, and so relax our efforts, we may expect to die as it were in the wilderness.
It is true, there are some differences between their case and ours; but they are wholly in our favour. We are not, like them, going to possess countries for ourselves, but for Christ. They went armed with the temporal sword, we with the sword of the Spirit; they were commissioned in justice to destroy men’s lives, we in mercy to save their souls; they sought not them but theirs, we seek not theirs but them. Now by how much our cause exceeds theirs in the magnitude and beneficence of its object, by so much the more shall we incur the frowns of Heaven, if we fail of accomplishing it through unbelief.
On a certain occasion “the disciples said unto the Lord, Increase our faith;” and it is worth while to consider what that occasion was, Luke 17:3–6. There was a hard duty enjoined, to forgive lamented injuries, even though committed seven times a day. The apostles very properly turn the injunction into a petition, praying for great grace to enable them to discharge so difficult a duty. They said unto the Lord, “Increase our faith.” But why ask for an increase of faith? Possibly we might have said, Lord, increase our love, our self-denial, our patience. Asking for an increase of faith was asking for an increase of every other grace; this being a kind of first wheel that sets the rest in motion. Our Lord’s answer intimates that they had chosen a right petition; for faith, even in a small degree, will enable us to surmount great difficulties—difficulties the surmounting of which is as the removal of mountains. The passage, taken in its connexion, teaches us the efficacy of faith in discharging duties, and surmounting difficulties.
Where there is no faith in the truths and promises of the gospel, there is no heart for duty; and where it is very low and defective in its exercises, there is but little spiritual activity. If a good man be entangled in sceptical doubts respecting the truth of the gospel, or any of its leading doctrines, he will, during that time, be not only unhappy in his own mind, but of little use to others. He admits that God used in former ages to hear the prayers and succeed the labours of his servants, and that there will be times in which great things will again be wrought for the church. But of late, and especially in the present age, he imagines we are not to expect any thing remarkable. This is no other than a spice of that atheistical spirit which said, “The Lord hath forsaken the earth, he regardeth not man;” the effect of which is an indifference to every exercise and enterprise of a religious nature. Faith operates as a stimulus, unbelief as a palsy.
If faith in Divine truths and promises be low, though we should be drawn in with others to engage in religious enterprises, yet we shall not follow them up with ardent prayer, or look for the blessing of God with that earnest expectation which generally precedes the bestowment of it. Instead of forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, we shall be in danger of resting satisfied in present attainments, and so of losing the things which we have wrought, for want of following up the work to which we have set our hands.
All the great things that have been wrought in the church of God have been accomplished by this principle. It was by faith that the worthies “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and put to flight the armies of the aliens.” It was by faith that the apostles and primitive Christians went forth as sheep among wolves, and, at the expense of all that was dear to them on earth, carried the gospel into all nations. Wherever they went they were previously persuaded that they should go in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ; and it was so. God always caused them to triumph in Christ, and made manifest the savour of his knowledge by them in every place. Could we but imbibe this spirit, surely we should be able, in some good degree, to say so too. “Believe in the Lord our God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.”
But why is it that God should thus honour the exercise of faith? Is it not because faith is a grace that peculiarly honours him? We cannot do greater dishonour to a person of kind and generous intentions than by thinking very ill of him, and acting towards him on the ground of such evil thoughts. It was thus that the slothful servant thought and acted towards his lord. On the other hand, we cannot do greater honour to a character of the above description than by thinking well of him, and placing the most unreserved confidence in all he says. Any man who had a just regard to honour would in such a case feel a strong inducement to answer the expectations which were entertained of him. And God himself hath condescended to intimate something like the same thing. “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” In believing his word we think well of him, and he takes pleasure in answering such expectations; proving thereby that we have thought justly concerning him. It was on this principle that our Lord usually conferred the blessings of miraculous healing, in answer to the faith of the patient, or of those that accompanied him. “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. According to your faith be it unto you.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 825–827). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.