The Satisfaction Derived from Godly Simplicity
“Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.”—2 Cor. 1:12.
Such was the declaration of Paul, in behalf of himself and his brethren; and a great thing it was to be able to say, especially when accused of being crafty and designing men. That they were so accused is evident from the twelfth chapter; and the declaration of the text nobly repels all such insinuations.
I do not mean to assume this language in behalf of myself or my brethren; but would rather apply it in a way of self-examination. By “fleshly wisdom” is meant the wisdom of this world, worldly policy, that wisdom which has carnal and worldly ends in view, or is aimed and exercised for our own interest, honour, or gratification. By “the grace of God” is meant that holy wisdom which is from above, or that line of conduct which the grace of God teaches—“simplicity and godly sincerity.”
I. Let us state a few cases in which these opposite principles will, one or the other of them, influence our conduct.—It may be too much to say that all men are governed by the one or the other. Some have neither. Their way is fleshly; but it is fleshly folly. The principles of the text, however, are very common. Particularly,—
1. In preaching the gospel.—We are mostly governed by one or other, as ministers.
They give a character to the matter of our preaching.—If we are influenced by the former, our preaching will partake of the wisdom of this world. It will savour of the flesh. There will be little or no spirituality in it. It will favour some other gospel. But if we are influenced by the latter, our preaching will savour of Christ and heaven. It will be wisdom, but not the wisdom of this world. The doctrine we preach will not be selected to please the tastes of our hearers, but drawn from the Holy Scriptures. We shall declare “the whole counsel of God.”
These principles will also give a character to the manner of our preaching.—If we are influenced by the former, our preaching will be merely an art, with “enticing words of man’s wisdom.” But if by the latter, it will be characterized by simplicity; not thinking of ourselves, but of Christ and the salvation of souls.
Finally, These principles will give a character to our motives.—If we are influenced by the former, we shall study to be approved of men, and to have it understood that we are men of consequence. “Giving it out that he was some great one.” But if by the latter, we shall seek, “not yours, but you.” The love of God, of Christ, and of souls will constrain us.
2. In reading the Scriptures, and hearing the gospel.—Here, also, we are for the most part governed by one or the other of these principles.
There is the spirit of the world, and the Spirit which is of God. It is of great consequence with which spirit we take up our Bibles.—If with the former, it will be no wonder that we err, and stumble, and perish. “A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not,” Paine read the Scriptures to pervert and vilify them. We may be acquainted with the original languages, and be able to criticise texts; and yet not discern the mind of the Spirit. “Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned.” This will be especially the result, if we form a system of our own, and go to the Scriptures to have it confirmed, instead of deriving it in the first place from the unerring oracles. But if we are influenced by the opposite principle, we shall pray, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” And, coming with the simplicity of children, we shall have the mind of the Spirit revealed to us, Matt. 11:25.
So in hearing the gospel.—If we hear merely as critics on the preacher, full of conceit and fleshly wisdom, whatever the preaching may be, it will do us no good. But if we hear as Christians, in simplicity and godly sincerity, we shall hear the word to profit. Take heed how ye hear, lest by and by you become regardless of what you hear, or even prefer the flesh-pleasing doctrines which lead to perdition, 2 Pet. 2:1–3.
3. In church fellowship and discipline we are governed by one or other of these principles. Particularly,
In receiving members.—If we are governed by the former, we shall catch at the rich, and covet respectability, and be more ambitious to increase in number than in conformity to Christ. But if by the latter, we shall rejoice in the accession of the meanest Christian, and of Christian graces, though they shine in those whom the world despise.
In choosing officers.—If we are governed by the former principle, ministers will be chosen on account of their popularity, and deacons on account of their opulence. But if by the latter, we shall fix our eye stedfastly on the qualifications required in Scripture; and if we cannot find men who attain to the full standard, we shall be so much the more concerned to choose those who approach the nearest.
In exercising discipline.—If we be governed by the former, we shall be concerned to be great and respectable. If by the latter, we shall strive after conformity to Christ. If by the former, our discipline will be partial, screening our favourites. But if by the latter, we shall be no respecter of persons, but act with impartial fidelity, with a single eye to the glory of God.
4. In deciding in our various worldly concerns we are commonly influenced by one or other of these principles.—If by the former, the question will be, in all cases,—Is it wise? Is it politic? What will people say? But if by the latter, the question will be,—Is it right? The former is the spirit of all worldly men, and all mere nominal Christians; the latter, of the genuine Christian. If we are governed by the former, in forming our various connexions, the question will be,—Will this promote my worldly interests? But if by the latter, the question will be,—Will it contribute to the prosperity of my soul? My friends, think of the fruits of Lot’s well-watered plain; and shudder at the thought of choosing situations for yourselves or your children, without a supreme regard to the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
II. Observe the satisfaction arising from being able to adopt the language of the apostle.—He speaks of his consciousness of simplicity and godly sincerity, as a matter of rejoicing, yea, of singular rejoicing. Wherefore?—
1. The testimony of a good conscience is sometimes the only testimony we have in our favour.—It was nearly so with the apostle at Corinth. The world may be offended, and bad men may influence even good men to join a wrong cause. This was the case at Corinth. Thus Judas led away the disciples with respect to Mary. But if we can say as Paul in the text, this will bear us up under all the misapprehensions and misconstructions of the world, or even of our brethren. Thus Enoch was supported. Doubtless he had to endure the world’s scorn; but “he had this testimony—that he pleased God.”
2. The testimony of such a conscience is an echo to the voice of God.—“If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.”
3. The testimony of a good conscience will support us in death.—But if we have not this, how shall we bear to die, and to appear in judgment?
My friends, if your minister can adopt the language of Paul, and feel a consciousness of being governed by the best of principles, still this will avail for himself only; it will not avail you. He may be pure of your blood; but are you? If you perish, and your minister be guiltless, where will the guilt lie then?
Excerpt from: Sermon LXXXV, in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 540–542). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.