Andrew Fuller Friday: Reflecting on the Sermon and Self

[Delivered on a Lord’s-day Evening, in a Country Village.]

Solitary Reflection

“Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.”—Psal. 4:4.

You are assembled together, my dear hearers, that you may learn something concerning your everlasting welfare. I am glad to meet you; and shall be happy to communicate any thing that I understand on this important subject. I pray God to bless it for your good! You have heard many sermons preached, and yet, perhaps, have been but little profited; and you may hear many more to as little purpose. Religion consists not merely in hearing sermons; nor in going away, and talking how you like or dislike the preacher. Religion is not found among noise, and clamour, and dispute. It does not consist in either applauding or censuring men. If ever you hear to any purpose, it will make you forget the preacher, and think only of yourselves. You will be like a smitten deer, which, unable to keep pace with the herd, retires to the thicket and bleeds alone. This is the effect that I long to see produced in you. It is for the purpose of impressing this upon your minds that I have read the above passage, and wish to discourse to you upon it. In doing this, all I shall attempt will be to explain and enforce the admonition. Let us attempt,

I. To explain the meaning of it. The persons admonished in this Psalm were men who set themselves against David, and persecuted him without a cause; accusing him, perhaps, to king Saul: and, what greatly aggravates their guilt, they are said to have turned his glory into shame; that is, they reproached him on account of his religion, which was his highest honour. There are such scoffers in the world now; and as these wicked men opposed David, so they oppose our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David according to the flesh. And by how much Christ is superior to David, by so much greater is the wickedness of those who mock at his gospel and people than the other. They were, many of them, men of property; their corn and their wine, it seems, increased; and it is likely that some of them were people in high life, who had access even to the king. But all this would not screen them from the displeasure of God. Even kings and judges themselves must submit to the Son, or perish from the way.

And if riches will not profit in the day of wrath, neither will poverty. It is true, the Scriptures wear a favourable aspect towards the poor. Jesus preached the gospel to them; and God is often represented as threatening and punishing those that oppress them: but if a man be wicked as well as poor, (as it is well known great numbers are,) his poverty will excite no pity; he must bear his iniquity.

Presumptuous and thoughtless sinners are admonished to “stand in awe, and sin not; to commune with their own hearts upon their bed, and be still.” Bold as any of you may be in sin, there is one above you, who will call you to an account: pause, therefore, and think what you are about. To commune with our hearts means much the same as to ponder the matter over with ourselves. It is said of the adulteress, that, “lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are movable, that thou canst not know them.” She leads on her thoughtless admirers, from one degree of sin to another, in quick succession; just as a person who should wish to lose you in a wood, and there murder you, would lead you on, under some fair pretence, from path to path, through one winding direction after another, never suffering you to stand still and pause, lest you should turn back and effect your escape. Thus it is with sinners; they are hurried on, by delusion, from sin to sin, from company to company, and from one course of evil to another, while the enemy of their souls is doing every thing in his power to secure his dominion over them.

That which the adulteress most dreaded was thought, close and serious thought; and this it is which the enemy of your souls most dreads. It is by pondering the path of life, if at all, that you must escape the snare. If sinners are saved, it is from their sins. Their souls must be converted to the love of Christ; and the ordinary way that God takes to convert them is, by convincing them of sin, which is never effected but by their being brought to close and serious thought. It was by “thinking of his ways” that David “turned his feet to God’s testimonies.”

The place and time particularly recommended for this exercise is, upon your bed, at night. If there be any time more favourable to reflection than others, it must be that in which you are free from all intruding company, and interruptions from without. Then, when you have retired from the world, and the world from you; when the hurry of business is withdrawn; when the tumult of the soul subsides, and is succeeded by a solemn stillness; when the darkness which surrounds you prevents the interference of sensible objects, and invites the mental eye to look inward; then commune with your own heart; take a reckoning with your soul; inquire what course you are in, and whither it will lead you!

It might be well to examine the actions of your life; but as the heart is the spring-head of action, the state of your heart must be the chief object of your inquiry. As to actions, they are neither good nor evil, but as they are the expressions of the heart. Were you to kill a fellow creature, you know, there would be no evil in it provided it was by mere accident, and not from any malicious design, criminal passion, or careless neglect; and if you did ever so much good to your neighbour, yet if it were by accident, and not from design, there would be no goodness in it. It is the disposition of our hearts that denominates our characters in the sight of God. In all your communings, therefore, commune with your hearts.

Perhaps you will say, I find great difficulty in collecting my thoughts, and fixing them upon those things which are of the greatest importance; when I would think, I scarcely know what to think about. Well; give me leave, then, to suggest a few plain questions, which I would earnestly recommend you to put home to your own soul.

First, Does my heart choose and follow after those things which my conscience tells me are right? I can assure you that with many this is not the case. Their consciences tell them that they ought to fear God, to keep holy the sabbath day, to read and hear the word of God, and to perform various other duties; but their hearts are at variance with all these things. Their consciences tell them that they ought not to swear, lie, steal, get intoxicated, cheat their creditors, and ruin their families; but their hearts, nevertheless, are set upon these and many other such wicked courses; and they will pursue them, at all events. Is this the case with any of you? It is a miserable life to have the heart and conscience at variance. You are sensible it is so; and therefore, if any of you are of this description, you labour, I dare say, to lull conscience asleep, that you may enjoy the desires of your heart without interruption from its remonstrances. But this is a desperate way of going on. Conscience will not always sleep; and when it does awake, which perhaps may be upon a death-bed, its voice will be more terrible than thunder, and its accusations more painful than the sting of a scorpion. Did you never see a wicked man upon a dying bed? Perhaps not: possibly you cannot bear such sights, and therefore shun them. There are persons, however, who have; and, witnessing his agony, have longed to alleviate it. The guilt, the fear, and the horror which have appeared in his eyes; the bitter regret that has preyed upon his dying heart; and the forebodings of everlasting misery that seemed to have seized his soul; have wrung their hearts with anguish: but all they could do was to drop an unavailing tear. Given up to the hardness of his heart, even the doctrine of salvation by the blood of the Lamb has had no effect upon him, and he has died in all the misery of despair. Oh that this may not be your end! Yet if such be your life, and you persist in it, there is no reason to expect but that it will.

But it is possible that you may not sustain this character Your heart and conscience may not be at such variance as to give you any considerable pain. If so, let me recommend a second question: Is my conscience instructed and formed by the word of God? Though you may be certain that you are in a wrong course if you live in the violation of conscience, yet you cannot always conclude that you are in a right one when you do not violate it, because conscience itself may err. Saul was conscientious in persecuting the followers of Christ; yet he was one of the chief of sinners for so doing. You may ask, What can a man do but follow that which he thinks to be right? True; but it becomes him to compare his thoughts with the word of God; for we are easily persuaded to think favourably of that conduct which suits our inclinations; and where this is the case, the error of the conscience, instead of excusing the evil conduct, becomes itself an evil.

The consciences of many people tell them, that if they take care of their families, pay every man his due, and attend public worship once or twice a week, this is all that can reasonably be expected at their hands. And I have heard this Scripture passage brought in proof of it, “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” But (to say nothing of the love of mercy towards our fellow creatures) to walk humbly with God is a very different thing from the above exercises.

A man’s conscience may be easy, and he may persuade himself that he is in the way to life, while, in fact, he is as far from it as the old Pharisees, against whom the heaviest woes of damnation were denounced. The case of such people seems to be worse, on some accounts, than that of the openly profane: these acting in opposition to their own consciences, as well as to God, a faithful warning sometimes takes hold of their fears; but those, deluded by vain hope, consider all such warnings as inapplicable to them. Both are steering the same course; but the one is impeded by wind and tide, while the other is aided by the current of a perverted conscience. Do not forget to inquire, Is my conscience instructed and formed by the word of God? Perhaps you have not been in the habit of reading that sacred book, or of having it read to you. The neglect of it may occasion your eternal overthrow.

But let me recommend a third question: Have any or all my pursuits, whether after natural or sinful enjoyments, ever yet afforded me satisfaction? The answer to this question is of importance; because if they never have, there is no reason to conclude they ever will; and if so, what have you been pursuing all this time? You have spent thirty, forty, fifty, or more years in the world, and, by a thousand different methods, have been seeking satisfaction; yet you have not found it. You thought, when you were young, to have found it in forbidden pleasures, and perhaps you gave a loose to appetite and desire; but you were disappointed. Guilt, infamy, and misery were the fruits of those excesses. Your own heart will tell you this, if you ask it. Since that time, having felt the effects of your former folly, it may be, you have turned your attention to other things: you have settled; and now your object has been to raise yourself in the world. Saving money has seemed the one thing needful to render you happy. Perhaps you have saved a little of this article; and are you happy? Ask your own heart, and it will tell you. No, you want to save a little more. Poor man! you are unhappy; and unhappy in this course you will be. Can you tell the reason? You have been trying to satisfy yourself with that which is not bread. Do you not know that God has created you with desires which it is not in the power of the whole creation to satisfy? Alexander and Cæsar, those mighty monarchs, who each in his day conquered the world, were as far off from happiness as you are. The one is said to have wept because there was not another world to conquer; and the other to have exclaimed, when in the full possession of empire, “Is this all?”

If you inquire wherefore has God planted desires in your natures that it is not in the power of creation to satisfy, I answer, that you might be led to seek satisfaction where it is to be found. There is much meaning, and merciful meaning too, in those Divine expostulations: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” Again, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!” And again, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”

A fourth question I would recommend is this: Will the course I am in do to die with? If it will, pursue it with all your might; but first be well satisfied that it will. There is no way of answering this question but by comparing your character with the word of God. There you will find our Lord declaring to his disciples, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.—Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And again, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Do you understand these things by experience? Did you ever seriously think about them? They are subjects of no little importance. Some men, and even some preachers, may tell you that all this signifies nothing more than your being baptized, or, at most, living a sober, regular life; but it is at your peril to believe them against the solemn declarations of Christ. Nicodemus, a master in Israel, was ignorant of these things. Other teachers now may be the same; and if blind themselves, no wonder that they lead others equally blind till both fall into the ditch. But as you value your souls, remember who it is that has said, “Ye must be born again.”

If you have never experienced this change, you are at present strangers to yourselves, to God, to Christ, and to the way of life: exposed to the curse of Almighty God; and, dying in your present state, must perish for ever

Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Solitary Reflection,” Sermon XI in Sermons and Sketches. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 221–225). Sprinkle Publications.

By |February 17th, 2023|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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