The Israelites went forth, not only by Divine authority, but under a Divine promise; and the same is true of Christian ministers. God spoke unto Abraham, saying, “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” This, in substance, was often repeated to the patriarchs; so often that the country was thence denominated the Land of Promise. This it was that supported the faith of Caleb and Joshua. It was not in a dependence on their numbers, or their prowess, that they said, “We are well able;” but on the arm of Him who had spoken in his holiness. Nor do those who labour in the Lord’s service, in the present times, whether at home or abroad, (for I consider the work as one,) go forth with less encouragement. The Father has promised his Son that “he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied;” that he will “divide him a portion with the great;” and that “he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” Travail, in a figurative sense, commonly signifies grievous affliction issuing in a great and important good. Such was the suffering of our Lord, and such must be the effect arising out of it. A portion with the great may refer to the territories of the great ones of this world; such as the Alexanders and the Cæsars, who, in their day, grasped a large extent of empire: but the kingdom of Christ shall be greater than the greatest of them. The division of the spoil implies a victory, and denotes, in this place, that Christ shall triumph over all the false religion and irreligion in the world. And as the Father’s word is given to his Son, so the word of the Son is given unto us. He that said, “Go, teach all nations,” added, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” These declarations afford equal ground for confidence with those which supported a Caleb and a Joshua.
4. The promise to Israel was gradually fulfilled; and the same is observable of that which is made to Christ and his people. It was almost five hundred years, from the time that God entered into covenant with Abraham, before his posterity were permitted to set foot upon the land, as possessors of it; and nearly five hundred years more elapsed before their possession was completed. And, in establishing the kingdom of his Son, God has proceeded in a similar manner. The accession of the Gentiles was promised to Noah, under the form of Japheth being persuaded to dwell in the tents of Shem; but more than two thousand years roll on before any thing very considerable is accomplished. At length the Messiah comes; and, like Joshua by Canaan, takes possession of the heathen world. At first, it seems to have bowed before his word; and, as we should have thought, promised fair to be subdued in a little time. But every new generation that was born, being corrupt from their birth, furnished a body of new recruits to Satan’s army; and as the Canaanites, after the first onset in the times of Joshua, gathered strength, and struggled successfully against that generation of Israelites which succeeded him and forsook the God of their fathers; so, as the church degenerated, the world despised it. Its doctrine, worship, and spirit being corrupted, from being a formidable enemy, the greater part of it becomes a convenient ally, and is employed in subduing the other part, who hold fast the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Thus the war is lengthened out; and now, after a lapse of eighteen hundred years, we see not all things yet put under him. On the contrary, when reviewing our labours, it often seems to us that “we have wrought no deliverance in the earth, neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.” But let us not despair; we see Jesus upon his throne; and as the Canaanites were ultimately driven out, and the kingdom of Israel extended from sea to sea, so assuredly it shall be with the kingdom of Christ.
The great Disposer of events has, for wise ends, so ordered it that the progress of things shall be gradual. He designs by this, among other things, to try the faith and patience of sincere people, and to manifest the hypocrisy of others. Hereby scope is afforded both for faith and unbelief. If, like Caleb and Joshua, we be for going forward, we shall not want encouragement; but if, like the others, we be weary of waiting, and our hearts turn back again, we shall not want a handle, or plea, by which to excuse ourselves. God loves that both persons and things should appear to be what they are.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “God’s Approbations of Our Labors Necessary to the Hope of Success,” Sermon VI. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 186–187). Sprinkle Publications.