Andrew Fuller Friday: Principles of True Religion

I. Let us offer a few remarks on the principles which are here suggested to us, as constituting true religion. Whatever ideas we have entertained of truth and true religion, it is necessary to bring them to the Scriptures, as to the standard.

1. True evangelical religion is here represented as a building, the foundation of which is laid in the faith of Christ: “Building up yourselves on your most holy faith.” Whether it relate to personal or to social religion, this must be the foundation of the fabric, or the whole will fall. Many persons are awakened to some serious concern about futurity, and excited to inquire what they must do to be saved; and, in that state of mind, it is not unusual for them to have recourse to reading and prayer, as a preparation for death. Many preachers, too, will think it sufficient to direct them to the use of these means. But if the death and mediation of Christ be overlooked, it is not reading, or prayer, or any other religious exercise, that will avail us. Why did John the Baptist, Christ, and his apostles lay the foundation of the gospel kingdom by calling on sinners to “repent and believe the gospel?” Was it not because all other duties, prior to these, were of no account? When some, who followed Christ for loaves, inquired what they must do to work the works of God, his answer was, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;” plainly intimating that no work, prior to this, could be pleasing to God. The Scriptures direct men to pray, but it is in faith. To the question, “What must I do to be saved?” there is but one answer—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Christ is the door; by him if any man enter in he shall be saved. To direct inquirers to any thing short of this is to direct them to that which, if complied with, will leave them short of salvation. This the Scriptures never do: there is not a direction in the oracles of God but, if truly followed, will lead to everlasting life.

One lays the foundation of his religion in what he calls reason; but which in fact is his own reasoning. The same inspired writer who in one sentence commends understanding, in the next warns us against leaning to our own understanding. To strengthen ourselves and one another in this way, is to build up ourselves on our own conceits. Another founds his religion on his good deeds. Good deeds undoubtedly form a part of the building, but the foundation is not the place for them. They are not the cause, but the effects of faith. They prepare us for heaven, as meetening us for it, but not as rendering us deserving of it. A third builds his religion on impressions. It is not from the death of Christ for sinners or any other gospel truth that he derives his comfort, but from an impulse on his mind that his sins are forgiven, and that he is a favourite of God, which is certainly no where revealed in the Scriptures. We may build ourselves up in this way, but the building will fall. A fourth founds his religion on faith, but it is not a holy faith, either in respect of its nature or its effects. It is dead, being alone, or without fruit. The faith on which the first Christians built up themselves included repentance for sin. As when forgiveness is promised to repentance, faith in Christ is supposed; so when justification is promised to believing, repentance is supposed. However distinct they are, as to their nature and objects, they have no separate existence. Hence, in the preaching of John, Christ, and the apostles, they are united; and hence the faith of Christ; supposing a renunciation of every thing opposed to it, and including a cordial acquiescence in the gospel way of salvation through his death, is most holy.

These principles your dear deceased pastor has long believed and taught. May you long continue to exemplify their holy influence.

2. That religion which has its foundation in the faith of Christ will increase by “praying in the Holy Spirit.” As there is no true practical religion without faith in Christ, so there is no true prayer but “in the Holy Spirit.” It is true “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;” but it is no less true that we know not what to pray for as we ought, but as the Spirit helpeth our infirmities: clear proof this, by the way, that that may be man’s duty which yet, owing to his depravity, cannot be performed but by Divine grace; and that the Holy Spirit works that in us which God as the Governor of the world requires of us; writing his law upon our hearts, or working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.

The assistance of the Holy Spirit, however, is not that of which we are always sensible. We must not live in the neglect of prayer at any time because we are unconscious of being under Divine influence, but rather, as our Lord directs, pray for his Holy Spirit. It is in prayer that the Spirit of God ordinarily assists us. Prayers begun in dejection have often ended in joy and praise: of this many of the Psalms of David furnish us with examples.

One of the sentences uttered by your deceased pastor, when drawing near his end, was, “I wish I had prayed more.” This was one of those weighty sayings which are not unfrequently uttered in view of the solemn realities of eternity. This wish has often recurred to me since his departure, as equally applicable to myself, and with it the resolution of that holy man, President Edwards, “so to live as he would wish he had when he came to die.” In reviewing my own life, I wished I had prayed more than I have for the success of the gospel. I have seen enough to furnish me with matter of thankfulness, but, had I prayed more, I might have seen more. I wish I had prayed more than I have for the salvation of those about me, and who are given me in charge. When the father of the lunatic doubted whether Jesus could do any thing for him, he was told in answer, that, if he could believe, all things were possible. On hearing this he burst into tears, saying, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” He seems to have understood our Lord as suggesting that, if the child was not healed, it would not be owing to any want of power in him, but to his own unbelief. This might well cause him to weep and exclaim as he did. The thought of his unbelief causing the death of his child was distressing. The same thought has occurred to me as applicable to the neglect of the prayer of faith. Have I not by this guilty negligence been accessory to the destruction of some that are dear to me? And were I equally concerned for the souls of my connexions as he was for the life of his child, should I not weep with him? I wish I had prayed more than I have for my own soul: I might then have enjoyed much more communion with God. The gospel affords the same ground for spiritual enjoyment as it did to the first Christians. I wish I had prayed more than I have in all my undertakings: I might then have had my steps more directed by God, and attended with fewer deviations from his will. There is no intercourse with God without prayer. It is thus that we walk with God, and have our conversation in heaven.

3. We are given to understand, that by means of building on our most holy faith, and praying in the Holy Spirit, we “keep ourselves in the love of God.” The love of God here is to be understood not of his love to us, but of ours to him; as when our Lord told the unbelieving Jews that they had not “the love of God” in them. To keep alive this sacred flame amidst the temptations of the world is in a manner the sum of the Christian life. If this be preserved, every other grace will thrive, and we shall prosper in all that we set our hands to in the service of God. Not only must natural affection to our dearest friends and relations give place to the love of God, but even the love of our Christian brethren must be on account of their obedience to him: “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?—Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

This is a subject into which your dear pastor entered with deep interest, considering it as essential to true religion. He dwelt much in his preaching on the glory of the Divine character and government, as displayed in the law and the gospel, and scrupled not to declare his firm persuasion that all religious affections which disregarded this were spurious, and would prove of no account at the great day. He was persuaded that as sin must be hated as sin, or it is not hated at all; so God must be loved as God, or he is not loved at all. But to love God as God is to love him for what he is, as well as for what he has done for us. He had, indeed, no such notion of loving God for his own excellency as should render us indifferent to our own salvation. On the contrary, he considered it as essential to the love of God to desire his favour as our chief good. But we can no more desire this, irrespective of what he is, than we can desire any other object without considering it as in itself desirable. Unless we love God in respect of his character, his favour would be no enjoyment to us.

In these views I am persuaded that our brother was in the right, and that, instead of their being mere metaphysical subtilties, they enter into the essence of true religion. The glory of the gospel consists in an exhibition of the glory of the Divine character. Had it been possible for sin to have been forgiven, and sinners accepted, in a way inconsistent with righteousness, however agreeable it might have been, as furnishing us with the means of escape from wrath, there had been no glory in it, and, had we truly loved God, no satisfaction to our minds.

In judging of what is true or false, right or wrong, the love of God is that to the mind which an ear for music is to harmony, or which a delicate sense of fitness is to our speaking and acting with propriety. It is thus that the apostle represents it in his Epistle to the Philippians: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and mote in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent;” or—in all sense; that ye may try things that differ. In short, there is no calculating the bearings of this principle: it is the life-blood that flows through all the veins of true religion. Hence the prayer of the apostle: “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God.”

It is by building up ourselves on our most holy faith, and praying in the Holy Spirit, that we are supposed to keep alive this heavenly flame. These are the means adapted to that important end; they are to the love of God that which oil is to the fire, tending to feed and to enliven it. It is by a growing acquaintance with the word of God, accompanied with habitual prayer, that the love of God increases and abounds more and more. There are things which are inconsistent with the love of God, such as the love of the world and the indulgence of its lusts: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” But a life of faith and prayer will subdue these weeds, no less than they, when indulged, are known to choke the word of God, and to render it unfruitful. Let the field be but well occupied with good seed, and there will be no room for the weeds: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.”

4. We are taught that, when we have done all, in looking for eternal life, we must keep our eye singly and solely on the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was this part of the subject that our brother particularly repeated, as expressive, I doubt not, of both the ground and object of his hope. Every one who knew him can bear testimony that he was a just and holy man, and that it was his great concern, in every station he filled, to maintain good works; but his dependence for acceptance with God was not on them. He looked for eternal life through “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The best characters have always been the most sensible of their own unworthiness, and the furthest from self-righteous boasting. After all their labours in the cause of God, they feel to have been unprofitable servants, as having done only what was their duty to do, and that with so much imperfection as to furnish matter of humiliation and self-abasement. It is true that a servant of God may enjoy a portion of solid satisfaction in reviewing those things which, by the grace of God, he has been enabled to accomplish, and this without any mixture of self-righteous boasting. This was the case with the apostle of the Gentiles. He could say, on the approach of death, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” But if Paul himself had been speaking of the consideration on which he hoped to be accepted and saved, he would, like Jude, have resolved it into “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

You know, brethren, that this is the doctrine which your pastor has preached among you for nearly forty years. It is true he did not so represent the grace of God as to cherish a spirit of slothfulness or wantonness, but, in all his labours, it was his uniform design to direct his hearers, whether they would hear or whether they would forbear, to the only way of salvation marked out in the Holy Scriptures: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” He preached the doctrine of sovereign grace in such a manner as to warn every man against trusting to his own righteousness, and teach every man in what way he must be saved, if saved at all, as well as to lead those who have believed in Jesus to ascribe it to the grace of God that they were what they were. And now, having, as I said, for nearly forty years, pointed you to the good and the right way, he has himself walked in it; leaving you and all the world with this sentiment upon his lips—“Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life!”

Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Principles and Prospects of a Servant of Christ,” Sermon XXVII. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 342–346). Sprinkle Publications.

By |March 8th, 2024|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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