Andrew Fuller Friday: On the Prospects of Serving Christ

By “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” I understand that which is communicated through his death, and with the dispensation of which he is invested, both now and at the day of judgment: “Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.—The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.”

We have already received much of the mercy of Christ. It was mercy that induced him to assume our nature, and undertake our salvation; to give himself an offering and a sacrifice to God for us; to send his Holy Spirit to renew us, when we were dead in sin; to intercede for us at the right hand of God; and to be with us in all our labours and sufferings for his name’s sake: but in respect of actual enjoyment, there is much more yet to be expected. The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ is communicated in greater and greater degrees, till, like rivers terminating in the ocean, it issues in eternal life.

The first exercise of mercy which the Scriptures direct us to look for, on our leaving the body, is an immediate reception into the presence of Christ, and the society of the spirits of just men made perfect. “The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.—Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.—Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.—We are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.—I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.—And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” What this overwhelming tide of mercy will prove we have yet to learn. When the Lord turned again the captivity of Judah, they were like those that dream; the deliverance seemed too great to be real. And thus it may be with believers on their departing from the body, and entering into the joy of their Lord. But of this our dear brother knows more, since his taking leave of us, than we should be able to discover in a series of years on earth, even though we should make it our constant study. If an inspired apostle could say, “We know not what we shall be,” it is vain for us to think of forming an adequate conception of it.

I do not know whether I ought not to reckon under this particular the glorious progress of Christ’s kingdom in this world. Why should we suspect whether our brethren who rest from their labours be from hence interested in this object? If there be joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner that repenteth, why not among the glorified saints? And if over one sinner, much more over the multitudes that shall be gathered in the latter days from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.* There is a sense in which the dead know not any thing: “Their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished, neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” All this is true, as to the things of this world; but it does not follow that those who die in the Lord have no more a portion in his spiritual kingdom. As well might we infer that their love of him and hatred of evil shall perish. But I ask leave, on this subject, to refer to A meditation on the nature and progressiveness of the heavenly glory, contained in a small volume of “Dialogues, Letters, and Essays,” published in 1806.†

Another stream of mercy for which we are directed to look will attend the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consist in the dead being raised, and the living changed. “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven,—with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” It has been usual for nations to reserve the most notable acts of grace to the appearance or coronation of their kings, as tending to honour their entrance on the government. And thus both the first and second appearing of Christ are periods which God has distinguished by the most glorious displays of mercy. The former was a jubilee to the Gentile world; and the latter will be the same to the whole creation. As, on the sounding of the jubilee trumpet, the captives were liberated; so, when the trump of God shall sound, the righteous dead shall be raised, and their resurrection will be to the creatures of God the signal of emancipation from under the effects of sin.

View the grave as a long, dark, and comfortless abode, and it is sufficient to appal the stoutest spirit; but take into consideration that here the Lord lay—that he was raised from the dead, that he might be the first-fruits of them that slept—and that of all that the Father gave him he will lose nothing, but will raise it up at the last day—and it will wear a different aspect. Job, when contemplating the grave as a long and dreary habitation, describes it in the most plaintive language: “Man lieth down, and riseth not till the heavens be no more!” But when his views are fixed on the deliverance which he should obtain at that great and glorious day, his complaints are exchanged for triumphs. It is delightful to observe the erection of soul which a believing prospect of the resurrection gave him, after all his depression: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” In a strain very similar to this, the apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, describes the victory over death and the grave, representing believers as actually raised from the dead, and as standing upon their graves, looking the conquered enemy in the face, and exclaiming, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” By looking for this part of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be reconciled to death, even before we meet it.

But there is another stream of mercy beyond this, to which we are directed to look, and which pertains to the last judgment. We have an impressive idea given us of this in Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus: “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.”

We have needed mercy on many days, and have found it; but that is a day in which we shall need it more than ever. It is a fond notion, entertained by some, that the sins of believers will not be brought into judgment. We are assured, however, that we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one of us shall give an account of himself to God; and that of every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof at the day of judgment. The mercy of the Lord in that day will not consist in connivance; but, as in all other instances, be exercised consistently with righteousness. In our present state of mind, we may wish to have it otherwise. David might wish that the evil he had wrought in secret should be kept secret; but the Lord determined to expose it before the sun. It does not comport with the character of God to conceal the truth, but to make it manifest. If the sins of believers were not brought into judgment, there would be no occasion for the exercise of forgiving mercy. It is from the strictness of the trial, and the awfulness of the sentence to which, if dealt with according to their deserts, they would be exposed in that day, that mercy will be needed. The world shall know their guilt, and their repentance, and the way in which they are forgiven; so as to glorify God, though it be unwillingly, and to feel the justice of their own condemnation. In this view of the last judgment, the manifestation of guilt, and wrath, and mercy will each surpass all our present conceptions.

It is commonly represented, in the Scriptures, that every man will be judged “according to his works;” and true it is, that all our actions and words, and even thoughts, will undergo an impartial scrutiny, and be considered as the test of character. They, for example, who have ministered to Christ’s members in their necessities, will be treated as having ministered unto him; and they that have disregarded them, as having disregarded him: but if, by being judged according to our works, were meant that God will proceed with us on the principles of mere justice, giving to every one his due, we should all be condemned: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”

Nor will the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, in that day, be confined to the forgiveness of sin: even the rewards of that day, though expressive of righteousness and faithfulness, yet have their origin in mercy. The crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give in that day to all who love his appearing, will not be a reward of debt, but of grace. But for grace, we should have had no good deeds to be rewarded; or if we had, they could no more be named in that day than the good behaviour of a murderer will bear to be alleged as a balance against his crimes. But being accepted in Christ, what is done for him is rewarded for his sake. Hence the crown of glory that shall be bestowed on his appearing is denominated, “the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

After this, nothing remains but that eternal life into which, as into an ocean, all these streams of mercy flow: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Such was the object of your dear pastor’s hope. May such be yours and mine: let our last end be like his!

The separation of a pastor and a people is a serious event. He is gone to give account of his ministry, and his account will include many things pertaining to the people of his charge. Some of them, I trust, will be found to have received the love of the truth, and will be his joy and crown of rejoicing. Could he have uttered his heart to you, his children, it would have been to press upon you a perseverance in the things that you have received and learned. Nay, he did so far utter his heart as to say, to those about him, “If any thing be said as from me, let the last word be, ‘As I have loved you, see that ye love one another.’ ” I doubt not but it has been his endeavour that, after his decease, you might have these things always in your remembrance; and that he was less anxious that you should remember him than them: but I trust you will remember both. Others, I fear, will be found to have sat under his ministry in vain. The word preached has not profited them, not being mixed with faith. It is an affecting case to perish from under a faithful minister; for if he be pure from your blood, on whose head must it be found, but on your own? Let us hope that, if the warning voice of your minister has not been heard before, it may be heard now. His last end furnishes a lesson of instruction, by which he being dead, yet speaketh. You see here, that if a man keep Christ’s saying, he will never see death. Death to him is not death, but the introduction to everlasting life. But know also, that he that believeth not the Son will never see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.

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. 346–349). Sprinkle Publications.

By |March 15th, 2024|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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