Andrew Fuller Friday: On the Mysterious Nature of Man

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”—Psal. 139:14.

The term “fearful” is sometimes to be taken subjectively, for our being possessed of fear. In this sense it signifies the same as timid. Thus the prophet was directed to say to them that were of a “fearful heart, Be strong.” At other times it is taken objectively, for that property in an object the contemplation of which excites fear in the beholder. Thus it is said of God that he is “fearful in praises,” and that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” In this sense it is manifestly to be understood in the passage now under consideration. The human frame is so admirably constructed, so delicately combined, and so much in danger of being dissolved by innumerable causes, that the more we think of it, the more we tremble, and wonder at our own continued existence.

“How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful is man!
How passing wonder He who made him such,
Who mingled in our make such strange extremes
Of different natures, marvellously mixed!
Helpless immortal, insect infinite,
A worm, a god—I tremble at myself!”

To do justice to the subject, it would be necessary to be well acquainted with anatomy. I have no doubt that a thorough examination of that “substance which God hath curiously wrought,” verse 15, would furnish abundant evidence of the justness of the psalmist’s words; and even those things which are manifest to common observation may be sufficient for this purpose. In general, it is observable that the human frame abounds with avenues at which enter every thing conducive to preservation and comfort, and every thing that can excite alarm. Perhaps there is not one of these avenues but what may become an inlet to death, nor one of the blessings of life but what may be the means of accomplishing it. We live by inhalation, but we also die by it. Diseases and death, in innumerable forms, are conveyed by the very air we breathe. God hath given us a relish for divers aliments, and rendered them necessary to our subsistence; yet, from the abuse of them, what a train of disorders and premature deaths are found amongst men! And where there is no abuse, a single delicious morsel may, by the evil design of another, or even by mere accident, convey poison through all our veins, and in one hour reduce the most athletic frame to a corpse.

The elements of fire and water, without which we could not subsist, contain properties which in a few moments would be able to destroy us; nor can the utmost circumspection at all times preserve us from their destructive power. A single stroke on the head may divest us of reason or of life. A wound or a bruise of the spine may instantly deprive the lower extremities of all sensation. If the vital parts be injured, so as to suspend the performance of their mysterious functions, how soon is the constitution broken up! By means of the circulation of the blood, how easily and suddenly are deadly substances diffused throughout the frame! Through this fearful medium, not only the taint of vice rankles in the veins of the debauchee, but virtue itself may destroy us. The putridity of a morbid subject has been imparted to the very hand stretched out to save it. The poisoned arrow, the envenomed dart, the hydrophobic saliva, derive from hence their fearful efficacy. Even the pores of the skin, necessary as they are to life, may be the means of death. Not only are poisonous substances hereby admitted, but, when obstructed by surrounding damps, the noxious humours of the body, instead of being emitted, are retained in the system, and become productive of numerous diseases, always afflictive, and often fatal to life.

From these few instances we may learn our absolute dependence upon Divine preservation. So numerous are the avenues at which death may enter, that no human foresight can possibly render us secure for a single moment: and even those dangers which may in a measure be avoided require for this purpose the regular exercise of reason; but reason itself depends upon a variety of minute causes, over which we have no control. Instead of wondering at the number of premature deaths that are constantly witnessed, there is far greater reason to wonder that there are no more, and that any of us survive to seventy or eighty years of age.

“Our life contains a thousand springs,
And dies if one be gone:
Strange that a harp of thousand strings
Should keep in tune so long.”

Assuredly, it can be ascribed to nothing short of the mighty power and all-pervading providence of God. A proper sense of this truth, while it would prevent us from presumptuously exposing ourselves to unnecessary injury, would induce us to commit ourselves to the Divine protection in every danger which duty calls us to encounter.

Nor is this all. If we are “fearfully made” as to our animal frame, it will be found that we are much more so considered as moral and accountable beings. In what relates to our animal nature, we are in most instances constructed like other animals; but in what relates to us as moral agents, we stand distinguished from all the lower creation. We are made for eternity. The present life is only the introductory part of our existence. It is that however which stamps a character on all that follows. How fearful is our situation! What innumerable influences is the mind exposed to from the temptations which surround us! Not more dangerous to the body is the pestilence that walketh in darkness than these are to the soul. Such is the construction of our nature, that the very word of life, if heard without regard, becomes a savour of death unto death. What consequences hang upon the small and apparently trifling beginnings of evil! A wicked thought may issue in a wicked purpose, this purpose in a wicked action, this action in a course of conduct, this course may draw into its vortex millions of our fellow creatures, and terminate in perdition, both to ourselves and them. The whole of this process was exemplified in the case of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. When placed over the ten tribes, he first said in his heart, “If this people go up to sacrifice at Jerusalem, their hearts will return to Rehoboam; and thus shall the kingdom return to the house of David,” 1 Kings 12:26–30. On this he took counsel, and made the calves of Dan and Bethel. This engaged him in a course of wickedness from which no remonstrances could reclaim him. Nor was it confined to himself; for he “made all Israel to sin.” The issue was, not only their destruction as a nation, but, to all appearance, the eternal ruin of himself, and great numbers of his followers. Such were the fruits of an evil thought!

O my soul, tremble at thyself! Tremble at the fearfulness of thy situation; and commit thine immortal all into His hands “who is able to keep thee from falling, and to present thee faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”

Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Mysterious Nature of Man,” Sermon LII. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 451–453). Sprinkle Publications.

By |June 14th, 2024|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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