Andrew Fuller Friday: On the Increase of Knowledge

[Delivered at Carter Lane Meeting-house, London, Dec. 18, 1814, on behalf of the British and Foreign School Society.]

“Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”—Dan. 12:4.

Whatever obscurity there is in these prophecies, there are some particulars in them which determine their application to gospel times, and perhaps to those in which we live. Such is the mystical number of “a time, times, and a half,” in verse 7, or 1,260 years; which has an invariable reference to the period of anti-Christian domination (compare verse 7 with Rev. 10:5, 6; 11:2, 3; 12:14; 13:5). That which is here predicted, therefore, must refer to the close of this period, and to the introduction of the millennial kingdom of Christ.

The characteristics of these times are, that they shall be preceded by “great troubles,” but from which Michael will “stand up” to deliver his church; that there shall be men of eminence, who shall “turn many to righteousness, and shine like the stars for ever;” and that “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

Two things require attention; namely, the kind of knowledge here referred to, and the means by which it is to be increased.

As to the first, we have heard much of late years of philosophical illumination, which, by excluding the Bible, is to ameliorate the condition of man; and we have seen some of its effects. It is something remarkable, that from the time when the Bible was to be thrown aside as useless, it has been more in request, and more extensively circulated! Partial as unbelievers may be to their own kind of knowledge, they cannot expect that its prevalence should be an object of Scripture prophecy. No; the knowledge of which the Scriptures make account is that of which the fear of the Lord is the beginning. We may depend upon it that it is Bible knowledge, or the Bible would not have predicted it with approbation. It is that which “the wicked will not understand, but the wise shall understand it.” It is the knowledge of “the only true God, and of Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.” With this, however, must be included the first principles, at least, of human science, as subservient to it; inasmuch as the end includes the means which lead to it.

It is the glory of Christ’s kingdom that it is established and promoted by knowledge. It invites examination, and courts humble inquiry. Is it thus with paganism, or Mahommedanism, or apostate Judaism, or deism, or corrupt Christianity? No: these are all works of darkness, for the dispelling of which many shall run to and fro, as with the lamps of truth in their hands.

We have a written religion; and though it is not essential to salvation that we should be able to read and write, yet these are essential to our making any considerable proficiency in the knowledge of God. Without being able to read we cannot “search the scriptures,” nor “meditate in the law of the Lord by day and by night.” It is a great disadvantage to a hearer of the gospel to be unable to compare what he hears with the word of God. Nor is it less so to a minister, or a missionary, in addressing such auditors. It might therefore be presumed, that prior to the general spread of the gospel there would be a general diffusion of knowledge, even amongst the lower classes of mankind.

Secondly. Respecting the means by which knowledge shall be increased,—“many shall run to and fro;” that is, they that possess it shall be desirous of imparting it to others. There may be a desire to impart knowledge without possessing it. Some good men, like Ahimaaz, are eager to run while yet they have no tidings, and some vain men have an itch to be teachers when it would rather become them to learn. Those who possess knowledge, however, will do well to impart it according to their ability.

It is chiefly by means of instruction that men are “wiser than the beasts of the field.” We are born, it is true, with capacious and immortal powers, but while the mind is uninformed they are of but small account. Knowledge enters principally at the door of the senses. To what do we owe the gift of speech? It may seem to be natural to us; but if we are born deaf we shall also be dumb; and if with this we were blind, there would be but little difference in point of knowledge between us and other animals. Why is man so long in growing up to maturity? Other animals attain theirs in a short time compared with him. Is it not that there may be opportunity for instruction? What is the difference between the civilized and the savage part of mankind? Both may possess like powers; but the one is instructed, while the other is not. Many poor boys and girls in a country village, who cannot read, and never hear the gospel, nor converse with wise men, are very little, if any thing, superior to savages. Who can read the pathetic lines of Gray, when looking at the graves of the poor in a country churchyard, without dropping a tear of sympathy?

“Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

“But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll;
Chill penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of their soul?”

A portion of this evil may always continue to be the lot of the poor in the present life: but it may be considerably diminished; and, when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters do the sea, it will be so. Genuine benevolence will produce this effect. God hath so ordered things that we should be blessings to one another. One generation passeth not away till it has reared another to take its place. We might all have been called alone, and blessed, like Abraham; but as in blessing him God made him a blessing to the nations, it is in some respects the same with us. If he gives us the cup of salvation, we must hand it round. If he give us knowledge, or riches, or any other gift, we must not keep it to ourselves, but run to and fro that we may impart it.

If it be the design of God to diffuse the knowledge of himself over the earth in these last days, it might be expected that suitable means and instruments would be employed to accomplish it. When he meant to rear a tabernacle in the wilderness, he raised up Bezaleel and Aholiab, and other wise-hearted men, in whom he put wisdom and understanding. Thus we might expect men to be gifted and qualified for the work appointed them, and to be stirred up to engage in it. It might be expected, supposing a great work designed to be accomplished, that societies would be formed, some to translate the sacred Scriptures into the languages of the nations, some to give them circulation, some to scatter tracts which shall impress their leading principles, some to preach the gospel, and some to teach the rising generation to read and write.

Who can observe the movements of the present times without perceiving in them the finger of God? They may not have risen just in the order above described. The institution of Sunday schools, as they are called, for the children of the poor, took the lead about thirty years ago; since then, other institutions of various kinds have followed; but they have all risen nearly together, and all indicate a divine design. They form a whole, and, like the different parts of a machine, all work together.

Amongst these institutions which have already attracted the attention of Europe, and not of Europe only, that which is now called “The British and Foreign School Society” claims our attention. And such a society is wanted to give success to all other institutions for the diffusion of knowledge; for, if the world were full of Bibles, it would be of little avail if the people were not taught to read them. Is not the British system of education an engine capable of moving the moral world? From what little I know of it I am persuaded it is; and that God has caused it to be brought forward for this purpose. Its principle appears to me to be military. We all know what astonishing effects are produced in the political world by forming and organizing a number of men, every one filling the most advantageous post, and all acting together in concert. If this principle has been brought to bear in war, why should it not rather be employed in promoting knowledge, and diffusing the blessings of peace? It is of but small account, whether it originated with a Bell or with a Lancaster, and whether the societies act in concert, or not, so that they do but act. It may be a useful rivalry, and serve to provoke to good works. It requires to be supported, and I trust it will be so. If the nations of Europe, who have sent and are sending messengers to learn the principles of our operations, should perceive our hands to slacken in the use of them, it must not only sink us in their esteem, but impede the progress of the work. It is only to be a little more economical, denying ourselves of a few of the superfluities of life, and we may support all these institutions. The expense of one lust is greater than all the taxes of benevolence and religion.

I only add, amidst all our running to and fro to increase knowledge, our first concern is, that we ourselves know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. Without this, the rebuke of the apostle to a conceited Jew will apply to us: “Thou art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, who hast the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law: thou therefore who teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”

Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Increase of Knowledge,” Sermon XXXIX. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 417–418). Sprinkle Publications.

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