The forty-six letters by Andrew Fuller contained in The Armies of the Lamb are not ordered by Dr. Haykin in the chronological order in which they were written. Instead Dr. Haykin seems to have organized the letters in such a way that their content more or less follows the chronology of Fuller’s life. For example, the first two letters included were written in 1798 and the third in 1815 (the year of Fuller’s death), but all three of these letters describe various details relating to Fuller’s own conversion as a young man years earlier.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the spirituality of Andrew Fuller through his personal letters. The reading of these letters has hopefully made an impact upon my own spiritual life. I have been convicted by my failure to recognize my own inadequacies, challenged to depend more upon the Holy Spirit and prayer, and encouraged to look to Christ and Him crucified. In the following we will see each of these themes in Fuller’s own words while making personal application of these themes to our own lives.
One of them most surprising of the recurring themes which I noted in Fuller’s letters was his obvious recognition of his own inadequacy both as a saint and a servant of God. After a life of fruitful service to Christ, he still felt himself to be unprofitable. Near the end of his life he wrote: “In looking back upon my life I see much cause for shame.” (263). This was not just the self-pity of an old man for ten years earlier he confessed in a letter to his friend John Ryland: “All that I have yet known seems to be as nothing.” (198). Fuller clearly recognized his own inadequacies and was not afraid to admit such to others. What a conviction it is to realize that one so greatly used by God would recognize and confess his own inadequacies! How much more should I be aware of my own deficiencies as a Christian and a minister.
Fuller especially recognized his own inadequacies in his spiritual life. He once wrote to William Carey that “if I have any spirituality it is but as the smoking flax; now and then a groan and a desire after God.” (187). Fuller confessed his weakness both in prayer and preaching. In regard to his praying, Fuller wrote of his unsuccessfulness: “If I dwelt in Christ, and Christ’s words in me, I should be more successful in prayer.” (197). Likewise, in regard to his preaching, Fuller wrote: “I feel that if I were more spiritually-minded I should preach better and bear trials better.” (191). Again, Fuller’s words are extremely convicting when one considers one’s own comparative inadequacies. But Fuller did not wallow in despair over his self-perceived inadequacies. Instead, he allowed his sense of need to drive him to deeper dependence upon the Holy Spirit and prayer.
Fuller’s recognition of his utter inadequacies as both a Christian and a Minister of the Gospel drove him to greater dependence upon the Holy Spirit and prayer. In a circular letter to churches in the Northamptonshire Baptist Association, Fuller ties together the need for the Holy Spirit and prayer:
Finally, brethren, let us not forget to intermingle prayer with all we do. Our need of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to do any thing, and everything, truly good, should excite us to do this. Without his blessing all means are without efficacy, and every effort for revival will be in vain. Constantly and earnestly, therefore, let us approach his throne. Take all occasions especially for closet prayer. Here, if anywhere, we shall get fresh strength, and maintain a life of communion with God. (108).
Those who are truly aware of their own inabilities will naturally be driven to prayer for enablement from the Holy Spirit. For Fuller, Christians are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to understand the Scriptures and to preach Christ. In regard to understanding the Scriptures, Fuller wrote to a member of the Kettering church that “when the truth contained in any passage of Scripture is opened to the mind, and impressed upon the heart, this is Christian experience – this is the work of the Spirit” (120-121). In regard to preaching Christ, Fuller wrote to Christopher Anderson in 1813:
I have been thinking of late of the force of the petition, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” As spiritual things are spiritually discerned, if the Lord leave us to ourselves we shall lose sight of the gospel, and somehow get beside it. . . . Take not thy Holy Spirit from us! It is for want of spirituality of mind, surely, that there is so much orthodox, and at the same time so little evangelical preaching. (247).
The urgency with which Fuller calls out for the assistance of the Holy Spirit is a source of conviction for all who think they can preach or do anything of eternal value apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.
Another theme easily observable in Fuller’s letters is his emphasis on the beauty of Christ. This is by far the most dominant theme in his letters. Over and over again Fuller expresses that Christ is his only hope of salvation. In 1812, Fuller wrote a letter to his good friend John Sutcliff in which he said, “What empty things are the applauses of creatures, and how idle the pursuit of them! I seem near the end of my course, and hope, through grace, and grace only, to finish it with joy. I have no transports, but a steady hope of eternal life, on the ground of my Saviour’s death.” (245). His encouragement to others was to “often think of the dying love of Christ towards you.” (208). To a group of ministerial students being trained by John Ryland, Fuller wrote of the importance of a fervent love for Christ. He wrote to Ryland these words to be passed along to the students: “It is of vast importance for a minister to be decidedly on the side of God, against himself as a sinner, and against an apostate world. Nor is it less important that he have an ardent love to Christ, and the gospel of salvation by free grace.” (161).
Fuller used the question of the preciousness of Christ as a diagnostic question to be used by individuals to determine whether or not they were genuine believers. In 1799 he wrote to the son of a dear friend regarding his salvation as follows:
To them also who believe in Christ “he is precious,” so that his name, and gospel, and people are dear to them, more dear than food, or raiment, or silver, or gold, or friends, or all the things which they can desire. And is Christ thus precious to you? If he is, eternal bliss is before you. If not, the wrath of God abideth on you. Think, my dear lad, of these things, and call upon the name of the Lord that you may be saved. (164).
Two years later, Fuller wrote similarly to an older relative about whom he was concerned. In this letter also Fuller asserts the glories of Christ and calls upon the sinner to flee to Christ.
When I consider that “all our righteousnesses are filthy rags” and will not cover us at the last day, that our very prayers and tears are at best mixed with sin, and if not offered in the name of Jesus, or with an eye to his mediation, are sin itself, I flee to Jesus, the hope set before me in the gospel. I implore, as a guilty, miserable sinner, to be accepted and pardoned wholly for his sake. (176-177).
Clearly, Fuller saw and declared the importance of whole hearted embrace of Christ in salvation. Without such an embrace, salvation itself may well be absent.
Even in the midst of doctrinal controversies, Fuller took refuge in the preciousness of Christ. Fuller’s defense of sound doctrine against the Socinians had served to increase rather than decrease his passion for Christ. In a letter to fellow pastor Thomas Steevens in 1793, Fuller wrote:
By what I have read and written in the Socinian controversy, I feel more attached to the great doctrines of Christ’s deity and atonement, together with those of salvation by grace alone, from first to last. These truths are not merely objects of my faith, but the ground of all my hope, and administer what is superior to my daily bread. (131).
This a remarkable accomplishment when compared to the way some scholars become seemingly more and more cold to Christ and the gospel as they write their academic defenses of doctrine. This aspect of Fuller has been particularly convicting to me personally to allow my studies to drive me to Christ. Thankfully, when studying Fuller there is hardly any other result.
Fuller’s appreciation for the preciousness of Christ seems to have continually have grown throughout his ministry. Upon returning from a trip to Ireland in 1804, Fuller wrote in a letter to his father-in-law William Coles the following:
The doctrine of the cross is more dear to me than when I went. I wish I may never preach another sermon but what shall bear some relation to it. I see and feel, more and more, that except I eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man I have no life in me, either as a Christian or as a minister. Some of the sweetest opportunities I had in my journey were in preaching Christ crucified: particularly on those passages, “Unto you that believe he is Precious.” – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” – “He that hath the Son hath life,” etc.– “That they all may be one,” etc. (191).
Given Fuller’s ever increasing love for Christ, it is no wonder then that in 1806 Fuller wrote to two newly sent out missionaries the following words:
My dear Brethren, know nothing but “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Be this the summit of your ambition. For you to live must be Christ. You may never be of that literary consequence which some are; but if you possess a savour of Christ, you will be blessings in your generation; and when you die, your names will be precious, not only in India and Britain, but in the sight of the Lord. (209).
These words remain sound advice! If our ministries are to be of any lasting value they must be ministries focused upon and saturated with the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I have been encouraged, challenged, and convicted by Andrew Fuller’s life and letters. I am truly grateful for the opportunity of being exposed to these classic writings. As I have read and meditated upon these letters, I have been alternately convicted by Fuller’s recognition of his own inadequacies, challenged by Fuller’s dependence upon the Holy Spirit and prayer, and encouraged by Fuller’s emphasis upon the preciousness of Christ. Though these three themes are each prominent in Fuller’s letters, they seem to be missing in much of the contemporary Christian literature being published. Closer to home, I see all too little of these characteristics in my own life. For this I repent and I pray that many more will repent along with me.