Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #5
So far in this series on Andrew Fuller’s letter seeking the assistance of his Christian hearers in promoting the interest of Christ we have considered the introduction, in which Fuller establishes the principle of cooperation upon which he will proceed. Following on from that, we have looked at the first three groups of people that pastors address and to which they minister: “serious and humble Christians”, “disorderly walkers”, and those “inquiring after the way of salvation”.
The final category in which Fuller pleads for the assistance of the saints is that of those “living in their sins” and unconcerned about salvation. Again, here he is dealing with the progress of the kingdom in an absolute sense, in the bringing of those who are in darkness into God’s marvellous light.
Alongside the second category of “disorderly walkers” this is the group with which most believers will struggle. It might be considered a relatively easy thing to encourage a healthy child of God; if someone is seeking Christ, then they might at least be inclined to hear a Christian’s efforts to point them to Jesus. However, backslidden Christians and unbelievers careless about their souls are both more likely, at least initially, to resent and resist the believer’s overtures. In both instances, a degree of courage for potential confrontation about sin is required.
Let us hear Fuller on the matter:
Fourthly, There is in all congregations and neighbourhoods a considerable number of people who are living in their sins, and in a state of unconcernedness about salvation. – Our work in respect of them is, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, to declare unto them their true character, to exhibit the Saviour as the only refuge, and to warn them to flee to him from the wrath to come. In this also there are various ways in which you may greatly assist us. If, as heads of families, you were to inquire of your children and servants what they have heard and noticed on the Lord’s day, you would often find occasion to second the impressions made by our labours. It is also of great consequence to be endued with that wisdom from above which dictates a word in season to men in our ordinary concerns with them. Far be it from us to recommend the fulsome practice of some professors, who are so full of what they call religion as to introduce it on all occasions, and that in a most offensive manner. Yet there is a way of dropping a hint to a good purpose. It is admirable to observe the easy and inoffensive manner in which a patriarch introduced some of the most important truths to a heathen prince, merely in answer to the question, How old are thou? “The days of the years of my pilgrimage,” said he, “are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage.” This was insinuating to Pharaoh that he and his fathers before him were strangers and pilgrims upon the earth – that their portion was not in this world but in another – that the life of man, though it extended to a hundred and thirty years, was but a few days – and that those few days were mixed with evil – all which, if the king reflected on it, would teach him to set light by the earthly glory with which he was loaded, and to seek a crown which fadeth not away.
You are acquainted with many who do not attend the preaching of the word. If, by inviting them to go with you, an individual only should be caught, as we say, in the gospel net, you would save a soul from death. Such examples have frequently occurred. It is an established law in the Divine administration, that men, both in good and evil, should in a very great way draw and be drawn by each other. The ordinary way in which the knowledge of God is spread in the world is, by every man saying to his neighbour and to his brother, Know the Lord. It is a character of gospel times, that “Many people shall go and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Add to this, by visiting your neighbours under affliction you would be furnished with many an opportunity of conversing with them to advantage. Men’s consciences are commonly awake at such seasons, whatever they have been at others. It is as the month to the wild ass, in which they that seek her may find her.
Finally, Enable us to use strong language when recommending the gospel by its holy and happy effects. – Unbelievers constantly object to the doctrine of grace as licentious; and if they can refer to your unworthy conduct, they will be confirmed, and we shall find it impossible to vindicate the truth of God without disowning such conduct, and it may be you on account of it: but if we can appeal to the upright, the temperate, the peaceable, the benevolent, the holy lives of those among whom we labour, it will be of more weight than a volume of reasonings, and have a greater influence on the consciences of men. A congregation composed of kind and generous masters, diligent and faithful servants, affectionate husbands, obedient wives, tender parents, dutiful children, and loyal subjects, will be to a minister what children of the youth are said to be to a parent: As arrows in the hand of a mighty man: – “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed , but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”
These, brethren, are some of the principal ways in which we affectionately solicit your assistance in promoting the interest of Christ. In doing this, we virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in it. We feel the weight of this implication. Let each have the other’s prayer, that we may both be assisted from above, without which all the assistance we can render each other will be unavailing. Should this address fall into the hands of one who is yet in his sins, let him consider that the object of it is his salvation; let him reflect on the case of a man whom many are endeavouring to save, but he himself, with hardened unconcern, is pressing forward to destruction; and finally, should he bethink himself, and desire to escape the wrath to come, let him beware of false refuges, and flee to Jesus the hope set before him in the gospel.
- We need to pray for wisdom and courage to serve Christ in this endeavour. Pray for those whose primary responsibility it is to preach the truth to men, and pray for yourselves, that you might be willing and able to play your part, whatever the opposition.
- We must be ready to follow up with those under our care or influence the public ministry of God’s word. We may not have many servants in the UK these days – but then, I don’t know where you are reading this, so perhaps you do – but there may be children and others for whom you have some responsibility or obtain some influence, and pressing home the truths that have been proclaimed from the pulpit may drive something into the soul that would otherwise have remained on the surface.
- Do not be obnoxious, supercilious, or overbearing in the name of piety, but rather seek the wisdom that speaks a word in season to those without Christ. At the same time, do not use the ploy that you are waiting for the right season to cover your cowardice.
- Find ways to bring the gospel to those who do not normally hear the Word of God, or to bring them under the sound of the word. This may be by taking opportunities to invite them to hear the Scriptures preached, or by taking the gospel to them when you have opportunities. Do not neglect times of distress, hardship and affliction: these may be very appropriate occasions to speak of Jesus, especially if your good neighbourliness as a matter of course has made a way into their affections and assured them of your good intentions.
- Live in such a way as to complement to the gospel preached from the pulpit, so as to make your life a second sermon. If your own life adorns the gospel, and demonstrates and endorses the truth preached, then you make yourself every true preacher’s ally. If your life is a contradiction of the truth you or your pastors proclaim, if you have the name of a saint but fall short in the life, then you not only offend Christ but you put an obstacle in the path of every man who can discern the gap between Christian testimony and your practice.
So, are you in?
Remember Fuller’s opening description of the early church:
The primitive churches were not mere assemblies of men who agreed to meet together once or twice a week, and to subscribe for the support of an accomplished men who should on those occasions deliver lectures on religion. They were men gathered out of the world by the preaching of the cross, and formed into society for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom in their own souls and in the world around them. It was not the concern of the ministers or elders only; the body of the people were interested in all that was done, and, according to their several abilities and stations, took part in it. Neither were they assemblies of heady, high-minded, contentious people, meeting together to argue on points of doctrine or discipline, and converting the worship of God into scenes of strife. They spoke the truth; but it was in love; they observed discipline; but, like an army of chosen men, it was that they might attack the kingdom of Satan to greater advantage. Happy were it for our churches if we could come to a closer imitation of this model!
As much as ever, the church needs her people to speak the truth in love, and observe that holy discipline that will enable her to march as an army with banners, and overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, and be the means in God’s hands of plucking brands from the burning and building up the church of Christ.
To this end, the whole church must be engaged. If your pastors “virtually pledge ourselves to be ready on all occasions to engage in” this work of promoting the cause of Christ, will you pledge yourself to stand with them, pray for them, labour alongside them, pouring yourself out as opportunity and calling provide for the glory of Christ on the earth, seen in the salvation of the lost and the strengthening of the family of God?