Another theme which is 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).
I have been encouraged, challenged, and convicted by Andrew Fuller’s life and letters. 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.
Merry Christmas from everyone at The Elephant of Kettering!
* All numbers in parentheses represent the corresponding pages in Michael Haykin’s The Armies of the Lamb: The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller published by Joshua Press in 2002.