The following essay is from a series of twelve letters "To a Friend" in which Pastor Fuller points out the error of of putting 'faith' before 'repentance' in the doctrine of salvation. Robert Sandeman (1718-1781), from whom this movement gets its name, and his father-in-law John Glas (1695-1773) were from Scotland. His followers were known as Glasites. They re-defined repentance and changed the order in which their 'gospel' was preached. They had great influence on Thomas and Alexander Campbell, thus making them important in America, especially on the American Frontier. These 'letters' by Andrew Fuller were written before the Campbells came under the influence of Mr. Sandeman.
STRICTURES ON SANDEMANIANISM, IN TWELVE LETTERS TO A FRIEND.
ON THE CONNECTION BETWEEN REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD,
AND FAITH TOWARD OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Letter No. Five
My dear Friend
The advocates of this system do not consider the order in which these graces are ordinarily introduced in the new testament, as being the true order of nature, and therefore generally reverse it, putting faith before repentance, and invariably placing repentance among the effects of faith. A sinner therefore has no spiritual sense of the evil of sin, till he has believed in the Saviour, and stands in a justified state. Then, being forgiven all trespasses, and reconciled to God through the death of his Son, he is melted into repentance.
The question is not whether the gospel, when received by faith, operates in this way; for of this there can be no doubt. Nothing produces godly sorrow for sin, like a believing view of the suffering Saviour. Nor is it denied that to be grieved for
having dishonoured God, we must first believe that he "is;" and before we can come to him in acceptable worship, that through a mediator he is "the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Without a mediator, repentance, even if it could have existed, must have been hopeless. I have not such an idea of the sinner being brought to repentance, antecedent to his believing in Christ for salvation, as Mr. SANDEMAN had of his believing antecedent to repentance. According to him, he believes and is justified, not merely considered as ungodly, or without any consideration of godliness in him, but actually "ungodly as he stands;" and then, and not till then, begins to love God, and to be sorry for his sin. This is manifestly holding up the idea of an impenitent believer, though not of one that continues such. But the antecedency which I ascribe to repentance does not amount to this. I have no conception of a sinner being so brought to repentance, as to sustain the character of a penitent, and still less to obtain the forgiveness of sin, previous to his falling in with the way of salvation. I believe it is not possible for a sinner to repent, and at the same time to reject the Saviour. The very instant that he perceives the evil of sin so as to repent of it, he cannot think of the Saviour without believing in him. I have therefore no notion of a penitent unbeliever. - All that I contend for is, that in the order of cause and effect, whatever may be said as to
the order of time, repentance precedes as well as follows the faith of Christ; and that faith in Christ cannot exist without repentance for sin. A sense of sin appears to me essential to believing in the Saviour; so much so, that without it, the latter would not only be a mere "notion," but an essentially defective one.
It is admitted on both sides, that there is a priority of one or other of these graces in the order of nature, so as that one is influenced by the other; and if no other priority were pleaded for, neither the idea of a penitent unbeliever on the one hand, nor an impenitent believer on the other, would follow: for it might still be true, as Mr. McLean acknowledges, that "none believe who do not repent," (p. 39.) and as I also acknowledge that none repent, who, according to the light they have, do not believe. But if we maintain not only that faith is prior in the order of nature, but that antecedent to any true sorrow for sin, we must "see God to be just in justifying us ungodly as we stand," this is clearly maintaining the notion of an impenitent believer.
From these introductory remarks, it will appear that I have no objection to faith being considered as cotemporary with repentance in the order of time, provided the latter were made to consist in an acquiescence with the gospel way of salvation, so far as it is understood: but if it be made to include such a clear view of the gospel as necessarily
brings peace and rest to the soul, I believe that repentance for sin often precedes it even in the order of time.
Such is the connection between repentance and faith in the scriptures, that the one commonly supposes the other. Repentance, when followed by the remission of sins, supposes faith in the Saviour;* and faith, when followed with justification, equally supposes repentance for sin.
Attempts have been made, by criticising on the word (Greek word), to explain away, as it would seem, the proper object of repentance, as if it were a change of mind with regard to the gospel. "Repentance, (says Mr. S.) is the change of a man’s mind to love the truth, which always carries in it a sense of shame and regret at his former opposition to it."+ But this is confounding repentance and faith objectively considered. The objects of both are so marked in the apostolic ministry, that one would think they could not be honestly mistaken. Repentance is toward God, and faith is toward our Lord Jesus Christ: the one has immediate respect to the Lawgiver, the other to the Saviour.
It cannot be denied, that the order in which the new testament commonly places repentance and faith, is in direct opposition to what our opponents plead for; and what is more, that the former is
* Luke xxiv. 47.
+ Letters on Ther. and Asp. p. 408.
represented as influencing the latter. This Is manifest in the following passages, - "Repent ye and believe the gospel. - Testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. - They repented not, that they might believe him. - If God peradventure might give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth."+ Mr. SANDEMAN, Mr. McLEAN, and all the writers on that side of the question, very rarely make use of this language; and when they have occasion to write upon the subject, ordinarily reverse it. To accord with their ideas it should have been said, Believe the gospel and repent. - Testifying faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and repentance toward God. - They believed not, that they might repent. - If God peradventure may give them faith to repent.
To this I add, it is impossible, in the nature of things, to believe the gospel, but as being made sensible of that which renders it necessary. The guilty and lost state of sinners goes before the revelation of the grace of the gospel; the latter therefore cannot be understood or believed, but as we are convinced of the former. There is no grace in the gospel, but upon the supposition of the holiness, justice, and goodness of the law. If God be not in the right, and we in the wrong; if we have not transgressed without cause, and be not fairly condemned; grace is no more grace, but a just exemption from
+ Mark i. 15. - Acts xx. 21. - Matthew xxi. 32. - 2 Timothy ii. 25.
undeserved punishment. And as faith must needs correspond with truth, it is impossible that we should believe the doctrine of salvation by grace, in an impenitent state of mind, or without feeling that we have forfeited all claim to the divine favour. We cannot see things but as they are to be seen: to suppose that we first believe in the doctrine of free grace, and then, as the effect of it, perceive the evil of sin, and our just exposedness to divine Wrath, is like supposing a man first to appreciate the value of a physician, and by this means to learn that he is sick. It is true the physician may visit the neighbourhood, or the apartments of one who is in imminent danger of death, while he thinks himself mending every day; and this circumstance may be held up by his friends as a motive to him to consider of his condition, and to put himself under his care. It is thus that the coming of Christ, and the setting up of his spiritual kingdom in the world, were alleged as motives to repentance both to Jews and Gentiles. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. - Repent ye therefore, - The times past of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent, * But as it would not follow, in the one case, that the sick man could appreciate the value of the physician till he felt his sickness, neither does it follow in the other, that faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ precedes
* Matthew iii. 2. - iv. i7. - Acts xvii, 30,
such a sense of the evil of sin, as involves the first workings of repentance toward God.
To argue as some have done, from the motives of repentance being fetched from the gospel, that it supposes their believing the gospel ere they could repent, proves too much; for it is not to repentance only, but to faith, that the coming of Christ's kingdom is held up as a motive: but to say that this supposes their belief of the gospel, is saying, they must believe in order to believing.
That a conviction of sin (whether it include the first workings of repentance or not) is necessary to faith in Christ, is a matter so evident, that those who have declaimed most against it, have not been able to avoid such a representation of things. It is remarkable, that when Mr. SANDEMAN comes to describe his "ungodly man," he always contrives to make him not only full of distress, but divested of all self-righteous pride: he represents him as conceiving that there are none more ripe for hell than he, and as having no hope but in the great propitiation." * Thus also Mr. ECKING when describing a "mere sinner," represents him as one who "feels himself in a perishing condition, and is conscious that he deserves no favour."+
We must not say that repentance, or any degree of a right spirit, so precedes faith in Christ as to enter into the nature of it; but if we will but call
* Letters on Ther. and Asp. p. 46, 48.
+ Essays, p. 41.
the sinner by a few hard names, we may describe him in coming to the Saviour as sensible of his utter unworthiness, as divested of self-righteousness, and as ripe for hell in his own eyes! In short, we may depict him as the publican, who sought mercy under a humilating [sic] sense of his utter unworthiness to receive it, so that we still call him ungodly. And to this we have no objection, so that it be understood of the character under which he is justified in the eye of the Lawgiver: but if it be made to mean that he, at the time of his justification, is in heart an enemy of God, we do not believe it. If he be, however, why do not these writers describe him as an enemy ought to be described? - They teach us elsewhere, that "an attachment to self-righteousness is natured to man as depraved;" how then came these ungodly men to be so divested of it? Why do they not represent them as thinking themselves in a fair way for heaven; and that if God does not pardon them he will do them wrong? Such is the ordinary state of mind of ungodly men, or mere sinners, which is just as opposite to that which they are constrained to represent, as the spirit of the pharisee was to that of the publican.
Mr. M'Lean will tell us, that "this is that part of the scheme, whereby persons, previous to their believing in Christ, are taught to extract comfort from their convictions;"* but whatever Mr. M.
* Reply, p. 148. I 3
may think or say, I hope others will give me credit when I declare, that we have no idea of any well grounded comfort being taken, antecedent to believing in Christ. The publican is described as humbling himself before God exalted him: but he did not derive comfort from this. If, instead of looking to the mercy of God, he had done this, it would have been a species of pharisaic self-exaltation. But it does not follow from hence, that there was nothing spiritually good in his self-abasement.
But Mr. M. "believes a person may be so convicted in his conscience, as to view himself merely as a guilty sinner, that is, as having no righteousness to recommend him to the favour of God, and that under such conviction, his sense of the evil of sin will not be confined to its punishment; but his conscience or moral sense will tell him that he deserves punishment at the hands of a righteous God."+
Mr. McLEAN admits then of the necessity of conviction of sin, previous, in the order of things, to faith in Christ; only there is no holiness, and consequently no true repentance in it. I have allowed in Letter I. that many convictions are to be resolved into the mere operations of an enlightened conscience, and do not issue in true conversion. I may add, I consider all conviction of sin which
+ Ibid. p. 149.
does not in its own nature lead to the Saviour, as of this description. It matters not how deep the distress of a sinner may be; so long as it is accompanied by an unwillingness to be saved by mere grace through a mediator, there is no holiness in it, nor any thing that deserves the name of repentance. An enlightened conscience, I allow, will force us to justify God and condemn ourselves on many occasions. It was thus in Pharoah when he said, "The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." And this his sense of the evil of sin might not be "confined to its punishment;" his "conscience or moral sense might tell him, that he deserved punishment at the hand of a righteous God." So far then we are agreed. But if Pharoah had had a just sense of the evil of sin, it would not have left him where it did. There was an essential difference between what he saw by the terrors of God's judgments, and what Paul saw, when "sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful." Nor can I believe that any sinner was ever so divested of self-righteous hope, as to consider himself a mere sinner, who yet continued to reject the Saviour: for this were the same thing as for him to have no ground to stand upon, either false or true; but he who submits not to the righteousness of God, is, in some form or other, going about to establish his own righteousness.
There is, I apprehend, an important difference between the case of a person, who, whatever be his convictions, is still averse from giving up every claim, and falling at the feet of the Saviour, and that of one whose convictions lead him to take refuge in the gospel, as far as he understands it, even though at present he may have but a very imperfect view of it. I can clearly conceive of the convictions of the first as having no repentance or holiness in them, but not so of the last. I believe repentance has begun to operate in many persons of this description, who as yet have not found that peace or rest for their souls, which the gospel is adapted to afford. - In short, the question is, whether there be not such a thing as spiritual conviction, or conviction which proceeds from the special influence of the Spirit of God, and which in its own nature invariably leads the soul to Christ? It is not necessary that it should be known by the party, or by others, to be so at the time, nor can it be known but by its effects, or till it has led the sinner to believe in Christ alone for salvation. But this does not prove but that it may exist. And when I read of sin "by the commandment becoming exceeding sinful" - of our being "through the law, dead to the law, that we might live unto God," - of the law being appointed, as a school master, to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith, - I am persuaded it does exist; and that to say all
spiritual conviction of sin is by means of the gospel, is antiscriptural and absurd.
In places where the gospel is preached, and where persons have long heard it, it is not supposed that they are necessarily first led to think of the law, and of themselves as transgressors of it; and then, being convinced of the exceeding sinfulness of sin by it, are for the first time led to think of Christ. No, it Is not the order of time, but that of cause and effect, for which I plead. It may be by thinking of the death of Christ itself, that we are first led to see the evil of sin; but if it be so, this does not disprove the apostolic doctrine, that "by the law is the knowledge of sin." If the death of Christ furnish us with this knowledge, it is as honouring the precept and penalty of the law. It is still therefore by the law, as exemplified in him, that we are convinced.
"A spirit of grace and supplication" was to be poured upon the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in consequence of which, they were to "look upon him whom they had pierced, and mourn as for an only son, and to be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn."* Is this mourning described as following their forgiveness; or as preceding it? As preceding it. It is true they are said first to "look upon him whom they had pierced;" but this view of the death of
* Zechariah xii. 10.
the Saviour is represented as working only in a way of conviction and lamentation: the view which gave peace and rest to their souls follows upon their mourning, and is thus expressed - "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness."
Judge, my friend, and let the reader judge, whether this account accords with our first viewing God as just, and justifying us ungodly as we stand; and then beginning to love him, and to repent of our having sinned against him. Judge whether it does not represent things in this order rather: - First, "a spirit of grace and supplication" is poured upon the sinner - next, he is led to think of what he has done against the Lord and his Christ, and mourns over it in the bitterness of his soul - and then gets relief by washing, as it were, in the fountain of his blood. Such was doubtless the process under Peter's sermon.*
On the connection of repentance and faith, I am at a loss to make out Mr. M'Lean's sentiments. He says indeed that I know them; and suggests that I must have intentionally misrepresented them. + But If they be so plain, I can only say my understanding is more dull than he supposes; for I do not yet comprehend how he can make
* Acts ii. 37, 38.
+ Reply, p. 36.
repentance, in all cases, a fruit of faith in Christ, and yet consider it as necessary to forgiveness. He acknowledges that "none believe who do not repent" (p. 39.) and that repentance is "necessary to forgiveness." (36.) But forgiveness, though not the same thing as justification, is yet an essential part of it; if therefore he allow repentance to be antecedent to forgiveness, that is the same thing, in effect, as allowing it to be antecedent to justification, or that the faith by which we are justified includes repentance. Yet he makes faith to be such a belief as excludes all exercise of the will or affections, and consequently repentance for sin. He also considers repentance as an immediate effect of faith, (38.) and opposes the idea of any effect of faith being included in it as necessary, not merely as a procuring cause, but in the established order of things, to justification. But this, so far as I am able to understand things, is making repentance follow upon forgiveness, rather than necessary to it.
Mr. McLean adds, "Though repentance ought to be urged upon all who hear the gospel; and though none believe. it who do not repent; yet I strongly suspect that it would be leading us astray, to press repentance upon them before, and in order to their believing the gospel." (39.) And why does he not suspect the same thing of pressing the belief of the gospel before, and in order to their repentance? If indeed the gospel were withheld from sinners, till
they actually repent; or if it were suggested that they should first become penitents, and then think of being believers, this would be leading them astray: and the same might be said on the other side. If exhortations to repentance were withheld, till the sinner had actually believed, or it were suggested that he should first become a believer, and then think of repenting, this would be as antiscriptural as the other. But why should we not content ourselves with following the examples of the new testament, repent and believe the gospel? As Mr. McLean's placing faith before repentance, does not require him to avoid telling sinners of the evil nature of sin till they have believed, nor to consider them as believers while they are impenitent, why does he impute such consequences to me for placing repentance before faith?
Mr. M'Lean refers to a passage in the preface to the first edition of The gospel worthy of all acceptation, as favouring these extravagant constructions. I had said, "No sort of encouragement or hope is held out in all the book of God, to any sinner as such considered." That which I meant at the time, was merely to disown that any sinner was encouraged to hope for eternal life without returning to God by Jesus Christ. Thus I explained it in my answer to Philanthropos, p, 3. but as I perceived the idea was not clearly expressed in the preface, and that the words were capable of an ill construction, I altered them in the second edition, and expressed
my meaning as follows: - "There is no dispute concerning who ought to be encouraged to consider themselves as entitled to the blessings of the gospel. Though sinners be freely invited to the participation of spiritual blessings, yet they have no interest in them, according to God's revealed will, while they continue in unbelief." I cannot consider Mr. M'Lean's other references to the first edition, after a second was in his hand, as fair or candid; and this appears to me unfair and uncandid in the extreme.
It has been common to distinguish repentance into legal and evangelical; and I allow there is a foundation in the nature of things, for this distinction. The former arises from the consideration of our sin being a transgression of the holy, just, and good law of our Creator; the latter from the belief of the mercy of God as revealed in the gospel, and the consideration of our sin being committed notwithstanding, and even against it. But it appears to me, to have been too lightly taken for granted, that all true repentance is confined to the latter. The law and the gospel are not in opposition to each other; why then should repentance, arising from the consideration of them, be so opposite as that the one should be false and the other true?
If we wish to distinguish the false from the true, or that which needs to be repented of, from that which does not, we may perhaps with more propriety denominate them natural and spiritual by the former
understanding that which the mere principles of unrenewed nature are capable of producing, and by the latter, that which proceeds from the supernatural and renovating influence of the Spirit of God,
Natural repentance thus defined, is sorrow for sin chiefly with respect to its consequences, accompanied, however, with the reproaches of conscience on account of the thing itself. It is composed of remorse, fear, and regret, and is often followed by a change of conduct. It may arise from a view of the law, and its threatenings, in which case it hath no hope, but worketh death, on account of there being nothing but death held out by the law for transgressors. Or it may arise from a partial and false view of the gospel, by which the heart is often melted under an idea of sin being forgiven, when it is not so; in this case it hath hope, but which being unfounded, it notwithstanding worketh death in a way of self-deception.
Spiritual repentance is sorrow for sin as sin, and as committed against God. It may arise from a view of the death of Christ, through which we perceive how evil and bitter a thing it is, and looking on him whom we have pierced, mourn as one mourneth for an only son. But it may also arise from the consideration of our sin being a transgression of the holy, just, and good law of God, and of our having dishonoured him without cause. Such a sense of the evil nature of sin, as renders it exceeding sinful, includes the essence of true repentance: yet
this in the apostle did not arise from the consideration of the gospel, but of the commandment. It was therefore legal repentance: yet, as its tendency was to render him "dead to the law" as a medium of justification, and to bring him to Christ for life, it was spiritual. It was repentance unto life.
The chief ground on which repentance toward God has been denied to precede faith in Christ in the order of nature, is, that no man can repent of sin till he entertain the hope of forgiveness. - Nay, it has been said, "No man can repent, unless he know himself to be of God; and as this cannot be known till he hath received Christ, faith must precede repentance." If the principle that supports this argument be true, we neither have, nor ought to have, any regard to God or man but for our own sake. But if so, the command ought not to have been, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself;" but, Thou shalt love thyself with all thy heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and thy God, and thy neighbour so far as they are subservient to thee. Moreover, if so, the world, instead of being greatly depraved, is very nearly what it ought to be; for it is certainly not wanting in self-love, though it misses the mark in accomplishing its object.
Some have allowed, that "it is our duty to love God supremely, whether he save us or not; but that nevertheless the thing is impossible." If it be
physically impossible, it cannot be duty: for God requires nothing in respect of obedience, but that we love him with all our strength. If it be only morally impossible, that is the same as its being so owing to the corrupt state of our minds. But we are not to suppose that God, in saving sinners, any more than in judging them, consults their depraved spirit, and adapts the gospel to it. On the contrary, it is the design of all that God does for us, to restore us to a right spirit. His truth must not bend to our corruptions; but our hearts must be "inclined to his testimonies." So far therefore as any man is renewed by the Spirit of God, so far is he brought to be of God's mind, and does what he ought to do. God's law is written in his heart.
Farther, If the principle that supports this argument be true, it will hold good in reference to men as well as God. And is it true, that a man who is under just condemnation for breaking the laws, and who has no hope of obtaining a pardon, ought not to be expected to repent for his crime, and, before he die, to pray God to bless his king and country? On this principle, all confessions of this kind are of necessity mere hypocrisy. Even those of the dying thief in the gospel, so far as they respect the justice of his doom from his countrymen, must have been insincere; for he had no hope of his sentence being remitted. What would an offended father say, if the offender should
require, as the condition of his repentance, a previous declaration of forgiveness, or even a willingness to forgive? A willingness to forgive might be declared, and it would heighten the criminality of the offender, if after this he continued hardened; but for him to require it, and to avow that he could not repent of his sin upon any other condition, would be the height of insolence. Yet all this is pleaded for in respect of God. "If I be a father, where is my honour?"
Besides, how is a sinner to "know that he is of God," otherwise than as being conscious of repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ? Till he is sorry at heart for having dishonoured God, he is not of God, and therefore cannot know that he is so.
If some have gone into extremes in writing of "disinterested love," as Mr. McLean suggests,* it does not follow, that true religion has its origin in self-love. Most men who make any pretence to serious Christianity will allow, that if sin be not hated as sin, it is not hated at all; and why we should scruple to allow, that if God be not loved as God, he is not loved at all, I cannot conceive. I am not surprised however, that those who have been so long, and so deeply imbued in a system, a leading principle of which is, "that godliness consists in love to that which first relieves us," should write in the manner they do.
* Reply, p. 149.
On some occasions however, Mr. McLean himself can say as much in favour of "disinterested love," as his opponent, and can represent that which arises from "a mere principle of self-love," as being of no value. "There may be some resemblances of repentance (he says) in fear, remorse, and sorrow of mind, occasioned by sin, as in Cain, Judas, Felix, &c. But a mere principle of self-love will make a man dread the consequences of sin, while he has prevalent inclinations to sin itself. There is a difference between mere fear and sorrow on account of sin, and a prevalent hatred of it; between hatred of sin itself, and mere hatred of its consequences; between that sorrow for sin which flows from the love of God and of holiness, and that which flows from an inferior principle. Men may have even an aversion to some kinds of sin, because they interfere with others, or because they do not suit their natural constitutions, propensities, tempers, habits, age, worldly interests, &c. while they do not hate all sin universally, and consequently hate no sin as such, or from a proper principle."* Yours, &o.
* Works, vol. II. p. 95.
[From Andrew Fuller, STRICTURES ON SANDEMANIANISM, IN TWELVE LETTERS TO A FRIEND, London, Second Edition, Letter #5; via archive.org, from Princeton Seminary Library. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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