AS to our churches, it would be very wrong to plead on their behalf that they come up to the primitive model. It is our great endeavour as ministers (and we are joined by a good number of private Christians) to form them in doctrine, in discipline, in spirit, and in conduct, after the example of Christ and his apostles. But after all that we can do, if reviewed by the great Head of the church, and perhaps by some of his servants who may be unconnected with us, there would be a few, or rather not "a few things against us."
Till of late, I conceive, there was such a portion of erroneous doctrine and false religion amongst us, that if we had carried matters a little further, we should have been a very dunghill in society. Nor can this leaven be expected to be yet purged out, though I hope it is in a fair way of being so.
In discipline there is a great propensity, in some churches especially, to be lax and negligent. In our annual associations we have been necessitated to remonstrate against this negligence, and to declare that, unless they would execute the laws of Christ upon disorderly walkers, we would withdraw from all connexion with them; and such remonstrances from the associated churches have produced a good effect. It is not our practice, however, lightly to separate from churches or individuals. We consider the churches of Corinth and Galatia, and the great patience of the apostle amidst
the most scandalous disorders; labouring to reclaim those whom others of less patience would have given up, and separated from; and wish as far as possible to follow the example.
Your observations on the difficulty of reforming an old church are very just, and on its being better in some cases to begin by a new formation. In this way we have proceeded in some places. Carey, for example, when he went to Leicester, found them a very corrupt people. The very officers of the church had indulged in drunkenness, and the rest were discouraged; and so discipline was wholly neglected. After advising with his brethren in the ministry, brother Carey and the majority of the church agreed to renew covenant. Accordingly they appointed a day in which they would consider their former relation as extinct, and the church book should be open for the signatures of all who had heretofore been members, but upon this condition, that they subscribed at the same time a solemn declaration, - That they would in future execute and be subject to a strict - and faithful discipline.
This measure had its effect. Almost all their loose characters stood out; or, if any signed, they were subject to a close watch in future. By these means the church was purged; and Carey, before he went to India, saw the good effects of it. A considerable revival in religion ensued, and many were added. Hence you may account for his language afterwards to the church at Leicester.*
It is a great fault in some of our churches that they seem afraid to execute faithful discipline upon men of opulence. "The cause, they say, cannot be supported without them." To this I have more than once replied, That a cause which requires to be thus supported cannot be the cause of Christ; and your business is not to support the ark with unhallowed hands. If by executing Christ's laws your cause sinks, so be it; he will never blame you for that.
Another evil akin to this is a partiality for men of opulence, in the choice of deacons. I consider not property, but the use that is made of it, as entitling to religious regard. We do not fail publicly and privately to inculcate these things; but habits of this kind are not instantly, nor easily, eradicated.
You observe that "the commission of Christ is not fully executed, unless the converts are taught to observe 'all things, whatsoever he hath commanded;' and are brought. into such a state of separation from the world, and of union and order among themselves, after the model of the apostolic churches, as puts them in a capacity for doing so."
To the whole of this I freely subscribe, whether we have attained to such a state of things or not. My views, and those of my brethren, are much the same as are expressed in Mr. Booth's "Essay on the Kingdom of Christ." I am not conscious but that it is my aim to inculcate and practise "all things, whatsoever our Lord hath commanded." Some of Christ's commands, however, I suppose, we interpret differently from you. If I am rightly informed, you consider "the washing of feet, the kiss of charity," &c., as formally binding on all Christians: we do not. We consider neither of them as religious institutes, but merely civil customs, though used by Christ and his apostles to a religious end, as whatsoever they did, they did all to the glory of God. They were in use both among Jews and heathens, long before the coming of Christ. The one was a necessary service, the other a mode of expressing kindness. We conceive it was the design of Christ by these forms to enjoin a natural interchange of kind and beneficent offices, even
* Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Mission, vol. I, p. 132.
so as "by love to serve one another." The usual forms of expressing this temper of mind were at that time, and in those countries, washing the feet, &c. Christ therefore made use of these forms, much the same as he made use of the customary language of a country, to convey his doctrines and precepts. But as neither of these forms is ordinarily used in our age and country, to express the ideas for which it was originally enjoined, the ground or reason of the injunction ceases; a literal compliance with them would not now answer the original design, but would operate, we conceive, in a very different way. It seems to us, therefore, not only lawful, but incumbent, to substitute such signs and forms as are adapted to convey the spirit of the injunction, rather than to abide by the letter, since that is become as it were "a dead letter;" as much so as to disuse the original language of Scripture, and translate it. into a language that can be understood. Herein we think we follow Christ's example; he used the forms and customs of his country to express kindness and humility; and we do the same. Whether we understand these commands, however, or not according to the mind of Christ, I hope, and for myself am certain, that we do not live in the known violation of them.
The grounds on which you plead for the washing of feet, I should have no objection to. If you will come and see me, and it be any refreshment to you, I will cheerfully wash yours; and not yours only, but if the meanest Christian needed it, I do not feel that it would at all hurt my pride to gratify him. I have pride, as well as other sins, but I think it does not operate in that way. My objection to the kiss of charity is not that it is become so obsolete that people would not understand it as a token of affection, but being confined in England to express the affection of relations, or of the sexes, it would be understood accordingly. Let such salutations therefore be ever so pure in themselves, we should not be able to "abstain from the appearance of evil;" and many scandals and reproaches would be raised.
I have carefully, and, if I know my own spirit, candidly, examined the New Testament concerning the time of administering the Lord's supper. The result is, that I consider it as wholly discretional, as much so as the times for various other duties. Such is the form of institution, as repeated by Paul, 1 Cor. xi. 25, 26, "This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." If any thing can be gathered from Acts ii. 42, which says that the disciples "continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," it is that it was done as often as they met together for worship; but this was much oftener than once a week; for they "continued daily with one accord in the temple, and the Lord added to them daily such as should be saved," ver. 46, 47. From Acts xx. 7, we learn that "the disciples came together to break bread on the first day of the week;" but it does not follow that this was their practice on every such first day. It might be so; but as Christ left the matter open, I suppose they acted accordingly. At Jerusalem, soon after the pentecost, it seems to me that they did it oftener than once a week; afterwards they might do it once a week. But if Christ has not fixed it, neither should we, lest we go beyond the rule appointed us.
I think few can have a greater dislike to titles than I have among ministers. That of "brother" is most agreeable to me. My brother Ryland, without his own knowledge, desire, or consent, had a D. D. next to forced upon him. It was announced by Rippon in his Register, and then people would call him by it; but I am persuaded he would much rather not have had it. He is a very humble, godly man, and he now submits to it, because
he would not always be employed in resisting a piece of insignificance. For my part, I think with you, but do not know whether any of my brethren think with me, that it is contrary to our Lord's prohibition: "Be ye not called Rabbi."
As to academical education, the far greater part of our ministers have it not.* Carey was a shoemaker years after he engaged in the ministry, and I was a farmer. I have sometimes however regretted my want of learning. On the other hand, brother Sutcliff, and brother Pearce, have both been at Bristol. We all live in love, without any distinction in these matters. We do not consider an academy as any qualification for membership or preaching, any further than as a person may there improve his talents. Those who go to our academics must be members of a church, and recommended to them as possessing gifts adapted to the the ministry. They preach about the neighbourhood all the time, aand their going is considered in no other light than as a young minister might apply to an aged one for improvement. Since Bro. Ryland has been at Bristol, I think he has been a greatr blesswing in fomring the principles and spirit of the young men. I allow, however, that the contrary is often the case in acedemies, and that when it is so they prove very injurious to the churches of Christ
* This is far from being the case in the present day. - Ed.
[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume III, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 478-481. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. Formatted by Jim Duvall]
Andrew Fuller Sermon Index
Baptist History Homepage