"One founds a doctrine on his own experience; but experience ought to be judged by the Bible, not the Bible by experience. " - [p. 516]

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Faith in the Gospel a Necessary Prerequisite to Preaching It
[Sketch of a Sermon addressed to the Students of the Bristol Education Society.]
By Andrew Fuller

[p. 515]

"We believe, and therefore speak." – 2 Corinthians iv. 13

THE words immediately preceding those on which I shall found a few observations on the important work of the ministry are a quotation from the 116th Psalm. David, under his troubles, believed in God, and therefore spoke. And the apostles, under persecutions and reproaches, believed in the gospel, and therefore spoke. They spoke boldly in the name of Jesus, whatever might be the consequence. They might be slain, as Christ was. But then like him, too, they would be raised, ver. 14. If they suffered with him, they would also reign with him.

I shall comprise what I have to offer under two heads of discourse – the subject-matter of the Christian ministry, and the necessity of believing it.

I. THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY. – It is that which we have believed. It is of the first importance to a messenger to know his errand. Without this, whatever be our talents, natural or acquired, we are unqualified for the Christian ministry. Without this, the most fascinating eloquence is in danger of becoming an engine of mischief. The subject-matter of the apostle's preaching is variously described: it is called “the faith" – "the truth" – "the truth as it is in Jesus" – "Christ crucified" – "the gospel' – "the word of reconciliation," &c. In these descriptions, we see our work.
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It does not follow that the dictates of reason and conscience are to be rejected or disused in preaching. The light of nature itself teaches some truth – such as the being of God, the accountableness of man, the fitness of doing to others as we would they should do to us, our being sinners, or what we ought not to be. These are truths which the gospel supposes, and which require to be enforced in subserviency to it.

But several important particulars do follow; as,
1. That we must not deal in curious speculations, which have no foundation in the Scriptures.– Some have been turned aside by such an indulgence to false hypotheses, and made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. A large proportion of the objections to Divine truth are of this kind: "How can a man be born when he is old?" "How are the dead raised, and with what body?" How can one be three, and three one? How could Christ be both God and man? How can the certain efficaciousness of grace consist with free agency and the accountableness of man? Paul would not answer such questions as these by opposing conjecture to conjecture, but in the spirit of the text - "We believe, and therefore speak."

2. That we must not deal in private impulses or impressions, which have no foundation in the Scriptures. – One founds a doctrine on his own experience; but experience ought to be judged by the Bible, not the Bible by experience. "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord." – Another swears that, as God liveth, such a thing is true; but what does this prove, save the impudence and profanity of the preacher?

3. That the person and work of Christ must be the leading theme of our ministry. – In this, if we be Christians, we have believed; and this we must preach to others. For example: We must preach him as Divine. How else could we know whom we had believed? We must preach him as having assumed our nature, and thereby qualified himself to be our Saviour, Hebrews ii. 14, 15. We must preach him as dying for our sins, &c., 1 Corinthians xv. 1-4. We must preach him as the Saviour of the lost, taking the place of the chief of sinners. We must preach him as the only way of acceptance with God. "Being justified freely by his grace, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." In short, he is suited to all our wants. To whom else shall we go? He hath the words of eternal life. So preach Christ.

Every sermon, more or less, should have some relation to Christ, and bear on his person or work. This is the life of all doctrine, and it will be our own fault if it is dry. Do not consider it as one subject among others, but as that which involves all others, and gives them an interest they could not otherwise possess. Preach not only the truth, but all truth, "as it is in Jesus." However ingenious our sermons may be, unless they bear on Christ, and lead the mind to Christ, we do not preach the faith of the gospel.

As all doctrinal religion meets here, so does all practical. – The Scriptures draw every thing from the dying love of Christ. "Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." – "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." – "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." – "Let this mind be in you which was in our Lord Jesus Christ." – "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." – "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church."

The same may be said of experience. – Christian experience clings to Christ and his gospel. The religion of some, who talk of experience, goes
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to idolize their own feelings and admire their supposed graces. But true Christian experience thinks little of self, and much of Christ, John vi. 68.

II. THE NECESSITY OF BELIEVING THE GOSPEL before we preach it: – "We believe, and therefore speak." It does not follow that every believer should be a preacher; but every preacher ought to be a believer; for,

1. This is the only motive that will render preaching a delight. – How can we discourse on subjects which we do not believe? If we have not tasted the grace of God, we shall feel no pleasure in proclaiming it to others. Is it any wonder that faithless preachers call preaching "doing duty?" or that they preach other men's sermons? and that in delivering them they are uninterested by them? But if we speak because we believe, our preaching will be the utterance of a full heart, and our work its own reward. We must taste of truth as Christians, before we preach it. Studying it merely as ministers will never do. Believing belongs to us as Christians.

2. It affords ground to hope for usefulness to others. – What effect will the sermons of those ministers have, who, by their frothy conversation, loose deportment, or avaricious spirit, are always counteracting them? The hearers will say, and say truly, He does not believe his own doctrine. He may talk of truth, or of holiness and practical religion; but all is vain. – If, on the other hand, we feel and practise what we preach, this must at least recommend it to the conscience; and it often does more. The one resembles a man persuading you to embark on board his vessel, assuring you it is safe, while he himself stands on the shore. The other has embarked himself and all he has; and, like Moses to Hobab, invites you to accompany him.

3. It will render the work of the ministry compatible with common honesty. – The world has long accused ministers with being hypocrites. This is malicious enough; but while men engage in this work from indolence, avarice, pride, or any other worldly motive, rather than from the principle expressed in the text, they are furnished with a pretext for such reproaches. If we believe not ere we speak, we only deceive, and the sooner we throw off the deception the better.

4. No other motive will bear the test. – What an account will faithless ministers have to give when asked, "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?" One may have to answer, The vanity of my parents led them to educate me for the ministry, and when I grew up I was fit for nothing else. Another may have to answer, My own vanity influenced me: having a taste for learning, and public speaking, and esteeming it a reputable and genteel mode of life, I took to it. Another may have to say, It was my own conceit and arrogance: having a large portion of native effrontery, I made my way, and was caressed by the people. Oh how different these from the apostles! – "We have believed, and therefore speak."

But why do I thus speak? I am not addressing a society which pretends to train graceless characters for the ministry, or to make men ministers by mere education. They are aware of the necessity of their pupils being believers; and if any of them prove otherwise, they have deceived their patrons. They do not so much as pretend to impart gifts; but merely to improve those which Christ appears to have imparted. They wish to enable the aged and experienced part of our ministers, like Aquila and Priscilla, to expound to the younger brethren the way of the Lord more perfectly.

And as to you, my young brethren, I have no particular jealousy of you; only as we ought to be jealous with a godly jealousy, "looking lest any one fail of the grace of God." You are likely, another day, to occupy stations of much greater importance than if each were a minister of state. Our churches look to you. Many aged ministers are gone. Those
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that remain will soon follow. God has begun a great work in our day. May you take it up, and carry it on. It is but the other day since we were youths, looking up to those who are now no more. Now the load lies on us. Soon it must lie on you, or on some others. Should you prove yourselves unworthy, God will find others. Deliverance will arise from some other quarter. O men of God, "Flee youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart!"

I ought not to conclude without recommending to the audience that Saviour whom we have believed. We have found rest for our souls. Come ye. Forsake the world and your own righteousness. We have worn his yoke, some of us for forty years, and it has never galled us. Take his yoke, and learn of him, and you shall find rest for your souls. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 515-518. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]

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