Andrew Fuller

This is the day that … Andrew Fuller died, in 1815.

The son of an English Baptist farmer, and a “powerful wrestler in his youth”, Fuller was to become the greatest original theologian among 18th century Baptists” (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 395).

At the age of 14 he came into “rest for my troubled soul”.  He tells us, in his own account of that conversion, how the example of Esther inspired him to approach the Saviour.

“I was not then aware that any poor sinner had a warrant to believe in Christ for the salvation of his soul”.  But just as Esther entered the king’s presence unbidden and under sentence of death, so Fuller tells us:  “like her I seemed … impelled by dire necessity to run all hazards, even though I should perish in the attempt …”

Wonderfully converted, and self-taught, Fuller became a Baptist minister, first at Soham (1775) and later at Kettering (1783).

He found himself involved in controversy with hyper-Calvinists (Fuller can be described as an evangelical Calvinist), Universalists, and with Arminians.

He was a profound influence upon William Carey, indeed it was Fuller’s snuff box that was used for the first offering of the newly formed Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen (the first of the great foreign missionary societies in the United Kingdom).

His book, The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptance (1785), was a milestone in creating an evangelistic and missionary spirit in the non-conformist churches of the UK.

He died at the age of 61, listening to his congregation singing in the meeting-house adjoining his home.  Bedridden, he turned to Sarah, his daughter:  “I wish I had strength,” he said. 

“To do what, father?” Sarah asked.

“To worship”- and with that he joined the ransomed above … and did worship!  (Men Who Were Earnest, page 301).

Church History Hits the Blog

The late Donald Prout was a dear friend to me and hundreds of others. Don loved books and loved digging through them for the most amazing things related to his faith. He spent his life reading, researching, collecting books and delving into the history of the Christian church.

Don is what I call a ‘wag’, a humorous, teasing individual who was determined to enjoy the moment and make people laugh. His presentations were unique. Over the years I not only learned from Don’s extensive reading, but I prompted my sons to learn from him as well. In his last few years I helped him post many of his gleanings and his personal notes, including his humourous nonesense, onto a website. The very first website I worked on was Don’s.

So it is my great pleasure to share with you some of the amazing information Don brought together in a lifetime. He compiled a Church History, linking dates to many events he had read about in his decades between the covers – “book covers” that is.

My aim is to post a daily Church History update, with information about people and events linked to that day. In a year from now the whole calendar should be covered.

Now, before we get to the church history stuff, let me share with you a touch of the Don Prout humour. Don would prattle on with a patter full of one-liners about people and things. Here is a sample of some of that. Note: please don’t write dear Don off, just because of his style of humour.

Uncle Charlie wrote a song about his wife, Rose. She was a singer too. But Uncle Charlie said he wished she would only sing Christmas carols. That way she’d only sing once a year.”

Did you know he always went out on the front porch when she was singing. That was so the neighbours would see that he wasn’t beating her.

Unc. Charlie was choir master at a Baptist church.
That reminds me of riddle. What is the difference between a Baptist Church Choir master & the PLO?

You can negotiate with the PLO!

Now that reminds me of song.

There was a young lad in the choir
Whose voice …it rose higher & higher
Till one Sunday night
It rose out of sight
And they found it next day on the spire.

A young choir singer named Hannah
Was caught in a flood in Montanna
As she floated away
Her sister – they say –
Accompanied her on the pianner!

Well, so much for the humour. Tomorrow we get to the Church History stuff.

The Holy Spirit as a Dove

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ in the form of a Dove. And so the humble dove has become a perennial symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. It is with that connection in mind that I share the following simple thought with you.

Two weeks ago I was in a staff meeting where one of my fellow pastors brought out a guitar and led us in a few worshipful songs. The experience was sweet and it prompted a couple of images to tumble through my mind. One of those thoughts was about releasing the Holy Spirit within me.

It is wonderful to worship God with abandon, such as David did as he welcomed the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago. David readily put his own decorum aside and did not care if he looked foolish as he praised God. A word which David frequently used in his psalms, telling us to praise the Lord, means to be ‘clamorously foolish’ – so abandoned in adoration that we seem to be ‘over the top’ to others.

In practice, however, most of us are self-conscious and tend to adjust our own worship activity to match that expected or expressed by those around us. In a quiet setting everyone becomes quiet. In a noisy prayer meeting everyone tends to make more noise. If others are being restrained we tend to be restrained too.

During the morning devotion I am talking about there was a sweetness but also a level of polite restraint. As I pondered that I realised that many Christians restrain the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. The ‘dove’ of the Spirit settles in their chest and stirs them from time to time. The Spirit gives us witness and various stirrings that make us sensitive to God’s presence and work. When we worship we can even feel a sense of the dove wanting to spread its wings and soar. But to really let the Spirit soar we must cast off more of our decorum and social restraint.

As these thoughts trickled through my mind an image formed of what could happen when someone allowed the dove out of the cage. I imagined a person abandoning themself in worship and flowing with the impulse of that heavenly dove stirring within them. My imagination observed as the dove, powering upward into the heavenlies, was transformed into a majestic eagle. The verse about mounting up on eagle’s wings jumped into mind as I imagined a person, free in their worship, rising out of their restraint and into the lofty realms to which the Spirit of God could carry them.

The diary note I made after that worship time reads as follows: ‘Our spirit is like a dove inside a cage. If we let it out, let it fly and soar – by giving vent to the Spirit within us, rather than restraining our worship style to suit what those around us would prefer – then that dove takes flight and is transformed into an eagle – we rise up on wings as an eagle and soar in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers.’

I encourage you to flow with the Spirit of God and yield to the Spirit. I believe there is much that God has for us to enjoy, that is yet untouched while we are locked in stiff restraint. Some of you may well discover that being ‘clamorously foolish’ is as powerful and rewarding for you as it was for King David three millennia ago.  

‘This Holy Estate’ – Real Marriage

There is much fudgy thinking today and marriage is one of the areas where Christians can be as confused as anyone else. Considering that God invented marriage and it finds its greatest fulfilment as a representation of Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:32) Christians should be the first to have a good understanding of ‘Real Marriage’. My fourth son’s recent marriage brought to mind this subject yet again and my mind journeyed even further down some tracks it has trudged before. And I think I’m onto something that has fairly sweeping implications.

Before I get to my latest ‘rev’ on marriage I should let you know that my fourth son, Jonathan, married the lovely Katie Gunn a week ago. He, like his father and three of his brothers before him found a ‘treasure’ and made a ‘field’ out of her (which is a pretty lame pun on the man who found a treasure in a field and bought the field to have the treasure – it wasn’t any funnier when I said it at my own wedding over 30 years ago).

Now to the matter at hand. I have met many couples who have lined up with their personally created vows, ready to pledge their troth to one another, as if they are the architect of the relationship they are about to enter into. In the past few generations western culture has shifted from the idea that marriage is an historical reality which each new generation gets to enter into, to the notion that marriage is now malleable, able to be what the couple wants it to be. Since the 1970’s in particular, there have been notable examples of couples having a ‘tricky’ wedding – such as being wed underwater, while bunji-jumping, etc. This trend brought with it the notion that marriage is what ever the couple make it to be. The Australian government, under its previous Prime Minister, John Howard, sought to rein in this self-directed notion and to restore marriage as an institution which it expects its citizens to take seriously.

The idea that marriage is in the mind of the betrothed is strong, at least at a subliminal level. Couples want to have their dream wedding, with their choice of guests, their own vows and even their own idea of what the marriage will be. One couple told me they want a 50:50 marriage. We hear tell of the ‘open marriage’, the ‘trial marriage’ and other evidences that marriage is seen as adjustable, to suit the wishes of the couple.

Ah but here’s the rub ….. Marriage was not created by man. Marriage is not a social invention, nor a relationship of convenience, nor a reflection of past economic realities. Real Marriage, which is the only true marriage, is a ‘holy estate’ created by God. That is why the traditional western wedding ceremony starts with a description of what marriage is and then announces that “into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined” (quoted from the Book of Common Prayer 1928). However this modern wording is simply an updating of ancient lyrics. The wedding ceremony text recorded in the 1549 Prayer Book of King Edward VI states the same theme in ancient verbage and spelling: “Into the whiche holy estate these two presones present come noew to be ioyned.”

Western marriage has always been understood as something instituted by God, not by man. It is ‘This Holy Estate’ – a relationship which man is privileged to access, but which man has no power to dictate. The 1892 Anglican Prayer Book accounts for marriage as Holy Matrimony which is “an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church”. Because of the supreme quality and divine nature of This Holy Estate – Real Marriage, the Prayer Book goes on to warn that it “is not by any to he entered into unadvisedly or lightly ; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.”

The eager young couple fronting up with their carefully re-worded vows and their desire for a wedding that has the stamp of their own individuality all over it, may well fail to realise the awesome significance of what they are about to do. Their notion of having some control over what the wedding is, may tempt them to think they have some control over what marriage. They may think they can excuse their own actions and thoughts, just as readily as they can modify their own wedding program. This is not so.

Whatever vows a couple come up with and whatever personal agreement they make in the form of their own wedding commitment – that couple has no power to alter, by one iota, what they are getting themsevles into. If, for instance, they agree to have an ‘open marriage’ where infidelity is allowed, God will ignore their arrangement and judge them based on what they did with what God created as a reflection of Christ and the Church. If the couple choose, as I know of some that have, that their marriage is not subject to the cultural mores of their family, and they will enter into a secret and peculiar arrangement of their own, including pre-marital sex, God will completely ignore their arrangement and judge them based on what they did with what God created as a reflection of Christ and the Church.

A godly wedding, such as Jonathan and Katie exemplified this past week, is a joy to all who see it. Marriage is a blessed relationship and I encourage all who have opportunity to enjoy it to do so in the fear of God. I am not down on marriage or young people. I am simply recognising one evidence of man’s tendency to become his own Lord and Master, where God does not give him leave to do so.

And, in closing, let me broaden the sweep of my brush. Most westerners live as if their own life were their ‘own’. They act as lords and masters of their own destiny. This is exactly the same disease that afflicts western marriage. The implications of what I am pointing out here sweep across all those places where we disband God’s reality and make up our own. Such behaviour is vile – yet ever so culturally acceptable, in the same way that tinkering with marriage is now seen as the expected thing. Hmmmmm… Methinks this goeth a long way – and methinks I will wax lyrical about it yet again in due course.

Psalm or Bucket? Do you Give or Take?

Today’s church is beset by people who are keen to “get” and not so keen to “give”. This should be surprising considering Christ’s injunction that Christians are to be a giving people. We are to “give” and consequently things will be given to us (Luke 6:38). Jesus did not say, “IF you give”, but “When you give….” (Matthew 6:3). 

A self-serving attitude can often be seen in the way people approach church. When someone is looking for a new church home they are likely to be quite fussy about what they want and what suits them. This is especially so when a whole family has to be accommodated. Each family member will have their own idea of an ‘ideal’ church, and will measure each possible spiritual home against that wish-list. Then, when it comes to attending church people often come with a “meet my needs” mentality.

There is a popular idea that church is the place to be re-charged and restored. The imagery is almost that of the desperate Christians finally getting to church for their re-charge – where they can escape the pressures of everyday life and be recharged to face the pressures of tomorrow. Each Sunday is a chance for people to get enough of a charge to get them through to the mid-week meeting, and so on. 

The New Testament church had a different concept of church life. It was a place where people brought something of their own spiritual blessing to share with others. Paul described the situation in the church at Corinth as one where “everyone has a psalm, doctrine, message in tongues, revelation or interpretation” 1Corinthians 14:26). Today, however, people come to church empty handed. Rather than coming to make a contribution, with a generosity of spirit, they come to make a withdrawal. Instead of coming with a psalm or prophecy, they come with a bucket! 

I have written a poem about this modern approach to church life and I’ll share that will you in the next few days.