On April 27, 1791, Andrew Fuller preached a message at a Minister’s Meeting at Clipstone. The title of the message was “Instances, Evil, and Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion.” The text was Haggai 1:2, “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” In the sermon, Fuller pleaded with his fellow ministers not to delay in regard to the work of missions and to use means for the spread of the gospel among the nations. It was a bold sermon. Not only was William Carey in attendance, but so too were many of those, as Fuller’s son Andrew Gunton Fuller recounts, “who had refused—some of them not in the kindest manner—to listen to his proposal.”1 Fuller preached in part,
“Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases, to consider them as purposely laid in our way, in order to try the sincerity of our religion. He who had all power in heaven and earth could not only have sent forth His apostles into all the world, but have so ordered it that all the world should treat them with kindness, and aid them in their mission; but, instead of that, He told them to lay their accounts with persecution and the loss of all things. This was no doubt to try their sincerity; and the difficulties laid in our way are equally designed to try ours.”
“Let it be considered whether it is not owing to this principle that so few and so feeble efforts have been made for the propagation of the gospel in the world. When the Lord Jesus commissioned his apostles, He commanded them to go and teach ‘all nations,’ to preach the gospel to ‘every creature;’ and that notwithstanding the difficulties and oppositions that would lie in the way. The apostles executed their commission with assiduity and fidelity; but, since their days, we seem to sit down half contented that the greater part of the world should still remain in ignorance and idolatry. Some noble efforts have indeed been made; but they are small in number, when compared with the magnitude of the object. And why is it so? Are the souls of men of less value than heretofore? No. Is Christianity less true or less important than in former ages? This will not be pretended. Are there no opportunities for societies, or individuals, in Christian nations, to convey the gospel to the heathen? This cannot be pleaded so long as opportunities are found to trade with them, yea, and (what is a disgrace to the name of Christians) to buy them, and sell them, and treat them with worse than savage barbarity? We have opportunities in abundance the improvement of navigation, and the maritime and commercial turn of this country, furnish us with these; and it deserves to be considered whether this is not a circumstance that renders it a duty peculiarly binding on us.”
“The truth is, if I am not mistaken, we wait for we know not what; we seem to think “the time is not come, the time for the Spirit to be poured down from on high.” We pray for the conversion and salvation of the world, and yet neglect the ordinary means by which those ends have been used to be accomplished. It pleased God, heretofore, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believed; and there is reason to think it will still please God to work by that distinguished means. Ought we not then at least to try by some means to convey more of the good news of salvation to the world around us than has hitherto been conveyed? The encouragement to the heathen is still in force, ‘Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved: but how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?’”2
Fuller’s son records that the “impression produced by the sermon was most deep; it is said that the ministers were scarcely able to speak to each other at its close, and they so far committed themselves as to request Mr. Carey to publish his “thoughts.”3 The next spring, Carey preached his famous sermon at Nottingham based on Isaiah 54:2-3 calling on ministers to “expect great things from God” and “attempt great things for God.” Also in 1792, he published his “thoughts” as An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. On October 2, 1792, in the home of Mrs. Beeby Wallis, The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Heathen was launched. Thus, Fuller’s sermon, while little known today, played a pivotal role in paving the way for the Modern Missionary Movement.
1 Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller. Men Worth Remembering (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882), 103.
2 Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 147–148.
3 Fuller, Andrew Fuller, 104. One of the remarkable features of the sermon is its consonance with the argument of Carey’s Enquiry at several points. For example, in his opening remarks commending Christ’s commission as perpetually binding on Christians in all ages, Carey remarked, “They accordingly went forth in obedience to the command, and the power of God evidently wrought with them . . . but the work has not been taken up, or prosecuted of late years, except by a few individuals) with that zeal and perseverance with which the primitive Christians went about it.” (8) “As to their distance from us, whatever objections might have been made on that account before the invention of the mariner’s compass, nothing can be alleged for it, with any colour of plausibility in the present age. … The ships of Tarshish were trading vessels, which made voyages for traffic to various parts; thus much therefore must be meant by it, that navigation, especially that which is commercial, shall be one great mean of carrying on the work of God.” (67, 68) Section five Carey set forth very practical suggestions to answer Fuller’s call “to try by some means to convey more of the good news of salvation to the world around us than has hitherto been conveyed.” His lead summary of the section stated, “An Enquiry into the Duty of Christians in general, and what Means ought to be used, in order to promote this Work” (77). Truly Fuller was of a single soul with William Carey.