Andrew Fuller on The Voice of Years

[This is posted for historical purposes only. It does not reflect my personal views of William Hungtion’s work and ministry. My comments are in bold with brackets.]

“The Voice of Years concerning the late W. Huntington, SS.”

THE late Mr. Huntington was, beyond all doubt, an extraordinary man; and his labours have produced extraordinary effects. Whatever opinion we entertain of their good or evil tendency, all know that he has gathered together a great body of people, and impregnated their minds with principles which will not soon become extinct. And as he not only preached, but wrote, his labours may be expected to produce effects for many years to come: on this account, it becomes a duty to ascertain their nature and their tendency.

The author of the piece before us appears to have been well qualified for his undertaking, both as to his means of knowing Mr. Huntington, and the unprejudiced state of his mind towards him. He is also evidently a man of close observation and serious reflection.

There are two questions, however, which, on reading his performance, have arisen fit our minds. First, Whether the account which he has given of Mr. Huntington’s “good qualities,” supposing it to be just, includes any indications of personal  religion? Secondly, Whether the account of his good and bad qualities can be made to consist with each other?

If our object were to ascertain whether, in the judgment of charity, Mr. Huntington was, or was not, a  true  Christian, justice would require us first to ascertain, as far as possible, the correctness or defectiveness of these accounts of him; but this not being our object, we may suppose them to be correct, and,  as far as human observation can extend, perfect. Our inquiry, then, is simply this:  Whether  those  “good qualities” which are here ascribed to him, and weighed against his evil ones, have any thing truly good in them? If they have not, and yet are allowed, notwithstanding all his faults, to prove bins a good man, the consequence may be fatal to thousands, who shall venture to follow his example.

To us it appears that the good qualities ascribed to Mr. Huntington, taken in connexion with the comments by which they are explained, are of an equivocal character: they may accompany true religion, or they may not. There is not a Christian grace, nor the exercise of a Christian grace, necessarily contained in any one of them. No one will say that a “plain and natural” manner of speaking has any religion fit it. If there be any thing of this, it must be looked for in his being “Scriptural, experimental, and evangelical:” yet when by  the  first of  these  terms  is meant  little more  than  that his discourses  abounded in Scripture quotations, supposed to be gathered out of a concordance; by the next, that, in preaching, he was wont to tell of his own feelings, which corresponded with those of others like-minded with him; and by the last, that he dwelt on some of the great truths of the gospel; what is there in all this indicative of true religion? The same may be said of his being “independent, contemplative, and laborious:” they may be connected with true religion, or they may not. They are not the things which prove “the root of the matter to have been in him.”

It may be said that the author does not profess to give Mr. Huntington’s character as a Christian, but as a minister. It is an unhappy circumstance, however, in a case wherein the good and the bad are to be weighed one against the other, that his good qualities, as a minister, should prove nothing for him as a Christian, while his bad qualities as a minister prove every thing against him as a Christian. His good qualities contain nothing decisive of his goodness; but his bad qualities are indications of the predominancy of a spirit which is not of God.

We proceed, secondly, to inquire whether the account of Mr. Huntington’s good and bad qualities can be made to consist with each other.

It has long been common for some, who have disapproved of  Mr. Huntington’s spirit and conduct, to speak of him, not withstanding, as preaching the pure gospel. And our author, though he will never allow him, he says, to have preached it fully, yet seems willing to grant that he preached it as far as he went, and that, upon the whole, he was “evangelical.” Nay, more:  he represents him as often expatiating upon the truths of the gospel  “with a cheerfulness and fluency which sufficiently testified his own interest in them, and his ardent desire that his hearers should be partakers with him in the blessings of a new and everlasting covenant.” Yet he is described, at the same time, as being conceited, overbearing, vindictive, proud, inaccessible, covetous, and, we may add, blasphemous, continually swearing to the truth of his dogmas, by the life of God!!! We do not understand how these things can be made to agree.

It is true, as Mr. CECIL observes, that the preaching of Christ is “God’s ordinance; and that although Christ maybe ignorantly, blunderingly, and even absurdly preached by some; yet God will bless his own ordinance.” But we think there is a material  difference between these failings and those moral qualities which are ascribed to Mr. Huntington. We can reconcile the former with true religion, but not the latter.

Allowing, however, that God may bless his own truth, let it be delivered by whom it may, yet is there no reason to suspect whether doctrine imbibed by such a mind is free from impure mixture? whether, if  the vessel be tainted, the liquor will not taste of it?

One thing  is clear; they who “lack virtue, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity,” or are “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, unthankful, unholy,” are not allowed by the Scriptures to understand or believe the truth. The former are described as “blind, and such as cannot see afar off;” and the latter as “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth;” nay, as “resisting the truth; men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith,” 2 Pet. i. 9; 2 Tim.iii. 1-8. How far men may preach the truth without understanding or believing it, in the Scriptural sense of the terms, we shall not decide; but certainly we should suspect whether  truth from such a source, or through such a medium, is likely to be very pure.

The Scriptures do not acknowledge men of unholy lives as ministers of the gospel, but declare, in the most peremptory terms, that “he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” 1 John ii. 4. Our Lord himself, when warning his followers against false prophets, assured them that “a good tree could not bring forth evil fruit,” any more than an evil tree could bring forth good fruit; “wherefore,” saith he, “by their fruits ye shall know them,” Matt. vii. 18-20.

We do not say that such was Mr. Huntington’s character, but barely that, if the account given of him in this performance be just, we do not perceive what else it could be. We suppose, therefore, that either Mr. Huntington’s character must have appeared to this observer of him much worse, or his preaching much better, than it really was.

[William Huntington’s character was often attacked by his detractors, as Fuller has done, and shown in this cartoon.]

We should apprehend, merely from this performance, and without any reference to his publications, that whatever portion of truth his preaching might contain, there was a vein of false doctrine running through it, [the pot calling the kettle black] which tainted it to the bone and marrow, buoyed up himself and his admirers in false hope, and rendered his ministry unworthy of the character of “evangelical.” And if this were to be suspected, without any reference to his publications, how much more likely does it appear when they are taken into the account!

In all that we have seen of them, the object of the writer appears to have been to exhibit himself, How this can comport with the character of a Christian minister we do not understand. “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” And if the obedience and death of Christ were in honour of the Divine law, we do not understand how Christ could be either believed in or preached, while the law was degraded. We may degrade the works of the laze as a ground of justification; this the apostle did:  but he that thinks meanly of the law itself must think meanly of  the gospel, as doing honour to it. If there be no glory in the law, there is none in the gospel.

To allege that there are things in the precepts of the New Testament which are not specifically required by the decalogue is mere evasion. This was  not the question between Mr. Huntington and “other ministers;” but whether the Divine law, as summed up by our Lord in love to God and our neighbour, does not comprehend all duty, and be not binding on all men, believers and unbelievers. It was not the defectiveness of the decalogue, in comparison with the precepts of Christ, that led Mr. Huntington to degrade it. Had this been the case, the subject of “Christian duty,” as inculcated in the New Testament, would have occupied a place in his ministry; but Mr. Huntington, it seems, “never said any thing of that kind!”

We doubt whether the apostle Paul would have acknowledged such a doctrine to be the gospel, or such a character as that which is ascribed to him to consist with Christianity; and whether, instead of selecting things out of it for imitation, he would not have sought them in other characters. “Brethren,” said he to the Philippians, “be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” We have no doubt, however, of the truth and importance of our author’s remarks on preaching Christ. Whatever be our “qualifications,” or talents, if  the person and work of Christ be not the favourite theme of our preaching, we had better be day-labourers than preachers. [The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, this edition on CD ROM was compiled and edited by Ken Oldfield.]

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One thought on “Andrew Fuller on The Voice of Years

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