Fuller’s “Lively Faith”

By Evan D. Burns

In 1799, Andrew Fuller wrote, “The Importance of a Lively Faith, Especially in Missionary Undertakings.”  He illustrated the dangers of disobeying the Great Commission because of our disbelief in God’s promises to deliver us through adversity in our Great Commission labors.  He called for a “lively faith” in missionaries to enter the nations, believing in God’s promises despite seemingly insurmountable hardships and opposition, just as Joshua and Caleb did.  And, whereas the Israelites were to engage the nations with a mission of justice, armed with swords, missionaries ought to engage the nations with a mission of mercy, equipped with the sword of the Spirit.  Here is a great excerpt from what Fuller wrote:

When Israel went out of Egypt, they greatly rejoiced on the shores of the Red Sea; but the greater part of them entered not into the Promised Land, and that on account of their unbelief. The resemblance between their case and ours has struck my mind with considerable force. The grand object of their undertaking was to root out idolatry, and to establish the knowledge and worship of the one living and true God; and such also is ours. The authority on which they acted was the sovereign command of Heaven; and ours is the same. “Go preach the gospel to every creature.” The ground on which they were to rest their hope of success was the Divine promise. It was by relying on this alone that they were enabled to surmount difficulties, and to encounter their gigantic enemies. Those among them who believed, like Joshua and Caleb, felt themselves well able to go up; but they that distrusted the promise turned their backs in the hour of danger. Such also is the ground of our hope. He who hath commissioned us to “teach all nations” hath added, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” The heathen nations are given to our Redeemer for an inheritance, as much as Canaan was given to the seed of Abraham; and it is our business, as it was theirs, to go up and possess the land. We should lay our account with difficulties as well as they; but, according to our faith in the Divine promises, we may expect these mountains to become a plain. If the Lord delight in us, he will bring us into the land; but if, like the unbelieving Israelites, we make light of the promised good, or magnify the difficulties in the way of obtaining it, and so relax our efforts, we may expect to die as it were in the wilderness.[1]

Would that we, in our day, preserve such a lively faith that lays hold of the Divine promises in obedience to the Great Commission, lest we be like the unbelieving Israelites who died in the wilderness.

[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 3: Expositions—Miscellaneous, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 826.


Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Thailand with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.