Worthy Fuller's Sermons

—“Oh, I wish I was dry ! Do Fuller’s you think I am dry ? Do you think I am dry enough now ? ” exclaimed a heavy Scotch divine of the last century, the commentator Macknight, who had reached the vestry rain-sodden. Whereupon his colleague, Robert Henry, the historian, replied, “ Bide a wee, doctor, and ye ’ll be dry eneuch when ye get into the pulpit.” Nobody would have expected to find Thomas Fuller dry in the pulpit, yet this is the impression left by fifty-eight of his sermons, delivered between 1631 and 1659, and collected by his erudite and enthusiastic biographer, the late John Eglington Bailey, of Manchester. Fuller, who in all his other works is brimful of wit and oddity, is in his sermons resolutely serious. Spurgeon, when remonstrated with on his pulpit jests, said, “ But you don’t know how many I keep back.” Fuller must have made a still stronger effort, for he keeps back nearly everything. Here and there, indeed, he raises a smile, but in a thousand octavo pages we discover scarcely twenty quaint or facetious sayings. Nor is there even much originality, except in liberality of sentiment and breadth of charity. In theology, like his contemporary Sir Thomas Browne, he " keeps the road,” and we must not look to him for any light on the problems of the present day. Fuller was abreast of his age, but not in advance of it, except perhaps when he declares the broomstick rides of witches to be mere dreams. He aims at edifying or convincing, not at amusing ; divides his subject into heads, and gives majors and minors, objections and answers, like the dullest preachers of his time. The controversy of Anglicanism with Rome and Geneva was necessarily his main topic, which has little interest for us. I have, however, made a scanty gleaning.

Combating purgatory and transubstantiation, he says : —

“ Were purgatory taken away, the Pope himself would be in purgatory, as not knowing which way to maintain his expensiveness.”

“No wonder if the Pope zealously maintaineth purgatory, seeing that purgatory so plentifully maintaineth the Pope.”

“ He who is so sottish as to conceive that Christ was a material door showeth himself to be a post indeed.”

Although Londoners, as Fuller tells us, had given up suppers, gluttony was the national vice : —

“ It is said of old men that they are twice children. The same is true of this old doting world. It doth now reveal and relapse into the same sins whereof it was guilty in its infancy. We on whom the ends of the world are come are given to the sins of gluttony as in the days of Noah.”

The civil wars naturally made Fuller a pessimist : —

“ God now begins to cut England short, — short in men, short in mint, short in money, short in wealth ; so that it is to be feared that Great Britain will be Little Britain, great only in her sins and sufferings.”

He collates sometimes what was then the New Version with its predecessor, and quaintly remarks : —

“ Let not the two translations fall out, for they are brethren, and both sons of the same parent, the original; though give me leave to say the youngest child is most like the father.”

On fine-weather friends he says : —

“He that believeth that all those that smile on him and promise fair in time of prosperity will perform it in time of his want, may as well believe that all the leaves that be on trees at midsummer will hang there as fresh and as fair on New Year’s Day.”

Here is a quaint simile for sponsors : —

“ I look on godfathers generally as on brass andirons,—standing more for sight than service, ornament than use.”

Preaching from Judges xix. 29, he says :

“ I will not mangle my text as the Levite his wife, with often dividing it.”

Condemning the perversity which will never confess to a mistake, Fuller says : —

“ Pale faces which otherwise are well proportioned never look so lovely as when they are casually betrayed to a blush, which supplies that color in their cheeks which was wanting before. Good men who once maintained an error never appear more amiable in the eyes of God and the godly than when blushing with shame (not to be ashamed of) at the remembrance of their former faults.”

Here is a thoroughly Fullerian whimsicality : —

“ Christ sent always his disciples by twos, . . . and this, perchance, was one reason why Christ, in the choice of his apostles and disciples, pitched on an even number, twelve of the one and seventy of the other, that if he should have occasion to subdivide them they should fall out into even couples, and no odd one to lack a companion.”

He felicitously compares a family to an orange-tree : —

“ A great family is like unto an orangetree, which at the same time hath buds and blossoms and knobs and green and half ripe and fully ripe oranges on it all together. I mean infants, children, striplings, youths, men of perfect, reduced, decayed ages.”

Elsewhere he remarks : —

“Three generations are always at the same time on foot in the world, namely, the generation rising, the generation shining, the generation setting.”

He disdained to bid for count favor or for popularity by blind partisanship : —

“ All that we desire is to see the king remarried to the state, and we doubt not but as the bridegroom on the one side will be careful to have his portion paid, his prerogative, so the bride’s friends entrusted for her will be sure to see her jointure settled, the liberty of the subject.”

“ Think not that the king’s army is like Sodom, not ten righteous men in it ; no, not if righteous Lot himself be put into the number, and the other army like Zion consisting all of saints. No, there be drunkards on both sides, and swearers on both sides, and whoremongers on both sides, pious on both sides and profane on both sides. Like Jeremiah’s figs, those that are good are very good, and those that are bad are very bad, in both parties.”

Fuller apparently thought that England had no men to spare for colonization : —

“ Now if any do demand of me my opinion concerning our brethren which of late [he was preaching in 1631] left this kingdom to advance a plantation in New England, surely I think as St. Paul said concerning virgins he had received no commandment from the Lord, so I cannot find any just warrant to encourage men to undertake this removal, but think rather the counsel best that King Joash prescribed to Amaziah, ‘tarry at home.’ Yet as for those that are already gone, far be it from us to conceive them to be such to whom we may not say Godspeed. As it is in Job ii. 10, oh, let us pity them and pray for them, for sure they have no need of our mocks, which I am afraid have too much of their own miseries. I conclude, therefore, of the two Englands what our Saviour saith of the two wines, Luke v. 39 : No man having tasted of the old presently desireth the new, for he saith the old is better.”

Fuller did not even count on the evangelization of the Indians : —

“I have not heard of many fish (understand me in a mystical meaning) caught in New England, and yet I have not been deaf to listen, nor they, I believe, dumb to tell of their achievements in that kind.”

To close with one of his own endings : — “These things deserve larger prosecution, but this is none of Joshua’s day, wherein the sun standeth still, and therefore I must conclude with the time. . . . Time will await attendance on none.”