That Strange Something

Letters On Theron And Aspasio are Robert Sandeman’s replies to James Hervey’s

Theron and Aspasio: Or a series of Dialogues and Letters upon the most important and interesting subjects.

From certain Sandeman quotes it appears (unless it’s just bombastic bluster bereft of spiritual backbone) he judged unregenerate some of the popular and fashionable preachers of his day (John Wesley took Sandeman as condemning “the whole generation of God’s children!”). But, alas, Sandeman does not judge righteous gospel judgement since he allows for at least some damnable heretics to be merely inconsistent Christians (specifically the heretic named “Aspasio”). Presently in my reading of Sandeman he takes issue with Hervey’s presumably fictional character, Aspasio, who is evangelizing an as yet unconverted Theron and Eugenio. Despite the, uh, inconsistency of Sandeman himself, he does nevertheless make some “spot on” observations.

For a bit of historical context regarding Sandeman & Fuller, here is William Rushton commenting in his (supposed) Defense of Particular Redemption (I say “supposed” because Rushton speaks peace to heretics toward the end of this so-called “defense”):

“When an author publishes on controverted subjects, he does so, not only for the generation living at the time, but for the succeeding generations. Though he dies as a man, he still lives as an author, and teaches and speaks as long as his writings are read. It is right, therefore, to examine the theories and doctrines of an author, whether he be living or dead. What man of sense would reflect on President Edwards, for publishing his confutation of Dr. Whitby, after the Doctor’s death? Or who would charge Mr. Fuller with unfairness, for publishing his “Strictures on Sandemanianism,” long after Mr. Robert Sandeman had returned to his original dust?” (William Rushton).

So it seems that when Andrew Fuller wrote his “Strictures,” Sandeman was not alive to make a possible response to it.

Michael Haykin writes the following regarding Andrew Fuller’s influences and the “Sandemanian system” known by many (or not so many) as “Sandemanianism”:

“His time as a pastor in Soham was a decisive period for the shaping of Fuller’s theological perspective. It was during this period that he began a lifelong study of the works of the New England divine Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) which, along with his humble submission to the authority of the infallible Scriptures and the fearless exercise of his mind, enabled him to become what his close friend John Ryland Jr (1753-1825) once described as ‘perhaps the most judicious and able theological writer that ever belonged to our [the Calvinistic Baptist] denomination’” (Haykin).

“Never one to allow what he considered vital error to go unchecked, Fuller penned a series of letters to a friend on the Sandemanian system, which he eventually published in 1810 as Strictures on Sandemanianism” (Haykin).

“For Fuller, as we have noted, Edwards was his major theological tutor after the Word of God. ‘No man’, he once said of Edwards, ‘possessed a clearer insight into these difficult subjects’, namely, the various roles played by the understanding, the will and the affections in the matter of conversion and the Christian life” (Haykin).

Perhaps Sandeman had theological works like Edwards’ Religious Affections in mind when he penned the following:

“Having now quoted enough at present, I shall here make a stand. And before I proceed to a more particular notice of the several passages, I cannot help reflecting, with regret, on the many artifices that have been devised by some, and unwarily adopted and propagated by others, serving to throw mist betwixt the eyes of men, and the glory of that righteousness which delivers from death; serving to confound and perplex their minds about the way of enjoying the unspeakable comfort therein laid open to the guiltiest of mankind, in their most desperate circumstances; serving, in short to render of none effect the gospel of our salvation.

I speak not of those who have employed their weapons against the person and work of Christ, endeavouring to make us lose sight of him as a divine person, and of his acting as the substitute and) representative of sinners in the whole of his obedience unto death; such as have got any taste of the good word of God, are not in the greatest danger of being subverted by these: but I speak of those teachers, who, having largely insisted on the corruption of human nature, concluded the whole world guilty before God, eloquently set forth the necessity of an atonement, zealously maintained the scriptural doctrine concerning the person and work of Christ; yet, after all, leave us as much in the dark as to our comfort, as if Jesus Christ had never appeared; and mark out as insuperable a task for us, as if he had not finished his work; while, with great assiduity and earnestness, they are busied in describing to us, animating us with various encouragements, and furnishing us with manifold instructions, how to perform that strange something which is to make out our connection with Christ, and bring his righteousness home to us; that something which has got many names, and includes divers considerations; all which have been supposed to be comprehended under the scriptural expression FAITH; as to which, after all they have told us about it, we are at as great a loss to tell distinctly what it is, or what we are doing when we perform it, if not greater, than when they began” (Robert Sandeman, Letters On Theron & Aspasio).

Jonathan Edwards (in works such as Religious Affections), Matthew Mead (in works such as The Almost Christian Discovered), Thomas Shepherd (in works such as Parable of the Ten Virgins), and John Piper (in works such as Future Grace, The Pleasures of God, and Desiring God) twist, pervert, obscure, darken, and turn into self-righteous mystical mush the clear definition of faith given in such passages as Hebrews 11:1 and Romans 10:9. Next Page (2)

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