Among those who were struggling against the evil tendencies of hyper-Calvinism, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) stood out. He was the man who dealt the mortal blow to the system which held that it was impossible for any but the elect to embrace the Gospel and that it was therefore useless to invite the unconverted to put their trust in Christ. The son of a small Cambridgeshire farmer, Fuller joined the Soham Church at the age of sixteen and was shortly to have an experience which left its mark on him for life. In view of all it meant to him and, indeed, to the whole denomination, it is best given in his own words: 1But in the autumn of the same year (1770) an unhappy affair occurred in the church, which occasioned a breach between our pastor, Mr. Eve, and the people which terminated in his leaving them; and what rendered it the more
[p. 162]afflicting to me, I was much concerned in it. The case was this: one of the members having been guilty of drinking to excess I was one of the first who knew of it. I immediately went and talked to him, as well as I could, on the evil of his conduct. The answer was, "He could not keep himself; and that though I bore so hard upon him, I was not my own keeper." At this I felt indignant, considering it as a base excuse. I therefore told him that he could keep himself from such sins as these, and that his way of talking was merely to excuse what was inexcusable. I knew not what else to say at that time; yet the idea of arrogating to be my own keeper seemed too much. He however was offended, and told me that I was young, and did not know the deceitfulness of my own heart. Well, I went and told my pastor, who highly commended me, and said, "We certainly could keep ourselves from open sins. We had no power (he observed) to do things spiritually good; but as to outward acts, we had power both to obey the will of God, and to disobey it."
The business soon came before the church, and the offender was unanimously excluded. . . . But this affair being disposed of, the abstract question of the power of sinful men to do the will of God, and to keep themselves from sin, was taken up by some of the leading members of the church. . . . They readily excused me, as being a babe in religion; but thought the pastor ought to have known better, and to have been able to answer the offender without betraying the truth. They alleged that the greatest and best of characters, as recorded in Scripture, never arrogated to themselves the power of keeping themselves from evil, but constantly prayed for keeping grace;. . . in short, that though we are altogether blameworthy for our evil propensities, yet if they were restrained or conquered, it was altogether to be ascribed to God, and not to us. . . .
On the other hand, the pastor distinguished between internal and external power. He allowed that men had no power of themselves to perform anything spiritually good; but contended that they could yield external obedience and keep themselves from open acts of sin. . . .
In these disputes I continued for some time on the side of my pastor; but after a few months I felt difficulties on the subject which I could not answer, and which rendered me unhappy. I perceived that some kind of power was necessary to render us accountable beings. If we were like stocks or stones, or literally dead, like men in a burying ground, we could with no more propriety than they be commanded to perform any duty: if we were mere machines there could be no sin chargeable upon us. Yet, on the other hand, the scriptures... represent the godly as crying to heaven for preservation from evil, ascribing all the good that was in them to Him who worketh in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure. I prayed much, and laboured hard to solve this difficulty. . . .
In October 1771, our pastor, Mr. Eve, left us. I loved him, and he loved
[p. 163]me, and took it hard that I had in some respects changed my views. . . . I never look back upon these contentions but with strong feelings. They were to me the wormwood and gall of my youth: my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me . . . yet they were ultimately the means of leading my mind into those views of divine truth, which have since appeared in the principal part of my writings . . . and if I have judged or written to any advantage since, it was in consequence of what I then learned by bitter experience.Fuller served the pastorless church as best he could and, in 1774, he was ordained as its minister by Robert Hall of Arnesby. His stipend was L13 per annum. He also received L3 a year for preaching in a neighbouring village, and the London Baptist Fund gave him L5 a year. To keep himself and his family, he opened a shop and later a school, but both ventures seem to have been unsuccessful. Moreover, the people, still infected with hyper-Calvinism, "were inclined to find fault with his ministry, as it became more searching and practical, and as he freely enforced the indefinite calls of the Gospel"2 This compelled Fuller to systematize his views and he wrote his The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation. The church at Kettering called him, but it was years before he could make up his mind to leave Soham. At length, in 1783, he was inducted and frankly declared his point of view in the confession he made of his faith. He repudiated Arminianism and Socinianism ("if we are such great sinners, we need a great Saviour, infinitely greater than the Socinian Saviour"); declared that he believed the doctrine of reprobation to be "nothing more than the divine determination to punish sin in certain cases in the person of the sinner"; asserted the necessity of the agency of the Holy Spirit in conversion; and then boldly declared:3I believe it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the Gospel to all who will hear it; and as I believe the inability of men to spiritual things to be wholly of the moral, and therefore of the criminal kind, and that it is their duty to love the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in him for salvation though they do not; I therefore believe free and solemn addresses,
[p. 164]invitations, calls, and warnings to them to be not only consistent, but directly adapted, as means, in the hand of the Spirit of God, to bring them to Christ. I consider it as a part of my duty which I could not omit without being guilty of the blood of souls.Fuller now had to face the question whether he should publish the book he had written expounding his views. His modesty made him hesitate; and he knew how bitterly he would be attacked in certain quarters. After several months of agonizing doubt, he walked to Northampton and put his work into the printers' hands. It appeared in 1785, and the followers of Gill and Brine lost no time in replying. Among Fuller's most insistent opponents was John Martin,4 pastor of the church in Grafton Street, Westminster - the man who had written the Circular Letter of the Northamptonshire Association in 1770. Martin reiterated the point that if faith was a gift it could not be a duty. His one question was: "Will any man tell me that it is my duty to do that without the Divine assistance which I can only do with?" Fuller remarked of Martin, "When he lifted up his feet, he was always careful to put them down again in the same place." Fuller, who had been careful to guard the main points of Calvinism, including the doctrine of a particular redemption, found himself between two fires. The Arminian Baptist, Dan Taylor, pressed him with the point that universal invitations to repent and believe the Gospel are a mockery unless provision is made in the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of all men. But Fullerism, as it came to be called, made headway and brought to an end the reign of hyper-Calvinism among the great majority of Particular Baptist ministers and churches. "Had matters gone on but a few years, the Baptists would have become a perfect dunghill in society," said Fuller in his forthright fashion.
In Kettering, Fuller was in touch with the leaders of the Northamptonshire Association, all of whom were lamenting the decline of religion in the churches. In 1784, John Sutcliff of Olney had persuaded the Association to issue a call to the churches to establish monthly prayer-meetings for the revival
of religion.5 The next year, John Ryland, of College Lane, Northampton, could say to Fuller that there "was scarcely anything worth the name of religion left upon the earth." But these men persisted in their prayers. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, they gathered with other ministers, till at length one man, William Carey, who had been on the fringe of the group, became its centre. The divine answer came in 1792 with the foundation of the Particular Baptist Missionary Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen. The story cannot be re-told here of how thirteen men made the beginning and contributed L13 2s. 6d. On that day, Baptists were leading the whole Church of Christ. Carey was not the first to go to India as a missionary, but, as Latourette says,6 Carey began "a new era in Protestant missions, not only in India, but also in the entire world." And Carey would have been the first to acknowledge that the fire he kindled was taken from other altars. From Fuller's teaching he drew the inescapable inference that, if it was the duty of all men to repent and believe the Gospel, it was the duty of those entrusted with it to carry it into all the world.
Fuller remained the secretary of the Missionary Society from its foundation to the day of his death. His labours on its behalf were herculean. "Fuller lived and died a martyr to the Mission."7 He attended to its correspondence and made frequent journeys to collect funds for it, aiming at getting an average of a pound for every mile he travelled, and relying on an unvarnished tale simply told. "At first he met with many rebuffs; and he was grieved with the want of greater zeal for the cause of God, that he sometimes retired from the more public streets of London into the back lanes, that he might not be seen by other passengers, to weep for his having so little success."8 The other members of the committee learned to lean on his judgment and, says Ryland, "we scarcely ever had cause to regret a compliance with his
advice."9 And all the time Fuller was writing on theological subjects, such as Deism, Socinianism, Sandemanianism, etc. Indeed it may be said that he was the soundest and most creatively useful theologian the Particular Baptists have ever had. A self-taught man, with no gifts of style and little technical learning, he had real power as a thinker, and "with a terrier-like tenacity, he kept hold on what he deemed the error of his opponent, and shook it to death."10 His mind was masculine. He had a healthy contempt for barren speculations, for old and tiresome customs, and for all forms of vanity or conceit. "But to the modest and diffident," says Ryland,11 "I never knew him otherwise than tender. He was not a man, however, to be brow-beaten and overborne, when satisfied of the goodness of his cause; nor could he be easily imposed upon by any one." When Brown University, Rhode Island, sent him the diploma conferring upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, he pleasantly remarked, "Now I must learn Latin in order to read it." He never quite approved of the title "Reverend," though he did not go so far as Robert Robinson, who said that he wondered that any man could be so silly as to call him "Reverend," or Abraham Booth for whom it was "a species of profaneness to be so denominated."12 To the consideration of every question he brought his sturdy common-sense.13 Tall, stout and muscular, he had been a famous wrestler in his youth and seldom met a stout man without casting over him an appraising eye. Of fear he knew nothing. When his sleep was disturbed by disorderly persons in the street at Kettering, he would get up and quell the disturbance. Some of the rustic habits of his early years remained. He deemed it a luxury to eat flesh more than once a day and he could work in a room where the other members of the family were sitting at their tasks. "He had no idea of ease or rest", says one
biographer,14 "he seemed to contemplate life only as a scene of perpetual activity. . . . His turn of mind led him to cultivate the intellectual and practical parts of religion, rather than the devotional."
This essay is from chapter 7, entitled "Revival." The Note numbers are changed.
1 Ryland, Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, pp. 37 ff.
2 Ryland, op. cit,. pp. 71 ff.
3 Ibid., p. 106.
4 See D. N. B.
5 For the story of the Prayer Call of 1784 and its remarkable influence, see Baptist Quarterly, Vol. XI, pp. 67 ff.
6 A History of the Expansion of Christianity, Vol. III, p. 281.
7 Morris, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, p. 49.
8 Ryland, op. cit,, pp. 248 ff.
9 op. cit., p. 252.
10 Stoughton, History of Religion in England, Vol. VI, p. 373.
11 op. cit., p. viii.
12 Morris, op. cit., pp. 50 ff.
13 See his views on the validity of lay ordination and the propriety of administering the Lord's Supper without a minister, in Morris, op. cit., pp. 435 ff. and Baptist Quarterly, Vol. VII, pp. 326 ff.
14 Morris, op. cit., pp. 476 ff.
[A. C. Underwood, D. D., A History of the English Baptists, 1947; reprint, 1970, pp. 161-167. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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