On the introduction of the Fuller system a very important change followed on the part of many of our ministers in their mode of addressing their unconverted hearers on the subjects of repentance and believing the gospel. Hitherto they would use circumlocution in their discourses on these matters, instead of direct appeals and exhortations to those whose conversion they desired. They would describe the lost condition of
sinners and point out the duty of all men to repent and believe the gospel; but beyond this, their views of consistency with the doctrine which ascribes the whole work of salvation to God alone, would not permit them to go. As a general thing, the discourses of that age were very dull and monotonous, and were greatly deficient in the pathos and fervor of that class of evangelical preachers who were not trammeled by such rigid rules in their theological creed. Church members then received much more attention from our public speakers, than those who stood without its pale. At times men of more than ordinary zeal would overleap the bounds of their restricted rules, but with studied caution in their use of terms; and I well remember with what ingenuity and dexterity this class of preachers would so manage their addresses to their unconverted hearers, as to discourse to them much in the style of reputed Arminians, and yet retain the substance of the stereotyped phraseology of their orthodox creed.
The Fuller system, which makes it consistent for all the heralds of the gospel to call upon men every where to repent, was well received by one class of our ministers, but not by the staunch defenders of the old theory of a limited atonement. According to their views, all for whom Christ suffered and died would certainly be effectually called and saved. These conflicting
opinions caused altercations of considerable severity for a time, among the Baptists, who had hitherto been all united on the orthodox side. The Gillites maintained that the expositions of Fuller were unsound, and would subvert the genuine gospel faith. If, said they, the atonement of Christ is general in its nature it must be so in its effects, as none of his sufferings will be in vain; and the doctrine of universal salvation will inevitably follow this dangerous creed. While the dispute went on, it was somewhat difficult for the Fullerites to pass muster, on the score of orthodoxy, with the old school party, or be on terms of entire cordiality with them. But so greatly has the standard of orthodoxy been lowered, even among those who are reputed orthodox, from former times, and so little attention do most of our church members of the present day pay to the doctrines which are advanced by their ministers, that this whole story will probably be new to most of them, except of the older class.
A few persons may now be found in most of our congregations, who are so well informed, and who pay so much attention to the preaching they hear, that they are able to detect any unsoundness in the doctrines advanced; but this is not so generally the case with the great mass of our members as it was in a former age. At present, the modes and manners, and
the eloquence of their ministers, engage more of the attention of our people, than their doctrinal expositions; and most of all, they look for those attractions which are pleasing to young people, and which will collect large assemblies, and enable them to compete with their neighbors in numbers and style. With this end in view, nothing that will sound harsh or unpleasant to very sensitive ears must come from the preachers; the old-fashioned doctrines of Predestination, Total Depravity, Divine Sovereignty, etc., if referred to at all, must be by way of circumlocution and implication. "Ever since he was settled with us," said one, "our minister has preached up election, and still never mentions it openly."
As a general thing, now, our people hear so little, in common conversation, in their every-day intercourse with each other, on doctrinal subjects, before, at the time, and after they become church members, and are so much accustomed to vague and indefinite references to them, that, different from former years, they have but little desire to hear them discussed. Indeed, many of them would sit very uneasy under discourses in which the primordial principles of the orthdox Baptist faith should be presented in the style of our sound old preachers of bygone years. As for themselves, some of them might bear this tolerably well, but they would be thinking of others and
of the adverse remarks of outside hearers, and weaker members.
[From David Benedict, D. D., Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; reprint, 1977, pp. 140-144. The title is supplied by the editor. -- Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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