Monthly Archives: November 2006

Andrew Fuller, Adiel Sherwood, and Georgia Baptist Missions

Adiel Sherwood was one of the major leaders among Georgia Baptists during the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. He helped introduce Sunday Schools and temperance societies in Georgia. He was one of the leaders in the formation of the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1822. A tireless advocate of theological education, Sherwood served as the first professor of theology at Mercer University. He was involved in mission work, especially on the frontier that was the 19th century American west. Sherwood was also something of a controversialist, particularly in his arguments for cooperative missions over against Primitive Baptists and his contending for distinctive Baptist principles on the frontier.

Like many 19th century Southern Baptists, Sherwood was also significantly influenced by Andrew Fuller. The following quotes are from Jarrett Burch’s fine biography of Sherwood, Adiel Sherwood: Baptist Antebellum Pioneer in Georgia (Mercer University Press, 2003).

[T]hrough the publication of Fuller’s theological works in America, mission-minded Baptists possessed a theological text that defended a missionary rationale of calling on sinners actively to repent. Many Baptists in America adopted “Fullerism” as it was called and used his theology as a justification for doing mission work in the 1820’s. Sherwood promoted the same theological emphases as Fuller in his promotion of mission causes in Georgia (pp. 11-12).

Influenced by the evangelical thrust of Andrew Fuller, Sherwood’s earliest letters and newspaper articles accentuated the theme of duty faith. Sherwood believed, like Fuller, that faith was a moral duty. Mirroring a similar transition Fuller made in England, Sherwood took the revivalist theology of Jonathan Edwards, which claimed that unconverted people lacked the moral ability to exercise faith. Even though God alone could bestow this moral ability, all sinners had a duty to believe … Sherwood followed Fuller in adopting Edwardsean Calvinism (p. 51).

Sherwood represented the form of evangelical Calvinism filtering into the South that held to this modified view of the atonement–an atonement sufficient for all but efficient for the elect. By embracing Andrew Fuller’s version of limited atonement, Sherwood, like many other Georgia Baptist preachers, could uphold God’s intent to save his own, while assuring their audience that Christ’s atoning work could be offered to all people (p. 243).



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One of the largely unexplored areas of Andrew Fuller studies is the impact that his theology had upon North American Baptists. There is a good introductory paper by Dr Nettles on the subject that appeared in The Founders Journal 53 (Summer 2003): “Edwards and His Impact on Baptists.” But there is so much more to do.

One example: A few weeks ago I was reading in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Archives and I looked at John Ryland’s The Work of Faith, the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope, illustrated; in the Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (Charlestown: Samuel Etheridge, 1818). A student had alerted me to an interesting annotation in this copy owned by the seminary. This particular copy is the American edition of the second London edition of Ryland’s life of his dear friend. Southern’s copy was given to the seminary by Basil Manly, Jr. (1825-1892), one of the four founding professors of the seminary and who inherited the book from his father Basil Manly, Sr. (1798-1868), one of the leading Baptist ministers in the South during the ante-bellum period and through the Civil War.

The elder Manly had made a few check marks in pen in the book, but only one annotation of substance. Ryland quotes Fuller remark in his diary about the birth of a child at the close of 1781:

“Thought, to-day, on account of family circumstances, what a matter of importance is the birth of a child. Here its life begins; but where shall it end? Ah! no end to its existence! But, O that God would accept of my new-born child, and let its end be ‘to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever!’ ” (p.72).

Besides this diary entry, the senior Manly has these remarks about the birth of Basil Jr.: “Decr. 19-1825. My son was born. To this prayer I add my Amen.” God sovereignly answered that prayer and the younger Basil, like his father, was a burning and shining light for the gospel.

NOTE: this annotation has been used with permission by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Archives, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

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This year at the annual Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, which is on “The Holiness of God”, is to be held February 5-7, 2007, and has R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, and William Mckenzie as speakers, John Piper, the host and Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will give his usual biographical address on Andrew Fuller on February 6, 2007, @ 1:45 pm.

It is to be entitled: “Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Vision: Andrew Fuller’s Broadsides Against Sandemanianism, Hyper-Calvinism, and Global Unbelief.” Sounds fabulous, as well as the rest of the conference.    

HT: Justin Taylor. Justin has links to learn more about the speakers and read John Piper’s invitation.

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Gilbert Laws’ biography of Andrew Fuller [Andrew Fuller: Pastor, Theologian, Ropeholder (London: Carey Press, 1942)] is a rarity, possibly because it was published during the war years when paper was scarce. But due to the fact that it is an important document, here is his rendition of the entirety of C.H. Spurgeon’s letter to Andrew Gunton Fuller upon the former’s receiving the latter’s life of his father (on page 127):    

Venerable Friend,
I thank you for sending me your Andrew Fuller. If you had lived for a long time for nothing else but to produce this volume, you have lived to good purpose.  
I have long considered your father to be the greatest theologian of the century, and I do not know that your pages have made me think more highly of him as a divine than I had thought before. But I now see him within doors far more accurately, and see about the Christian man a soft radiance of tender love which had never been revealed to me either by former biographies or by his writings.  
You have added moss to the rose, and removed some of the thorns in the process.                                    
Yours most respectfully,                                                  
C.H. Spurgeon.    


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C. H. Spurgeon on Andrew Fuller

It is often said that Spurgeon commented on Fuller by saying something to the extent that “he was the greatest theologian of his century.” Does anyone know where Spurgeon said that (i.e. a bibliographic citation)? It is often said in passing and I am curious as to the context in which Spurgeon made that comment.


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Audio Introductions to Andrew Fuller

In light of Steve’s helpful biographical introduction to Fuller’s life and thought, I thought I would point readers to three audio introductions to Fuller. All three are available here. Tom Nettles speaks on “Andrew Fuller and the Doctrines of Grace” and “Andrew Fuller: An Experiential Biography.” Michael Haykin’s has a lecture simply titled “Andrew Fuller.” There are also a number of lectures that focus on William Carey; not surprisingly, Fuller figures prominently in most of these lectures. You can access the Carey lectures here.

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Andrew Fuller: A Biographical Summary

The following is a summary of chapter from Theologians of the Baptist Tradition. The numbers listed in parentheses reflect the corresponding page numbers in this volume from which the preceding material originated.

The chapter on Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition was written by the President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Phil Roberts. Roberts haspreviously written on the time period during which Fuller ministered in his Continuity and Change: London Calvinistic Baptists and the Evangelical Revival 1760-1820. Roberts has divided his chapter on Fuller into three major sections. The first is an explanation of Fuller’s life. The middle section is an exposition of Fuller’s theology. The last section is Roberts’ own evaluation of Fuller’s life and theology. In the following pages of this summary the same basic outline will be followed.

Explanation of Fuller’s Life
Words from an anonymous ode to the life and ministry of Andrew Fuller titled “Carmen Flebile” are used by Roberts to begin this chapter. These words state of Fuller:

Lowly his birth,
And though his manners rough – his aspect stern –
Th’ observing eye must soon a DIAMOND discern!

These words refer to the man who Roberts calls “the man who exercised the single greatest theological influence on English Particular Baptists in their pilgrimage to becoming a missionary people” (34). Those are high words of praise for one so “lowly” born. Who then was this Andrew Fuller?

Fuller was born on February 5, 1754 in the village of Wicken in Cambridgeshire, England (35). He was born into a family of dissenters, namely Baptists. Fuller was born in a time which proved to be pivotal both politically and theologically. Politically, Fuller was born into an England which was about to become a world empire. Theologically, and more importantly for our purposes, Fuller was born during a time when the Particular Baptists of England were strongly influenced by what is known as hyper or high Calvinism (35).

Hyper-Calvinism is a term used to refer not to those who merely believe in the five points of Calvinism, but for those who additionally reject the public and promiscuous proclamation of the gospel. Though the period of revival known as the Great Awakening had heavily influenced both England and America, most Particular Baptists had remained uninfluenced. Baptists of this day viewed themselves as the only true Reformers who sought to completely order their churches by the New Testament alone. They had not, however, yet embraced the Great Commission as their own personal mandate. In these days of evangelistic laxity, God raised up the right man for the right time: Andrew Fuller.

Fuller’s own personal testimony was the story of his times in miniature. He was himself raised in a high Calvinistic background. He once wrote that his pastor’s preaching “was not adapted to awaken my conscience” for he rarely said anything to unbelievers (35). These early experiences by Fuller led to his later questions regarding the sinners duty to believe in Christ. According to the high Calvinists, a “warrant” or evidence of election was necessary before the opportunity to believe the gospel could be set before any sinner. This teaching led Fuller to languish for many years without confidence to approach Christ for mercy. Although Fuller read both John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and many other works which told of Christ’s sufficiency to save, he still lacked confidence that he had the right to believe on Christ (36). He sadly describes his condition as “like a man drowning, looking every way for help” (36).

Eventually, Fuller found what he was seeking for so desperately in the Word of God. Both the divine warnings and promises drove Fuller to faith in Christ. His faith was expressed in this words: “I must – I will trust . . . my sinful . . . soul in his hands. In this way I continued above an hour, weeping and supplicating mercy for Saviour’s sake; . . . my guilt and fears were gradually . . . removed” (36). In 1770, Fuller was baptized and became a member of the local Baptist church in Soham (36). He became that same church’s pastor in May 1775 (36). However, even at this stage of Fuller’s life, he was still influenced by the high Calvinism of his youth and di not dare to “address an invitation to the unconverted to come to Jesus” (36). But in 1781 all this changed. Upon reading the Bible, Bunyan again and having fellowship with pastors John Sutcliff of Olney and Robert Hall of Arnesby (who introduced him to the writings of Jonathan Edwards), Fuller’s mind was finally changed. That same year Fuller wrote a book that would be published four years later and would become the theological foundation for the modern missionary movement. The title of the book nearly says it all: The Gospel of Christ Worthy of All Acceptation: or The Obligations of Men Fully to Credit, and Cordially to Approve, Whatever God Makes Known. Wherein is Considered the Nature of Faith in Christ, and the Duty of Those Where the Gospel Comes in That Matter. It is commonly known simply as The Gospel of Christ Worthy of All Acceptation and it strongly called for the promiscuous proclamation of the gospel to all peoples (36)

Interestingly, Fuller’s first book was attacked both by the high Calvinists and the Arminians leading to a series of response and counter-responses in the years ahead. But Fuller’s commitment to these truths did not waver. His commitment to evangelism and world missions was shown not only in his writings but in his actions. One of his life’s greatest works was the organization, management and support of the Baptist Missionary Society (36). This society was formed in order to send and support missionaries to the peoples of the world. Fuller was elected the first secretary of the society and kept that position until his death in 1815 (37).

In addition to Fuller’s role in the spread of world missions, he also continued to pastor. He served two churches during the course of his ministry: his home church at Soham from 1775 to 1782 and a congregation at Kettering from 1782 until his death in 1815 (37). The Kettering church never had more than 150 members during Fuller’s ministry there, but as many as 1,000 people came to hear Fuller preach during the early 1800’s. His preaching was characterized by “warmth” and “holy zeal” (37). He was also well known for his “forceful evangelistic appeals” which were “a personal exhortation to belief and trust in Christ” (37).

Fuller was awarded two Doctor of Divinity degrees during his lifetime by the College of New Jersey (1798) and Yale University (1805) respectively. The first was refused and the latter was accepted but never used the title (37). Andrew Fuller died of tuberculosis on May 7, 1815.

Exposition of Fuller’s Theology
Roberts begins the second section of his chapter of Andrew Fuller by again quoting from the ode written upon the occasion of his death, “Carmen Flebile”.

Unmov’d by clamor, unseduc’d to wrong
Fuller the truth maintain’d;
Resolv’d, in consciousness of right, to stand –
By fear and lure ungain’d!

The phrase “Fuller the truth maintain’d; Resolv’d, in consciousness of right, to stand” well summarizes Fuller’s defense of the truth of the gospel in his day. He like “every Baptist theologian of his day and earlier . . . developed his theology as an active pastor” (37). Fuller’s writings, therefore, were the result of his own preaching and the experience of his congregation. He was not a systematic theologian like John Gill, but rather a polemical theologian who courageously defended the truth.

Fuller’s polemical writings began with The Gospel of Worthy of All Acceptation in which he argued that it is the responsibility of all sinners to believe the gospel and the responsibility of all believers to proclaim the gospel to sinners. This was in opposition to the high Calvinists of Fuller’s day who had taken John Gill’s doctrine of eternal justification and used it as an excuse to not openly invite all men to believe the gospel. Instead, one should wait upon evidence of election in individuals before telling them to believe in Christ. Though his was Fuller’s own background, he came to see the reasoning of the high Calvinists to be in contradiction to Scripture through his friendships with Robert Hall, John Ryland Jr., William Carey and John Sutcliff, as well as the writings of Jonathan Edwards. All these influences combined to make Fuller a champion of evangelical Calvinism through his work in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. As a result of this work, evangelical Calvinism in Baptist and Congregational settings became known as “Fullerism” (38). Fuller’s first work was challenged in print by both Arminians and high Calvinists. Fuller responded in turn to each in writing as well. Thus we see Fuller’s role as a defender of the truth in this first published writing.

Fuller also defended the true gospel against a group known as the Sandemanians who argued that “saving faith is the simple intellectual acceptance of the revelation of the gospel” (41). This was in opposition to Fuller’s teaching that saving faith also included trust and resulted in a life of continued obedience to Christ ( 41). The culmination of Fuller’s response to Sandemanianism was his 1810 work titled Strictures on Sandemanianism, In Twelve Letters to a Friend (42). This is another example of Fuller as a polemicist for the true gospel.

Likewise, Fuller’s stance on the exclusivity of Christ for salvation led to more controversy with the universalist, William Vidler. Fuller responded to Vidler’s God’s Love to His Creatures Asserted and Vindicated with a series of letters published in the Evangelical Magazine and the Universalist’s Miscellany that were published together as Letters to Mr. Vidler, on the Doctrine of Universal Salvation in 1802 (43). All of these apologetic works by Fuller caused him to viewed “as an important apologist not just for Calvinism . . . but for the gospel in broader and more evangelical terms (44).

In addition to the soteriological issues which Fuller addressed in his writings, he also was concerned with the order and discipline of the local church. His work titled The Discipline of the Primitive Churches Illustrated and Enforced argued for believer’s baptism and closed communion. This view influenced the Baptist Missionary Society and each missionary was required to practice closed communion (45).

Evaluation of Fuller’s Life and Theology
The main work of Andrew Fuller was in the area of soteriology with its practical applications in evangelism and missions. In this arena Fuller stood against both the “antimissionary, unbalanced hyper-Calvinism” on one hand and “a mechanical, rationalistic Sandemanianism” on the other. The success of his life’s work is seen in that “the vast majority of English and American Baptists, including those who would constitute the Southern Baptist Convention (1845)” typified Fuller’s evangelical Calvinism. Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation formed the theological foundation for the modern missionary movement (46). Also, as a result of Fuller’s ministry, the two leading Baptists on both sides of the Atlantic, Charles Spurgeon and James P. Boyce, were both adherents of “Fullerism” or evangelical Calvinism instead of “Gillite.” (46). Fuller’s impact on the modern missionary movement and emphasis on world evangelism cannot be overestimated.


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