Michael Haykin of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, remembers the life of Andrew Fuller
Why should we remember Andrew Fuller (1754 –1815) two centuries after his death in Kettering in the English Midlands?
Near the beginning of the funeral sermon that the Calvinistic Baptist John Ryland Jr. preached for Andrew Fuller in 1815, Ryland described Fuller as ‘perhaps the most judicious and able theological writer that ever belonged to our denomination’. Although Fuller was one of Ryland’s closest friends, his judgment is by no means a biased one.
For instance, James Davis Knowles, Professor of Pastoral Duties and Sacred Rhetoric at the Newton Theological Institution in the 1830s, observed that ‘the works of Fuller are justly entitled to rank with those of Owen and Edwards’. And Charles Haddon Spurgeon, at the close of the 19th century, described Fuller as ‘the greatest theologian’ of his century, while A.C. Underwood, a Baptist historian writing in the middle of the 20th century, was of the opinion that he was the soundest and most useful theologian that the English Calvinistic Baptists have ever had.
For what reasons did these men, in different times and places, value Fuller and his works so highly?
Fuller’s early years
The youngest son of Robert Fuller, a farmer, and Philippa Gunton, Andrew was born on 6 February, 1754 at Wicken, a small agricultural village in Cambridgeshire in East Anglia. It is noteworthy that among both his paternal and maternal ancestors were men and women who were Puritans by conviction.
His parents regularly attended the Baptist church at Soham, about two and a half miles from Wicken. The pastor of this small work was John Eve, who had been a sieve-maker before becoming the pastor of Soham Baptist Church in 1752. Eve was a High Calvinist, and, according to Fuller, he ‘had little or nothing to say to the unconverted’. Not surprisingly, Fuller later noted: ‘I…never considered myself as any way concerned in what I heard from the pulpit.’
Nevertheless, in the late 1760s Fuller began to experience strong conviction of sin, which happily issued in his conversion in the autumn of 1769. After being baptised the following spring, he joined the Soham church.
Over the course of the next few years, it became very evident to the church that Fuller possessed definite ministerial gifts. Eve had left the church in 1771 for another pastorate and Fuller, after ministering in the church for a couple of years, was formally invited to become pastor in 1775.
Refuting High Calvinism
Fuller’s pastorate at Soham, which lasted until 1782 when he moved to Kettering in Northamptonshire, was a decisive period for the shaping of Fuller’s theological outlook. For it was during these seven years that Fuller began a lifelong study of the works of the New England divine Jonathan Edwards, his chief theological mentor after the Scriptures. He also made the acquaintance of Robert Hall Sr., John Ryland Jr. and John Sutcliff, who would later become his closest friends and colleagues. And he decisively rejected High Calvinism and drew up a defence of his own theological position in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, though this book would not be published until 1785.
This epoch-making book sought to be faithful to the central emphases of historic Calvinism while at the same time attempting to leave ‘ministers with no alternative but to… (to read more click here)
Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History & Biblical Spirituality and director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies (www.andrewfullercenter.org). The Andrew Fuller Conference: Persecution and the Church is on September 15-16, 2015 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The general Conference Sessions will be streamed live if you are unable to attend.