Fuller is ‘hugely relevant for today’

a conversation with Andrew Fuller
By Michael Haykin and Brian Croft
Evangelical Press. 236 pages. £11.70 at
ISBN: 978 1 783 972 746

Spurgeon referred to Andrew Fuller, the 18th-century Strict Baptist pastor, as ‘the greatest theologian of his century’, and at least one seminary Principal claims Fuller was ‘the most influential Baptist theologian between John Bunyan and our day.’ However, few of us have either time or energy to travel the 2,500 pages of his complete works!

Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) was much more than a clear thinker and plain-writing theologian; he was above all a warm-hearted pastor and a powerful preacher whose life mentored all who came under his influence. As minister at Kettering Particular Baptist Church for 33 years, he was frequently invited to preach at ordination and induction services. It is the wise and practical teaching in these sermons that Haykin and Croft have so helpfully distilled for us.

After a short history of English dissent in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a brief survey of ordination sermons from the likes of Matthew Henry, John Gill and Philip Doddridge (Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational), we have Fuller’s sermon at Thorn Baptist Church on 31 October 1787, and from there on summaries of many more sermons.

These sermons, though preached for a different age, are hugely relevant today.

Subjects include: the value of purposeful visiting; relying upon the Holy Spirit, but with the warning not to ‘so trust in the Spirit as to neglect personal preparation’; the need to understand people if we are to preach effectively; the private and home life of the minister; preaching the true character of God and its implications without fear of man – and so much more.

Typical of the relevance of Andrew Fuller to the church in the 21st century is his observation that: ‘A large church is like a large family, in which there is a necessity for constant labour and continual attention, to keep things in proper order. But a small church may be compared to a little boat, floating on the waters – a single wrong movement may overset it. In either case we have need be endued with righteousness, godliness, faith, love, meekness, patience, and forbearance’; and then follows a warm encouragement for pastors of small congregations.

Pithy and challenging quotes abound. Here is an inadequate sample:

‘Eminent spirituality in a minister is usually attended with eminent usefulness’ (p.86).

‘Aspire not to be a great man, but a good man’ (p.95).

‘To be able to surmount a difficulty by Christian patience is a greater thing in the sight of God than to remove a mountain’ (p.95).

‘Preach the law evangelistically and the gospel practically’ (p.125).

‘Dare to teach unwelcome truths’ (p.126).

‘Every sermon, more or less, should have some relation to Christ, and bear on His person or work. This is the life of all doctrine, and it will be our own fault if it is dry’ (p.183).

‘Many people will take our personal religion for granted, as though a man who teaches others must needs be religious himself; but woe unto us if we reason in this way! Tremble at the idea of being a graceless minister…’ (p.191).

‘There is not a more dangerous foe to the truth than indifference’ (p.206).

Thoughtful and profound

This book is not a ‘how-to’ of preaching, but a thoughtful, profound, spiritual assessment of the quality of life and ministry of a Christian preacher/pastor. It is a full challenge to the heart and mind, and Andrew Fuller penetrates as few of us are able to in these highly ‘professional’ and technological days. I recommend you set aside your contemporary books on the subject and immerse yourself in the life of this 18th-century Strict Baptist pastor.

Fuller referred to Abraham Booth, a contemporary preaching in East London, who lamented: ‘I fear there will be found a larger proportion of wicked ministers than any other order of professing Christians.’ If that is sadly true more than 200 years later, the sermons of Andrew Fuller are all the more significant. The final summary chapters by Haykin and Croft should not be overlooked.

No short review can begin to do justice to the value of the sermons of Andrew Fuller. If I were to recommend only one book on the life and preaching of an evangelical pastor, it would be this one. Church members, buy it for your pastor and check up that he reads it!

Brian H. Edwards

Itinerant preacher and author, and member at Christ Church, Dunstable.

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