Andrew Fuller was a Particular Baptist minister in England in the 1700s and into the 1800s. His most known work was The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. In the work he argued against the prevailing notion of day amongst English Particular Baptists that the gospel is only for the elect and should not be openly proclaimed (a.k.a Hyper-Calvinism). Fuller’s work against this belief was the tipping point which saw the Particular Baptists move to be more evangelic in their life and theology (proclaiming the gospel openly).
The other night I was reading a overview of Fuller’s work by Dr. Peter Morden, “Baptist and Evangelical: Andrew Fuller and the Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation.” (Strict Baptist Historical Society, Bulletin 2011, Number 38). In his work Dr. Morden gives two influences which helped Fuller craft and argue his position: The Bible and Jonathan Edwards. I believe seeing these things at work in Fuller can help us as we work to understand the teachings of the bible. (Note: All quotes are drawn from Dr. Morden’s work)
The first is Fuller’s commitment to let the bible be the final authority upon what he believed. Fuller wrote the following as a personal ‘covenant’ to himself,
Let not the sleight of wicked men, who lie in wait to deceive, nor even the pious character of good men (who yet may be under great mistakes), draw me aside. Nor do thou suffer my own fancy to guide me. Lord, thou hast given me a determination to take up no principle at second hand; but to search for everything at the pure fountain of thy word. (Ryland Jr., Andrew Fuller, 1st edn., pp. 203-204)
Fuller committed himself to going back to the bible to let it be the authority as to what he believed. Fuller did know that he was susceptible to error. But it did not keep him from pursuing truth as much as he could.
Along with this commitment was a secondary influence of Jonathan Edwards. Not only did Fuller study the bible but he used the thinking of others help him understand what the bible taught. This was very apparent when it came to the issue of how we can offer the gospel to people who do not have the ability to believe it (non-elect). Fuller turned to the bible but he also turned to the writing of Edwards on the Freedom of the Will. And it was Edwards who helped him unlock the puzzle as Fuller describes (speaking of himself in the third person),
He had read and considered, as well as he was able, President Edwards’s Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will, with some other performances on the difference between natural and moral inability. He found much satisfaction in the distinction; as it appeared to him to carry with it its own evidence – to be clearly and fully contained in the Scriptures .. The more he examined the Scriptures, the more he was convinced that all the inability ascribed to man, with respect to believing, arises from the aversion of his heart. (Fuller’s Works, Vol. 2, p. 330)
While thinking through the scriptures Fuller relied on Edwards to describe what the bible was teachings. And Edwards’ work was no light reading! Fuller took time and energy to read and grasp what Edwards was showing about how God can command men to do things which they do not have the ability to preform while not infringing upon His justice. Fuller considered what Edwards was saying against the teachings of Scripture. But without Edwards he would not have been able to develop what the scriptures were teachings with regards to this particular objection.
Thus, we see the blend of personal study with the aid of what others have studied. God wants us to use our personal minds to think through His word and discover, through the work of the Spirit, what is revealed there. But He also has the very same relationship with every other believer. With the bible as the norming norm we are to use God’s working with others as we think through what the bible is teaching.