Two Reflections on the Life of Andrew Fuller

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By Taylor Lazenby

 

Over the last 50 years, there has been a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Accompanying this resurgence has been a new era of re-discovering some of the heroes of the faith of generations past. These heroes of the faith who are experiencing a new-found interest by many include the likes of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Johnathan Edwards, the Puritans etc. There are many great and godly men upon whose shoulders today’s generations stand. 

 

One of these great and Godly men is Andrew Fuller.

 

While there has been a certain renaissance of interest in these titans of theology, one must also ask the question “How do we apply the truths of these men’s’ lives to our lives today?” Certainly, we should not just study the great lives of these men for the sake of study alone. 

 

On the contrary, there must be application as well. As Paul told the church at Corinth “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”, we should, likewise, look to these forerunners of the faith and learn from them. We should do this in order to apply the truths they lived out in their lives so that we may be more conformed to the image of Christ. 

 

ANDREW FULLER

Fuller was born on February 6, 1754 in a small home in Wicken, Cambridgeshire, England. He was the youngest of three boys born to Robert Fuller, who was a dairy farmer. Blessed with a sharp mind, Fuller was considered to be the most intellectual of his brothers. While precocious as a boy, because of the demands of the farm Fuller was unable to attain anything more than a meager education. 

 

At the age of 6, Fuller and his family moved to Soham, near where he was born in Wicken, and they became involved in the Baptist church there. The pastor of the church, John Eve, was a particular Baptist and a confessing Hyper-Calvinist like many particular Baptist of England at this time. 

 

As time would pass, Fuller was a normal young boy. Getting into trouble came naturally to him and was not uncommon. At the age of 14, under the preaching of Pastor Eve at Soham Baptist Church, Fuller would come under bouts of conviction of his own sin in light of the Word of God. Finally, in November of 1769, Fuller would give his life to Christ and soon after enter in to the ministry of the Word of God.

 

Andrew Fuller would eventually take the pastorate at Soham Baptist Church and move on to  Kettering Baptist Church several years later. Over the course of these years of his life, Fuller became committed to clarifying from the Word of God his theological position on a number of different issues, mobilizing the church for international missions, and preaching the Word faithfully week in and week out.

  

THEOLOGY MATTERS

Theology matters. Andrew Fuller knew this foundational truth. He was committed to being steadfast to the Scriptures on all things concerning doctrine and life.  This conviction led him to combat many theologically incorrect movements of his day. One of these movements was the Hyper-Calvinist movement.

 

Hyper Calvinists of Fuller’s day elevated the position of God’s sovereignty and diminished any kind of personal responsibility when it came to evangelism and sanctification. This movement rightly held the belief that God was totally responsible for the salvation of souls. Yet, they wrongly held the conviction that since God was sovereign in salvation believers should not use means (sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever) to bring people to faith. They viewed means as an encroachment on the sovereignty of God. Many Hyper Calvinist also held that if one was truly a child of God then there would be no need for growth in holiness or fighting against sin.

 

Fuller was prepared to part ways with the Hyper Calvinist of his day in order to passionately plea for sinners to come to faith in Christ. After reading a small booklet entitled A Modern Question Concerning Repentance and Faith (1754) Fuller began to understand that God’s sovereignty should, in fact, fuel personal responsibility of evangelism, not quench it.

 

Andrew Fuller understood the importance of having a right and robust theology. Charles Spurgeon would go on to say of Fuller that he was “the greatest theologian” of his time.[1]As Christians, the importance of theology cannot be understated.

 

MISSIONS MATTER

Driven from a correct understanding of doctrine, the missional heart of Andrew Fuller palpitated. After reading A Modern Question Concerning Faith and Repentance , Fuller began to discern God’s sovereignty in salvation as working in conjunctionwith the responsibility of man. Indeed, Fuller would point out that these things are not opposed to one another in the Bible. Therefore, these things should not be opposed in the minds and ethics of Christians. 

 

Andrew Fuller also understood that having a correct theology should lead into an urgency of missions.  If the Gospel is the only power of salvation (Rom 1:16), then the message of the Gospel must be taken by the messengers to where there is no Gospel yet proclaimed. Fuller states in an address at the Northamptonshire Baptist Associational Meeting:

 

“Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases, to consider them as purposely laid in our way, in order to try the sincerity of our religion…. Let it be considered whether it is not owing to this principle that so few and so feeble efforts have been made for the propagation of the gospel in the world. When the Lord Jesus commission his apostles, he commanded them to go and teach ‘all nations’, to preach the gospel to ‘every creature’, and that notwithstanding any difficulties and oppositions that would lie in the way. The apostles executed their commission with assiduity and fidelity; but, since their days, we seem to sit down half contented that the greater part of the world should still remain in ignorance and idolatry?... And why is this so? Are the souls of men less value?... The truth is, if I am not mistaken, we wait for we know not what” [2]

 

It is with this same-soul winning zeal, founded on the basis of strong theological convictions, that compelled Andrew Fuller to create the Baptist Missionary Society with his good friend William Carey. Fuller would become the Society’s first Secretary handling much of the fundraising and administrative duties required of a missional organization throughout the rest of his life.

 

WHAT FULLER’S LIFE MEANS FOR YOU

 

Charles Spurgeon once said that we can be so focused on what the Holy Spirit is teaching us that we do not pay attention to what the Holy Spirit has taught other people throughout history. In other words, It is important to learn from the lives of others. God works through the lives and experiences of others in order to shape each of us more into the image of his Son.

 

The life of Andrew Fuller teaches the Christian a couple important lessons. 

 

First, Christians need to have a correct understanding of theology. Theology matters. It matters because our theology will work itself out practically in our lives. Weak theology will make weak Christians; strong theology will make strong Christians. Therefore, more than ever before, each and every Christian needs to have a deeper understanding of God. It is time for the church to move past the shallows and wade deeper into a knowledge of God.

 

 Second, our theology should fuel mission. Theology cannot and should not be separated from mission. To do so will destroy the basis of mission itself. 

God is a missional God. He sent his own Son on a mission to save his people from their sins. (John 3:16, Matt. 1:21). He has invited the people who he has saved to participate in his mission. As his instruments of his grace, we participate in God’s mission by holding out the Gospel to those who have not been saved yet in order to bring God glory. But not only that. In sharing the Gospel, if God moves to save, he opens the eyes of the spiritually blind to a deeper and unfathomable joy that is only found in Jesus Christ and complete devotion to him.

All this, and more, is fueled by theology. Theology matters. The more that we know and understand about God and who he is will fuel our endeavors for mission and for the lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1]Michael Haykin in Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor and Theologian by Paul Brewster.

[2]Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 1:145-51