Andrew Fuller and the Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation

Written by Michael A. G. Haykin |
Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Sinful men and women are utterly powerless to turn to God except through the regenerative work of God’s Holy Spirit, yet this powerlessness is the result of their own sinful hearts. This led Fuller to address the role of the Spirit’s work in conversion. High Calvinists argued that if repentance and faith are ascribed by the Scriptures to the work of the Spirit, then “they cannot be duties required of sinners.” As Fuller points out, though, the force of this objection is dependent upon the supposition that “we do not stand in need of the Holy Spirit to enable us to comply with our duty.”

Eighteenth-century High Calvinism—with its denial of the free offer of the Gospel and its affirmation of eternal justification—proved to be devastating for the spiritual health of many Particular, i.e. Calvinistic, Baptist churches in Britain and Ireland. The remedy was a book, namely, Andrew Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation.

A Student of the Word

Fuller (1754‒1815) was the son of a farmer and did not have the benefit of higher education. Converted in 1769, he had to wrestle through the challenges of High Calvinism with little help from other sources, either books or people. In the words of his first biographer, his friend John Ryland, Jr. (1753‒1825), Fuller was “obliged to think, and pray, and study the Scriptures, and thus to make his ground good.” A personal covenant written by Fuller in 1780 speaks of his “determination to take up no principles at second-hand, but to search for everything at the pure fountain of [God’s] word.” This then was the crucible in which The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation was written.

A preliminary draft of the work was written by 1778. In what was roughly its final form it was completed by 1781. Two editions of the work were published in Fuller’s lifetime. The first edition, published in Northampton in 1785, was subtitled 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. The second edition, which appeared in 1801, was more simply subtitled The Duty of Sinners to Believe in Jesus Christ, a subtitle that well expressed the overall theme of the book. There were substantial differences between the two editions, which Fuller freely admitted and which primarily related to the doctrine of particular redemption, but the major theme remained unaltered: “faith in Christ is the duty of all men who hear, or have opportunity to hear, the gospel.” Or as he put it in his preface to the first edition: “God requires the heart, the whole heart, and nothing but the heart; … all the precepts of the Bible are only the different modes in which we are required to express our love to him.”

A Brief Summary

In the first section of the work, Fuller states the theme of the book and spends some time discussing the nature of saving faith. He especially takes to task the popular High Calvinist view of faith as something primarily subjective.

The Scriptures always represent faith as terminating on something without us; namely, on Christ, and the truths concerning him: but if it consist in a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation, it must terminate principally on something within us; namely, the work of grace in our hearts; for to believe myself interested in Christ is the same thing as to believe myself a subject of special grace.

As Fuller goes on to point out, genuine faith is fixed on “the glory of Christ, and not the happy condition we are in.” These are two very different things. The former entails “a persuasion of Christ being both able and willing to save all them that come unto God by him,” while the latter is “a persuasion that we are the children of God.” The High Calvinist schema thus ultimately turns faith into a preoccupation with one’s spiritual state and security and Christ a means to the latter.

In Part II of the work Fuller adduces six arguments in defense of his position. Let us look at one of these arguments, the first, in which Fuller seeks to show from various Biblical passages that “unconverted sinners are commanded, exhorted, and invited to believe in Christ for salvation.” There is, for example, John 12:36, which contains an exhortation of the Lord Jesus to a crowd of men and women to “believe in the light” that they might be the children of light. Working from the context, Fuller argues that Jesus was urging his hearers to put their faith in him. He is the “light” in whom faith is to be placed, that faith which issues in salvation (John 12:46). Those whom Christ commanded to exercise such faith, however, were rank unbelievers, of whom it is said earlier “they believed not on him” (John 12:37).

Read More

Previous ArticleNext Article