Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) grew up in a Baptist church in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The pastor, John Eve, was a hyper-Calvinist or, as Fuller once put it, a preacher who was “tinged with false Calvinism.” Many years later Fuller remembered how hyper-Calvinism had prevented Eve from freely urging the unconverted to repent and believe, because he wrongly thought that lost sinners had no responsibility to believe. Thus, despite the fact that Fuller regularly attended the Baptist meeting-house, he got to the point that he gave little or no heed to the sermons that he heard. But in his early teens Fuller began to think about eternity and his standing before God.
Now, a popular expression of eighteenth-century hyper-Calvinist spirituality was the notion that if a scriptural text forcefully impressed itself upon one’s mind, it was to be regarded as a promise from God. One particular day in 1767 Fuller had such an experience. Romans 6:14 (“sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace”) came with such suddenness and force that Fuller naïvely believed that God was telling him that he was in a state of salvation and no longer under the tyranny of sin. But that evening, he later recalled, “I returned to my former vices with as eager a gust as ever.”
For the next six months, though, he utterly neglected prayer and was as wedded to his sins as he had been before this experience. When, in the course of 1768, he once again seriously reflected upon his lifestyle, he was conscious that he was still held fast in thraldom to sin. What then of his experience with Romans 6:14? Fuller refused to doubt that it was given to him as an indication of his standing with God. He was, he therefore concluded, a converted person, but backslidden. He still lived, though, with nary a victory over sin and its temptations, and with a total neglect of prayer. “The great deep of my heart’s depravity had not yet been broken up,” he later commented about these experiences of his mid-teens.
In the autumn of 1769 he once again came under the conviction that his life was displeasing to God. He could no longer pretend that he was only backslidden. “The fire and brimstone of the bottomless pit seemed to burn within my bosom,” he later declared. “I saw that God would be perfectly just in sending me to hell, and that to hell I must go, unless I were saved of mere grace.” Fuller now recognized the way that he had sorely abused God’s mercy. He had presumed that he was a converted individual, but all the time he had had no love for God and no desire for his presence, no hunger to be like Christ and no love for his people. On the other hand, he could not bear, he said, “the thought of plunging myself into endless ruin.” It was at this point that Job’s resolution—“though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15)—came to mind, and Fuller grew determined to cast himself upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus “to be both pardoned and purified.”
Hyper-Calvinism, though, maintained that in order to flee to Christ for salvation, a person needed a “warrant” to believe that he or she would be accepted by Christ. This warrant was a subjective one: conviction of one’s sinfulness and deep mental anguish as a result of that conviction. This perspective on conversion was a direct result of the argument that the Scriptures invite only those sinners who are sensible of their sin to believe in Christ. The net effect of this teaching was to place the essence of conversion and faith not in believing the gospel, “but in a persuasion of our being interested in its benefits.” Instead of attention being directed away from oneself towards Christ, the convicted sinner was turned inwards upon himself or herself to search for evidence that he or she was being converted.
Upon later reflection, Fuller saw his situation as akin to that of Queen Esther. She went into the presence of her husband, the Persian King Ahasuerus, at the risk of her life, since it was contrary to Persian law to enter the monarch’s presence uninvited (see Esther 4:11, 15–16). Similarly, Fuller decided: “I will trust my soul, my sinful, lost soul in his [i.e. Christ’s] hands—if I perish, I perish!” And so, it was in November, 1769 that Fuller found peace with God and rest for his troubled soul in the cross of Christ.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of Fuller’s conversion. Under God, Fuller played a key role in the globalization of Christianity, for it was Fuller’s theology of mission that energized William Carey, the so-called father of modern missions, to go to India.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Andrew Fuller.