Evangelical Preaching: “The End Dominates the Action”

By Evan D. Burns

In his “Concluding Reflections” of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, Andrew Fuller wrote “On the Duty of Ministers in Dealing with the Unconverted.”  In his arguments, he warned against engaging in ministry without preaching the gospel as the “leading theme of our ministrations.”[1]  Fuller also warned against preaching the gospel and promising only blessings of religion “to the neglect of exhortations, calls, and warnings.”[2]  He argued that both Jesus and the Apostles implored sinners to repent, believe, and be reconciled to God.  Arguing against those hyper-Calvinists who said that such indiscriminate gospel calls are cruel to the non-elect, Fuller said that it is not cruel because such people have no desire for God in their hearts.  They choose according the prevailing disposition of their hearts, which is always darkness.

After this, he concluded his plea for evangelical gospel preaching by contending for the use of the law to wound the conscience in order that the gospel might heal it.  He had no toleration for soft preaching that entertained and made false promises of blessings with no call for repentance and submission to Christ’s lordship.  The gospel call demands compliance.  He said:

…enforcing the duties of religion, either on sinners or saints, is by some called preaching the law. If it were so, it is enough for us that such was the preaching of Christ and his apostles. It is folly and presumption to affect to be more evangelical than they were. All practical preaching, however, is not preaching the law. That only, I apprehend, ought to be censured as preaching the law, in which our acceptance with God is, in some way or other, placed to the account of our obedience to its precepts. When eternal life is represented as the reward of repentance, faith, and sincere obedience, (as it too frequently is, and that under the complaisant form of being “through the merits of Christ,”) this is preaching the law, and not the gospel. But the precepts of the law may be illustrated and enforced for evangelical purposes; as tending to vindicate the Divine character and government; to convince of sin; to show the necessity of a Saviour, with the freeness of salvation; to ascertain the nature of true religion; and to point out the rule of Christian conduct. …

If the foregoing principles be just, it is the duty of ministers not only to exhort their carnal auditors to believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls; but it is at our peril to exhort them to any thing short of it, or which does not involve or imply it… We have sunk into such a compromising way of dealing with the unconverted as to have well nigh lost the spirit of the primitive preachers; and hence it is that sinners of every description can sit so quietly as they do, year after year, in our places of worship. It was not so with the hearers of Peter and Paul. They were either “pricked in the heart” in one way, or “cut to the heart” in another. Their preaching commended itself to “every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” How shall we account for this difference? Is there not some important error or defect in our ministrations? … I conceive there is scarcely a minister amongst us whose preaching has not been more or less influenced by the lethargic systems of the age.[3]


[1] The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 2: Controversial Publications, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 386.

[2]Works, II, 386.

[3]Works, II, 386–387.


Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Thailand with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.