Eminent Christians

“In order that we too might be imitators of him”: The Death of Polycarp and the Imitation of Jesus

By Shawn J. Wilhite and Coleman M. Ford

The Martyrdom of Polycarp offers an eyewitness account to the death and martyrdom of Polycarp from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium (Mart.Pol. Pref.). As the narrative unfolds, some of the motifs that emerge relate to imitation. That is, the narrative of Polycarp’s death evoke the reader to imitate the death of Polycarp (Mart.Pol. 1:2).

This AD 2nd century event details three different martyrdom accounts. It praises the nobility of Germanicus, who fought with wild beasts and encouraged the “God-fearing race of Christians” through his death (Mart.Pol. 3:1–2). It discourages the concept of voluntary martyrdom as Quintus “turned coward” when he saw the wild beasts. Such voluntary pursuit of martyrdom does not evoke praise from fellow sisters and brothers because the “gospel does not teach this” (Mart.Pol. 4).

However, the narrative details the “blessed Polycarp” and his noble death (Mart.Pol. 1:1). These events are aimed to demonstrate how the “Lord might show us once again a martyrdom that is in accord with the Gospel” (Mart.Pol. 1:1). So, the narrative models for the reader a martyrdom that is worthy of imitation as it is patterned after “the Gospel.”

The Martyrdom account portrays Polycarp as a model of Christ’s life. For example, Polycarp waited to be passively betrayed (Mart.Pol. 1:2). The night before Polycarp’s betrayal, he is praying with a few close companions (Mart.Pol. 5:1). He prays “may your will be done” prior to his arrest (Mart.Pol. 7:1; cf. Matt 26:42). Furthermore, Polycarp is betrayed on a Friday (Mart.Pol. 7:1) and seated on a donkey to ride into town (Mart.Pol. 8:1)—similar to the “triumphal entry” and garden of Gethsemane events. On the verge of death, Polycarp offers up a final call to the Father (Mart.Pol. 14:3). While Polycarp is tied to the stake, an executioner is commanded to come stab Polycarp with a dagger (Mart.Pol. 16:1). Even the execution offers a similar to the confession of the centurion’s statement “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Mart.Pol. 16:2; Luke 23:47).

Not only do Polycarp and the surrounding events reflect a similar Gospel tradition, the villains in Polycarp’s story are re-cast in light of the passion villains. Polycarp is betrayed by someone close to him (Mart.Pol. 6:1). The captain of the police is called “Herod” (Mart.Pol. 6:2; 8:2; 17:2). The author(s) of the Martyrdom make sure to slow the narrative so that the reader makes the necessary connection to the Gospel accounts by saying, “who just happened to have the same name—Herod, as he was called” (Mart.Pol. 6:2). Moreover, those who betrayed Polycarp ought to “receive the same punishment as Judas” (Mart.Pol. 6:2). There is an army to capture Polycarp, similar to the Gethsemane scene (Mart.Pol. 7:1). The band of captors recognizes the piety of Polycarp in a similar way the group of soldiers bowed before arresting Him (Mart.Pol. 7:2; cf. John 18:6).

The Martyrdom narrative mimics the Gospel passion narratives. Whether it focuses on the personal character traits of Polycarp, the narrative of Polycarp’s journey to death, the secondary, seemingly accidental themes, or even the story’s villains, the Martyrdom of Polycarp is reshaped around gospel tradition.

As the narrative of the death of Polycarp unfolds, Polycarp’s character mimics the Lord so “that we too might be imitators of him” (Mart.Pol. 1:2). The blessed and noble characters of martyrdom are modeled after the narrative of Jesus tradition so as to invite readers to imitate Polycarp as he is imitating the Lord Jesus (Mart.Pol. 19:1).

Those in the early church saw patterns to imitate in the life of Jesus in regards to how to conduct oneself in the wake of impending martyrdom. Today, many Christians are faced with how to imitate those patterns as well. Both in America where persecution comes in word and thought, and in places like Syria where martyrdom is a real and present danger, reading Polycarp and other early Christian martyr stories empowers believers to follow the ultimate pattern which is Christ.

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headerJoin us on September 15-16, 2015 on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for this conference on Persecution and the Church in order to learn from examples from church history  and around the globe that will encourage believers today to face persecution.

“What is Christian Love?”

By Evan D. Burns

Throughout the works of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), there is a predominant theme of love—love to God and love to man.  In a sermon entitled, Nature and Importance of Christian Love, Fuller preached on his meditations from John 13:34-35.  Before he delineated the nature of Christian love, he first discussed what it is not.  He said:

  1. It is not mere good neighbourhood, or civility between man and man.
  2. It is not mere friendship.
  3. It is not mere respect on account of religion.
  4. It is not mere party attachment.
  5. It is not that excessive and mistaken attachment which shall lead us to idolize and flatter a minister, or to exempt each other from the exercise of faithful discipline.
  6. It is not mere benevolence itself.[1]

So then, he asked, “What is Christian love?”  And Fuller answered his own inquiry thus:

It is complacency in the Divine image.—It is a union of heart, like that of Ruth to her mother-in-law. Christian love is love for Christ’s sake.  This last remark, I suppose, furnishes a clue for its being called “a new commandment.” The old commandment required benevolence, or love to our neighbour; but this is complacency in Christ’s image, or the love of Christians as such. And being introductory to the New Testament or gospel dispensation, under which the church should be composed of believers only, it is suited to it. Personal religion is now to be the bond of union. This was never so expressly required before. This is more than love to our neighbour, or benevolence; this is brotherly love, or complacency in each other as brethren in Christ, Rom. 12:10; Heb. 13:1. This is genuine charity, 1 Cor. 13.[2]

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[1]Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. Joseph Belcher, vol. 1 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 523.

[2]Fuller, Complete Works, 1:523.

Part I of a review article of Peter J. Morden, The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)

Part I of a review article of Peter J. Morden, The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) (Studies in Evangelical History and Thought; Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire: Paternoster, 2015), xxii+232 pages. life and though of andrew fullerIn this year, the bicentennial of the death of the significant Baptist pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller, it is right and proper to have an academic biography of the English Evangelical leader. And this new work by the Vice-Principal of Spurgeon’s College nicely fits the bill. Having already written extensively on Fuller—see especially his Offering Christ to the World: Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) and the Revival of Eighteenth Century Particular Baptist life (2003)—Morden is well equipped to write this biographical study.

After a brief introductory chapter that sets out the current state of Fuller studies and lays bare Morden’s own Evangelical convictions, chapter 2 details Fuller’s early life in the context of the 18th-century Particular Baptist community of which he was a part. This is well-trodden ground, but Morden does well in establishing the larger historical context and then examining Fuller’s own narrative about his conversion. With regard to Fuller’s conversion and early Christian experience, scholars are dependent for their information upon some letters Fuller wrote between 1798 and 1815: two to a Scottish friend Charles Stuart, then one in 1809, and then finally two more at the close of his life to “an unnamed friend in Liverpool” (so Morden names the correspondent, page 33, n.122). The “unnamed friend in Liverpool” was actually Maria Hope, the sister of Samuel Hope (1760–1837), a well-known Liverpool banker and extremely wealthy. They both had links to the Baptist cause at Byrom Street, Liverpool, and he was a strong supporter of the Baptist Missionary Society. Morden stresses that Fuller’s narrative of his early life in these letters, which were written between thirty and forty-five years after the events they describe, reveal a man deeply shaped by the contours of 18th-century Evangelicalism.

Chapter 3 charts Fuller’s entry into pastoral ministry in the 1770s and his theological development during that decade and the one that followed, which saw the publication of his first major work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1785/1801). This book was the definitive response to the High Calvinism that dominated far too many Particular Baptist circles in the British Isles and that had been hegemonic in Fuller’s own Baptist experience up until his conversion. Making good use of various unpublished manuscripts, Morden delineates not only the argument of the book, but also why Fuller left behind this version of Calvinism, which Fuller later castigated as “false Calvinism.” The latter Morden locates in Fuller’s biblicism (almost definitely the major reason from Fuller’s own point of view), his reading of Puritan literature and especially that of his older contemporary Jonathan Edwards, and his friendship with like-minded pastor-theologians like John Ryland, Jr. and John Sutcliff of Olney. Again Morden stresses that by the time Fuller published his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, the core tenets of 18th-century Evangelicalism, shared by men of widely-differing ecclesial convictions, were now his (p.67).

The shape of Fuller’s ministry at Kettering, where he moved in 1782, and the way Fuller answered various attacks on the theology of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation constitutes Chapter 4. Morden helpfully touches on some aspects of Fuller’s life hitherto rarely examined, such as Fuller as a man of prayer. What Fuller told Robert Fawkner at the latter’s ordination in 1787, he sought to make a reality in his own life: “Give yourself up to the word of God, and to prayer” (cited p.74). This chapter also breaks new ground in Morden’s analysis of Fuller’s tendency to depression between 1782 and 1792 (p.103–109). Normally I am chary of trying to psychologically analyze men and women of previous generations; we often have difficulty enough trying to figure out what people sitting across from us are thinking let alone people of the past, which, to quote L.P. Hartley, “is a foreign country.” But Morden skillfully draws upon Fuller’s unpublished diary to argue his case. And Fuller himself once observed of himself, “I was born in a flat [i.e. minor] key” (cited Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller [London, 1882], 79).

To be continued.

Michael A.G. Haykin Professor of Church History The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.

Book Review: Radiant: Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History by Richard M. Hannula

Richard M. Hannula, Radiant: Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2015), 319 pages. radiantIt is deeply encouraging to find Christian historians and authors beginning to recognize the important role played by women in the history of God’s people, and pen both popular and more academic studies of this important subject. This recent book by Richard Hannula, the principal of a Christian High School in Tacoma, Washington, is a popular approach written especially for young people. It sketches the lives of some fifty Christian women. Some are well-known, like Perpetua and Monica, Sarah Edwards and Edith Schaeffer, while others, like Erdmuth von Zinzendorf and Bilquis Sheikh, are little known. But all of them, through Hannula’s adroit hand, have something to teach present-day believers. The life of Lady Jane Grey, for example, reveals a “sturdy faith in Christ” and a robust grasp of the vital truths at the heart of the Reformation (p.132). Eta Linnemann, a twentieth-century German higher critic, who was converted from liberal theology, reveals the bankruptcy of such theology and the necessity of the new birth (p.304–307). Particularly helpful about the women chosen for this book is that they come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, a good representation of the globalization of the Christian faith in the past two hundred years.

While Hannula is very aware that his sketches only “scratch the surface” of these “women’s lives” (p.2), his brief chapters succeed in giving the reader a desire to know more about these notable women.  “For Further Reading” (p.315–319) contains other books on these women for those interested, though not every woman in the book is represented. Some of the books listed are dated—for example, a 1909 study of Jane Grey is cited, not the much more recent study by Faith Cook—but these resources will by and large enable an interested reader to build on the good foundation in this book.

Michael A.G. Haykin Professor of Church History The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.

Andrew Fuller Bicentennial Round-up

By Steve Weaver

On Thursday, May 7th, we observed the 200th anniversary of the death of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815). Fuller was one of the most significant Baptist theologians in history. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the nineteenth-century Prince of Preachers, called Fuller "the greatest theologian" of his century. Fuller was the theologian behind the Modern Missionary Movement most commonly associated with the efforts of William Carey.

There was a lot of chatter on social media about Andrew Fuller, much of which directed people to examine this website for more information about the life and legacy of Fuller. Several blog posts were written to commemorate the anniversary also. Below are links to some of these posts with a brief excerpt or description of the post.

No historical author outside of the Bible has influenced my thinking as significantly as Andrew Fuller. What draws me to Fuller’s life and writings is that he addresses everything with the sober-minded clarity of a working pastor. His work as a theologian, apologist, and missionary never lost sight of Jesus, his church, and his gospel. No topic Fuller addresses is treated in an abstract and hypothetical way, but rather, he treats it as having concrete implications for week-by-week gospel preaching, congregational worship, pastoral care, and church governance. READ MORE.

  • Jeremy Walker - Over at the Reformation21, Jeremy Walker acknowledged the anniversary of Fuller's death by posting on Andrew Fuller's dying words.
  • Steve Weaver - I posted on my personal blog on "Andrew Fuller's Dying Hope," relying on testimony from Fuller's son, Andrew Gunton Fuller.

If you're unfamiliar with Fuller, these links will help you to be introduced to this important thinker and doer. If you are already familiar with Fuller, perhaps these links will help you to join us in giving thanks to God for this gift to the church.

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Steve Weaver serves as a Teaching and Research Associate with the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and is a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 16.

Newman on Fuller: A reflection on the 200th anniversary of the death of Andrew Fuller

By Michael A.G. Haykin

Albert Henry Newman (1852–1933) was one of the most learned and widely trusted Baptist historians at the turn of the twentieth century. For example, during his twenty years in Toronto at Toronto Baptist College and then McMaster University (1881–1901) he wrote a number of vital monographs that clearly gave him a solid grasp of the shape of Baptist history. In his edited volume, A Century of Baptist Achievement (Philadelphia, 1901), which brought together some of the finest Baptist authors of the day, though a number of them were theological modernists, he penned the first chapter: “A Survey of Baptist History to 1801” (p.1–18). It is a masterly piece.

When he comes to the sub-section entitled “Baptists and the Evangelical Revival,” Newman began by noting the different ways in which Baptists responded to the “enthusiastic evangelism of Wesley and Whitefield” (p.13). It was Andrew Fuller, Newman then asserted, “more than to any other individual, that restoration of the Particular Baptist body to its original evangelical position was chiefly due” (p.13). This is a large claim—but, give due recognition to other factors behind the revitalization of the English Baptist cause—Newman was right and equally correct to say that through Fuller’s “great activity as a preacher and writer, multitudes were brought to see the consistency between a true preaching of the doctrines of grace and the most earnest efforts for the salvation of sinners” (p.13). He went to note that Fuller’s significance as a Christian thinker and activist resides not solely in what he did for the modern missionary movement, but also for what his writings meant for the Baptist community in the British Isles: “The Baptist cause in Great Britain was by Fuller’s public activity raised to a higher plane…” (p.13).

So, on this bicentennial anniversary of his death, we thank God for his life and ministry that bore such rich fruit then and that are still bearing fruit.

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

Book Review: The Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn, compiled and ed. Terry Wolever

The Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn, compiled and ed. Terry Wolever (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 1995, 2005, and 2010), 3 vols. Kinghorn

Joseph Kinghorn (1766–1832) is all but forgotten today. The only major biography of his life—Joseph Kinghorn of Norwich:  A Memoir by Martin Hood Wilkin, the son of a close friend—was published in 1855 and never reprinted until the first of these three volumes, skillfully edited by the independent Baptist historian Terry Wolever. The bulk of volume 1 contains this marvelous biography, which, typical of Victorian biographies, is rich in Kinghorn’s correspondence. Volume 1 also contains two funeral sermons preached at the time of his death. Volumes 2 and 3 contain the majority of Kinghorn’s published works—sermons, tracts, book reviews, and assorted letters. His major defences of closed communion—the key area where he found himself in opposition to the open communionist Robert Hall—do not appear in these volumes, but are to be published separately in two future volumes.

Kinghorn grew up in the home of a Calvinistic Baptist pastor, David Kinghorn (d.1822), but unlike his father, with whom he had a very close friendship, Joseph had the benefit of a formal theological education at Bristol Baptist Academy from 1784 to 1787. Two years after graduation, he was called to be the pastor of St Mary’s Baptist Church in Norwich. The rest of his ministry would be intertwined with this church and this city.

A profound scholar, few Particular Baptists in his day that had as firm a grasp of Greek, Hebrew and rabbinic studies as Kinghorn did. Not surprisingly, he was twice asked to head up a Baptist seminary: first, in 1804 with regard to Horton College in Yorkshire (1:301–311), and then, six years later, with regard to the Baptist Academy at Stepney, which later became Regent’s Park College (1:328–330 and 3:339–374). But Kinghorn refused to leave Norwich, convinced as he was of his call to be a pastor.

Each of the various pieces in these three volumes is carefully introduced by the editor, who has also provided extensive person, subject, and church indices to all three volumes (3:481–590). The third volume also contains two portraits of Kinghorn (3:8–12), one of which is a fine reproduction of a color portrait of the Baptist pastor. Particular Baptist Press is to be commended for making available again Wilkin’s important biography of Kinghorn as well as the bulk of his written works.

Michael A.G. Haykin Professor of Church History The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

To download the review as PDF, click here. To see other book reviews, visit here.