By Michael A.G. Haykin
James Davis Knowles (1798–1838) was converted under the ministry of John Gano around the age of twenty-one and subsequently became a member of First Baptist Church, Providence, RI. A gift for preaching was evident and he was encouraged to study for the ministry. After pastoring for a number of years, he was appointed Professor of Pastoral Duties and Sacred Rhetoric at the Newton Theological Institution (today part of Andover Newton Theological Seminary). Here he found time to write a memoir of Roger Williams, having already tried his hand at a biography of Ann Judson. The same year that his memoir of Williams appeared, he also wrote an extensive study on the “Character of Andrew Fuller” (The American Quarterly Observer, 2 , 110–127), which was prompted by the publication of a two-volume edition of Fuller’s works by the Boston Baptist publishers Ensign Lincoln (1779–1832) and Thomas Edmands (1781–1851).
Knowles observed that though his “education was small,” yet “the works of Fuller are justly entitled to rank with those of Owen and Edwards” (pages 115, 113). One of the reasons for this was, as Knowles asserted, the fact that “few theological writers have equaled him in plain, direct, robust force of understanding” (page 119). Another reason, in Knowles’ estimation, was Fuller’s “originality and vivacity of mind.” Yet, he was also a man marked by “an humble submission to the authority of Scripture” (page 120). And it is the latter, Knowles rightly believed, that made “Fuller a safe and valuable guide” in Christian theology (page 123). Finally, Knowles mentioned Fuller’s piety as a reason for the value of his books: his love for God and humanity “made him a reformer, without dogmatism, and a controversialist, without asperity” (page 126). It is a shame that Knowles did not live to write a full biography of Fuller—he died of smallpox in 1838.
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.