George Ella on Doctrinal Matters

The Evangelical Liberalism Of Andrew Fuller

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), a Particular Baptist who departed radically from the faith of his father’s is becoming quite a name amongst churches and para-church movements that once taught the doctrines of grace. Though at best a Calminian and at worst an absolute heretic, Fuller is being proclaimed by the evangelical Reformed Establishment as the Luther of the Baptists and as the man that fanned the smoking wick of the Evangelical Awakening into a blaze. He is seen as the reformer who rescued Calvinists from the dunghill of their fathers in the faith and is now presented as the greatest theologian of the 19th century, a genius whose work was epoch-making. No praise seems to be too high or too exaggerated for this sturdy contender of the system of rationalism now known as Fullerism and one writer of fairly recent years has even dubbed him a ‘prophet of evangelical Calvinism.’ Fuller’s followers, though they disagree amongst themselves on minor aspects of Fuller’s teaching, are all quite unanimous in proclaiming that no true evangelism is possible unless one adopts the doctrines and practices of Andrew Fuller.

Messing about in dunghills

The aim of this paper is to show that rather than rescue anybody from any dunghill whatsoever, Fuller, gathered his teaching from just about every contemporary theological dunghill he could find. Thus his teaching is nothing but an anthology of Latitudinarian, Cambridge Platonist, Chandlerian, Grotian, Arminian, Baxterian and Socinian teaching. Never was there such a mishmash of rank liberalism and plain heresy introduced as ‘evangelical Calvinism’ since the New Testament authors presented the real thing!

Both Latitudinarian and Cambridge New Philosophy scholars claimed to have their roots in the Reformation and Puritan theology but emphasised moral philosophy and natural revelation in their system rather than the Biblical teaching of law and grace. This moral philosophy taught that man was naturally able to comprehend the ‘nature and fitness of things’ in creation and use his reason to make him aware of what is essential and inessential in revealed religion. Both these movements maintained that true religion was a matter of following one’s natural inborn duties, a philosophy which they termed ‘duty-faith’. Archbishop Tillotson (1630-1698) explained what duty-faith entails in his sermon The Wisdom of Being Religious:

“For to know our duty, is to know what it is to be like God in goodness, and pity, and patience, and clemency, in pardoning injuries, and passing by provocations; in justice and righteousness, in truth and faithfulness, and in hatred and detestation of the contrary of these: In a word, it is to know what is the good and acceptable will of God, what it is that he loves and delights in, and is pleased withal, and would have us to do in order to our perfection and our happiness .”

This teaching, of course, has become the backbone of modern Fullerism which relieves preachers of the responsibility of expounding the law and expects them to appeal directly to the unfallennatural abilities of their hearers, encouraging them to ‘love him (Christ) with all their hearts, the same as if they had never apostatised .’ When dealing with the law, Fuller shows his allegiance to the Latitudinarian doctrine that in obeying the spirit of the law, one is actually obeying the gospel and exercising faith in Christ. He also combines the Cambridge Platonist teaching that man’s reason teaches him what is essential in the Bible with the Grotian teaching that Natural Law (always written with capitals) is eternal whereas revealed law (written without capitals to show its subordinate position) is arbitrary and temporary. Thus the only difference between the Old Testament and the New in Fuller’s eyes is that the Old is sufficient to point a sinner to Christ but the New merely encourages him to do so and shows him how to distinguish between the nature and fitness of things and the ‘positive’ laws of revealed religion which he holds to be secondary manifestations of primary eternal laws, wrapped up in earthly or even carnal letters.

Fuller and the law of the fitness of things

Fuller can thus argue in his essay entitled The Principle of Church Discipline :

“The form and order of the Christian church, much more than that of the Jewish church, are founded on the reason and fitness of things. Under the former dispensation, the duties of religion were mostly positive; and were of course prescribed with the nicest precision, and in the most exact minuteness. Under the gospel they are chiefly moral, and consequently, require only the suggestion of general principles. In conforming to the one, it was necessary that men should keep their eye incessantly upon the rule; but, in complying with the other, there is more occasion for fixing it upon the end .”

It is obvious that this kind of teaching puzzled the faithful considerably and in 1807 Fuller decided to send out a circular pastoral letter entitled On Moral and Positive Obedience to the churches of the Northamptonshire Association explaining his Chandlerian-Grotian views. He told the once Particular Baptist churches, now polluted by Fullerite liberalism, that they must accept the reasonableness of his dual thinking because:

“Without it, we should confound the eternal standard of right and wrong given to Israel at Sinai (the sum of which is love to God and our neighbour) with the body of “carnal ordinances imposed upon them until the time of reformation.” We should also confound those precepts and examples of the New Testament which arise from the relations we stand in to God and to one another, with positive institutions which arise merely from the sovereign will of the Lawgiver, and could never have been known had he not expressly enjoined them.”

What a surprise such peeps into Fullerism must be to those Christians who have heard that Fuller was orthodox in his theology. Here is the arch-heretic telling his sheep as their pastor that the Old Testament laws are cluttered up with carnal rules and the New Testament precepts demand that we separate what is eternal in them from what is the mere institutional mind of the Lawgiver. This is all in keeping with his view, taken over from Grotius and the New Divinity School that the moral law reflects what is eternally right, whereas revealed law states what is right merely because God says it is right and is therefore an arbitrary law, deviating from the eternal norm or, to use Fuller’s own words,

“The one is commanded because it is right; the other is right because it is commanded. The great principles of the former are of perpetual obligation, and know no other variety than that which arises from the varying of relations and conditions; but those of the latter may be binding at one period of time, and utterly abolished at another.”

Fuller goes even further than Grotius in his radicalism, however, as he argues that even moral laws cannot be accepted as absolutes as if we did “everything according to the letter of moral precepts, we shall often overlook the true intent of them, and do that which is manifestly wrong.” Indeed, he argues that, “It was not our Lord’s design, in these precepts, to regulate external actions so much as motives.”

Fuller continually tells his readers that it is Christ’s example in following the nature and fitness of things which ought to determine our attitude to the law and explain what the laws true motives are behind the regulating of external conduct. This advice, if followed, can only lead into the wildest Antinomianism. Fuller stresses, for instance, that nowhere was Christ expected to follow the whole law and fulfil it all for sinful man’s sake. On the contrary, when arguing against the position of John Milton who claimed that man must die unless:

“Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death,”

Fuller begs to differ and says:

“The law made no such condition or provision; nor was it indifferent to the Lawgiver who should suffer, the sinner or another on his behalf. The language of the law to the transgressor was not, Thou shalt die, or some one on thy behalf, but simply, Thou shalt die: and had it literally taken its course, every child of man must have perished. The sufferings of Christ in our stead, therefore, are not a punishment inflicted in the ordinary course of distributive justice, but an extraordinary interposition of infinite wisdom and love; not contrary to, but rather above the law, deviating from the letter, but more than preserving the spirit of it. Such, brethren, as well as I am able to explain them, are my views of the substitution of Christ.”

Thus the weary soul who feels the burden of his sin, is not pointed to the One who fulfilled all that man broke concerning the law but one who deviated from its letter and found its spirit above and thus beyond it. Fuller offers the sinner a new way which is only attainable through the right use of reason and what he calls ‘inference ‘. The Scriptures, indeed, he argues, never say that Christ died for anyone in particular but merely that “there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.’ This salvation does not come through any initiative of God other than His offering it to whosoever wishes to grasp out for it , inferring from what he reads in Scripture, that what was good for, say, Paul, would be also good for him. It is thus no wonder that Fuller claims that God’s acceptance of certain individuals is not because of any decree ‘in his mind’ but purely because the seeker grasps out and partakes of the feast spread before him. This is what Fuller calls human agency, which, in his theology, is always eclipsing God’s purpose.

Baxterian elements in Fullerism

Fullerites are quick to deny any accusations, such as those of Abraham Booth , that Fuller was a Baxterian but their evidence quite misses the point. Robert Oliver, arguing in ‘A Highly Biased Biography’, claims that as Fuller did not believe the gospel is a new law (which is not quite true ), he cannot thus be a Neonomian nor can he be a Baxterian. In arguing that the moral law is all that is necessary to teach a man gospel obligations, Fuller is robbing the law of its condemning and commanding powers and thus creating a new law robbed of its sting for saints and sinners alike and a new gospel which is merely an accommodation to the weakened law. For Fuller, his new law is applicable directly to sinners as it tells them that they ought to love Christ as if they had never apostatised . What is this but the Neonomian doctrine of ‘sincere obedience’? Fuller is much more radical than Baxter on this point and attacks not only gospel precepts, ridding them of all their ‘positive’ elements but he ruthlessly cuts down the Mosaic law, discarding the letter-rules and keeping to the spirit-rules. What these spirit-rules are to Fuller is anyone’s guess. In claiming that even Christ merely had to obey a token part of the law, Fuller makes Christ a Neonomian. Fuller’s acute Neonomianism borders on absolute Antinomianism as it is absolutely sceptical as to what true law really is. Thus when Fullerites point out that Baxter made Fuller ill, this does not make Fullerism any safer than Baxterism as Fuller, where he errs, he always errs on the far side of Baxterism from the truth.

The parallels between Fuller and Baxter are nevertheless enormous. Both Baxter and Fuller, as Fuller freely admits, believe that Christ did not place Himself under the law to stand where the sinner stands as a vicarious substitution but remained above the law and provided a different substitution than that which the law demanded in some token way. Fuller complains of Baxter’s universal redemption theory of the atonement, but his own doctrine of universal sufficiency is almost identical. Robert Hall proclaimed openly that this doctrine was his grounds for preaching universal offers of salvation and it is this doctrine that lies at the roots of the Fullerite system of evangelism . Here again, Fuller shows himself as being far more radical than Baxter. The latter always looks upon redemption as being accomplished in the atonement but Fuller follows the Socinian view that redemption is to be seen as a mere figure of speech to indicate the application of salvation in the believer’s life. Thus repentance and faith are the main ingredients of redemption and not Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

There is certainly a close parallel in Baxter’s insistence that the sinner must ‘do something’ towards his salvation. Fuller points out that Baxter looks for evangelical works before a sinner can be justified. This is hardly different from Fuller’s duty-faith teaching. Indeed, again Fuller is more radical as he believes man has his full moral powers and natural abilities intact and his duty to use them savingly goes far beyond any Baxterian views of ‘evangelical works’ before justification. Fuller demands a work of faith on the part of the sinner before righteousness and justification can be given him. What is this if it is not works-righteousness? In most of his works, Fuller emphasises and dwells at length on man’s natural abilities and claims that there are no natural impossibilities for man to co-operate with God in salvation. A man who emphasises so much that man ‘could if he would’ in matters of faith, can hardly criticise Baxter for saying that man ‘could do something’ towards his conversion.

Fuller accuses Baxter of virtually confusing what is legal with what is evangelical, i.e. law with gospel. This of course is one of the very severe criticisms with which Fullerism itself is faced. In their History of the Church of God, the Hassells argue “Andrew Fuller becomes a wonderful standard. He takes repentance and faith out of the covenant of grace, and puts them under the law, in the sense that he makes them man’s duty, and not gifts of grace.” This criticism must hold as Fuller argues that the law provides us with all the obligations necessary to believe in Christ savingly and the gospel merely brings with it the encouragement to perform them.

Fuller keeps company with the Arminians

Although any study of Fuller’s works at any depth must show that Fullerism goes hand in hand with Arminianism on a number of issues, Fuller criticises Baxter for believing that Calvinists and Arminians are reconcilable, “making the difference between them of but small amount.” He declares of Arminians that he “should rather choose to go through the world alone rather than be connected with them.” This is not the issue. Fuller has very obviously striven to reconcile Calvinism and Arminianism by combining what he feels is the best of their various gospels in his own system of a universal atonement with a particular application. He has thus no need to be directly connected with the Arminians as he has produced his own mixed version of the gospel to take him safely past the Scylla of Calvinism and the Charybdis of Arminianism.

Fuller’s doctrine that Christ died for no one in particular although the elect are those who eventually avail themselves of this blessing, would delight any Arminian’s heart. Both Arminians and Fullerites believe in a conditional atonement. He is also thoroughly Arminian in his teaching that God’s wrath is not on Adam’s descendants because of Adam’s transgression and that no one is totally unable to believe. Arminians, however, believe in a true fall but Fuller looks on sin, Christ’s becoming sin for our sakes and imputed sin as mere figures of speech.

Fuller is never so close to Arminianism as when he denies that the covenant of works still holds for sinners. Arguing in his defence of Fullerism under the misleading title The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptance, he maintains that there is no covenant between man and sinners, obviously denying the Biblical doctrine of God’s eternal covenant with man concerning his duties to God’s law and also his eternal covenant with God’s elect for whom Christ died in history but which was worked out before the foundation of the world. Thus Calvinists believe as Hermann Witsius (1636-1708) concludes in his two-volumed work on the Covenants, “The covenant of works . . . is in no account abolished.” This is because “There is a plain passage, Gal. 5:3 which confirms, that even by the promulgation of the new gospel covenant, the breakers of the covenant who are without Christ, are not set free from that obligation of the law, which demands perfect obedience, but continue debtors to do the whole law.” Needles to say, Fuller is more radical even on this doctrine than the Arminians. They teach that as man is dead in trespasses and sins, one cannot keep a covenant with a dead man. Fuller, however, maintains that man is in no way dead but quite alive, otherwise God would not expect him to exercise duty faith savingly. Fuller’s theology is well-represented in Tolkien’ poem, appropriately entitled Mythopeia:

“Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
And keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.”

How clearly rings the gospel bell in the poetry of William Cowper who scorned with a righteous scorn the gospel of natural abilities and a common feeling of virtue in the human heart. He tells us in his long poem Truth:

“Perish the virtue, as it ought, abhor’d,
And the fool with it that insults his Lord.”

He then goes on to write words which are a death knoll to Fullerism and Arminianism:

“Of all that wisdom dictates, this is the drift,
That man is dead in sin, and life a gift.”

To Fuller, as to Arminians, all the conditions of life are available through obedience to the gospel but they deny that the Mosaic Law was ever a condition of life and glory. Thus law and gospel are completely substituted for each other. Paul, however, teaches in Rom. 10:5 “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” The condition is clear but the impotency of man to fulfil the condition on his own is equally clear as Paul says of his own experience, “The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. (Rom. 7:10). Criticising John Brine, whom he thought was a Hyper-Calvinist for teaching what Paul taught, Fuller says “God requires nothing of fallen creatures as a term of life.” Thus it is obvious from Fuller’s writings that though he says he prefers his own company to that of the Arminians, this seems to be because he has absorbed what he can from his Arminian company and then dropped them for an even more rationalistic way.

Socininian Traits in Fuller’s System

Fuller has a great deal to say about Socinianism with which he often disagrees. Yet his controversy with the Socinians is fought out on a philosophical-ethical basis where both he and the Socinians are far from the Biblical teaching on holiness and sanctification. Thus Fuller seems to be more prepared to argue morally on such topics as ‘the nature and fitness of things’, ‘virtue’, ‘the loveliness of vindictive justice’ and ‘candour and benevolence to men’ so that the sinner, longing for a word from God to edify his soul is rather left out of things. It is when one compares Socinianism with Fullerism on Bible doctrines alone that the numerous similarities between them become evident. Ten doctrines will be picked out for examination here but this author feels that even then ‘the half has not been told.’

1. Scripture

Not all Scripture is of the same importance to Socinians, nor is it all inspired in the sense that it all reflects God’s own will and character. Only the essential parts of Scripture are of immediate divine inspiration and these mainly concern doctrinal matters. Fuller’s view of moral and positive obedience comes very near this teaching as also his continual emphasis on deviating from the letter of a Bible word so that the spirit may be grasped. The Old Testament, though part of the Socinian’s Bible, is, to them, mere history. Spiritual truths, i.e. essential doctrines, are scarcely to be found there. Fuller is extremely ambivalent in his attitude to the Old Testament. He finds the whole gospel wrapped up in the Old Testaments ‘positive’ wording but completely rejects its wrapping. The gospel’s work is to separate the wheat from the dross. For Fuller the Old Testament dispensation knew only a ‘work to rule’ way of life and, though he discusses the law much, he neglects the promises. He thus tends to have a very unsure view of the Old Testament Church, which hardly comes into his teaching, as also of the covenantal relationship of Christ to His pre-Calvary Bride. His doctrine of the atonement does not look back to the saints of the Old Testament but is merely a future deterrent. Fuller, of course, totally rejects a literal interpretation of key Scriptural terms such as justification, imputation, reconciliation and righteousness and teaches a figurative view of the Bible that, at times, runs into the wildest allegorising. Fuller’s efforts to explain away the doctrines of grace such as election and particular redemption show up his non-literary approach to the Scriptures for the arbitrary method it is.

2. Reason and revelation

Reason, for the Socinian is his touch-stone in all controversial matters. Few theologians argue from the earthly to the spiritual more than Fuller and he is continually writing of common sense, reason, inference and a knowledge of the nature and fitness of things to guide the Christian in discerning what is truly moral and what is merely ‘positive’; what is right in itself or what is merely right because God says so for the moment. Reason, in Fuller’s system is part of the image of God in man and thus not fallen. Fuller agrees fully with the Socinians that the truths of revelation are above reason but not contrary to it but this still leaves reason as the final judge as it alone determines what is contrary to itself or not. Just as the Socinian believes that true philosophy and true religion always agree, so Fuller argues that the philosophically acceptable principle of ‘right reason’ is the yardstick of religion.

3. God’s knowledge

Socinians argue that God does not know in such a way that whatever He knows will surely come to pass. They mean by this that God never uses His knowledge to force things to happen or not happen. If this were so, whatever happens or does not happen would be merely because of God knowing it into existence or oblivion and thus everything existent would be a product of sheer fatalism or necessity. Applying this to the doctrine of salvation, they affirm that if God did know things into existence and they happen necessarily so, it would mean there could be no real sin and no real guilt.

It is obvious that Fuller’s double emphasis of ‘no necessities’ and ‘no impossibilities’ arises from this view of God. His idea of an atonement which does not of necessity atone for any one and his idea of a fall that does not make it impossible for the sinner to realise his state and duty to do something about it are typically Socinian points of view. Fuller leaves these factors outside of God’s knowledge, indeed, even God’s foreknowledge is rejected as Fuller sees conversion as not being secured in the mind of God and effected through the atonement but in the repentance and faith exercised by whosoever will. Christianity must remain, in Fuller’s system, the gospel of surprises. Fuller, however altered the Socinian doctrine in two ways. He argued that, though there is no necessity in man’s conversion or perdition, there is a certainty. He also did not see the necessary relevance of punishment and guilt at all in God’s plan of salvation as the whole problem was circumlocuted by the demonstration effect of the atonement rather than its expiatory effect.

4. The Trinity

The Trinity is alleged by Socinians to be irrational, contrary to reason and thus unscriptural. Fuller pays lip service to the Trinity but his entire view of the law shows that he believes in an eternal truth which is outside of God and grounded in a knowledge of the nature and fitness of things. On the other hand, God’s revelations are subsequent to natural revelation and, at best, half-truths as they are only right because they are commanded and not commanded because they are right. Fuller thus presents us with a Trinity of irrationality and un-scripturality. His doctrine is not that of the triune God, Father Son and Holy Spirit who took counsel before the world began to elect a people for Himself. The God of the Scriptures, we are told in those Scriptures, elected us in Christ before time began and in God’s knowledge and experience in eternity Christ was offered for our sins, i.e. before the foundation of the world. This is discarded totally by Fuller who sees God the Father secretly ignoring the atonement as a means of securing salvation and applying election directly to those who believe. Meanwhile God the Son is setting His human life on the atonement as a means of releasing all or anybody, as the case may be, from sin. At the same time the Holy Spirit is not only encouraging one and all but even warranting one and all that if they keep one eye on the ten commandments and one eye on Christ’s exemplary death and what they infer from both, they are of the elect. The Spirit stands behind the would-be believer, urging him on as there seems to be no doctrine of the indwelling of Christ and the Spirit in Fuller’s system and certainly no doctrine of a union with them. One cannot help concluding that a caricature of a Trinity is just the same as no real Trinity. A god whose own will contradicts his own revelation is not the God of the Bible. Even if Fuller pays lip-service to the Godhead, he certainly does not attribute to either Person His Scriptural role. Thus Fuller’s view of God is not a fraction sounder than that of the Socinians.

5. The image of God in man

The image of God in man, according to Fuller, consists of his reason, conscience and immortality and this is not lost in the fall. The Socinians substitute mind for conscience and drop mortality as they believe man is only as immortal as God makes him in salvation. Practically speaking, however, Fuller and the Socinians agree. The outcome of this teaching, as seen in Fullerism, is there is no true fall and no true absolute depravity as God’s image in man is always there for God to appeal to directly. There is something of God, e.g. His image, in every man. This common feature of Quaker theology is shared by Fuller and the Socinians. In order to understand this teaching better it is necessary to examine Fuller’s and the Socinians teaching on Adam.

6. Adam and the fall

According to the Socinians, the sin of Adam did not cause his posterity to lose their freedom to chose between right and wrong. There is no original sin and each man is condemned for his own sin alone. There is no federal sharing of Adam’s sin; there is no being in Adam as there is no true being in Christ. There would be no point in calling a man to repent and believe, they argue, if he were captive to original, i.e. Adam’s, sin. Man’s inclining to sin has nothing to do with Adam. If it were so it would not be sin because sin implies guilt and it is impossible to be guilty of another’s sin.

Similarly, Fuller does not believe that there is any true imputation either from Adam to man, from man to Christ or from Christ to man. Guilt cannot be transferred, neither, accurately speaking, can punishment. Only the effects and the affliction caused by it can be experienced by another. Although Fuller admits that man has some connection with Adam because he was the first to sin, he views unfallen Adam as a proto-type example of how man could be if he repented and believed. Fuller does not see the New Adam as this proto-type in any sense and salvation projects us back to the earthly Adam rather than forwards to the heavenly Christ.

Both Fuller and the Socinians as a result of their denial that Adam’s sin was imputed to his posterity, can blandly believe that man has not lost the image of God in him. It is still intact whatever Adam might have done! This is why one can appeal to man’s reason in presenting Scriptural revelation to him as he has the mental wherewithal to separate the wheat from the dross, the spirit from the letter, the essential from the inessential. Fuller goes, however, further in his radicalism than the Socinians. They look upon man as following in Christ’s footsteps in the life and walk of faith, gradually becoming more Christ-like whereas Fuller teaches a restitution theory in which man becomes the Old Adam restored.

Fuller in his The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, argues just like the Socinians that God could not require repentance and faith of man if he were not in a position to respond to His commands, invitations and offers. Dead men cannot stand up and walk. Here there is no idea of the Biblical teaching that even whole valleys of dry bones can be made to walk, the dead to be resurrected, the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Luke tells us dramatically in chapter four that when Christ first set out to bring the good news to man, he read from the book of Isaiah to show that he was the Servant of God whose work was to heal and restore sight to the blind and deliver the captives.

7. Satisfaction seen as being at variance with the gospel

There is no satisfaction in the atonement according to Socinianism. They believe that satisfaction would logically rule out salvation as a free gift given by a gratuitous God. It is unreasonable to believe, they argue, that the guilt and punishment of one can be borne by another, so it is obvious one cannot be obedient in place of another. Thus Christ obeyed for Himself and could not obey on behalf of others. Christ’s sacrifice was thus not to appease God’s wrath against sin but to demonstrate to man what obedience is and to show him that, using his own abilities, strengthened by Christ’s example, he could go the same way. He would thus emancipate himself from sin. Indeed, redemption for the Socinian is nothing but an emancipation from sin where no price is paid. This view is identical with Fuller’s. It is interesting to note how often Fuller uses the idea of ‘encouragement’ to illustrate the work of the gospel. This is the very term, with its synonyms, that the Socinians use. The gospel merely encourages us to return to God.

Fuller teaches that sins are not forgiven via the cross directly but indirectly. God was so impressed by Christ’s obedience that after His death, the Father gave Christ the power to forgive sins as a reward. Even this is perhaps an overstatement as Fuller merely emphasises the pardoning factor of God’s attitude to the believer’s sins rather than the forgiving factor. Christ keeps us from sin by presenting His love and obedience to us and showing to us how He was able to resist temptation. Thus the atonement saves no one absolutely in Fullerism but always conditionally on accepting the atonement’s influence. What one learns from the atonement in moral obedience is the true atonement, not the decree of God whether ‘in God’s mind’ or outworked in history on the cross. Atonement is by application not by satisfaction; it is by exemplary demonstration not by penal expiation. This view is at the heart of Socinianism with its teaching that the virtues of the atonement are in its appointment and application by God. This is, of course, election but not atonement. Election is worked out in the atonement but it is not the atoning factor itself. The atonement in Fuller’s system has no direct, specific, logical or soteriological connection with its appointment or application. It is equally sufficient for one as it is for many, indeed, for all. It appoints and secures nothing of itself in God’s plan of salvation as any efficacy the atonement might be attributed with is in the appointment of the believer alone.

In fact, both the Socinians and Fuller are appalled by the idea of a penal, vicarious redemption in which debts are paid and accounts are balanced. If debts are paid, there can be no forgiveness as there is then no reason or need for forgiveness. All has been settled! God’s salvation, however, is freely given without demanding anything of man or Christ. Thus we see Fuller denying that man’s debts are taken over by Christ and denying that man’s guilt is completely blotted out. It is all unnecessary as salvation has nothing to do with former guilt but everything to do with present moral obedience.

8. No imputed righteousness

The Socinians teach that God does not impute Christ’s righteousness to sinners but, for Christ’s sake, treats them as if they were like Him. This, of course, is Fullerism pure and simple. It is the gospel of make-believe. Fuller emphasises that if our sins were really imputed to Christ them Christ’s death would have been a just action on God’s part and Christ would have been treated according to his deserts which would have not helped the sinner in any way. Similarly, if Christ’s righteousness were imputed to the believer, he would be able to claim his deliverance as a matter of right and not of grace. This is because Fuller cannot accept any literal substitution or satisfaction in any sense. He has no doctrine of God’s justice being wrought out in Christ on our behalf and no teaching that Christ works out for us the privilege of being right with God and thus judged righteous. In arguing for more grace, he is actually denying true grace. This does not mean that the Socinians believe that true righteousness is impossible to obtain. Repentance is the gateway to righteousness. Repentance means abandoning sin and, because of this, earning God’s forgiveness. Repentance is imitating Christ and thus becoming like Him. Thus the Socinians see a Christ-like righteousness in believers but not the righteousness of Christ. Repentance is also the gateway to atonement with God in the theology of Andrew Fuller and, no matter how pious such a view appears to be, it can only be named by its correct name – a substitute for the righteousness of Christ.

9. The reasons for and depth of Christ’s sufferings not taken seriously

The Socinians view Christ’s sufferings and death as merely those of a martyr in the cause of righteousness. Here, too, we find many echoes of Fuller. In comparing Christ to the officer who has his hand blown off in the battle fray – seemingly quite accidentally, Fuller paints a caricature of the real sufferings and death of Christ. He rejects the doctrines of Christ death being a punishment for sin, as a result of the wages of sin being imputed to Him. The same applies to the idea of atoning sacrifice itself. Fuller actually believes that Christ’s sacrifice is of even less efficacy than the Old Testament shadows of it as they were sacrifices of sin-transfer which, Fuller believes, Christ’s was not. This is the old Socinian and Remonstrant heresy of acceptilation, i.e. that the sacrifice of Christ was only expiatory in its side-effects and was not more so than that of bulls and goats. The point is that it was accepted as if it had been more by God. There is thus no power in the blood of the Lamb of God to save! There is only executive power in God’s deciding to accept it as such. This is a blasphemous insult to both God’s justice and mercy. It is a central doctrine of Fullerism-cum-Socinianism.

10. The upkeep of God’s moral government

The principle design of the atonement in the Socinian system is to reveal God’s displeasure (not wrath) against sin in His upkeep of His moral government. This is obviously an important factor in the redemption story and is an equally obvious intention and outcome of Christ’s sacrificial death. Yet this cannot be all the cross provides, nor can it be the essential factor of redemption. God shows His wrath and hatred (displeasure is far too weak a word,) of sin in the law and the Old Testament dispensation. This same law provides also for God to exercise moral suasion as the wages of sin is death and justice, even without the atonement, would take its natural course and God’s moral government would not suffer in any way. Sinners are punished in the old dispensation as they are in the new. If a declaration of God’s moral government is the sole aim of the atonement, then it is little wonder that Fuller and the Socinians see Christ’s death merely in its symbolic function, akin to part of the function of the Old Testament sacrifices.

Christ is not a new law-giver bringing a new code of obedience to keep the administrative wheels of God’s executive power turning. The old law is good enough for Christ as it reflects the eternal nature of His Father and is the law He fulfils and establishes. Christ came as a Saviour to atone from sin through taking upon Himself the punishment and guilt of His elect so that they might go free so that full mercy can be combined with full justice.

Fuller’s terms of atonement are far less than the Biblical terms and in keeping with those of the Socinians. The atonement for the sins of the elect is not Christ’s primary task; it is very dubious whether Fuller sees this as a true moral task at all but just another ‘positive’ executive device. Christ’s task, for Fuller, is to bring new administrative conditions to bear on man so that he might be morally reformed and return to God via a path that was hitherto closed to him. This again shows Fuller as the Neonomian he is at heart as he always emphasises that it is the act of believing which is imputed to us for righteousness and not Christ’s obedience. Neonomians teach that “faith in Christ is the principle part of that obedience which is required by the new law, and this is accepted for righteousness, instead of that perfect, un-ceasing obedience, which the law of ten commands requires .”

Conclusion: Fullerism denies the fundamentals of both Calvinism and evangelism

Fuller always argued that those whom he called Hyper-Calvinists or Antinomians could never preach the gospel properly as they believed that man was totally unable in all respects to think spiritual thoughts until it was given him to believe. Surely this is the very work of the gospel i.e. to resuscitate the spiritually dead and make the spiritually blind to see. It is thus obvious that Fullerites have a completely different view of God, and man, of the law and the gospel to traditional Biblical Christianity and that rather than being evangelical Calvinists, they are purveyors of a religion void of the true need to evangelise and completely ignorant of what Calvinism entails. William Gadsby used to warn his flock that Fuller was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This writer believes that Fullerism is the work of the serpent itself in its own soul-piercing scales and is the greatest heresy that ever strove to corrupt the Bride of Christ from within her retinue.

George Ella


George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.

George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.

George Ella on Doctrinal Matters
George Ella's Biographical Sketches