George Ella on Doctrinal Matters

Fuller and His Thirst for Theological Reading

This afternoon (12.11.2020), I received an article which Michael Haykin had uploaded to Academia.educ who kindly sent me a copy. The 17 paged article with seven pages of endnotes affixed is entitled ‘A Great Thirst for Reading’: Andrew Fuller the Theological Reader’.

As Haykin has been promising new information on Fuller’s life, ministry and theology for many decades, I am always curious on receiving anything from Haykin’s pen concerning new insights on Fuller as he has daily contact with Fuller’s records. Nobody is in such a fine position to do this work. Haykin is a university Professor of Fullerite Teaching and has every opportunity to spend his time researching Fuller assisted by a staff of scholars and an extensive library. Sadly, there was nothing new in the article but Haykin used the same well-trodden paths that he has stamped out for decades totally avoiding his academic duty to provide the less privileged than he with scholarly work on the Essential Fuller whom Haykin stubbornly circumnavigates in his pleas that we nevertheless should think of the ‘Forgotten Fuller’. When one realise that there are so many works nowadays which deal with Fuller’s theology for and against, one wonders why Haykin says he endorses it yet never actually deals with it. What is he doing on his Professor’s Chair?

Haykin’s topic is Fuller’s wide theological reading though he gives little evidence of this. Indeed, he quarrels with those who say that Fuller’s personal library was scanty but the only evidence he gives is to say that other libraries at the time were also scanty. However, Gill to who Haykin has a love-hate association, he confesses, had a large library and so had Sutcliffe. He does not say how large in comparison with Fuller’s scanty library these were.

Haykin starts by putting Fuller on a high pedestal, associating him with the great on the absolutely minimum of evidence. However, he scolds the biographers for not emphasising Fuller’s friendship with those of the Clapham Sect such as Lord Wilberforce although he has in no way established such a friendship. He forgets that the first BMS missionaries, especially Thomas, clashed heavily in India with missionaries supported by the Clapham Sect, covered them with insults and scorn but expected them to pay for the Baptists’ keep and finance their translations whilst Fuller forbade cooperation with them. Fuller yet accepted their hospitality and financial support, though claiming they were ‘deceived by Jezebel.’ Then Haykin relates that Fuller had told Sutcliffe that he had a ‘great thirst for reading’ and concludes that his thirst made Fuller the leading Baptist theologian of the day. Haykin, however, does not even try to prove his point. It is sufficient for him to state it.

Haykin, indeed, has trouble placing John Gill into his scheme as naturally, he towered far above Fuller as a theological giant. So, too Haykin does not give credit to Gill for rescuing Fuller from his Johnsonism, Hyper-Calvinism and low view of the responsibility of man. Indeed, it is Haykin and his sect who claim that these three atrocities were Gill’s until Fuller put such as Gill, Brine, Toplady, Hervey, Romaine and very many others right. This shows that he has not studied Fuller’s works carefully as Fuller freely omits his dependence on Gill.

Now, Haykin who is very slow to come up with with details of Fuller’s profound theological reading, to satisfy his profound thirst and now tells us that the Bible was Fuller’s Library and that Fuller was a ‘biblicist’. This might sound very good but in describing Fuller’s adherence to the Word of God Haykin no ways gives a theological description of Fuller’s doctrine of the Word. Yet Haykin sets Fuller up against Tom Paine’s and Joseph Priestley’s Deism, Rationalism and Socinianism forgetting that Fuller’s contemporary Reformed evangelicals accused Fuller of following such Rationalism and Socinianism closely, even claiming that Fuller was ‘worse than Priestley’. Fuller believed that revealed religion and revealed Law as declared in the Word of God was only an arbitrary work of God which He would set aside and then place Himself under true Law which is Natural Law. Fuller’s god is thus Natural Law. Fuller always used capitals to describe his NCT view of Natural Law and the inadequacies of both Old Testament and New Testament revelation. This Natural Law or rational understanding of what Fuller called ‘the fitness of things’ is the only Law Fuller taught. Gill has an excellent essay demolishing the theory of ‘the fitness of things’ which Fuller took from Liberals outside his denomination but Haykin has shown little acumen in studying Gill but adorns him with clichés borrowed from others who are equally in the dark as to Gill’s fine, Biblical teaching.

Haykin now describes Booth’s and Fuller’s knowledge of Calvin believing that Booth’s was greater and claims that ‘Calvin was not as instrumental in the formation of his theology, later known as ‘Fullerism’.’ Haykin, however, tells us that Fuller followed Calvin on ‘imputation’ which must be the tongue-slip of the year. Haykin also does not tell us that on hearing Fuller’s defence of his peculiar theology, Booth pronounced Fuller ‘lost’. But this is what Booth said of Carey also.

Haykin goes on to deal with Fuller’s major reading of New Divinity teaching which Haykin claims was as central to Fuller’s theology as that of Johnathan Edwards Senior. Arthur Kirkby pointed out clearly many years ago that associating Fuller so much with the theology of Edwards Senior cannot stand historical scrutiny and we have no certain evidence of Fuller reading Edwards much at all, especially in the years during which he was dealing with his early work The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. Fuller’s association with New Divinity with its high view of man and low view of God can hardly be a quality worthy of any acceptation. Fuller’s theory of an unaccomplished and delayed Atonement awaiting the sinner’s stretching out of his hand to embrace it is a total denial of the Biblical once-and-for-all-time accomplishment on the Cross. Haykin as a ‘Strict Calvinist’ and Protestant Reformed evangelical should be ashamed to associate himself with such teaching.

We are now on page 10 of Haykin’s 17 paged essay on Fuller’s profound theological reading but Haykin keeps to New Divinity and how it helped convince Fuller of the truth of what is known as the Governmental Theory of Atonement, or the Moral Government Theory as it is also called. It is all a matter of morals which Fuller claimed was his gospel but morals never saved anyone. Fuller used ‘morals’ and ‘spirituality’ as synonyms. We note that Haykin calls himself ‘Professor of Spirituality’ in the Fullerite sense. The Governmental Theory was worked out by Pelagian Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) who was imprisoned for his politico-Rationalist theories and denies the doctrine of penal substitution which states that Christ died a vicarious death to atone for man’s sins. Fuller, following Grotius, maintained that Christ died for no man’s sins but provided a moral determent against sin. Christ’s death was merely a matter between the Son and the Father to obtain a propitiation for those who exercise faith, repentance, and good works and remain in that path until death or lose their salvation. It is all as unbiblical and pseudo-rational as that. We are reminded of Arminian and Pelagian John Wesley who preached that one can be a child of God today and a child of the devil’s tomorrow. I do not believe that this is a gospel worthy of all acceptation, however, Fuller might entitle his moral theories and Haykin accept them.

To legitimise Fuller’s view, although Fuller’s was a theory propagated by the enemies of the Synod of Dort, Haykin again links Fuller here with Edwards Senior as if he were one of these critics of the orthodox Reformed faith. Haykin’s attempts to merge Johnathan Edwards theology with that of the New Divinity School and claim that this was the combination Fuller accepted as his own is historically incorrect and would leave Fuller way outside of the Reformed, Biblical path as it indeed did. However, we are still waiting for Haykin’s portrayal of Fuller’s alleged profound reading which Haykin now wishes to demonstrate was in New Divinity, Governmental Theory literature. Surely readers were expecting something better and more edifying.

Haykin now takes a side jump and explains how Fuller took advantage of contemporary printing to expound his views which Haykin feels could not have been done in previous years. Here, as I am currently writing a work on the history of Indian evangelism, I am reminded of Fuller’s BMS claims of being the first in India to use a printing press for the spreading of Christian literature though this had been going on for over a hundred years in India. Ziegenbalg, for instance was printing mission reports, theological books, educational manuals, grammars, dictionaries, journals and works on comparative religion over a hundred years before the BMS. We note, too, that Ziegenbalg used a modern printing press with movable type in 1712 whereas a hundred years later Carey was still using a cast-off press from older Calcutta presses using ancient wooden type in an antiquated script which was not designed for modern Indian languages. Ziegenbalg’s press turned out modern material whereas Carey’s press merely remained an antique phenomenon. Even when Carey modernised the press after the fire of 1812, he still used a cut-down antiquated script which did not cater for the sounds in contemporary Indian languages. In the India of Fuller’s day there were a number of towns boasting of as many as ten printing presses each and Danish and German missionaries had been printing text books, journals, dictionaries, grammars and Bible translations for a century before Fuller’s time. Indeed, before them, 17th century Dutch missionaries were printing missionary evangelistic material and works on Indian religions. A mass of both secular and Christian literature had also been printed in England well over a century before Fuller went to print. This must be noted because most biographers of the early BMS missionaries claim that they gained a ‘first’ in using a printing press in India when they were had been in constant usage for over a century. So, too the claim of many Fullerite writers that the BMS were the first under Carey to take the Gospel to Bengal is quite ridiculous as there were several thriving churches there for Indian, Europeans or both long before Thomas and Carey reached India.

Haykin goes on to speak of Robert Robinson the Arian and certain differences between Robinson’s theology and that of Fuller’s. Here Haykin is less than distinct. Robinson developed his Arianism over many years and through various denominations, so at what point and when is Haykin drawing comparisons? Furthermore, Fuller accepted Arians as his brethren in Christ and even arranged for an Arian to take over his first church which he had run down to nine members. When Fuller tried to clear his name of Socinianism before the courts, the Christian and secular press, including some of his closest missionary minded friends, could not accept his denials of being a Socinian and wrote rejecting his defence. Fuller was let of in public opinion on the grounds that he was a theological novice and had no idea of what he was talking about.

We also must add that in order to oust the Serampore Trio from their posts, Fuller sent out a team to replace them and encouraged two Arians to join the anti-Carey front. George Adam was especially criticised for his Arianism by Carey and Marshman wrote several books against Rammohun Roy who had been writing for the Calcutta Baptist newspaper and had influenced the Baptists’ Bible translations. Marshman quite lost his otherwise good arguments because of his scathing racist claims against the Indian nobleman. However, Yates whose translations were preferred to Carey’s, remained adamant that Roy’s Arian understanding of Greek had convinced him of the Baptist position.

What Haykin now says of Samuel Pearce is just, noble and fitting but linking Fuller with Pearce does not mean that Fuller took up Pearce’s mantle. One must hang Fuller’s coat on his own hook.

Haykin leaves the life of Fuller on page 15 for a look at his biographers all of whom did more original research on Fuller that Haykin has done and Haykin has used them as cakes out of which he has plucked their plums and raisins. Here Haykin quarrels sternly with Morris who did much to combat the unbalance of Fullerite ideology and also the theory that Fuller was a greatly read man but what he says of Fuller’s books is modest and just so that we realise that Fuller was as well-read as many a pastor having more books than some and less books by far than others of his profession. Haykin counters this by writing that ‘the vast majority of Fuller’s books were works of theology’ without explaining what was ‘vast’ about them. The individual volumes he quotes certainly do not add up to a ‘vast’ number. Haykin should abide by biographers who were more objective than he. We are now told that Fuller scorned the works of his contemporaries but we are not told much about how Fuller used older works. With this piece of unsatisfactory information Haykin closes his essay on Andrew Fuller and his great thirst for reading theological books.

As Haykin sent me his upload open to all and asked for comments, I provided him with the following remarks which can be read on Academia.educ:

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your upload. I am always full of expectancy when you write again on Fuller hoping that you will come up with something new as no one is in a better position to do so than yourself. Plodders such as myself living on a small invalid pension and far from university libraries are rather handicapped. However, for all your privileges and opportunities you have come up with nothing new concerning your ‘Forgotten Fuller’ and you have skated around the Essential Fuller presenting your own theology as his as you have been doing for many decades. You always seem to praise Fuller where he is at his weakest for instance on such topics as the Word of God, the Church, Revealed Law and the Atonement not taking into consideration that these terms meant something quite different to Fuller and which he explains at length in his many works which are not noticed by you. So, too, you associate Fuller by name with celebrities to enhance his importance though you complain yourself that these celebrities hardly mention him. The little they do say is blown up by you to a most exaggerated extent. You are obviously not aware how Thomas and Fuller clashed arrogantly and ignorantly with the Clapham people.

Furthermore, you always omit to mention the great opposition Fuller met by his more orthodox opponents yet claim that he opposed others, such as Priestley, who stood very near to him. Fuller’s churches split up shrunk and turned Arian and Liberal in next to no time and Fuller had to admit that they contained a large percentage of non-Christians in spite of the being closed communion members. Fuller’s strictures that Baptists should divorce themselves from non-Baptist wives and then be free to commit adultery and marry Baptists was exactly what many Indians felt their religion also taught them. Surely, Fuller’s Radicalism was very near Paine’s, Kant’s, Daniel’s, Lessing’s (though not as sweetly mild) and yours.

You also are most shaky in your appreciation of John Gill who, of course rescued Fuller from his Johnson’s and Hyper-Calvinism and taught him the doctrine of human responsibility which Fuller never really grasped. Nor do you mention Fuller’s disastrous interference in India with his acute right-wing, imperialistic, Colonial view of missionary work in putting the converted under the British Raj without whose government, he and Marshman felt Christianity in India could not exist. So, too, you do not mention the fact that Baptist Bible translators departed radically from their hundreds of missionary forerunners in India and Bengal and severely Hinduised Scripture using a script totally unfamiliar to the average Indian reader. ‘Missionary Bengali’ was taught in the Baptists’ schools until the pupils lost touch with their own language and literature.

You are sadly providing us with a Fuller, and, of course, a Carey, of fiction and mythology and doing history and the cause of God and truth a great disservice. I still pray that you will drop this myth-making and get down to solid research before you leave this world. At least, it is a comfort to know that when you meet Fuller in Glory you will meet the real Fuller whom you have so radically forgotten, neglected and totally misrepresented in both his many good and many bad parts. However, whilst we are here, on earth, our duty is to preach the whole gospel to the whole man everywhere. This Fuller would not and could not do.

Yours sincerely in the Christ God’s Word has lovingly revealed to us,

George Ella

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