Having been of quite another opinion than The Founders Journal so often about what I believe and disbelieve and having met their ill-founded and quite misleading arguments to a large extent in various articles and books, I was surprised to read an online article today (20.10. 2014) by Tom Nettles, originally published in Issue 53 of the Founders Journal for 2003 and entitled ‘Jonathan Edwards: An Appreciation’, containing a doubly mistaken report appertaining both to myself and Andrew Fuller. I had obviously missed this at the time it was written. In Nettles’ article, the author creates an effigy of wax to stick pins into which he gives my name in order to create an Andrew Fuller after his own heart. Bad as I believe Fuller’s downgrading influence was on the Baptist churches, Nettles shows himself to be more Fullerite than Fuller and well-deserves the title Hyper-Fullerite. As Fuller cannot argue for himself so I must be allowed to correct the inaccurate picture of us both.
Though Nettles article is on Edwards, he uses Edwards mainly as another fictive figure to boost his own Fullers. These days, it does not seem to matter who is the subject of FJ articles, their writers end up underlining Hyper-Fullerite tenets of their own making and flanking them against imaginary Bogey-Men with the names of real, living characters. In pursuit of this most questionable aim, Nettles writes:
‘In an article entitled “Inward Witness of the Spirit,” Fuller summarizes the substance of a couple of Edwards’s arguments in Religious Affections. He argues that the inward witness of the Spirit is not a special revelation to any individual that he in particular is a child of God. Instead, such assurance comes by inference from the presence of spiritual perceptions and actions in one’s life. The truth of the Gospel, no matter how its impressions come to our minds, must be “cordially” embraced. That is, an “approving view of God’s way of salvation, such a view as leads us to walk in it” is the foundation of peace and is the way that “God speaks peace to the soul.” No sooner is “the gospel in possession of the heart than joy and peace will ordinarily accompany it.” Since the New Testament promises eternal life to believers, “we cannot but conclude ourselves interested in it.” He does not deny the personal work of the Spirit in this, but emphasizes that the internal work of the Spirit accompanies the knowledge of and heartfelt reception of what Scripture itself actually teaches.
George Ella represents this as “Grotian rationalism and Socinian scepticism.” He says Fuller “preaches as a wolf amongst the sheep” and that he “boils Christian assurance down to reason rather than revelation.“
I have placed two passages in this quote in italics as of special note. The first is an accurate picture of Fuller, but not of Edwards. Fuller has copied parts of a passage from Edwards who warns against a false way of discerning religious affections. He has interpreted this freely then left it at that. Edwards, true to Scripture, goes on to describe the right way of judging religious affections through the Holy Spirit’s action on the heart. Fuller has badly copied the ailment but has not even considered Edward’s cure but sought that cure in ‘impressions’ on the mind, which Edwards had rejected for God’s working on the heart. Nettle’s too, has obviously got this wrong.[1. Edwards on Religious Affections is found in the BOT two-volume reprint of 1979. Vol.1.]
The second passage in my italics is true of Edwards but not Fuller. In other words, we must distinguish between Fuller and Edwards on this issue. FJ people are always affirming that he who reads Fuller reads Edwards as if Fuller were the greater theologian. Indeed, Nettles calls Fuller ‘the Baptist Luther’. However, what Nettles writes concerning Fuller’s essay ‘The Inward Witness of the Spirit’, and defends against alleged arguments coming from me without citing them, does not reflect what I wrote about the essay at all, nor do I ‘represent’ Fuller in the manner envisaged by Nettles. Furthermore, my findings concerning Fuller’s Grotianism and Socinianism were not based on a few sentences regarding Fuller’s un-Biblical view of the Spirit but on a most detailed analysis which Nettles ignores. Indeed, instead of meeting my arguments in my book Law and Gospel in the Theology of Andrew Fuller, Nettles overlooks them but invents new accusations which he does not even attempt to justify. I can understand Nettles wishing to defend Fuller as in defending Fuller, he is defending his own departure from Orthodoxy, but he ought at least to tackle the arguments of those with whom he disagrees, especially when those brethren are open to debate with him and have considered his views carefully. So, too, in claiming that I rightly associate Fuller’s views with those of the Grotians and the Socinians, he implies that I include Edwards in this association, which I do not.
Striving to understand Nettles, I would be the first to accept that the gospel is there to be ‘cordially embraced’ and that once the Spirit has enlightened us and equipped us to take the path of salvation, we are enabled to walk in it and receive an interest in it and a joy and peace when pursuing that path. This is what being in Christ and Christ being in us is all about. I do not denounce this as Grotian etc. at all as this is my faith and the faith once committed to the saints.
Here, Nettles has gravely misrepresented me, jumbling too many different things together at once under a faulty common heading. Furthermore, Nettles himself has associated Fuller with Grotius in several of his writings so why blame me for doing the same? So, too, in this statement, especially in the first passage placed in italics, Nettles is echoing Grotius himself and not Paul who does not write of human inference concerning the Holy Spirit but the actual indwelling of the Spirit in the Christian, indeed, also the indwelling of Christ. This aspect is entirely absent from Fuller’s essay which is not an essay on the inward work of the Spirit at all but about ‘inferences’ through outside influences, relying, as Nettles admits on certain ‘dispositions’. If this is anything, it is secular, amateur psychology and not Biblical theology and practical divinity.
The very little Fuller has to say about the Spirit is, furthermore clothed in words redefined as to their meaning which is part and parcel of Fuller’s constantly redefining terms to suit his own gospel.[2. See Fuller’s‚‘The Proper and Improper Use of Terms’. As I have shown in my various works on Fuller, there is not a major, essential Christian doctrine which Fuller does not re-define whilst keeping to traditional Reformed definitions.] For instance, when Fuller speaks of ‘inward witness of the Spirit’, he is not speaking of the actual indwelling of the Spirit but of man’s inner assumption regarding the Spirit’s external work on him leading to ‘inferences’. What I actually wrote was:
‘With such passages in mind (concerning God’s inner work in man), I turned to the promising title of the Inward Witness of the Spirit in Fuller’s works, hoping against hope that here, at least, would be some uplifting and comforting teaching on the Spirit to assist the believer in his holy walk. The essay is an exposition of Psalms 85:8 and 35:3 ‘I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace with his people, and to the saints: but let them not turn again to folly.’ ‘Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.’ This might be thought an unusual passage to be used in describing the inward work of the Spirit.
Fuller starts his exegesis by arguing that the texts prove that God bestows prosperity on His people. This is the true meaning, Fuller argues, of ‘God will speak peace unto his people.’ Fuller goes on to say that ‘There is no doubt but that true Christians do possess, though not without interruption, peace of mind, joy in the Holy Ghost, and a solid, well-grounded persuasion of their interests in eternal life.’ This is welcome information. One would suppose that Fuller was now about to outline what he means by the indwelling of the Spirit and how this helps the believer in his union with Him and in his holy service to Him. Such people, longing for the Spirit’s indwelling holiness must remain disappointed. This is the only reference to the Holy Spirit in the sermon and Fuller goes on to argue that Christians who hold this view misunderstand what is meant by it. They have relied on the truth being a matter of revelation and Christian experience which is the greatest of errors, according to Fuller. Those who trust in Scripture and their own experience of its truths in this way, Fuller emphasises, have been ‘deluded into great errors, to the dishonour of God and the ruin of their future peace.’ Fuller adds that he has seen more than a few evils attached to such a view.
The wolf running amok
Here, as so often in Fuller’s exegesis, he strives to teach truths by shocking his hearers and forcing them to leave their old views of piety, going to great stretches of exaggeration regarding their position to do so. He tells them that they are letting their hearts rule their heads. They are putting revelation before reason. He preaches as a wolf amongst the sheep, rather than a good shepherd who feeds his sheep with heavenly food. If God does not speak to Christians by the revealed Word and the indwelling of the Spirit, how does He communicate with His people? Fuller answers with the full weight of Grotian rationalism and Socinian scepticism behind him. First, we can only know God’s working in us by ‘inference’. Here we have the Grotian a posteriori view again. Faith is not an exercise in using the gift of love to God, it is that which comes through inferring what is fitting or not. It is obvious that Fuller looks down his nose at those believers who can say with Paul, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’(Galatians 2:20). The apostle’s words to Timothy might also appear suspicious to Fuller when he says, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day’ (2 Timothy 4:8). He is so far from a belief in the inward witness of the Spirit in man, bearing witness with his spirit that he is a son of God that he deems such testimonies presumptuous. The Scriptures only speak to characters (we would say ‘types’ nowadays) and only if we can ally ourselves by inference with such ‘characters’ can we speak in such a personal way of what God has done for us. There is never a direct personal appeal to a person from the Scriptures. One wonders, as so often, what has happened to Fuller’s doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit here. Fuller does not reveal if he considers Paul to be one of these ‘characters’ from whom we can infer like experiences with ourselves or whether Paul himself was merely taking on the role of another character as Fuller expects the Christian to do. Be this as it may, Fuller is adamant in insisting that God, through His Word, does not speak directly to individuals but such individuals can only infer their own salvation by comparing themselves with Bible patterns. Again, he boils Christian assurance down to reason rather than revelation. The sinner is left on his own in judging what is ‘moral’ and what is ‘positive’, what is ‘carnal’ and what is ‘spiritual’.
Second, all this talk about Bible revelation and religious impressions is all unimportant secondary material to Fuller. He seeks to force his hearers’ attention away from the means God has used to the mere rational fact that belief is present. Thus he can say, ‘It is very indifferent by what means we are brought to embrace the gospel way of salvation, if we do but cordially embrace it.’ Again we are confronted with Fuller’s a posteriori Grotianism. Inference through hindsight.
After all this philosophical, though certainly not convincing, logic, Fuller again takes on the role of the orthodox pastor, even appealing to the use of the heart. He closes his sermon with the words, ‘Believing on the Son of God, we are justified; and being thus justified, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Romans 5:1.
In carefully choosing a Biblically promising title, the Inward Witness of the Spirit, which nowhere finds echo in his sermon, and in ending on a pseudo-Biblical text which Fuller has altered to suit his theology, Fuller believes he has done the work of an evangelist. His effort is, however, a caricature of the pastoral calling of a preacher and he misuses the Spirit’s name to promote a gospel without means, based on pure rational inference to fulfil its end. Hardly the stuff to promote true holiness!
Romans 5:1 actually reads, ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Paul is speaking of faith given by Christ’s agency (v1) through the outworking of the Spirit (v5), entrusted to sinners by the Father (v8) as a ground of justification, not the act of believing which procures justification. The apostle is certainly not speaking of prosperity when he refers to ‘peace’ but he is clearly talking about hope in the glory of God even in tribulation. This is all procured, Paul argues, by Christ’s atonement. Rather than experiencing God by inference, we read that ‘the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us as we have been reconciled with God.’ The Gospel, when it comes to a person, comes personally. The Spirit does not reach us by a gospel of inference but by illuminating our hearts and granting us grace to experience God’s direct and undeserved love in Christ.’
Nettles weakness in defending Fuller
Nettles weakness as an apologist for his Fullerism is shown here in that:
He does not describe accurately the setting in which his arguments take place.
Nor does he correctly describe the position taken by the person he is defending.
Furthermore, he is most careless in presenting the views of the one he has chosen to attack and never allows him to state his case.
Though by book clearly shows many reasons for holding that Fuller is guilty of Grotianism, Latitudinarianism and New Divinity teaching, Nettles makes no effort whatsoever to define these views and argue the one way or the other.
My critic fails to see the weakness of Fuller’s philosophy, especially in his doctrine of ‘inference’ and in his method of claiming that ‘inward’ really means ‘outside’.
Nettles has not examined critically Fuller’s doctrine of Scripture and how it should be used in context and quoted correctly.
Doing the work of an evangelist
Nettles continues to sow dissention by further asserting:
‘Though Fuller believes he has “done the work of an evangelist,” according to Ella his effort is a mere “caricature of the pastoral calling of a preacher and he misuses the Spirit’s name to promote a gospel without means, based on pure rational inference to fulfil its end.”. Fuller’s use of inference cannot be evidence that he promotes reason over revelation. He avoids the error of enthusiasm by adhering to the clarity of biblical revelation over any supposed private revelation in discerning the evidences of salvation. It is not clear why Ella prefers the word “revelation” in speaking of individual assurance.’
Against this I must point out the polemic lack of care in expression shown by Nettles and a dire misunderstanding of the doctrines involved. The work of an evangelist according to 2 Timothy is to preach sound doctrine and not follow one’s own lusts; keep to the truth and not follow fables, inferences and dispositions. In my evaluation of Fuller which has grieved Nettles so much, I demonstrated how Fuller is found wanting in all these respects. Most of his ideas indeed were admittedly ‘modern’ at the time, coming from apostate Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, Socinianism and Latitudinarianism but, as the bulk of the Christian Press of the leading denominations said at the time, Fullerism was a gangrene that threatened not only the Church but also society, the latter witnessed by the charges of Socinianism against Fuller, his own church whose pastorate he filled with a Socinian and which declared itself Socinian as soon as Fuller left and the court case it involved.
If Fuller’s theory of ‘inference’ as described by him and not re-sugared by Nettles, is as he explains it in ‘The Inward Witness of the Spirit’, this is radicalism pure and thwarts the doctrine of the inner revelation of the Spirit. This, of course, is not revealed in its fullness through Nettles’ tactics of throwing snippets of quotes out of context from my work at me but not examining my book as a whole and dealing with its arguments.
Fuller’s faulty view of man and God
We remember that Fuller distinguishes between natural ability and moral ability and teaches that the natural faculties of man are sufficient to understand the ‘nature and fitness of things’ leading to salvation. We know that true salvation for him is not looking to the Word of God which he regards as arbitrary and temporary but to Natural Law which is eternal and under which even God must bind Himself and will do so after the gospel dispensation. Hence, he believes that all men have the duty to respond savingly to the gospel which he defines as following Natural Law, because their sin has not destroyed their natural capacities to respond. Indeed, he even denies that man is dead in trespasses and sins and that the Spirit givers no further revelation to the sinner above what he has already in his natural state. This my book and numerous essays, I trust, clearly show. I outline this further in my expanded edition and in my writings concerning Michael Haykin on Fuller.
Confusing revelation with reason
Furthermore, the very idea suggested by Nettles that I ‘prefer the word ‘revelation’ to the phrase ‘individual assurance’’ is a red-herring indeed. I prefer no such thing as they are not synonyms and interchangeable. Nettles has merely attack me out of the blue thus misleading his hearers and being unjust to his opponent. I do, however, believe that Fuller confuses ‘revelation’ with ‘reason’ and ‘the light of nature’ as the followers of the Enlightenment did at the time (See Lessing’s Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechtes and Rutherford’s Lex Rex) and the Westminster Confession on the Sabbath). It is also clear that he confuses ‘individual assurance’ with a rational inference drawn from observing the actions of external things. At Uppsala, we theologs had to go through a university course in psychology. Our Professor had just written a book on religion and the role-playing of Christians. He argued that when we read the story of, say, David praying, we infer the benefits he gains and identify ourselves with him in prayer, hoping for the same blessings. I told my Professor that blessings of the spiritual kind do not usually come through human inference but when I pray, I go to the Lord as a repentant sinner just like David did and often then receive the inner testimony and strength of the Spirit. We both have the same needs and both the same God. This was not a matter of my playing at being David but being, like him, a sinner saved by grace.[3. See Hjälmar Sundén’s Religion och Rollerna.] This was not a role we took on but actual experience in which we were both engaged.
Using the right means
Nettles goes on to say:
‘What Ella has in mind when he portrays Fuller as promoting a “gospel without means” is also unclear, for Fuller’s advocacy of means is virtually impossible to challenge. If Ella is asserting that Fuller had no place for the Spirit’s work in empowering the Gospel, his case could hardly be made. Fuller’s challenge to the thought of Robert Sandeman puts to flight any suspicion that Fuller denied the necessity of the efficacious working of the Spirit. Though agreeing with Sandeman that the sinner’s immediate closure with Christ should be the goal of gospel preaching, he argues against Sandeman’s unspiritual view of faith.’
This is another quite false deduction concerning what both I and Fuller say. Besides, I have written on Fuller’s use of ‘means’ at length in my book which Nettles has left unattended. Nettles has simply not grasped the point. In ‘The Inward Witness of the Spirit’, Fuller starts his paper by stating that he is speaking about ‘shalom’ in the lives of the believer which, as said above, he interprets as ‘prosperity’ and not peace. He then asks his leading question:
‘In what form or manner does God communicate peace to our minds, and the knowledge of our interest in his salvation?’
Here, Nettles will, I trust, agree with me that Fuller is apparently seeking the means of gaining peace (or prosperity as he argues) with God. Then Fuller, as so very, very often in his method of determining the ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ meaning of his words, explains that it is wrong to believe that God reveals this peace directly to us or through His Word. The kind of revelation where the Word convicts man of his sin and points him to His Saviour is not perfect revelation, Fuller argues, as God is continually revealing other forms of revelation. Fuller is apparently speaking of revelations which are more perfect than what Scripture tells the mind. Of course, Fuller is evading the true issue when arguing that God’s Word merely speaks to the mind. By this means, Fuller is denying God’s major means of salvation, the reading or preaching of the Word as applied to the soul. Fuller is refuting the teaching that God speaks directly to the sinful soul through His Word and thus changing the very being of the sinner through the entrance of Christ and the Holy Spirit into the sinner’s life. This, we must note again, was very far from Edward’s point. Then follows several examples of the fatal progress of the sinner because of impressions on his mind, caused by reading God’s Word or thinking that God speaks privately to him, two views which seem to be indistinguishable to Fuller. Here Fuller outlines his theory of salvation via ‘inference’. He has denied that ‘impressions’ received from the Word of God can do any good but believes that ‘inference’ describes the believers trust in the Spirit. However, contrary to what Fuller says ‘impressions’ can refer to a godly influence on the heart by God but ‘inferences’ refer to what the human mind deducts from certain experience through its own powers. ‘Inference’ is merely rational, ‘impressions’ can be spiritual.
Rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit as a means of enlightening the heart and referring to other revelations, Fuller concludes that ‘It is very indifferent[4. My italics.] by what means we are brought to embrace the gospel way of salvation, if we do but cordially embrace it.’ This is all very well but Fuller is telling us ‘for as to the interest that any individual has in spiritual blessings, be it ever so much a truth, it is nowhere directly revealed in the Scriptures; nor is there any possible way of proving it thence, except by inference.’ [5. The Inward Witness of the Spirit, Works, vol. 1, p. 624.] Thus Fuller rejects the God given means of bringing a soul to Christ for a personal exercising of the mind whose natural abilities are not fallen.
Now though this two and a half page article is on the work of the Spirit, as I have outlined above in more detail, Fuller mentions the ‘Holy Ghost’ but once referring to the true Christians joy in Him. However, his doctrine that this joy is merely through inference is actually a denial of the inner-working of the Spirit in the believer. So too, how can one profess to write an article on the Spirit when He is mentioned but once by the way and the true means whereby a soul is brought to repentance and faith ignored? Indeed one can read through all Fuller’s works on the spirituality of man in his moral conduct such as The Holy Nature and Divine Harmony of the Christian Religion, The Nature of True Virtue, Morality not Founded in Utility, The Great Aim of Life or The Goodness of the Moral Law, or any of his other moral essays dealing with walking along the paths of righteousness and holiness and you will never come across the inner or inward work of the Spirit but you will encounter Fuller’s teaching on the moral law which Fuller often confuses with the gospel; his positive law; his Natural Law (nearly always used with capitals as it is Fuller’s LAW par excellence; and his revealed law which is a mere temporary law. These laws he uses in different circumstances according to what is now called ‘Situation Ethics’ to be applied through what Fuller calls ‘parity of reason’, always emphasising that it is the spirit of his different laws one should obey not its letter. At times this is altered, as in Christ’s case, as a law demanding but a token obedience rather than a full obedience. Furthermore, in relation to law there are no ‘cannots’ for Fuller but ‘will nots’. The way to salvation is by loving Christ as if man had not apostatised which is in the natural power of all.
Indeed, Fuller says:
“I maintain that men have the same power, strictly speaking, before they are wrought upon by the Holy Spirit, as after, and before conversion as after; that the work of the Spirit endows us with no new rational powers, nor any powers that are necessary to moral agency.”[6. Works, Vol. 1, p. 38, fn.]
Missing the mark
Nettles then goes on most strangely to speak of my ‘severe missing of the mark’ which, he claims does neither me, Fuller nor Edwards justice. This is, of course, mere prejudiced polemics as I have not commented on the part quotes he gives out of context either in relation to myself, Fuller or Edwards. Nettles’ own marksmanship appears to be dangerous here as he shoots at imaginary targets. Furthermore, it is obvious that Nettles, Fuller, Edwards and myself have radically different views concerning the Holy Spirit and it is about time Nettles did justice to us all. Concerning the relationship between Fuller and Edwards, I believe that Fuller was more influenced by New Divinity teaching than Edward’s theology out of which he picked bits and bats allegedly from Edwards. Though blessed by many of Edward’s writings, I do agree with John Newton that they get rather philosophical and speculative at times and one is tempted to philosophise and speculate with him. However, I do not agree that we ought to interpret Edward’s view of moral and natural abilities in the light of his son’s, New Divinity’s and Andrew Fuller’s rational interpretation. To make an Andrew Fuller of Jonathan Edwards is folly indeed.
Duties based on natural, unfallen abilities
Nettles now refers to Fuller’s words ‘I believe it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the gospel to all who will hear it’. I say ‘amen’ to this as I believe Nettles would. But Nettles continues with Fuller’s quote saying ‘and as I believe the inability of men to spiritual things to be wholly of the moral, and therefore of the criminal kind, and that it is their duty to love the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in him for salvation though they do not.’ To this, I cannot say ‘amen’ because it is an unscriptural position to take. Though we are called to preach Christ to all as He has commanded us, we do not preach to a man of two beings, one moral and fallen and in need of salvation and one natural who is unfallen and aware of his duty to be saved. Man as man is blind, nay, dead in trespasses and sins and he has no knowledge of duties or abilities leading to saving faith no matter what his disposition is or what he might infer. The idea of man’s moral status being different to his natural status in salvation is totally unscriptural. Yet Fuller, who sees the gospel as a natural law tells us in Nettles correct quote of him, ‘Were they but of a right disposition of mind there is nothing now in the law of God but what they could perform.’ Fuller can say this because of his probation ideas of the Fall. Each man is on probation like Adam and only falls when he finally rejects Christ. This, of course, is New Divinity teaching and has nothing to do with Edwards. The Bible tells us that man is dead to the gospel but Fuller tells us that man cannot be totally dead otherwise he could not respond to the gospel. That gospel, however, tells man that he cannot respond and that Christ must respond for him. The gospel in its true Biblical sense must be preached to all in their full capacity as fallen sinners. This is the duty of all Christians, that is, to be always ready as fishers of men to cast the net on the other side in obedience to God. It is God, however, in the Spirit’s inner work on the soul, who provides the increase and not man’s natural, unfallen ability to make himself moral again by inferences and dispositions.
I finish with an overview printed long ago in the Gospel Magazine of Fuller’s fancies:
A main error of Mr Fuller — and perhaps it was that in which his system and the arguments by which he defended it originated — consisted in the excessive and antiscriptural ideas he formed of the accountableness of man. He attached obligations to him as a free agent, which, in fact never developed upon him by any law of his Creator; and invested him with a responsibility for talents which he never possessed. Because man is naturally obligated as a creature to love and obey God, according to the extensive purity and requirements of the divine law, he maintained that the same reason in which his natural obligations as a creature was founded obliged him also, as a sinner, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation upon his having the Gospel revelation. Independent of the absurdity of representing faith in Jesus in a light which classes it with the works of the law, I call this an excessive and extravagant idea of human responsibility. Accountability, if it relates to anything, must relate to some service to be performed according to the measure of ability with which the Creator originally endows us, or to some trust with which he has charged us, that we may employ it for all purposes of his righteous will; or to some talents which he has given, that we may improve them, and return to him that revenue of praise to which he is entitled — but accountability can have no place in the reception of gifts and benefits which he communicates, with an absolute sovereignty of will, to whom he pleases. How can anyone be responsible for the gifts of a benefactor which he never received, or account for property with which he was never entrusted? A peasant is bound to observe allegiance to the sovereign and the government under which he lives, and to behave himself peaceably and justly towards every member of the community. If he violates the law, he is answerable for the offence at the bar of his country. But whoever imagined that a peasant is culpable and entitled to punishment for a capital crime because he has not advanced himself to the rank of a peer in the realm, and secured to himself a pension for life from the king’s treasury? A proceeding of such a kind is absurd in supposition, because at variance with all the known principles and rules of equity and justice, yet such a proceeding actually takes place under the divine government, according to Mr Fuller’s notion of accountability, which obliges a servant under the Gospel to receive salvation by faith under pain of death, because he is obliged by the law to obey the divine will.
Of all the benefits and blessings of grace, which is it that the possession or enjoyment thereof hinges upon the accountability of man, or rather, the responsibility of a dead sinner? Is it election? (Rom. viii. 29, 30); ix.; xi. 5. 6; Eph. i. 3, 4); Redemption? (Rom. v. 6, 8); Reconciliation? (Rom. v. 10); Justification? (Rom. iii. 21, 28; viii. 3, 4; x. 4); Faith? (Eph. i. 19; ii. 8; Phil. i. 29; Col. ii. 12; John vi. 29; Acts xiii. 48; xiv. 27); or even personal and practical holiness and obedience? (Ezek. xvi. 60, 63; xxxvi. 25, 27; Jer. xxxii. 38, 40). Search these and other Scriptures of a similar import, and compare them with the work of God in your personal experience, and you will see indeed that you must put the crown of salvation where you delight to see it — on the head, not of human accountableness, but the sovereignty of Jehovah’s grace.
Under this view, I am sure you will join with me in the most unfeigned abhorrence of a system that robs God of his glory, and enhances the condemnation of the guilty to an immeasurable degree by increasing their responsibility.
Reprinted by courtesy of The Gospel Magazine, vol. xii, 1877, p. 343.
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.