George Ella on Doctrinal Matters

Why I Am Not A Follower Of Andrew Fuller

Great changes are occurring in the contemporary theological scene and there seems to be a mass exodus from the old paths of our fathers in the faith to the new-fangled paths of what is now known as ‘Evangelical Calvinism’. The inspired teachings of the New Testament, the Reformation and the preaching of such 18th century stalwarts as John Gill, James Hervey and Augustus Toplady are being given up for the teachings of a comparatively nobody who is being re-created as a star, given VIP treatment and promoted as the new Luther, the trumpet blast, the sounder of the alarm, the one who fanned the smoking wick of the evangelical Awakening into a blaze and the prophet of the new evangelism. This person is none other than Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) who is being rehabilitated by the new orthodoxy and presented in a form which even he, in spite of his many heresies, would not have recognised as his own work.

Deceptive marketing strategy under a sound slogan

Fullerism has thus once again raised its ugly head amongst Particular Baptist and Reformed churches and become a product marketed under the catching slogan The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. Just as Fuller strove to make the Baptists respectable and clean them of what he called the dunghill of High Calvinism, so his modern fans are presenting him as their only hope in making Christianity a rational religion which even fallen man can comprehend and follow faithfully. We are thus seeing one formally Calvinistic church after the other, followed by their magazines and newsletters, proclaiming a ‘modified Calvinism’ which claims that the old doctrines are too high, or even hyper, and that an inner knowledge of the truth is as common as the offer of salvation is universal.

Anyone protesting against this down-grading of true religion by these people, who have rejected the Five Points and teach the relativity of the Law, must expect to be called a Hyper-Calvinist and an Antinomian. These are scornful names that Traill, Gill, Brine, Hervey, Toplady, Whitefield, Huntington and Hawker had to bear before us and God honoured their work no less for that. This paper will seek to show that a true Christian cannot possibly be a Fullerite as this would mean rejecting the eternal truths of God’s Word and rejecting the eternal validity of the Mosaic Law and Christ’s precepts as a statement of God’s eternal nature. It would mean believing that sin, the fall and redemption are to be understood merely figuratively and accepting the error that Christ was never placed under the Law on our behalf but ever remained above and beyond it. There is thus in Fullerism no imputation of sin, no transfer of guilt and punishment, no substitution, no satisfaction, no indwelling righteousness of Christ. Indeed, the whole work of Christ in His redemptive sufferings and death, for Fuller, was an arbitrary sham merely to shake man into an awareness of his natural duties to shun evil and seek God and thus grasp out and take the forgiveness that is his for the asking.

Fuller’s two-tier system of reason and revelation

Fuller’s teaching on Scripture is part and parcel of his general teaching on law and revelation. There are two kinds of rules which nature and revealed religion point out to us. The one is eternally right, the other is only right as long as God will have it that way. The former is natural i.e. part of nature and relies on man’s recognition of what Fuller calls ‘the nature and fitness of things.’ The latter is revealed i.e. not part of nature, is secondary to natural law and points to temporary standards that have temporary aims and is valid only as long as God wishes to keep to them. God, Himself, is subject to the eternal, natural law but God is the originator of the revealed law which, of necessity, changes. The Eternal Law is often called the moral law by Fuller, whereas he calls revealed law and Christ`s precepts ‘positive law’. The Old Testament Church was a church completely under the positive law whereas the New Testament Church is under the moral law. The Old lived by adhering to precepts but the New lives by recognition of the nature and fitness of things. The Old lived according to the letter but the New lives by the Spirit which is beyond the letter but such a life will be accepted as if the whole had been kept.

This teaching assumes that man is in a position to know what is the nature and fitness of things in contrast to what is merely ‘positive’ and needs to be analysed so that the spirit can be understood as opposed to the carnal letter. This point illustrates clearly Fuller`s continual use of negative terms in a positive way and positive terms in a negative way. Thus it is the ‘positive’ laws which, until the enlightened mind understands them, work negatively on man as the letter that kills. It is the ‘improper’ meaning of words in Scripture, i.e. their figurative sense, which give sinners their true meaning i.e. the spirit which brings life.

Total depravity denied

Holders of such rationalistic theories can hardly be expected to believe in man`s total depravity. Fuller says clearly in his arguments against William Button that man is not fallen in all respects and he tells Dan Taylor, the General Baptist that man has the same moral powers before the Holy Spirit works on him as afterwards. Indeed, Fuller claims that conscience, reason and immortality are not fallen in any respect and are all perfect because they are the image of God in man. He even denies that man is physically fallen, indeed, he is not fallen in any of his natural abilities and he is only fallen spiritually in the sense that he has full moral powers but has no inclination (Fuller’s own word) to believe in God. He could if he would but he cannot be bothered. Fuller, indeed, makes of man a perfect rebel but not one who is dead in trespasses and sins. Indeed, he argues that were man such a spiritual corpse, it would be wrong of God to tell him to stand up and live as he would not be able to do so. It seems that Fuller has no idea of Matt. 19:26, “With God all things are possible.” This is because Fuller emphasises that in all stages of salvation human agency must go hand in hand with God`s purpose.

God`s purpose hidden behind the carnal curtains of revelation

Though Fuller outlines most clearly his high view of man’s agency in salvation, his descriptions of God’s purpose in redemption are hidden behind pseudo-philosophical language and the use of imagary which he never explains in Biblical terms. He denies fully that Christ was punished vicariously on the cross and experienced the wrath and anger of God against sin in His own Person for His elect’s sake. The closest he comes to a Biblical presentation of the sin-bearing of Christ is when he says,

“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 a definition still falls far below the Bible’s own testimony. This is all in keeping with Fuller’s theory that the letter of the law is carnal and to be rejected, whereas the believer must always be looking for a ‘spiritual’ interpretation outside of it. He has no concept of the necessary killing aspect of the letter of the law so that the life-giving spiritual aspect may be applied. This aspect of the law which condemns and slays the sinner is quite absent from Fuller’s theology. His evangelical appeal to fallen man is always, “Love Christ as if you had never apostatised,” because he believes that the sinner is fully able to do this. He only needs the exemplary moral influence of the gospel to encourage him.

Christ substitution a mere figure of speech

Fuller argues in this way because he completely denies that Christ could have become sin for our sakes and thus suffered the penalties due to sinners. This is all metaphor, he tells us. All it means is that God dealt with His Son as the Jewish priests dealt with their scape-goats and sin-offerings. Sin was ceremoniously and figuratively laid on the animals and they were either dispatched into the wilderness or sacrificed on the altar and God accepted this as if the Jew’s sins had really been transferred and transported away. Fuller argues that there is no difference in kind here between the Old Testament sacrifices and Christ’s atoning death. There is only a difference in degree owing to the greater dignity of Christ as God’s Son. Here Fuller ignores the fact that the Old Testament sacrifices were shadows to foretell of the real transfer and transport away of sin when Christ died to pay the price of, and accept the punishment for, our transgressions. Such talk, Fuller argues, can only be figurative at best. There is no such thing as actual transfer and imputation, neither of Adam’s sin to us, our sin to Christ or Christ’s righteousness to His Bride. Redemption merely means that we are pardoned but we are still in our guilt and sin.

Christ did not die for anyone in particular

If Christ actually bore our sins on the cross, Fuller maintains, he would have been punished for the exact amount of sin ever committed. Fuller thinks this is wrong thinking based on a literal interpretation of what he calls the Bible’s ‘commercial language.’ It was never God’s purpose in salvation that Christ should be punished for a given number of sins or the sins of a given number of people, Fuller argues. God’s purpose is to use the atonement as a symbol of satisfaction. It is a feast spread before all and whoever wishes to partake of it will be justified by the action of partaking. Thus the atonement had no specific function other than to be a demonstration of God’s displeasure against sin to move the best in man to turn to Him and accept forgiveness. There is thus no such thing as Christ dying for individual sinners in Fuller’s system. Whenever he finds people like Paul saying in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” Fuller tells them that they can only presume such a fact by inferring from general displays of God`s mercy that they could be applied to oneself. The believer must be in a position to see the general ‘nature and fitness of things’ and it is this that allows him to believe he is personally attached to God.

Fuller’s gospel lacks the means of holiness

There is an enormous dearth of teaching on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and Christ in the believer in Fuller’s system. He is always so careful to view these truths figuratively, yet always just as cautious about stating what these figures are supposed to mean. Union with Christ in any real shape or form is completely denied by Fuller. This lack of clear and sound teaching has disastrous consequences when considering Fuller`s doctrine of holiness. He develops his position by stating that all men have a desire for natural happiness and the common good and that the gospel call appeals to this capacity in man. He writes essay upon essay on this topic under such promising titles 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. Readers will be counted happy when they spot a single reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in these essays and sermons. A number of Fuller’s works on holiness contain no reference to the Spirit whatsoever and leave the indwelling of Christ in the believer to other writers. Fuller does take up the Spirit`s work as a result of criticism fo leaving it out but even then as in Answers to Objections, he merely points to the Spirit as an outside influence on man, encouraging him to do his duty. The following is taken from Fuller’s essay on The Nature of True Virtue which is a criticism of a sermon preached by his close friend Robert Hall. Needless to say, neither the Holy Spirit, nor Christ are referred to once in the essay. Fuller concludes his arguments for leading a virtuous life by saying:

“It is not necessary to true virtue that it should comprehend all being, or “distinctly embrace the welfare of the whole system.” It is sufficient that it be of an expansive tendency; and this appears to be Edward’s view of the subject. A child may love God by loving godliness, or godly people, though it has yet scarcely any ideas of God himself. It may also possess a disposition the tendency of which is to embrace in the arms of good-will “the immense society of human kind;” though at the time it may be acquainted with but few people in the world. Such a disposition will come into actual exercise, “from particulars to generals,” as fast as knowledge extends. This, however, is not “private affection,” or self-love, ripening into an “extended benevolence, as its last and most perfect fruit;” but benevolence itself, expanded in proportion as the natural powers expand, and afford it opportunity.”

Evangelical Calvinism is neither evangelical nor Calvinism

Such is the ‘evangelical Calvinist’ jargon of the Fullerite school. A jargon void of any true evangelical application and void of the Calvinistic teaching associated with such an application. Fuller is arguing in this way as an anecdote against ‘Modern Infidelity’. Infidels would be the first to laugh to scorn such a method of pointing them to true holiness. Sensible Christians could also be forgiven for seeing the funny side of such a pseudo-pious hope. One wonders how affective Fuller’s gospel can be when a shepherd feeds his hungry flocks with such rationalistic indigestible scraps. Fuller’s view of holiness is as far from that demanded of God than the East is from the West. Warfield explains how those schools of thought influenced by Grotius and the New Divinity theology in the USA, turned their backs on sound doctrine and concentrated on widespread evangelism as if the one were possible without the other. Fullerism is a typical example of this kind of false thinking. Modern Fullerites claim that they eclipse the old High-Calvinists in their evangelistic efforts. The historical facts speak strongly against this claim as such men as Davis, Gill, Hervey, Toplady, Huntington and Gadsby had no like amongst the self-styled ‘evangelical Calvinists.’ But even if it were true that Fullerism paves the way for a greater evangelical outreach, what good will this do sinful man when he hears that all God demands of him is that he allows his “benevolence to expand in proportion as the natural powers expand and afford it opportunity.” All this holds no message for a sinner burdened with his own iniquities longing to flee from the wrath to come. What use would a postman be who guaranteed that everyone in his district would receive a letter bearing good news when, after receiving their post, the neighbours all found that the envelopes were empty? He would soon lose his job. The time has come for Christians of all denominations to protest against this false messenger of good news who merely delivers empty envelopes. Fuller needs to be sacked on the spot as a labourer unworthy of hire because of his false promises which are unworthy of any acceptation.

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
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