The reformed baptists that arose in England in the 1600’s, like their puritan brothers, were strong on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel, as evidenced in John Bunyan, Vavasor Powell and the 1689 Baptist London Confession of Faith (ch. 7.2, 10.2), amongst many others. However as the 1700’s progressed, the chilling winds of hyper-calvinism crept in.
Andrew Fuller, within a year and a half of being baptized as an adult and becoming a member of the local particular baptist church in 1770, went through a poignant experience that would set him searching and eventually bring him out of hyper-calvinism. Fuller writes:
“One of the [church] members having been guilty of drinking to excess, I was one of the first who knew of it. I immediately went and talked to him, as well as I could, on the evil of his conduct. His answer was, he could not keep himself; and that though I bore so hard on him, I was not my own keeper. At this I felt indignant, considering it as a base excuse. I therefore told him that he could keep himself from such sins as these, and that his way of talking was merely to excuse what was inexcusable. He, however, was offended, and told me that I was young and did not know the deceitfulness of my own heart.
Well, I went and told my pastor, who highly commended me, and said, we certainly could keep ourselves from open sins. We had not power, he observed, to do things spiritually good; but as to outward acts, we had power to obey the will of God and to disobey it.” ¹
T.E. Watson narrates:
“This set the whole church debating the question of ability and accountability. Since most did not agree with their pastor’s explanation, they subsequently called upon him to resign. As for Fuller, the more he thought the more puzzled he became. He [Fuller] writes,
‘I perceived that some kind of power was necessary to render us accountable beings. If we were like stocks and stones, or literally dead, like men in a burying-ground, we could with no more propriety than they be commanded to perform any duty; if we were mere machines, there could be no sin chargeable upon us… I prayed much, and labored hard to solve this difficulty.'” ¹
¹ Watson, T.E., ‘Andrew Fuller’s Conflict with Hypercalvinism’, 1959, in Puritan Papers, vol. 1, 1956-1959 Buy edited by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2000, p. 276-281
In the following years Fuller came to see the heart of the issue. Do all unconverted persons who hear the Gospel (including the reprobate) have an obligation or duty to savingly believe the Gospel? The hyper-calvinists denied it. Fuller wrote down his thoughts for his own private use. Later at the request of friends, only hesitantly, did Fuller publish his work in 1784 proving the affirmative from scripture, entitled The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation or, the Duty of Sinners to Believe in Jesus Christ Buy
This book had a profound impact on William Carey, ‘the father of modern missions’. T.E. Watson writes,
“Fuller maintained that the gospel was worthy of all acceptation, from which Carey deduced that its acceptance ought to be pressed on all mankind.” ¹
Carey, at a minister’s meeting in 1786 raised the question of whether it was the duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world. John Ryland is reported to have retorted:
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid and mine.”
In 1792 Carey published his monumental missionary manifesto, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens Buy A year later, when nobody else was, Cary set sail for India in order to,
“teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” – Matt 28:19,20
A Summary of
The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,
or, the Duty of Sinners to Believe in Jesus Christ
by T.E. Watson ¹
Defining the matter at issue:
“There is no dispute about the doctrine of election, or any of the discriminating doctrines of grace. The question does not turn upon what are the causes of salvation, but rather upon what are the causes of damnation.”
Fuller here states his own thesis. Our proposition, he writes, is that it is the duty of all who hear the gospel to believe in Christ with such a faith as issues in salvation. What is this saving faith? It is a real belief of God’s report or record concerning His Son (Mark 16:15-16; John 20:31) which includes personal trust in Christ’s promises. (In an appendix, Fuller answers the Sandemainian view that saving faith is an act of the intellect alone.)
Part II, Arguments to Prove that Faith in Christ is the Duty of all who Hear… the Gospel:
Fuller’s main points are as follows:
1. Unconverted sinners are commanded, exhorted, and invited to believe in Christ for salvation. John 12:36: “While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” Christ exhorts unbelievers (v. 37) to believe in the light (Himself, v. 46) so as to be children of light (i.e. true believers, cf. v. 46). Fuller also quotes John 6:29; Ps. 2:11-12; Isa. 55:1-7; Jer. 6:10,16 to prove his point.
2. The gospel requires obedience, and such an obedience as includes saving faith. The end of preaching the gospel is “for obedience to the faith among all nations” (Romans 1:5). Obedience supposes previous obligation. If repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, were not duties required of us, it would be incongruous to speak of them as exercises of obedience. Nor would it be less so to describe the impenitence and unbelief which expose men to everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, as “not obeying the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8-9).
Fuller quotes John Owen:
“When the apostle beseeches us to be reconciled to God, I would know whether it be not a part of our duty to yield obedience? If not, the exhortation is frivolous and vain.”
It should be noted, Fuller adds, that, though believing in Christ is compliance with a duty, yet it is not as a duty that we are said to be justified by it; otherwise justification by faith could not be, as it is, opposed to justification by works.
3. Scripture ascribes the want of faith in Christ to men’s depravity. Willful ignorance (Rom. 10:3), pride (Ps. 10:4), dishonesty (Luke 8:15), aversion of heart (John 5:40), are the reasons why men do not believe. Moreover, unbelief is expressly declared to be a sin of which the Spirit of truth has to convince the world (John 16:8-9). But unbelief cannot be a sin if faith is not a duty.
4. God has threatened and inflicted the most awful punishments on sinners for their not believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Fuller quotes Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It is saving faith to which salvation is promised, and to the want of this that damnation is threatened. Christ’s words in John 3:18 similarly show that the want of such faith is a sin (though not the only sin) on account of which the unbeliever stands condemned. Observe also 2 Thess. 2:10-12, Fuller adds: note there the “because” and “for this cause.” He goes on,
“In order to evade the arguments arising from the addresses of John the Baptist, of Christ and His apostles, who called upon the Jewish people to repent and believe the gospel it has been alleged that it was only an outward repentance and acknowledgment of the truth to which they were exhorted, and not that which is spiritual, or which has the promise of spiritual blessings. But an outward repentance and reformation of manners, as distinguished from that which consists in godly sorrow, needs to be repented of. But that which requires to be repented of cannot be commanded of God, or constitute any part of man’s duty. The duty of every transgressor is to be sorry at heart for having sinned.”
Unfeigned repentance, like saving faith, is the sinner’s duty.
Part III, Answers and Objections:
1. Concerning election. The Hypercalvinist, says Fuller, argues that God’s decree cancels man’s duty (Romans 9:19), and the Arminian vice versa. Both agree in holding divine sovereignty and human responsibility to be incompatible with each other. But not so the Scriptures. After all that Paul writes in Romans 9 about God’s electing some and rejecting others, in the very same chapter he assigns the Jew’s failure to their seeking justification, not by faith in Christ, but by the works of the law, and holds them guilty for it (vv. 31-33).
2. Concerning particular redemption. Fuller accepts the particularity of redemption as a revealed truth. But, he argues, there is no inconsistency between particular redemption and general invitations if the particularity of Christ’s atonement lies, not in the its insufficiency to save more than are saved, but in the sovereignty of its application. The application of redemption, which is directed solely by sovereign wisdom, is the result of previous design. That which is actually done was intended to be done. Hence the salvation of those that are saved is described as the end which the Savior had in view in dying (Titus 2:14).
Now if the gospel required each hearer to believe that Christ in dying had a particular purpose to save him, an inconsistency would arise at once. But in fact what the gospel commands men to believe is just the revealed fact that Christ offers Himself as a perfect Savior to every last sinner who needs Him; and this will prove true, whether those who hear it believe it or not.
3. Concerning human inability. Scripture declares that no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him, and the natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit of God. But now, Fuller asks, what kind of inability is this? Is it of such a kind as to destroy the sinner’s obligation to believe the gospel?
Certain kinds of inability render a person inexcusable. God will not judge an insane man as if he had been a responsible being, nor will he reprove a blind man for not having read the Scriptures, nor will He condemn a heathen who has never heard the Gospel for not having believed on Christ. The want of rational faculties, bodily powers, and external privileges, are cases of a kind of inability which frees a person from blame. This inability Fuller terms natural or physical.
Now, he argues, if the inability of sinners to believe in Christ were of this kind, justice would not hold them accountable for their unbelief and it would be as absurd to exhort them to believe as to exhort the (physically) blind to look, the deaf to hear, or the dead to walk. But, as we have seen, God does hold sinners responsible for their unbelief. Moreover, the blind are admonished to look, the deaf to hear, and the dead to arise (Isa. 42:18; Eph. 5:14). This fact alone should assure us that the blindness, deafness, and deadness of sinners to that which is spiritually good is not of the physical kind. These exhortations prove that the inability lies in the sinner’s disinclination, and this disinclination Fuller terms moral inability.
The distinction between natural and moral inability is recognized in ordinary life. When charged with neglecting our duty to a parent or master, if we can say that we were unable to do it at the time no matter how much we wanted to, we never fail to say so. And should a master or parent reply suggesting that our want [lack] of ability really arose from want [lack] of inclination, we understand this to be the language of reproach, and are very earnest to maintain the contrary.
But if this moral inability (which presupposes natural ability) resolves itself solely into the sinner’s disinclination to do what is commanded, why use the term “cannot”? Because it is just as impossible for anyone to do that which he has no mind to do, as to perform that which surpasses his natural power. Hence we read that Joseph’s brethren could not speak peaceably unto him (Gen. 37:4). (Elsewhere Fuller shows that this moral disinclination is so strong that only the almighty operation of the Spirit can remove it.)
The Hypercalvinist, says Fuller, glories in the fact that he lays man much lower than other Calvinists do, but see how he does it.
“It is not in the character of a sinner, but of a creature of God; not on account of what he has made himself, but on account of what God has made him: and if this is the way in which we are to be humbled, it might be done still more effectually if we were reduced to the condition of a stock or a stone.”
1. The warrant of faith. If faith in Christ is the duty of the ungodly, it follows that every sinner, whatever his character, is completely warranted to trust in Christ for the salvation of his soul. It is not a question merely of “may,” but of “must”.
2. The sinfulness of unbelief. If we disregard the offer of salvation, in the day of judgment it will be found that a price was in our hands to get wisdom, but that we had “no heart to it,” and that herein consists our sin, and hence proceeds our ruin. God called, and we would not hearken; and it is for this reason—not because we were not offered life, but because we refused it—that we are now doomed to an eternity without it.
3. The duty of preachers.
“I believe it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the gospel to all who will hear it; and as I believe the inability of men to do spiritually good 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; I therefore believe free and solemn and solemn addresses, invitations, calls, and warnings to them to be not only consistent, but directly adapted, as means, in the hand of the Spirit of God, to bring them to Christ. I consider it as part of my duty which I could not omit without being guilty of the blood of souls.”
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