Andrew Fuller was born on the 5th February 1754 at Wicken, Cambridgeshire, England. Because Fuller ministered during the same era as George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers it would be easy for his name to get lost in their giant shadows. Christianity in England was in a generally depressed condition at the time to which Fuller was born.
In his boyhood and youth he worked on his father’s farm, his parents, Robert Fuller (1723-1781) and Philippa Gunton (1726-1816), were poor farmers who rented a succession of dairy farms. In 1761 his parents decided to move a short distance to Soham, where he and his family began to attend the local Calvinistic Baptist Church.
The Church had been formed in 1752 at Brook Dam by a local group of Christian folk who believed in baptism by total immersion upon their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Fuller was converted in November 1769 and after being baptized at the age of 17 he became a member of the Church. His gifts as an exhorter met with so much approval that, in the Spring of 1775, he was called and ordained as pastor of the Soham congregation.
In 1782 he moved to Kettering in Northamptonshire, where he became friendly with some of the most eminent ministers of the denomination. Before leaving Soham he had written the substance of a treatise in which he had sought to counteract the prevailing Baptist hyper-Calvinism which, “admitting nothing spiritually good to be the duty of the unregenerate, and nothing to be addressed to them in a way of exhortation excepting what related to external obedience,” had long perplexed his own mind. This work he published, under the title 'The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation', soon after his settlement in Kettering; and although it immediately involved him in a somewhat bitter controversy which lasted for nearly twenty years, it was ultimately successful in considerably modifying the views prevalent among English dissenters.
"It is the single merit of Andrew Fuller ... that he demonstrated that a man can be both a Calvinist and an Evangelical. Contrary to many modern arguments, holding to the Doctrines of Grace does not kill evangelism but rather grounds it solidly in Scripture. This work presented clearly Fuller’s belief that one could hold both to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man at the same time. A good example of Fuller's beliefs on the subject of salvation can be found in his sermon, 'The Great Question Answered'."
Artists impression of Andrew Fuller's Birthplace at Wicken in Cambridgeshire
He was a man of forceful character, more prominent on the practical side of religion than on the devotional, and accordingly not pre-eminently successful in his local ministry. His great work was done in connection with the Baptist Missionary Society, formed at Kettering in 1792, of which he was secretary until his death on the 7th May 1815. Both Princeton and Yale, USA, conferred on him the degree of DD, but he never used it.
Like Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller was a Biblical theologian driven by a pastor’s heart. His study into the nature of salvation and the Gospel call was fuelled by his dealings with people in his congregation rather than by cold academic considerations.
In 1793 he published a treatise, 'The Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Examined and Compared as to their Moral Tendency', in which he rebutted the accusation of Antinomianism levelled by the Socinians against those who over-emphasized the doctrines of free grace. This work, along with another against Deism, entitled 'The Gospel its own Witness', is regarded as the production on which his reputation as a theologian mainly rests. Fuller also published an admirable 'Memoir of the Reverend Samuel Pearce', of Birmingham, and a volume of 'Expository Lectures in Genesis', besides a considerable number of smaller pieces, chiefly sermons and pamphlets, which were issued in a collected form after his death.
While never straying from the doctrines of Grace, Fuller came to see that such doctrines did not preclude offering the gospel to all men. He saw this offer of salvation in the writing of such a diverse group of men as Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, John Bunyan, and David Brainerd. Beyond such men, Fuller saw in Scripture itself a firm insistence on freely preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to all men. Gilbert Laws notes that on moving away from hyper-Calvinism:
"Fuller had followed what he found for himself in the Scriptures. He had dared to preach as John the Baptist preached and as the Master Himself had preached, and as the apostles preached, inviting and beseeching sinners to believe and live."
Perhaps Fuller’s greatest contribution to Christianity was to free us from the shackles of philosophical theology. Because many could not see any consistency between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility they rejected one or the other. Fuller on the other hand, concluded that any lack of logic in such thinking was due to his own lacking, not God’s.
"The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in Scriptures, they are both true and both consistent, and that is owing to the darkness of our understandings, that they do not appear so to us."
Andrew Fuller in no way rejected what could be called Calvinism. He tenaciously held to a sovereign work of God in calling those whom he alone elected. Fuller also reminded fellow Baptists and all Christians that regeneration precedes faith not vice-a-versa.