New book dives deep into Andrew Fuller, the pastor
Andrew Fuller is a voice from the past that is worthy of befriending.
When names like John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, and Andrew Fuller arise, we tend to think of theologians, doctrine, books, controversy — and rightly so.
Some seem to think the great theologian John Calvin invented the doctrine of predestination. Bunyan conjures thoughts of Pilgrim’s Progress, Edwards raises thoughts about theological brilliance and matters related to the human will. Fuller brings to mind theological controversies and a defense of the necessity of missions.
These men certainly were theologians but we too often fail to think of them in terms of what most fundamentally defined their work: they were pastors. And a new book co-written by Michael A. G. Haykin and Brian Croft, Being a Pastor: A Conversation with Andrew Fuller (Evangelical Press) takes an in-depth look at that side of Fuller through the lens of his ordination sermons. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at SBTS and director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. Croft is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville and serves as senior fellow of the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at Southern Seminary.
A self-taught farmers’ son, Fuller (1754-1815) was born in Wicken, Cambridgeshire and pastored two congregations for a total of 40 years, beginning at Soham from 1775 to 1782 and then serving a Particular Baptist congregation at Kettering from 1782 to 1815. He is perhaps best known for his book, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, which provided the theological rationale for the modern missions movement. Fuller was a faithful shepherd to both of his congregations even while participating in numerous important theological controversies of his day, battling Socinianism and Sandemanianism. He debated theology with General Baptist pastor Dan Taylor for several years while maintaining a warm friendship with him.
The new book features three main parts: an opening chapter surveying the ordination sermon among eighteenth-century English dissenters, followed by 19 ordination sermons by Fuller, before concluding with a section of application to the modern pastor.
The ordination sermons are full of warm pastoral wisdom. For example, the first sermon is Fuller’s exposition of qualifications of ministry through a character sketch of Barnabas. Fuller said a man of God must be of exemplary, humble character above all. And, he must be willing to keep his eye on the end of ministry, even at the beginning:
“My dear brother, permit me to conclude with a word or two of serious advice. First, watch over your own soul, as well as the souls of your people. Do not forget that ministers are peculiarly liable, while they keep the vineyard of others, to neglect their own. Further, know you own weaknesses, and depend upon Christ’s all-sufficiency. Your work is great, your trials may be many; but let not your heart be discouraged. Remember what was said to the apostle Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in weakness’; and the reflection which he makes upon it, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’ Finally, be often looking to the end of your course, and viewing yourself as giving an account of your stewardship. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, and give an account of the deeds done in the body. Perhaps there is no thought more solemn than this, more suitable to be kept in view in all our undertakings, more awakening in a thoughtless hour, or more cheering to an upright heart.”
I discovered Andrew Fuller during my first semester as a master of divinity student at SBTS. Tom Nettles had our class read several excerpts from various works of Fuller, including sermons, letters, and theological treatises. I was hooked. I had been a Baptist all my life, so why had I not ever heard of Fuller? I soon bought the three-volume edition of Fuller’s Works and stayed up late many nights discovering the life and doctrine of this great pastor-theologian.
I suspect that I’m not alone in discovering Fuller in seminary. Over the years, as I’ve studied and written about Fuller and served as a fellow to the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS, I’ve come to see him as a theological and pastoral giant—in many ways, the Baptist pastor-theologian par excellence (okay, perhaps tied for that honor with the more famous Spurgeon).
There are several biographies on Fuller and works that focus on his theology, but this work from Haykin and Croft is unique because it focuses strictly on his work as a pastor. In his theology, Fuller was heavily influenced by Jonathan Edwards. Both were pastors, but I suspect Fuller was the better shepherd — based largely on what I know about his work as a pastor and this new book.
If Andrew Fuller is a name that’s new to you, then Being a Pastor is a fine introduction to him, but I would recommend this book as a particularly important read for pastors and future pastors. Fuller is a voice from the past that is worthy of befriending. What I like most about this volume is that it weds, as good theology should, stout orthodoxy with warm orthopraxis. It provides a detailed look at Fuller’s view of the pastoral ministry and shows why he remains so important a figure more than 200 years after his death. Being a Pastor is church history in service of the church at its best.