Erroll Hulse (1931-2017), A Beautifully Proportioned Life

This week I was brought to a new sense of the greatness even of the disembodied state of those who die in the Lord. Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Though he did not want to be unclothed but longed for an immediate transfer to a state of glory in the body like Jesus’ glorious body, out of this tent into the heavenly dwelling, nevertheless, he longed to depart and be with Christ, for that was very much better (2 Corinthians 4:14; 5:1-8; Philippians 1:23; 3:20, 21). Often we find the glory of Christ enshrouded in a vagueness that accentuates the desirability of whatever pleasures, stunted as they are, may be found in the present life. Whatever is truly pleasant in these attractions are given by God as faint reflections of happiness that exists in fulness in his presence. But, perhaps unconsciously we reflect, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

One aspect of the glory of leaving to be with the Lord is that we experience the fellowship of “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” Clearly the entrance into the presence of “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” presents an infinitely glorious prospect, unparalleled by any other blessing. The reality is, however, that an element of sensing the power of Christ’s redemptive glory includes an experience of the “assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven,” these fully rational, intelligent, emotionally expressive, fully self-conscious, exuberantly joyful spirits of the redeemed and justified elect of God. Through the centuries, from the time of the murder of Abel, among these spirits are the martyrs who ask how long the Lamb will wait until he brings judgment and avenges their blood. The exhilaration of entering into company with such sanctified and zealous spirits must surely make all other circles of fellowship and conversation pale, partial, uninformed, and at best only mildly anticipatory of that knowledge and purity of experience that characterizes this company. We all should say, I have a “desire to depart and be with Christ.”

So it came to be with Erroll Hulse (1931 -2017), a major force in the rejuvenation of life among Reformed Baptists in England. He entered into the presence of the Lord and joined the spirits of just men made perfect on August 3, 2017. Although his knowledge is extended in volume and the purity of his perceptions is unblurred with earthly sludge, the subject matter of his tongue has changed little if any. Among those spirits are many he had come to know, love, and emulate during his earthly days—the dead through books and the living through encouraging fellowship. He will find the company of William Carey an absolute thrill, for he patterned his hopes for the revival of Reformed Christianity around his doctrinally grounded fervor for practical ministry and marked optimism for the eventual world-wide success of the gospel. Those spirits will include also Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliff, John Ryland Jr., and the seraphic Samuel Pearce. Joining will be William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, Benjamin Keach, and John Bunyan. Will the wit and eloquence of Spurgeon engage with even greater clarity and will his view of the glory of Christ be even greater? Oh, what a condition, what a prospect for the spirit already trained to seek Christ for all good and find in him every blessing. Perhaps already Lyn, Erroll’s wife, and Stanley Hogwood, his faithful elder, William Payne, the Liverpudlian Canadian Baptist pastor of immense talent, good humor, and steady labor, and Ernest Reisinger, whom Erroll called Rex Reisinger because of his preeminence in the Reformed movement, have anticipated Erroll in this fellowship and even now are involving this newcomer into the well-established chain of conversation, worship, and mutual expansion of gratitude for the grace of God shed abroad in the lives of each other. I suppose it is not inappropriate to say, guided by revelatory glimpses, “I can only imagine.”

He was a keen promoter of hospitality. He taught his church that hospitality was a biblical doctrine and a Christian grace. They learned the lesson well and have had abundant opportunity through the years to display this encouraging Christian stewardship. Not only was he hospitable, he was a marvelous and encouraging guest. Along with Lyn, the Hulse couple could make a host and hostess feel like they were richly gifted in the art of hospitality. Every night’s sleep was the best one he had ever had, every meal was “an existential experience.” Evaporated milk in his coffee (one of the few special requests he would make of a hostess) delighted him no end and made every cup the quintessence of brewing expertise. And how ingenious Americans were to have grasped the custom of putting ice in a glass before one poured Coca-Cola into it—Amazing! They were impossible to displease.

Erroll was indefatigable in his labors for the gospel, passionate in his love of truth, persistent in his love of friends, and unceasing in his penchant for encouraging others in their labors and in the faith. I asked him one time after he had bolstered my spirits in a peculiarly fitting way, “Who encourages you?” He said, “The Puritans. They never change, they speak virtually with one voice. They are always ready with godly counsel.” Of course, I should have known he would answer that way and that he was only speaking what he had practiced for years. Early in his ministry in England, Erroll had served along with Iain Murray with the Banner of Truth Trust and aided Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones in reviving interest in the Puritans. His own substantial list of writings includes Who Are the Puritans?

Evangelism was at the core of his commitment to Christ and the gospel. When my family and I lived in England for a year in 1984-85, we stayed virtually the entire time in Erroll’s home in Haywards Heath. He had moved to Liverpool and we lived there until it sold in the summer of 1985. During the first week of that eventful year, Erroll introduced me to Market preaching. An open market on Sunday sponsored by Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist merchants allowed the Cuckfield chapel to set up a preaching point just at the entrance of the market. As people would stroll in they would hear a presentation of the gospel from a preacher lifted by a small podium. The message was short but pungent; the passing comments were frequent, colorful, often humorous, but always indicative that those who walked near heard.

In his first number of Reformation Today (Spring 1970), Erroll closed an article on “Baptist Heirs of the Reformation” with a section entitled “Theology and Evangelism” which ended with the sentence, “In other words we need a dynamic theology which results in dynamic evangelism.” He included also an interview with Bill Summers entitled “House to House Visiting.” He closed the interview with the heart conviction of Summers, “Yes, I would exhort my brethren in the ministry to set an example to their flocks by showing a true zeal to reach lost souls. . . . It is our business as Christians to spread the good news. After all, if we are too busy to tell our fellow men about eternal life what have we come to?”

In that first issue, Erroll included a full content outline of a sermon he had preached at Cuckfield on March 1, 1970 entitled “Joshua’s Call for Decisions.” He emphasized recurrent themes of his ministry: the clearly established doctrinal background of the necessity of salvation, the urgency of the need for salvation in “light of eternal hell or heaven,” the consequent urgency of the appeal to know and serve the Lord, the reality of human shallowness both in response and in reporting supposedly massive responses, the necessity of pressing the matter in a wise, fitting, and constant way. Erroll knew well the long historic struggle, the doctrinal entanglement of a full-orbed biblical grasp of this gut-wrenching issue. “While there is simplicity about the gospel,” he preached, “it is also called a mystery. Some truths defy our understanding. That a man should be born with a sinful nature and a will in bondage to sin and yet be held responsible is a deep mystery.” So he pointed to the text that showed that Joshua knew the “fickle, unreliable nature of the human heart” and knew that the “heart governs the will.” We are hesitant to take Joshua’s realistic approach to evangelism and say “Ye cannot serve the Lord,” but have instead “rejoiced in thousands of decisions and have been disappointed in thousands turning back.” Nevertheless, with full recognition of the impossibility of this transaction on the basis of human power, we say, “What about you? Like those Israelites of old you have only two alternatives before you: idols or the Lord! Look to the Lord Jesus Christ for He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. Relying upon Him and trusting Him wholly, resolve this day that in dependence upon the Holy Spirit you will serve God with all your heart.” A book published by Carey Press in 1975 included a chapter by Erroll on “The Local Church and Evangelism.” Of course, again Erroll summarized his commitment to a theology of evangelism in a book entitled The Great Invitation, an appropriate sequel to his earlier brave book Billy Graham-The Pastor’s Dilemma.

By October of 1969, at the beginning of my second year in the M Div program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I had become convinced that the doctrines of grace were true. At that time, it was a deeply personal persuasion, almost solipsistic in my perception of how this new framework of thought related to both my contemporaries and to historical Baptist theology. As I grew in both understanding and persuasion of the practical and historic integrity of these truths for Baptist life, I wondered if any other Baptists believed these things. In God’s providence, I came across a magazine, Reformation Today, that was fully immersed (indeed it was truly Baptist) in the doctrines of grace, historically confessional, and committed to ministry with local Baptist churches as the focal point for carrying out the commissions of the gospel. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. I wrote the editor, Erroll Hulse, and he wrote back. Eventually he sent me a bound volume of the 1970-72 fascicles of Reformation Today. It included articles on such a comprehensive scale—exegetical, historical, doctrinal, confessional, contemporary concerns, practical ministry, and a series on “Reformation In . . .”—that it became a major influence in my seeing the Reformed Faith, especially from a Baptist perspective, as fundamental to a broadly-conceived, biblically consistent world view. Around that time, Erroll also wrote a book entitled An Introduction to the Baptists.

Even now, as I go back through that initial volume of Reformation Today, I find myself fascinated with the expansive perspective that Erroll, as editor, was able to project. Items of concern went all the way from a serious engagement with concerns over sex-education in the state school system to a discussion of the life and ministry of William Kiffin. They were handled clearly, accurately and with an eye to edification. It even included an article by a young Geoff Thomas about “The Scriptures and the Southern Baptists.” It gave a narrative in very accurate scenes of the history of SBC Controversy over Scripture and the only-too-relevant punch-counter punch between Criswell’s Why I Preach the Bible Is Literally True and the multi-authored Is the Bible a Human Book? Erroll’s generosity in giving this volume and the insight given on such a large number of issues made a definite and positive impact on my convictions about Christian ministry.

Errol was prescient in his treatment of Calvin as a theologian and a magisterial Reformer in his relation to the Anabaptists. This causes a contest of absolutist proportions in Southern Baptist discussions on this issue. Long before those unnecessary conflicts arose, Erroll was giving a properly focused analysis of the phenomenon. In one introductory remark, Erroll noted, “Much can be learned from the past and from the life of Calvin. Jim van Zyl draws out lessons as to the role of a Pastor. A wide gulf existed between Calvin and the Anabaptists. Nevertheless we ought not to miss some of the lessons which can come from the attempts of the Anabaptists to create gathered churches.” In an article on “The Reformation and Baptists” Erroll stated with candor, “Those who study the Radical Reformation for the first time should be warned against disillusionment in regard to some of the Reformers. Their part in the persecution of the Anabaptists is not a pleasant subject.” In his discussion of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin in their relation to the Anabaptists, Erroll pointed to their differences on the sacral society of Christendom, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, and its cohering ligaments of infant baptism as the cause of the great persecution of Anabaptists. After giving a summary, unvarnished in its impact, of some of the grotesque treatment of the Anabaptists, Erroll wrote, “Let us remember that the state-church system rather than the Reformers was responsible for these gruesome events.” Then in seeking to maintain a robust grasp of Reformation doctrinal advances and Anabaptist ecclesiological principles, he wrote:

Let us guard against lowering our estimate of the Reformers or of the Reformation because of sacralism which harmed the Baptists then, and which has tended to make them suspicious of Reformed teaching as a whole ever since, thus depriving them of great theological riches. Basic human factors, as we have seen, influenced Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. They acted within the context of their times. As we are called to act within ours, we do well to seek a grasp of truth as profound as theirs, combining that with the main facet for which the Baptists contended, namely, that the Church of Christ upon earth is to consist only of those who meet the requirement of the New Covenant—a new heart and a new spirit.

Erroll’s missionary vison prompted him to give a portion of his time each year to reformation among the pastors and churches in Africa. He expended bundles of energy and experienced a great variety of living conditions in pursuing this vision. This led eventually to the founding of the African Pastors’ Conference. It is now put on solid ground with the promise of a great impact. It was in the service of this cause that Erroll suffered the stroke that, in the long term, was fatal. This time of incapacity was filled with patience, kindness, humor, witness, and even plans for future ministry. I must admit I was startled when Andrew Symonds, a dear Cuckfield friend and deacon, and I asked what he intended to do with his vast library. “Why, I shall put it in crates and send it to Africa; a minister can never be without his books and I will need them when I arrive.” He had been completely perspicuous and unfailingly coherent to that point in the conversation. Had he become detached from reality for just a moment? Or was this the response of a mind so given to ministry that he would never fail to strategize for at least one more thing for Christ and the gospel, even in the face of such invincible odds?

One of Erroll’s daughters, Michelle, as a young girl in answering a question concerning what her father did, responded, “He is a ballet dancer.” Perhaps she was right. He mastered the art of graceful, meaningful, disciplined movement between biblical text and hungry congregation. He mustered a force of eager disciples for the truth of the gospel through lovely enticement with the coherence between the music of the heart, the power of a message, the warmth of genuine experience, and the deftness of minds under the control of truth. He never lost concentration on the choreography of his life mixing with his faith, virtue, and with both knowledge, and with the three self-control, and to that quartet, steadfastness, and pressed throughout godliness, which brings along with it brotherly kindness, all bolstered by and arising from the most beautiful, full and unifying of all graces, love. Yes, a real, disciplined, Spirit-controlled, elegantly attired in humility, artistically developed Christian ballet dancer. Now he is among the spirits of just men made perfect, awaiting the time of being clothed with an immortal, incorruptible body, fit for perfect praise in the realm of the infinite spiritual glory of the triune God.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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