Fuller on Dort

From Peter Lumpkin:

“But to defend Dordt in the same breathe as Spurgeon and Fuller seems, at least to me, fantastic. Andrew Fuller clearly rejected Dortian Calvinism.” (Aug. 13, 2007)

Such a statement could only be made by one who has not read Fuller, or who, having read him, has completely misunderstood him. Fuller’s views of the imputation of Adam’s sin did change over time, though his later views never matured into a full doctrinal commitment. His understanding of Total Depravity, however, is clearly set forth in his Dialogues and Letters between Crispus and Gaius.

There, as elsewhere, Fuller asserts his understanding of the free agency of men who nevertheless, are without moral ability to do what God requires. The distinction that he makes between natural ability and moral ability is found in Jonathan Edwards and other Puritans. The fact that any sinful human does believe indicates that believing is not foreign to human nature (as would be, for example, unaided space flight or jumping the Grand Canyon). The inability of unregenerate people to believe the Gospel lies not in the fact that they are people but in the fact that they are fallen. In other words, it is a moral inability that keeps them from choosing Christ without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. “We cannot be morally free; but moral slavery, any more than moral liberty, has nothing to do with moral agency” (2:656)

From Michael Haykin:
Was Andrew Fuller a Calvinist? Then, in a later article, “How prominent Baptists stack up: Have leading Baptist theologians affirmed teachings of Dortian Calvinism?”, Garrett makes the following comment about Andrew Fuller’s own commitment to Calvinism: according to Garrett, Fuller “strongly advocated repentance and faith as duties,” but he “supported only two of Dortian Calvinism’s five points[,] limited atonement and irresistible grace.”[9] These remarks are very curious and have no basis in Fuller’s works. Fuller was a five-point Calvinist through and through. Yes, he did argue, against Hyper-Calvinism, that repentance and faith were duties. Hyper-Calvinists had argued that sinners are unable to do anything spiritually good, and thus are under no obligation to exercise faith in Christ. They supported their argument by reference to such texts as John 6:44 (“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”) and 1 Corinthians 2:14 (“the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”). The inability of which these passages speak, Fuller contended in response, is a moral inability, which is rooted in the sinful disposition of the heart. Men and women refuse to come to Christ because of their aversion to him. They fail to understand the gospel and the things of the Spirit because they lack the means by which such matters are understood, namely, the presence of the indwelling Spirit. And they lack the Spirit because their hearts are closed to God. These verses are not speaking of a physical inability—such as insanity or mental deficiency—which excuses its subject of blame.[10] In making this distinction between physical and moral inability, which Fuller derived from Jonathan Edwards, Fuller was seeking to affirm a scriptural paradox: sinful men and women are utterly powerless to turn to God except through the regenerative work of God’s Holy Spirit, yet this powerlessness is the result of their own sinful hearts.[11] In other words, Fuller takes seriously the Scriptures’ affirmation of the total/radical depravity of the human heart. This led Fuller to address the role of the Spirit’s work in conversion. Hyper-Calvinists argued that if repentance and faith are ascribed by the Scriptures to the work of the Spirit, then “they cannot be duties required of sinners.” As Fuller points out, though, the force of this objection is dependent upon the supposition that “we do not stand in need of the Holy Spirit to enable us to comply with our duty.” What is amazing about this supposition is that Arminianism assumes the same. For the Arminian, because faith is commanded of sinners by God, then they must be able to believe without the irresistible drawing of the Spirit. Similarly, the Hyper-Calvinist reasons that since faith is wrought by the Spirit it cannot be an act of obedience. The truth of the matter, however, is that “we need the influence of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do our duty” and that “repentance and faith, therefore, may be duties, notwithstanding their being the gifts of God.”[12] Fuller thus affirmed the biblical via media on this issue. In his confession of faith that he made when he was inducted into his second pastoral charge, at Kettering in 1783, Fuller maintained that he believed in “the doctrine of eternal personal election and predestination” and that “those who are effectually called of God never fall away so as to perish everlastingly, but persevere in holiness till they arrive at endless happiness.”[13] It is a Baptist urban myth that Fuller abandoned his Calvinistic heritage. He affirmed it to the end of his earthly life.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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