I’m taking a class on Andrew Fuller this semester. He was a British Baptist theologian of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was raised in a “high-Calvinist” (“hyper-Calvinist”) milieu, in which pastors did not make public, “indiscriminate” invitations to their congregations to trust Christ. Great debates (often with Fuller at their center!) were ongoing in that day as to a sinner’s ability to trust in Christ. Was he completely unable in any way? Did he have a natural ability, but a moral inability? Does God grant a special grace to all people to enable them to believe? That’s its own discussion, and I mention it only to set forth a bit of background for what follows here.
In my reading I came across a great quote by Asahel Nettleton, a Calvinistic evangelist (yes, you read that right!) who is speaking here in light of the aforementioned debate.
There are many who think they see a great inconsistency in the preaching of ministers. “Ministers,” they say, “contradict themselves—they say and unsay—they tell us to do, and then tell us we cannot do—they call upon sinners to believe and repent, and then tell them that faith and repentance are the gift of God—they call on them to come to Christ, and then tell them that they cannot come.”
That some do preach in this manner, cannot be denied. I well recollect an instance. A celebrated preacher, in one of his discourses used this language: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In another discourse, this same preacher said: “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” Now what think you, my hearers, of such preaching, and of such a preacher? What would you have said had you been present and heard Him? Would you have charged Him with contradicting himself? This preacher, you will remember, was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ! And, I have no doubt, that many ministers have followed His example, and been guilty of the same self-contradiction, if you call it such.”
(Quoted in Gerald L. Priest, “Andrew Fuller, Hyper-Calvinism, and the ‘Modern Question’,” in “At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word”: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (ed. Michael A. G. Haykin; Studies in Baptist History and Thought 6; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 70-71.)
Indeed, it was precisely through reading the Gospels that Andrew Fuller repudiated the High Calvinism that was his heritage, and embraced what is often termed an “evangelical Calvinism.” He saw that Jesus extended invitations “indiscriminately.”