Posted by: chuckbumgardner | September 3, 2013

No man can come. Come!

ImageI’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.”



  1. Chuck. Thanks for his blog post. Informative. We are using as a filing on Sharper Iron here

  2. When a person is converted, then they trust Messiah.

  3. Chuck. Just read the wiki article on him. Could you comment on this: “Fuller, a Particular Baptist, was a controversialist in defence of the governmental theory of the atonement against hyper-Calvinism on the one hand and Socinianism and Sandemanianism on the other”


    • Sure, Jim. Fuller was the apologist (perhaps a better term than “controversialist”) par excellence in British Particular Baptists in his day. He sought to respond to at least three significant teaching of his day, which you mentioned (in addition to Arminianism, universalism, and Tom Paine’s Deism).

      Hyper-Calvinism: The controversy in which he was perhaps most thoroughly engaged was called the “Modern Question,” in which the essential debate was over whether the gospel could and should be offered to sinners without distinction. Some pastors believed that they should not make “indiscriminate” invitations to salvation, in that the unregenerate were not able to respond to them; a direct appeal to be saved was to be aimed only at those who believed they had “warrant” (evidence, usually conviction of sin) that they were among the elect, and therefore could indeed respond to the Gospel invitation. Fuller struggled for three years as a young man as to whether he had such a “warrant.”
      Make no mistake, Fuller ever remained a “five-point Calvinist.” But he was responding to Hyper-Calvinism, a Calvinism of which John Gill was perhaps the best representative, the sort of Calvinism that is usually in people’s minds when they consider Calvinism to be decidedly “non-evangelistic”. He came to the conviction that it was indeed right and necessary to make “indiscriminate” calls to salvation in that Jesus himself did so. His theological work provided the foundation for the modern missions movement that featured William Carey, who was a close associate of his. You’ll remember the man who said to Carey, “Sit down, young man! When it pleases God to convert the heathen, he will do so without your help or mine!” That’s the sort of thing Fuller (and Carey) were laboring against. That is why Carey’s apology for his work was titled, “An Enquiry into the *Obligations* of Christians *to use Means* for the Conversion of the Heathens” (note the items I’ve starred).

      Socinianism was a sort of Unitarianism that Fuller combated; among other characteristics, it rejected the deity and atonement of Christ.

      I believe that Sandemanianism was roughly equivalent to the Zane Hodges “free grace” (“anti-lordship”) teaching in our general era, where faith in Christ works out purely to intellectual assent to the gospel proclamation about Christ (“bare belief of the bare truth”). Sandemanians insisted that faith became a work of human merit if it included anything beyond this simple mental assent.

      Fuller’s understanding of the atonement is somewhat complicated, and I’m not thoroughly conversant with it yet. He did subscribe to the governmental theory of the atonement, apparently following Jonathan Edwards and Joseph Bellamy. At the same time, he accepted the penal character of Christ’s substitutionary work.

      The article you referenced seems to be flattening the debates somewhat: I’m not certain that the atonement was as front and center in all three of the named debates as the article suggests.

  4. Indeed it is an interesting tension between “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44) and the evangelism imperative.

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