ANDREW FULLER, UNIVERSAL ATONEMENT, AND THE FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL

 

NOTE: This is a portion of my Evangelical Theological Society paper “Andrew Fuller: Particular Redemptionist who Held to Unlimited Atonement.” Fuller was a very important English Baptist (d. 1815) who had enormous impact on Baptists in America.

Fuller’s debates with General Baptist Dan Taylor also concerned the grounds necessary for the free offer of the gospel. Taylor had argued that only an unlimited atonement could ground the free offer of the gospel.[1]

One might ask, how could the problem of the free offer of the gospel be helped merely by abandonment of a commercialistic approach to the atonement, while still maintaining limited atonement? It cannot. If Christ only substituted himself for the elect alone, then the salvation of the non-elect would be “naturally impossible,” as Fuller said. However, Fuller went on to state:

“If there be an objective fullness in the atonement of Christ sufficient for any number of sinners, were they to believe in him, there is no other impossibility in the way of any man’s salvation to whom the gospel comes than what arises from the state of his own mind.”[2]

For Fuller, the free offer of the gospel is grounded in the fact that Christ died for the sins of all people, not just the elect. This is further evidenced in Fuller’s section “On Particular Redemption”:

There is no contradiction between this peculiarity [particularity] of design in the death of Christ, and a universal obligation on those who hear the gospel to believe in him, or a universal invitation being addressed to them. If God, through the death of his Son, have promised salvation to all who comply with the gospel; and if there be no natural impossibility as to a compliance [note the Edwardsian distinction between natural and moral ability in man here], nor any obstruction but that which arises from aversion of heart; exhortations to believe and be saved are consistent; and our duty, as preachers of the Gospel, is to administer them, without any more regard to particular redemption than to election….[3]

Fuller said there is no obstruction to salvation other than the aversion of the human heart. If particular redemption understood as limited substitution for the sins of the elect alone were Fuller’s mature position, he could never have consistently made this statement. In such a case, there would have been a huge impossibility: no atonement exists for the sins of the non-elect, any more than there is for fallen angels who have no atonement for their sins.[4]

This is Fuller’s point of agreement with Dan Taylor, and he stated it clearly in Letter XII in his Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace.[5] Fuller admitted he had been mistaken about the terms “ransom” and “propitiation” being applied only to those who were among the elect. Now these terms were “applicable to all mankind in general . . . ,” an admission which clearly shows Fuller had abandoned limited substitution/atonement, not merely his earlier quantitative commercial views. No one affirming the kind of particular redemption that has a limited substitution component would ever say Christ’s death serves as a “propitiation” and “ransom” for the sins of all people.[6]

It seems fairly clear that Fuller, at this point, was in agreement with Taylor concerning the extent of Christ’s substitution; He died for every person.

[1] See Dan Taylor, Observations on the Rev. Andrew Fuller’s late pamphlet entitled The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (London: Paternoster-Row, n. d. [1786]); Observations on the Rev. Andrew Fuller’s Reply to Philanthropos, 2nd ed. (London: T. Bloom, 1788); The Friendly Conclusion Occasioned by the Letters of Agnostos to the Rev. Andrew Fuller Respecting the Extent of Our Saviour’s Death (London: W. Button, 1790).  

[2] Andrew Fuller, Six Letters to Dr. Ryland, Letter III, “Substitution,” in Works, 2:709.

[3] Fuller, “On Particular Redemption,” in Works, 2:374.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Fuller, Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace, Letter XII, Works, 2:550.

[6] See Reply to Philanthropos, in Works, 2:496, and 550 respectively. See also Fuller, Works, 2:555, where Fuller agreed with Taylor on John 3:16, Matt 22:1–11, and John 6:32 with respect to the extent of the atonement covering the sins of all people.

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One thought on “ANDREW FULLER, UNIVERSAL ATONEMENT, AND THE FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL

  1. Thanks Dr Allen.

    As someone who once held to the 5 inferences I can certainly relate to Mr Fuller’s conflict/change of heart. If I were still a Calvinist, I would still be looking for a biblical text (or group of texts) that teaches explicitly (or by good and necessary inference) the Calvinistic version of the atonement.

    I’m glad for folks like you, who stick to the best principles of Biblical interpretation in the face of rising academic pressure to capitulate.

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