Fuller and the Atonement (Part 1): “It is Enough that Jesus Died”

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Editorial note: This is the fourth post in a series on Andrew Fuller’s theology.  Here is the series so far: Fuller the Non-Calvinist? (Part 1), Fullerite: Doctrine of Inability (Part 2), Fuller and Irresistible Grace (Part 3), Fuller and the Atonement – 1/4 (Part 4), Fuller and the Atonement – 2/4 (Part 5), Fuller and the Atonement – 3/4 (Part 6), and Fuller and the Atonement 4/4 (Part 7).

Fuller“The Son of God appeared—took our nature, obeyed the law, and endured the curse, and hereby made full and proper atonement for the sins of his own elect.” So confessed Fuller in 1783 at his installment as pastor at Kettering. In Fuller’s discussion of the atonement in 1785 in the first edition of The Gospel Worthy, subheaded as “Concerning Particular Redemption,” Fuller pointed to an objection based on the supposed absurdity that “God can have made it the duty of any man to believe in Christ for the salvation of his soul, or that he can have promised salvation to him on his so believing, when all the while his salvation was not the end for which he died.”i The Table of Contents described his argument in these words: “If faith were a believing Chirst [sic] died for me in particular, this objection would be unanswerable.” The second statement of the summary asserted, “No necessity for the party knowing his particular interest in Christ’s death in order to believe in him, or for his having any such interest to render it his duty.” Fuller’s basic argument in the first edition is that, at the time of “his first coming to Christ,” a person “knows of no particular interest” he has in the death of Christ, “or that he should have such an interest at all, in order to make it his duty.”ii

While in unbelief, no sinner can have assurance that Christ has died for him. When Fuller argued, “It appears equally evident, that there is no necessity, in the nature of the thing, for the party to have any interest in Christ’s death, in order to make trusting in him his duty,”iii he emphasized that a sinner’s duty to believe the gospel does not depend on an actual provision having been made for him. The argument hypothesizes that for the non-elect the death of Christ includes nothing from which they could find forgiveness should they came to him for such; for them he was neither substitute, sacrifice, nor propitiation. Given such a case, even if a supplicating sinner could view the content of forgiveness procured by the death of Christ and upon such a view found that no investment for the forgiveness of his sins was made, still the only proper and dutiful posture for him is the supplication of mercy, for receiving mercy is the only path to a restoration of dutiful submission to the governing prerogative of God.

This particular part of his argument he abandoned upon being challenged by Dan Taylor. The supposition of no-interest, deemed in later writings as the “commercial” view, behind this argument was hypothetical for Fuller. His main contention was that knowledge of peculiar inclusion in the saving intent of God did not logically precede one’s duty to believe the gospel and approach God as a suppliant for mercy. Without defending the view, for the sake of argument, Fuller assumed a quid pro quo pattern while still asserting the sinner’s duty to believe. His defense of duty allowed for this way of envisioning the particularity of Christ’s redemptive work. It is not at all certain that Fuller actually believed, at the time of the publication of the Gospel Worthy, what he later called the “commercial” view of the atonement, but it is clear that he did not reject it as inconsistent with the free offer of the gospel.

The second edition of GWAA written in 1801, no longer defended that particular hypothetical consideration. Fuller stated that the commercial view “might for all I know, be inconsistent with indefinite invitations.”iv In the first edition, he earnestly contended that neither knowing one’s inclusion nor having inclusion in Christ’s death altered the pre-existing duty to believe, or trust, in the Christ of the gospel. This language indicates two distinct options in the understanding of God’s purpose in limiting the efficacious results of Christ’s death.

Very quickly after the appearance of Gospel Worthy, Fuller limited his defense to only one of these implied options as a clear expression of his personal theology. This came as a response to the challenge from Dan Taylor, a General Baptist, in a book entitled Reply to Philanthropos, published in 1787. Fuller, in an 1803 letter to John Ryland Jr., recounted the impact that Taylor’s argument had on him. “I freely own that my views of particular redemption were altered by my engaging in that controversy.”v He sought to answer Taylor “without considering the sufficiency of the atonement in itself considered” as a sufficient ground for universal gospel invitations, but could not justify it. He found Taylor’s reasoning and Scripture itself blocking his way for that specific defense, and therefore adopted a view that omitted any justification of the “no interest” or “commercial” view as a ground for general exhortations to apply to Christ for forgiveness of sins.

His Reply to Philanthropos, therefore, described his understanding of the Calvinist view of atonement, now focused only on one option that he defended in the first edition of Gospel Worthy. To Taylor he noted that “Calvinists in general have considered the particularity of redemption as consisting not in the degree of Christ’s sufferings, (as though he must have suffered more if more had been finally saved,) or in any insufficiency that attended them, but in the sovereign purpose and design of the Father and the Son, whereby they were constituted or appointed the price of redemption, the objects of that redemption ascertained, and the ends to be answered by the whole transaction determined.” In themselves considered, the sufferings of Christ are of “infinite value, sufficient to have saved all the world, and a thousand worlds, if it had pleased God to have so constituted them the price of their redemption, and to have made them effectual to that end.” On this basis “there is in the death of Christ a sufficient ground for indefinite calls and universal invitations.”vi

That being established, Fuller, nevertheless, discussed a multiplicity of scripture passages and images under seven headings that demonstrated that “there was a certain, absolute, and consequently limited design in the death of Christ, securing the salvation of all those, and only those who are finally saved.”vii He interpreted such passages as 1 John 2:2 and 1 Timothy 2:6 (“propitiation for the whole world”, “Ransom for all” and other passages that included such universal language) to be indefinite terms (that is, not indicative of an absolute inclusion of every individual person in the world) designed to show that Christ ransomed Gentiles no less than Jews as well as all classes of men politically and socially. In detail, however, he maintained that the language “expressed what is true only of those who are finally saved,” that is, specifically efficient for those that God predestined for salvation.viii

In his next response to Taylor, The Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace,ix Fuller revisited this particular point. In letter IX, Fuller explained his view that Christ’s death, while sufficient by nature for the forgiveness of the sins of all persons in the world, was, at the same, specifically designated as an effectual remedy for the elect only. Such discrimination is entirely the prerogative of God and he cannot be accused of a lack of love in doing what he does out of pure grace, as long as his treatment of others is not inconsistent with holy justice. Fuller claimed that his discussion was designed only to demonstrate “the consistency of a limitation of design in the death of Christ with the indefinite call of the gospel.”x Should the whole world consent to return to God by submission to the gospel conditions, none need fear that any insufficiency in Christ’s death would render it unjust to receive him. “All the limitation I maintain in the death of Christ,” Fuller reminded Taylor, “arises from pure sovereignty; it is a limitation of design,xi while any person bidden to come, will find, if he comes, a full and abundant provision for his reception.

The design, however, in the covenantal determination of those for whom Christ would actually die with the intent to save was limited to a certain people. “All I suppose,“ Fuller continued to maintain, “is that provision was not made effectually to persuade every one to embrace it; and that, without such effectual persuasion, no one ever did, or will, embrace God’s way of salvation.”xii Letter XII of the same work gives further insight on Fuller’s method of argument. He wrote, “Now admitting that I am mistaken in my supposition . . . nothing follows from it but that I have misunderstood certain passages of Scripture, by considering them as conveying an indefinite, but not a universal idea.” That merely establishes what was already admitted “that a way is opened, by the death of Christ, for the salvation of sinners, without distinction; and that any man may be saved, if he is willing to come to Christ.” Other parts of Taylor’s argument Fuller flatly denied and again insisted, “All I contend for is that Christ, in his death, absolutely designed the salvation of all those who are finally saved; and that, besides the objects of such absolute design, such is the universal depravity of human nature, not one soul will ever believe and be saved.”xiii He then reaffirmed his original interpretation of the passages in question with their particular application to those that God determined to save and for whom he made “an effectual provision of grace.”xiv

In every instance, Fuller reiterated an exegetical principle and specific interpretations that Taylor “has not sufficiently answered.”xv For one to point to this language (“Admitting that I am mistaken in my supposition”) as showing that Fuller altered his understanding of the atonement so as to agree with Taylor, misses the nature of Fuller’s argument and ignores his reaffirmation of the original position. Fuller’s method of argument involved a hypothetical concession to show that nothing would be gained by the opposition in making the concession. “Letter XII” shows no further change in Fuller’s view but a reaffirmation of it and a clarification of the purpose of his argument.

This issue, however, was not yet over, and Fuller had, not only more engagement looming before him, but more clarification.

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i GW 132.

ii GW 132.

iii GW133.

iv FW 1:134.

v CW 2:709.

vi CW 2:488f.

vii CW 2:494.

viii CW 2:496ff.

ix Andrew Fuller, The Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace in FW 1:533-670; Also CW 2:512-560.

x CW 2:541.

xi CW 2:541.

xii CW 2:542.

xiii CW 2:550-51.

xiv CW 2:556.

xv CW 2:555.

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3 Responses to “Fuller and the Atonement (Part 1): “It is Enough that Jesus Died””

  1. Michael White

    “God can have made it the duty of any man to believe in Christ for the salvation of his soul, or that he can have promised salvation to him on his so believing, when all the while his salvation was not the end for which he died.”

    Coming to faith in Christ is coming into a relationship with God through the man who is both God and man. It involves such a trust that one has to eschew his former way of life and surrender and submit to Jesus as Lord. That is a big change, a tremendous change, one that the apostle tells us if Christ is nor risen we are to be pitied the most. This drastic change is why Reformed/Calvinistic folk have said that one must be regenerated, or made new before such a change can happen.

    So frankly I am confused why it is said that when we are in the midst of this change we do not need to comprehend that Jesus died for me. Certainly only an egomaniac would think that Jesus died for me alone, so to be confronted by the cross, and to believe that God has sent Jesus, His Son to die for my sins, so I might live with Him forever. Another point that goes along with this idea is that one also must believe that their sins are an affront to God and by doing them, i am worthy of hell fire. It is personal, as personal as it can get. Likewise we are told that God demonstrates His love to us while we are still in our sin. Again this is a personal thing. We come to God in faith not fear because we experienced His love. Our sins are personal and intimate, love is personal and intimate, our response is personal and intimate in our heart and then it is public in our confession.

    God in the OT seemed far away. But Jesus has brought God near. But the idea that God must love me because he loves everyone is not a personal, intimate, up close way of experiencing love. Take marriage for example. The sanctity of marriage hinges on the personal intimacy between the two. The experience a wife feels in that way is going to be much different than one of a sultan’s 40 wives.

    What I am saying is that God gets intimate with us in His saving of us. It is personal and up close. We become acutely aware of the awfulness of our sin and downward trajectory as well as the holiness and glory of God as demonstrated to us by the love shown to us by the cross.

    So in saying that, how would I respond to the idea that it is an absurdity to call it a duty for all to trust in Jesus?

    There is a difference between why all men should respond and why any man does respond. I just outlined above why any man does respond in that God in revealing Himself to the person in an intimate way produces faith [trust and hope] in that person.

    But just because God does not stoop this way into every life does not give them call to reject Jesus. Oh, they will reject Jesus, be sure of that, but that rejection is only the covering over the coffin they built for themselves.

    It starts in understanding that the Gospel is first a proclamation of the truth about Jesus:
    He is the Lord of all. He is the rightful King and owner of all people and lands. And he is the Judge of the living and the dead. And His standard is the Law of God and all people have transgressed it and are worthy of damnation. And this Jesus who is the Messiah, the Savior of the earth, came and lived a perfect life and was crucified by man according to the plan of God. But death could not hold the Holy One and rose Easter morning and has ascended into Heaven where he waits for His enemies to be put under His feet. And this death He died will provide salvation for all those who put their trust in Him as both Lord and Redeemer.

    Notice then that in the proclamation of the Gospel we need not tell them they will only believe if God personally comes to them. But they will only believe if he does that.

    So while many will never benefit from the Gospel proclamation, it is still their duty to surrender to the rightful Ruler.

    “If faith were a believing Chirst [sic] died for me in particular, this objection would be unanswerable.” The second statement of the summary asserted, “No necessity for the party knowing his particular interest in Christ’s death in order to believe in him, or for his having any such interest to render it his duty.” Fuller’s basic argument in the first edition is that, at the time of “his first coming to Christ,” a person “knows of no particular interest” he has in the death of Christ, “or that he should have such an interest at all, in order to make it his duty.”

    Correct, it is not needed for the party to know whether he has a particular interest in order for him to be told it is his duty. But to the rest of that statement I reject. Faith is indeed only there if God has come to the person and made known to them His [God’s] particular interest in this soul.

    So we have these two scenarios. We have the general call and the internal call. The preacher issues the general call, giving out the Gospel and informing all that Jesus is their Lord and they should make haste to bow unto Him. But God brings the internal call to the heart of the soul in whom He is saving.
    So in contrast to Fuller and y’all, Faith is only present when the person realizes his intimate place there before God, that Jesus died for me. God makes it happen, not the will of the sinner. A person trusts Jesus with cause, not just the hearing in the outward ears of the general call, but in experiencing the divine in the opening up of his inner ears of his heart to the crucified One.

    “While in unbelief, no sinner can have assurance that Christ has died for him. When Fuller argued, “It appears equally evident, that there is no necessity, in the nature of the thing, for the party to have any interest in Christ’s death, in order to make trusting in him his duty,”iii he emphasized that a sinner’s duty to believe the gospel does not depend on an actual provision having been made for him.”

    Here I agree as this pertains to the outward call of the Gospel. Duty is on all to obey the truth of who Jesus is. That man is by his own sins callous and hardhearted with a darkened understanding is no excuse before a just God.

    “The argument hypothesizes that for the non-elect the death of Christ includes nothing from which they could find forgiveness should they came to him for such; for them he was neither substitute, sacrifice, nor propitiation. Given such a case, even if a supplicating sinner could view the content of forgiveness procured by the death of Christ and upon such a view found that no investment for the forgiveness of his sins was made, still the only proper and dutiful posture for him is the supplication of mercy, for receiving mercy is the only path to a restoration of dutiful submission to the governing prerogative of God.”

    The problem with the hypothesize is that while it is the duty for all men to come, no one will come unless God comes to them. Since they and we know not who the elect are, the general proclamation of the Gospel is valid for everyone. It is not dependent on the response or even the reasons given or not given for responding or not responding. Simply. if they come they will find forgiveness. The hypothetical is absurd because it fails to understand the reality.

    “The second edition of GWAA written in 1801, no longer defended that particular hypothetical consideration. Fuller stated that the commercial view “might for all I know, be inconsistent with indefinite invitations.”iv In the first edition, he earnestly contended that neither knowing one’s inclusion nor having inclusion in Christ’s death altered the pre-existing duty to believe, or trust, in the Christ of the gospel. This language indicates two distinct options in the understanding of God’s purpose in limiting the efficacious results of Christ’s death.”

    I admit to be a little confused of just where Fuller stood on this after reading this and the previous section. i assume the commercial view is one where the death of Jesus was a set quantity enough only for the elect. And while i oppose that idea, i don’t think it makes much difference in the idea of duty. And here is why:

    God who has infallible foreknowledge knows exactly who will come to faith and be covered under the blood of Jesus. He will never be surprised. Therefore all who come by faith are included in the sufferings of Christ. Having a place at the table is a gracious gesture by God to a group of rebellious people. If God were to save no one at all, Jesus would still be the their Lord and they would still have a duty to honor Him with obedience.

    Furthermore if one is told that the government is offering a tax rebate for those willing to check it out and follow the rules and a dis-loyalist was so hard against the government that he refused outright any such offer and ignorantly continued to rebel against the lawful rulers, one could hardly say of him that he had no reason to be a faithful citizen. He chose a path that left him all the more calloused and as an enemy of the state. That he rejects any rebate or even a chance for pardon [which is a closer analogy] only cements his place as deserving punishment for his crimes.

    I find nothing out of place in the rest of the post. Again, God is never surprised. All that come to Him are by design [to use Fuller’s word] included in the Atonement. And all have a duty to come because of the position Jesus occupies as their Lord and Ruler.

    Reply
  2. mark mcculley

    Nathan Finn–”Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”

    Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”

    Abraham Booth did not use the careless language of Tobias Crisp (or of Luther) about Christ becoming a sinner. Booth rejected any idea of Christ having a fallen human nature. But Booth did teach that “imputation” has two aspects. First, and always, God counts and declares the truth about a person. But second, and sometimes, God puts into effect a legal solidarity between persons. Thus God counted the sins of the elect to Christ, and then counts the death of Christ to the elect.

    Using the word “literal” here is not helpful, because it begs the question of what is “actual”. The righteousness of Christ is His death and that death is real, so why would it be a fiction for God to count that death as the death of the elect? Thus the two senses of “imputation”. First, a legal “transfer” (although I prefer sharing, since it’s still Christ’s death). Second, on the basis of that REAL TRUTH, God then declares the justified elect sinner to be righteous, to be justified.

    Many today agree with Fuller (and Edwards) and say that none of this matters because in the end it’s all based on “union” anyway. But this only begs the question by moving their assumptions about the legal not being “real” enough into the “union question”. Their assumption is always that “union” is not legal. The not yet argued presupposition is that “union” is something (they can’t exactly say what) which is “more than legal”. This is why we need to examine Fuller’s controversy with Abraham Booth, and take sides with Abraham Booth.

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    This is not even a question about the optimism of the post-millennial fantasies of Edwards and Andrew Fuller. It’s a question about the justice of God, and about the justice of God in Christ dying for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ by God. If the sins of the elect are not “really” justly imputed to Christ, then the death of Christ itself is not that which “really” makes God both just and the justifier of the ungodly. Instead we would have to look away from the cross itself, and look to what God is now doing in terms of some kind of “covenantal intent”.

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