Fuller The Non-Calvinist?


Editorial note: This is the first 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).

It has been very entertaining recently to see the name and theology of Andrew Fuller set forth as one whose doctrinal pilgrimage served as a corrective to the Calvinism of the late eighteenth century. His position is supposed to be a model to shame present-day Calvinists for holding so tenaciously to the distinctive tenets of historical confessional Calvinism. If these brothers would embrace the full system of Andrew Fuller, that would virtually end the present polemical engagement on this issue. In fact, in future theological discussion, such an event would significantly rearrange the constituent members of the discussion and give an entirely different tone to the interchange. Recently, Fuller has been presented as a “moderate” Calvinist. Fuller was not unfamiliar with that term and even aligned himself on the issue. When a contemporary asked him about the ranges of Calvinism within Baptist life, Fuller responded, “There are three by which we commonly describe; namely, the high, the moderate, and the strict Calvinists.” The High Calvinists he considered as antinomian “more Calvinistic than Calvin himself.” They considered Fuller an Arminian, a characterization he firmly rejected. The moderate Calvinists were “half Arminian, or as they are called with us, Baxterians.” Those who designate Fuller as a moderate Calvinist today, do so mainly because he disclaimed belief in a “commercial” view of the atonement and he worked energetically to correct the leading principles of hyper-Calvinism. Consequently, they think that because he believed in the duty of all men to repent of sin and believe the gospel, he had rejected both total depravity and irresistible grace. In this short series, I propose to set out clearly Fuller’s views on the traditional “five points,” with the invitation to all to adopt Fuller’s views on these issues; in doing so both the direction and the nature of our rhetoric would shift significantly.

FullerFirst, I will give some attention to Fuller’s understanding of the doctrine of eternal, unconditional, personal election to salvation. In Fuller’s “Confession of Faith” presented to the church at Kettering in October 1783 at the time of his installment there as pastor, he dealt with the issue of human inability to any moral good and thus inferred, “If men on account of sin lie at the discretion of God, the equity and even necessity of predestination cannot be denied; and so the Arminian system falls.” Following on this thought, Fuller went on to affirm, “From what has been said it must be supposed I believe the doctrine of eternal, personal election and predestination” and that “in the choice of the elect God had no motive out of himself.”

In the second edition of Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, he defined his discussion by affirming that “there is no dispute about the doctrine of election, or any of the discriminating doctrines of grace. . . it is granted that none ever did or ever will believe in Christ but those who are chosen of God from eternity.” In Reply to Philanthropos, Fuller reasoned very closely concerning the certain efficacy of the death of Christ for some and not for others. One part of his argument he proposed as a prodosis and apodosis: “If the doctrine of eternal, personal, and unconditional election be a truth, that of a special design in the death of Christ must necessarily follow.” He then placed before Taylor a small part of the Scriptures and arguments which “appear to me [Fuller] to prove the doctrine of election.” He then concluded that that part of mankind spoken of in these Scriptures and denominated as chosen of God and given of the Father were so “because God eternally purposed in himself, that they should believe and be saved.” In The Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace, Fuller again distilled from several Scripture passages that are explicit in their use of “elect,” “chosen,” “called,” as well as other phrases the “doctrine of eternal, personal, and unconditional election.” Then after a brief review of some variety in certain interpretations of the efficacy of Christ’s death, he asserted that they “never imagined that any besides the elect would finally be saved. And they considered the salvation of all that are saved as the effect of predestinating grace.”

In a small piece entitled, “The Connexions in which the Doctrine of Election is Introduced in the Holy Scriptures,” Fuller, assuming he might take for granted “the doctrine of election . . . as a matter clearly revealed in the word of God” made three observations of its connection with other vital doctrinal ideas. First, he stated that election is placed so strategically “to declare the source of salvation to be mere grace, or undeserved favour, and to cut off all hopes of acceptation with God by works of any kind.” The cause of salvation must be “decidedly and fully ascribed to electing grace” so that sinners will not rely on any personal righteousness, remaining or accrued, but go as “lost and perishing sinners to the saviour, casting themselves at the feet of sovereign mercy.” Second, Fuller argued that the doctrine of election was introduced “in order to account for the unbelief of the greater part of the Jewish nation, without excusing them in it.” [italics original] Paul explained that, given human sinfulness, even among the Israelites “he ever preserved the right of sovereignty in the forgiveness of sin, and every dispensation of saving grace.” Paul’s interaction with his theoretical objector in Romans 9 demonstrates that “the doctrine maintained by the apostle was that of the absolute sovereignty of God, in having mercy on whom he would, and giving up whom he would to hardness of heart.” The third point of connection with election is to “show the certain success of Christ’s undertaking, as it were in defiance of unbelievers, who set at naught his gracious invitations.” Without election of sovereign grace the universal call would be universally unsuccessful. For this reason, the stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, for all that the Father has given to the Son will come to him.

Fuller died on May 7, 1815. Nine days before, he dictated a letter stating, “I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope, than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace, through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour.” On that same afternoon he said to a deacon visiting him, “If I am saved, it will be by great and sovereign grace—by great and sovereign grace.” The next day he observed, “I have done a little for God; but all that I have done needs forgiveness. I trust alone in sovereign grace and mercy.”

On election, those that affirm the Traditional Baptist Statement on Soteriology confess that “election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.” Fuller would say, and in fact did say, that this is not enough. Election is not just a “plan” but a specific choice. It is “certain” because this choice is of individuals, given to his son with the certainty that they will come. The Traditional Statement carries also the denial that “from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.” Fuller would disagree with this, and would emphasize that salvation is of undiluted grace expressed in the choice of specific sinners and condemnation is nothing else than the manifestation of perfect justice upon individuals whom he had the sovereign right to bypass, as could be the case with every sinner.

If we make Fuller our point of contact with the doctrinal past of Baptists, and a leader of the non-Calvinist movement, then it would be a good thing for us all to join it. The “Traditional Baptist” must realize, however, that he would need to cast aside his publicized view on election, rescind his endorsement of the document, and reformulate the terms and substance of the way he views election. The invitation is open.

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19 Responses to “Fuller The Non-Calvinist?”

  1. Timothy

    The last sentence of the next-to-last paragraph may have the word “that” where “than” may be intended. Might want to check it. And I may be mistaken, as that happens a lot.

  2. Dr. Nettles,

    Many Calvinists, such as you, want to claim Andrew Fuller as a standard Calvinist. Yet, the distinctions that made his teaching so valuable across the centuries were not the principles with which he agreed with standard Calvinism, but those principles in which he went beyond standard Calvinism and moved significantly toward the center. In order to proudly include this shining light in your number, you (and Dr. Michael Haykin, and others) must gloss over those differences in which he shined the brightest. For example, in the article, “Baptists and Calvinism: A Brief Reply to Dr. Garrett,” at The Andrew Fuller Center blog, Dr. Haykin exclaims in a response to Dr. James Garrett, Jr.:

    Fuller was a five-point Calvinist through and through. Yes, he did argue, against Hyper-Calvinism, that repentance and faith were duties…

    Let me point out that to Fuller, nothing was a duty except that which one was naturally able to comply with. See how that flies with the standard Calvinists. Dr. Haykin continues…

    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… and 1 Corinthians 2:14… 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.

    I disagree with the spin that Dr. Haykin seems to be putting on Fuller here. The moral inability of which Fuller speaks is not an inability to understand, but an unwillingness to comply with what is understood. Dr. Haykin continues:

    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.

    This is a complete mischaracterization of what “Fuller was seeking to affirm” in “making this distinction between physical and moral inability.” He was arguing against hyper-C’s, and all of them fully agreed already that “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.” To preach that would be “preaching to the choir.” The purpose of making this distinction was to affirm that sinners are not all together powerless in every way, but only powerless in the same sense that any man is powerless to do that to which he is totally averse. In other words, he was arguing that the inability of sinners extends only to their unwillingness to come to Christ—that they could come if they wanted to, and that they ought to come as they are obligated to, but due only to their own wickedness they will refuse to come unless the Holy Spirit intervenes.

    Even Fuller considered himself a 5-pointer; but his teaching was so different from the usual Calvinist as to make him a centrist. So in one sense, holding to the moral-natural [ability]distinction would make one a better Calvinist, in the sense of improving upon Calvinism itself without having to abandon “the Calvinist heritage.” But it brings up the question of how far one can vary from the standard teachings of Calvinism and still be a Calvinist.

    If Fuller is to be used to bring the two sides closer together, it must begin with his teachings on the difference between the moral and the natural inability of sinners, with the corresponding universal warrant and obligation to believe—not the unobtainable obligation of standard Calvinism, but the obligation grounded in the natural ability to “cordially embrace all that God has revealed.” Such a centered point of contact would bring God’s grace and man’s response out of the polar “disabled/enabled” framework and into the more Biblical “aversion/persuasion” dynamic. All sinners are averse to God, but with the natural ability to respond in belief; however, sinfulness makes it certain that none will choose to believe unless God decides to bring to bear those gracious persuasions that He knows will successfully result in their conversion.

    • Tom Nettles
      Tom Nettles

      Ken, thank you for your response. I am not sure where you are disagreeing with me. I agree that the inability of which Fuller spoke was a moral ability, which, as you have said means and on willingness to respond to the holy character, law, and gospel of God. How are you distinguishing your view of Fuller from my view of Fuller? And how does your view differ from that of Michael Haykin? As far as his differing from standard Calvinism is concerned, his own view was that he was embracing historic Calvinism and correcting the aberrant hyper Calvinism. I appreciate the length with which you discuss this issue but I am not sure how you are responding to the particular presentation of my article. Do you think that I did not give an accurate presentation of his view of election?

      • Dr. Nettles,

        Thank you for addressing my comments. If we were discussing election alone, then I would agree with your representation of Fuller as holding to unconditional election. But your article seems to begin with the implied contention that he was a standard Calvinist who has merely been misunderstood by non-Calvinists. I would disagree with that contention. The doctrine of Unconditional Election alone does not make one a standard Calvinist. Calvinism holds to unconditional election without the freedom of men to choose otherwise; the “other side” holds to the freedom to choose otherwise, without unconditional election. But there has always been a less vocal (although not necessarily less in number), more cooperative middle that holds to both.

        I am glad to see such attention being given to Fuller these days, and am one of those who think that his views have potential to bring the two ends of the spectrum closer together. The “great debate” need not remain a matter of the polar opposites. There is a middle; and Fuller was one of the pioneers who plowed in that field—not a field only of bogs of mystery and stones of contradiction, but a fertile field of a well-reasoned, Scriptural argument. To be sure, he entered from the Calvinist side; but he plowed toward the Arminian side and was not content to remain only at the Calvinist pole. By this, he obtained a better handle on the truth, because the Biblical truth (as Fuller found it) is in the middle. Fuller says it well (in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation):

        If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency; for, on the same ground, another person might embrace that which I reject, and reject that which I embrace, and have equal Scriptural authority for his faith as I have for mine. Yet in this manner many have acted on both sides: some, taking the general precepts and invitations of Scripture for their standard, have rejected the doctrine of discriminating grace; others, taking the declarations of salvation as being a fruit of electing love for their standard, deny that sinners without distinction are called upon to believe for the salvation of their souls. Hence it is that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that it is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us…

        You asked,

        I am not sure where you are disagreeing with me. I agree that the inability of which Fuller spoke was a moral ability, which, as you have said means [an un-]willingness to respond to the holy character, law, and gospel of God. How are you distinguishing your view of Fuller from my view of Fuller?

        If you intend to continue this series and will post an installment on this topic of inability, then perhaps I should wait until then. But if your view is that of standard Calvinists (as I am confident that it is), then you will have a problem with Fuller’s distinction between natural and moral inability. It is not the “unwillingness to respond to the holy character, law, and gospel of God” that Calvinists generally have a problem with, but the natural ability “to respond to the holy character, law, and gospel of God” that causes them problems. I will await your explanation, whether now or in a future installment in this series.

        Be blessed!

        • Tom Nettles
          Tom Nettles

          Dear Ken, thank you for your thoughtful response. It seems that we have some disagreement on our interpretations of Fuller, though I can’t see exactly where our impasse belongs. I see Fuller as looking at both kinds of scriptures and saying that both the Arminians and the hyper Calvinists are wrong. He opted for the more historic, Confessional, Calvinist position. He saw himself completely in line with the historic Calvinists. I interpreted him in that way. I also plan to do a post on hyper Calvinism so as to distinguish it clearly from the Calvinism that preceded the early 18th century development of the perversion. Perhaps that will help clear up the vocabulary a bit. My post on Fuller’s view of inability should be up soon, perhaps even today. I look forward to more dialogue and I think that these sorts of exchanges can be very healthy.

  3. Michael White

    It seems we have two similar but different interpretations of what Fuller meant by moral inability.
    From what I read in the Word, fallen man has a darkened heart, a futile thinking mind, and is ignorant of the ways of God. And that God in bringing salvation, opens up the eyes of the heart, unstops the closed ears, and reveals His Son and thus demonstrates His love to the individual He is saving. Faith then is the evidence we have that Jesus truly is the crucified risen Lord of all.
    Those for whom God has not done this for are called unbelievers, those without faith, and thus those without a confirmed knowledge of the veracity of the cross and without any experience of the love of God. Though they can understand in a physical sense the message of the Gospel, they cannot believe it from the heart.
    Whether one calls that a moral inability, i do not know. I would call it a spiritual inability.
    Thank you both for the irenic spirit in which you disagree. I look forward to reading the rest of these posts and comments.

    • Tom Nettles
      Tom Nettles

      I thank Ken Hamrick for his sincere interest in this question. During the last time we were active on this issue, I allowed him to have the last word for I did not feel that his final submission added anything substantial to the arguments already put forth. I think the case is the same here. In light, however, of his feeling that more still needs to be sorted out, I will seek to give attention to the particular issues he revisits. I believe that the material I present from Fuller is determinative on this particular question.

      I agree with him that human sin in the fallen state is certain. I also agree that Fuller resisted capitulating to any concept of mechanical, or natural, necessity or impossibility in the issue of sin or, on the other hand, of faith and repentance. I disagree with his argument that certainty in the area of moral choice is substantially different from moral necessity. He states, “The philosophical lens of Centrism is that of a determinative certainty. In other words, God determines all things by making all things certain, but not necessary.” Given the entire fabric as to how humans make decisions in light of the inflow of motivations to the understanding, and that it is impossible to demonstrate that any decision ever goes contrary to the prevailing motivation, then how to separate certainty from necessity in this moral realm I must leave to Mr. Hamrick for I cannot do it. He must argue for contra-causal choice, which I don’t suppose he will want to do; or he must say that one’s choice has no cause at all, which will immediately contradict, in both of these cases, our Lord’s description of the human heart as the fountain of all moral choice.

      Mr. Hamrick seemingly will not recognize that my argument from physics and mechanical necessity was given only to illustrate that we operate on the basis of the expectation that all things that come into being, whether in nature or in moral action, have an explanation, that is, a cause. I am clear that the realm of moral choice always involves human responsibility and that a moral agent always makes moral choices. He thinks that these assertions are empty because I do maintain that necessity in the moral realm does not eliminate praiseworthiness or blameworthiness in the moral choice. He noted, “There is nothing voluntary about a round object rolling down an incline. The meaning of voluntary agency has been robbed of all substance, so that only the shell of meaning and sound of the words remain, when choices are portrayed as merely a cause carried through to a necessary effect.” Without going into arguments that I have already given, such as the necessary moral goodness of God, in previous articles, I simply must say that he misrepresents, not only me, but the case as it is. Also, his assertion that my view would “deny men the responsibility, the opportunity, or the natural ability to choose rightly” simply is not true. If I have not made my argument clearly enough to this point for him to know that I affirm, in harmony with the arguments of Fuller, all three of these things that he claims my view denies, then I do not know how to make it clearer than before. I simply refer the reader to the previous posts on this issue.

      We certainly see an aspect of “necessity” in the moral realm when we affirm the necessity of a substitutionary atonement for the forgiveness of sins and the impossibility of God’s forgiving sin apart from it. The moral dynamic of this is not mechanical but all the connections are none-the-less necessary. I do not believe that Mr. Hamrick would want to argue against the necessity of a substitutionary, propitiatory atonement and that this necessity arises from the unchangeability of moral absolutes. Even so, Fuller, from the standpoint of the certain, universal, and inevitable human resistance to all the operations of the Spirit through the word and upon the natural conscience of men falling short of bringing about repentance and faith, argues for the necessity of an efficacious call, which means that an entirely new moral disposition is necessary for true repentance and faith: “From the depravity or perverseness of the human heart arises the necessity of a special and effectual influence of the Holy Spirit. The influence before mentioned may move the soul, but it will not bring it home to God. When souls are effectually turned to God, it is spoken of as the result of a special exertion of almighty power.” [CW 2 518, 519].

      Also Mr. Hamrick seeks to divide certainty from necessity in Fuller’s understanding and implied that he avoided the concept of impossibility. He quoted Fuller, “ it cannot be said, in strict propriety of speech, that […] any man’s salvation is impossible, or his destruction necessary; seeing the way of salvation is open to him, if he will but walk in it. All that can be said in truth is that there is a CERTAINTY in these things.” Piggybacking on that, he denies that Fuller would accept the idea of moral necessity. He quoted Fuller, “All such terms as necessary, cannot, impossible, &c., when applied to these subjects, are used improperly. They always denote, in strict propriety of speech, an obstruction arising from something distinct from the state of the will. Such terms, in their common acceptation, suppose a willingness in us to perform an action, or obtain an end, but that we are hindered by some insurmountable bar from without.” Hamrick used this to deny that Fuller affirmed both necessity and impossibility in the moral realm. Hamrick does not see Fuller as attributing to the willingness of the moral agent such terms. Contrary to this assertion, however, Fuller resists those terms only when a person understands by them an obstruction extraneous to the will.

      I will, therefore, close this response with a couple of quotes from Fuller and have to allow the reader to judge for himself how Fuller argues this point of the relation between certainty, impossibility, and necessity and the subtleties that must be set forth clearly in the meaning of the words, nature, natural, and moral.

      “If the gospel and its invitations were addressed to them when their destruction was certain, then it is not inconsistent to address those invitations even to men who, as it may afterwards prove, were at the very time, as the just reward of their iniquity, appointed to utter destruction. The indefinite call of the gospel including them as well as others, and the declaration of our Lord, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,’ holding good in regard to them as well as any others, it might be said with truth that there was no Natural impossibility in the way of their salvation; that if they had repented, they would have found mercy. But the impossibility respected their being brought to repentance, Heb vi 4, 5. They were under the power of a moral impotence; or, which is the same thing, of a rooted enmity to Christ; and God had determined to leave them in that state to perish for their sin.” [CW 2 559]

      “But whether the words natural necessity, or inability, be retained or given up in this matter, Mr. T. insists upon it that our depravity comes upon us according to the nature of things; that is, if I understand him, according to the established law, or settled order of things; and this he thinks equivalent to a natural necessity, and must therefore denominate it blameless. . . . But if Mr. T. can thus prove our native depravity blameless, I think I can, by the same mode of reasoning, prove all the fruits of it to be blameless too. Is there not a settled order, or an established law, of some sort, for the operations of the human mind, and indeed for all human actions? Is it not according to the law of nature, according to the nature of things, that a man always chooses that which, all things considered, appears in the view of his own mind the most agreeable; and pursues, if he have opportunity, that which, all things considered, is the object of his choice? It is impossible that a man should choose, in any instance, that which at the same time and in the same respects, all things considered, appears in the view of his mind disagreeable, and refuse that which is agreeable. And it is equally impossible that he should act in contradiction to his prevailing choice. An evil tree, according to the nature of things, will bring forth evil fruit; and a good tree will bring forth good fruit; and no less certainly will ‘wickedness proceed from the wicked,’ according to the proverb of the ancients and the manifest implication of our Lord’s words, Matt. xii. 33, 34. But does it thence follow that the evil fruit produced by a bad heart comes by a natural necessity, and is blameless? Which way will Mr. T. take? Will he deny an established order in the human mind, and maintain that we choose totally at random, without any respect to what is agreeable or disagreeable in the view of the mind; that we act without any necessary connexion with our prevailing choice; and that we must do so, in order to be free agents? Or will he admit of such a connexion in the operations of the mind, and instead of placing all blame in actions, and none in the state of the mind, as he seems to have done all along hitherto, will he now exculpate from blame all those acts which necessarily arise from choice, and all those volitions which necessarily arise from the view of the mind, and throw all the blame upon the state of the mind itself? He must either do this, or else allow that what comes to pass according to established laws, may nevertheless, be blameworthy.” [CW 2:526, 526]

  4. dr. james willingham

    Very good, Dr. Nettles. I always wonder how folks like brother Hamrick might feel, if they should have a convert say to them as one said to a friend: “O, it was so wonderful that I could not resist it.” My friend thought about that reply for nearly forty years and then became a Calvinist. The irony is that his last name is Spurgeon. And I have another friend who teaches, though he is a Baptist, in an extension center for Westminster Theological Seminary. He was converted many years ago in the following manner. He had come to visit his brother after getting out of the army, and he sat down at the dinner table with nothing on his mind but the tasty meal that his sister-in-law had fixed for the family. He said, “Just then it hit me. I fell out of my chair, crying to God for mercy and salvation. No one had said a word to me about salvation.” Even so he was converted and would go on to earn a doctorate in Hebrew at a major university. I was an Atheist who said there was no God. Then at a Youth For Christ Meeting in St. Louis, Mo., on Dec. 7, 1957, I saw Jesus standing in front of me, facing me, looking at me, with His hand raised like He was knocking at a door. He was standing about five to eight pews away from me. Up to then I had been thinking I would like to go forward, but then I thought, “Why would I want to do that? None of this is true.” It was at that moment that I saw the Lord. Whether it was a vision or not, I cannot say. I can say I lost all of my desire to go forward. As soon as the service was over I headed for home, determined to tell no one. About two blocks from home, something or someone changed my mind, and I decided to tell my mother what had happened. That night , following her instructions, I asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins. Two verses summarize that experience, Rev. 3:20 and Acts 16:14. I had determined to tell no one about what had happened, and yet my mind was changed. I like to think (and I do believe) it was the Lord who opened my heart’s door, ending my career as an Atheist. He evidently had other plans for me – like being called to the ministry. I like to think that every one of the doctrines of the TULIP acrostic along with Predestination and Reprobation are invitations of therapeutic paradoxes. I mean, after all, if a totally unconditional sermon on Judgment to come without a word said about deliverance or forgiveness by a minister who wanted everyone to pay the supreme penalty can lead to salvation (Jonah, of course), what can God not do? I like to think of the millennium of generations (I Chron.16:15)(that’s anywhere from 20,000 to 900,000 years, depending on how long a generation is) in which mankind settles quadrillions of planets in the starry heavens just so Jesus can be absolutely literal in Matt. 24:31 about the Angels gathering the Elect from one end of the (definite article in the original) heaven to the other and the number of the redeemed in Heaven can be a number no one can number (Rev.7:9). Could it be that limited atonement or particular redemption as we call it will win more souls in the end than the whole idea of a general atonement? After all, human beings love mysteries of depth and detail. What better one than that encapsulated in Mt.15:21-28 and Lk.4:16-31, where a number of these truths are preached evangelistically. Hope Ken takes a gander at such references. It might help.

    • Tom Nettles
      Tom Nettles

      Dr. Willingham, thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking note about the blog response. Yes, our God is excellent, infinitely so, above all the pleasures and beauties of this world.

    • Tom Nettles
      Tom Nettles

      Mr. Hamrick and I have reached an impasse in communication. He believes that I miss Fuller’s point and violate context in my citations. I think the same about his exposition of Fuller. The puzzling nature of his interaction is represented in the query, “Would Dr. Nettles claim that the moral inability is invincible because the sinner could not overcome it no matter how much he might want to?” ” No matter how much he might want to?!” What does that mean when one is dealing with moral inability? That is the very point of moral inability. The sinner does not want be rid of his hostile evaluation of the claims of God both in the Law and in the Gospel. If he wanted to overcome it (out of a sincere sense of wanting to know and honor a God of holy love), then the bondage already would be broken. My last reply in the comments above on this issue on August 4, 2014 is the final installment of all I have to say in light of Mr. Hamricks’ objections to my discussion of Fuller. The reader simply must look at what I have argued and what he has argued, look at the sources, and decide for himself.


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