An anonymous donor recently made a generous contribution to my student account here at the university. April and I have a child on the way, and this gift came at just the right moment. We cannot even begin to express to you the gratitude we feel towards this unselfish person(s)!
In order to receive this donation, I had to write a brief outline of my research project. I decided to post that here; it describes in a succinct way who I am studying and why. Gill and Fuller are not well known today; in fact, much of my research generates stares of confusion from many of the people with whom I converse. Perhaps this brief post can introduce Gill and Fuller and explain why they merit attention.
Gill and Fuller at the University of St Andrews
My Ph.D thesis concentrates on two British Baptist leaders of the 18th century—John Gill and Andrew Fuller. Gill ministered at the church in London that would later become associated with Charles Haddon Spurgeon. His pulpit ministry as well as his numerous commentaries and theological writings allowed him to exercise tremendous influence over Particular Baptists during his lifetime. Fuller emerged roughly one generation after Gill. His work in forming the Baptist Missionary Society, his many publications such as Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, and his pastoral ministry in Kettering all allowed him to make his own distinct contribution to Particular Baptist life.
I desire to conduct research on these men for two reasons. First, though both were well known during their lifetimes, contemporary theologians and historians—even those from the Baptist tradition—seem to have forgotten them. Few treatments of Gill’s theology exist. This fact is unfortunate given that Gill was the first Baptist to compose a comprehensive systematic theology and the first Baptist to write a commentary on every book of the Bible. In regards to Fuller, there has been something of a renewed interest in his work recently at the popular level, primarily because of his service alongside William Carey with the Baptist Missionary Society. However, not many scholarly works on his life and thought exist. The contributions that Gill and Fuller made to Baptist life and the substantive theological works that they composed mean that deserve more attention. I hope that my work will make them more visible to contemporary pastors and theologians.
Second, Gill and Fuller, though they both ministered within the same denomination, held to differing theological convictions. Many associate Gill with a form of Calvinism known as hyper-Calvinism. The descriptor “hyper” receives usage because those who label Gill in this fashion believe that he held to Calvinistic soteriology in such a way that he denied the free offer of the Gospel to all people and denied that all people have a duty to respond to the Gospel. Some debate exists in Baptist circles over whether or not Gill indeed held to such positions and whether his theology deserves a title such as hyper-Calvinism. However, the lack of contemporary research on Gill makes it difficult to determine his true beliefs; I hope that my project can provide clarity to this debate by arguing that Gill indeed held to the convictions that many associate with hyper-Calvinism.
For his part, Fuller rejected the hyper-Calvinism found among some of the Particular Baptists of his day. He formulated a form of Calvinism that stressed duty faith, that is, the duty of all people to exercise faith in Christ. His writings sought to convince Particular Baptists of the incorrectness of the hyper-Calvinist position and bring them more in line with the concerns of the Evangelical Revival.
A comparison of Gill and Fuller should therefore prove interesting. From a theological perspective, it will address various soteriological issues. From a historical perspective, it will hopefully contribute to the study of Baptist history by offering an account of the differences and similarities between these two important men.
The first chapter of my project will explore Gill’s soteriology. The second will demonstrate how this soteriology led Gill to possess a chastened view of evangelism. Here I will interact with both Gill’s critics and defenders in an attempt to reveal his true theological identity, arguing that something akin to the descriptor hyper-Calvinism is appropriate. The remaining chapters will place Fuller in conversation with Gill, exploring where he followed Gill and also where he departed from Gill as he sought to formulate his “duty faith” form of Calvinism.