The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)Written by Peter J. Morden Reviewed By Ryan Rindels
Peter Morden has distinguished himself as a premier scholar in Andrew Fuller studies. As Vice-Principal of Spurgeon’s College in London, Morden has done extensive research among eighteenth and nineteenth century English Baptists. The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller in the words of the biographer “aims to uncover something of the personal, private Andrew Fuller so that a clearer picture of the real man can be seen” (p. 9).
Life and Thought should be read as a complementary edition to Morden’s first work: Offering Christ to the World: Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) and the Revival of Eighteenth Century Particular Baptist Life (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2004). Morden’s contribution in Life and Thought can be summarized in the following: Andrew Fuller “emerges as a far more complex person than has sometimes been supposed and yet there was significant integration between the public figure and the private man. Fuller was a flawed character, but he was also a man of integrity who thought and felt deeply about his faith and agonized over major decisions and issues” (p. 9).
Life and Thought is arranged in a thematic rather than strictly chronological structure. The author introduces the work with an explanation of method, research, and aim, contending that he has sought to be as objective as possible. Concurring with the historian Thomas J. Haskell, Morden affirms that “objectivity is not neutrality.” But as George Mardsen has noted, “a historian frigid towards his theme can hardly ever write good history” (p. 9).
In Offering Christ to the World, Morden concluded that John Calvin’s writings were unimportant to Fuller. A newly discovered 1777/78 manuscript revealed direct quotations from the Institutes and led Morden to reconsider this position. Morden’s revised conclusion is that Fuller read the Genevan Reformer’s magnum opus as he penned the Gospel Worthy (p. 55). Morden gives a balanced perspective of Fuller, noting the pattern of self-deprecation in his diaries reflected a Puritan practice of rigorous self-examination rather than an actual state of affairs. Echoing Bruce Hindmarsh’s conclusions drawn from John Newton’s life, the confessional and sometimes “self recriminatory” tone of the diary was used as a means of “disciplined self-examination” (p. 105). This insight leads the reader to view Fuller’s diary through the appropriate lens, thereby discerning a more accurate picture of his life.
While the intense suffering Fuller endured through illness and family bereavements has been duly noted, Morden reveals a dimension of Andrew Fuller’s life that has yet been given extensive scholarly attention. He concludes that Fuller struggled with bouts of depression that deeply affected the trajectory of his writing and ministry. Morden cites evidence which included “terrible dreams, bouts of insomnia, dramatic mood swings, frequent tears and despair,” all symptoms of mental illness (p. 105). Prior to 1784 Fuller wrote regularly of doubting his own salvation. One entry in 1780 records, “I think of late, I cannot in prayer consider myself as a Christian, but as a Christian casting myself at Christ’s feet for mercy” (p. 104). Morden perceives a positive shift in Fuller’s disposition that coincided with his work as secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society. After 1784 there is no evidence Fuller questioned his eternal security.
Morden gives careful attention to the family life of Fuller, although the reader would have desired greater insight into his marriages. Possibly for a lack of material, little is said of Fuller’s correspondence with his wives. Morden does note that Fuller’s 2nd marriage was strong and loving, despite being marked by tragedy (p. 157). The author gives a fair assessment of Fuller’s domestic life, claiming “devoted father” is an appropriate appellation while “exemplary” cannot withstand scrutiny where evidence is fragmentary and incomplete (p. 103). Fuller wrote of intense agony resulting from his children’s deaths, particularly his six-year-old daughter. He expressed deep interest in the spiritual state of his family. Fuller’s extensive ministry duties, however, lead the reader to conclude more should have been done in the home.
Fuller lived and ministered concurrently with the evangelical revivals. Morden gives evidence of the impact of these revivals on English evangelicalism. Fuller’s closest friends were converted through the preaching of George Whitefield. It would have been helpful, however, to know his personal assessments of the revivals. What did Fuller conclude about the Wesleys and Methodism? One would prefer to know what aspects of the revivals Fuller judged as genuine and which ones spurious, particularly in light of prevailing Particular Baptist sentiment.
As for Fuller’s legacy, Morden gives primacy to missions. He gives an anecdote from Spurgeon’s College documenting an African American student that studied at the college in the 1870’s and had read Fuller’s work in America. After completing his studies, Thomas L. Johnson served with the Baptist Missionary Society in Cameroon. This account, in Morden’s words showed, “Fuller’s influence was not just confined to the western world; his significance as a pioneer of modern cross-cultural mission was, and remains, global” (p. 206).
The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller is a worthwhile addition to the ongoing historiography of Fuller studies. Morden’s portrait of Fuller is arguably the most comprehensive and balanced book of its length available, making this book an important read for pastors and students desiring knowledge of the eminent pastor theologian would fare well to grab this read.
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
Mill Valley, California
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