Calvinism + Arminianism = Fullerism

Little leaven

Calvinism + Arminianism = Fullerism

Elder James Taylor

If you are not familiar with Fullerism, or wonder how Calvinism + Arminianism = Fullerism, then this article will attempt to explain this little known doctrine which has wrought great havoc on the churches of God.  For our purposes we will define Calvinism as believing in Particular Redemption and Arminianism as believing in the General Atonement.

If you are a believer in Particular Redemption you may ask yourself, “How is it possible to combine Particular Redemption with the General Atonement?  Are they not mutually exclusive?”  The answer is found with a man named Andrew Fuller.

Andrew Fuller was an 18th Century Particular Baptist preacher in England.  The Particular Baptists he associated with are the same ones the Colonial American Baptists and later Primitive Baptists would trace their church ancestry through in the United States.  Andrew Fuller was a very able preacher and was well known and widely regarded by the Baptists of his day.  The origin of Missionary Societies among Baptists are traceable directly to Fuller and likewise the motivation for modern Sunday Schools.  The reason why is found in his doctrine.  Let us first consider Fuller in his own words.

Andrew Fuller quoted in “Particular Redemption” by William Rushton

“Concerning the death of Christ, if I speak of it irrespective of the purpose of the Father and the Son as to the objects who should be saved by it, referring merely to what it is in itself sufficient for, and declared in the gospel to be adapted to, I should think I answered the question in a scriptural way in saying, It was for sinners as sinners.  But if I have respect to the purpose of the Father in giving His Son to die, and the design of Christ in laying down His life, I should answer, It was for His elect only.”  “Particular Redemption”, Rushton pg 18 quoted from the third part of Fuller’s “Dialogues, Letters and Essays” on the Atonement

“In short, we must either acknowledge an objective fullness in Christ’s atonement, sufficient for the salvation of the whole world, were the whole world to believe in him; or, in opposition to Scripture and common sense, confine our invitations to believe to such persons as have believed already.”  [Emphasis mine – JT]  “Particular Redemption”, Rushton pg 18 quoted from the third part of Fuller’s “Dialogues, Letters and Essays” on the Atonement

“If satisfaction was made on the principle of debtor and creditor, and that which was paid was just of sufficient value to liquidate a given number of sins, and to redeem a given number of sinners, and no more, it should seem that it could not be the duty of any but the elect, to rely upon it; for wherefore should we set our eyes on that which is not?  But if there be such a fullness in the satisfaction of Christ as is sufficient for the salvation of the whole world, were the whole world to believe in him; and if the particularity of redemption lie only in the purpose or sovereign pleasure of God to render it effectual to some rather that than other, no such consequence will follow,” etc.  [Emphasis mine – JT]  “Particular Redemption”, Rushton pg 18, quoted from the third part of Fuller’s “Dialogues, Letters and Essays” on the Atonement

I hope that every believer of Particular Redemption will sense something amiss in Fuller’s statements.  To put it succinctly Fuller believed the death of Christ is efficient to save the elect and sufficient to save the whole world if they will only believe.  In other words he did not deny election outright.  Nor did he deny that Christ died to save the elect particularly.  What Fuller is saying is not only will all the elect be definitely saved but the death of Christ is sufficient to save every one else if they will only believe.  Therefore he makes the death of Christ both Particular and General at the same time.  I think most Primitive Baptists will recognize this as nothing more than backdoor Arminianism because that’s exactly what it is.

Consider how seductive and appealing Fuller’s doctrine is.  Fullerism, like Arminianism, makes faith and belief a condition to be met and therefore a good work instead of the fruit of the spirit and the fruit of the gracious state of salvation.  It robs God of his glory by making man the decision maker of his salvation rather than God and puts man in control of his destiny rather than the Sovereign Almighty God who “doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”  Daniel 4:35

However, Fuller knows better than to give an outright rejection of election and Particular Redemption.  To carnally minded believers of election and Particular Redemption, Fuller’s heresy is almost irresistible.  To their minds he gives them the best of both worlds.

The Biblically minded person gives God the full glory for saving his elect and only his elect through the Particular Redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  We give God all the glory because he hath “chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” Eph. 1:4-5.

We give the Lord all the glory further knowing that “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.  As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.  What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.  For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,” Rom. 9:11-16.

Frankly, believers of Fullers doctrine are believers in heresy just as bad Arminianism.   In some ways Arminianism is to be preferred because that system is more honest about its logical consequences than Fuller’s doctrine, which ultimately leads to a denial of election and Particular Redemption.  In fact the ultimate denial of election and Particular Redemption is exactly what happened to those who followed Fuller’s teachings.

As we said before, Fuller introduced Missionary Societies to the Baptists.  This also led to the drive for modern Sunday Schools.  These unscriptural innovations had never been heard of among Baptists before Fuller’s doctrine.  Why did Fuller introduce them?   The answer is simple.  If the death of Christ is sufficient to save the whole world if they will only believe, then the more efficiently we can convince people to believe in Christ then the more people we will have to populate heaven.  The end justifies the means.  (Justifies – The doctrine of Justification is also tied up in this but we won’t delve into that now.)

What was the final outcome of Fuller’s doctrine?  It was rather devastating.  His system arrived in the United States around 1800.  All of the Baptists, including many which become known as Primitive Baptist, were strongly swayed by Fuller’s practice and by his doctrine.  Finally, small groups of Baptists throughout the United States began to see through the error and began to reject as heretical the doctrine and practice that had been introduced by Andrew Fuller.  They became known as the Primitive Baptists.

Sadly, the majority of Baptists, which had been sound in the faith regarding Particular Redemption, could not see through the error and did not repent.  At the time the split took place between what was known as the Old School and New School Baptists most if not all the New School Baptist confessions of faith retained their Particular Redemption statements.  But the damage was done.  The combination of the error in practice and its attendant error in doctrine now known as Fullerism slowly but surely became the actual doctrine of those churches.  Finally, all of the New School churches followed Fuller’s Doctrine to its logical conclusion and denied election and Particular Redemption altogether and simply became Arminians.

Are there any followers of Fullers doctrine today?  Yes there are.  They are mostly found in what are known as Sovereign Grace churches.  Much of what they say is sound.  Indeed if you were to read Andrew Fuller, much of what he said was sound.  But it only takes one rotten apple to spoil the barrel.  Some well-known examples of Sovereign Grace preachers who have followed Fuller’s teaching regarding the atonement are John MacArthur and John Piper.  Both of them have a lot of very good teaching but it only takes a little leaven to leaven the whole lump.

[Editor’s note: Since first publishing this article it has come to my attention that MacArthur’s views regarding the atonement have changed substantially.  Although MacArthur admits not wanting to be dogmatic about it, as of 1997 he has evidently come to a closer understanding, if not outright belief , of Particular Redemption.  Five of his ‘Answers’ beginning with the one below and spanning 1978 to 1997 are given here.   Although the Primitive Baptists would probably not be completely satisfied with all of his later answers, they are much more sound doctrinally.  His statement from 1978 is left here for informational purposes only.  However, every preacher should be accorded the opportunity for his views to change and mature as we hope is the case with MacArthur.]  JT  

John MacArthur states in “Questions and Answers” circa 1978,

“I find in my own mind and in my own study of Scripture a strong case for a “General Atonement,” for a “Universal Atonement,” for an “All Encompassing Provision.” For Jesus dying as the propitiation for our sins–and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world, tying it in particularly with John, chapter three, “God so loved. . . .” What? “The world”–not the elect. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It seems to me that the giving of the Son was in response to the loving of the world, and that the propitiation which Christ was, was sufficient for the sins of all the world.   So, I would say, that I believe, and I think this is maybe one way to understand it–I believe that the atonement of Christ was sufficient for the world, but is efficient for those that believe. I believe in, I guess what you could call a “Limited and Unlimited Atonement.” It is unlimited in the sense that it was sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world–it is limited, in that it is applied only to those who believe. I don’t like to get pushed beyond that, but I don’t like to just take the title of believing in “Limited Atonement” or “Particular Redemption,” that Jesus died only for the elect, because I think that that has some exegetical problems. I think you would have problems explaining certain passages of Scripture, but I admit to you that it is a very difficult issue, because there are many passages that apply His redemptive work “only to the elect,” “only to those who believe.” But I believe, compared with other passages, His redemption encompasses, in its sufficiency–the world.”

John Piper states in “The Duty: Faith” December 18,1994

“Today we focus on the third “D”—the duty that we have to believe. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish.” Let me focus our attention on this act of believing from several different angles.”

“Believing is our link with the love of God. Notice how Jesus speaks of God’s love-rescue: God so loved the world so that believers will not perish. One of the ways to express this is that the Love of God is sufficient to save the world, but efficient to save those who believe. Efficient means his love actually saves believers. It is effective in saving them from perishing. The love of God does not have this effect in the lives of those who do not believe. They perish.”  [Emphasis mine – JT]

In The Reformed Faith and Racial Harmony January 19, 2003 Piper states,

  1. Limited Atonement (Definite Atonement, Particular Redemption)

The main point of the doctrine of limited atonement is not to assert that Christ did not die for everyone in the sense that John 3:16 says he did: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is absolutely true: Christ died so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Christ’s death is sufficient for all, and should be offered to all as gloriously sufficient to save them if they will believe. “Limited atonement” does not deny any of that.  [Emphasis mine – JT]

Having looked at statements from Fuller, MacArthur and Piper let us now consider extracts from the 1646 and 1689 London Confessions of faith followed by the Aberdeen Primitive Baptist Church articles of faith which deal with Particular Redemption.  Notice how precise the language is, clearly stating the truth of God’s sovereignty in salvation.

The First London Baptist Confession of Faith 1646 Edition

  1. And God hath before the foundation of the world, foreordained some men to eternal life, through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of His grace; [having foreordained and] leaving the rest in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His justice.
  2. All the elect being loved of God with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, nor their own works, lest any man should boast, but, only and wholly by God, of His own free grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ, who is made unto us by God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and all in all, that he that rejoiceth, might rejoice in the Lord.
  3. Jesus Christ by His death did purchase salvation for the elect that God gave unto Him: These only have interest in Him, and fellowship with Him, for whom He makes intercession to His Father in their behalf, and to them alone doth God by His Spirit apply this redemption; as also the free gift of eternal life is given to them, and none else.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith  Chapter III: Of God’s Decree

  1. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.
  2. These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
  3. Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.
  4. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
  5. The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

Articles of Faith Aberdeen Primitive Baptist Church, Aberdeen, MS

  1. That by God’s sovereign grace and mercy, elect sinners are predestined to eternal life and are redeemed and justified by the blood of Christ alone.
  2. That Jesus Christ died for the sins of His people alone and they shall all be regenerated in time by the Holy Spirit, enabled to hear the Gospel of their salvations and caused to have faith in Christ as their Savior.

The Lord had blessed us with the great truths of his sovereign saving love.  Let us continue to hold forth the truth of God’s word.



One thought on “Calvinism + Arminianism = Fullerism

  1. John MacArthur’s father once pastored not far from where I live. I was given several books contained in the elder’s personal library. Based on some of his father’s beliefs, it is a wonder of God’s sovereignty that the younger believes anything orthodox today. John MacArthur’s theology has changed as he’s studied the Word of God – so it should be for all of us.

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