‘18th Century’ Category

Samuel Davies on Meditation

March 24th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Eminent Christians

By Joe Harrod

Samuel Davies (1723­–1761) expected Christians to meditate. He included meditation among various “duties of religion” and encouraged his hearers to make meditation a habitual practice.[1] By meditating, believers were following Christ’s own practice of devotion.[2] Davies never defined “meditation” or offered specific details on its mechanics, nor did he describe his own practice of this discipline; rather he expected that his hearers were acquainted with this practice. For him, meditation was an act of the mind that involved sustained, attentive reflection on God, his attributes, works, creation, and word, for the purpose of stirring one’s affections toward God.

Davies proposed several subjects upon which his hearers could affix their thoughts: God’s infinite and saving love[3]; heaven and hell[4]; “the glories of God displayed in a crucified Jesus . . . the scheme of salvation through his blood”[5]; as well as God’s glory and kindness.[6] He also encouraged meditation upon Scripture: “Read, and hear, and meditate upon his word, till you know your danger and remedy.”[7] Davies mentioned his own deliberate, meditative study of Romans.[8] By citing these objects, Davies placed himself within the Puritan tradition of meditation. Yet Davies believed that even unbelievers who were spiritually dead could “meditate upon divine things,” warning his hearers against adherence to spiritual disciplines as a sure indication of genuine faith.[9] Believers ought to meditate before taking the Lord’s Supper.[10] Davies believed that meditation afforded the believer delight and helped one to grow in holiness, which fueled happiness.[11]


[1]Samuel Davies, “Sinners Entreated,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1854, repr. 1993), 148. Cited henceforth as Sermons. See also idem., “Present Holiness and Future Felicity,” in Sermons, 1:281, and idem., “A Sermon on the New Year,” in Sermons, 2:207.

[2]Samuel Davies, “The Sacred Import of the Christian Name,” in Sermons, 1:348.

[3]Samuel Davies, “The Method of Salvation through Jesus Christ,” in Sermons, 1:130–31.

[4]Samuel Davies, “The Nature and Process of Spiritual Life,” in Sermons, 1:194. Here Davies suggested subjects upon which believers ought to meditate by mentioning subjects upon which unbelievers may ponder without affect.

[5]Samuel Davies, “The Divine Perfections Illustrated in the Method of Salvation, through the Sufferings of Christ,” in Sermons, 2:273.

[6] Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:480.

[7]Samuel Davies, “The Christian Feast,” in Sermons, 2:167–68.

[8]Samuel Davies, “The Nature of Justification, and the Nature and Concern of Faith in it,” in Sermons, 2:663.

[9]Samuel Davies, “The Nature and Universality of Spiritual Death,” in Sermons, 1:166.

[10]Davies, “The Christian Feast,” in Sermons, 2:167.

[11]Samuel Davies, “Present Holiness and Future Felicity,” in Sermons, 1:278. See also Samuel Davies, “The One Thing Needful,” in Sermons, 1:556.

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jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.

Reading from the Long 18th Century

March 20th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Biblical Spirituality

By Evan D. Burns
I echo the sentiments of Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he said he was an 18th century man.  The “long century” (1680-1837) is a deep mine of precious evangelical jewels worth searching out.  Here are some reasons (in no particular order) why reading evangelical writers from the 18th century is so profitable:
  1. They took the Great Commission seriously and sought to obey it no matter the sacrifice; they viewed the church on mission for the extension of Christ’s kingdom.
  2. Like the choice of Moses, they fled the fleeting pleasures of this world and considered the reproach of Christ as greater reward.
  3. They were men of the Book; they desired the Book of God at all costs; they meditated and studied it assiduously.
  4. They loved the gospel system, and the cross of Christ was all their theme.
  5. They courageously engaged in theological controversy for the sake of gospel purity and missions advance.
  6. They spoke with holy love and religious affections for their Sovereign God.
  7. They prayed with earnest desperation for the Spirit’s empowerment and sanctifying work.
  8. They preached with evangelical fervor for the conversion of souls and for the revival of the church.
  9. They promoted the Lord’s Table and Baptism as a significant part of the life and piety of the church.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

Samuel Davies on Reading Scripture

March 17th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Eminent Christians

By Joe Harrod

Although Samuel Davies (1723­–1761) defended Scripture’s divine authority from various eighteenth century detractors, notably the Deists, his devotion to Scripture as God’s word was greater than a series of doctrinal propositions and interpretive strategies. He found Scripture of matchless spiritual value: “The word of Christ has been the treasure, the support, and the joy of believers in all ages.”[1] When instructing congregants in using various means to pursue holiness, Davies’ frequently mentioned personal disciplines which involved Scripture.[2]

Hearing the Bible read and proclaimed was part of congregational spiritual exercises and domestic responsibilities, but public piety was only part of the Christian’s duty, for genuine spirituality thrived in a believer’s “secret” or personal duties. For Davies, reading the Bible was a necessary and vital way of pursuing personal holiness.[3] He exhorted congregants to “read the word of God and other good books, with diligence, attention, and self-application.”[4] As his people read Scripture, God would meet with them.[5] Reading might also stir the affections, as Davies recalled from his own reading of 1 Thessalonians 2: “I can remember the time, when the reading of [this chapter] has drawn tears even from [a] heart so hard as mine.”[6] On the other hand, the neglect of reading Scripture often contributes to “cooling in religion.”[7] The diligent reading of Scripture may also convince the unsaved sinner of their need for Christ.[8] Hearing and reading Scripture are a delight for Christians, because through these disciplines they enjoy filial and communal fellowship with God.[9]


[1]Samuel Davies, “Christ Precious to all True Believers,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1854, repr. 1993), 384. Cited henceforth as Sermons.

[2]See Samuel Davies, “A Sermon on the New Year,” in Sermons, 2:207; idem., “Tender Anxieties,” in Sermons, 2:424; idem., “The Nature of Love to God and Christ Opened and Enforced,” in Sermons, 2:464–65; and idem., “Christians Solemnly Reminded,” in Sermons, 3:608.

[3]Samuel Davies, “A Sermon on the New Year,” in Sermons, 2:207.

[4]Samuel Davies, “The Connection between Present Holiness and Future Felicity,” in Sermons, 1:281.

[5]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464–65.

[6]Davies, “Love of Souls,” in Sermons, 3:501.

[7]Davies, “Christians Solemnly Reminded,” in Sermons, 3:608.

[8]Davies, “Tender Anxieties,” in Sermons, 2:424.

[9]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464–65.

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jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.

Samuel Davies on the Nature of the Spiritual Life

March 4th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Eminent Christians, Revivals

By Joe Harrod

Samuel Davies (1723–1761) used the language of communion or fellowship when describing the nature of spiritual life: “If you love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, you delight in communion with them.”[1] True friends seized every opportunity for fellowship and a dear companion’s “absence is tedious and painful to them.”[2] God was such a friend to believers. Davies balanced God’s transcendence and immanence:

Though God be a spirit, and infinitely above all sensible converse with the sons of men, yet he does not keep himself at a distance from his people. He has access to their spirits, and allows them to carry on a spiritual commerce with him, which is the greatest happiness of their lives.[3]

Jesus had promised this communion (c.f. John 14:21–23) and it was a “mystical fellowship” that believers enjoyed, which sinners knew not.[4] Just as friends experienced communion through mutual exchanges, so God drew near to his people as a father might approach his child, showering grace, kindling love, and fostering assurance of his closeness. For their part, Christians had freedom to approach God through acts of devotion, especially prayer:

And oh! how divinely sweet in some happy hours of sacred intimacy! This indeed is heaven upon earth: and, might it but continue without interruption, the life of a lover of God would be a constant series of pure, unmingled happiness.[5]

Contrary to the opinion of some detractors, religion provided “a happiness more pure, more noble, and more durable than all the world can give.”[6] Such happiness was the believer’s present joy, and consisted of “the pleasures of a peaceful, approving conscience, of communion with God, the supreme good, of the most noble dispositions and most delightful contemplations.”[7] These blessings were gospel fruits and it was through Christ that believers had “sweet communion” with God, “the reviving communications of divine love, to sweeten the affections of life; and the constant assistance of divine grace to bear us up under every burden, and to enable us to persevere in the midst of many temptations to apostacy [sic], deliverance from hell, and all the consequences of sin.”[8]

Occasionally the believer’s experience of God did not seem so intimate, for “at times their Beloved withdraws himself, and goes from them, and then they languish, and pine away, and mourn.”[9] He recognized that the deep communion with God that he described was foreign to many, and he anticipated objections that such talk was “enthusiasm, fanaticism, or heated imagination.”[10] He appealed to more than a  half-dozen passages of Scripture (James 4:8; Hebrews 7:19 and 10:22; Psalms 69:18 and 73:28; Lamentations 3:57; and 1 John 1:3) which promised such intimacy, but replied that such communion was indeed true of God’s friends and if some critics questioned the possibility of such a close relationship, then their distance from God testified to their alienation.[11]


[1]Davies, “Nature of Love to God and Christ Opened and Enforced,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 2 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1854, repr. 1993), 463. Cited henceforth as Sermons.

[2]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463.

[3]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463.

[4]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463.

[5]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464.

[6]Samuel Davies, “The Ways of Sin Hard and Difficult,” in Sermons, 2:549.

[7]Davies, “Ways of Sin,” in Sermons, 2:549.

[8]Samuel Davies, “The Gospel Invitation,” in Sermons, 2:631.

[9]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464.

[10]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464.

[11]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463–64.

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jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.

Fuller on Reading the Scriptures

February 27th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Biblical Spirituality, Eminent Christians

By Evan D. Burns

Andrew Fuller carefully explained the usefulness and spiritual benefit of prayerfully reading the Scriptures, as opposed to reading commentaries in substitution of meditation.  He said that reading assists prayer, and prayer assists reading.  Here are some suggestions he gives for reading the Bible prayerfully:[1]

  • Read Scripture prayerfully at set times each day, preferably in the mornings.
  • Let reading the Scriptures precede prayer, and then let prayer spur on more reading.
  • Maintain a tender, humble, holy frame of mind.
  • Pause, think, pray, and apply to your meditations to your daily life.
  • Only use commentators/expositors when you cannot resolve a difficult issue, and that only after thinking hard by yourself.
  • Writing down interesting thoughts fixes them to memory.

[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 3: Expositions—Miscellaneous, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 788.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

Introducing Samuel Davies

February 25th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Church History, Eminent Christians, Revivals

By Joe Harrod

In November, 1752, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) wrote a Scottish correspondent describing a young minister with whom he had recently spent an afternoon’s conversation: “He seems to be very solid and discreet, and of a very civil, genteel behavior, as well as fervent and zealous in religion.”[1] Nearly four years before the aforementioned meeting, Edwards had called the same young preacher “a very ingenious and pious young man.”[2] For all that he knew of this godly young man in 1752, Jonathan Edwards could never have known that within a decade their bodies would be buried just yards apart, about a half mile north of the yellow clapboard house in which both men had lived and died. Samuel Davies (1723­–1761), the minister whose character Edwards described, was the reluctant fourth president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), a champion for religious toleration and civil rights for dissenters in Virginia, and a poet whose verses constitute some of the earliest North American hymnody. Davies was a husband and father who had lost both wife and children, a pioneer missionary to African slaves, and a New Side Presbyterian revivalist whom D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has described as “the greatest preacher” America ever produced. Yet a decade into the twenty-first century, Davies remains relatively unnoticed among American Evangelicals.[3]

Moreover, for all of his remarkable public accomplishments, those who knew Davies most closely esteemed his personal holiness. Upon learning of Samuel Davies’ death, his long-time friend and London correspondent Thomas Gibbons (d. 1785) remarked,

what crowned all, or advanced his distinction as a man and a scholar into the highest value and lustre, was, that his pious character appeared not at all inferior to his great intellect and acquired accomplishments…His pious character as much surpassed all else that was remarkable in him, as the sparkling eye in the countenance of a great genius does all the other features of the face.[4]

Samuel Finley (1715–1766), Davies’ successor as president at the college, noted that “from twelve or fourteen years of age, [Davies] had continually maintained the strictest watch over his thoughts and actions, and daily lived under a deep sense of his own unworthiness,” and “of the transcendent excellency of the Christian religion.”[5] In reading Davies’ sermons, treatises, hymns, correspondence, and diary, one gains a sense of what his friends knew personally: Samuel Davies articulated a warm and Evangelical piety, rooted in theological reflection upon Scripture.

For the past two and a half years, I have become increasingly familiar with Davies’ works during my doctoral thesis research. In the weeks ahead, I hope to share a portion of the fruit of this research with readers of this blog. Though I don’t follow Davies’ theology on every point, I think his reflections on divinity and piety commend wider appreciation among contemporary Evangelicals.


[1]Jonathan Edwards, letter to William McCulloch, November 24, 1752, in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 16 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 544.

[2]Jonathan Edwards, letter to James Robe, May 23, 1749, in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. Claghorn, Works 16:276.

[3]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942–1977 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 263.

[4]Thomas Gibbons, “A Portion of Two Discourses, Preached at Haberdashers-Hall, London, March 29, A.D. 1761, occasioned by the Decease of the Rev. Samuel Davies, A. M., Late President of the College of Nassau Hall, in New Jersey,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 1 (New York: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1854; repr., Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993), 56.

[5]Samuel Finley, “The Disinterested Christian: A Sermon, Preached at Nassau-Hall, Princeton, May 28, 1761. Occasioned by the Death of the Rev. Samuel Davies, A. M. Late President of the College of New Jersey,” Sermons, 1:53.

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jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.

Answering My Great Question about “The Great Question Answered”

February 19th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Church History, Eminent Christians, Historians

By Nathan A. Finn

You may or may not know that Andrew Fuller wrote a wildly popular gospel tract titled The Great Question Answered. It was republished numerous times by multiple publishers and remained enormously popular in both Britain and the USA into the mid-nineteenth century. It is available in volume three of the “Sprinkle Edition” of The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller (pp. 540–549). The tract is also available on several websites on the internet, but be careful not to confuse it with the pro-slavery treatise by James Sloan, which was published in 1857 and is also widely available online.

I am editing the volume on Strictures on Sandemanianism for the forthcoming critical edition of The Works of Andrew Fuller. Several months ago, I began trying to locate the first publication of The Great Question Answered because it briefly references the Sandemanian view of faith. I knew it was published during the decade between 1801, when Fuller included an appendix on Sandemanianism in the revised edition of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, and before the publication of Strictures on Sandemanianism in 1810. But the tract “went viral” so quickly and was republished so often it was difficult to find the original publication. I talked to Michael Haykin about my quest, and though he did not know the answer to my query, he helped me think through ways to track down the first publication. Last week, my quest came to an end. I have found the Holy Grail. Let me tell you how it happened.

In his memoir of his father, found in volume one of the Sprinkle Edition, Andrew Gunton Fuller suggested the tract was first published in 1806 (p. 91). But I knew that could not be the case because an extensive library holdings search last fall revealed that several libraries in both England and North America owned copies of the tract from multiple publishers dating to 1805. In his book The Forgotten Heritage: The Great Lineage of Baptist Preaching (Mercer University Press, 1986), Thomas McKibben cited an edition of The Great Question Answered published in London by William Button and Sons in 1803 (p. 49). That was the earliest date I could find.

In 1818, John Ryland Jr. published a biography of his close friend Fuller titled The Work of Faith, the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope, illustrated; In the Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller. In the biography, Ryland provided a list of Fuller’s published works, including magazine articles. Ryland dated the initial publication of The Great Question Answered to 1803 in The Missionary Magazine (p. 133). I had previously seen one reference to the tract appearing in the “Edinburgh Missionary Magazine,” but could not find anything. Ryland was a great help because the periodical, though published in Edinburgh, was simply titled The Missionary Magazine—I had been sniffing down the wrong trail. In God’s providence, some volumes of The Missionary Magazine are available via Google Books—including the 1803 volume.

As it turns out, The Great Question Answered was indeed published first in The Missionary Magazine in two parts. Part One appeared in the February 21, 1803 issue, on pages 59–65. Part Two was published the following month in the March 21, 1803 issue, on pages 110–16. The two parts were then combined into a single tract that was likely first published in one part by William Button and Sons in London later in 1803. From there, it was first published in America in both Boston and Maine as early as 1805.

I do know a bit about the reception history after 1805, though there are many stones left to un-turn. As early as 1811, a Gaelic edition was published in Edinburgh. The Great Question Answered was included in the different collected editions of Fuller’s published works that began appearing as early as 1820. Also by 1820, The Great Question Answered was being published by the Baptist General Tract Society in England. In 1821, a certain Dr. Henderson translated the tract into Swedish and Russian and began distributing it through tract societies formed for those nations. In 1838, the tract was included in The Baptist Manual published by the American Baptist Publication Society. The American Tract Society was publishing the tract by 1850. Throughout the American Civil War, The Great Question Answered was distributed to Confederate soldiers by a publisher in Raleigh, North Carolina.

As this brief survey makes clear, The Great Question Answered was a popular gospel tract during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century. During the years between 1803 and 1865, it was published on at least two different continents in at least four different languages—probably more. But the initial publication was in two parts in The Missionary Magazine in February and March of 1803. While there is still much I do not know about the reception history of this tract, my great question has been answered about The Great Question Answered. All is now right with the world.

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Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

Why Read Andrew Fuller?

February 13th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Books, Eminent Christians, Historians, Theology

By Evan D. Burns

A number of years ago I started reading Andrew Fuller’s writings.  I have come to admire and respect this great man of God who has not shared the same spotlight as other famous theologians.  But, thanks to the upcoming critical edition of Fuller’s published and unpublished works, Fuller’s theology and spirituality will hopefully continue to gain more influence.  I have discussed my appreciation of Fuller here, and in honor of Fuller’s 260th birthday last week, below are a few reasons (and suggested reading) that I commend his evangelical piety:

  • His cross-centered instinct (e.g., God’s Approbation of Labours Necessary for the Hope of Success;  The Common Salvation)
  • His Scripture-saturation (e.g., The Nature and Importance of an Intimate Knowledge of Divine Truth;  On an Intimate and Practical Acquaintance with the Word of God)
  • His missionary spirituality (e.g., The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation;  The Promise of the Spirit)
  • His prayerfulness and hunger for revival (e.g., Causes and Declension of Religion and Means of Revival)
  • His heavenly-mindedness (e.g., “The Blessedness of the Dead Who Die in the Lord”)
  • His Trinitarianism (e.g., “On the Trinity,” Letters of Systematic Divinity)

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.

Happy Andrew Fuller Day! Celebrating Andrew Fuller’s 260th birthday

February 6th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, Andrew Fuller, Baptist Life & Thought, Eminent Christians

By Michael A.G. Haykin

9781850492481

Last year, Bryntirion Press published my Ardent love to Jesus: English Baptists and the experience of revival in the long eighteenth century. The title comes from a phrase in one of the writings of Benjamin Francis, the friend of Andrew Fuller. Imagine my surprise recently when, reading a section of Fuller’s rebuttal of Joseph Priestley, I came across his statement that “the whole Epistle to the Hebrews breathes an ardent love to Christ” (Works, II, 190). I dearly wish I would have remembered this passage as I could have cited this statement in my book as further evidence of the Christocentric piety of the 18th century Baptists.

Andrew FullerThis is one of the key reasons I love Fuller and read him and recommend him: his writings are full of an ardent love to our Lord Christ. If you would see this in a very short compass: read his sermon on “The Choice of Moses” (Works, I, 426–428) today, a sermon preached on one of my favorite texts, Hebrews 11:24–26. And so, today, on Fuller’s 260th birthday, we thank God for the gift of this pastor-theologian to the Church.

PS Last year, The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies also began a tradition of a few friends of the Center celebrating Fuller’s birthday by having a dinner and birthday cake on February 6 (we had it at the Bristol Bar & Grille on Bardstown Road and Steve Weaver brought the cake) in honor of Fuller. Because I cannot travel at present, we are going to postpone our celebration till Friday, April 25 (which is actually the birthday of Oliver Cromwell! a fellow East Anglian to Fuller): more details to follow!

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Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.

“Take not thy Holy Spirit from me”

January 9th, 2014 Posted in 18th Century, 19th Century, Andrew Fuller

By Evan D. Burns

In the fourth letter of “Strictures on Some of the Leading Sentiments of Mr. R. Robinson,” Andrew Fuller writes “on the necessity of the Holy Spirit for the right understanding and believing the Holy Scriptures.”  He offers three propositions for the necessity of the Spirit in illumination: “1. That holy dispositions are necessary, in order to the admission of Scripture truth.  2. That men by nature have no such disposition.  3. That the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary to produce it.”[1]

On this third point, Fuller solemnly warns us not to be overconfident in our common sense and discerning knowledge.  The knowledge of the holy is a sacred gift given by the Spirit, the truth of which should compel us to plead for more of the Spirit’s illuminating work.

A man may read his Bible, and be mightily pleased with himself for the discoveries he makes by the mere dint of common sense; but if he have no other perception, with all his ingenuity he will be blind to its real glory. Our own times furnish us with too many exemplifications. Let us tremble, lest we grieve the Holy Spirit by undervaluing his influences. If those who think they can do without the Spirit were left to their own ingenuity, He would be just, nor could they complain. I wish our character be not drawn in that of the Laodiceans: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; but knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” May we hearken to the counsel given to that deluded people, and apply to the true source of all spiritual light, for “eye-salve that we may see.” They were wonderfully enamoured with their discernment: but Christ pronounced them blind. They had applied to the wrong source for light. If they wished for knowledge worth obtaining, they must apply to him for it. Oh that we had a heart to hearken to this counsel!…  All I mean to affirm is, that there are truths in the Holy Scriptures—truths, too, which constitute the essence and glory of the gospel-truths the discernment and belief of which form the essence of true religion, which cannot be admitted without an answerable disposition; and that this disposition must be produced by the Holy Spirit.  Whoever may think lightly of his influences, and fondly imagine they can do without them, may it be your prayer and mine—“Take not thy Holy Spirit from me”—“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”[2]


[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 3: Expositions—Miscellaneous, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 602.

[2] Fuller, Works, III, 604.

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Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.