Jul 29, 2009

Fuller vs. Booth

In the "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Andrew Fuller" By John Webster, we learn more about the controversy between Andrew Fuller and Abraham Booth, both Calvinistic Baptists. The following are some excepts from thosee memoirs. (All highlighting is mine - SG)

"Controversy with Mr. Booth"

"It was grief of heart to Mr. Fuller, to have any disagreement with a man whom he so highly esteemed, as the venerable Abraham Booth. But on some minor points there was a difference between them, though not such as would justify the slightest alienation, or require any painful exercise of mutual forbearance. During the controversy on Faith, in which Mr. Fuller was several years engaged with various opponents, who marched forward from the ranks both of Arminians and Calvinists, to meet this redoubtable champion, Mr. Booth watched its progress with considerable anxiety; and finally concluded that he could find a middle path between those Calvinists who admit and those who deny the obligation of sinners to believe the gospel. He at the same time suspected that Mr. Fuller and his friends were too much attached to the sentiments of President Edwards, and other American divines of later date; and that by importing their metaphysical refinements, there would be some danger of relaxing that muscular system of theology to which he himself was so ardently devoted.

Mr. Booth, therefore, published, in 1796, his first edition of "Glad Tidings to perishing Sinners;" the object of which is to prove that "the genuine gospel contains a complete warrant for the ungodly to believe in Jesus." This is a proposition which Mr. Fuller never denied, and which needed but little proof; and it is rather extraordinary that so acute a writer as Mr. Booth should seem to confound the "warrant" to believe, with a disposition to believe, or that state of mind which induces faith. Had the question been, what is it that warrants a sinner to believe in Christ; the obvious answer is, the gospel and that only. But if it were asked, what is it that inclines a sinner to believe ; the only answer is, that sacred influence by which he is renewed in the spirit of his mind. Yet both in the title and tenor of the work, this necessary and important distinction is too much overlooked.

In the progress of his inquiry, Mr. Booth did not fail to animadvert pretty severely on some of the American writers whom he mentioned rather in terms of contempt; and the sentiments of Dr. Hopkins in particular, on the subject of regeneration and justification, he considered as "pernicious," and tending to "corrupt the gospel." His pamphlet soon crossed the Atlantic, where it was attentively examined by Dr. Hopkins, who transmitted to a friend on this side the water, a complete refutation of several of Mr. Booth's positions, accompanied with some pointed strictures on the temper of his performance, and the inconclusive nature of his reasonings. The respect entertained for Mr. Booth, did not permit the printing of this valuable manuscript, and it obtained only a private circulation; for, whatever difference of opinion might exist on some speculative points, all parties were agreed in paying homage to his character. Mr. Fuller apologized to Dr. Hopkins, for Mr. Booth's manner of writing, and his seeming contempt for contemporary authors, in a letter dated March 17, 1798; while he at the same time expressed his own opinion of the manuscript in question.

"I sincerely thank you," says he,"for your remarks on Mr. Booth's performance; which every person of judgment who has seen them, within my knowledge, considers as a decisive refutation. When his piece first came out, I was in London. I looked into it, and soon after called upon him. I told him, as to his first part, I had no objection to it, except this; that it seemed to imply that sinners were very willing to come to Christ, if the door was but open; and all that appeared to be wanting was a right or 'warrant' to come. But as to his second part, I was fully persuaded that he was wrong, and that I could prove him so. To which he made scarcely any other reply than saying he supposed I should not approve of it.

I have remarked the effects of his pamphlet on the public mind. Some of our monthly editors have bestowed indiscriminate praise, without at all understanding the ground of the controversy. People in general do not seem to comprehend his design. They can see no object he has in view, or who, or what he means to oppose, except one. They think his first part savours of an agreement with me; and reckon, therefore, that the whole book was written in order to favour my sentiments on the duty of sinners to believe in Christ. I have been asked for a copy of my first piece on that subject; and when I have answered, it is out of print: 'Well,' it has been said, 'I will get Mr. Booth's book; I reckon they are pretty much alike.' In short, I do not think it will do any harm, owing chiefly to its obscurity.

You are mistaken, however, in Mr. Booth's character: and as for his manner of writing, it may admit of some apology. He is an upright, godly, learned man. But— (1.) He is a generation older than Sutcliffe, Pearce, or myself; and perhaps it may be owing to this that he is less attentive to any thing we write.—(2.) He is a great admirer of Owen, Vitringa, Venema, &,c. and seems to suppose that they have gone to the ne plus ultra of discovery. (3.) Having written a pretty large and valuable work, entitled, "Pedobaptism Examined on the Principles, Concessions, and Reasonings of the most learned Pedobaptists," he there got into such a habit of quotation, that he seems unable to write half a dozen pages without it. And though I believe him to be as honest a man as any in the world, I will not say that he is destitute of what on both sides of the water, for aught I know, may be called 'British pride.' I attribute his misrepresentations of your sentiments to this spirit, by which he was prevented from a patient and candid examination of the whole of what you say, rather than to any unworthy design; for of this he is utterly incapable."

Having published his Glad Tidings, under the full conviction that Mr. Fuller's sentiments were defective and erroneous, he rested satisfied in having taken up an invulnerable position in the doctrine of regeneration by the word of God; and herein, as he supposed, lay the main strength of his performance. In conversation with a friend upon the subject, January, 1798, Mr. Booth observed, that he had consulted nearly twenty bodies of divinity, all of which confirmed his statement of the connection between faith and regeneration; and that if any one could fairly answer his reasoning in page 155 of the first edition of his Glad Tidings, he would give up the whole of his performance; for on that reasoning, the strength of his position depended.

This implied challenge being reported to Mr. Fuller, he very attentively re-examined the passage, and communicated his thoughts to the Editor of these Memoirs, who afterwards submitted them to Mr. Booth's inspection, but without receiving any answer. The reader will find some interest in pursuing this little piece of controversy between these two eminent men, which has not before transpired, though the substance of it may have been wrought into some of Mr. Fuller's later publications.

But are we not said to be begotten 'by the word of truth ?' We are: but the terms begotten, regenerated, quickened, born again, do not appear to be used by the sacred writers in a metaphysical sense; that is, they are not designed to convey the idea merely of that' heart to understand,' which is given in order to conrersion; (Deut. xxix. 4. John xii. 40.) but the whole of that change by which a sinner becomes a saint. I do not think that in scripture, regeneration denotes one stage of that change, and conversion another; but that they are figurative representations of the same thing, which is sometimes called regeneration, sometimes conversion, sometimes a resurrection, and sometimes a creation. In this sense, therefore, I believe regeneration to be by the word of God; and which I think is consistent with a divine influence, giving a heart to understand, that we may be converted and be healed; or that this influence is exerted previously to a voluntary and cordial reception of the truth.

I know not how Mr. Booth will make it appear, that faith and regeneration are coeval in the order of nature. In whatever sense he considers faith, his argument from opposites, and maintaining that regeneration is by the word, renders this coexistence inconsistent. If he considers faith as the belief of the word, which his argument from opposites requires, and yet ascribes regeneration to it, then faith must precede regeneration, as the cause necessarily precedes the effect.

But if he considers faith as "a reliance on Christ for salvation," and the belief of the word as a matter "presupposed," as he has stated it in page 3 ; then regeneration must precede faith. Eve he considers as being depraved by the belief of a lie, and a sinner as being regenerated by the belief of the truth: but if so, regeneration is effected by that which is even previous to faith, or which is "presupposed by it:" it must therefore itself be previous to faith, or to "a reliance on Christ for salvation."

Not deeming the above remarks worthy of attention, Mr. Booth published a new and enlarged edition of his pamphlet, in 1800. The Rev. Thomas Scott, author of a valuable commentary on the Bible, having laid before the public his thoughts on "the nature and warrant of faith," in reference to Mr. Booth's performance, Mr. Fuller was solicited to give a review of both these pamphlets in one of the monthly journals; and when he had done so, it gave considerable offence to Mr. Booth. He also noticed some of his arguments in a new edition of his treatise on Faith, which made its appearance soon after, and which was by no means palatable to the author of Glad Tidings; who by this time began to complain that his antagonist "was always in pursuit of him."

A few friendly explanations, however, were sufficient to adjust the present misunderstanding between the parties, who continued to maintain their respective differences of sentiment, without any hinderance to a cordial intercourse. But unfortunately, another subject for controversy started up, which placed them again in a state of opposition. Some of the monthly editors, as well as others, endeavoured to represent Mr. Fuller as having abandoned his principles on the subject of Particular Redemption; placing its peculiarity not in the degree of Christ's sufferings, or in any want of sufficiency as to the nature of the atonement, but merely in the sovereignty of God respecting its application. This was reckoned an error of such magnitude, as ought to sink him in the esteem of religious people: and had the words of Calvin himself been quoted on this subject, they would have been sufficient in the account of some modern Calvinists, to prove even him an Arminian.

The difference chiefly relates to what precise ideas ought to be attached to the terms substitution and imputation. Mr. Booth conceived that Mr. Fuller had expressed himself in too general terms respecting the extent of the atonement, as opening a way whereby the whole race of man might be saved, as far as respects sufficiency in the atonement, though the number who shall ultimately receive the advantage of it, is limited by the divine sovereignty. He therefore contended that Christ represented a certain number only, whose sins and deserved punishment were transferred to him; and to whom, on the contrary, his obedience and sufferings are imputed, as forming their justifying righteousness.

This hopeless piece of business issued in a correspondence, not between Mr. Fuller and Mr. Booth, (for with the former the latter declined to communicate) but between Mr. Booth and Dr. Ryland, through whom he received Mr. Fuller's statements. The substance of this correspondence was afterwards given to the public, in a dialogue between "Peter, James, and John ;" in which the points in dispute are fairly stated. It is true indeed that this mode of writing is liable to strong objections, as it invariably gives to the dialogist the palm of victory; but that Mr. Booth's sentiments and reasonings are not misrepresented, there is the fullest assurance from the well known integrity of the writer, and the unimpeachable veracity of his friend, the late Dr. Ryland, who addressed to Mr. Booth a private remonstrance, from which the following are extracts :

"As to Mr. Fuller, if I should find any thing in which he has expressed himself inaccurately, I will tell him of it myself; but I will not have the remotest hand in furnishing the many professors, who dislike him for opposing their attempts to annihilate duty, with a term of reproach, that has with them far more weight than twenty scriptural arguments. That a man who is continually employed for God, and has ably defended the cause of God against the most mischievous foes of the truth, should be held up as an object of suspicion and dislike, while the most injudicious and inconsiderate distortions of Calvinism are suffered to pass unnoticed, is to me a matter of unspeakable surprise."

The only design of the writer in reviewing these recollections, is to do justice to the memory of his departed friend, and to prevent as far as possible, the repetition of those misstatements, relative to Mr. Fuller's sentiments, which have already been too often encouraged. No one acquainted with the character of Mr. Booth, can forbear to venerate his memory; but it is undeniable, that his tenacity for a system, and his dread of innovation, subjected him to impressions not the most favourable to free and candid inquiry. It was a matter of grief to Mr. Fuller, that he had to encounter opposition from a man whom he could never approach but with sentiments of reverential esteem, and he often mentioned it with regret; especially as that opposition was demanded, and might have been effective, in another quarter. The collision between such eminent individuals, like two jarring worlds, passing in opposite directions with their blaze of light, cannot fail to be interesting, though only some of their remoter angles came in contact; and it will be wise and honourable in the friends of both, to imitate their virtues, and avoid their imperfections.

Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Andrew Fuller By John Webster

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