Michael Haykin

“A Little Band of Brothers”: Andrew Fuller & Friendship as a Matrix of Human Flourishing

“ ‘Tis…a great mercy that we have any friends—What would this world be without ‘em—A person who looks upon himself to be friendless must of all Cretures be missarable in this Life—Tis the Life of Life.”[1]

In a masterful study of the various ways in which English society between the onset of the Reformation and the apex of the Enlightenment sought to find fulfillment and so define human flourishing, historian Keith Thomas devotes an entire chapter to those close personal relationships that fall under the rubric of “friendship.”[2] As Thomas traces the history of friendship in this period of English history, he notes that it came to be based “wholly on mutual sympathy, and cherished for its own sake rather than for its practical advantages.” Friends were understood to be “intimate companions, freely chosen, without regard to an ulterior end,” which Keith sees as a significant development in the history of friendship. Reflections on friendship as far back as the Graeco-Roman era, for example, recognized the importance of affection as foundational to this human experience rather than it being merely a means to another end such as subsistence, security, or social advancement. Gregory of Nazianzus (c.329­–389), for example, wrote of his friendship with Basil of Caesarea (c.330­–379) during their time together as students in Athens in the 350s: “In studies, in lodgings, in discussions I had him as companion. …We had all things in common,… But above all it was God, of course, and a mutual desire for higher things, that drew us to each other. As a result we reached such a pitch of confidence that we revealed the depths of our hearts, becoming ever more united in our yearning.”[3] Given this estimation of friendship, it is no surprise that Gregory also stated: “If anyone were to ask me, ‘What is the best thing in life?,’ I would answer, ‘Friends’.”[4] In the Middle Ages Aelred of Rievaulx (1110­–1167), the English Cistercian monk, penned a classic on this subject, Spiritual Friendship. For Aelred, genuine friendship must “begin in Christ, continue in Christ, and be perfected in Christ.” Such spiritual friendship is to be highly prized: “in human affairs nothing more sacred is striven for, nothing more useful is sought after, nothing more difficult is discovered, nothing more sweet experienced, and nothing more profitably possessed [than friendship]. For friendship bears fruit in this life and in the next.” [5] And at the beginning of the modern era, John Calvin (1509–1564), who has had the undeserved reputation of being harsh and unloving, also had a rich appreciation of friendship. The French Reformed historian Richard Stauffer reckoned that there were few men at the time of the Reformation “who developed as many friendships” as Calvin.[6] Two of his closest friends were his fellow Reformers Guillaume Farel (1489–1565) and Pierre Viret (1511–1571). Calvin celebrated his friendship with these two men in his preface to his Commentary on Titus, where he stated:

I do not believe that there have ever been such friends who have lived together in such a deep friendship in their everyday style of life in this world as we have in our ministry. I have served here in the office of pastor with you two. There was never any appearance of envy; it seems to me that you two and I were as one person. …And we have shown through visible witness and good authority before men that we have among us no other understanding or friendship than that which has been dedicated to the name of Christ, has been to the present time of profit to his church, and has no other purpose but that all may be one in him with us.[7]

This brotherly friendship is expressed in the correspondence of these three men, of which we have 163 letters from Calvin to Farel, 137 from Farel to Calvin, 204 letters from Calvin to Viret, and 185 from Viret to Calvin. For all of this, however, Thomas maintains that “there was no precedent for the volume of extravagant claims for the life-enhancing value of intimate friendship” that can be found in early modern England.[8]

Now, Thomas does not cite any eighteenth-century Particular Baptist claims in this regard, though he could have found statements and illustrations from this community of English Dissent aplenty, especially among the circle of friends around the pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), whose main pastorate was in Kettering, Northamptonshire.[9] Fuller’s parents rented and worked a dairy farm in Soham, Cambridgeshire, and his formal education, ending around the age of twelve, was minimal. To members of the gentry like William Wilberforce (1759–1833), who had a deep admiration for Fuller, the Baptist pastor initially appeared to be “the very picture of a blacksmith”[10] in his physical appearance and bearing. Converted out of a hyper-Calvinist milieu, common to far too many English Baptist communities of that day, Fuller had to find his own way to a biblically-sound position with regard to conversion, piety, and preaching. He later compared this theological struggle to trying to find his way “out of a labyrinth.”[11] But though an autodidact, he became by wide admission the finest theologian that the transatlantic Baptist community possessed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.[12] David Phillips, a nineteenth-century Welsh biographer, may have put it best when he called Fuller “the elephant of Kettering,”[13] an allusion to the weighty theological influence that even before Fuller’s death was being described as “Fullerism.”[14]

A “long and intimate friendship”

The first biography of Fuller, which appeared in 1816, the year following Fuller’s death, was penned by his fellow Particular Baptist, John Ryland, Jr. (1753–1825).[15] In the introduction, Ryland stated the following about his relationship with Fuller: “Most of our common acquaintance are well aware, that I was his oldest and most intimate friend; and though my removal to Bristol, above twenty years ago, placed us at a distance from each other, yet a constant correspondence was all along maintained; and, to me at least, it seemed a tedious interval, if more than a fortnight elapsed without my receiving a letter from him.”[16] Ryland’s assumption of the principalship of Bristol Baptist Academy in 1793 had entailed a move to the West Country from Northampton in the Midlands, where he had pastored with his father, the colorful John Collettt Ryland (1723–1792).[17] No longer physically close to Fuller in Kettering, which was but thirteen miles or so from Northampton, the medium of the letter became the main way that Ryland kept their friendship alive and intact. Thus, for more than twenty years, the two friends faithfully corresponded with one another, and Ryland noted, if he did not hear from Fuller at least once every two weeks he found it “tedious,” that is, painful and upsetting.[18]

Ryland and Fuller had first met in 1776 when both of them were young men and they were wrestling with a number of extremely important theological issues, especially those that related to the stultifying effects of hyper-Calvinism on their Baptist community and how to pursue the renewal of their churches.[19] Within a year they were the closest of friends. And after Fuller moved from Soham to Kettering in 1782 the two of them had frequent opportunities to talk, to pray, and to spend time together. Their friendship, unbroken till Fuller’s death in 1815, was an obvious source of joy to both of them. In the year that he died, Fuller described his relationship with Ryland as a “long and intimate friendship” that he had “lived in, and hoped to die in.”[20] And nine days before he died, Fuller asked one last request of Ryland: would he preach his funeral sermon? Ryland agreed, though it was no easy task for him to hold back his tears as he spoke.[21] Towards the end of the sermon, Ryland reminisced about the fact that their friendship had “never met with one minute’s interruption, by one unkind word or thought, of which I have any knowledge” and that the wound caused by the loss of “this most faithful and judicious friend” was something that would never be healed in this life.[22] Ryland’s statement that his friendship with Fuller had “never met with one minute’s interruption, by one unkind word or thought” speaks volumes about the way these two men treasured their relationship and saw it as a means of human flourishing.

What had initially attracted Fuller and Ryland to one another was the discovery that they shared “a strong attachment to the same religious principles, a decided aversion to the same errors, a predilection for the same authors,”[23] in particular, the American divine Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and his thought regarding conversion and revival, spirituality and missions.[24] In other words, they had a fundamental aspect of a good friendship, a union of hearts. In this case, it was a oneness of soul in a shared passion for the glory of Christ and the extension of his kingdom.  And yet, as Ryland affirmed in his biography of Fuller, their “intimate friendship did not blind either of us to the defects or faults of the other; but rather showed itself in the freedom of affectionate remark on whatever appeared to be wrong.”[25]

Ryland went on to note that there was only “one religious subject” about which “there was any material difference of judgment” between the two friends.[26] That subject was an extremely volatile one among the eighteenth-century transatlantic Baptist community: the twin issues of open and closed communion and open and closed membership.[27] The vast majority of pastors and congregations in the Particular Baptist denomination, including Fuller, adhered to a policy of closed membership—that is, only baptized believers could become members of their local churches—and closed communion—that is, only baptized believers could partake of the Lord’s Supper in their meeting-houses.[28] Ryland, on the other hand, was of the conviction that both the Lord’s Supper and membership in the local church should be open to all Christians, regardless of whether or not they had been baptized as believers. He was thus committed to a policy of both open communion and open membership. When Ryland was the pastor of the College Lane Church in Northampton, for instance, one of the leading deacons of the church, a certain Thomas Trinder, did not receive believer’s baptism until six years after he had been appointed deacon.[29] Fuller would never have tolerated such a situation in the church at Kettering. But Ryland and Fuller were secure enough in their friendship to disagree about this controversial subject and not have it destroy their friendship.

The only time that this theological difference really came close to disturbing their friendship was in connection with the Baptist Missionary Society’s ecclesial practice at Serampore, India.[30] Headed by William Carey (1761–1834), Joshua Marshman (1768–1837), and William Ward (1769–1823)—all of whom were friends of Ryland and Fuller—this mission adopted a policy of open communion in 1805. Writing to Fuller that year, the Serampore missionaries informed him that they had come to the conviction that “no one has a right to debar a true Christian from the Lord’s table, nor refuse to communicate with a real Christian in commemorating the death of their common Lord, without being guilty of a breach of the Law of Love.” They went on to affirm: “We cannot doubt, whether a Watts, an Edwards, a Brainerd, a Doddridge, a Whitefield, did right in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, though really unbaptized, or whether they had the presence of God at the Lord’s Table?” Fuller was deeply disturbed by this reasoning and the decision made by the Serampore missionaries, and exerted all of his powers of influence and reasoning to convince them to embrace closed communion, which they eventually did in 1811. Ryland, though, was not slow to criticize this reversal of policy. But, as he later said of his disagreement with Fuller: “I repeatedly expressed myself more freely and strongly to him, than I did to any man in England; yet without giving him offence.”[31] Neither did Carey take offence at Fuller. When he heard of Fuller’s death in 1815, he wrote almost immediately to Ryland and told him: “I loved him very sincerely. There was scarcely another man on the Earth to whom I could so compleatly [sic] lay open my heart as I could to him.”[32]

“The excellent and amiable Pearce”

In his reflections on his friendship with Fuller, Ryland also noted that their circle of close friends included John Sutcliff (1752–1814), the pastor of the Baptist cause in Olney, Buckinghamshire, and “the excellent and amiable Pearce,” namely Samuel Pearce (1766–1799) of Birmingham.[33] Fuller penned a memoir of both of these men: a short piece on Sutcliff following the sermon Fuller preached at his funeral in June of 1814,[34] and then his one and only attempt at a major biographical study, the Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce.[35] After the first edition of the Memoirs appeared in 1800, this work went through more than thirty editions and reprints on both sides of the North Atlantic by the middle of the nineteenth century and, in the process, became something of a minor spiritual classic that cut across denominational barriers. Within six years of its being published in 1800, an epitome of it appeared in The Methodist Magazine with the introductory comment made by Michael Longridge (1767–1815), the Methodist writer who had abridged it, that “the religion enjoyed by Mr. Pearce… is that religion we are solicitous to spread.”[36] Forty years later, the American Presbyterian Archibald Alexander (1772–1851), in an extremely positive review of what became the standard three-volume edition of Fuller’s works, noted of the memoir of Pearce:

Had Fuller written nothing besides this biography, he would have been a benefactor of the Christian public. Few men with whose lives we are acquainted, better deserves to be held up as a model to young clergymen, than Samuel Pearce, of Birmingham…[37]

A quick perusal of the various editions of Andrew Fuller’s works in Edward C. Starr’s monumental A Baptist Bibliography reveals that there were nearly twice as many editions and printings of the Memoirs in the course of the nineteenth century as Fuller’s two other most popular works, namely The Gospel Its Own Witness (1799) and The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1785).[38] Fuller’s portrait of Samuel Pearce was thus by far his most published literary work and it helped crystallize a form of Baptist piety well-fitted for the expansion that the Baptists experienced in the British Isles and North America during the first three decades of the nineteenth century:  confessional yet catholic in temperament, profoundly committed to a piety that was at once Reformed and decidedly missional.[39] The popularity of the Memoirs would seem to corroborate the observation of J.W. Morris (1763–1836), one of Fuller’s early biographers, that the Memoirs were “the most useful of all Mr. Fuller’s writings.”[40]

“My inextinguishable affection”

Pearce died from tuberculosis after wrestling with the disease for almost a full year from late October of 1798 to his actual demise on October 10 of the following year. In the summer of 1799, he sought healing by travelling south to the slightly warmer climate of his native Devon in the West Country. Upon his return to Birmingham, where he had pastored, he found a letter of Fuller waiting for him, in which his friend asked:

[T]here is one request which I entreat you not any account to deny me. It is, that all your papers and memorandums of the first or after religious exercises of your mind, and particularly of your exercises on going to India, may be preserved, and sent to me. If I should survive you, my brother, you need not fear that I will puff off your character, any more than you would mine. We are all of us, God knows it, poor unworthy creatures. Yet the truth may be told to the glory of sovereign grace; and I long to express my inextinguishable affection for you in something more than words, I mean by doing something that shall be of use to your family. I hope I need not say more, and that all your papers relative to your own life and experience will be preserved.[41]

As Pearce lay dying, Fuller already realized the need to write a memoir of his friend. In this text he gives three reasons that were prominent in his mind for writing such a memoir: for “the glory of sovereign grace,” as a way of publicly expressing what he called his “inextinguishable affection” for Pearce, and as a means of helping Pearce’s family financially.

Though long expected, when Fuller learned of Pearce’s death on a street in Scotland he was deeply affected by his friend’s death. The first Scripture text that came to his mind was David’s utterance recorded in 2 Samuel 1:25–26 when the Old Testament figure was told of Jonathan’s death, “Oh Jonathan, thou wast slain upon thy high places, I am distressed for thee, my brother.” A short while later Fuller had to take a stagecoach, and there being no room within, he sat on the outside. He later recalled that his fellow passengers must have wondered what was the matter with him as he was “either silent or shed[ding] tears the greater part of the journey.”[42] It is highly significant that Fuller had the above poignant words of David that bore witness to one of the great friendships of the Bible placed on the title page of his Memoirs of Pearce. Right from the outset, then, Fuller’s memoir of Pearce was a testimony to his “great affection” for his fellow Baptist.[43]

Fuller captured something of the ambience among this circle of friends in the account he gave of Pearce’s desire to go to India as a missionary. Given his ardour for the advance of the gospel it is not surprising that Pearce would be vitally involved in the formation in October, 1792, of what would eventually be termed the Baptist Missionary Society, the womb of the modern missionary movement. In fact, by 1794 Pearce was so deeply gripped by the cause of missions that he had arrived at the conviction that he should offer his services to the Society and go out to India to join the first missionary team the Society had sent out, namely, William Carey, John Thomas, and their respective families. He began to study Bengali on his own,[44] and for the entire month of October, 1794, which preceded the early November meeting of the Society’s administrative committee where Pearce’s offer would be evaluated, Pearce set apart “one day in every week to secret fasting and prayer to God for direction.”[45]

The decision of the Society as to Pearce’s status was ultimately a negative one. When the executive committee of the Society, composed of some of Pearce’s closest friends, including Fuller and Ryland, met at Roade, Northamptonshire, on November 12, it was of the opinion that Pearce could best serve the cause of missions at home in England. Pearce’s response to this decision is related by Fuller in a letter that he wrote to his wife Sarah on November 13. Pearce stated:

I am disappointed, but not dismayed. I ever wish to make my Saviour’s will my own. I am more satisfied than ever I expected I should be with a negative upon my earnest desires, because the business has been so conducted that, I think, (if by any means such an issue could be ensured) the mind of Christ has been obtained. My dear brethren here have treated the affair with as much seriousness and affection as I could possibly desire, and, I think, more than so insignificant a worm could expect. After we had spent the former part of this day in fasting and prayer, with conversation on the subject, till near two o’clock, brother Potts, King,[46] and I retired. We prayed while the committee consulted. The case seemed difficult, and I suppose they were near two hours in deciding it. At last, time forced them to a point; and their answer I enclose for your satisfaction. Pray take care of it; it will serve for me to refer to when my mind may labour beneath a burden of guilt another day.[47]

On one occasion in the 1990s, when I was relating this story in a lecture on Pearce’s spirituality, I was asked, “Could not the committee have been wrong and Pearce right? If, during his month of fasting and prayer, he had believed he knew God’s will for his life, was not the Baptist Missionary Society executive wrong in the decision they made? And should not Pearce have persisted in pressing his case for going and even gone to India despite their opinion?” I had no immediate answer. However, in time I came to realize that while these questions may seem natural ones from the vantage-point of the highly individualistic matrix of contemporary Western Christianity, Pearce knew himself to be part of a “band of brothers” and he was more interested in the triumph of that band’s strategy than the fulfillment of his own personal desires.[48]

“Another Brainerd”

The three reasons noted above by Fuller as to why he was prepared to set aside time, in the midst of an extremely busy season of his life,[49] to write Pearce’s Memoirs do not exhaust his intentions for the book. At least one other prominent reason, which touches on the notion of human flourishing, needs noting. As Christian biography Fuller’s memoir is part of a genre of Christian literature that goes back to the patristic era. One thinks, for example, of works like Pontius’ third-century Life of Cyprian or Athanasius’ (c.299–373) Life of Antony written in the following century. And yet, even as Athanasius’ work or that of his younger contemporary Gregory of Nyssa (c.335–c.395) in his life of his sister Macrina (c.327–380) broke new ground by employing biography to commend the monastic life, so Fuller’s memoir helped to break new ground by using the genre of biography to recommend the life of a missionary as an exemplar of human flourishing.

An Account of the Life Of the late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd (1749) by the New England divine Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) has been rightly regarded as the first full missionary biography.[50] As noted above, Fuller was deeply influenced by Edwards and he was well acquainted with this work. In May of 1780, at the annual meeting of the Northamptonshire Association (to which the two churches that Fuller pastored in Soham and Kettering belonged), it had been agreed to recommend to all who “love evangelical, experimental, and practical religion, and especially to our younger brethren in the ministry,” to read “The Account of the Life of the Rev. David Brainerd, Published by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, of New-England, as eminently calculated to display the nature of true religion, and promote the power of godliness.”[51] It may well have been this recommendation that led Fuller to purchase his own copy of David Brainerd’s (1718–1747) life.[52] Pearce also had a copy and mentions reading a portion of it in his 1794 diary.[53] Now, with the emergence of what came to be called the modern missionary movement, in which Fuller played a key theological role, there was a need for missionary models. As he wrote the Memoirs, Fuller came to see his friend’s life as a fabulous example in this regard—hence, a remark he made to Sarah Pearce (1771–1804) that her husband was “another Brainerd.”[54]

Fuller firmly believed that Christian biography was a vital means that God used to sanctify his ministers and his people. He thus urged a newly ordained pastor to “read the lives of good men—the lives of such men as God has distinguished for gifts, and graces, and usefulness.”[55] And in an 1802 preface to an English edition of Samuel Hopkins’ (1721–1803) Memoirs of Miss Susanna Anthony, Fuller, along with Ryland and Sutcliff, maintained:

The lives of eminently holy persons furnish materials worthy of being recorded. A considerable part of the oracles of God consists in such records. Nor is there any species of writing, perhaps, upon the whole, more interesting, instructive, or impressive. Example proves the practicability of things, which the reasonings of the flesh would represent as unattainable; and conveys reproof in a language which, while it provokes to emulation, is incapable of giving offence.[56]

Fuller and his friends went on to point out that “God has lately furnished us with a lovely example of pure, practical Christianity.” They were thinking of Pearce, of course, as they readily admitted: “We cannot but consider Miss Anthony as a female Pearce; and not inferior to him in spirituality.”[57] Pearce’s life was thus a model of spirituality to emulate. In Fuller’s words:

The governing principle in Mr. Pearce, beyond all doubt, was HOLY LOVE. …His friends have often compared him to “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” His religion was that of the heart. …It is not enough to say, of this affectionate spirit, that it formed a prominent feature in his character; it was rather the life-blood that animated the whole system. He seemed, as one of his friends observed, to be baptized in it. It was holy love that gave the tone to his general deportment: as a son, a subject, a neighbour, a Christian, a minister, a pastor, a friend, a husband, and a father, he was manifestly governed by this principle; and this it was that produced in him that lovely uniformity of character which constitutes the true beauty of holiness.

…There have been few men in whom has been united a greater portion of the contemplative and the active—holy zeal and genuine candour—spirituality and rationality—talents that attracted almost universal applause, and yet the most unaffected modesty—faithfulness in bearing testimony against evil, with the tenderest compassion to the soul of the evil-doer—fortitude that would encounter any difficulty in the way of duty, without any thing boisterous, noisy, or overbearing—deep seriousness, with habitual cheerfulness—and a constant aim to promote the highest degrees of piety in himself and others…[58]

In a discussion of Fuller’s Memoirs, Peter Morden argues that Fuller interprets Pearce’s life as a model of spirituality along four lines. Pearce modeled biblical, Calvinistic, evangelical orthodoxy, as well as heart religion; he was able to strike the right balance between Christian activity and inner piety; and his final days showed believers how to die well.[59] The structure of the Memoirs, though, highlights the fact that for Fuller, Pearce is also the model of a true missionary. Although Pearce pastored Cannon Street throughout the 1790s, his pastoral ministry is not highlighted in Fuller’s book and the reader learns relatively little about the details or dynamics of Pearce’s pastoral work. Nearly the entirety of chapters two and three, easily half of the book, focus on Pearce’s desire to be a missionary, his personal preparation in 1794 to that end, and a 1796 mission to Dublin, Ireland. Pearce’s piety is thus presented as that of a model missionary, and Fuller is one of the first authors to provide English-speaking readers with what would henceforth become a staple part of Christian reading, namely, the biography of a missionary worthy of emulation who shows what it means to truly flourish as a human being. As Paul Helm pointed out, here, in Fuller’s Memoirs, “perhaps more than anywhere else,… the heart of the eighteenth-century missionary movement is laid bare.”[60]

“Friendly communication of our thoughts”

In the fall of 1799, William Wales Horne (1773–1826), the minister of the Baptist cause in Great Yarmouth, east Norfolk, gave two addresses that were later published together as a pamphlet entitled The Faith of the Gospel Vindicated (1800). Part of the pamphlet attacked the idea that “Evangelical faith… [is] the duty of the unconverted.” As Horne went on to argue, “if faith is the work of the Spirit, and at the same time the duty of the creature, it consequently follows, that it is the duty of a man dead in sin, to give himself the Spirit of God! A sentiment equally as absurd as presumptuous! and to be detested by all sincere advocates for the glory of free grace!”[61] In other words, Horne appeared to be denying the free offer of the gospel to all and sundry.[62]

Not surprisingly, when this pamphlet fell into the hands of Fuller, he fired off a small piece that has been transmitted under the title “Remarks on Two Sermons by W.W. Horne of Yarmouth.”[63] Among other things, Fuller was distressed that Horne had used the pulpit to launch an attack on those, like him, who held to the free offer of the gospel. As he said:

It is not by converting the pulpit into a stage of strife, nor by availing ourselves of the silence which decency imposes upon an audience to pour forth personal invective, that truth is promoted. …It is by reading, by calm and serious reflection, by humble prayer, and by a free and friendly communication of our thoughts to one another in private conversation, that truth makes progress.[64]

In these occasional remarks, Fuller reveals an important aspect of his thinking about how to promote biblical truth. It was to be through reflective reading and meditation on what has been read, and through prayer and personal conversations, what he termed “free and friendly communication of our thoughts to one another in private conversation.”

As we have seen, Fuller was blessed to be part of a close-knit circle of friends.[65] He knew from personal experience how vital it was to sit down with such men and talk through issues. For example, John Ryland notes in his diary the way he and this circle of friends spent January 21, 1788:

Brethren, Fuller, Sutcliff, Carey, and I, kept this day as a private fast in my study: read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus; Booth’s Charge to Hopkins; Blackerby’s Life, in Gillies; and Rogers of Dedham’s Sixty Memorials for a Godly Life: and each prayed twice—Carey with singular enlargement and pungency. Our chief design was to implore a revival of the power of godliness in our own souls, in our churches, and in the church at large.[66]

Here, we have these friends praying and reading Scripture together, as well as reading Abraham Booth’s (1734–1806) classic ministerial charge to Thomas Hopkins (1759–1787)—Pastoral Cautions (1785)[67]—the life of the Puritan Richard Blackerby (1574–1648) as it was published in John Gillies’ Historical Collections Relating to Remarkable Periods of the Success of the Gospel, and Eminent Instruments Employed in Promoting It (1754), and Sixty Memorials of a Godly Life, frequently assigned to John Rogers of Dedham (1570–1636), the fiery Puritan preacher. Presumably they discussed the content of what they read and in this way sought to inflame their hearts, strengthen their wills in God’s service, and flourish as Christians. [68]

I conclude with an apt quotation from Christopher Anderson (1782–1852), a Scottish Baptist leader who well knew Fuller’s circle of friends and who once remarked after Fuller’s death:

[I]n order to much good being done, co-operation, the result of undissembled love, is absolutely necessary; and I think that if God in his tender mercy would take me as one of but a very few whose hearts he will unite as the heart of one man—since all the watchmen cannot see eye to eye—might I be but one of a little band of brothers who should do so, and who should leave behind them a proof of how much may be accomplished in consequence of the union of only a few upon earth in spreading Christianity, oh how should I rejoice and be glad! In order to such a union, however, I am satisfied that the cardinal virtues, and a share of what may be considered as substantial excellence of character, are absolutely necessary, and hence the importance of the religion which we possess being of that stamp which will promote these. Such a union in modern times existed in [Andrew] Fuller, [John] Sutcliff, [Samuel] Pearce, [William] Carey, and [John] Ryland. They were men of self-denying habits, dead to the world, to fame, and to popular applause, of deep and extensive views of divine truth, and they had such an extended idea of what the Kingdom of Christ ought to have been in the nineteenth century, that they, as it were, vowed and prayed, and gave themselves no rest.[69]

In other words, friendship was a significant matrix in which these men flourished under the rule of their Lord Jesus.[70]



[1] The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 1754­–1757, ed. Carol F. Karlsen and Laurie Crumpacker (New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 1984), 185.

[2] Keith Thomas, The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 187–225.

[3] Gregory of Nazianzus, De vita sua 225ff., trans. Denise Molaise Meehan, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: Three Poems (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 75; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1987), 83­–84.

[4] Carolinne White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 70.

[5] Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship 1.9; 2.9, trans. Mary Eugenia Laker (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1977), 53, 71.

[6] Richard Stauffer, The Humanness of John Calvin, trans. George H. Shriver (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1971), 47.

[7] Cited Stauffer, Humanness of Calvin, 57.

[8] Thomas, Ends of Life, 191–193.

[9] For Fuller, see the following studies: E. F. Clipsham, “Andrew Fuller and Fullerism: A Study in Evangelical Calvinism”, The Baptist Quarterly, 20 (1963–1964): 99–114, 146–154, 214–225, 268–276; Michael A.G. Haykin, The Armies of the Lamb: The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller (Classics of Reformed Spirituality, vol. 3; Dundas, ON: Joshua Press, 2001); idem, “Fuller, Andrew” in Timothy Larsen, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 241–244; Peter J. Morden, Offering Christ to the World: Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) and the Revival of Eighteenth Century Particular Baptist Life (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 8; Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003); Michael A.G. Haykin, ed., ‘At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word’: Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 6; Carlisle, Cumbria/Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2004); Peter J. Morden, The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) (Studies in Evangelical History and Thought; Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster, 2015).

[10] Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce (London: John Murray, 1839), III, 388–389.

[11] Cited Andrew Gunton Fuller, “Memoir” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, revised Joseph Belcher (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), I, 13. This three-volume set is henceforward cited as Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller.

[12] The Victorian Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892), for instance, once described Fuller as the “greatest theologian” of his century (cited Gilbert Laws, Andrew Fuller: Pastor, Theologian, Ropeholder [London: Carey Press, 1942], 127). See also the perspective of A. C. Underwood, A History of the English Baptists (London: The Baptist Union Publication Dept. (Kingsgate Press), 1947), 166: Fuller was “the soundest and most creatively useful theologian the Particular Baptists have ever had.”

[13] Memoir of the Life, Labors, and Extensive Usefulness of the Rev. Christmas Evans (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1843), 74.

[14] Geoffrey F. Nuttall, “Northamptonshire and The Modern Question: A Turning-Point in Eighteenth-Century Dissent” in his Studies in English Dissent (Weston Rhyn, Oswestry, Shropshire: Quinta Press, 2002), 205.

[15] John Ryland, The Work of Faith, the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope Illustrated; in the Life and Death of the Reverend Andrew Fuller (London: Button & Son, 1816). A second edition was published by the same publishing house in 1818.

[16] Ryland, Life and Death of the Reverend Andrew Fuller, vi–vii.

[17] The earliest memoir of Ryland is that found at the conclusion of the sermon preached by Robert Hall, Jr. (1764–1831) at Ryland’s funeral: “A Sermon Occasioned by the death of the Rev. John Ryland, D.D., preached at the Baptist Meeting, Broadmead, Bristol, June 5, 1825” in The Works of the Rev. Robert Hall, A. M., eds. Olinthus Gregory and Joseph Belcher (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854), I, 213–224. Later in the nineteenth century, James Culross devoted a significant section of his The Three Rylands: A hundred years of various Christian service (London: Elliot Stock, 1897) to recounting the life and ministry of John Ryland, Jr. (pages 69–91). An examination of Ryland’s theology may be found in the excellent study by L.G. Champion “The Theology of John Ryland: Its Sources and Influences,” The Baptist Quarterly, 28 (1979–1980): 17–29. On Ryland’s move to Bristol, see Grant Gordon, “The Call of Dr John Ryland Jr,” The Baptist Quarterly, 34 (1991–1992), 214–227.

[18] For this now obsolete meaning of the word “tedious,” see The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v.

[19] For details of their meeting, see Michael A.G. Haykin, One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends and his times (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1994), 139–141.

[20] Andrew Fuller, The Admission of Unbaptized Persons to the Lord’s Supper Inconsistent with the New Testament (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 508). Fuller did not name Ryland specifically in this passage, but it is clear that he is referring to him.

[21] See the remarks at the beginning of the sermon: John Ryland, Jr., The Indwelling and Righteousness of Christ no Security against Corporeal Death, but the Source of Spiritual and Eternal Life (London: W. Button & Son, 1815), 1–2.

[22] Ryland, Indwelling and Righteousness of Christ, 36–37.

[23] Ryland, Indwelling and Righteousness of Christ, 35.

[24] On the impact of Edwards on Fuller, see Thomas J. Nettles, “The Influence of Jonathan Edwards on Andrew Fuller,” Eusebeia: The Bulletin of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, 9 (2008): 97–116 and Chris Chun, The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller (Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, vol. 162; Leiden/Boston, MA: Brill, 2012). In the words of David W. Bebbington, “Fuller more than anyone else ensured that the substance of Edwards’s teaching exerted an enduring influence over his [Particular Baptist] denomination for most of the nineteenth century” (“The reputation of Edwards abroad” in Stephen J. Stein, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 247).

[25] Ryland, Life and Death of the Reverend Andrew Fuller, vii.

[26] Ryland, Life and Death of the Reverend Andrew Fuller, vii.

[27] On these subjects, see B.R. White, “Open and Closed Membership among English and Welsh Baptists,” The Baptist Quarterly, 24 (1971–1972): 330–334, 341; Walter Chantry, “Communion: Open or Closed,” Baptist Reformation Review, 6, no.4 (Winter 1977): 15–21; Joshua Thompson, “The Communion Controversy and Irish Baptists,” Irish Baptist Historical Society Journal, 20 (1987–1988): 26–35; Roland Burrows, “The Closed Table… Were Our Forefathers Wrong?,” Evangel, 12, no.1 (Spring 1994): 23–28.

[28] For Fuller’s views, see Thoughts on Open Communion (1800) (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 503–506); Strict Communion in the Mission Church at Serampore (1814) (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 507); The Admission of Unbaptized Persons to the Lord’s Supper Inconsistent with the New Testament (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 508–515).

[29] Gordon, “Call of Dr John Ryland,” 217.

[30] For the quotes in this paragraph, see E. Daniel Potts, “ ‘I throw away the guns to preserve the ship’: A Note on the Serampore Trio,” The Baptist Quarterly, 20 (1963–1964): 115–117.

[31] Ryland, Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, viii.

[32] William Carey, Letter to John Ryland, November 15, 1815, in Terry G. Carter, ed., The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000), 199.

[33] Ryland, Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, vii and note *. For their friendship with Sutcliff, see especially Haykin, One heart and one soul, passim.

[34] Andrew Fuller, Principles and Prospects of a Servant of Christ (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, I, 349–356). In his funeral sermon for Sutcliff, Fuller actually made a point of citing at the very close of the sermon some words that Sutcliff had spoken “about three in the morning” on the day he died, June 22, 1814. He said to Thomas Welsh (1787–1862), who had studied under Sutcliff at a parsonage seminary he ran in Olney, “spiritual unions are sweet” (Principles and Prospects of a Servant of Christ [Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, I, 356]). Sutcliff said this with regard to his friendship with Welsh, but Fuller’s citation of this saying at the very close of the sermon underscored something that was not only important for Sutcliff, but also vital for him.

Fuller also wrote four other small memoirs: of Robert Hall, Sr. (1728–1791) of Arnesby, “To the Memory of my dear and venerable Friend, the Rev. Robert Hall” (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 815–817); of Beeby Wallis (d.1792), a valued deacon at Fuller’s Kettering church, The Blessedness of the Dead who die in the Lord (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, I, 157–160); of John Thomas (1757–1801), Carey’s first co-worker in India, “Sketch of the Rev. John Thomas” in The Last Remains of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, compiled Joseph Belcher (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, [1856]), 322–327; and an unpublished memoir of William Carey, “Attempts at collecting some particulars of the Life of Dr Carey” (26-page ms., 1803, Fuller Baptist Church, Kettering, Northamptonshire).

[35] Andrew Fuller, Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 367–446). For the critical edition of the Memoirs, see Andrew Fuller, Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce, ed. Michael A.G. Haykin (The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, vol. 4; Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2017).

[36] “Biography. Memoir of the Rev. Mr. Pearce, late of the Birmingham,” The Methodist Magazine, 29 (1806): 3. The epitome can be found on pages 3–12, 49–55, 97–108, 145–149.

[37] Archibald Alexander, “The complete works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, with a Memoir of his life,” The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, 18, no.4 (1846): 551.

[38] A Baptist Bibliography (Rochester, NY: American Baptist Historical Society, 1973), 18:119–124.

[39] For various perspectives on this expansion, see W.R. Ward, “The Baptist and the Transformation of the Church, 1780–1830,” The Baptist Quarterly, 25 (1973–1974): 167–184; L.G. Champion, “Evangelical Calvinism and the Structures of Baptist Church Life,” The Baptist Quarterly, 28 (1979–1980): 196–208; Dafydd Densil James Morgan, “The Development of the Baptist Movement in Wales between 1714 and 1815 with particular reference to the Evangelical Revival” (DPhil thesis, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, 1986); Deryck W. Lovegrove, Established Church, Sectarian People. Itinerancy and the Transformation of English Dissent, 1780–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Andrew F. Walls, “Missionary Societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 60 (1988): 141–155; John Wolffe, The Expansion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney (A History of Evangelicalism, vol. 2; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007). At the heart of these significant changes within the English Baptist community was, in the words of Clyde Binfield, “a reevaluation of mission, a reassessment of organisation, and a review of doctrine” (cited Champion, “Evangelical Calvinism and the Structures of Baptist Church Life,” 197).

[40] J.W. Morris, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (London: Wightman and Cramp, 1826), 163.

[41] Andrew Fuller, Letter to Samuel Pearce, August 30, 1799, cited E.A. Payne, “Some Sidelights on Pearce and His Friends,” The Baptist Quarterly, 7 (1934–1935): 275.

[42] Cited Christopher Anderson, The Christian Spirit which is essential to the triumph of the Kingdom of God (London, 1824), 25.

[43] The phrase in quotation marks comes from an observation by J.W. Morris about Fuller’s friendship with Pearce. See Andrew Fuller, Miscellaneous Pieces on Various Religious Subjects, collected and arr. J.W. Morris (London: Wightman and Cramp, 1826), 146, n.*.

[44] Ernest A. Payne, “Samuel Pearce” in his The First Generation: Early Leaders of the Baptist Missionary Society in England and America (London: Carey Press, [1936]), 50.

[45] Fuller, Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 380).

[46] Thomas Potts (d. 1831), a local merchant, and Thomas King (1754­–1831), a grocer by trade, were two of the deacons at Cannon Street Baptist Church. For more information on Potts, see S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (8th ed.; London: The Carey Press, 1934), 56–57, 87; Ronald William Ram, “The Social Evolution of Five Dissenting Communities in Birmingham, 1750–1870” (PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 1972), 255. On King, see Timothy Whelan, transcribed and ed., Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 1741–1845 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009), 411–412. For further information on both Potts and King, see also S. Pearce Carey, Samuel Pearce M.A., The Baptist Brainerd (3rd ed.; London: The Carey Press, [c.1922]), 115–116; Payne, First Generation, 60–67.

[47] Fuller, Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 391). The answer of the committee was put in writing by Pearce in a letter that he later sent to William Carey. It ran as follows: “The brethren at this meeting are fully satisfied of the fitness of brother P[earce]’s qualifications, and greatly approve of the disinterestedness of his motives and the ardour of his mind. But another Missionary not having been requested, and not being in our view immediately necessary, and brother P[earce] occupying already a post very important to the prosperity of the Mission itself, we are unanimously of opinion that at present, however, he should continue in the situation which he now occupies.” See Samuel Pearce, Letter to William Carey, March 27, 1795, in [Andrew Fuller, compiled,] Missionary Correspondence: containing Extracts of Letters from the late Mr. Samuel Pearce, to the Missionaries in India, Between the Years 1794, and 1798; and from Mr. John Thomas, from 1798, to 1800  (London: T. Gardiner and Son, 1814), 30–31.

[48] See Ralph D. Winter, “William Carey’s Major Novelty” in J. T. K. Daniel and R. E. Hedlund, eds., Carey’s Obligation and India’s Renaissance (Serampore, West Bengal: Council of Serampore College, 1993), 136–137.

[49] See Fuller’s remarks about the busyness of his life around 1800 cited by his son Andrew Gunton Fuller, “Memoir” (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, I, 69): “Pearce’s memoirs are now loudly called for. I sit down almost in despair and say, ‘That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is lacking cannot be numbered.’ My wife looks at me, with a tear ready to drop, and says, ‘My dear, you have hardly time to speak to me.’ My friends at home are kind, but they also say, ‘You have no time to see or know us, and you will soon be worn out.’ Amidst all this, there is, ‘Come again to Scotland—come to Portsmouth—come to Plymouth—come to Bristol’.”

[50] Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Birmingham, AL: New Hope, 1991), 45. For the critical edition of this work, see Jonathan Edwards, The Life of David Brainerd, ed. Norman Pettit (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 7; New Haven, CT/London: Yale University Press, 1985).

[51] Robert Hall, Sr., The Doctrine of Repentance briefly Considered (Northampton: T. Dicey, 1780), 9. I owe this reference to Dr. Timothy Whelan.

[52] For two references to Brainerd by Fuller, see, e.g., The Qualifications and Encouragement of a Faithful Minister illustrated by the Character and Success of Barnabas (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, I, 143), where Brainerd is described with Edwards and George Whitefield (1714–1770), among others, as “men who had great grace, as well as gifts; whose hearts burned in love to Christ and the souls of men”; and The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, II, 329), where Brainerd is cited, along with John Eliot (c.1604–1690), as a model of evangelistic preaching.

[53] Andrew Fuller, Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 390).

[54] In a review of two sermons by a hyper-Calvinist by the name of W.W. Horne, Fuller recommends that his readers take time to “read the lives of an Edwards, a Brainerd, and a Pearce: and ‘know, not the speeches of them that are puffed up, but the power’ [cf. 1 Corinthians 4:19]” (“Remarks on Two Sermons by W.W. Horne of Yarmouth” [Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 582]).

[55] Andrew Fuller, Spiritual Knowledge and Love Necessary for the Ministry (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, I, 481). See also his “Memoirs of Rev. James Garie” (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 756): “It is good to read the lives of holy men; and the more holy they have been the better. …It is good to be reproved, and stirred up to labour after greater degrees of spirituality than any which we have hitherto attained.”

[56] John Ryland, Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliff, “To the Christian Females of Great Britain” in Samuel Hopkins, Memoirs of Miss Susanna Anthony (Clipstone: J.W. Morris, 1802), i–ii.

[57] Ryland, Fuller, and Sutcliff, “To the Christian Females of Great Britain” in Hopkins, Memoirs of Miss Susanna Anthony, iii.

[58] Fuller, Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 429­–430).

[59] Morden, Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller, 187–195.

[60] Paul Helm, “Samuel Pearce,” Free Grace Record, 2, no.9 (Winter 1962): 274.

[61] The Faith of the Gospel Vindicated: Being the Substance of Two Sermons, Delivered Extempore at the Baptist Meeting, Great Yarmouth, Oct. 27, 1799 (Yarmouth, 1800), 33.

[62] Faith of the Gospel Vindicated, 26–27. Elsewhere, Horne claimed to be a defender of “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, as covenant blessings, the free gifts of Jehovah, and of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the redeemed, against the duty faith men, or Semi-arminians” (Biblical Criticisms and Illustrations of Experimental Godliness, The Solutions to Critical Questions in Theology [London: W. Day, 1825], vi).

[63] Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 578–585. Horne subsequently replied to Fuller with his A Scriptural Defence of the Truth, As it is in Jesus (Nottingham: J. Plumbe, 1801) and sarcastically referred to him as “a great master in Baptist Israel.”

[64] Andrew Fuller, “Remarks on Two Sermons by W.W. Horne of Yarmouth” (Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, III, 582).

[65] On these friendships, see Haykin, One heart and one soul.

[66] Cited J.E. Ryland, “Memoir” in Pastoral Memorials (London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1826), I, 17, note.

[67] See The Works of Abraham Booth, ed. Michael A.G. Haykin with Alison E. Haykin (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 2006), I, 57–84.

[68] Another glimpse of the love and collegiality of Fuller’s circle of friends can be found in a letter written by Fuller to Carey in the spring of 1799. Fuller told Carey that he had been visiting with John Sutcliff “on missionary concerns” when a letter from Carey (dated October 10, 1798) was delivered to Sutcliff’s home, or as Fuller quaintly put it, “while I was there, in bolted Carey!” Fuller knew that Carey would want to know about the welfare of all of their mutual friends, so he told him: “The fruits of Brother Ryland’s labours at Bristol appear to good purpose, not only in a number of spiritual young men in the Academy, but in so charming a group of missionaries as are now going. Brother Sutcliff has baptized nine lately. He is appointed to supply you with books, and I doubt not but he will magnify his office. Pearce is a wonderful Christian; he preached here last autumn like an apostle, from Psalm xc. 16, 17. Hall, who preached after him, was dismayed at the thought of following him; not so much at an idea of inequality of talents, but of spirit and unction. But whether we shall ever hear him again, God only knows.” (Andrew Fuller, Letter to William Carey, [1799?] in Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882], 150–151). I am thankful to Dr. Steve Weaver for drawing my attention to this letter.

The note about Robert Hall, Jr. (1764-1831), who became the greatest Baptist preacher of the early nineteenth century, is striking. When scheduled to preach after Pearce, Hall was afraid to do so due to Pearce’s “spirit and unction” that was so evident in his preaching.

[69] Letter, September 7, 1822 in Hugh Anderson, The Life and Letters of Christopher Anderson (Edinburgh: W. P. Kennedy, 1854), 379.

[70] It is noteworthy that what was true of this group of Evangelical Baptists was true of other Evangelical circles in the eighteenth century, as Geoffrey F. Nuttall has noted: “Whether Arminian or Calvinist in doctrine, whether Dissenters or clergy of the Establishment,… these men and many others, were working together—in no all embracing organizations, but in close bonds of friendship, correspondence and inter-visitation” (Howel Harris, 1714–1773: The Last Enthusiast [Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1965], 29).

Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Michael A.G. Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. for the University of Toronto. He is the author and co-author of several books, including Eight Women of Faith (2016) and Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (2011).

Posted by Michael A.G. Haykin