Fuller defends himself of charges that he denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and penal substitutionary atonement. He writes:
MY DEAR BROTHER, January 4, 1803.
THOUGH you are not wholly unacquainted with what has lately passed between Mr. Booth and myself, relative to certain points of doctrine, yet I shall briefly state the leading particulars, together with my sentiments on the subjects concerning which I am charged with error.
In the month of May, 1802, when I was in London, wishing for a better understanding with Mr. B., I requested an interview. With his consent I went two or three times to see him. We had much conversation. I cannot pretend to recollect all that passed; but some things I well remember. After talking over certain particulars of a personal nature, on which he appeared to be satisfied, he, in a very serious tone, suggested that I had changed my sentiments on some important doctrines of the gospel; “and here,” said he, “I have little or no hope.” To these serious and heavy charges, from an aged and respected minister, I at first made but little answer, being all attention to what he had to offer in support of them. I assured him that I was willing to reconsider any thing I had advanced, and desired to know wherein he thought me in the wrong. Mr. B. answered, “It is on the doctrines of imputation and substitution that I conceive you to err.” I asked whether his ideas on these doctrines did not proceed upon the principle of debtor and creditor; and that, as was the number of sinners to be saved and the quantity of sin to be atoned for, such required to be the degree of Christ’s sufferings. This he disowned, saying he never had such an idea, nor did he ever meet with it in any writer;* adding to this effect, I am persuaded that if one sinner only were saved consistently with justice, it required to be by the same all-perfect sacrifice. I felt persuaded that if Mr. B. admitted this principle in all its bearings, there could be no material difference betwixt us.
In his letter to me of September 3d, he says, “I deliberately aver that in our second and last conversation I understood you to deny that Christ obeyed and died as a substitute, and that you did not admit a real and proper imputation either of sin to Christ, or of his righteousness to those who believe.” I give him credit for this; but insist upon it that (excepting what relates to the terms “real and proper”—terms not used in the first note) he has no grounds for so understanding me, and that there were grounds, whether he attended to them or not, for a contrary conclusion. I declare that I never suspected, while in his company, that I was charged with any such things; but merely that my views concerning those doctrines were not just. Under this impression, I said to Mr. B. to this effect,—“I do suspect, sir, that your views on imputation and substitution are not Scriptural.” I did not mean by this to charge him with denying either of those doctrines; and I had no apprehension of his having any such charge to prefer against me. The whole difference between us appeared to me to consist in the manner of explaining doctrines which we both acknowledged and held fast.
Mr. B. alleges, as a reason for his understanding me to deny the doctrines in question, that in direct opposition to this he pleaded 2 Cor. 5:21; to which, he says, I replied, “made sin means became a sacrifice for sin;” to which he could not accede. Granting this to be a fair statement, surely it does not follow that understanding the phrase “made sin” of Christ’s being “made a sin-offering” amounts to a denial of the imputation of sin to him. If it does, however, many of our best writers, among whom is Dr. Owen,* are subject to the same charge. But Mr. B. is mistaken in saying that I affirmed “made sin” to mean “made a sacrifice for sin.” I merely asked him whether it did not, whether some expositors did not so interpret it, and whether there was not something in the original word which led to such an interpretation. This, I am certain, was the whole; for I had not at that time any decided opinion as to the meaning of the passage, and therefore asked him merely for information. I well recollect the substance of his answer, namely, that the word ἁμαρτία, it was true, was sometimes rendered “sin,” and sometimes a “sin-offering;” but the sin which Christ was made was that which he knew not, and which stood opposed to “the righteousness of God,” which we are made in Him; to this I made no reply, as thinking there appeared to be force in what he said.
I also very well remember his arguing from Gal. 3:13, and contending that Christ must in some sense be guilty, else God could not have been just in punishing him: this argument did not approve itself to my judgment like the former. I admitted guilt to be necessary to punishment, and had no doubt but that the sufferings of Christ were penal; but I had my doubts whether it were so proper to say Christ was punished, as that he bore our punishment: but as I shall give my thoughts more particularly on this hereafter, I only say in this place that this conversation TOOK PLACE BEFORE I PREACHED FOR HIM, AND BEFORE HE ASKED ME TO PREACH FOR HIM.† It is somewhat surprising to me, therefore, if I was considered as denying the doctrines of imputation and substitution, that I should receive such an invitation. Whatever he may think of me, I would never consent to a man’s going into my pulpit whom I considered as denying either the one or the other.
I have said Mr. B. had grounds for a contrary conclusion, whether he attended to them or not. He cannot but remember his putting the Liverpool Magazine into my hands, where he conceived it was proved that I had changed my sentiments. On this, I said that I was not aware of any such change as he ascribed to me. Mr. B., I well remember, answered, in a tone of surprise, “No? Then you are lost!” that is, as I understood him, “You are bewildered in inconsistency, not knowing what you believe.” Now, be it so, that I am lost in inconsistency, this is a very different thing from a denial of what I had before advanced. If I was not aware of having relinquished the leading principles of my answer to Philanthropos, I could not be aware of having given up the doctrines of imputation and substitution. It might also have been supposed that my pleading for Christ’s being made a sin-offering, as I was accounted to do, was not the language of one who “denied that Christ obeyed and died as a substitute;” for what else was the sin-offering but a substitute for the people?
Before I left town, I gave Mr. B. the manuscript of our last year’s Circular Letter, on the Practical uses of Believers’ Baptism, requesting his corrections. In this was the following sentence, with several others of like import—“Christ sustained the deluge of wrath due to our sins:” nor did this passage escape him; his first note holds this sentence up as an example of my inconsistency. Some men would have drawn a different conclusion. They would have said, Surely I must have mistaken the writer when in conversation; he cannot mean to discard these doctrines. If he did, why does he thus fully avow them? Instead of this, Mr. B., in the note accompanying the MS., flatly charges me with the denial of substitution and of imputation; not merely in his sense of them, nor with the epithets “proper and real” (since added as saving terms); but so as to disown the vicariousness of what our Saviour did and suffered, which he never did, even “in his juvenile” years, when I suppose he was a professed Arminian.
As this note did not reach me till I was just setting off for home, about the 2d or 3d of June, I could not see Mr. B. any more; and being conscious that I never thought of denying either of the doctrines in question, I supposed Mr. B. could only mean to charge such denial as the consequence of what I avowed. I therefore took three or four weeks to consider and reexamine my sentiments, that if any such consequences did attach to them I might discover them.
Early in July I answered the note, declared my belief of both the above doctrines, and complained of things being imputed to me as my principles which I did not avow, and which, if they had any connexion with my principles, were merely consequences, which consequences I did not perceive.
About the middle of July reports were circulated, both in town and country, that I had acknowledged myself to Mr. Booth to be an Arminian, &c. &c. One of my friends was in London, and heard it in a great number of places; “from Oxford-street,” as he said, “to Ratcliff Highway;” and in every instance it was said to be authorized by Mr. B. I was informed also that it was common talk among those congregations in Northamptonshire which rejected all invitations to the unconverted, and nearly all obligations to spiritual religion. A person residing amongst them, who bore good-will to me, came to my house to know whether the report were true; and he assured me that the whole rested on the testimony of Mr. B.
Knowing that I had written to Mr. B., avowing my belief both in imputation and substitution, I knew not what to make of things.
Early in September, while I was at Edinburgh, I received a letter from Mr. B., partly averring that he understood me, in conversation, to deny that Christ obeyed and died as a substitute, and to disown a real and proper imputation; and partly inquiring whether I did believe these doctrines, and in what sense it was that I held them.
On receiving this letter, it appeared to me to contain a request which, had it been made previously to the sending abroad of a report to my disadvantage, had been fair, and I should freely have complied with it. But as things were, I did not feel free to write any explanation to Mr. B., till he should have given some explanation of his conduct towards me. I wished for no humiliating concessions from a man so aged and so respectable as Mr. B.; but I did think myself entitled to some explanation; and that to have complied with his request without it had been a tame acknowledgment of guilt and fear, of neither of which I was conscious.
To this purpose I wrote, (on October 7th,) in answer to his of September 3d, wishing for nothing but a few lines, acknowledging that if he had mistaken my meaning, and thereby injured me, he was sorry; or any thing, however expressed, that should have discovered his regret for having been the occasion of misrepresentation.
But to this letter Mr. B. has written no answer. I have to thank you, however, for the copy of a letter which he addressed to you, dated December 6th. Here I find myself charged with having changed my sentiments; with agreeing with Mr. Baxter in several of his having peculiarities; and with denying the doctrines of imputation and substitution, IN THE SENSE IN WHICH CALVINISTS COMMONLY HOLD AND HAVE HELD THEM.
I own I feel dissatisfied with this second-hand method of attack, in which the oracles of God are nearly kept out of sight, and other standards of orthodoxy set up in their place. Each of these charges may be true, and yet I may be in the right, and Mr. B. in the wrong. It is no crime to change our views, unless in so doing we deviate from the Scriptures; nor is it an article of revelation that Mr. Baxter’s views are erroneous, or that the notions of Calvinists in general concerning imputation and substitution are true. I write not thus because I feel the justice of either of these charges, but because I dislike such circuitous methods of judging concerning truth and error. They are unworthy of a candid inquirer after truth, and chiefly calculated to inflame the prejudices of the ignorant. If I have used the term Calvinistic in controversy, it has been merely to avoid circumlocution, and not as criminating my opponents on account of their differing from Calvin.
Mr. B. supposes that I suspect him of “insidious designs.” No; I do not, nor ever did. I never thought him capable of this; but I do think him capable of being so far prejudiced against another as to think that to be right towards him which he would think very wrong if done to himself.*
*Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 2: Controversial Publications (J. Belcher, Ed.) (699–702). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.