Andrew Fuller on Confessions of Faith

One of the key differences between most Southern Baptist conservatives and most moderate Baptists in the South is the place of confessional statements. This difference was magnified during the years between 1998 and 2002 when Southern Baptists amended and then revised the Baptist Faith and Message and required denominational employees to affirm the confession of faith. It remains a sticking point: many conservatives accuse moderates of being theological pluralists, while many moderates accuse conservatives of being “creedal” and exalting man-made statements over the Bible. I believe both accusations are more political rhetoric than reality, but that’s par for the course in intra-Baptist squabbles.

Political exaggeration aside, it is true that moderate Baptists tend to be more suspicious of confessions. It is also true that conservative Southern Baptists are typically more favorable toward confessions. Both groups can find support for their position from Baptist history—we are too diverse a tradition for a cut-and-dry approach. That said, as a Southern Baptist who is comfortable with confessions of faith, I know that my position is not out of sorts with Baptist history. Over the course of 400 years, many Baptists have embraced confessionalism as a valid way to summarize biblical doctrine, commend those beliefs and hold Baptist Christians accountable to those convictions.

As in so many Baptist discussions, Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) offers wisdom on this topic. In his short essay “Creeds and Subscriptions,” Fuller makes a Baptist case for a robust confessionalism. Note the following excerpts:

It has been very common, among a certain class of writers, to exclaim against creeds and systems in religion as inconsistent with Christian liberty and the rights of conscience; but surely they must be understood as objecting to those creeds only which they dislike, and not to creeds in general; for no doubt, unless they be worse than the worst of beings, they have a creed of their own. The man who has no creed has no belief; which is the same thing as being an unbeliever; and he whose belief is not formed into a system has only a few loose, unconnected thoughts, without entering into the harmony and glory of the gospel. Every well-informed and consistent believer, therefore, must have a creed—a system which he supposes to contain the leading principles of Divine revelation.

It may be pleaded that the objection does not lie so much against our having creeds or systems as against our imposing them on others as the condition of Christian fellowship. If, indeed, a subscription to articles of faith were required without examination, or enforced by civil penalties, it would be an unwarrantable imposition on the rights of conscience; but if an explicit agreement in what may be deemed fundamental principles be judged essential to fellowship, this is only requiring that a man appear to be a Christian before he can have a right to be treated as such. Suppose it were required of a Jew or an infidel, before he is admitted to the Lord’s supper, (which either might be disposed to solicit for some worldly purpose,) that he must previously become a believer; should we thereby impose Christianity upon him? He might claim the right of private judgment, and deem such a requisition incompatible with its admission; but it is evident that he could not be entitled to Christian regard, and that, while he exclaimed against the imposition of creeds and systems, he himself would be guilty of an imposition of the grossest kind, utterly inconsistent with the rights of voluntary and social compact, as well as of Christian liberty….

The substance of the inquiry therefore would be, whether a body of Christians have a right to judge of the meaning of the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, and to act accordingly? That an individual has a right so to judge, and to form his connexions with those whose views are most congenial with his own, will not be disputed; but if so, why have not a society the same right? If Christ has given both doctrines and precepts, some of which are more immediately addressed to Christians in their social capacity, they must not only possess such a right, but are under obligation to exercise it. If the righteous nation which keep the truth be the only proper characters for entering into gospel fellowship, those who have the charge of their admission are obliged to form a judgment on what is truth, and what is righteousness; without which they must be wholly unqualified for their office.

It is a trite and frivolous objection which some have made against subscriptions and articles of faith—that it is setting bounds to the freedom of inquiry, and requiring a conformity of sentiment that is incompatible with the various opportunities and capacities of different persons. The same objection might be urged against the covenanting of the Israelites (Neh. 10:29) and all laws in society. If a religious community agree to specify some leading principles which they consider as derived from the word of God, and judge the belief of them to be necessary in order to any person’s becoming or continuing a member with them, it does not follow that those principles should be equally understood, or that all their brethren must have the same degree of knowledge, nor yet that they should understand and believe nothing else. The powers and capacities of different persons are various; one may comprehend more of the same truth than another, and have his views more enlarged by an exceedingly great variety of kindred ideas; and yet the substance of their belief may still be the same. The object of articles is to keep at a distance, not those who are weak in the faith, but such as are its avowed enemies. Supposing a church covenant to be so general as not to specify one principle or duty, but barely an engagement to adhere to the Scriptures as a rule of faith and practice, the objection would still apply; and it might be said, One man is capable of understanding much more of the Scriptures than another, and persons of more enlarged minds may discover a great deal of truth relating to science which the Scriptures do not pretend to teach: why, therefore, do we frame articles to limit the freedom of inquiry or which require a conformity of sentiment incompatible with the opportunities and capacities of persons so differently circumstanced? The objection, therefore, if admitted, would prove too much. The powers of the mind will probably vary in a future world; one will be capable of comprehending much more of truth than another; yet the redeemed will all be of one mind, and of one heart.

Every one feels the importance of articles, or laws, in civil society; and yet these are nothing less than expositions or particular applications of the great principle of universal equity. General or universal equity is that to civil laws which the Bible is to articles of faith; it is the source from which they are all professedly derived, and the standard to which they ought all to be submitted. The one are as liable to swerve from general equity as the other from the word of God; and where this is proved to be the case in either instance, such errors require to be corrected. But as no person of common sense would on this account inveigh against laws being made, and insist that we ought only to covenant in general to walk according to equity, without agreeing in any leading principles, or determining wherein that equity consists; neither ought he to inveigh against articles of faith and practice in religious matters, provided that they comport with the mind of God in his word. If the articles of faith be opposed to the authority of Scripture, or substituted in the place of such authority, they become objectionable and injurious; but if they simply express the united judgment of those who voluntarily subscribe them, they are incapable of any such kind of imputation.

For the complete essay, see Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, vol. III, ed. Joseph Belcher (1845; reprint, Sprinkle, 1988), 449–51.

Augustine for the 21st Century (6): Selected Passages by Augustine, Reading Recommendations, and Concluding Thoughts

Now, this installment is well worth your time reading. Unlike the previous installments of this blog series in which I bloviated about Augustine, this installment provides the real payoff: some bona fide passages from Augustine’s sermons and commentaries. Although I have read several of his books (City of God, The Confessions, and On Christian Doctrine), I have not read his sermons, commentaries and letters. Therefore in this post I rely upon Jules Brady’s collection in Augustine for Everyone. In this 60 page booklet, Brady collects 101 brief passages, organizes them under seventeen headings, and translates them into readable English. In the pages that follow, I will provide a few of those quotes, utilizing Brady’s translation, and organize them under my own system of headings. In the above installments you’ve gotten a taste of Augustine academic and polemical work. In this installment, however, you will see him at his pastoral best, distilling biblical teaching into concise and memorable sentences.


How can the beauty of the universe inspire us to praise God’s beauty?

“The pleasure we experience in seeing a beautiful cathedral reminds us to admire the church’s architect. How much more should viewing the universe’s infinite variety stir us to praise the Beauty of its Creator. Consider, for a moment, the whole of creation. The splendor of the starry skies, the various flowers in a flower garden, the stately majesty of a cluster of trees, the melodious songs of birds, the variations of creatures in the animal kingdom, the sense and intellectual faculties of a human person, are like so many voices that praise the Beauty of their Author. Word fail us in our effort to describe adequately what the beauty of the universe tells us of the Divine Artist’s Beauty. Does triumphant music come closer to expressing God’s Beauty?” (On Psalm 26)

Why is God more beautiful than the Sun?

“There are two reasons for this: First, when the sun rises, it lights up the earth; it illumines colors; it shines through windows; but it cannot penetrate walls. However, God is present in all places, even in a wall. Secondly, when the sun rises in the East, it is absent from the West. When the sun sets in the West, it is away from the East. At night the sun is not seen. However, when God is in the East, he is also in the West. When He is in the West, He is likewise in the East. He is also present at night. He is whole everywhere. If the sun is beautiful, how much more beautiful is God, the sun’s Maker.” (Sermon 70, 2)

Why does the love of God surpass all other loves?

“Some endure toil, dangers, and troubles for the love of money. But at the same time, they may lose sleep for fear of thieves. Others ask an inferior to secure the love of a powerful friend. god says to us: ‘Love Me and I am with you.’ there love is without toil, without dangers, without troubles, without fear of thieves, and without the assistance of a go-between. This love surpasses all other loves.” (Epistle of John to the Parthians 10, 4)

How can we love God instead of loving the world?

“If my hand is holding a heavy book, it cannot hold another heavy object at the same time. I must first put down the book in order to receive a heavy gift package. My love is the hand of my soul. It cannot love God and the world at the same time. It must first cease loving the world in order to love God.” (Sermon 75, 7)

How can we love Christ?

“If you are caught in the river of time and are drifting down the rapids, you have a choice. Either you may drown in the water, or you can catch hold of a tree by the stream and save your life. Similarly, you have a choice in the world. Either you may love the world that passes away with time, or you may hold on to Christ and live eternally with God.” (Epistle of John to the Parthians 2, 10)


How can the same affliction prompt the wicked to curse God and inspire the good to praise Him?

“The same fire causes straw to smoke and gold to gleam. The same press threshes the grain and crushes the stalk. So, the same trouble worsens the wicked and improves the good. Consequently, the difference between the wicked and the good is not what they suffer but the way they suffer. Therefore, the same evil incites the wicked to deny God and stirs the good to pray to Him.” (City of God 1,8)

Why does God allow tribulations to happen to us?

“Because we cannot endure perpetually the hardships of life, we seek rest in some earthly thing. It may be our house, our family, our children, a little farm, an orchard, or a book we have published. God allows us to suffer tribulations even in these innocent delights in order that we may love only life eternal. Otherwise, as travelers going to their country, we might choose the inn-this world-instead of our true home: eternal life.” (On Psalm 41, 4)

Why does God send trials to His saints?

“While the unskillful pronounce a work of art-a painting, a sculpture, a building-perfect, the artist continues to polish them. The unskillful wonder why these art pieces receive additional polish. The judgment of the inexperienced is one thing, the rule of art another. Likewise, someone noticing the sufferings of a saint questions why God continues to afflict such a holy person. God so acts not to punish the saint for sins but to purify the saint’s perfections, and thus to remove the imperfections.” (On Psalm 99, 10)

How is a Christian similar to a squared stone?

“If you turn over a squared stone, the stone remains erect. When trials, as it were, turn a Christian over, the Christian does not fall down but stands erect.” (On Psalm 87, 3)

Preaching and Teaching

What is the secret of successful teaching?

“When we show out of town friends a city’s beautiful sights that we have often noticed without any pleasure, we experience delight by the delight our friends have for these scenes. So it is that a teacher, teaching a familiar topic to students who are thrilled by learning something new, experiences renewed pleasure in teaching the subject. The greater the bond of friendship between teacher and student, the greater will be the love the teacher has for teaching and the greater will be the love the students have for learning.” (On Catechizing the Uninstructed 12, 17)

Friends and Enemies

How may we love an enemy?

“Suppose a carpenter walking through a forest sees a tree trunk, unhewn, cut down, lying on the ground. The artisan loves the piece of timber at first sight not because of the wood’s present state, but because properly crafted the trunk will become part of a building. So, when meeting an enemy insulting you, there is a way of loving the enemy at first meeting, not by noticing the insulting remarks but by remembering that humble prayer may change the malicious person into your friend. You love the enemy not as a hostile person but as a future friend.” (Epistle of John to the Parthians 8, 10)

What kinds of persons should I cultivate as friends?

“Suppose you meet a person whose beautiful color and symmetrical shape attract your eyes. Yet, when you learn the person is a thief, you will have nothing to do with such an individual. On the other hand, you may encounter an elderly person, leaning on a cane, hardly able to walk, covered with wrinkles. Moreover, if you find out the person is just, you will want such a one as your friend.” (On the Gospel of John 3, 21)


What should I ask from God?

“If the Emperor told you, “Ask what you will,” perhaps you would request a tribuneship, a chief office of the state or external wealth. Almighty God says, “Ask what you will,” and you might ask for the whole earth, the sea, the air, the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars. They are all beautiful; but they are made by God. Ask for God Himself and you will have God, Beauty in Itself. And in Him you will possess everything He has made. God loves you and wishes to give you Himself more than anything else.” (On Psalm 34; Sermon 1, 12)

This World and the Hereafter

How does temporal happiness compare with eternal happiness?

“The supreme good of the City of God is eternal and perfect peace, not in our mortal transit from birth to death, but in our immortal freedom from all adversity. This is the happiest life-who can deny it?-and in comparison with it our life on earth, however blessed with external prosperity or goods of soul and body, is utterly miserable. Nonetheless, whoever accepts it and makes use of it as a means to that other life that he longs for and hopes for, may not unreasonably be called happy even now-happy in hope rather than in reality.” (City of God 19:20)

Concluding Thoughts

This post concludes the series. Because of the limitations of a blog format, I have left out many lessons we could have learned from Augustine’s life and writings. In lieu of being able to explore the many lessons learned from some of the books written by and about Augustine, allow me to make a few reading recommendations:

1. Augustine of Hippo (by Peter Brown). This is a classic biography of Augustine.

2. City of God (Augustine). Augustine wrote two great books, City of God and The Confessions. In writing City of God, Augustine invented a genre, philosophy (or theology) of history, and gave us a classic theological text for the ages.

3. The Confessions (Augustine) In writing The Confessions, Augustine invented yet another genre, spiritual/philosophical autobiography, and gave us yet another classic theological text for the ages.

4. Secondary in importance to his classics, yet of great significance still, Augustine’s many other texts commend themselves to us. I recommend: On Christian Doctrine and Enchiridion.