The Cross of Christ
Who, in the opinion of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was the greatest theologian of his century? Well, none other than Andrew Fuller, the Baptist pastor and missionary theologian who pastored for most of his life in Kettering, Northamptonshire, in old England. If one were to press Spurgeon for his reasons for admiring Fuller, one reason he might give would be Fuller’s cross-centeredness.
Throughout his Christian life, Fuller was convinced that the cross of Christ lay at the very heart of Christianity. It is, he maintained in 1802, “the central point in which all the lines of evangelical truth meet and are united.” Just as the sun is absolutely vital for the maintenance of the solar system, so “the doctrine of the cross is to the system of the gospel; it is the life of it.” Similar remarks appear in a number of Fuller’s works. In a sermon he preached in 1801, Fuller reminded his hearers: “Christ crucified is the central point, in which all the lines of evangelical truth meet and are united. There is not a doctrine in the Scriptures but what bears an important relation to it.” The atoning death of Christ, Fuller declared in 1814, is nothing less than “the life-blood of the gospel system.” In sum, the cross is “the grand peculiarity and the principal glory of Christianity,” and all but equivalent to the gospel itself: “The doctrine of salvation through the blood of Christ … is, by way of eminency, called the gospel.”
Given this view of Christ’s death, it is no surprise to find Fuller asserting that the doctrine of the cross, “God, in all ages, has delighted to honor.” Wherever the church has enjoyed times of spiritual vitality and vigor—“times of great revival,” as Fuller termed them—there the atoning work of Christ has held an exalted place. Fuller noted that this was the doctrine that was central to the Reformation and to which the Reformers gave a place of prominence. It was the leading theme of the Puritans and Fuller’s spiritual forbears, the Nonconformists of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In his day, the missionary triumphs of the Moravians in the West Indies, among the Eskimos, and in Greenland had been triumphs of the cross: the “doctrine of the atonement by the death of Christ … forms the great subject of their ministry.” As Fuller looked beyond the realm of history to eternity and heaven, he was convinced that there, too, the cross was “the darling theme” of its inhabitants.
Thus, if a church or denomination rejects the doctrine of the cross, it is little better than what Fuller bluntly called “a dead, putrid mass.” Do away with the atoning work of Christ, and “the whole ceremonial [system] of the Old Testament appears to us little more than a dead mass of uninteresting matter: prophecy loses all that is interesting and endearing; the gospel is annihilated, or ceases to be that good news to lost sinners which it professes to be; practical religion is divested of its most powerful motives, the evangelical dispensation of its peculiar glory, and heaven itself of its most transporting joys.” Why was it, for instance, that so many Anglican parish churches of Fuller’s day were so poorly attended? To Fuller, the answer was patently clear: because, he averred, “the generality of the clergy do not preach the doctrine of the cross… . There is nothing in their preaching that interests the hearts, or reaches the consciences of the people.”
The perspective taken on the cross was, therefore, a major dividing line between a Christianity that was genuinely biblical and one that was nominal. As Fuller stated: “While we are of the apostle’s mind, determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified, we shall not be in danger of deviating very widely from the truth, in any of its branches; but if we lose sight of this pole-star, we shall soon fall upon the rocks of error.”
So it was that when Fuller was dying in 1815, the last letter he sent to his close friend and later biographer, John Ryland Jr., reaffirmed this cross-centeredness. After quoting 2 Timothy 1:12, Fuller said,
I am a poor guilty creature; but Christ is an almighty Saviour. I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope, than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace, through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour. With this hope, I can go into eternity with composure.