The Bell Grew Louder: Reading Narnia and Thinking of Andrew Fuller

One of the peculiar things about the human mind is how it can process multiple things at the same time. Some say multitasking is a myth, as one can really only accomplish one task at any given moment. However, I found that when reading books to my children, I can really multitask. As I scroll aloud through paragraphs, my mind will often solve all kinds of problems and make connections to things far from the content of the words entering through my eyes and out of my mouth. Am I the only one?

This happened on an occasion while reading aloud C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. The more I read the more I thought not of some distant Narnian land, but rather of eighteenth century England and the life and work of Andrew Fuller.

At a point in the story, two children enter a world seemingly suspended in time. Ornately robed people of royalty sit lifeless in a grand hall “like the most wonderful waxworks you ever saw.” In an adjacent room. the children are drawn to a small golden bell with hammer placed to entice any child to strike. After some debate, the children ring the bell, and that world and the future of Narnia is transformed:

“As soon as the bell was struck it gave out a note, a sweet note such as you might have expected, and not very loud. But instead of dying away again, it went on; and as it went on it grew louder. Before a minute had passed it was twice as loud as it had been to begin with. It was soon so loud that if the children had tried to speak (but they weren’t thinking of speaking now—they were just standing with their mouths open) they would not have heard one another. Very soon it was so loud that they could not have heard one another even by shouting. And still it grew: all on one note, a continuous sweet sound, though the sweetness had something horrible about it, till all the air in that great room was throbbing with it and they could feel the stone floor trembling under their feet. Then at last it began to be mixed with another sound, a vague, disastrous noise, which sounded first like the roar of a distant train, and then like the crash of a falling tree.”

While the story continues to reveal that the ringing bell awakens those frozen and many other adventures ensue in Narnia (and not all for good), my thoughts stayed with the bell and drifted to Fuller.

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) served as the pastor of the Baptist church in Kettering during the days of hyper-Calvinist ascendancy among the Particular Baptists. Since the granting of religious freedom following the 1689 Act of Toleration, the Particular Baptists began to decline as they drifted into a theological cryogenic state, immobilized by the embrace of logic over Bible as their guiding authority.

Due to the influence of Fuller’s reading the Bible and the works of the American theologian Jonathan Edwards, Fuller became convinced that the conclusions of his crystallized Baptist brethren were in error. In 1785 he published his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation and like the ringing of the Narnian bell, this volume would have the effect of “the crash of a falling tree.” For in it, he claimed, “I believe, it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the gospel to all who will hear it.”

Timothy George describes Fuller’s work as, “his defense of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel” and that “this little book fell like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians. Fuller was pilloried by Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists alike.” Here is just a sample of the resounding words in Fuller’s work:

“If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency … Hence it that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us.”

Together with William Carey, the return to a biblical conviction of global gospel proclamation led the two pastors to start the Baptist Missionary Society and launch the modern missions movement. They rung a bell in their day whose sound continues to grow louder.

May many more follow until the sound of the name of Christ is heard as far as the waters cover the silver seas.

To learn more about Andrew Fuller, I gladly refer any to the good work done by my friends at The Andrew Fuller Center and the ongoing publication of The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller by De Gruyter. For a start of the best works on Fuller’s life and thought, see:

  1. Paul Brewster, Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian
  2. Chris Chun, The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller
  3. Chad Mauldin, Fullerism as Opposed to Calvinism
  4. Peter Morden, The Life and Thought of Andrew Fuller
  5. John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission
  6. David Prince, Andrew Fuller Fridays
  7. Michael A. G. Haykin, The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller

This article is an updated version of one that first appeared in September 2013.