High Calvinists in Action: Calvinism and the City, Manchester and London, c. 1810-1860

By Ian J. Shaw | Go to book overview

1 The Development of High and Evangelical Calvinism to c.1860

Andrew Fuller, the Baptist theologian of the late eighteenth century, recalled a conversation with three clergymen which centred around the topic of the Calvinism of their day. In this discussion Fuller categorized Calvinists as the 'high', the 'moderate', and the 'strict'. High Calvinists were to Fuller 'more Calvinistic than Calvin himself; in other words, bordering on Antinomianism'; moderate Calvinists were 'half Arminian, or, as they are called with us, Baxterians'; the strict Calvinist was 'one that really holds the system of Calvin'. 1 These three categories provide a helpful summary of the range of Calvinist positions found in Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century, and will be largely utilized in the following chapters.

'Moderate Calvinist' will be used to refer to those who uphold a Calvinistic scheme, but reject limited atonement. In moderate Calvinism the divine decree of atonement precedes election: God foresaw that because of sin men would not believe, and therefore decreed to elect some to believe. The scheme allows for the proclamation to sinners 'God loves you and Christ died for you'. 2 Fuller believed that the 'strict Calvinist' held to the true teaching of Calvin, and declared 'I reckon strict Calvinism to be my own system', although he conceded 'I do not believe every thing that Calvin taught, nor any thing because he taught it'. 3 He sometimes used the term 'evangelical Calvinist' as an alternative, and this is the term preferred here for those who see the atonement as limited in plan and application. In evangelical Calvinism the gospel is preached for a response, as the means by which God's decree of election is worked out. This gospel

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