This volume offers Andrew Fuller’s reflections on the life and ministry of Samuel Pearce. Fuller, a Particular Baptist minister who assisted in the creation of the Baptist Missionary Society, defended the Christian tradition through influential apologetic writings and shifted Particular Baptist life in an overtly evangelical direction through constructive theological proposals. Samuel Pearce, one of Fuller’s associates, served as an effective Baptist minister in Birmingham and died at the young age of thirty-three.
Fuller’s Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce operates on two levels. On the surface, the work represents Fuller’s desire to honor his deceased friend. Fuller presents Pearce as a recipient of divine grace, grace that motivated Pearce to action and service. Fuller calls his readers to a posture of thankfulness for this grace as he recounts Pearce’s ministry labors, evangelistic passion, and steadfastness in the face of suffering.
At a deeper level, Memoirs serves to advance Fuller’s missionary agenda. The creation of the Baptist Missionary Society represented a pivotal moment in the history of Western missionary activity; the small band of nonconformists who met in Northamptonshire to create the Society embarked on a courageous and, in their context, unparalleled action. Fuller, the Baptist Missionary Society’s first leader, wanted to provide his readers with a model of how a missionary’s life might look. He chose Pearce as his exemplar.
Fuller’s decision to highlight Pearce becomes interesting when one considers that Pearce never left Britain as a recognized missionary. Though he performed some evangelistic work in Ireland, he spent much of his life either training for ministry at Bristol Baptist Academy or serving his congregation in Birmingham. Pearce was not like William Carey, a man who famously left his home to start pioneer work in India.
What attracted Fuller was Pearce’s desire to serve as a missionary. Pearce prayed earnestly for an opportunity to work in India alongside Carey. He spent time learning the relevant languages. He studied maps of foreign locals. He was willing even to consider forsaking his family obligations to perform missionary labor. What prevented Pearce from joining Carey was not a lack of willingness; it was the Baptist Missionary Society. The leadership team of the Society concluded that Pearce could serve the kingdom better by staying in his pastorate in Birmingham.
Pearce’s missionary zeal during suffering offers Fuller a model of healthy evangelical piety. Throughout his struggle with the physical ailments that would eventually take his life, Pearce never lost his holy love for God or the missionary endeavor.
On this point, Fuller followed the steps of his theological mentor, the American theologian, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards’s The Life of David Brainerd presented Brainerd as a passionate missionary who also was willing to endure suffering to fulfill his missionary calling. Indeed, Edwards offered Brainerd as an example of the kind of person whom he hoped his theology would create. Fuller used the life of Pearce for the same illustrative purposes.
This edition of Fuller’s text receives an introduction and helpful commentary from Michael Haykin, Director of the Andrew Fuller Center at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Haykin helpfully outlines Pearce’s life and documents the context in which Fuller composed Memoirs. While Haykin relies on the third edition of Fuller’s work (this was likely the last edition to which Fuller offered input), extensive notations detail the manuscript’s textual transmission.
Recent years have witnessed fresh interest in the writings of Fuller. Haykin is presently overseeing the publication of the first critical edition of Fuller’s collected works, and this volume represents a contribution to that project. Fuller’s works receive attention due to their historical significance (Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation) or their relevance to contemporary debates. For instance, Fuller’s Strictures on Sandemanianism has significance for modern discussions over Lordship Salvation. Memoirs was the most successful work released during Fuller’s lifetime. Its return under the skilled hand of Haykin is most welcome.
Memoirs merits interest from several audiences. Historians of evangelical history should appreciate the fact that Fuller’s treatment of Pearce constitutes one of the first missionary biographies written from an explicitly evangelical persuasion. Scholars of Jonathan Edwards may wish to see how Fuller appropriates Edwards’s work on David Brainerd. Pastors can benefit from Fuller’s perceptive comments about the nature of Christian ministry. Readers who are searching for devotional material will find the piety of Pearce’s life rich and challenging.