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Pastoral Insight from Andrew Fuller: A Plea for Unction

by Jordan Senécal on February 10, 2020

Pastoral Insight from Andrew Fuller: A Plea for Unction

“[Barnabas] was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith” (Acts 11:24). According to Andrew Fuller, Barnabas wasn’t “full of the Holy Spirit” in an “unlimited” sense; Christ alone “was filled with the Spirit without measure.” Rather, Barnabas was “full” in a “comparative” sense – that is, he was “habitually under His holy influence.”[1] For Fuller, such filling is essential for pastoral ministry. Why?

First, it enables us “to enter into the spirit of the gospel and preserves [us] from destructive errors.”[2] Fuller believes the filling of the Spirit is the only way to maintain doctrinal purity and doctrinal unity: “It is no breach of charity to say that if the professors of Christianity had more of the Holy Spirit of God in their hearts, there would be a greater harmony among them respecting the great truths which He has revealed.” Disunity, especially when it comes to the essentials of the Christian faith, is the direct result of being “destitute of the Holy Spirit.”[3]

Second, the filling of the Spirit gives “a holy tincture to [our] meditation and preaching.” Fuller explains, “There is such a thing as the mind being habitually under the influence of divine things, and retaining so much of a savour of Christ, as that divine truths shall be viewed and expressed, as I may say, in their own language.”[4] In essence, what Fuller is saying is that when a pastor has this anointing, his thoughts, words, and actions are aligned with Scripture. The Word of God flows through him (so to speak). It’s what C. H. Spurgeon said of John Bunyan:

"Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself … . He had read [Scripture] till his whole being was saturated with Scripture … making us continually feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God."[5]

It’s for this reason that Fuller is so critical of those who neglect the language of Scripture in their preaching. “A great part of the phraseology of Scripture is by some accounted unfit to be addressed to a modern ear; and is, on this account, to a great degree laid aside, even by those who profess to be satisfied with the sentiments.”[6] According to Fuller, pastors must strive to fill their minds and hearts with the words of Scripture and, by consequence, strive to do the same for their people. As pastors saturate themselves with the Word of God, it will flow out of them. “The more you are filled,” says he, “with an unction from the Holy One, the greater relish you will possess for that savoury manner of conveying truth which is so plentifully exemplified in the Holy Scriptures.”

Third, the filling of the Spirit makes “the doctrines [we] preach, and the duties [we] inculcate, seem fitted in [our] lips.”[7] Fuller was convinced that, where there's unction, there will be harmony between what pastors preach in public and what they do in private.

Fourth, the filling of the Spirit gives “a spiritual savour to [our] conversation in [our] visits to [our] friends.” As pastors conduct their ministry by means of visitation, the anointing of the Holy Spirit enables them to offer reproof and correction in “a spirit of love and faithfulness, which is absolutely necessary to successful reproof.”[8] Genuine pastoral care relies on a supernatural love for the people of God, and this love desires to see them conformed to the image of Christ. Without such love, which comes from the Holy Spirit, pastors will not be able to care for the flock.

Fifth, the filling of the Spirit teaches us “how [we] ought to behave yourself in every department [we] are called to occupy. … This it is that will teach [us] to be of a meek, mild, peaceful, humble spirit. It will make such a spirit be natural to [us].”[9] Rather than acting or reacting according to the flesh, the anointing of the Holy Spirit ensures that the fruit of the Spirit is made manifest in us.

Fuller concludes his sermon with a rule for all pastors to consider: “Eminent spirituality in a minister is usually attended with eminent usefulness.”[10] Such “eminent” spirituality (1) fires the soul with “holy love to Christ and the souls of men”; (2) directs our ends “to the glory of God and the welfare of men’s souls”; and (3) enables us to bear prosperity in ministry “without being lifted up with it.”[11] And such “eminent” spirituality only comes by means of unction.


* Jordan A. Senécal is a M.Div. student at Heritage College & Seminary in Cambridge, ON.


[1] Andrew Fuller, “The Qualifications and Encouragement of a Faithful Minister, Illustrated by the Character and Success of Barnabas,” The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Joseph Belcher (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1845), 1:138.

[2] Complete Works, 1:139.

[3] Fuller describes these essentials as consisting of “the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the total depravity of mankind, the proper deity and atonement of Christ, justification by faith in his name, the freeness and sovereignty of grace, and the agency of the Holy Spirit.” Complete Works, 1:139.

[4] Complete Works, 1:140.

[5] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography. Vol. 2: The Full Harvest, 1860–1892 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 159.

[6] Complete Works, 1:140.

[7] Complete Works, 1:140.

[8] Complete Works, 1:140–41.

[9] Complete Works, 1:141.

[10] Complete Works, 1:143.

[11] Complete Works, 1:143–44.

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