The September 2017 edition of Evangelical Times reported on the homecall of Pastor Erroll Hulse (1931-2017). Dr Tom Nettles has written this tribute.
Erroll Hulse was a major force in the rejuvenation of life among Reformed Baptists in England. He was indefatigable in his labours for the gospel, passionate in his love of truth, persistent in his love of friends, and unceasing in encouraging others in their labours and in the faith.
I asked him one time, after he had bolstered my spirits in a peculiarly fitting way, ‘Who encourages you?’ He said, ‘The Puritans. They never change, they speak virtually with one voice. They are always ready with godly counsel’.
Of course, I should have known he would answer that. Early in his ministry in England, Erroll had served along with Iain Murray with the Banner of Truth Trust and aided Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in reviving interest in the Puritans. His own substantial list of writings includes the book Who are the Puritans?.
Evangelism was at the core of his commitment to Christ and the gospel. When my family and I lived in England from 1984-85, we stayed virtually the entire time in Erroll’s home in Haywards Heath. During the first week of that eventful year, Erroll introduced me to market preaching.
Cuckfield Baptist Church set up a preaching point just at the entrance of the market. As people strolled in, they heard a presentation of the gospel from a preacher lifted by a small podium. The message was short but pungent, the passing comments frequent, colourful, often humorous, but always indicative that those who walked near had heard.
In his first number of Reformation Today (Spring 1970) — a magazine of which he was founding editor — Erroll closed an article on ‘Baptist heirs of the Reformation’ with a section entitled ‘Theology and evangelism’, which ended with the sentence, ‘In other words we need a dynamic theology which results in dynamic evangelism’.
In that first issue, Erroll included an outline of a sermon he had preached at Cuckfield on 1 March 1970, entitled ‘Joshua’s call for decisions’. He emphasised recurrent themes of his ministry: the clearly established doctrinal background of the necessity of salvation, the urgency of the need for salvation in ‘light of eternal hell or heaven’, the consequent urgency of the appeal to know and serve the Lord, the reality of human shallowness both in response and in reporting supposedly massive responses, the necessity of pressing the matter in a wise, fitting, and constant way.
‘While there is simplicity about the gospel’, he preached, ‘it is also called a mystery. Some truths defy our understanding. That a man should be born with a sinful nature and a will in bondage to sin and yet be held responsible is a deep mystery’.
He pointed out that we are hesitant to take Joshua’s realistic approach to evangelism and say, ‘Ye cannot serve the Lord’, but have instead ‘rejoiced in thousands of decisions and have been disappointed in thousands turning back’.
Nevertheless, with full recognition of the impossibility of this transaction on the basis of human power, we say, ‘What about you? Like those Israelites of old, you have only two alternatives before you: idols or the Lord!
‘Look to the Lord Jesus Christ, for he is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him. Relying upon Christ and trusting him wholly, resolve this day that in dependence upon the Holy Spirit you will serve God with all your heart’.
By October 1969, at the beginning of my second year in the MDiv programme at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I had become convinced that the doctrines of grace were true. As I grew in both understanding and persuasion of the practical and historic integrity of these truths for Baptist life, I wondered if any other Baptists believed these things.
In God’s providence, I came across Reformation Today — fully immersed in the doctrines of grace, historically confessional, and committed to ministry with local Baptist churches as the focal point for carrying out the commissions of the gospel. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed.
I wrote to its editor, Erroll Hulse, and he wrote back. Eventually he sent me a bound volume of the 1970-72 issues of Reformation Today. It included articles on a comprehensive scale: exegetical, historical, doctrinal, confessional, contemporary concerns, practical ministry, and a series on ‘Reformation in…’
This became a major influence in my seeing the Reformed Faith from a Baptist perspective as fundamental to a broadly conceived, biblically consistent world view. Erroll’s generosity in giving this volume, and the insight given on such a large number of issues, made a definite and positive impact on my convictions about Christian ministry.
Erroll was prescient in his treatment of Calvin as a magisterial Reformer in his relation to the Anabaptists. In one introductory remark, he noted: ‘Much can be learned from the past and from the life of Calvin … A wide gulf existed between Calvin and the Anabaptists. Nevertheless, we ought not to miss some of the lessons which can come from the attempts of the Anabaptists to create gathered churches’.
In an article on ‘The Reformation and Baptists’, Erroll stated with candour: ‘Those who study the Radical Reformation for the first time should be warned against disillusionment in regard to some of the Reformers. Their part in the persecution of the Anabaptists is not a pleasant subject’.
In his discussion of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin in their relation to the Anabaptists, Erroll pointed to their differences on the sacral society of Christendom, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, and its cohering ligaments of infant baptism as the cause of the great persecution of Anabaptists.
After giving a summary, unvarnished in its impact, of some of the grotesque treatment of the Anabaptists, Erroll wrote: ‘Let us remember that the state-church system rather than the Reformers was responsible for these gruesome events’.
Then, in seeking to maintain a robust grasp of Reformation doctrinal advances and Anabaptist ecclesiological principles, he wrote: ‘Let us guard against lowering our estimate of the Reformers or of the Reformation because of sacralism, which harmed the Baptists then and which has tended to make them suspicious of Reformed teaching as a whole, ever since, thus depriving them of great theological riches.
‘Basic human factors, as we have seen, influenced Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. They acted within the context of their times. As we are called to act within ours, we do well to seek a grasp of truth as profound as theirs, combining that with the main facet for which the Baptists contended, namely, that the church of Christ upon earth is to consist only of those who meet the requirement of the new covenant — a new heart and a new spirit’.
Erroll’s missionary vison prompted him to give a portion of his time each year to reformation among the pastors and churches in Africa. He expended bundles of energy and experienced a great variety of living conditions in pursuing this vision. This led eventually to the founding of the African Pastors’ Conference.
It was in the service of this cause that he suffered the stroke that, in the long term, was fatal. This time of incapacity was filled with patience, kindness, humour, witness, and even plans for future ministry.
I must admit I was startled with Erroll’s answer when Andrew Symonds and I asked him what he intended to do with his vast library: ‘Why, I shall put it in crates and send it to Africa; a minister can never be without his books and I will need them when I arrive’.
He had been unfailingly coherent up to that point in the conversation. Had he become detached from reality for just a moment? Or was this the response of a mind so given to ministry that he would never fail to strategise for at least one more thing for Christ and the gospel, even in the face of such invincible odds?
One of Erroll’s daughters, Michelle, as a young girl in answering a question concerning what her father did, responded, ‘He is a ballet dancer’. Perhaps she was right. He mastered the art of graceful, meaningful, disciplined movement between biblical text and hungry congregation.
He mustered a force of eager disciples for the truth of the gospel through lovely enticement, with coherence between the music of the heart, the power of a message, the warmth of genuine experience, and the deftness of minds under the control of truth.
He never lost concentration on the choreography of his life, mixing with his faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness and brotherly kindness; all arising from that most beautiful of all graces, love. Yes, a real, disciplined, Spirit-controlled, humble Christian ‘ballet dancer’! Now he is in the realm of the infinite spiritual glory of the triune God.
Dr Tom Nettles has taught church history in various American seminaries. Most recently he was professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kentucky. This tribute is edited from a longer version (http://founders.org/2017/08/07/errol-hulse-1931-2017-a-beautifully-proportioned-life) and used here with kind permission.