Andrew Fuller and His Forgotten Friend: Beeby Wallis A Friendship Portrait Drawn in Three Sketches
Friendships are often marked by memorable places and events as well as by the normal routine of life. Our first sketch remembers a gathering of some fourteen individuals on October 2, 1792. Present are:William Carey, Leicester; John Ryland, Northampton; Reynold Hogg, Thrapstone; John Sutcliff, Olney; Andrew Fuller, Kettering; Abraham Greenwood, Oakham; Edward Sharman, Cottisbrook; Samuel Pearce, Birmingham; Joseph Timms, Kettering; Joshua Burton, Foxton; Thomas Blundel, Arnsby; William Heighton, Roade; John Bristol Ayres, Braybrook; and William Staughton, Bristol.
These men meet to form the Baptist Missionary Society. The impact of their society is well-known; some of the particulars, less so. Their offering[i] collected that day was something over 13 £2s 6d. Ryland and Hoog each gave £2-2; Most of the rest gave £1-1 (perhaps a guinea);Mr. Staughton gave nothing – perhaps because he was a ministerial student at the time. William Carey made no donation that day but did offer the proceeds from the sale of his book, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.
But for the purpose of this sketch, attention is drawn to the house in which they meet and to one noticeable absence. The house[ii] is that of Deacon and Mrs Beeby Wallis. Cathcart said:
“The little parlor which witnessed the birth of this society was the most honored room in the British Islands, or in any part of Christendom; in it was formed the first society of modern time for spreading the gospel among the heathen, the parent of all the great Protestant missionary societies in existence.”
Andrew Fuller comes to the meeting bearing the sorrow of his wife’s terrible illness that summer; Fuller was by his wife’s side twenty two hours a day for the three months; Mrs. Fuller died in August. He comes to a home also bearing grief. Absent from the gathering was Beeby Wallis, who had died in April. Mr. and Mrs.Wallis used their home and their wealth for kingdom work in their church and the Baptist Mission even after their deaths.[iii]
Beeby Wallis was Andrew Fuller’s friend.
Andrew Fuller becomes the Secretary of the new mission society, continuing as pastor of the Kettering church where he had ministered since October, 1782. The Baptist Quarterly says:
The chief hinge on which the gates of opportunity turned for Fuller was his removal to Kettering… Once at Kettering a new world opened out before Fuller. Ryland junior, at Northhampton, and Sutcliff, at Olney, he already knew, but they had been inaccessibly remote [in] those pre-railway, pre-mail coach days. Now they could meet. Pierce was near enough, at Birmingham to be visited occasionally. That seraphic soul, too good for this hard world, and destined not long to remain in it, had a strange fascination for rough and gruff Andrew Fuller, whose private prayers contained thereafter a line of unusual character: “God of Samuel Pierce, be my God!” Soon young Carey came into their circle, and the yeasty ferment in that visionary’s mind communicated itself to the group of brave hearts who were destined to lead a reluctant church forward with the gospel into the heathen world.[iv]
The Divine hand that seems so clearly to have brought Fuller to Kettering made use of a human hand as well. That human agency, more than any other perhaps, was Beeby Wallis.
Fuller’s first pastorate at Soham was a struggle financially. Married, with a young family, Fuller had tried a business and then a school to supplement a salary that never reached £13 a year. Yet he was fully devoted to the little church at Soham and it took a year for him to come to the decision to move to Kettering. His diary records the tears and the trauma for Fuller and his first church.
Beeby Wallis first sought Fuller out and over the year through letters and visits made his case for Fuller to come to Kettering. From that a friendship was forged that seems to have stood the test of time. Pastor and Deacon would serve together and find common cause and uncommon cordiality.
Beeby Wallis was appointed a deacon by Thomas Benford on October 27, 1768. His signature can be found appended for several years to the Letter to the Association. He also signed the Covenant and confession of faith for the Kettering church along with John Brown, Pastor and another Deacon, Joseph Timms – a name that appears among those gathered to form the Missionary Society. Wallis also served as the first treasurer of the Particular Baptist Association, from which the Missionary Society would come.
The last scene is a funeral service. Andrew Fuller’s funeral sermon at the death of Beeby Wallis was printed and published: “The Blessedness of the Dead.”
Fuller speaks of “a steady, faithful, and judicious friend.”
I have often admired the wisdom and mercy of God in these things. We see the threatening hand of God laid upon our dearest friends or relatives – and at first we think we can never endure the loss – but the affliction continues – meanwhile the weight which he sustained is gradually removed, and falls by degrees upon his friends about him – life becomes a burden to himself – at length the very same principle that made it appear impossible for us to endure a separation, renders us incapable of praying or even wishing for his continuance – and thus the burden that we should scarcely have known how to bear becomes tolerable by being let down, as it were, gradually upon our shoulders.
About five years after [Wallis] was chosen to the office of a deacon, an office which he has filled with honour and satisfaction for twenty-four years. It was a great blessing to the church, especially when, for the space of five years, they were destitute of a minister, that he was invested with this office, and was then in the prime of life and usefulness. It will long be remembered with what meekness of wisdom he presided in the church during that uncomfortable interval; and how , notwithstanding all the disadvantages of such a situation, they were not only preserved in peace, but gradually increased, till a minister was settled among them.
The stability of the church, and its ability to support a minister was a crucial factor in the call and coming of Andrew Fuller to Kettering.
God endued him with a sound understanding, and his observances on men and things, ripened by long experience, were just and accurate. He had a quick sense of right and wrong, of propriety and impropriety, which rendered his counsel of great esteem in cases of difficulty.
Fuller speaks of an industrious, diligent, active man but elaborates on Beeby’s most prominent features:
One of the most prominent features of his character was sincerity, or integrity of heart. This was a temper of mind that ran through all his concerns. In a cause of righteousness he possessed a severity which rendered it almost impossible for treachery to stand before him.
… “I wish to do what is right,” he would say “and leave consequences.”
…He would neither flatter, not be flattered by others. The true secret by which he obtained esteem, was an unaffected modesty, mingled with kindness and goodness.
On Beeby Wallis’ tomb, an end panel bore an inscription said to have been written by Andrew Fuller:
Kind sycamore, preserve, beneath thy shade,
The precious dust of Him who cherished thee:
Nor Thee alone; a plant to him more dear,
He cherished, and with fost’ring hand upreared.
Active and generous in Virtue’s cause,
With solid wisdom, strict integrity,
And unaffected piety, he lived
Beloved amongst us, and beloved he died.
Beneath an Allon-Bachuth[v], Jacob wept:
Beneath thy shade we mourn a heavier loss.
Beeby Wallis was Andrew Fuller’s friend. He was used of God to bring Fuller to Kettering; to support and sustain his pastoral ministry there, and to enable Fuller’s wider ministry to the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Late in his life, Beeby Wallis said, “I reckon it the greatest honour of my Life to have been employed in promoting the interest of Christ.”
[i] In 1790, £13 2s 6d would have the same spending worth today of £735.39 ( I estimate about $1200 US dollars.)
[iii] Mrs. Beeby Wallis, by will proved in Prerogative Court of Canterbury 6 May 1813, gave £400 to the minister and deacons of the Particular Baptist Congregation upon trust to apply the interest yearly as to £2 10s. to the minister for preaching occasionally in neighbouring villages, £2 10s. in Bibles and hymn books for poor of congregation, £5 to poor of congregation, £4 10s. in repair of Meeting House and residue for minister. The money was invested in Consols, which were sold in 1897, and the proceeds, £455 1s., after being placed on mortgage were subsequently invested in £480 17s. 7d. 5 per cent. War Stock, with the Official Trustees, producing £24 0s. 10d. yearly. In 1924 £16 10s. was placed to the general fund of Fuller Chapel, £2 10s. to the Hymn Book and Bible Fund, and £5 was distributed to the poor.
[iv] The Baptist Quarterly BiblicalStudies.org.uk: Baptist Quarterly Vols. 1 – 3 (1922 – 1927)
[v] The KJV transliterated this as “oak of weeping.”
Brewster, Paul. Andrew Fuller: Model Pastor-Theologian.Nashville: B&H Publishing Group. 2010
Fuller, Andrew. The Blessedness of the Dead. Reproduction from British Library. London: ECCO . 1792
Fuller, Andrew Gunton, Editor. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth. Reprint, 2007.
Taylor, John, Historical Collections relating to Northamptonshire. Northhampton: Taylor & Sons. 1896. Reprint.
The Baptist Quarterly BiblicalStudies.org.uk: Baptist Quarterly Vols. 1 – 3 (1922 – 1927)