September 5: C. Darby Fulton

A Christian Statesman


Charles Darby Fulton was like many other conservative Presbyterians who chose to stay with the mother church rather than leave to join the newly formed denomination as it took a stand against modernism and apostasy. Their reasons for staying may have been varied, but conservatives like Fulton in many respects stayed for the tougher fight, for their numbers were even fewer after the exodus.

There is however something unique about the Rev. C. Darby Fulton that makes you want to know more about the man. He was widely typified as a Christian statesman. One way in which he demonstrated that quality of character was in the fact that, while he did not choose to come into the Presbyterian Church in America at its formation in 1973, he nonetheless was quite willing to bring a message during the PCA’s first General Assembly. Some conservatives who chose not to come into the PCA ignored or even opposed the new denomination. Darby Fulton was different, and that difference is part of what marks him out as a true Christian statesman. It’s part of what makes you want to know more about the true character of the man.

Charles Darby Fulton was born on September 5, 1892, in Kobe, Japan. His parents, the Rev. Samuel Peter Fulton [1865-1938] and Rachel Hoge Peck Fulton, were missionaries sent out by the Southern Presbyterian Church.

Darby Fulton was educated at the Presbyterian College of South Carolina, graduating there with the B.A. degree in 1911, and then earning an M.A. from the University of South Carolina in 1914 [note his thesis topic, in the blbiiography below] before turning his attention to preparation for the ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary. Graduating from Columbia in 1915, he lastly attended Princeton Theological Seminary, and there earned the STB degree n 1916. 

Rev. Fulton was ordained on June 25, 1915 by the Presbytery of Enoree [PCUS]. During the time that he was attending Princeton, he transferred his ministerial credentials to the PCUSA, and supported himself by serving the Glassboro and Bunker Hill churches, 1916-1917. Then upon graduation from Princeton, he was received back into Enoree Presbytery and the PCUS as he answered a call to missions work. It was at about this time that Rev. Fulton married Nannie Paul Ravenel, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, in October of 1917.

Departing for the PCUS operated Japan Mission, the Fultons served there from 1918 until 1925. Thereafter Rev. Fulton served as Field Secretary, 1925-32, and then as Executive Secretary, 1932-61, for the PCUS Board of Foreign Missions.

Dr. Fulton served as a professor at his alma mater, Columbia Theological Seminary, from 1962 to 1965, and on September 1, 1965, was entered on the rolls of Presbytery as honorably retired. During his lifetime, he had received a number of honors, including having served as the Moderator of General Assembly [PCUS] in 1948. The Presbyterian College of South Carolina awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree in 1924 and he received the LL.D. degree from King College in 1952.  Following his retirement, the Rev. Dr. C. Darby Fulton lived another twelve years, and he died on May 27, 1977, at the age of 84, while residing in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to his death, he had established a fund to assist the Kobe Theological Seminary in Japan.

Partial Bibliography:
1914 – Financial Condition and Its Relation to Character. M.A. thesis at the University of South Carolina.
1938 – Star in the East
1946 – Now is the Time
1949 – Report on China.
1959 – Lectures: Series of three lectures delivered before the Synod of Virginia at Massanetta Springs, June 29-30, 1959.
1959 – Missions: Our philosophy, our program, contemporary problems (1959)
1966 – “Baptism in Reformation Perspective,” in One Race, One Gospel, One Task: World Congress on Evangelism (1966)
1973 – “The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ,” in Addresses delivered during the First General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church. Montgomery, AL: The Office of Administration, 1973. pp. 32-34.
Undated – “The Gospel is Relevant. Weaverville, NC: The Presbyterian Journal, n.d. Tract, 12 p.

Words to Live By:
For this section today, we would like to provide here the text of Rev. Fulton’s address on the occasion of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America:

The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ, by C. Darby Fulton [Text: Philippians 3:7-14]

Every life has a key word. With some it is money; with others, pleasure; with still others, fame. With Alexander the Great it was conquest; with Napoleon, France; with Edison, science; with Paul, it was Christ.

Paul interpreted every phase of his life in its relation to Christ. When he rejoiced, it was in Christ; he gloried in Christ; he conquered in Christ; he was strong in Christ; and he took pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions and distresses for Christ’s sake. For him, to live was Christ.

But it hadn’t always been so with Paul. There was a time when his all-consuming devotion to Christ had been unknown. His heart had been set on other things; for his was a rich and proud heritage. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, nurtured and trained in the speech, the spirit and the traditions of the Jewish people. He was of the stock of Israel, rightful heir to all the promises God had made to His chosen people. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the two favored sons of Jacob. Further, he was a Pharisee, a member of that straitest sect of religious aristocrats who had distinguished themselves by their zeal in persecuting the church. Thus Paul had position, power, popularity and prestige, and he gloried in these things.

Then came that marvelous experience on the way to Damascus when the light flashed from heaven and the voice had called to him from the skies; and Paul became a new man in Christ. The change that came over Paul was cataclysmic. Old things had passed away; behold, all things had become new. Let him tell it in his own words: “What things were gain to me, those I count¬ed loss for Christ; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as refuse, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him.” All previous values were now inverted. The things he once loved, he now hated; and the Christ of his malice and envy became the Christ of his heart’s desire. To gain Christ and be found in him became the controlling purpose of his life.

In this passage, Paul sets out three principles that guided him in the pursuit of his aim:

I.    First, ‘‘I count not myself yet to have attained.” That goal he now defines in detail:

“That I may know Him – – – – . But didn’t Paul know Christ? Undoubtedly there was a time when he didn’t. When the voice had sounded on the road that day, he had asked in bewilderment, “Who art thou Lord?” The answer came back, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” But having thus been introduced to Christ, Paul never escaped the lure of His majestic personality. From that moment on, he was the captive of Christ, completely dominated by the mind and will of his Master.

“and the power of His resurrection” – – – – . Didn’t Paul know the power of the resurrection? He was the Apostle of the resurrection, the author of the grandest treatise ever written on this great hope of the Christian.

“and the fellowship of His sufferings”    . Didn’t Paul know
the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ? What do you suppose he meant when he said, “For I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”?

And what was his estimate of it all? “Brethren, I count not myself yet to have attained.” These are words of rare humility, and they reveal how high was the standard of achievement Paul had set for himself. Whatever success the past might disclose, all seemed as yet incomplete in the light of that greater glory that would be revealed — “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him.”

The Olympic Games of 1908 were held in London, and a young Italian named Dorando had been established as the favorite to win that classic race, The Marathon. A hundred thousand people were gathered in the great stadium to witness the finish, and as the time drew near, one could feel the rising tension of expectation. Suddenly there was a flash of white under the arch. Someone shouted, “It’s Dorando!”, and immediately thousands of frenzied admirers were on their feet, cheering the young runner to the echo. Halfway around the stadium Dorando stumbled and fell. Friends rushed to his aid. He staggered on for a few more paces, then stretched his length on the ground. Dorando was finished. In another moment there was a second flash of white under the arch, and John G. Hayes, wearing the emblem of the United States, made that last lap steadily and surely and won the Marathon for his country.

No race is won until it’s finished. This day does not mark the end. This is the beginning. You are toeing the mark for the great contest.

II.    And now Paul announces the second principle in three inclusive little words: “I Press On.” What magic words these are! Who can repeat them without feeling an impulse toward progress, They are suggestive of patience and perseverance in the pursuit of some high and ennobling aim.

It has been said that youth is prospective, while old age is retrospective. The young dream of the future and build castles in Spain; while the old revel in their memories of the days that are gone. And it is actually this difference in outlook, rather than any mathematical matter of years, that determines whether one be young or old. For that soul is already dead that has no vision for tomorrow, and greets the coming of the day with no new thrill of anticipation.

Paul here lays claim to the spirit of youth when he exclaims: “I Press On.” It was not enough for him that he had run well in the past. That was too negative. A heavenly race had commanded his zeal. And so, with unrelenting determination he set his face forward. Numerous enemies conspired to win him away from his declared purpose and divert him from his task. Voices called to him from the byways and alleys of life. But Paul shouts defiantly, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is the spirit that makes for success. No man was ever born great; nor was greatness ever thrust upon anyone; true greatness is always achieved — achieved by dedicated men who have written “I Press On” over the portals of their lives.

III.    There is a third principle. Let me attach it to the other two: “Brethren, I count not myself yet to have attained; I press on; if so be that I may lay hold on that for which I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.”

To discover and discharge in one’s life the will and purpose of Christ for that life — this is the highest goal that any man can set before himself. This is to find in life its supreme dignity. It is to recognize that God in Christ one day laid hold on you and claimed you for His own, thus setting you apart as His chosen vessel. To Him be all glory and honor and praise!

If this be true, what could be more tragic than that a man should go through life without ever having discovered what it was that his Lord had planned for him. No man can afford to live his life without taking God into account.

The whole message of this passage can be conveyed, I think, by an illustration:

Sixty-seven years ago Mrs. Fulton and I sailed from Vancouver, B.C. for Yokohama aboard the Canadian Pacific freighter, Monteagle. She was built to carry missionaries and Oregon pine to the Far East. It was a dark and stormy day when the shores of North America dropped out of sight behind us, and for more than a week we were buffeted by adverse weather. The winds were contrary, the waves were high, the currents were strong, and we wallowed in heavy seas with no sight of sun or stars.

Seated at the Captain’s table one evening at dinner, I hoped for some word that would reflect a brighter prospect for the days ahead. “Captain,” I asked, “where are we now?” “I don’t know,” he said; ‘“we’ve been sailing on dead reckoning. For eight days we haven’t seen the sun or the stars. We’ve drifted some. Oh I know that we are within one or two hundred miles of the Aleutian Islands, but nearer than that I can’t tell you.”

The next afternoon four of us passengers were having a game of deck tennis between the boards that were piled on the well deck, just forward of the bridge. At almost exactly four o’clock there was a little rift in the clouds, and for a brief minute or two a bright shaft of sunlight fell on the deck. At that moment a man came running out of the deckhouse with an instrument in his hand. He peered into it intently for a minute, then disappeared inside. We all noticed it and commented on it.

That night I was seated again by the Captain. I turned to him now with more confidence. “Where are we now, Captain,” I asked. “Sir”, he replied, “we are sailing about twenty- five miles off the Aleutian Islands, close to shore.” “How do you know, Captain,” I asked. He answered, “We saw the sun today.”

These have been trying days for many of us. God bless you all. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.

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