John Gill and the Cause of God and Truth

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Eoghan

Puritan Board Senior
John Gill (and the cause of God and Truth), George M. Ella, Go Publications, ISBN 0-9527074-0-3

I have for some time now used Gill’s commentary available as a download for e-sword. I have benefited greatly from his commentary and find that he takes a much more verse-by-verse approach than Henry. If I come upon a verse that I wish more background on I would routinely use Gill.

What surprises me is that very few speak well of Gill. Within Baptist circles he is regarded with some suspicion as a hyper-Calvinist – which he is not. For these reasons I was drawn to the biography.

One of the impressions I have is that in a denomination which is Arminian in it’s leanings the doctrines of Grace are poorly understood and a full-bloodied, five point Calvinist is something of a culture shock. I doubt that many Arminians are really conversant with Gill, making do with what other (Arminians) have said. Gill definitely had a systematic theology which again is something most modern Baptists are unfamiliar with. Gill’s statements are in the context of a theology much more comprehensive and coherent than most modern Baptists can conceive. This I think as outline d in the book leads his detractors to pick at particular parts of his theology without acknowledging the balance elsewhere or understanding the context of what is said. This is most telling on page 156 where a failure to understand Gill’s sentence structure allows the doctrine he is refuting to be quoted as his own.

It was interesting to read of the Baptist disdain for creeds and confessions and the reasoning behind it (page 68) This led to my own disdain for the hymn “We limit not the truth of God to notions of our day”. This whilst an accurate summation of Baptist disdain was actually written by a Reformed Pastor from Holland who was bidding part of his flock goodbye. His sentiment was that there was more to be discovered in scripture in addition to the Westminster Confession – not the usual understanding of the hymn!

I was intrigued that church discipline included dealing with a Highwayman (page 62). Sadly Ella did not supply any additional details.

I was surprised to learn that hymn singing was unknown among Baptists until the end of the C17th and preachers would preach behind a curtain unseen. Should anyone enter as an Anglican spy they would promptly start singing a Psalm as true Anglicans. This behaviour at the height of persecution strengthened a link between Psalm singing and Anglicans. (p85)

Spurgeon it appears thought little of Gill’s three year study of Jewish literature (Talmud, Targums etc…). He failed to see the usefulness in refuting the assertion that Messianic expectations came late to Judaism. On the contrary from scripture and Jewish literature Gill could demonstrate that Messianic expectations were there from the outset.(p104)

Gill had one of the largest Baptist churches in England (if not the biggest) despite the frequent references to him chasing people away with his supposed Hyper-Calvinism. It seems that Calvinism is so little understood these days that when a minister such as Gill is encountered who holds to all five points it comes as a shock and “excess”. Those familiar with Systematic Theology will be aware of the checks and balances inherent. Those who reject and are unfamiliar I think are prone to selective citation.

In this regard I was interested in a series of lectures by Dr. Packer. He made the point that Calvin’s Institutes were organised in a pattern which matches Paul’s letter to the Romans. In particular election is a doctrine taught to Christians in the context of assurance. When Calvin’s Institutes was edited by Beeza (?) they were organised along Aritolitian lines i.e. what is first in intention is last in execution. This placed election at the outset despite the original title of Calvin’s Institutes being “in the proper order”. This alteration perhaps gives undue and premature emphasis to a doctrine which Paul taught in the context of assurance.

Whatever the reason Arminians don’t like John Gill’s theology and instead of encompassing the whole extrapolate from their own understanding to write him off.
Gill was fighting many heresies which gained ground in what would become liberal churches (the Unitarian Church emerged at this time?). I was particularly struck by Gill’s description of the devils who believe in God and know Jesus as the Holy One. Indeed Gill says there is so much that they are obliged to believe (against their nature) that many are more orthodox than some that call themselves Christians. This was said in the context of easy believism.

Finally I was struck by Gill’s defence of the Hebrew OT having pointing/vowels from the outset. Again his knowledge of Jewish literature (and archaeological finds) makes this a robust defence.

It is an interesting book with occasional surprises about the times he lived in. Much of the book however deals with election and evangelism. I found this interesting personally but I would not recommend it to my wife for that reason. It prompted me to think of the consequences of easy believism in sowing tares in the church. I would have liked some discussion of this but it would go beyond the remit of an autobiography defending Gill from the charge of Hyper-Calvinism.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
In this regard I was interested in a series of lectures by Dr. Packer. He made the point that Calvin’s Institutes were organised in a pattern which matches Paul’s letter to the Romans. In particular election is a doctrine taught to Christians in the context of assurance. When Calvin’s Institutes was edited by Beeza (?) they were organised along Aritolitian lines i.e. what is first in intention is last in execution. This placed election at the outset despite the original title of Calvin’s Institutes being “in the proper order”. This alteration perhaps gives undue and premature emphasis to a doctrine which Paul taught in the context of assurance.

You might wish to revisit your sources on this point. Calvin deals with election in Institutes III.21 -after justification by faith and prayer. Calvin himself rearranged the material until he reached a satisfactory organization in the final edition. For more detailed information, consult B.B. Warfield, "The Literary History of Calvin's 'Institutes.'"

Melanchthon's Loci Communes took their rise from a series of lectures on Romans.
 

Jesus is my friend

Puritan Board Junior
That book is the Bomb!,esp. as an apologetic for all the Arminian verses used against the Bible,I do not want to sound ungrateful,however,someone needs to step it up and republish "Cause.." in a modern typeset version,I have read the Sovereign Grace edition,I am deeply thankful for Jay and SG's work,they are a huge blessing to the body of Christ! If someone knows of a modern edition of this classic please post a link/info.

So far as Gill goes,I cant figure out why Gill is often wrongly the "posterboy" for whatever misunderstanding of High-Calvinism a person arguing is railing against.
 

SolaSaint

Puritan Board Sophomore
I always like referring to Gill's commentary on e-sword more than any other. I plan on buying the book you mentioned for my Kindle...Thanks.
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
I'm an admitted Gill-ite. I've read his sermons, his Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity continuously over the years and the Cause of God and Truth. I found a second cheaper paperback copy of Gill's Divinity just to mark up as I read through it. I quote and reference Gill on my blog more than any other theologian and have included remarks from Sprugeon about the man. Gill held the line when it came to the Trinity and the third use of the Law when the church seemed confused about both doctrines.

If you haven't read Gill, you must!

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