Brief Biography of John Gill (1697-1771)

The following is the brief biography I wrote for the up-coming 3 volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization from Blackwell Publishers this year. Since I’m working more specifically on Gill I thought I should briefly introduce him!

John Gill was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire on November 23, 1697 to Edward and Elizabeth Gill. His parents were God-fearing individuals of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. His father served as a deacon in the Baptist work in Kettering. Gill grew up in a good Christian home. His early years were spent studying in the local grammar school where he excelled in languages. Unfortunately, he was no longer able to attend by the age of 11 since it was required that students attend morning prayer at the parish church. His parents being dissenters would not allow this. This was the end of Gill’s formal education but he spent his time wisely teaching himself and not only excelled in Greek and Latin but was quite adept at Hebrew by the age of nineteen.

He was converted to Christ at the age of twelve but was not baptized until he was nineteen on November 1, 1716. He was married to Elizabeth Negus (d. 1764) in 1718 and they had three children that lived beyond infancy: Elizabeth, John, and Mary. The church at Kettering recognized his gifts as a preacher and in 1719 became pastor of the famous Horselydown congregation in London. Benjamin Keach had previously served as pastor in this church and eventually C. H. Spurgeon would become pastor of this church.

Gill would become a prolific author and influential theologian of the Particular Baptist cause. His writings include The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated (1731), The Cause of God and Truth (1735–1738) which was a return to Daniel Whitby’s Discourse on the Five Points which was a refutation of Calvinism. His magnum opus was his three volume An Exposition of the New Testament (1746–1748) and his six volume Exposition of the Old Testament (1748–1763). He also wrote A Dissertation on the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language (1767), A Body of Doctrinal Divinity (1767) and A Body of Practical Divinity (1770). He received an honourary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1748. He would become one of the most influential Baptist theologians ever.

The major controversy that has erupted over the influence of Gill has been over the issue of Hyper-Calvinism (the belief that unsaved man is not obligated to respond in faith in Christ and therefore preachers should not offer the Gospel to those who are the non-elect). Some have attributed to Gill to be the first systematizer of a Baptist Hyper-Calvinist theology. Others have argued that Gill was in fact not a Hyper-Calvinist. Regardless, it was during Gill’s time period when the Particular Baptist Churches began their decline into Hyper-Calvinism. Gill did believe in eternal justification (that the elect were justified in eternity past) and did not seem to appeal to all in the same way that further generations of Evangelical Calvinists did, but it seems difficult to say that Gill was undeniably in fact a Hyper-Calvinist. Instead, most likely, Hyper-Calvinists used Gill’s theology and went past him to solidify their own theology.

Gill is the first major writing Baptist theologian and his works retain its influence even to this day.

2 Responses to Brief Biography of John Gill (1697-1771)

  1. […] most likely, Hyper-Calvinists used Gills theology and went past him to solidify their own theology.Brief Biography of John Gill (1697-1771) Working out Salvation with Fear and Trembling Nettles says that Daniel started with the assumption that Gill was a hyper-Calvinist, and then […]

  2. […] Brief Biography of John Gill (1697-1771) « Working out Salvation with Fear and Trembling […]

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