For Believers in bivio

September 3, 2008

I was scheduled to present a paper at the annual ETS meeting this year in Rhode Island, but again with a new wife and a new ministry, I do not really have the time or the finances to make the trip. But instead of wasting some great material from John Gill on the Sufficiency of the Scriptures, let me reproduce a brief exerpt from his sermon titled “The Scriptures: The Only Guide in Matters of Faith” (Preached at the Baptism of several persons in Barbican, November 2, 1750).

About the way of Salvation; if that is the affair the doubt is concerning, look up to the way-posts, look into the word of God, and read what that says; search the scriptures, for therein is the way of eternal life; life and immortality, or the way to an immortal life, is brought to light by the gospel. The scriptures, under a divine influence, and with a divine blessing, are able to make a man wise unto salvation, and they do point unto men the way of it: it is not the light of nature, nor the law of Moses, but the gospel-part of the scriptures which direct to this; there will shew you, that God saves and calls men with an holy calling, not according to their works, but according to his purpose and grace; that it is not by works of righteousness done by men, but according to the mercy of God, that men are saved; and that it is not by works, but by grace, lest men should boast (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5: Eph. 2:8,9). That it is a vain thing for men to expect salvation this way; that it is a dangerous one: such who encompass themselves with sparks of their own kindling shall lie down in sorrow: and that it is a very wicked thing; such sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag. These will inform you that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; that he is the only true way to eternal life; that there is salvation in him, and in no other: the language of them is, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved: these words, Salvation alone by Christ, salvation alone by Christ, are written as with a sunbeam on them; just as the way-posts, set up in places where two or more ways met, to direct the manslayer when he was fleeing to one of the cities of refuge from the avenger of blood, had written on them in very legible characters, refuge, refuge.

John Gill (1697-1771)


Advice from The Doctor – The Message of the Preacher

June 13, 2008

New Series: Advice from The Doctor

June 6, 2008

As I have made the switch from formal study of Andrew Fuller to that of John Gill (my lover for Fuller though continues to grow!) I should switch from my quotes of Fuller I used to do to that of John Gill. So, now every Friday I will contribute something of Gill’s from my new series called Advice from The Doctor as Gill has been called The Doctor before. As probably the most important theologian of the Particular Baptist community, it is important to continue to learn and to grow from this great saint. Today’s quote comes from a sermon Gill preached on November 2, 1750 at the baptism of several persons in Barbican titled, “The Scriptures: The Only Guide in Matters of Faith.”

“About the way of Salvation; if that is the affair the doubt is concerning, look up to the way-posts, look into the word of God, and read what that says; search the scriptures, for therein is the way of eternal life; life and immortality, or the way to an immortal life, is brought to light by the gospel. The scriptures, under a divine influence, and with a divine blessing, are able to make a man wise unto salvation, and they do point unto men the way of it: it is not the light of nature, nor the law of Moses, but the gospel-part of the scriptures which direct to this; there will shew you, that God saves and calls men with an holy calling, not according to their works, but according to his purpose and grace; that it is not by works of righteousness done by men, but according to the mercy of God, that men are saved; and that it is not by works, but by grace, lest men should boast (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5: Eph. 2:8,9). That it is a vain thing for men to expect salvation this way; that it is a dangerous one: such who encompass themselves with sparks of their own kindling shall lie down in sorrow: and that it is a very wicked thing; such sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag. These will inform you that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; that he is the only true way to eternal life; that there is salvation in him, and in no other: the language of them is, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved: these words, Salvation alone by Christ, salvation alone by Christ, are written as with a sunbeam on them; just as the way-posts, set up in places where two or more ways met, to direct the manslayer when he was fleeing to one of the cities of refuge from the avenger of blood, had written on them in very legible characters, refuge, refuge.”


John Gill (1697-1771) on Prayer

May 13, 2008

It is good for the saints to draw near to God; it is not only good because it is their duty, but because it yields their souls a spiritual pleasure; and it is also of great profit and advantage to them: It is often an ordinance of God, and which he owns for the quickening the graces of his spirit, for the restraining and subduing the corruptions of our hearts, and for the bringing of our souls into nearer communion and fellowship with himself. Satan has often felt the force and power of this piece of our spiritual armour; and it is, indeed, the last which the believer is directed to make use of. Praying souls are profitable in families, neighbourhoods, churches, and common-wealths, when prayerless ones are in a great measure useless. The believer has the utmost encouragement to this work he can desire; he may come to God, not as on a seat of justice, but as on a throne of grace. Christ is the Mediator between God and him, his way of access to God, and his Advocate with the Father; the Spirit is his Guide, Director, and Assister; he has many exceeding great and precious promises to plead with God; nor need he doubt of a kind reception, a gracious audience, and a proper answer, though never so mean and unworthy in himself; since the Lord will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise his prayer.


John Gill (1697-1771) on Marriage – In Preparation for my own Marriage

May 11, 2008

“Marriage is honourable in all”, (Heb. 13:4) it being an institution of God, and that of God in paradise; by whom our first parents were directed to it, in a state of purity and innocence; God made the woman for an help meet, and brought her to the man, proposed her to him, whom he approved and accepted of, and she became his wife, (Gen. 2:18, 22-24) it was the Lord’s act and deed, and to him Christ ascribes the act of marriage (Matthew 19:6). Christ honoured it by his presence, and at such a solemnity wrought his first miracle, and manifested forth the glory of his Deity, (John 2:1, 2, 11) and what makes this state yet more honourable is, that the marriage of Adam and Eve was a type and emblem of the conjugal union of Christ and the church, (Eph. 5:32) Adam was a figure or type of Christ, and, among other things, in his marriage; and Eve, the mother of all living, was a type of the church; Adam was first formed, and then Eve; Christ was before the church, and, indeed, before all things; Eve was formed from Adam, from a rib taken out of his side; the church has her original from Christ, and her subsistence by him; all her grace, blessings, and happiness, are from him; her justification and sanctification are from him, signified by the blood and water which sprung from his pierced side. Eve was brought by the Lord to Adam, not against her will, but with it, and by him presented as a proper match for him, which he approved and accepted of; and the church was brought to Christ, and given to him by his Father, to be his spouse and bride, whom he liked, accepted of, and betrothed to himself; and her consent is obtained by the drawings and influences of his Father’s grace: and though this is no direct proof of, yet it has a favourable aspect upon, and may serve to illustrate the “supralapsarian” scheme; that Christ had an interest in his church, and she in him, and was espoused unto him before she fell in Adam; this marriage transaction between Adam and Eve being before the fall. Moreover, marriage is honourable with respect to the ends of it; which even before the fall, and supposing Adam had stood, hereby he would have had an help meet; and the first law of creation would have been carried into execution, increase and multiply; a godly seed, a legitimate offspring would have sprung from hence; families formed and built up, and the world peopled with inhabitants; and since the fall the ends and uses of it are to preserve chastity, to prevent incontinence, and to avoid fornication; as well as to answer the other ends: and particularly this state appears honourable.

A Body of Practical Divinity – Book 4 Chapter 1 – Of the Respective Duties of Husband and Wife


Gill on the Pactum Salutis

May 5, 2008

My good friend Mark Jones, who is doing his PhD alongside me on Thomas Goodwin’s Christology at Leiden University, has noted that the work of the Spirit in the pactum salutis is an area that still needs to be explored in PhD work here.

Now Mark knows that the grand Particular Baptist theologian John Gill (1697-1771) is one of the few who have made a contribution in this regard. Richard Muller, has noted this contribution in his article, “The Spirit and the Covenant: John Gill’s Critique of the Pactum Salutis,” Foundations 24 (1981): 4-14. I would suggest any pursuing the idea of the Spirit’s role in the pactum salutis check out Muller’s article and the go directly to the source to Gill to see how he approached the issue.

Mark is right, it is an area that needs to be explored. Let’s not forget our Particular Baptist brethren though as we look at this issue. Often scholars fail to see the Baptist contribution to Reformed thought. Muller, has argued that Gill carries the 17th century Reformed legacy into the 18th century (see his “John Gill and the Reformed Tradtion: A Study in the Reception of Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed. The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697-1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation [Leiden, Brill, 1997]). Let’s not forget that!


John Gill on the Eternal State

May 3, 2008

“So the heavenly glory is not obtained by the works of men, though they naturally think they must do some good thing to inherit eternal life; nor is it to be purchased, if a man would give all the substance of his house for it it would utterly be condemened: it is bequeathed to saints by their heavenly Father, whose good pleasure is to give them the kingdom; and this he gives by will, by testament, and which comes to them, upon, and through the death of the testator Jesus Christ.”

“The Glorious State of the Saints in Heaven” – A Sermon Preached to the Society which Support the Wednesday’s Evening Lecture in Cannon-Street, London – December 31, 1755.


John Gill, Leiden University, and Me!

February 21, 2008

Greetings my couple loyal readers! I just wanted you to know that I got the word from my supervisor that I have been accepted into the PhD program at Leiden University preliminarily! As Dr Haykin said to me in an e-mail, “this is good news and cause for much rejoicing!” Please pray for me as I finish the official application items and then spend the next few years immersed in Gill and the Enlightenment!


John Gill on Prayer

January 17, 2008

It is good for the saints to draw near to God; it is not only good because it is their duty, but because it yields their souls a spiritual pleasure; and it is also of great profit and advantage to them: It is often an ordinance of God, and which he owns for the quickening the graces of his spirit, for the restraining and subduing the corruptions of our hearts, and for the bringing of our souls into nearer communion and fellowship with himself. Satan has often felt the force and power of this piece of our spiritual armour; and it is, indeed, the last which the believer is directed to make use of. Praying souls are profitable in families, neighbourhoods, churches, and common-wealths, when prayerless ones are in a great measure useless. The believer has the utmost encouragement to this work he can desire; he may come to God, not as on a seat of justice, but as on a throne of grace. Christ is the Mediator between God and him, his way of access to God, and his Advocate with the Father; the Spirit is his Guide, Director, and Assister; he has many exceeding great and precious promises to plead with God; nor need he doubt of a kind reception, a gracious audience, and a proper answer, though never so mean and unworthy in himself; since the Lord will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise his prayer.

— John Gill (1697-1771) from “A Discourse on Prayer”


John Gill (1697-1771), Defender of the Trinity in the English Enlightenment

January 15, 2008

Here’s some information extracted from my PhD research proposal. This will help for you to see where I hope to go with my dissertation.

Overall Aim

The overall aim of this dissertation is to examine the theological structure and exegetical details of the response of John Gill, the leading British Particular Baptist theologian of his era, to the challenge of the English Enlightenment, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity. From the perspective of Reformed orthodoxy, the English Enlightenment gave rise to a number of heterodox perspectives on the Trinity. Gill sought to provide a robust defence of a traditional orthodox teaching in the face of these heterodoxies, specifically in The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated which was published in two editions (1731 and 1752).

Specific Objectives

In order to accomplish the aim of this dissertation a number of objectives will need to be met.

First, a chapter surveying and evaluating the secondary literature on Gill will be necessary to put the work of this dissertation into context. A biographical chapter on John Gill will follow so as to introduce the reader to him and his life and contributions to theology. Third, an historical survey of heterodox views of the Trinity during the English Enlightenment will be outlined so as to provide the context in which Gill wrote his defence of orthodox teaching. Fourth, a detailed study of the theological structure of Gill’s work, The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated (1731/1752) will be developed to specifically see how Gill responded to the Enlightenment arguments concerning the Trinity. Fifth, there will be a chapter which will show how Gill developed his arguments in defence of the Trinity through solid biblical exegesis and through his understanding of the early church fathers on this issue. Finally, a concluding chapter will show how Gill’s Trinitarianism was maintained throughout his career as a Reformed theologian.

Explanation of Need for Dissertation

The orthodox teaching of the Trinity remained unchallenged from the time of the Ancient church until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the rise of the English Enlightenment. Through the Socinian and Arian denials of the Trinity, this anti-trinitarian thinking began to pervade conservative Christianity. It became necessary for religious leaders to confront this teaching. The stalwart Particular Baptist theologian John Gill rose to the challenge to defend Trinitarianism. It was through Gill that Particular Baptist were spared this departure into anti-trinitarianism.

Even though Gill is known as one of the greatest theologians of the Baptist tradition, very little has been actually written on him or his thought. And what has been done on Gill has focused on his understanding of salvation, especially in the debate as to whether Gill was a hyper-Calvinist or not (see the issue below in my brief biography of Gill). Gill’s thought goes far beyond soteriology and issues of Calvinism. This self-taught theologian truly was a giant amongst men when it came to the exegesis and exposition of Scripture and his understanding of theology. Therefore, it is necessary to study Gill more in depth and less on the area of soteriology. Gill’s work on the Trinity is masterfully developed especially as it interacts with Enlightenment denials of the Trinity. It is a model of biblical and historical exegesis and needs to be studied further.

With the current historical fascination with the Enlightenment and Enlightenment thinking it behooves the historian to understand better the Enlightenment and specifically their argumentation against various areas of orthodox Christian theology. Their argumentation in denial of the Trinity is of extreme importance, and therefore, needs to be studied, and the argumentation of those against the Enlightenment thinkers needs to be explored. This is where this study comes in. It is important to put this debate over the Trinity into historical context and understand a key thinker like Gill who was responding to this debate. Since so little is actually written on Gill, this dissertation will fill a much needed gap in Gill studies and hopefully Enlightenment thought studies as well.

Historical and Scholarly Context of Dissertation

Gertrude Himmelfarb has shown that there was not some monolithic movement called the Enlightenment, but that different countries had their own Enlightenments. France had quite a different Enlightenment than England for instance.[1] England’s Enlightenment was more moderate than France’s. Yet, it had its own particular challenges. While France moved toward atheism, England moved into areas of Arianism. This “Age of Reason” denied much of the supernatural from the Scriptures and believed that their embracing of logic and reason could eliminate that which was based upon “faith” which included much of what was distinctive to orthodox theology like the doctrine of the Trinity. And while Trinitarians were more learned than their anti-trinitarian enemies, the anti-trinitarians were better writers and thus lead to the continued denial of much of what was distinctively orthodox Christianity.[2]

In fact, both Socinianism and Arianism in England in the late 17th and 18th century began to dismiss the doctrine of the Trinity as an invention of the early church and an unnecessary adoption of Greek logical thinking to theology. Samuel Clarke in particular of the Arian controversy wrote his Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712) which had Arian tendencies. This particular controversy came to a head in the Salter’s Hall Synod (1719).[3] Here Presbyterians, Independents, Particular and General Baptist met to discuss whether ministers could be asked to subscribe to a Trinitarian creed. The Presbyterians and General Baptists voting no, moved into areas of Unitarianism and other heretical doctrines. The Independents and Particular Baptists though voted yes and remained faithful to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.Yet, these Trinitarian controversies created confusion amongst many individuals. Isaac Watts (1674–1748), the hymn-writer, for instance near the end of his life, re-wrote a number of his works and never did seem to have a clear understanding of orthodox Trinitarianism.[5] Robert Robinson (1735–1790), the Baptist pastor and hymn-writer, seemed to deny Trinitarian theology near the end of his life as well.[6] The issue of the Trinity is incredibly important even today as many continue to deny this core theological doctrine.

While there is continued interest in the doctrine of the Trinity, there has been a failure to really understand the English Enlightenment denial of the Trinity and the continued orthodox affirmation and defence of the Trinity during this time. For instance, in his recent detailed work on the Trinity, Robert Letham argues that conservative Reformed theologians have contributed little to the doctrine of the Trinity since the time of John Calvin (1509–1564) until the twentieth century.[7] Yet, the defence of the Trinity in the seventeenth and eighteenth century is a crucial part of the story of the church’s teaching on this crucial doctrine.

John Gill (1697–1771) amongst the Particular Baptists vigorous defence of the Trinity as it had been held since the early church is important in the discussion of the Trinity in the eighteenth century. Muller writes, “Among the British writers of the late orthodox era, the Particular Baptist John Gill stands out as a defender of the doctrine of the Trinity as ‘a doctrine of pure revelation’ to the setting aside of all but biblical argumentation and patristic usage.”[8] With the rise of interest in Enlightenment studies and Enlightenment thinking on religious issues and doctrine, it is important to look at the orthodox response to English Enlightenment thinking, especially on an issue as important as the Trinity. Gill is such a person that must be studied. Not only did he study the Scriptures and the early church in his defence of the Trinity, he lived out his ministry with a complete commitment to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. His biographer John Rippon (1751–1836) and the pastor who followed him at his Carter Lane Church wrote of him regarding the influence his thinking on the Trinity had on his ministry. He writes,

The Doctor not only watched over his people, “with great affection, fidelity, and love;” but he also watched his pulpit also. He would not, if he knew it, admit any one to preach for him, who was either cold-hearted to the doctrine of the Trinity; or who denied the divine filiation of the Son of God; or who objected to conclude his prayers with the usual doxology to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three equal Persons in the one Jehovah. Sabellians, Arians, and Socinians, he considered as real enemies of the cross of Christ. They dared not ask him to preach, nor could he in conscience, permit them to officiate for him. He conceived that, by this uniformity of conduct, he adorned the pastoral office.[9]


[1] Getrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Essex, England: Vintage Books, 2005).
[2]See Philip Dixon, ‘Nice and Hot Disputes’: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2003), p. 215.
[3] For more on this see Roger Thomas, “The Non-Subscription Controversy amongst Dissenters in 1719: the Salter’s Hall Debate,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (1953): 162–186.
[4]See Arthur Paul Davis, Isaac Watts: His Life and Works (Published PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1943), pp. 109–126.
[5]See Two Original Letters by the Late Mr. Robert Robinson (London: J. Marsom, 1802). For the whole story of Robinson’s life see Graham W. Hughes, With Freedom Fired: The Story of Robert Robinson, Cambridge Nonconformist (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1955).
[6] Robert Letham, The Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), pp. ix–x.
[7] Richard A. Muller, The Triunity of God in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), IV, 140. Despite the lack of scholarly study in the Baptist stream of historical theology, Gill can rightly be included in the stream of other Post-Reformation Reformed theologians and thus is important to be studied in and of himself (see Richard A. Muller, “John Gill and the Reformed Tradition: A Study in the Reception of Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century,” in Michael A. G. Haykin, ed., The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2007): 51–68. See especially pp. 55–56.
[8] John Rippon, A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings (Reprint ed., Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1992), 127–128. Emphasis in original.