03 October 2005

The Real and Make-believe Errors of John Gill (Part 1 of 3)

Two considerations nuance what I had thought about the preaching of the gospel in the doctrine and practice of John Gill. First Gill did not see himself as some sort of exception to the Great Commission. Like later Calvinists, Andrew Fuller and William Carey, Gill longed for the conversion of the Gentile. He, like they, drew confidence from the fact that God would redeem an innumerable host from the nations. (On this point it is interesting to note that he had a special passion for the salvation of Jews, perhaps springing from his interpretation of Romans 11 and from his familiarity with Hebrew literature.) He also proclaimed and defended the truths of the gospel from press and pulpit. The Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement, and free grace were central to his pulpit ministry. However, what Fuller and Carey practiced, which Gill would not, was "the free address to unconverted sinners," as Rippon calls it (p. 71). From what I can gather this means that he would not appeal to an unconverted person to repent and trust Christ for salvation. He may have said, "Christ will surely save all who trust in him," but he would never have told an unbeliever, "Trust in Christ; he will save you." So my first nuance is that Gill may have preached the gospel in some sense, but it really was missing an essential element.
Second the reason Gill refused to address the unconverted freely was not fully developed in my mind. Typically it is assumed that he refused to do so because he believed that the free address is an insult to divine sovereignty and that it is an affront to what God has revealed about the depraved human nature. Perhaps this assumption is true; I have not read enough to show that it is not. But there does seem to be, at least, a secondary reason for his refusal: the doctrine of eternal justification. This real error will have to wait for the second part of this series.

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