September 15, 2006

Robert W. Oliver on Tom Nettles and John Gill

The following quote is taken from a review article by Robert W. Oliver on By His Grace and for His Glory, A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, by Thomas J. Nettles [Thomas J. Nettles, 442pp.. pbk, 1986, $12.95, Baker Book House.]
Perhaps Dr Nettles' most surprising conclusion is that John Gill was not a Hyper-Calvinist. He concedes that Gill did not accept the free offer of the Gospel, but insists that he did teach that men have a duty to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ (p 94ff). He quotes Gill as saying that 'men are to believe in Christ, to love the Lord with all their heart, to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit (p 97). Gill made this statement in the context of a discussion of Acts 3.19, which he insisted was a demand for legal as opposed to evangelical repentance. Unlike evangelical repentance, legal repentance was an external change not associated with salvation. Gill went on to make the very guarded concession, 'If, therefore, evangelical and internal conversion were here intended, it would only prove that the persons spoken to were without them, stood in need of them, and ought to apply to God for them' (J. Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, London, 1838, p 64). Professor Nettles also states the 'Gill affirms that those who hear the gospel "are obliged to love the Lord on account of redemption by Christ; since all who see their need of it, and are desirous of an interest in it, have no reason to conclude otherwise, than that Christ died for them, and has redeemed them by his blood"', (p 95). Gill does not, in fact, make this statement of 'those who hear the gospel', but of 'all to whom the gospel revelation comes' (Cause of God and Truth, p 315). Of unbelievers he has just declared that, 'such cannot be obliged to love the Lord for that revelation, which was never intended for them, nor for that grace which will not be vouchsafed to them' (Ibid., p. 314). In Gill's thinking, those 'to whom the gospel revelation comes' are those who 'have no reason to conclude otherwise than that Christ died for them, and has redeemed them by his blood' (Ibid., p. 315), in a word, Christians. The coming of the gospel revelation has to be seen as a part of God's saving activity. Gill's arguments on human responsibility often hinge on the distinction between natural and spiritual responsibilities. He made his position clear when he wrote, 'As for those texts of Scripture, I know of none, that exhort and command all men, all the individuals of human nature, to repent and believe in Christ for salvation; they can only, at most, concern such persons who are under gospel dispensation; and in general, only regard an external repentance, and an historical faith in, or assent to, Jesus as the Messiah' (Ibid., p. 308). Gill has undoubtedly had a bad press and it is good that he should be considered sympathetically. As Dr Nettles shows, he did believe in evangelism, as, in fact, many other Hyper-Calvinists have done. He stood firm against Christological heresy and against Arminianism at a time when both were gaining ground in England. A great and godly man, he was not the ogre that some have suggested. Dr Nettles' tentative conclusion deserves consideration: 'Perhaps, rather than imputing blame upon Gill for the leanness of the times, he should be credited with preserving gospel purity, which eventuated in the efforts to use means for the conversion of the heathen' (p 107). Nevertheless when Gill's writings are considered, the weight of the evidence supports the traditional view that he was a Hyper-Calvinist.
Robert W. Oliver, “By His Grace and for His Glory, A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life, by Thomas J. Nettles: A Review,” The Banner of Truth 284 (May 1987): 30–32.

As Iain Murray said: is hard to see how Nettles' defense of Gill can be sustained.
Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 131n2.

1 comment:

Tony Byrne said...

The reader may also want to consult the following related posts:

Iain Murray on Gill

Priest on Gill

A Few Quotes Related to John Gill