April 15, 2013

Barry H. Howson on Gill, Brine, Knollys and the Second Tenet of Hyper-Calvinism: The Denial of Duty-Faith

"The second important tenet of hyper-Calvinism held by Gill and Brine is akin to the first but a logical step beyond it. Since Calvin believed in the free offer of the gospel to all men it logically meant for him that all had a duty to believe the gospel. This is implied in his comment of [on?] 2 Cor. 2:25, where he writes, "But the question arises how this can be consistent with the nature of the Gospel which he defines a little later as the 'ministry'. The answer is easy: the Gospel is preached unto salvation, for that is its real purpose, but only believers share in this salvation; for unbelievers it is an occasion of condemnation, but is they who make it so."[149] The hyper-Calvinists, however, believed that only the elect were obliged to exercise saving faith and evangelical repentance. To put it negatively, it was not the duty of the non-elect to exercise these graces because they did not have the ability to do so, only the elect did. This was called the "modern question" which both John Brine and John Gill affirmed.[150] It is true that Gill did not directly enter into the debate but his words in many places leave us in little doubt where he stood on the issue.[151] For example, Gill maintains in The Cause of God and Truth,
However there are many things which may be believed and done by reprobates, and therefore they may be justly required to believe and obey; it is true, they are not able to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls, or to perform spiritual and evangelical obedience, but then it will be difficult to prove that God requires these things of them, and should that appear, yet the impossibility of doing them, arises from the corruption of their hearts.[152]
And again he states,
God never calls persons to evangelical repentance, or requires them to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls, but he gives that special grace, and puts forth that divine energy which enables them to believe and repent. God does not require all men to believe in Christ, and where he does, it is according to the revelation he makes of him. He does not require the heathens, who are without an external revelation of Christ, to believe in him at all; and those who only have the outward ministry of the word, unattended with the special illuminations of the Spirit of God, are obliged to believe no further than the external revelation they enjoy, reaches; as that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, &c., not believe these things is the sin of all that are under the gospel dispensations, as it was the Jews.[153]
In another place he writes,
The things spiritually good which man cannot do, have been instances in; as to convert and regenerate himself, to believe in Christ, and to repent of sin in an evangelical manner; and these are things which he is not obliged to do of himself, and will not be damned for not performing of them. There are indeed things which man is obliged to, which he now cannot do, as to keep the whole law; which impotency of his is owing to his sin and fall.[154]
Though Gill did not directly enter into the debate concerning the modern question, his friend, John Brine, did. In 1743 he responded to Maurice's pamphlet on the modern question with A Refutation of Arminian Principles. In it he affirmed that only the elect have a duty to exercise saving faith and evangelical repentance. He states, "With respect to special Faith in Christ, it seems to me, that the Powers of Man in his perfect State were not fitted and disposed to that Act." The reason for this, he contends, is that "this Act necessarily supposes a Dependence on Christ for Salvation, as Creatures lost and miserable in ourselves; but 'till Man was fallen and become miserable, he could not exercise such a Trust in Christ, as a Redeemer." He goes on to say that "special Faith in Christ, belongs to the new Creation, of which he as Mediator between God and his People, is the Author; and therefore, I apprehend, that a Power of acting this special Faith in him, was not given to Man, but, or according to the Law of his first Creation." For Brine, this ability comes only to the elect. Again, after examining the subject of repentance in the Old Covenant to the Jews he concludes that "Evangelical Repentance and special Faith, are Duties only of such Persons, to whom God reveals himself in his word, as their Redeemer through Christ." In this place Brine contends that the interpreter needs to distinguish between "natural and evangelical Repentance" and of "historical and special Faith." Only natural repentance and historical faith are required of all humans.[155] And so he can say,
But special Faith in those heavenly Mysteries, the Powers of Man in a State of Innocence, it is apprehended were not disposed to, and fitted for, by his Creation Principles, and therefore it is concluded, that special Faith becomes a Duty, only upon the Supposition of the Infusion of super-Creation-Principles, into the Souls of Men.[156]
In other words special faith only becomes a duty for the elect who are given the power to exercise it.

Did Knollys espouse this second important hyper-Calvinist tenet, that it is not the duty of the non-elect to exercise evangelical repentance and saving faith in Christ? Or, to put it positively, that it is only the duty of the elect to exercise these things? It would appear from our study of Knollys' teaching concerning "the offering of the gospel" that he implicitly believed it was the duty of all people to come to Christ. This, however, is not only implicitly but also explicitly stated in at least one place in his writings. In his 1674 treatise The Parable of the Kingdom of God Expounded he writes,
It's the duty of every person, that sees their need and want of Christ, his holy Spirit, and sanctifying Grace to attend upon the Ministry of the Gospel and Administrations of the holy Ordinances of God, and to accept and receive Christ and Grace offered freely, without money or price.... And as it is their Duty to hear, so it is their Duty to believe, 1 Joh. 2. 23. and by faith to accept and receive Jesus Christ offered to them upon Gospel terms of free Grace.[157]
It is also explicit from his answer to the Pithay Baptist Church question concerning prayer with unbelievers. Knollys along with several other London Particular Baptists wrote back to the church stating,
Prayer is a part of that homage which every man is obliged to give to God; 'tis a duty belonging to natural, and not only instituted religion.... It cannot be supposed that man being such a creature as he is should not be obliged to love, fear, and obey God.... If hereunto it be objected, that such persons have not the Spirit, therefore ought not to pray; this objection is not cogent, forasmuch as neither the want of the Spirit's immediate motions to, or its assistance in duty, doth not take off the obligation of duty. If it would, then also from every other duty; and consequently all religion be cashiered. If the obligations to this and other duties were suspended merely for want of such motions and assistance, then unconverted persons are so far from sinning in the omission of such duties, that it is their duty to omit them. 'Tis certain no man can, without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, either repent or believe; yet it will not therefore follow, that impenitency and unbelief are not sins; if these be sins, then the contrary must be their duty. It cannot be their sin to cry to God for the assistance of his Spirit to enable them thereunto. If a duty be no duty to us, except we be immediately moved to it; then whether sin doth not cease to be a sin, if the Spirit do not immediately hinder us from it; and thus by the same reason we may omit a duty, we may likewise commit a sin; and hereby that great rule of duty God hath given unto men to walk by, is wholly made void, or at least allowed to be but a rule only at some certain times, viz. when the Spirit immediately moves us to the observance of it; till then it hath no authority to oblige us: and so every man is sinless, whatever sin be committed, or whatever duty be neglected, if the Spirit do not immediately hinder us from the one and move us to the other. 
Moreover the design of the objection doth as effectually discourage such as are under doubts and desertions, from this duty, as any other person; and thus it would be as that great enemy to the souls of men would have it, namely, that there would be but very few in the world to acknowledge God in this solemn part of his worship: whereas all men are obliged to acknowledge him as the fountain of all goodness; and themselves to be dependent creatures on him, and therefore to supplicate him for those blessings whereof they stand in need: or otherwise it must follow, that they have no wants, and are not dependent on him, but are all-sufficient: or if they be under the sense of wants and of their dependence upon the supreme goodness, yet they must not (at least in the way of prayer) acknowledge those wants, and that dependence, by seeking unto God for the bettering their conditions: but they be obliged hereunto, not only from those innate notions they have of God in their minds, but by the express revelations of their Divine will in the holy scriptures. Christianity improves and rectifies, but it doth not abolish our reason; it helps to better mediums and motives to perform our service to God, but it doth not in any wise make void that which was a duty before
If yet it be objected, that an unregenerate person fails in the due manner of the performance of this duty, therefore he ought not to pray; not to be joined with in prayer; We answer -- the defect in the manner (though a sin) doth not discharge the person from the obligation; for still it is his duty to pray: 'tis true there are such directions given in the holy scriptures as to the right performance of this duty, which the mere light of nature could not give; yet the duty itself of invocating God is so agreeable to the universal reason and sentiments of mankind, that there is nothing spoken of this in the scriptures but what doth suppose it previously to be a duty: therefore, unless we suppose that the law of nature is totally obliterated, we must conclude that mankind are under an obligation to this duty. But if a failure in the manner doth take off this obligation, then every unconverted person is sinless, if he totally neglect this and every other duty. Yea, every Christian, when under deadness and distractions is discouraged from this duty; and thus a door would be opened to all manner of wickedness and irreligion in the world. Again, as the aforesaid defect doth not discharge the person himself from the duty, neither are we so far concerned therein, as thereby to derive guilt and pollution to ourselves, in case we should join in prayer with such a person; for if it would, then may we not communicate in duty with any person of whose sincerity we are not assured. But where such an assurance is made necessarily to our discharge to those duties which jointly are to be performed with others we know not: much more might have been added, but we consider what herein is said may suffice.[158]
Knollys believed it was the duty of unbelievers to pray, and consequently, to offer to God all that is due Him from the creature. It is evident that Knollys did not hold this hyper-Calvinistic tenet of "no duty faith" but would have affirmed the "modern question" of the eighteenth century.

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149. Calvin, NT Commentaries, X, 35.
150. One can see a hint of this tenet in Skepp when he says, "Conversion Work is not so easy and common, as the Generality of Persons imagine, who think they want only to be told their Duties, and if they will attend, they may perform all that is told them; for this corrupt Notion hath got footing in the Hearts of Men, that God will require no more than they are able to perform; but I have shown, that the Law of God requires more then the Creature is able to give; for otherwise Righteousness would be by the Law, and Christ would have died in vain" (Divine Energy, p. 208). And again, "Without [the Spirit's efficacious and irresistible work upon the soul in regeneration], as the Prophet's Staff in Gehazi's Hand: (for Spiritual Gospel Duties, and Moral Duties too, require more Ability and Skill than most Men seem to be aware of:) forasmuch as all Mankind sustained such a Loss in the Fall of Adam, and received such a deadly blow, and mortal Wound (in a Moral and Scripture Sense) as can never be made up to them, but by the Gift of Grace, and Righteousness through Christ Jesus; together with the Spirit of Life, and Strength, communicated from him, as the Second Adam, and New Covenant Head, in such a Manner as to quicken their Souls, and renew their Hearts; thereby working in them a Principle to will, and also an Ability suited for the Performance of all sorts of Duties, whether Moral or Evangelical" (Ibid., p. 57). Again, "And out of this Part of the Spirit's supernatural and efficacious Work upon the Hearts of God's Elect in effectual Calling, it is, that Faith and every other Grace, Spiritual Duty and Performance do arise" (Ibid., p. 169). Again, "Now Faith is to be consider'd first as a Moral Duty, and so the Law requireth Faith (as well as Mercy and Justice, as our Lord declares) as one of the weighty Matters and of the greatest Moment: Thus, as a necessary Moral Duty He that cometh to God in an Act of Worship, must believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek him. But this is not enough, for there must also to this be added a Gospel justifying saving Faith.... The Soul, thereby is convinced now, that his Work and Duty is not to work for Life, Righteousness, and Acceptance with God, but to believe for Righteousness by laying hold of it as in another, being of meer Grace provided for him" (Ibid., pp. 153-4). Again, "'Tis therefore only Men's Ignorance makes them to think or talk of Faith as some easy Thing; and as if it was no more than a Moral Duty and Act of the rational Creature, assenting and consenting to this and the other revealed Truth and Proposition laid down or to be evidenced and demonstrated from the Word; whereas 'tis, as I have shew'd under the first Head, a new created Principle of the New Creature, and is to be found only in the Souls of the New-born who are born from above.... Faith is not of ourselves, but is the Gift of God, and must be wrought in the Soul by Energy or Operation of God" (Ibid., p. 157). And again, "There is more of the Spirit of God, as to his Efficiency and Energy, and kind Assistances in every gracious Act and Spiritual Duty, than some are aware of, or care to own" (Ibid., pp. 174-5). And again, "I have from the Holy Scriptures and the Saints Experience, endeavour'd to evince something of the passive Work of the Spirit of God upon the Hearts of his Elect, both in and after effectual Calling and Conversion, as the first in all that is Good, in which it appeareth Man is wrought upon, and moved, before ever he can move, so as to perform one Spiritual Act or Duty" (Ibid., pp. 176-7).
151. Even Tom Nettles believes that Gill held this tenet. He states: "Although I think the judgment should still be surrounded with cautions and caveats, there may be compelling evidence that Gill held to [this] distinctive Hyper-Calvinist tenet" ("John Gill and the Evangelical Awakening," p. 153).
152. Gill, Cause of God, p. 158.
153. Ibid., p. 166. See also Ibid., pp. 31-32, 115, 170, and 208.
154. Gill, Answer to Birmingham ... Second Part, in Sermons and Tracts (1773), II, 153. See also Ibid., II, 154. In addition, see his Body of Divinity, where he answers the questions, "Whether faith is a duty of the moral law, or is to be referred to the gospel?" and "Whether repentance is a doctrine of the law or the gospel?" (p. 376).
155. Brine, Refutation, pp. 4-8.
156. Ibid., p. 26. See also Ibid., pp. 19, 29, 44.
157. Parable, pp. 112-113. The phrase "that sees their need and want of Christ" is not spoken in a hyper-Calvinist sense because the context is concerned with offering the "spiritual Oyle unto whomsoever will buy it."
158. Ivimey, English Baptists, I, 417-420. The other signatories were William Kiffin, Daniel Dyke, Laurence Wise, Henry Forty, William Collins, Nehemiah Coxe, James Jones, Thomas Hicks, Joseph Morton, James Hycrigg, Robert Snelling and Thomas Hopgood. Moreover, it should be noted that the 1677/89 Confession similarly states in Chapter XXII. 1,3, "THE light of Nature shews that there is a God, who hath Lordship, and Soveraigntye over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the Heart, and all the Soul, and with all the Might.... Prayer with thanksgiving, being one special part of natural worship, is by God required of all men" (In Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, pp. 280-281).

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