April 14, 2013

Barry H. Howson on Gill, Knollys and the First Tenet of Hyper-Calvinism: The Denial of the Free Offer

The Theology of Hyper-Calvinism and Hanserd Knollys

This section will examine the theology of hyper-Calvinism from the writings of its most important Baptist expositors, John Gill and John Brine, and compare their writings with Knollys' in order to see if he espoused hyper-Calvinism or elements of it.129 Hyper-Calvinism is one step beyond that of the High Calvinism of the seventeenth century. Consequently, the two primary distinctives of hyper-Calvinism are: that the gospel is not to be offered indiscriminately to all people; and secondly, its corollary, that it is the duty only of the elect to exercise saving faith and evangelical repentance.130 Three secondary distinctives include: eternal justification; an eternal covenant of grace; and an excessive emphasis on irresistible grace and the passivity of the elect in their salvation.131 There is no doubt that Brine and Gill were High Calvinists but it is also evident from their writings that they went a step further holding to, and emphasizing, the above hyper-Calvinistic distinctives.132 We will examine these distinctives held by Gill and Brine comparing them with Knollys' writings.

The first hyper-Calvinist distinctive that Gill and Brine held was that the gospel or grace or Christ ought not to be offered to all people indiscriminately but only to those who are the elect.133 This was not the teaching of Calvin. In his comment on Acts 2:21 where the Apostle Peter preached, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved," Calvin writes, "We must also observe the universal word, 'whosoever'. For God admits all men to Himself without exception and by this means invites them to salvation, even as Paul deduces in Rom. 10." And again commenting on Romans 1:16 he states,
The Gospel is indeed offered to all for their salvation, but its power is not universally manifest....When, therefore, the Gospel invites all to partake of salvation without any difference, it is rightly termed the doctrine of salvation. For Christ is there offered, whose proper office is to save that which is lost, and those who refuse to be saved by Him shall find Him their Judge.134
John Gill disagrees with Calvin. He states in The Cause of God and Truth in reference to Isaiah 55:1:
These words are no call, invitation, or offer of grace to dead sinners, since they are spoken to such who were thirsty, that is, who, in a spiritual sense, were thirsting after pardon of sin, a justifying righteousness, and salvation by Christ; after a greater knowledge of him, communion with him, conformity to him, and the enjoyment of him in his ordinances, which supposes them to be spiritually alive.... The persons here encouraged are such, who not only have no money, but know they have none; which are poor in spirit, and sensible of their spiritual poverty; which sense arises from the quickening influences of the Spirit of God upon their souls.135
Again he states,
I know of no exhortations to dead sinners, to return and live, in a spiritual manner. Those referred to in Ezex. [sic] xviii., I have often observed, respect civil and temporal, and not spiritual and eternal things; we may, and should indeed, encourage and exhort sensible sinners to believe in Christ, and testify their repentance, by bringing forth fruits meet for the same.136
In some places Gill gives the impression that the gospel ought not to be offered to anyone whether elect or not:
Salvation is not offered at all by God, upon any condition whatsoever, to any of the sons of men, no not to the elect: they are chosen to it, Christ has procured it for them, the gospel publishes and reveals it, and the Spirit of God applies it to them; much less to the non-elect, or to all mankind; and consequently this doctrine, or God according to it, is not chargeable with delusion and insult.137
Again in his tract The Doctrine of Predestination, Stated, Gill writes,
That there are universal offers of grace and salvation I utterly deny; nay, I deny they are made to any; no, not to God's elect; grace and salvation are provided for them in the everlasting covenant, procured for them by Christ, published and revealed in the gospel, and applied by the Spirit; much less are they made to others.... Let the patrons of universal offers defend themselves ... I have nothing to do with it.138
This, however, did not mean that the gospel should not be preached to all. He states,
The ministers of the gospel are sent to preach the gospel to every creature; that is, not to offer, but to preach Christ, and salvation by him; to publish peace and pardon as things already obtained by him. The ministers are ... criers or heralds; their business is ... to proclaim aloud, to publish facts, to declare things that are done, and not to offer them to be done on conditions; as when a peace is concluded and finished, the herald's business, and in which he is employed, is to proclaim the peace, and not to offer it; of this nature is the gospel, and the whole system of it; which preaches, not offers peace by Christ, who is Lord of all.139
John Brine concurred with Gill that the gospel or grace was not to be offered. In A Refutation of Arminian Principles, Brine's response to Matthias Maurice's pamphlet A Modern Question, he challenges Maurice's contention that it is the duty of all people to exercise saving faith and evangelical repentance. This is the logical progression of the "no offers of grace" teaching and is one step beyond it. However, in a work entitled, The Certain Efficacy of the Death of Christ published in the same year as A Refutation he clearly states his disapproval of offering grace to all:
But I am of opinion, that an Offer or Proposal for acceptance of New Covenant Blessings, is not made to Men, whilst they are under the old Covenant, or Law of Works, which are all men 'till regenerated, or so long as they are under the Dominion of Sin. Offers of grace as I conceive, are not made to those who are not under grace, nor interested in the Covenant of Grace, which many are not, to whom the Gospel is preached.140
Moreover, in A Refutation when considering passages of Scripture where repentance and faith are exhorted he states, "It evidently appears, that the Persons addressed were the happy Subjects of a Conviction of their Misery by Nature, and therefore not to be considered in a State of Unregeneracy;"141

Did Knollys espouse this hyper-Calvinist tenet? Along with the hyper-Calvinists Knollys believed that the gospel should be preached to all.142 But contrary to this first hyper-Calvinist tenet he believed the gospel should be offered to all. When preaching on Colossians 3:11 that "Christ is all, and in all", he says, "Let me tell you God offers you Christ upon Gospel-terms,... God doth offer Christ to lost sinners without respect to price or person. He invites them, that have no money, to come, and buy Wine, and milk (that is to say, Christ) without price."

And, again, when preaching on Luke 19:10 where Jesus said, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost," Knollys proclaims, "The Lord having propounded or offered Jesus Christ to lost sinners, outwardly and in generall by the word, and inwardly and perticular to this or that lost sinner by the Spirit, accompanying that word of the Gospel with divine light and power to the heart of the sinner, doth enable the poore soul so to assent unto what is propounded."143 In 1688 commenting on Revelation 22:17 where "The Spirit and bride say, Come", Knollys writes, "The Church of God, and the holy Spirit of God, and all converted persons, do invite all sorts of sinners, especially, thirsty sinners, without exception against any Persons, that are willing, and without any price, to take Christ freely."144 Notice that Knollys says that the church of God is to invite not only thirsty sinners but "all sorts of sinners." Gill had said that the offer of Isaiah 55:1 was only to thirsty sinners. In the Parable of the Kingdom he writes, "These that sell this Mystical and Spiritual Oyle are Christ and His Ministers, and Servants.... Ordinarily and commonly Christ authorizes and commands his faithful Servants (the Ministers of the Gospel) whom he appoints, commissions and sends to offer this spiritual Oyle to sale, and to sell it unto whomsoever will buy it." And again in the same treatise he calls sinners "to open the door of your hearts to Christ."145

At the end of the first part of his treatise, The World that now is, he calls unbelievers to believe and repent, exhorting them "to come to Christ because there is salvation in no other."146 In the second part of the same treatise he closes with another exhortation to "profane sinners" calling them to get into a state of salvation before Christ comes from heaven to judge the quick and the dead, and before they die. He goes on to counsel them to consider: that they are dead in trespasses and sins and are without Christ; that they are in need of Jesus Christ; and that God offers Christ to poor, lost, miserable sinners upon gospel-terms of free grace (everyone who is willing may come to Christ and have Christ freely). He then exhorts them to suffer Jesus to come into their hearts by his Spirit and Word, and open their hearts to Christ when he knocks at the door of their souls and let him come in (if the sinner be willing to open the door of his heart, Christ will come in by his Holy Spirit).147 It is evident that from the beginning of his Baptist ministry to the end, Knollys believed the gospel should be offered to all, and that the minister should offer the gospel to all. Knollys' extant writings make it quite clear that he had a passionate concern for lost sinners and that he called them to seek Christ, repent, come to him upon "Gospel-terms", and to attend the "means" of salvation in order that they might be converted.148 Knollys did not hold this first important hyper-Calvinist tenet."
129. Daniel sees Gill as the leader of hyper-Calvinism not only among Particular Baptists but in all circles; it found "its cohesion in [him]" (Daniel, "John Gill," p. 9).
130. Daniel sees these as the main tenets of hyper-Calvinism (Ibid., p. x). He, however, unites these tenets into one.
131. See Toon, Hyper-Calvinism, pp. 108-138. For a complete definition of hyper-Calvinism by those who have done the most work in this area see Ibid., pp. 144–145, and Daniel, "John Gill," p. 767. Daniel states: "Hyper-Calvinism is that school of supralapsarian 'Five Point' Calvninism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by overemphasizing the secret over the revealed will and eternity over time, that is minimizes the responsibility of Man, notably with respect to the denial of the word 'offer' in relation to the preaching of the Gospel of a finished and limited atonement, thus determining [sic: undermining] the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly with the assurance that the Lord Jesus Christ died for them, with the result that presumption is overly warned of, introspection is over-encouraged, and a view of sanctification akin to doctrinal antinomianism is often approached." He then summarizes it even further, "It is the rejection of the word 'offer' in connection with evangelism for supposedly Calvinistic reasons. In all our researches, the only real tangible thing which differentiates the Hyper from the High Calvinists is the word offer." I particularly agree with this last definition but with one qualification: duty-faith logically follows the no-offer theology and is also a distinctive, and therefore, also marks a person off as a hyper-Calvinist and not simply a High Calvinist.
132. Most Baptist historians consider these men to be hyper-Calvinists (see Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life [Grand Rapids, 1986], pp. 84–89). In addition, the most recent assessments including Alan Sell, Great Debate, Robert Oliver, "John Gill (1697–1771) His Life and Ministry," in The Life and Thought of John Gill; and Curt Daniel, "John Gill," consider these men to be hyper-Calvinists. Nettles, however, disagrees and defends Gill (By His Grace, pp. 89–107; it, however, should be noted that in a recent essay Nettles has modified his view seeing some hyper-Calvinistic elements in Gill [Nettles, "John Gill and the Evangelical Awakening," in The Life and Thought of John Gill, pp. 131–170]).
133. The hyper-Calvinists do not reject such words as: God holds forth, stretches out, extends, reveals, shows, directs, bestows, imparts, communicates and encourages. Preachers may: call, preach, proclaim, declare, publish, speak and teach. But they are not to use the word "offer" because they cannot "offer" Christ, only God can.
134. Calvin, NT Commentaries, VI, 62; VIII, 27. See also his comments on John 3:16 and 2 Cor. 2:15.
135. Gill, Cause of God, pp. 19–20.
136. Ibid., p. 172. See also Ibid., pp. 19–20, 87-88, 102, 152–153, 155, 156, 164, 167, 172, 181, 184, 209, 210, 211. Moreover, see his "Recommendatory Preface" to Richard Davis' Hymns composed on several subjects where he explains why Davis used the phrases of offering Christ or grace, and assures the reader that at the end of Davis' life he "changed his mind in this matter, and disused the phrase, as being improper, and being to bold and free for the minister of Christ to make use of" (p. 64). In his Body of Divinity Gill states, "Nor is the gospel ministry an offer of Christ, and of his grace and salvation by him, which are not in the power of the ministers of it to give, nor of carnal men to receive" (Body of Divinity [1839; 2nd. reprint Atlanta, 1957], p. 539).
137. John Gill, An Answer to the Birmingham Dialogue-Writer, in Sermons and Tracts (1773), II, 119; see also p. 146. See also Cause of God, pp. 103, 156; and The Doctrine of Predestination stated and set in the Scripture Light (1752) in Sermons and Tracts (1814), III, 118.
138. Ibid.
139. John Gill, An Answer to the Birmingham Dialogue-Writer's Second Part, in Sermons and Tracts (1771), II, 146–147. In The Cause of God and Truth he states, "The ministers of the Gospel, though they ought not to offer and tender salvation to any, for which they have no commission, yet they may preach the gospel to all men, and declare, that whosoever believes shall be saved" (p. 164; see also, p. 88; and Body of Divinity, p. 539).
140. John Brine, The Certain Efficacy (1743), p. 75, quoted in Toon, Hyper-Calvinism, p. 129.
141. John Brine, A Refutation of Arminian Principles, Delivered in a intitled, The Modern Question Concerning Repentance and Faith, examined with Candour, & In a Letter to a Friend (1743), p. 11.
142. See 1677/89 Confession X.4; Christ Exalted, p. 12; Parable, pp. 50–51; and Revelation, pp. 241–242.
143. Christ Exalted, pp. 13, 21.
144. Revelation, pp. 241–242.
145. Parable, pp. 107–108, 120.
146. World, pt. 1, pp. 100–103.
147. World, pt. 2, pp. 32–35. See also Parable, pp. 47, 112.
148. See Christ Exalted, pp. 12–13.
Barry H. Howson, Erroneous and Schismatical Opinions: The Question of Orthodoxy Regarding the Theology of Hanserd Knollys (c. 1599-1691) (Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill, 2001), 171–176.

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

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