November 20, 2010

Tom Ascol on John Gill (1697–1771) and the Modern Question

So well documented is Gill's conviction against offering Christ to the unconverted that one is tempted simply to conclude, on the basis of many witnesses, that Gill recognizes no universal obligation to believe in Christ.53 Such a perspective, though easily supported by various passages in Gill, does not adequately appreciate the presence of a genuine tension within him (at least at the practical level) regarding this point. Fuller, commenting on the "Modern Question" debate, acknowledges that Gill's sentiments seem to lie on the negative side of the question. "At the same time," Fuller further notes,
It cannot be denied that, when engaged in other controversies, he [Gill] frequently argued in a manner favourable to our side; and his writings contain various concessions on the subject, which, if any one else had made them, would not be much to the satisfaction of our opposing brethren. However they may be inclined to represent us as verging toward Arminianism, it is certain that Dr. Gill, in his answer to Dr. Whitby, the noted Arminian, frequently makes use of our arguments.54
Gill's general attitude toward the universalistic ideas in the gospel is governed by his insistence that the integrity of God's unconditional intention and provision of salvation for only the elect be scrupulously guarded. Language which suggests that salvation is in any manner contingent upon human intention or provision is strenuously rejected. Therefore, "that there are universal offers of grace and salvation made to all men," Gill writes, "I utterly deny." He reasons this way not because God discriminates in such offers, but because "offer" is an illegitimate category in which to couch salvation. Not even the elect receive such an offer. Rather, "grace and salvation are provided for them [the elect] in the everlasting covenant, procured for them by Christ, published and revealed in the gospel, and applied by the Spirit." The absolute, unconditional nature of the covenant of grace must always be carefully maintained, even when discussing man's responsibility.55

Many of the "concessions" which evoke Fuller's evaluation of Gill are found in the latter's Cause of God and Truth. This work engages his Arminian opponent in a dialogue for the purpose of first hearing, then refuting published objections to Dortian Calvinism. In Part One Gill expounds sixty passages of Scripture which are integral to the debate. His treatment of Acts 3:19 typifies his reluctance to allow repentance and faith to be regarded as duties. He contends that the nature of the repentance for which this verse calls is legal (external) and not evangelical (internal, saving). For the sake of argument, however, he allows the latter meaning to stand in order to demonstrate that, if saving repentance and faith are duties, his views of the decrees of God and the covenant of grace nevertheless remain unscathed. Were it true that evangelical repentance is the duty of all men, that fact would not contradict "its being a free-grace gift of God; nor its being a blessing in the covenant of grace." Neither does it appear "what conclusions can be formed from hence against either absolute election or particular redemption."56

There should be little doubt that Gill tends to obviate the tension between the particular and universal aspects of the gospel by safeguarding the former at the ultimate expense of the latter. The decree occupies the foundational place in his theological system. To allow the full range of any perspective which can potentially erode that foundation is a risk which Gill refuses to take. While there are some obvious, if tentative, concessions to those who maintain the duty of faith and repentance and the attendant obligation to urge sinners as sinners to perform these duties, the thrust of his system serves to mitigate these allowances.57 There is absolutely no hesitancy as he argues: that nowhere does scripture "exhort and command all men, all the individuals of human nature, to repent and believe in Christ for salvation;"58 that the repentance which is enjoined universally is only legal in nature;59 that the scriptural admonitions to turn from wicked ways regard "outward reformation of life;"60 and that ministers ought to exhort only "sensible" sinners [those who are aware of their "state and condition"] to believe in Christ.61 The reluctance of Gill to accord full weight to the universal dimensions of the gospel is absent in classic Federalism, which employs the covenant structure to maintain the dialectic between this and predestinarian particularism.
53. Ivimey, History of the English Baptists, 3:272-73; Underwood, History, p. 135; Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907), p. 240; Robinson, "The Legacy of John Gill," pp. 116-17; Harrison, John Gill and His Teaching, pp. 15-22; Leon McBeth, "Believer's Security Almost Wrecked Denomination," Baptist Message 98 (March 3, 1983):4; idem, "Wrestler Turned Preacher Upsets Doctrine," Baptist Message (March 17, 1983):6; idem, Baptist Heritage, pp. 177-78; Nettles, By His Grace, pp. 84-89.
54. Fuller, Works, 2:422; cf. Robinson, "Legacy of John Gill," pp. 117-18.
55. Gill, Sermons and Tracts, 3:118; cf. idem, Cause of God, pp. 6-7, 34-35, 164, 181; idem, Commentary, 3:989-90; 6:90-91.
56. Gill, Cause of God, p. 35; cf. ibid., p. 159. These concessions are made not because Gill affirms them to be the proper sense of scripture's meaning, but only for the sake of demonstrating how supremely secure is his decretal theology. They are allowed hypothetically as a part of his method of argumentation. In the midst of his reasoning about Acts 3:19, Gill does make the unqualified declaration that "Men are required to believe in Christ, to love the Lord with all their heart, to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, yea to keep the whole law of God." Yet, immediately he adds, "But it does not follow that they are able of themselves to do all these things" (ibid., p. 35).
57. As has been noted, much historical and theological scholarship has been quick to categorize Gill according to Ivimey's "non-application, non-invitation" scheme, and on that basis to dismiss him as a rigid predestinarian who recognizes no universal obligation to preach or believe the gospel. Such unqualified assessments are not completely warranted by a thorough analysis of Gill's writings and cannot avoid misconstructing his sentiments. Nettles has reacted against this modern tendency by attempting to vindicate Gill from the common charge of being a hyper-Calvinist and opposed to duty faith and duty repentance (By His Grace, pp. 94-107). His work calls attention to genuine concerns which Gill expresses over the nature and extent of gospel blessings and duties Nettles hears Gill speaking loudly where others have judged him mute. In light of the evidence presented in this chapter, it is better to hear Gill speaking on these themes in muffled tones. The implications of his theology of grace ultimately veto "duty-faith." His pastoral practice, however, will not allow him to rest completely in those implications. The resulting tension is not missed by the author of his memoir. John Rippon acknowledges that, while Gill is more "universally consistent with himself" than any other writer of his day, there is a noticeable measure of inconsistency in his views of the "Modern Question." Rippon concludes, however, that Gill is "more decidedly on the high side of the question" (Brief Memoir, p. 47). This opinion is similarly held by Fuller (Works, 2:422)
58. Gill, Cause of God, p. 167. He writes, "I know of no exhortations to dead sinners, to turn and live, in a spiritual manner" (ibid., p. 172).
59. Ibid., pp. 34-35. Gill argues that it is only when they receive the "internal revelation of Christ" that sinners are "called to the exercise of evangelical repentance, and to faith in Christ, as their Saviour and Redeemer." With this call comes the bestowal upon them of grace and power "which enables them to believe and repent" (ibid., p. 166).
60. Ibid., p. 180.
61. Ibid., p. 164; cf. ibid., p. 179.
Thomas Kennedy Ascol, The Doctrine of Grace: A Critical Analysis of Federalism in the Theologies of John Gill and Andrew Fuller (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989), 118–122.

November 11, 2010

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) on Simultaneous Love and Hate

This idea of loving and hating a person at the same time but in different respects is very old in church history, at least going back to Augustine. Here's the same idea in Aquinas:
It is our duty to hate, in the sinner, his being a sinner, and to love in him, his being a man capable of bliss. And this is to love him truly, out of charity, for God's sake [Debemus enim in peccatoribus odire quod peccatores sunt, et diligere quod homines sunt beatitudinis capaces. Et hoc est eos vere ex caritate diligere propter Deum].
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II–II, Q. 25, art. 6.

See also this excellent quote by the Puritan Thomas Manton on the same idea for a comparison. The slogan "love the sinner but hate the sin" is a distortion of the ancient truth that we are to both love the sinner and hate the sinner at the same time but in different respects.

November 7, 2010

Richard Sedgwick (1574–1643) on the Grace of God

Quest. What things belong to his Kingly Office?

Answ. First, the appointing and instituting of outward meanes for the service of God, and salvation of the elect, Mat. 28.18,19,20. and ministries fitted thereunto, Ephes. 4.11.

Secondly, the bestowing of the graces of the Spirit, both common to elect and reprobate, by which men are qualified to the outward fellowship and service of the Visible Church, and such as are proper unto the elect, Ephes. 4.7,8.
Richard Sedgwick, A Short Summe of the Principle Things Contained in the Articles of our Faith and Ten Commandments (London: Printed by John Haviland, for Fulke Clifton, 1624), 12–13.