DR. JOHN GILL ON THE USE OF "MEANS"
NEW BIRTH EXPERIENCE [04/09/04]
Since we have been writing critiques
on the views of both James White and Dave Hunt in regard to their concepts of
"Calvinism" in regard to the new birth, I thought it might be of benefit to
again say a few words about the view of Dr. John Gill
(1697-1771), a great man who has suffered at the hands of both his
alleged friends and those who oppose him.
Spurgeon mentions the fact that
Dr. Gill was regarded somewhat as a hero, or "Coryphaeus," to some
hyper-Calvinists, but CHS refused to throw him to them, saying that if they
"never went beyond" Gill, they "would not go very far astray." "For good,
SOUND, massive sober sense in commenting, who can excel Gill?"
(Commenting and Commentaries, page 9).
I was on a website not long ago
where a Hardshell, or Primitive Baptist, was attempting to enlist Dr.
Gill on the side of the "no means" doctrine held by Hardshells. He quoted
a portion of what Dr. Gill had written, but he also conveniently stopped
short of quoting Gill fully on the subject, and so he did not properly
represent him. Here is what I wrote about that at the time:
>> The fact is, some Hardshells who turned away somewhat from regular
Hardshellism about the use of "means" referred to Dr. Gill in support of
their views. This was the case with Elder W. E. Screws in the last
century, who was taken to task for his views and his use of Dr. Gill by
William Crouse, a defender of the anti-means position. (See Crouse
William Crouse said: "The purpose
Elder Screws had in making quotations from Gill's commentary was to show that
Gill believed and taught that God uses the ministry and the gospel as means
and instrumentalities in the work of regeneration. That this was Dr.
Gill's teaching in the above quotation there can be no doubt. Indeed he
says that Paul's ministry was made 'an effectual means OF their
Further, in chapter two of his book, William Crouse opens
the chapter by saying:
"Dr. John Gill, when he wrote his
commentary of the Bible, held to the doctrine of gospel regeneration -- that
God regenerates His elect through the means or instrumentality of the preached
word. After careful investigation we feel sure his interpretation of
certain scriptures relative to the gospel and regeneration will admit of no
"In every effort that has been made to
reform our faith Dr. Gill's Commentary has been used against us to prove that
American Primitive Baptists have departed from old time Baptist faith and have
therefore ceased to be the 'original' Baptists. If it were necessary for
us to accept all interpretations given by Dr. Gill in his commentary in order
for us to be 'original' or Primitive Baptists, there might be some merit in the
contention of our adversaries. But the faith of Primitive Baptists of
America does not rest upon the belief of Dr. Gill. And the fact that our
opponents are always driven to his commentary for proof is evidence that
American Primitive Baptists have NOT held the idea of the gospel as a means, or
that sinners are regenerated by, with, or through the preached
This is plainly a concession on the part of
William Crouse that Dr. Gill's Commentary was contrary to the views
But then Crouse goes on in his book to
concoct the allegation that Dr. Gill later "forsook that position" when
he wrote his Body of Divinity. In order to attempt the
substantiation of this allegation, he quotes Dr. Gill in a piecemeal
manner, stopping just at the point where Dr. Gill was about to comment on
the instrumental "means" used by the Holy Spirit. Here is the
part Crouse failed to quote from page 534 of Gill's Body of
"Though after all it seems plain, that
the ministry of the word is the vehicle in which the Spirit of God conveys
himself and his grace into the hearts of men; which is done when the word
comes not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost; and works
effectually, and is the power of God unto salvation; then faith comes by
hearing, and ministers are instruments by whom, at least, men are encouraged to
believe: 'received ye the Spirit', says the apostle, 'by the works of the
law, or by the hearing of faith': #Ga 3:2 that is, by the preaching of the law,
or by the preaching of the gospel? by the latter, no doubt."
I wrote to the Hardshells who have the piecemeal
quotation by Crouse on their website, and the gentleman who replied said, "I do
not have time at present to formulate a proper response but I hope to do so,
shortly." So far, he has not explained why William Crouse did not give the
complete view of John Gill on the matter of "means."
years, I have read several critical remarks about Dr. Gill, some accusing him of
"hyperism." Personally, I have never found anything that is written
by Dr. Gill which I could not "reconcile" with his comments elsewhere. He
is a very precise writer, and when he says something at one specific
place, or on one specific point, you cannot isolate this remark from the balance
of his writings elsewhere, as if this remark is the "whole" of his views on a
matter. That is how misunderstanding of Gill often occurs.
I have read
most, if not all, of the critical evaluations of Dr. Gill, with the allegations
that he was "hyper-Calvinist," but I am far from convinced. While he is
"as strong as a bear's breath" in his Calvinism, I would differ with the
"hyper" evaluation, and allege that this concept results from isolating
certain remarks from their contexts, as well as isolating them from the
whole of what Dr. Gill says on a subject. I have even noticed one
critique of Dr. Gill, by Iain Murray, wherein Gill is somehow misquoted by
Murray, where Murray uses the words "human race" rather than Gill's
words, "human nature," which gives a different complexion to what Dr.
Gill was really saying (Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, page 128). I wrote to the
author about this change, but had no response.
C. H. Spurgeon's
view of his predecessor was that "the system of theology with which many
identify" Dr. Gill, is in fact not representative of Gill -- "but for
this [hyperism], Dr. Gill must not be altogether held responsible, for a candid
reader of his Commentary will soon perceive in it expressions altogether out
of accord with such a narrow system." Spurgeon even cites one case where a
man heard Gill preach, and said, "Well, sir, if I had not been told that it was
the great Dr. Gill who preached, I should have said I had heard an Arminian"
(Autobiography, Vol. 1, page 310).
The most fundamental error of
hyper-Calvinism, ultra-Calvinism, supra-Calvinism, and hybrid Calvinism, is the
separation of "means," or the Truth (Word, Gospel), from the Holy Spirit's
work in what is commonly referred to in theological studies by the term
"regeneration." The "Hardshells" and the "Campbellites" represent two
19th century extreme departures from the confessional view on this subject --
the "Campbellites" holding to the "Word alone" idea, and the "Hardshells"
holding to the "Spirit alone" idea. Both separate the Word and the
Spirit in the New Birth.
All confessional forms of "Calvinism, however,"
affirm that the sole "efficient cause," or "power," in the New Birth is the Holy
Spirit; but some have erred by concluding that this somehow logically separates
or excludes the Truth from its congruous, simultaneous relation to the work of
the Spirit. Whereas we find that Dr. John Gill always affirmed the former,
I have never found, and do not believe it can be found, that he ever in any wise
excluded the necessary revelation of the Truth (Word, Gospel) from the New
Birth. (I have a separate leaflet giving numerous quotations from Gill on
As a testimony that this is indeed the case, consider the fact
that the paragons of the idea that the Truth has no relation to the work of the
Holy Spirit in the New Birth -- namely those called "HARDSHELLS," or the
"PRIMITIVE BAPTISTS" -- have generally disowned Dr. Gill. In my own
book store, two notable Hardshell preachers of their time, Elders Cook and
Keaton, told me that they did not share Dr. Gill's views on the relation of the
Truth and the work of the Spirit in the New Birth. They said they could only "go
with him so far."
Furthermore, one of the "fathers" of the anti-means
Hardshell split from Baptists in 1832, GILBERT BEEBE, disavows John Gill
(Editorials, Vol. 1, page 230, 231). While the Hardshells find the "use"
of Gill of great practicality when confuting outright "Arminians" on a subject
like election, they back-off of Gill when the matter of the relation of the
Truth to the Work of the Spirit is at issue. On this matter, Gilbert Beebe
and other Hardshells completely disavow the views of Gill, and opt for their
theory of "direct voice regeneration," misusing John 5:25 as the "prooftext"
(Beebe, Vol. 1, pages 99, 383, 699; Vol. 2, pages 9, 673, 677-78; Vol. 4, page
This "direct voice" notion means that God speaks in a "voice"
directly to the "dead" sinner, as Jesus spoke to the physcially-dead Lazarus
(John 11:43). All other "means" are discounted as relating to the New
The "direct voice" theory was held by the Harshell "Absoluters" as
well as by the Hardshell "Conditionalists," the two major factions of the
Hardshell cult. While Beebe was a "scholar" with Absoluters, CLAUDE H.
CAYCE was a primary "spokesman" with the
Conditionalist camp, and he
advocated the Hardshell dogmas via his magazine, "The Primitive Baptist," of
which I have a large collection. Cayce is in agreement with Beebe (who is
the apparent "father" of the "voice" idea), and says "The Lord SPEAKS to them as
He did to Saul of Tarsus when he was on his journey from Jerusalem to Damascus,
and when He SPEAKS to the dead sinner he imparts life. He regenerates the
sinner" (Selected Editorials, Vol. 1, page 194).
Beebe and Cayce
exemplify the classic theology of the Hardshells. They could not
successfully deny the obvious truth that the Word is related to the New Birth,
so they came up with the "direct voice" idea as being the "Word." They
relegated the written and preached Word to the category of "man's words," and
emphasized the "direct voice" as being the only "Word" related to the work of
"regeneration." Thus, this justfied their separating the Truth (Gospel),
as preached or read, from the work of the Spirit, and gave a basis for their
charging the "missionaries" with teaching "gospel regeneration."
case of creedal or confessional Calvinists, the latter idea is a total
misrepresentation, for such Calvinists believe that the New Birth is the solely
the efficient work of the Spirit, yet that work or power is not separated from
the Truth (Gospel, Word). John Gill never taught it, neither does the
Synod of Dort, nor the Westminster Confession, nor any of the Baptist
Confessions of Faith. And the fact is, the Hardshells could not accept the
Confession of Faith, so they met years ago in Fulton, Kentucky (Nov.
1900) and revised the Confession to their own satisfaction.
conversion of Paul is very often set forth by Hardshells as an example of one
being born again apart from means, but Paul was exposed to means a good while
BEFORE his Damascas Road encounter with Jesus, as he was a persecutor of "the
way" which was advocated by the early church. Furthermore, when Jesus did
appear to him, this appearance itself was a channel of revealing Christ to Paul
and he equated it with receiving the Gospel by revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal.
1:12); it was then that Christ was formed in him. His new birth involved the
communication of truth, the truth about Christ. What he learned directly from
Christ in that appearance is the essence of the Gospel he later preached and by
which he was instrumentally the spiritual "father" of others (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul
was not regenerated apart from the simultaneous "means" of the words of Christ
by which he received the knowledge of Him.
After 50 years of
"acquaintence" with Dr. Gill, and having read thousands of his words (yet
not all of them), I am not yet ready to "throw him to the hypers." He
perhaps could indeed be in a class called "super," but I have yet to see cause
to cast him among the "hyper" errorists. -- Bob L. Ross
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