Sent: Friday, April 09, 2004 3:59 PM
Subject: DR. GILL ON "MEANS" [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 on Regeneration).
   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 regeneration.'"                                                                
    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 other construction.
    "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 word."
    This is plainly a concession on the part of William Crouse that Dr. Gill's Commentary was contrary to the views of Hardshells.
    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 Divinity:

    "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."

Over the 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 this).

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 21).

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 Birth.

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."

In the 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 Baptist
Confession of Faith, so they met years ago in Fulton, Kentucky (Nov. 1900) and revised the Confession to their own satisfaction.

The 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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