John Gill was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, on November 23rd, 1697. At age 12, he was converted to Christ under the preaching ministry of William Wallis. However, he waited six years before agreeing to be baptized, after which he became a member of his local church. At the age of 23, he was inducted as pastor of the Strict Baptist Horselydown church, where he remained until his death on October 14th, 1771. His 50 year pastoral ministry was accompanied by a prolific written ministry. Not only is he the only man to produce a commentary which comments on every verse of the Bible, but he is the first Baptist to write an exhaustive theological treatise. It may even be argued, his Doctrinal and Practical Body of Divinity remains the definitive statement on Baptist doctrine to date.
I suspect the greater number of those that have attempted to read Gill will agree that his style of writing is cumbersome. It is not an uncommon confession among pastors, that after reading the first three to four chapters of his Body of Divinity, incentive to continue quickly fades due to the unwieldy nature of his writing style. If this is true of pastors, whose familiarity with theological works extends beyond most other Christians, how much more difficult must it be for members of a congregation to benefit from the writings of Gill?
Having been an avid reader of Gill for the last three years, I have not only learned what he believed, but also, how he thought. He was both a brilliant scholar and an astute thinker. In fact, I believe it is for this reason there is such complexity in his style of writing—he attempted to compress all his research, arguments and thoughts on a given subject in each sentence, paragraph and chapter. Indeed, if a preacher were to use as his text book Gill’s Body of Divinity for his sermon material, there would be sufficient information in a single sentence that would supply the preacher with substantial matter for his discourse.
I will give one example on the complexity of Gill’s writing style. Many of his sentences frequently run the full length of a whole paragraph, his thoughts being separated by semicolons. The first and last clauses of these extended sentences tend to form the main point, and everything between are sub-points designed to amplify the central idea. If these sentences were rearranged, so that the main thought is set apart as the first sentence, followed by three or four supportive sentences, the reader would not only find greater ease reading the material, but would more readily understand the teachings of Gill.
In an effort to make Gill more enjoyable and accessible to the members of the congregation I shepherd, I have begun the painstaking task of revamping his Body of Divinity. To that end, the following changes may be expected from the work:
1. Rewriting each chapter. Although I will attempt to preserve as much of the original text as possible, yet liberty will be exercised in—(1) Rewording and reworking the sentence and chapter structures; (2) Selectively removing repetitive or verbose language (which is not uncommon in Gill’s writings); (3) Strengthening the odd point or argument (as Gill infrequently glides over a matter).
2. Adding headers. One of the advantages of Gill’s sharp mind is that he was systematic in laying out his points and making his arguments. However, the order and arrangement of his points and arguments are often lost in the flow of language. I have sought to highlight his intricate chapter outlines by creating headings for the major and minor points.
3. Rearranging the order of the chapters. The order in which the chapters appear do not entirely accord with the most logical arrangement. In an effort to tighten the overarching argument of the work as a whole, I have set some of the chapters in a new order. Nevertheless, every chapter is retained.
It has always been my conviction the writings of others should be left in the exact form published by the authors. Making changes to the text will necessarily change, at least to some degree, the exact intent of the author. However, in this case, I have made an exception to that conviction. I feel that unless these changes are made to Gill’s Body of Divinity, the Lord’s people under my charge will never invest the time to read and study this important work. It is with a desire to magnify the Lord and help His people, by affirming free and sovereign grace through Gill’s Body of Divinity, that I commit myself to this task. While I am conscious those that are familiar with Gill’s writings will likely be repulsed by the changes I am making to his magnum opus, yet I hope tolerance will be extended, when the motive is understood and the new edition is examined. If the reader is at all in doubt of the changes made, he/she may consult the original.
In service of the Lord