A Body Of Doctrinal And Practical Divinity
A System Of Practical Truths Deduced From The Sacred Scriptures
By John Gill
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 and Particular Baptist Horselydown church, the office of which he held until his death on October 14th, 1771. His 50 year pastoral ministry was accompanied by a prolific written ministry. He was the first Baptist to write an exhaustive theological treatise, which remains the definitive statement on Baptist doctrine to date.
Particular Baptist history has been treated in modern times, in much the same way present-day journalists report the news—it is skewed according to one’s prejudicial viewpoint. I am old enough to remember a time when ethical standards required historians and journalists to report the facts, without bias or bigotry. Objectivity is no longer the goal, leaving us with fake news and fake history.
Here is a case in point. Moderate-Calvinists (particularly, the Reformed Baptists) view Particular Baptist history as a single stream of Moderate-Calvinism to which the majority of churches belonged. Every now again, a small number of these churches would fall outside the mainstream, chasing after “hyper” views of Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism, therefore, is unorthodox in teaching, and does not directly share in the mainstream heritage of the Particular Baptists.
As you can see, by framing the history in this form, the Moderate-Calvinists are able to deny the Hyper-Calvinists a legitimate existence among the Particular Baptists, thereby giving themselves the high ground when denouncing Hyper-Calvinism as a false gospel. It should be evident to every objective researcher, that if a historian is driven by a bias to undermine the views of others, then he/she is a partisan and disingenuous reporter. A historian should not seek to denigrate and/or deny the existence of other groups, in an effort to defend his/her own doctrinal convictions. Yet this tends to be the modus operandi of the Moderate-Calvinists.
What does an unbiased and objective view of Particular Baptist history look like?
The origin of the Particular Baptists in England dates back to the early 17th century. There is manifold evidence the churches of that time were widely split on many issues, including that of moderate and hyper views of Calvinism. Of course, at that time, these issues had not yet been refined by the controversies, and therefore no clearcut definitions established. This changed in 1707, when a Congregational minister named Joseph Hussey published a book against free offers of the gospel. It is naive to believe Hussey invented this view, or that he was the only man to hold the view at the time of his publication. As is the case today, views generally tend to be held by others before someone articulates them in writing. It is interesting to note, that when Hussey published his book, there was a ready people among the Particular Baptist churches who had ears to hear and eyes to see the scripturalness of that position. Sixty-two years later, John Gill published his Doctrinal Body of Divinity in 1769, which not only affirmed the teachings of Hussey on the matter, but also set those teachings within an iron-clad framework of Covenant Theology. Suddenly, a clear line was drawn among the Particular Baptist churches. A large number of congregations subscribed to Gill’s view, and became known as Hyper-Calvinists, or Gillites. As for the other congregations, a Baptist preacher named Andrew Fuller articulated their views in a book entitled, “The Gospel Worthy Of All Acceptation”, published in 1785. These churches became known as Moderate-Calvinists, or Fullerites. Far from there being a single stream of Particular Baptist churches embracing Moderate-Calvinism, there were two mainstreams, one subscribing to high views of grace, the other to moderate views of grace. However, it wasn’t until the mid 18th century that these doctrinal differences were clearly defined in the writings of John Gill and Andrew Fuller.
My dear friends, this is an unbiased and objective view of Particular Baptist history. Both groups of Calvinists have existed side by side from the beginning. There is no need to revise history in order to gain the high ground over one or the other of these groups. Let us recognize the legitimacy of both, having their roots among the Particular Baptists of the 17th century, and from this historic standpoint, discuss the doctrinal differences between them. This, of course, brings us to John Gill’s Body of Divinity. It is my hope and prayer the teachings of Gill will be examined with an unbiased mind and unprejudiced heart, judging for one’s self, in the light of the scriptures, whether those things be true or false.
“Let every [person] be fully persuaded in [his/her] own mind.”
The label “Hyper-Calvinist” has a historic and theological meaning, revolving around three controversial issues:
(1) Duty Faith—Arminians believe it is the saving and moral duty of the unregenerate to believe on Christ to the saving of their souls; Moderate-Calvinists believe it is the moral duty of the unregenerate to believe on Christ to the saving of their souls; Hyper-Calvinists believe only those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, and therefore brought experientially under the authority of the covenant of grace, have a saving and moral duty to believe on Christ to the saving of their souls.
(2) Free Offer—Arminians and some Moderate-Calvinists believe since it is the saving/moral duty of the unregenerate to believe on Christ to the saving of their souls, the gospel must be freely offered to all sinners in order to give them the opportunity to accept God’s gift unto salvation; other Moderate-Calvinists replace the notion of a free offer with that of a divine command (or gospel call) to savingly believe and repent; Hyper-Calvinists believe since it is the saving/moral duty of the regenerate to believe on Christ to the saving of their souls, so the gospel should be freely and fully preached to all sinners, and those who have ears to hear will hear.
(3) Believer’s Rule of Conduct—Arminians and Moderate-Calvinists believe the regenerate’s rule of conduct is either the heart law under the authority of the covenant of works, or the moral law (ten commandments) under the authority of the Mosaic covenant; Hyper-Calvinists believe the regenerate’s rule of conduct is the gospel law under the authority of the covenant of grace.
The label “Hyper-Calvinism” also has a modern and erroneous meaning. The Arminians and Moderate-Calvinists exchange the aforementioned definitions for a set of self deductions. They argue—if Hyper-Calvinists do not believe saving faith is the duty of unregenerate sinners, this means they don’t believe faith is necessary in salvation (or that unbelief is a sin); if Hyper-Calvinists do not believe in the free offer of the gospel, then they do not nurture a love for souls or preach the gospel to unbelievers; if Hyper-Calvinists do not believe the moral law (ten commandments) is the rule for a believer’s conduct, then they are Antinomians. Although none of these deductions are true, yet they are the definitions Arminians and Moderate-Calvinists attach to Hyper-Calvinism.
If one wishes to know what a Hyper-Calvinist believes, it is a wise policy to speak with a Hyper-Calvinist.