A marked negative feature of common-grace gospellers is the scorn which they pour on men of God who emphasise that the whole gospel must be preached to the whole man as the Spirit leads. Thus they condemn such Christians of the past as Tobias Crisp, John Ryland Senior, William Romaine, William Huntington, John Gill, Augustus Toplady and Robert Hawker who would not dilute their gospel to suit what the common-grace gospellers call ‘man’s agency’. These men were called to preach Christ’s victorious crucifixion accomplishments, including great Bible truths such as the eternal union of Christ with His Bride; Christ’s faith and righteousness imputed to His people, election, predestination and the justifying, saving decrees of God in and from eternity and a faith which endures. Common-grace gospellers call such preachers of righteousness ‘Hyper-Calvinists’ and ‘Antinomians’, arguing against plain historical facts that they would not evangelise but preach only to the already saved.
We have seen in my review article The Gospel of Deceit how John Ryland, because he would not follow the common grace-natural law devotees, was vilified by Philip R Johnson, though Ryland went into the highways and bye-ways of the areas laid waste from gospel preaching by the common-grace Latitudinarian and natural law forerunners of such as Hulse, Watts and Murray. Ryland drew in the unconverted and the deceived, increasing his Nottingham church seven-fold and doing great evangelistic work in the London area.
The Banner of Truth Trust dismayed lovers of the old path doctrines of grace in the middle 1980s when they started up a lengthy campaign to denigrate Huntington and Gill on common-grace grounds. The anonymous onslaught on Huntington in the July, 1888 issue of the BOT magazine, entitled The Voice of Years, repeating the taunts of a notorious enemy of the gospel, challenged the very foundations and pillars of the reformed faith in order to dismiss Huntington as an ‘Antinomian”. The follow-up October article by Iain Murray, the Editorial Director, used as a major ‘source’ the arguments of Robert Southey who had been hired by Murray the publisher’s to slander Huntington as he had also slandered John Newton and William Cowper and other saints. Lord Macaulay warned readers against Southey, demonstrating that he did not know the difference between truth and falsehood, yet Murray’s latter day namesake claimed that Southey’s falsehood was his truth. As the BOT authors merely culled their material uncritically and without checking sources from such enemies of the gospel, this accounts for the wildest historical errors, faulty quotes and misrepresentations in these and further BOT articles attacking Huntington. The main problems here were Huntington’s works themselves and Huntington’s main biographer Thomas Wright who has given us such fine biographical jewels in his other works on Cowper, Toplady, Watts, Hart and Beddome. Here Iain Murray painstakingly quoted Wright as if he were quoting Huntington and criticised Wright’s lack of source-usage, though Wright had used primary sources and Murray dubious secondary sources for his criticisms. Wright, who was always a Valiant for Truth on the Calvinist side, is therefore debunked as one who was a mere amateur in theological matters, leaving us to believe that Murray is the true professional! Concerning Huntington’s works, Murray now quotes Golding, mistakingly thinking he is quoting Huntington and reads into the Coalheaver’s works without giving chapter and page, what Huntington never wrote.
The gravest mistake Iain Murray made was to present Huntington as viewing the law as abolished with the passing of Old Testament times as if he were a modern NCT-ite. This was merely because Huntington refused to accept the Ten Commandments and natural law as the sole rule for a Christian’s life in Christ. Huntington believed that the Mosaic Law revealed the eternal character of God and on the day of judgement, the Book would be taken out and mankind judged according to how he has kept the law. Law-breakers will be condemned but those for who Christ has kept the law and have been imputed with Christ’s righteousness shall be saved. This led Huntington to write a number of works, against the Antinomianism of his day who were mainly common-grace and Sinai-bound pseudo-Calvinists. He pointed them to the law of Christ and the law of faith. The Mosaic law leaves us condemned but the laws of Christ and faith give us life. Both these elements are also underlined in the Old Testament as David and Abraham well knew.
Soon after Murray’s criticism of Huntington as a law-breaker, he wrote an article defending Sabbath trading. I pointed out to Iain that Huntington had lost a good job because he refused to work on the Lord’s Day. Back came the reply that we must honour the Lord of the Sabbath rather than the day. Fair enough; but who dare say that Huntington did not honour his Lord in his action? Is not Huntington’s stand at least as honest as Murray’s argument that doing business on Sunday in churches is honouring to God?
That these Huntington critics were most unfamiliar with the saint’s works became most clear when I found Hulse, Murray, Oliver and other BOT writers comparing Huntington negatively with the Marrow Men and those who preached the so-called free-offer. Actually, Huntington held the Marrow Men in great esteem and had an almost identical view to theirs in presenting Christ in the gospel. He used the term ‘offer’ as they did, claiming that Christ offers Himself to those with whom He is in covenant.
Emphasising that Huntington was of humble background, without academic learning, Murray claims that Huntington should never have had the ambition to become a minister and even own a coach! Murray’s mentor Andrew Fuller was a professional wrestler, John Newton, favoured by Murray was an uneducated sea-rover, Thomas Scott was a cow-grazer, yet all of these men drove round in fine coaches. John Rippon, Gill’s successor had a posh coach with pure glass walls all around! Why does Murray disqualify one because of his humble state and not others? This is because the BOT wishes to give the impression that Huntington was ignorant and despised learning. The magazine claimed that Huntington called books ‘dead men’s brains’ and thus showed his disdain for them. This is totally untrue. Huntington knew he badly needed books to educate himself but found that he was spending too much money on them. One day he received an anonymous letter telling him that a parcel of ‘dead men’s brains’ was being sent to him. The ‘dead men’s brains’ arrived in the form of a parcel of books, quickly followed by another which were put to good use. Such negative BOT remarks moved me to write to Murray’s editorial successor, Maurice Roberts, asking him how he could publish such shallow research. Roberts was firm in his denunciation of Huntington but confessed that he had only read one small book of Huntington’s and had no real knowledge of his theology. Sadly, I have found this ignorance also true regarding BOT attacks on Crisp, Romaine and Gill who have been scandalously misrepresented.
Another full-gospeller, John Gill, though a very learned man, is sadly treated just the same way by the common-grace movement. We are told that Gill’s church shrunk and Fuller, whom they claim as a common grace friend, had a church of a thousand and that Fuller’s system caused a great revival and Gill’s system died out with his death. John Rippon’s and Charles H. Spurgeon’s highly positive praise of Gill is turned round and negated to ‘prove’ the opposite. Actually, Gill filled his church to bursting, and it remained one of the very largest Baptist church in Britain for over fifty years. Fuller’s churches were never of the same side over any lengthy period, and Fuller himself was saddened by the thought that the churches in his association were all shrinking under the 50 members mark though ‘Antinomian’ churches were growing. Fuller neglected his own church badly in spending months away from them canvassing money from such as Anglican churches whom he nevertheless would not accept as Christians. At this time and during the next decades Huntington, Hawker and Gadsby were preaching to thousands. Fuller’s Association was the first Particular Baptist Association to reject the Word of God as their sole authority in matters of faith whilst full-gospel preachers whom he savagely opposed kept firmly anchored in God’s Word and continued to reap fruit.
Gill is depicted as one who would not preached repentance and faith to sinners. Rippon tells us that his whole ministry was devoted to preach repentance and faith to all men everywhere. Yet, Iain Murray, in his badly researched booklet Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, ransacks Rippon’s highly positive biography of Gill to find words which he might turn with a little ingenuity to speak against Gill. These ‘quotes’ prove strained indeed.
Spurgeon, whilst battling with the Downgrade Controversy and his horror at the worldliness of the Fullerite Baptist Missionary Society, confessed that he had not only inherited Gill’s church but also his mantle and found strength in Gill’s works which he gave a ‘distinguished place’ in his library, calling them ‘greatly prized’, ‘invaluable’, and ‘precious’. Referring to Gill’s great work on the Song of Solomon, Spurgeon says that those who despise Gill’s teaching in it have either never read him or they “are incapable of elevated spiritual feeling.” Such incapabilities are demonstrated in Murray’s attack on Gill which fully corroborates the maxim “He stoops to conquer.” Arguing that Spurgeon is ‘over-generous’ to Gill and Rippon ‘too peace loving’ to criticise him, we wonder why Murray condemns them with great intolerance on imaginative grounds. Quoting works against Hyper-Calvinism, Murray tries to persuade the reader that they convey Spurgeon’s personal animosity to Gill, though they neither mention Gill, nor describe Gill’s theology, nor were they authored by Spurgeon. Murray backs this up again with arguments of his own, presenting them as Gill’s without a shadow of a shade of evidence. During these fictive accounts, Murray claims, again, without evidence, that Gill sees no human responsibility in passages such as John 5:20, not realizing even Andrew Fuller used Gill’s exposition of the text to show that Gill clearly taught human responsibility! Here, Murray is far less objective than even Fuller. He appears to want to outbeat all as a Gill-slayer.
Murray claims that Rippon rejected Gill’s 1729 statement of faith because of its lack of a free-offer clause but Gill’s declaration had to be signed by members of Rippon’s church until well into the 19th century and Rippon had it reprinted in 1800. So, too, Murray seeks to denigrate Gill through highly edited and sifted quotes from Ivimey the Baptist historian, ignoring the fact that Ivimey is most positive in his general comments on Gill, seeing him, like Rippon, as preaching ‘in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ; enriched, and generally enriching.’
Gill, not only emphasized human responsibility for being in a sinful state and a confirmed Christ-denier but he emphasized in such works as Repentance towards God, that true evangelical repentance was not only a turning from sin but a turning to God and this message was a substantial part of the gospel to sinners. When commenting on Acts 2:37-38 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins,” Gill says:
“And this is also clear from the ministry of Christ himself: who came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; which was not a legal, but evangelical repentance. He began his ministry thus; Repent, and believe the gospel; see Matthew 9;13; Mark 1:15. With which agrees the ministry of the apostles in general; who, by the direction of Christ, preached repentance and remission of sins in his name; which was most certainly the gospel; the one, as well as the other, a doctrine of the gospel, Luke 24:47. And the apostle Paul, who was a most evangelical preacher, divides his whole ministry into these two parts; Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 20:21.”
I well remember the day on which I read a BOT statement that Gill never warned sinners to flee from the wrath to come. I turned to my collection of Gill and took down a random volume, turning to a random page. There, staring me in the face were the very words I was told Gill never uttered! Happily, a number of scholars are now turning to Gill and vindicating him against such shallow criticism. Comparing Gill’s evangelical fervour with that of Edwards and claiming that Gill exhorted sinners to faith at least as much as Fuller, Gregory A. Wills, in his essay A Fire that Burns Within: The Spirituality of John Gill, says, quoting Gill:
“Gill followed his own advice: he urged sinners to seek salvation. . . . He urged sinners to trust their souls to Christ: “What though, poor soul, thou seest the aboundings of sin in thy nature, and in every power and faculty of thy soul; yet look upon and view the superabounding grace of God streaming through the person, blood, and righteousness of Christ; . . . . take heart, therefore, and do not be discouraged; Christ’s grace is sufficient for thee; . . . go to him as a poor perishing sinner, implore his grace, and venture on him, I dare say he will not reject thee.”
Hulse claims to trace his theology through Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper’s three-volumed work on common grace, informing us that if we cannot read Dutch, we cannot benefit from it. He also recommends another Dutch work which he fears has been badly translated into English. So the English reader is rather handicapped in scrutinizing Hulse’s sources. We are also told, without evidence, that Bavinck, Warfield, Hodge and Calvin support Hulse. Though Hulse is a South African Boor, I would still venture to say that he must have forgotten his childhood language as both Kuyper and Bavinck make it quite clear that common grace is merely what it professes to be, a grace common to all men. Nor do we have to read these gentlemen in Dutch as I did, merely to reveal Hulse’s ignorance as their views are well translated into several languages. I would further say that if Hulse can prove that one of the 700 churches that Kuyper established had a common grace Declaration of Faith or if he can show that one of his 100 books taught such a weird theory, Hulse will have my sincere apologies for missing what is totally hidden, but though Kuyper or an angel from heaven tell me that common grace is the same as saving grace, I would not cling to that vain thought for my salvation. Saving grace is vastly different and neither Kuyper, Calvin, Hodge nor Warfield take off on Hulse’s flight of fancy in claiming that saving grace is merely common grace pronounced differently.
I trust that this essay has revealed the folly of the common-grace gospellers treatment of their enemies and so-called allies and will deal with their low view of Scripture and God in my next article.
George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.
George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.