John Gill was a Calvinistic Baptist who preached to
a London congregation at Horsly-down and Carterlane from
1720 to 1771* He exerted enormous influence over a certain
segment of his denomination which became captive to his
hyper-Calvinist theology. Despite his lack of a formal
education, he established himself as a leader among Parti¬
cular Baptists by publishing scores of pamphlets, books,
and sermons which were accepted as oracular by many of
his colleagues but which contributed little or nothing
toward overcoming the religious apathy of the age.
Gill's first ventures in theological writing were
polemical. He considered his Calvinistic system to be the
only true faith, and he defended it with fervor and dogmatism. At one point or another, he touched upon nearly
all of the major theological issues of his day: the
Trinitarian Controversy, the Deistic threat, and the dialectical tension between Calvinism, Antinomianism, and
Arminianism. His most ambitious polemic was against the
Arminianism of Daniel Whitby and John Wesley against whom
he argued the doctrines of (1) eternal election and reprobation, (2) the limited atonement, (3) irresistible grace,
and (I4.) the perseverance of the saints.
The work which made Gill most famous was his nine
-volume commentary on the entire Bible. These tomes are
virtually valueless today except as an illustration of
Gill's approach to Scripture. Ostensibly, he was a Biblical theologian, but actually, he forced Scripture to
conform to his pre-conceived doctrines. He was skilful
in giving obscure meanings to straightforward verses in
order to make them fit into his system.
At the close of his life, Gill compiled a three-volume Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity. Throughout his ministry, his theological point of view remained essentially the same, but the long years of doctrinal controversies and extensive Biblical exposition now made him more articulate in expressing his complete creed. Gill
considered theology a science on a par with any other area of study, and he believed that the doctrines of the Christian Faith could be proved. The weight of his proof, however, rested upon his basic premise that the Bible is a
divinely revealed Book which should be accepted in its entirety without criticism or question.
Gill was a Covenant Theologian. His thought varied little from that of the Dutch theologian, Witsius, whose ideas were impressed upon A Gill as a young man through the influence of Joseph Hussev and John Skepp. Like these men, Gill described the relationship between God and man in terms of covenants, the Covenant of the Law which God entered into with Adam in time, and the Covenant of Grace which he made with Christ before the beginning of the world in order to secure the salvation of His Elect. The whole system was evolved in an attempt to uphold God's sovereignty
and to reconcile this major premise with man's assurance
of salvation. God's eternal decrees destined every man
to either salvation or reprobation, and man's highest virtue consisted in willingly submitting to his destiny for
the glory of God. Gill's theology posed the insoluble
dilemma of having the elect redeemed from eternity and yet
condemned within time, and his emphasis upon justification
before faith and eternal perseverance left him open to
the charge of Antinomianism. His doctrine of the limited
Redemption was simply a rationalization of the observed
fact that all men are not saved.
Another doctrine which Gill never ceased defending
was his belief in baptism by adult immersion. His conviction on this matter was his primary grievance against the
Established Church. Gill was an uncompromising Dissenter.
His objections to the Church of England were many; he believed that the only true relationship between Church and
State was complete separation and that the only true form
of the visible church was in autonomous congregational
Gill distinguished himself more for the quantity
of his writing than for the quality of it. He was not
a^trustworthy scholar, and his thought was often superficial and frequently colored by an uncontrollable temper.
His hyper-Calvinist theology had a withering effect upon
his denomination. He paralized the growth of Particular
Baptists by his teaching that ministers have no prerogative to offer Christ and His salvation to sinners lest
they interfere with the work of God who will save whom
He will. The infection of Gill's theology was stubborn
in its resistance to the religious awakening initiated by
the Methodists, but eventually, his extreme point of
view began to be tempered. Gill's star never rose very
high on the theological horizon, and in the morning of
the new day, he was lost in the light.