Posted by: Jerad File | February 18, 2009

John Gill (1697-1771) Distinctively Baptist in Ecclesiology

Not many articles have been written on Gill’s ecclesiology; however, John W. Brush had a 1959 essay in a book called Baptist Concepts of the Church. It seems that most of those who have written on Gill have focused on his view of justification, or whether he was a hyper-calvinist. Brush stated that Gill was “an extreme Calvinist,” and stated that there is a “danger of antinomianism inherent in such a stand on the sovereign elective power and the all-sufficient grace of Almighty God.” In fact, Brush even assumed that, “A severe logic might suggest that Gill really needed no church on earth, even as he needed no evangelism.”

In spite of his non-sympathetic view of Gill’s overall theology, Brush’s article focuses on how Gill was firmly committed to the Baptist view of the Church. Brush acknowleges this tension by saying that “. . . our purpose is not to commend his theology. We would maintain, however, that in his ecclesiology he held much that we may still consider fairly normative for the Baptist position.” Brush also states, “The least the present writer can do here is to commend John Gill as still worth reading on baptism and the nature of the Church. . . . Gill’s idea of the Church has more than historical value, for it seems close to the central Baptist tradition on this important subject.”

My own study of Gill has been focused mainly on his ecclesiology. This is the aspect of his theology that I intend to write my thesis on. While I am much more sympathetic to Gill than it appears that Brush was in his article, I believe that he made a very important observation. Gill was distinctively Baptist in his ecclesiology. It is clear that he was also solidly within the reformed tradition. In a day when some people are making cutting remarks about the sharp distinctions between Baptists and the Reformed, Gill is a great place to look for how the two traditions can coalesce together in one theological system.

Brush, John W. “John Gill’s Doctrine of the Church.” In Baptist Concepts of the Church, ed. Winthrop Still Hudson, 53-70. Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1959.

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