G is for Gill

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There are names that will forever be associated with the history of the church of Jesus Christ – Luther and Calvin, even Augustine, and perhaps Thomas Aquinas – but there are others with whom we ought to be acquainted, men whose influence has spanned from their times to ours. One is John Gill, an early English Baptist scholar, theologian, and pastor who lived from November 23, 1697 to October 14, 1771. His writings can still be found and there are some excellent reasons why he is important to our faith today.

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He was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, England. As a child, he attended the Kettering Grammar School, a very selective educational atmosphere which would prepare him for later life. By the age of 11, he had mastered the Latin classics and learned the Greek language. From this point on, he was dedicated to the self-study of everything from logic to Hebrew. Hebrew was particularly to be of interest throughout his entire life.

Before we turn our attention to his pastoral work, let us consider the ground work that was laid in his educational life. Not only did he receive an excellent education, he had the drive and initiative to pursue his studies independently after schooling. What an example to pastors and potential pastors in today’s day and age! He did not study only to earn degrees; rather, he studied himself in applying what God had given to him. Further, he applied himself specifically to the area of language studies – a crucial area of studying for any man called to be a pastor and one discipline that forms the basis for all others. Theology rests upon the ability to read the Bible and exegete its contents according to its original languages. Gill did what was needed to faithfully lead his congregation and therein serves as an example for churches today. A pastor should enjoy his study time before the Lord . Sadly, though, many would rather be out and about “doing something” rather than being fed by the Master. Greek and Hebrew are the rudimentary building blocks of a solid pastoral diet. Add to this theology, philosophy, history, commentaries, current events, and many other types of books. The pastor who studies and prays much in his study is a rare jewel. Not to diminish the social aspects of the calling, but to render all ministry without study is ineffective.

Gill was a theologian who changed the world.

Another remarkable fact about John Gill is that he became pastor at the Strict Baptist Church at Goat Yard Chapel, Horsleydown, Southwark in 1719. His tenure there is notable; he served for 51 consecutive years, laying the foundation for a healthy spiritual life for the church as well as the individuals and families in the congregation. Furthermore, the heritage of this particular church note is noteworthy as it was previously pastored by Benjamin Keach who was present at 1689 General Assembly, a key event in Baptist history as it produced the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. Later, this church would become the Metropolitan Tabernacle where Charles Spurgeon pastored. It was indeed a church with a very significant influence on our world.

Gill also made a significant contribution to the church in terms of his writing. His magnum opus is his exposition of the Old and New Testaments, a set of books totaling over 7,500 pages. It is as valuable as it is weighty, is now available in both print and digital forms, and is highly recommended. Other significant works include, The Doctrine of the Trinity Stated and Vindicated, A Dissertation Concerning the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language, Letters, Vowel-Points, and Accents, and A Body of Practical Divinity.

Doctrinally, John Gill was an adherent to a strict view of Calvinism. Though some have claimed that Gill was a hyper-Calvinist, both Thomas Nettles and Timothy George have adequately shown the inaccuracy of such a statement.  Hyper-Calvinism is commonly the belief that because God elects whom He will to salvation that we do not need to do anything in evangelism or missions. (That is not the same thing as high Calvinism which would hold to categories of election and reprobation.)

John Gill can be seen as an excellent theologian-pastor. He contributed to pastoral thinking in the longevity and faithfulness of his ministry. He benefited theology and the academy through his tireless pursuit of exegetical validity and theological investigation. He was also a prolific author, an academically well-rounded minister, and a godly example for ministers even today.

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