John Gill was born at Kettering, Northamptonshire, November 23rd, 1697. He was educated in the Grammar-school of that town, but was taken from it at the age of eleven, in consequence of the unreasonable conduct of the master, who insisted on the attendance of the scholars at prayers in the parish church on week-day. To this, those of the parents who were Dissenters would not submit, and therefore removed their children from the school. Young Gill had made such extraordinary progress in Latin and Greek that his friends endeavored to procure assistance with a view to the prosecution of his studies at one of the Universities: but they were unsuccessful. This did not damp his ardour. Part of his time was necessarily spent in attendance on his father’s business (he was engaged in the woolen trade); every minute of the remainder was employed in gathering knowledge. He improved himself in Latin and Greek; he studied logic, rhetoric, and natural and moral philosophy; he acquired a knowledge of the Hebrew, in which language "he took great delight;" he read a large number of Latin treatises on various subjects, but especially on theology. All this was accomplished by his own unaided exertions.
In 1716 he was baptized on the profession of faith, and immediately afterwards commenced preaching. His labors were very acceptable, and the church at Kettering would have gladly detained him among them; but that was not his destined sphere. In compliance with the request of the church at Horselydown, Southwark — over which the celebrated Benjamin Keach had formerly presided, who was succeeded by his son-in-law, Mr. Benjamin Stinton, then lately deceased, — he visited them, and, after preaching several months, was chosen pastor. His ordination took place March 22nd, 1720.
More than fifty years of unremitting toil succeeded that transaction. Mr. Gill's life was emphatically a laborious one. His duties as pastor were punctually and faithfully discharged. Besides attending to these, he constantly enlarged his acquaintance with all learning. He watched the movements of the enemies of truth, and held himself in readiness to repel assaults. His pen was never idle.
The great work of his life was the Commentary on the Scriptures. It was originally given to his people from the pulpit, in the form of expository discourses. He began with Solomon's Song, on which he preached one hundred and twenty-two sermons. The Exposition was published in 1728, in a folio volume. Three folios more were occupied with the New Testament, the third of which appeared in 1748. In that year the author received from Marischal College, Aberdeen, the degree of Doctor in Divinity. Special mention was made in the Diploma of Dr. Gill's proficiency in sacred literature, in the oriental languages, and in Jewish Antiquities. The Exposition on the Prophets, in two folios, was issued in 1757, 1758. The remaining volumes appeared in 1763, 1764, 1765, and 1766. Truly it was a gigantic undertaking!
The particular excellence of this work lies in its plain, strong sense, its perspicuous style, the care with which every sentence and almost every word is explained, and, especially, the light thrown upon many passages by extracts from Jewish authors. Dr. Gill was a profound Rabbinical scholar. He was familiar with the whole circle of Jewish literature. None could compete with him on this his own ground.
A judicious reader may derive much benefit from the use of Dr. Gill's Exposition. He will know how to supply the expositor’s deficiencies, and will abstain from following him in his interpretation of allegorical passages. For the results of modern criticism he must repair, of course, to other sources. But this Exposition will ever be a mine which will repay the labors of the discreet explorer.
In addition to the Exposition, Dr. Gill published a Body of Divinity, in three quarto volumes, which, like the Exposition, was first preached to his congregation: — The Cause of God and Truth, being an examination of all the passages of Scripture usually adduced in the Arminian controversy; and Sermons and Tracts (including a learned Dissertation on the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language), in three volumes, 4to.
Dr. Gill's preaching was rather solid than attractive. He abstained from personal addresses to sinners, by inviting them to the Saviour, and satisfied himself with declaring their guilt and doom, and the necessity of a change of heart. It is not surprising that the congregation declined under such a ministry. His steady refusal to have an assistant or co-pastor operated also injuriously on the welfare of the Church.
He preached but once on the Lord's-day during the last two years of his life. Yet he laboured on in his study till within a fortnight of his death. A short time before that event he said to his nephew, the Rev. John Gill, of St. Alban's, "I depend wholly and alone upon the free, sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love of God, the firm and everlasting covenant of grace, and my interest in the Persons of the Trinity, for my whole salvation; and not upon any righteousness of my own, nor on anything in me, nor done by me under the influences of the Holy Spirit; not upon any services of mine, which I have been assisted to perform for the good of the Church; but upon my interest in the Persons of the Trinity, the free grace of God, and the blessings of grace streaming to me through the blood and righteousness of Christ, as the ground of my hope. These are no new things to me, but what I have been long acquainted with — what I can live and die by."1
Dr. Gill died October 14th, 1771, in the 74th year of his age, having been fifty-one years pastor of the church. ________________
1 John Rippon, Memoir of Dr. Gill, p. 134.
[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871 ed.; rpt. 1987, pp. 441-444. — jrd]
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