A Victorian Injustice and its Aftermath
David H. J. Gay
Biggleswade: Bracchus, 2010, pbk, 70pp, £2.75
The content of this book was originally presented as a paper to the annual meeting of Strict Baptist Historical Society in 2009. It still bears the marks of a conversational lecture format and at times this does grate - but fortunately, content triumphs over style.
This book provides a brief introduction to the little-known Septimus Sears (1819-1877) - I would have like more biographical information - but the main topic is the debate between him and John Gadsby, the editor of the Gospel Standard (1870 - 1877) over the nature of the free offer of the Gospel.
Sears moved from a hyper-Calvinist position to a free-offer of the gospel position, however Gay feels he didn’t move far enough. Gay maintains that Sears held to an “incipient hyper-Calvinism”.
Gay examines three main primary sources: Sears’ 1841 letter to J C Philpott, his Memoirs and his preaching. Sears originally agreed with Philpott that although the first-century apostles preach and invited sinners we shouldn’t: we have no basis for copying the biblical examples. Sears somewhere between 1841 and 1865 changed his mind and thought that we should.
In his memoirs Sears advocates warning sinners, inviting seekers and exhorting saints. Yet Gay’s examination of Sears’ preaching post 1865 shows that Sears told his hearers of the gospel invitation but offered no invite. It was more you are invited rather than I invite you to respond to the gospel. Despite this Sears was repeatedly taken to task by John Gadsby in the pages of the Gospel Standard for supposedly being too free in the way he addressed sinners.
The issue seems to focus around the question of whether we should copy the apostles in the way they presented the gospel to sinners. In an Appendix Gay suggests that the first person to suggest that we shouldn’t wasn’t a Puritan but rather Revd Robert Hawker (1735-1823) of Plymouth in his The True Gospel: No Yea and Nay Gospel (1818), this idea was taken up and developed by J. C. Philpott.
In this short book Gay has packed a lot of research. This not an issue that has gone away the debate still continues, many of the arguments are the same though the arguers have changed.