From John Gill to C. H. Spurgeon
Robert W. Oliver
Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006
ISBN 978 0 85151 920 3; Hbk; 410 + xxi pp; £16.50
This is a fascinating book. Unfortunately, it doesn't do what the title suggests. If it were then the history of the Calvinistic baptists would be one dispute after another.
There were a number of debates among the Calvinistic Baptists. These were over: the nature of communion: open or closed (chapter 4); Andrew Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptance (1785) and its challenge to the dominant Hyper-Calvinism. Fuller maintained that gospel preaching must include exhortations to all to repent and believe (chapter 5); and the Antinomian controversy: the relationship of the Christian to the moral law (Chapter 6). The book ably covers the key disputants in the controversies that marked out the Particular Baptists from the General Baptists.
The second part of the book looks more specifically at four key players: Andrew Fuller (Chapter 8), Abraham Booth (Chapter 8), William Gadsby (Chapter 9) and John Stevens (Chapter 10).
In part three the proliferation of Strict Baptist magazines are examined as well as the different organisations. The final chapter on Spurgeon feels more like an add on rather than an integral part of the book.
As I was reading the book I kept wondering what Oliver’s views were - they are not obvious form the text. I wish he had made his own views more explicit, that way any possible (and inevitable) bias can more easily be detected.
Oliver’s book was originally his 1985 London Bible College PhD thesis - but it took some time to be published - primarily to overcome his reluctance to publish. I am glad that it was as it provides a much needed insight into the Calvinistic Baptists.
The following two-way table - I’ve compiled it from Oliver’s information - shows clearly that the debate over strict baptism and hyper-Calvinism wasn’t straightforward.