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Reformation Influences: The Calvinistic Figure Who Changed Non-conformist Churches' Approach to Invitations





Joseph Hussey (1660–1726) was an English preacher and theologian, particularly known for his role as a Nonconformist minister during a period of religious turbulence in England.


Joseph was born in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, England. He attended Oxford University but did not complete his degree due to his Nonconformist beliefs, which conflicted with the established Anglican Church.


Hussey became a prominent figure among the Nonconformists, a group that refused to conform to the practices and governance of the Church of England.

- He served as a pastor in various locations, including Cambridge and London.


Hussey was known for his Calvinist theology, particularly his emphasis on predestination and the sovereignty of God (Remember John Calvin lived from 1509-1564). Hussey authored several works, including "God's Operations of Grace but No Offers of Grace" (1707), where he argued against the idea that God offers salvation to all individuals, positing instead that God bestows grace only upon the elect.


Hussey was the preacher who was most influential in initiating the classic hallmark of Calvinism among the non-conformist churches..." namely that preachers should not give general invitations to all to believe on Christ for salvation." (1)


Joseph Hussey's works and sermons contributed to the development of Calvinist thought within the Nonconformist tradition. His writings continue to be studied by those interested in the history of Calvinism and Nonconformity in England.


Hussey's views were picked up by several preachers, for example, William Bentley, John Skepp, and Samuel Stockell.


John Skepp (circa 1675–1721) was particularly influential. He was an English Baptist minister and theologian who became known for his Calvinist views and for being part of the "Hyper-Calvinist" movement, which emphasized predestination and the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation.


Skepp was born around 1675. Details about his early life are sparse, but he was influenced by the religious currents of his time, particularly within the Baptist tradition. He became a pastor of a Baptist congregation at Curriers’ Hall in Cripplegate, London, around 1714.

His ministry was marked by a strong commitment to Calvinist doctrine, particularly the views associated with what would later be termed "Hyper-Calvinism." This theological perspective emphasized that God's grace in salvation was extended only to the elect, and it downplayed or even rejected the universal preaching of the gospel as a means of converting sinners.


Skepp is most noted for his book "Divine Energy: or, The Efficacious Operations of the Spirit of God upon the Soul of Man in his Effectual Calling and Conversion," published posthumously in 1722. In this work, Skepp argued against the idea that human beings could respond to the gospel without the direct and irresistible work of the Holy Spirit. His views were controversial and contributed to debates within the Baptist community and the broader evangelical world regarding the nature of evangelism and the role of human agency in salvation. His teachings and writings significantly influenced later Baptist ministers and theologians, particularly those inclined toward Hyper-Calvinism. His emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the doctrine of election would be picked up by later preachers and theologians who shared similar views.


One of those preachers was John Gill (1697-1771). John Gill was a very influential figure in England during his years of ministry. He authored a whole Bible commentary that is still in use today. He also pastored the church that Spurgeon eventually pastored. An interesting factoid about John Gill is found in the fact that "in 1729 he led his congregation to adopt a new Declaration of Faith and Practice which omitted the usual Puritan references to Christ being offered in the Gospel...With the Advance of Hussey's new teaching, it is significant that there appear to have been no printings of the 1689 Baptist Confession for 70 years after 1720." (2)


Spurgeon was a great lover of the Puritans and spoke out plainly against the hypercalvinistic tendency of some preachers refusing to offer Christ broadly to sinners. In a sermon on 1 John 3:23, entitled “The Warrant of Faith,” which he preached in 1863, he affirmed that some of the Puritans, like the opponents of the Marrowmen in eighteenth-century Scotland and the hypercalvinistic Baptists of Spurgeon’s own day, taught that the ground on which believing became permissible was a preliminary work of grace.


Consider Spurgeon's words carefully.


"The warrant for a sinner to believe in Christ is not in himself in any sense or in any manner, but in the fact that he is commanded there and then to believe on Jesus Christ. Some preachers in the Puritanic times, whose shoe latchets I am not worthy to unloose, erred much in this matter. I refer not merely to Alleyne and Baxter, who are far better preachers of the law than of the gospel, but I include men far sounder in the faith than they, such as Rogers of Dedham, Shepherd, the author of “The Sound Believer,” and especially the American, Thomas Hooker, who has written a book upon qualifications for coming to Christ. These excellent men had a fear of preaching the gospel to any except those whom they styled “sensible sinners,” and consequently kept hundreds of their hearers sitting in darkness when they might have rejoiced in the light. They preached repentance and hatred of sin as the warrant of a sinner’s trusting to Christ. According to them, a sinner might reason thus—“I possess such-and-such a degree of sensibility on account of sin, therefore I have a right to trust in Christ.” Now, I venture to affirm that such reasoning is seasoned with fatal error. Whoever preaches in this fashion may preach much of the gospel, but the whole gospel of the free grace of God in its fulness he has yet to learn. In our own day certain preachers assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ; some degree of a work of grace in the heart being, in their judgment, the only warrant to believe. This also is false. It takes away a gospel for sinners and offers us a gospel for saints. It is anything but a ministry of free grace. (3)



There is an interesting sidelight to the Puritans and their belief in the call of the Gospel which I wish to offer here. Remember, not all Puritans believed the same thing, just like all Baptists today do not believe the same thing.


These next thoughts come from a paper written by J.I. Packer entitled, "The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel (in which he was criticizing Spurgeon's understanding of the Puritan's actual belief concerning the warrant of faith - I offer this here not to instigate antagonism between Spurgeon and Packer, but only to show that the Gospel had been (and must continue to be) freely offered to sinners without discrimination or reservation; and that this belief is contrary to the idea of hyper-Calvinism, which corrupted stated Puritan beliefs)." (4)


"on the question of the warrant of faith, these authors are not open to criticism; when they speak of it, their doctrine is exactly Spurgeon’s, that the warrant of faith  (i.e. the justification or the authority for an action) is the command and promise of God to sinners, and that faith is required of everyone who hears the gospel.


"Firmin spoke for the entire Puritan school when he laid it down that 'it is the duty of all the sons and daughters of Adam, who hear the gospel preached, and Christ offered to them, to believe in, or receive, Christ, whether they be prepared or not prepared,' and quoted 1 John 3:23 and John 6:29 as proof (The Real Christian, p. 2).


"John Rogers, discussing the warrant of faith, quotes the same two texts in support of the statement that 'faith is one of the commandments of the gospel' (The Doctrine of Faith, p .502).


"Shepard speaks of the “commandment to receive Christ” in 1 John 3:23 which 'binds conscience to believe, as you will answer for the contempt of this rich grace at the great day of account'"(The Sound Believer - 1849 ed. -, p.238).


Packer goes on to say, "If any hearer of the gospel does not believe, it is not for want of being divinely directed and laid under obligation to do so. The truth is that to all the Puritans it was one of the wonders of free grace that the Lord Jesus Christ invites sinners, just as they are, in all their filthy rags, to receive Him and find life, and they never waxed more impassioned and powerful than when dilating on what John Owen, in his stately way, calls 'the infinite condescension, grace and love of Christ, in His invitations of sinners to come unto him, that they may be saved'” (Works -ed. Goold-, 1:422).



So, must we preach the Gospel freely and invite all who hear it to come to Christ?


This was Spurgoen's call at the end of his sermon on "The Warrant of Faith."


"I have read with some degree of attention a book to which I owe much for this present discourse—a book, by Abraham Booth, called “Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners.” I have never heard any one cast a suspicion upon Abraham Booth’s soundness; on the contrary, he has been generally considered as one of the most orthodox of the divines of the last generation. If you want my views in full, read his book. If you need something more, let me say, among all the bad things which his revilers have laid to his door, I have never heard any one blame William Huntingdon for not being high enough in doctrine.


"Now, William Huntingdon prefaced in his lifetime a book by Saltmarsh, with which he was greatly pleased; and the marrow of its teaching is just this, in his own words, “The only ground for any to believe is, he is faithful that hath promised, not anything in themselves, for this is the commandment, That ye believe on his Son Jesus Christ.” Now, if William Huntingdon himself printed such a book as that, I marvel how the followers of either William Huntingdon or Abraham Booth, how men calling themselves Calvinistic divines and high Calvinists, can advocate what is not free grace, but a legal, graceless system of qualifications and preparations.


"I might here quote Crisp, who is pat to the point and a high doctrine man too. I mention neither Booth nor Huntingdon as authorities upon the subject, to the law and to the testimony we must go; but I do mention them to show that men holding strong views on election and predestination yet did see it to be consistent to preach the gospel to sinners as sinners—nay, felt that it was inconsistent to preach the gospel in any other way....


"My time flies, and I must leave the last head, just to add, sinner, whoever thou mayst be, God now commands thee to believe in Jesus Christ. This is his commandment: he does not command thee to feel anything, or be anything, to prepare thyself for this. Now, art thou willing to incur the great guilt of making God a liar? Surely thou wilt shrink from that: then dare to believe. Thou canst not say, “I have no right:” you have a perfect right to do what God tells you to do. You cannot tell me you are not fit; there is no fitness wanted, the command is given and it is yours to obey, not to dispute. You cannot say it does not come to you—it is preached to every creature under heaven; and now soul, it is so pleasant a thing to trust the Lord Jesus Christ that I would fain persuade myself thou needest no persuading. It is so delightful a thing to accept a perfect salvation, to be saved by precious blood, and to be married to so bright a Saviour, that I would fain hope the Holy Spirit has led thee to cry, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (5)



To Whom should the Gospel be preached and who may respond?


Matthew 28:19–20

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.


Revelation 22:17

17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.




______________________________


(1) Murray, Iain H. 2010. Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, p. 126, Banner of Truth.


(2)  Murray, Iain H. 2010. Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, p. 126, Banner of Truth.


(3) C. H. Spurgeon, “The Warrant of Faith,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 9 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1863), 531–532.


(4) “The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel | Monergism.” n.d. Www.monergism.com. Accessed June 8, 2024. https://www.monergism.com/puritan-view-preaching-gospel.


(5) C. H. Spurgeon, “The Warrant of Faith,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 9 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1863), 539–540.




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