We have coupled the names of Rutherford and George
Gillespie as the two best known by their writings of the Church divines of the
era of the Westminster Assembly. George Gillespie was one of the marvels of an
age that was itself sufficiently marvellous. At the age of 23 he was already
the author of a most able and thorough discussion of the Church ceremonies such
as the Stuarts were seeking to force on an unwilling and reclaiming Church. The
Church as a whole was not willing to submit to the royal and prelatic
impositions, for it held firmly to the Calvinistic and Puritan principle that
regulates what is lawful and what unlawful in the worship of God. The problem
that Gillespie handled was the burning question of the hour, and his treatment
of it brought him at one bound into the forefront of the polemic divines of his
age. The Puritan controversy had dragged its long length between Conformists
and Nonconformists on, both sides of the Border before he stepped into the
Whitgift and Hooker, Morton and Forbes, had written among the leaders on the side of the court. Cartwright and Travers and Ames and Calderwood were leaders in defence of a strict reading of the Reformed principle. Gillespie when he intervened showed himself a master of his material and dexterous in wielding his weapons. The vice of current controversial method, however, cleaves to his course of argument. He answered his opponents in detail. Instead of grouping as one all the champions of what was in substance the one line of argument and dealing with their principle once for all, he followed them into minutiae and then he virtually fought all his battles over again and thrice he slew the slain. This, however, was a fault of the method of his age and it did in his case only what it did in that of others-it made for redundancy and prolixity. His first book, however, made his name, and by the time that Gillespie was 30 he was sent as one of the divines of Scotland to represent his Church in the Assembly at Westminster. There he distinguished himself as a defender of the Reformed ideal of the Church in conflict with the leading Erastians, Selden and Coleman.
He excelled as a ready debater. It was during the years that this Assembly sat that the youthful divine produced his masterpiece in defence of the freedom of the Church to carry out the will of its Head and Lord. This learned treatise goes by a name that bears the hallmark of the age. It is Aaron's Rod Blossoming. In it we have an exhaustive discussion of the questions at issue between the Erastians and the Orthodox. It is the recognised classic of Scottish Reformed Theology in its own department. The writer was also the author of what might be called a State paper in the Church's service, CXI. Propositions on Church Government, a work that was called for by the General Assembly in Scotland a year or two before his early death. His Treatise of Miscellany Questions covers a more various field, and it has in it some of his best writing. The writer was a master of swordplay with his rapier. The type of mental clarity, though not with quite the same lucid style, that one finds in Francis Turrettine is found also in George Gillespie; and he did his lifework in the short space of 36 years. As a supreme defender of the Reformed doctrine of the Church he was equally firm with Rutherford but less inclined to take up extreme positions. Though so much of his writing was of a polemic complexion, yet there was in his discussion of such a spiritual topic as assurance of salvation a wonderfully gracious touch. He was one of the mighties of his age which was so fertile in massive and heroic figures in the field of Evangelical Christian Theology. He filled well his place at Westminster.
Home | Links | Biography | Writings | Hall