John Hurrion was born in Suffolk, circa 1675, in a period when those who had stood apart from the Church of England after the Act of Uniformity of 1662 were undergoing persecution. Almost the only knowledge we have of his youth is this statement: ‘In his younger years, he was brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.’1 In this his maternal grandfather, Edmund Whincop (1616–87), may well have played a part. After being silenced at Layston in 1662, Whincop’s troubles included a five-month imprisonment, before he was called to serve a Nonconformist congregation at Watesfield in 1677. His grandson was only twelve when he died, but the fact that John Hurrion was to marry Jane Baker, daughter of a family of the Watesfield church, indicates an ongoing connexion with that congregation. The marriage took place in 1696, soon after Hurrion’s settlement in a church at Denton, Norfolk, where his predecessor, William Bidbank, had served since 1662.
That Hurrion was set apart for the gospel ministry about the age of twenty-one, confirms a tradition of his early studiousness. Under what conditions his training for the ministry had proceeded are not recorded, save that it was ‘partly under Mr Robinson of Walpole, Suffolk’. That he was committed to hard study is certain, and his library was by no means confined to the Puritan period. We are told that one of the authors whom he held in ‘particular esteem’ was Chrysostom of Constantinople. He was to become, in the opinion of his friend and contemporary, Abraham Taylor, ‘As judicious and accomplished a Divine as any that appeared in his age.’ That this was not study for study’s sake is clear from the influence of his ministry at Denton. From a weak condition at the time of his settlement, the work ‘by the blessing of God upon his labours was brought into a very flourishing state. His great abilities gained him also a large share in the affections and esteem of several other churches in that and the neighbouring counties.’
By the 1690s, evangelical churches in the Nonconformist tradition were facing new dangers. While ‘the Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 had ended physical persecution, the Nonconformist churches (termed ‘Dissenters’ by members of the Church of England) were beginning to form denominations, only to have their unity threatened from another direction as the former biblical orthodoxy came to be challenged.
In Suffolk the rise of anti-trinitarian belief had an advocate in William Manning, said to have influenced the Presbyterian, Thomas Emlyn, who became, possibly, the first Nonconformist to declare himself a Unitarian. At some point after Hurrion’s settlement at Denton, Manning made strong attempts to win him over, thinking ‘he would be a considerable gain to his party’. His endeavours had the opposite effect. After giving much attention to the subject, Hurrion’s whole ministry was to be characterized by emphasis on the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It was his later counsel that, ‘whether the Trinity was opposed or no, young divines could not take a better way to fit themselves for public service, than to be rooted and grounded in that important doctrine’.
In the 1690s, anti-trinitarian belief had no spokesmen among the Nonconformist churches in London. That development was to await the next century, but the unity of these churches was already disrupted in that decade by a different deviation, more evangelical in its form, and strengthened by the advocacy of Richard Baxter. A general esteem for Baxter was based on the value of his well-known practical writing, most notably, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (1649) and The Reformed Pastor (1656). But in his understanding of redemption Baxter also wrote titles which departed significantly from the understanding of redemption as contained in the Westminster, Savoy and Baptist Confessions.2 His position (largely derived from Amyraut and other writers) is succinctly stated by Isaac Ambrose in the words, ‘Christ died not to bring all or any man actually to salvation, but to purchase salvability and reconciliation so far, as that God might and would (salva justitia) deal with them on terms of a better covenant.’3 The one ‘condition’ now to be fulfilled was ‘faith’. The ‘new covenant’, Baxter wrote, ‘is a general gift or act of oblivion, or pardon, given freely to all mankind, on condition they will believe and consent to it’.4
Christ’s work of redemption, Baxter taught, is ‘the beginning of your justification’. So God ‘requireth no actual obedience, as the condition of our begun justification’, that being done already for all people. But for justification in its entirety, he ‘doth require both the continuance of faith, and actual sincere obedience, as the condition of continuing, or not losing, our justification’.5
In opposition to this belief, he names as ‘error’ the statement: ‘Christ did both perfectly obey, and also make satisfaction for sin by suffering, in the person of all the elect … so that his righteousness of obedience … is so imputed to us, as if we ourselves had done it, and suffered it … .’6 Baxter wrote on this teaching at various points in his life but dispute came to a head around the time of his death in London in 1691. At this date the Nonconformist leaders in London—both those of Presbyterian and those of Congregational persuasion—had been drawing together in a Plan of Union, and were sharing in speaking at the Pinners’ Hall lectures, an institution established by Puritan merchants in 1672. But as Baxter’s teaching resurfaced, serious controversy ensued which ended the Union and the presence of Presbyterians at Pinners’ Hall. Sympathy for an allowance of Baxter’s views was chiefly, but not entirely, among Presbyterians, while Congregationalists wrote in opposition. Criticism centred on two points: (1) This was a view of justification which saw it no longer as ‘an act of God’s free grace’ (Shorter Catechism) but as a process in which faith was to be regarded as a continuing element. (2) Baxter’s teaching on justification resulted from a different understanding of the atonement. The confessional belief was that Christ, for those with whom he was united by the Father’s gift, rendered obedience and suffered condemnation in their place. Those whose sin was imputed to Christ, are the same persons to whom his righteousness is imputed (Rom. 4:25; 5:10). Baxter denied, as in the words above, any such correlation.
Opponents of the new teaching in the 1690s were apprehensive that its influence would be extensive, and the first thirty years of the eighteenth century justified their concern. In Scotland, a growing number of men, who followed Baxter, got the name of ‘Neonomians’ (‘new-law’ keepers). In the words of John Macleod, ‘The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ was set aside as the ground of acceptance; and our new life as believers and penitents was looked upon as so much of the ground on which our acceptance is built.’7 In Wales there was no such early acceptance. Howell Harris wrote: ‘I think we all agree with the good old Reformers and Puritans; I hold their works in great esteem. We do not think the Baxterian scheme orthodox.’8
By contrast, in England the idea that Christ’s death did not secure the justification of all for whom he suffered gained widespread popularity, coalescing with Arminian belief. The contemporary rise of anti-trinitarian belief, and growing rejection of Scripture as divine revelation, meant that a general decline of evangelical belief was in progress when Hurrion’s material, reprinted in these pages, was published in 1732. It constituted four chapters in a larger volume, A Defence of Some Important Doctrines of the Gospel: Preached at the Lime Street Lecture. In a Preface it was said,
As error never raged with greater violence than it does in our unhappy times, and as lukewarmness never discovered itself more than in the present day of darkness, it never could be more expedient than now to plead for the glorious gospel of the blessed God.9
There is only a minimum of information on Hurrion’s life between his settlement in Norfolk in 1696 and his writing of these pages. His ministry at Denton continued through twenty-eight years, reported as ‘very successful, and he was esteemed a great blessing by all the Dissenters, in those parts’. In 1724 he was faced with the difficult decision of a call to the church at Hare Court, Aldersgate Street, London. He considered the prospect of wider usefulness, and he had concern lest declining the call would result in a division of the congregation.10 On the other hand, he had no prevailing desire to remove. The call was accepted but the outcome was not altogether happy. Perhaps a division in the congregation existed and continued. A ‘coolness’ of some towards him, contrasted with his previous popularity, and a decline in his health hindered his activity in pastoral visiting.
On the wider scene, Hurrion’s ability was recognized by his appointment as one of the lecturers at Pinners’ Hall where he preached for the first time on June 11, 1726. Sixteen sermons which he preached there, on The Proper Divinity and Extraordinary Works of the Holy Spirit, were published posthumously in 1734. In 1730 London merchants, concerned over the general situation, initiated another lecture series and Hurrion was one of the eight ministers chosen to take part. Convened at Lime Street, London, these lectures started on November 12, 1730, and continued weekly to April 8, 1731. The subject assigned to him was ‘The Scripture Doctrine of Particular Redemption’, on which he was due to speak on four occasions. Ill health, however, prevented him from speaking again after he had preached twice. A publication of the Lime Street lectures was being prepared by Abraham Taylor and Hurrion endeavoured to help him. On December 14, 1731, his health seriously failing, he wrote to Taylor: ‘I have now finished, and now send you, my third sermon: I shall go on with the fourth as fast as I can; if possible, I would finish it next week, but I fear I shall not be able, I have been so much worse since I wrote you last.’
Hurrion’s anticipation was correct, he got no further than leaving notes of the fourth sermon, on which, Taylor said, ‘I have not made any alterations.’ But he must have augmented them for publication. It tells us much of the man that, at the very end of life, he gave his last energies to a subject on which he felt deeply. ‘The delight he took in his subject’, Taylor commented, ‘carried him above his great pain and weakness.’ He was ‘an eminent saint’, and, in dying, confessed: ‘The death of Christ being the fountain of our life, there is nothing more necessary, pleasant, or useful to the Christian, than a right apprehension and remembrance of it.’ John Hurrion died on December 31, 1731, in his fifty-sixth year.
The whole of the lectures as published were orientated towards the need for reformation and revival in the churches. Unknown to the authors in 1732—the year their volume was published—an instrument was in preparation by whom the doctrine Hurrion defended would spring into greater public attention. George Whitefield matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford, in November 1732. About three years later, he wrote: ‘God was pleased to enlighten, and bring me into the knowledge of his free grace, and the necessity of being justified in his sight by faith alone.’ He was on a course which would lead him to challenge his friend, John Wesley, with the question, ‘How can all be universally redeemed if all are not finally saved? You plainly make salvation depend not on
God’s free grace, but on man’s free will.’11
It is remarkable that the re-emergence of Puritan belief came within the Church of England where the authors of that school had been so long discredited. Whitefield openly owned their writings. William Grimshaw came to the doctrine of justification through the reading of John Owen, and James Hervey, disagreeing with John Wesley on that doctrine, drew attention to the Important Doctrines of the Gospel: Preached at the Lime Street Lecture, 1732, which, he says, on final perseverance and the imputed righteousness of Christ, gave him the ‘fullest view which I ever remember to have met with in any of our English writers’.12 Hervey was not to be the last to draw attention to the influence of the 1732 volume which was in its eighth edition by 1824. In its main lines, Wesley’s thinking was close to Baxter’s, and when Baxter’s teaching on redemption was gaining influence in Wales in the nineteenth century, it was Hurrion’s sermons on Particular Redemption which were translated into Welsh and published in 1820, with a Preface by John Elias. Elias, the evangelical leader in North Wales, regretted they had not been published earlier:
These sermons were highly prized by the defenders and lovers of the truth in London for scores of years, but were hidden from monoglot Welshmen until the present year. There has been, and still is, great anger in the world against the Doctrines of Grace.13
At times controversy over universal redemption has sometimes been diverted from Scripture by criticism of the advocates or opponents of the teaching. It is a merit of Hurrion’s exposition in these pages that personalities do not figure in his treatment. About to enter eternity, he was occupied with a higher concern. Nor did he question the Christian standing of all with whom he disagreed. He knew that controversy about grace which lacks grace is destructive. Although there is clearer light with some Christians than with others, humility becomes all for ‘if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know’ (1 Cor. 8:2). Whitefield was of that spirit when he noted ‘Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted’ among the books which ‘much benefited me’, adding, ‘as soon as the love of God was shed abroad in my soul, I loved all of whatsoever denomination, who loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity of heart’.14 Where devotion to Christ is uppermost brotherly love can be maintained even when believers disagree.
Certainly diligence in contending for the faith is never to be suspended, and these pages are reprinted in the prayerful hope of a greater recovery of biblical truth today.
This article is taken from the Introduction to Particular Redemption by John Hurrion. The book will be released in the near future.
- W. Wilson, History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses in London (London: 1810), III:288. All our information on Hurrion comes from this source, or from Abraham Taylor in A Defence of Some Important Doctrines of the Gospel: Preached at the Lime Street Lecture (London: Baynes, 1824).
- See J. I. Packer, Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter
(Vancouver: Regent College, 2003).
- Looking unto Jesus, in Complete Works of Isaac Ambrose (London, 1674), p. 395.
- The Life of Faith, in Practical Works of Richard Baxter (London, 1830), XII:299.
- Ibid., p. 306.
- Ibid., p. 312
- Scottish Theology in Relation to Church History since the Reformation (Edinburgh:
Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), p. 134 (p. 139, 2015 ed.). Further on Baxter, see pp.
136-37 (pp. 141-42, 2015 ed.).
- Edward Morgan, Life and Times of Howell Harris (Holywell, 1852), p. 139.
- Important Doctrines of the Gospel (repr., 1824), p. vii.
- The previous, popular minister, John Nesbitt (1661–1727) had laid down the charge on account of ill-health. He was a man of the same judgment as Hurrion: ‘In the close of the seventeenth century, when the controversy relating to the doctrine of justification ran high, he stood by the ancient faith, and appeared with boldness against innovations’ (Wilson, Dissenting Churches, p. 285). Nesbitt’s assistant, however, was of a more compromising spirit, and as he was to continue as an assistant, there was potential for the development of two parties in the church.
- ‘A Letter to John Wesley’, 1741, in George Whitefield’s Journals (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), p. 587.
- For Hervey’s critique of Wesley’s opposition to imputed righteousness, see Eleven Letters from the Rev. Mr Hervey to the Rev. Mr John Wesley (London: 3rd ed., 1790). I have written on Wesley and Justification in Wesley and Men Who Followed (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), pp. 217-31.
- For the development of the controversy in North Wales, through the influence of Edward Williams, see ‘John Elias’ in Iain H. Murray, Seven Leaders: Preachers and Pastors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), pp. 27-38. The Elias Preface is reproduced below. Translated from the Welsh by John Aaron, it first appeared in Banner of Truth (Nov. 2016), which issue also addresses the teaching of Moise Amyraut (or Amyrald) by whom both Baxter and Williams were influenced. ‘Williams did not realize that in moderating Calvinism he was setting in motion a process over the development of which he would have no control. … Eventually it was taken to a point where Calvinism had virtually been abandoned altogether.’ W. T. Owen, Edward Williams, 1750-1813 (Cardiff: University Press, 1963), pp. 149-50.
- Whitefield’s Journals, p. 62.