Aug 9, 2010

Divine Energy by John Skepp

Read Divine Energy Here

JOHN SKEPP was born in 1675. It is recorded in Joseph Hussey's Diary that John Skepp was 'converted thoroughly' to Christ under Hussey's preaching and, initially, became a member of the Congregational Church in Cambridge under Mr. Hussey's care. At what time or under what circumstances John Skepp became a Baptist we have not been able to discover but he was eventually, according to further notes in Hussey's Diary, 'dismissed to be the Pastor of an Anabaptist church in London.' It appears that Mr. Skepp, was settled as pastor of the Particular Baptist congregation meeting at Curriers' Hall, Cripplegate, about 1710. Compare: Volume 3, Page 262 in Joseph Ivimey's, A History of the English Baptists, (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1830) with Page 134 in A. C. Underwood's, A History of the English Baptists. (London: The Baptist Union Publication Department, 1947). According to Mr. Skepp himself, the foundation of this Curriers' Hall congregation, as to gospel order, 'was skillfully laid in the very beginning of troublesome times, by the indefatigable pains and care of that eminent servant of, and sufferer for Christ, Mr. Hanserd Knollys; and their walls were beautified by the labors of that evangelic son of consolation, Mr. Robert Steed.' Pages 256. Bunhill Memorials. Sacred Reminiscences of Three Hundred Ministers and other Persons of Note, Who are Buried in Bunhill Fields. J. A. Jones, Editor. (London: James Paul, 1849).

John Skepp did not have the advantage of a liberal education, yet, after he took to the ministry, by dint of great diligence and industry, he acquired a large share of knowledge in the languages in which the sacred scriptures were originally written, particularly the Hebrew, in which he took uncommon pains under the direction of a Jewish teacher; and he dipped pretty deeply into Rabbinical learning. Walter Wilson observed, "It was through his acquaintance with Mr. Skepp in the early period of his ministry that John Gill was encouraged to apply himself with diligence to oriental learning, in which he afterwards made so great a proficiency. Mr. Skepp dying within a year or two after Dr. Gill settled in London, he purchased most of Skepp's Hebrew and Rabbinical books, which were of great use to him in the prosecution of his studies." Volume 2, Pages 574. The History and Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches of London. (London: Wm. Button and Son, 1808). When John Gill was ordained to the pastorate on March 22, 1720, John Skepp was one of the participating ministers. Mr. Skepp asked the usual questions to the candidate and also preached a charge to the church, from Hebrews 13:17. Twenty-one months from this period, Skepp's ministerial labors were ended. We were unable to locate any existing account of Skepp's last days upon the earth. As one writer said, "His sun went down at noon, or soon after. He died December 1st, 1721, aged forty-six years."

There has been a considerable amount of negative criticism leveled at John Skepp and his ministry. However, the general public opinion has often failed to recognize the more positive assessments of Skepp. We believe these should be more widely known. For example, while critical of Skepp at times, Raymond Brown clearly stated that John Skepp was the pastor of the church which met in Curriers' Hall, Cripplegate, and for about ten years, prior to his death in 1721, "exercised an effective ministry in London." Pages 72. The English Baptists of the 18th Century. (London: The Baptist Historical Society, 1986). Another critic, Joseph Ivimey, reinforced this positive view by stating that John Skepp, "became an excellent servant of Christ. This assertion is founded upon the following testimony of Dr. Gill to his character, 'Mr. John Skepp was a man of singular talents and abilities; of very quick, strong and natural parts; of great diligence and industry in acquiring useful knowledge; a warm and lively preacher of the gospel; a zealous defender of the special and peculiar doctrines of it: whose ministry was blessed to many souls, for the conversion of some, and for the edification of others.'... This was written by Dr. Gill in 1751." Volume 3, Pages 363-364. A History of the English Baptists, (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1830). The same type positive testimony about John Skepp was also given by J. A. Jones when he wrote, "Mr. Skepp was not the pastor of the Curriers' Hall, Cripplegate Church more than seven years, if so long, but he was doubtless a most excellent servant of Christ. The celebrated Anne Dutton, who was dismissed from the church in Northampton, to join that under Mr. Skepp, says -- 'Upon my being fixed in London, under the ministry of the late Mr. Skepp, I found the waters of the sanctuary were indeed 'risen waters;' which filled my soul with wonder and joy. My fellowship with this church was sweet. The Lord dwelt in this Zion for me: he abundantly blessed her provision, and my poor soul was satisfied with gospel bread. He clothed also her minister with salvation; and, with her saints, my soul also did rejoice... O the glory of God that I saw in this House of His! In this garden of God I sat down under the shadow of my beloved with great delight... Yea, the enjoyment thereof did quicken my appetite, and set my soul a longing for that happy day, when I should feast upon His glory-fulness, as 'the Tree of Life' in the midst of the paradise of God.'" Pages 257. Bunhill Memorials. Sacred Reminiscences of Three Hundred Ministers and other Persons of Note, Who are Buried in Bunhill Fields. (London: James Paul, 1849).

John Skepp wrote only one work, and it was originally composed in the form of sermons and delivered from the pulpit. It was later altered and somewhat prepared for the press by the author, but it was not published until 1722, about a year after Skepp's death. Dr. John Gill, who had a great esteem for the memory of Mr. Skepp, published a second edition of this book in 1751, and prefixed to it a recommendatory preface. He also divided the work into chapters, at the head of which he placed their contents, for the more easy reading, and better understanding. A third edition of this work was printed in 1815, by Mr. James Upton, the pastor of the Baptist church in Church-street, Blackfriars' Road. The full title of Skepp's book is, The Divine Energy; or the Efficacious Operations of the Spirit of God in the Soul of Man, in his Effectual Calling and Conversion; stated, proved and vindicated. Wherein the real weakness and insufficiency of moral suasion, without the super-addition of the exceeding greatness of God's power for faith and conversion to God, are fully evinced. Being an antidote against the Pelagian plague. In relating his reasons for undertaking this work, Mr. Skepp said, "he had 'heard and read of much contempt thrown upon the doctrine and preaching of the Spirit's work, as if it was not necessary to make the gospel ministry effectual for illumination, conviction, and conversion, and for carrying on the work of faith with power.' He exclaims, 'A sad day it is, when men, to make themselves popular, take upon them to hector, and to run down the Spirit's work in regeneration and conversion.'" See: Volume 3, Pages 365-366 in Joseph Ivimey's A History of the English Baptists. (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1830).

As to the worth of John Skepp's book, consider the following testimonies from another time.

FIRST - The DEACONS of the Baptist Church, Blackfriars Road, Surrey, England, wrote to their Pastor James Upton, requesting the reprinting of John Skepp's book with the following words --

"DEAR SIR... Far be it from us to depreciate the productions of modern Christian writers; without intending the slightest reflection on their talents, we think some pieces written by their predecessors might be reprinted with the hope of advantage. Such is the treatise written by MR. SKEPP, on Divine Energy. This work we now respectfully solicit you to republish. The importance of the subject we might urge in support of our application; for if the word 'important' can ever be used with propriety and energy, it may be so employed here. Take the work of the Spirit from the gospel system, and every other part becomes weak and useless. The mere letter of scripture, aided by the Christian ministry, though the apostles were the preachers, can effect no more than a barren change of opinion, or the suppression of a few open vices, leaving the heart and character under the dominion of sin. Further, we think the worthy author happy in the management of this subject. In common with all sober-minded persons, MR. SKEPP felt his subject to be surrounded with difficulties, owing, in part, to its sublime and unfathomable nature. In general we consider him judicious in his terms, distinctions, and arrangements of thought. On the whole we think this small work the best of the kind we have yet read, and worthy of being better known. Arguments for the republication of this work on you, Sir, would be thrown away; you are thoroughly convinced of its intrinsic worth, beyond our ability to represent; we therefore only add, that, in our opinion, no subject could be more seasonable... Not only is MR. SKEPP'S treatise adapted to strip us of glorying in the flesh, when contemplating our exertions, but to hold us absolutely dependent on the gracious influences of the Spirit for their success. That Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase, are confessions which the inspired apostles were continually making, and that with the design that the faith and hope of their hearers might be in God; and no truly gracious soul will be hindered from working out his own salvation, when told that it is God who worketh in him, to will and to do of his good pleasure... We have the happiness to be, Dear Sir, Your affectionate brethren in Christ, WM. SPENCER; JAMES BUTTERS; THOMAS KING; CHARLES BROAD; RUSSELL PONTIFEX; AND GEORGE FARR. Deacons of the Baptist Church, Church Street, Blackfriars Road, Surrey.' " Preface, Pages iii-vi. Divine Energy: or The Efficacious Operations of the Spirit of God upon the Soul of Man, etc. (London: James Upton, 1815).

SECOND - JOHN GILL, editor of the second edition, wrote the following by way of explaining his reasons for editing and reprinting John Skepp's book --

"The worthy author of the ensuing treatise being personally and intimately known by me, and his memory precious to me, as it is to many Christians now living, have induced me, upon this edition of it, to write a short preface in its recommendation; though it is sufficient to speak for itself, and needs no letters of commendation to those who knew the writer of it, or have read the work... Mr. John Skepp was a man of singular talents and abilities; of very quick, strong, natural parts; of great diligence and industry in acquiring useful knowledge; a warm and lively preacher of the gospel; a zealous defender of the special and peculiar doctrines of it; whose ministry was blessed to many souls, for the conversion of some, and for the edification of others... The subject matter of this treatise, which is the only one he ever published, is of the greatest moment and importance, viz., the conversion of Man; without which he must be miserable, and which he cannot effect of himself, and must be done only by the invincible power and efficacious grace of God, as is clearly held forth in the Scriptures, and fully proved in the following discourses. Nothing is more common than to mistake in this great affair, and nothing more fatal; the mistakes about conversion and faith are plainly pointed out herein, and the true nature of them in their principles and actings declared; by which it may be known by men whether they are partakers of them or no. The insufficiency of moral suasion to produce these things is most clearly proved; the nature, use, reach, and compass of it are truly stated; and by undeniable arguments and instances it is shown that there are such lets and hindrances in the way of a sinner's conversion to God and faith in Christ, as that it is impossible and impracticable for moral suasion ever to remove them; and which only can be done by the power and efficacy of Divine Grace... An whereas this work of conversion and faith is the work of the Spirit of God, as the active efficient cause of it, and not the creature; it is most clearly demonstrated that Man is passive in the reception of the Spirit as a spirit of conviction and saving grace, in regeneration, as effected by him, in a soul's vital union to Christ, and in the first beginnings of spiritual motions of grace, and even in some parts of the Spirit's work after effectual calling and conversion... I have nothing more to add, only that I have divided these discourses into chapters, to facilitate the reading of them; and have summed up the contents of each chapter, which may help the understanding, and refresh the memory. And now I heartily recommend this work to the perusal of every serious Christian that is desirous of knowing the nature of true conversion, and of answering to himself that important question, Am I born again? Or Am I a converted person? And I doubt not, with the blessing of God, but he will find the reading of it pleasant and profitable to him."

Preface, Divine Energy: or The Efficacious Operations of the Spirit of God upon the Soul of Man, etc. (London, 1751).

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