Wednesday, December 12, 2007

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - XII

Brown's next publication was a small volume of sermons on The Character, Duty and Danger of Those who Forget God, displaying the passion of John Brown's ministry. Also published in 1818 was a book called On Religion and the Means of its Attainment. With a dedication to Thomas Chalmers, the book set out John Brown's religious views and attempted to describe true religion without the use of overly technical language.
Unlike too many modern evangelicals, John Brown did not throw out the word 'religion' or give it a negative meaning. We find such language more compatible with the dialectical theology of Karl Barth than with historic evangelicalism. The Bible no-where uses the word 'religion' to mean a merely formal system of worship, and neither should we. Rather, as John Brown points out in his excellent little book, the distinction is between false religions and the true. Thus the book has been reprinted under the title True Religion and How to get it, an excellent title that reflects the book's contents.
What is religion? Today a lot of evangelicals will contrast religion and relationship, and so it may come as a surprise to find that John Brown defines true religion as consisting in a right relationship to God. True religion, he said, has three parts. First of all we must have right ideas of God. We must know who God is before we can ever have any relationship with Him. Second, these true ideas about God, His majesty, glory, goodness and power, will lead to right feelings about God. Brown was neither cold and emotionless or emotionally obsessed. No, with Joseph Hart (whom we are very fond of quoting), he believed that:
True religion's more than notion;
Something must be known and felt.

But then these true feelings must lead to true actions, otherwise they are not really true feelings at all, but false and counterfeit. 'If you love me, keep my commandments' is Scripture. The Christian follows Christ and obeys the Gospel out of love - and that is just what John Brown meant. Thus these three things are involved in true religion. It is not merely orthodox notions in the head, warm fuzzy feelings in the heart, or doing good to people. Rather it is a right relation to God as His creature that leads to right feelings of love to God and right actions, namely the good works which God has prepared for his people to walk in.
Of course John Brown's book, published nearly 190 years ago, is now a little dated, but it still stands head and shoulders above every fluffy production of modern popular evangelicalism. Brethren, it is time for us to remember from whence we have fallen, and to return to the principles of true religion as set out by John Brown. Creeds leading to deeds!

God willing, next time we shall continue with John Brown's career.



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