Thursday, January 10, 2008

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

Returning from London, Brown took the opportunity of passing Leicester to visit Robert Hall. Now we find Hall's playing down his Calvinism a most troubling aspect of his ministry, and find that he unwittingly (and we would emphasize that word) opened the way for the Down-grade in the Baptist Union by such behaviour. But we are not blind to his excellencies. Arriving in Leicester, Brown heard Hall's famous sermon 'And Barnabas was a Good Man'. On meeting Brown, Hall instantly engaged him in conversation about the Union of England and Scotland. Both men finally concluded that the Union was a good thing, ultimately, that had brought many benefits to both kingdoms. We agree, but will not press the political further, as Hall said a far greater thing in this conversation:
To die in the cause of Christianity is the highest honour that can befal any man. To die in the cause of civil liberty is the next.

This was highly characteristic of Hall. Thank God he put the two in their proper places! Note that he did not confuse the two, as proponents of the so-called 'Liberation theology' and the 'Social gospel' do. Nor did he reverse them, as so-called Christian Socialists have done too often. No, the cause of Christianity is first and supreme. Civil liberty must follow the Gospel, historically it has never preceded it. Men look today at dictatorship and try, as in Iraq, to impose liberty and 'Western' values. But they will never be fully successful in this endeavour unless the Gospel light comes first.
Robert Hall was a good man, and yet it was his love for others that led him to down-play his Calvinism. Alas, the result of this was that he seemed to be giving approval to Free-will teaching, so that many churches that were touched with Hall's influence went much further than Hall himself ever did. This teaching would ultimately affect the United Presbyterian Church, the denomination which would be formed out of several of the Scottish Presbyterian denominations, including Brown's. Brown himself, it seems, at this point had already adopted the Amyraldian or double-reference view of the atonement, that Christ died for the elect savingly, and that his death also had reference to the reprobate, but only conditionally, if they would believe (which they would never do). To understand the appeal of this theology we are again brought back to Hall and his associate Andrew Fuller. Hall and Fuller taught, following Jonathan Edwards to a certain extent, that man's inability to believe the Gospel is only moral, which is to say that the problem is that men are unwilling to believe, not that they are unable to believe because of some corruption in their souls or bodies. The argument goes that, if man's inability to believe is not merely moral, then he is not responsible for it - in other words, it is not sin.
This is a very compelling argument philosophically, and attractive. The trouble is, it is not Biblical. According to the Bible man is totally depraved; every faculty is affected. Inability is both moral and spiritual. The objection to this is obviated by the fact that God in regeneration makes a 'new creature', and so all inability to believe is removed so the Christian can believe. Fuller was not an Amyraldian, but his theology on this point at least led to Amyraldianism in men like Brown. Fuller's insistence on a 'free-offer' preaching led men to ask what the basis for such an offer was if Christ had died only for the elect. They found it in the double-reference theory. Others went beyond even Brown, and became Arminians.
Amyraldianism is not a heresy, any more than the Arminianism of John Wesley is. It is, however, mistaken.

After this brief theological diversion, God willing next time we shall return to John Brown.



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