Thursday, March 20, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, I shall be preaching this Lord's Day evening at Hethersett Reformed Baptist Church, Henstead Road, Hethersett, Norfolk. The evening service is at 6.30.
And as once again the churches celebrate Resurrection Sunday, let us at Free St. George's say once again: "The Lord is risen indeed!"
And go and read James Denney again.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The place of the Cross

"A theology which treats the passages I am about to adduce as mere excrescences on the gospel, or even on the Pauline gospel, is utterly at variance with the New Testament. It is in passages like these that the Christian consciousness in all ages has found the very core of the Gospel, the inmost heart of God's redeeming love; they have been the refuge of despairing sinners from generation to generation; they are not 'faults', as a geologist would say, in the structure of Christian thought; they are not erratic boulders that have been carried over somehow from a pre-Christian - i.e. a Jewish or pagan - condition of mind, to a Christian one; they are themselves the most profoundly, purely, and completely Christian of all Scripture thoughts. The idea they contain is not an irrational or immoral something that we must eliminate by one device or another - by exegetical ingenuity, or philosophical interdict; it is the diamond pivot on which the whole system of Christian truth revolves, and to displace it or tamper with it is to reduce the New Testament to an intellectual chaos.
I have already quoted the passage in 1 Cor. xv., in which St. Paul makes Christ's death for our sins the foundation of the only Gospel known to the primitive church. The next in order in which he refers to the subject is in 2 Cor. v. 14. The words are: 'The love of Christ constraineth us, because this is our interpretation of it: one died for all: so then all died.' Battles have been fought here over the preposition 'for', which is huper, on behalf of, not anti, instead of. This, it has been said, excludes the idea of substitution. This is a hasty inference. Paul might very well wish to say that Christ died on our behalf, without, so far as the preposition goes, thinking how it was that Christ's death was to be an advantage to us. But observe the inference he draws: One died for all; so then all died. That is to say, His death was as good as theirs. That is why His death is an advantage to them; that is what rationally connects it with their benefit; it is a death which is really theirs; it is their death which has been died by Him."
(James Denney, Studies in Theology [London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1895] Pp. 109-10)

Labels: ,

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday Quote: Religion for Men and Angels

'Our religion is a religion for men, not for angels. They have a religion, but God has made no provision for failures in theirs. Forgiveness forms no part of it. But God has made a merciful provision for failures in man's religion. It's a Gospel for prodigals - for broken-down men. Though we lose the path and wander far away there is forgiveness still, and another chance given if we but repent; but for angels there's no second chance, at least as far as we know. Thank God that we are men, and that we have a Gospel for prodigals.'

David Davies, Echoes From the Welsh Hills (1883).


Thursday, March 13, 2008

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

The presenting of a 'libel', or formal charge against a man suspected of holding unsound views may appear to some in this modern age to be a form of persecution. Actually it can be a very effective way to clear the air; thus William Robertson Smith actually demanded a libel when he was accused of holding unsound views. It means that all rumours can be dealt with by the voice of the church Speaking with authority.

Dr. Marshall's 1845 libel against Dr. Brown Was set out in Syllogistic form, with five 'heads' of doctrine contrary to Scripture and the Confession forming the major proposition. The minor proposition was that Dr. Brown taught these things, and supplied evidence from his defence with Dr. Balmer in 1843. The Synod accepted the libel and set a date of 29th July for its verdict.
Never before had a Secession Professor been so libeled, and interest was high. The excitement was only heightened by the fact that the Synod's meetings were held in Brown's own church of Broughton Place, the largest Secession church in Edinburgh.
Brown lodged his own answers to the charges brought against him, chiefly consisting of extracts from writings already in print by him, in order to avoid the charge that he had changed his mind and retreated from his position.
The Synod took a slightly unusual method of procedure. Instead of first deciding the relevancy of the charges, in other words whether or not they were really errors, and only then proceeding to the proof, it was decided to consider relevancy and proof together on each charge. The reason for this was that the libel with irregularly drawn. Had it been considered in the normal way, it would just have been thrown out on technical grounds, and the controversy would have been no closer to an end, a result that would have been highly unsatisfactory to all concerned, and most importantly to the church as a body.

Each count of the libel was read by the clerk, supported by Dr. Marshall and answered by Dr. Brown. The proceedings covered four days of impassioned argument.
The first count charged Dr. Brown with denying the immutability of the Divine Decrees. In evidence it was stated that he believed the non-elect were savable in the sense that only their unbelief hindered their salvation. Whilst about a quarter of the Synod felt that the words were capable of being used in an unsound manner, Brown was unanimously acquitted of using them in such a manner.
The second count, dealing as it did with original sin, had no real relevance to the atonement controversy. The third, however, brought up the question of the extent of the atonement. After a very long and difficult debate the Synod concluded that Dr. Brown repudiated the Arminian teaching of universal atonement, which no Calvinist could hold, but that he did not do so in a satisfactory manner if he wanted to be considered to hold to the Westminster Confession.
The fourth charge was very strange. It seemed that Dr. Marshall was saying that to hold that Christ's death needed Divine appintment, independent of its own intrinsic worth, to make it a true atonement, was an error. The Synod dismissed it in astonishment and passed over to the last count, the charge that Dr. Brown held that Christ had died as a substitute for all men. Brown denied this, but again his language was thought to be insufficiently guarded.
The vote, when taken, cleared Brown of all errors. The libel was dismissed, and peace again came upon the denomination. With it came for Dr. Brown the opportunity to enrich the Church universal with the fruits of his pen.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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

Meeting in Glasgow in June 1841, the Secession Synod condemned James Morison for his Arminian leanings. Brown's biographer conceded that the Synod saw better than Dr. Brown the direction of Morison's mind. Not contented to rest at the half-way house of Amyraut (pictured), James Morison soon became a full-blown Arminian of the Wesleyan type.
Suspicion then landed on Brown himself. If this was the result of his Amyraldian teaching, then some thought it reasonable to investigate his orthodoxy.
We must always be careful about condemning anyone merely for the 'tendencies' of their theology. After all, few men are logical enough to follow out the implications of their theology. So John Brown could call Andrew Fuller's writings for the support of his own Amyraldianism when Fuller strenuously denied the double-reference theory himself, just as the moderately Arminian Morison could appeal to Brown. Logically, it might be said, Fuller's theology may lead to Amyraldianism. But it is quite unfair to impute Amyraldianism to Fuller himself.
As Morison's remaining Calvinism withered, men thought that they saw in Dr. Brown a threat to the orthodoxy of the Secession Church. After all, was not Brown a Professor in their theological hall? Was he not teaching the future ministers of the Church?
This concern was laudable in itself. Satan often uses seminaries and colleges as his means of entry into sound churches. Thus the professor's chair must be, if anything, guarded with greater care than the pulpit. heresy in the pulpit corrupts one church, heresy in the professor's chair corrupts many pulpits.

In defending himself, John Brown declared that his theological position had not been condemned and quoted yet another stalwart of the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards, in his defence, "the highest name in modern Calvinism." In the conclusion to his Freedom of the Will, Edwards wrote: "From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by His death, yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as He intended should actually be saved thereby." This, Brown said, was what he held. Obviously there was no way the Synod was going to condemn Edwards' words, and so Brown was safe from prosecution (we note with interest that at this year's Amyraldian Association (26th-7th March) Dr. Alan Clifford will be giving a lecture with the suggestive title "Jonathan Edwards: Amyraldian?" It ought to be worth listening to in the light of John Brown's use of Edwards to defend the orthodoxy of the Amyraldian view!

It is outside the scope of this series to engage in detailed exegesis. Suffice to say that Brown defended himself with great zeal. Nevertheless, in 1845 Dr. Marshall of Kirkintilloch charged Brown with heresy before the Synod of the United Secession Church.

God willing, next time we shall review the outcome of this charge.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Preaching this coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be returning to Bethel Chapel, Guildford, to preach in the splendid and comfortable Edwardian chapel in the Bars. Unfortunately the building is now overshadowed by a hideous modern apartment building with the rather ugly wooden cladding that seems so fashionable right now.

Services are at 11 AM and 6 PM. The Authorised Version is used, and the hymnbook is Gadsby's Selection. A metrical Psalm is also sung at each service.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

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

The cross of Christ is at the centre of Christianity. It is, as James Denney so rightly said, The "diamond pivot" on which true religion turns. As such it has often been Satan's target. In 1841 a controversy on the subject broke out in the United Secession Church, and in such a way that Dr. Brown was all but at the centre of it.
Brown himself was utterly unfitted for it by the tragic death of his second wife after just over six years of marriage. She died in September 1841 after a decline in health following the birth of a child. John Brown was as devastated as he had been after the death of his first wife, and it was only his deep trust in God that kept Brown going.

The atonement controversy in the United Secession Church was of a relatively mild character. It was not that anyone had denied that Christ had died for sinners, but rather it was over the extent (or rather intent) of the atonement. James Morison, the young pastor of the United Secession Church in Kilmarnock, had become convinced of the Amyraldian view of the atonement and had been preaching and publishing his opinions with great zeal, concentrating on the universal aspect of the atonement to such an extent that many thought he was a full-blown Arminian. Morison had been a student of John Brown's, and the two had become very close friends. Morison himself was a very intelligent man, a gifted preacher and a scholar of no ordinary ability. Nevertheless his teaching on the atonement was held to be contrary to the Bible and to the Confession. he was charged with heresy on several counts, that on the atonement being "that the object of saving faith to any person is the statement that Christ made atonement for that person, as he made atonement for the sins of the whole world; and that the seeing of this statement to be true is saving faith, and gives the assurance of salvation."
The argument of the Amyraldian is substantially that unless Christ has in some sense died for all, then there can be no warrant of faith for any to come to Christ. Further, that if Christ has died for only the elect, then men will have little or no assurance, questioning whether or not they are elect.
That was Morison's argument. It falls down on both points. First, the Amyraldian has to say that Christ's death has a 'double reference', He died in one sense for the elect and in another for the reprobate. So only the Elect will beieve in Him, and He has died in their place only. Secondly, the introspective Christian is still tempted to unbelief, and to doubt if he or she has really believed.
Morison was deposed, but there were those who asked where he had obtained such views. True, Morison had gone further than any of his mentors, but was there a nest of Amyraldians in the Synod? Men whispered that John Brown had taught Morison the views of Moise Amyraut in the United Secession Hall, and Brown felt led to vindicate himself.
He wrote an article for the United Secession Magazine of June 1841 dealing with Faith, human inability, the intent of the atonement and the Sonship of Christ (for Morison was also accused of denying the Eternal Sonship). The great difference on the question of faith between the two men was that Morison held saving faith to be in the proposition 'Christ died for me', whilst Dr. Brown held it to be in the love of God set forth in His sending His Son to die for ruined sinners. Thus he escaped the trap of Morison in founding assurance on an atonement that had in fact made nothing certain.
Brown did believe that the general aspect of Christ's death meant that ministers could call all to believe in Him who died for all, but he denied that Christ died for all equally.
It was only at this point that Brown was led to clearly state his views, using for the first time the two phrases, "general reference" and "peculiar or special reference" in relation to the death of Christ. Brown was no alone in this, his fellow professor Dr. Balmer also held to the Amyraldian scheme. Neither man saw this view as a deviation from strict Calvinism, and so they held and taught it in good conscience. Brown saw this as an intramural dispute between Calvinists on a question that had been left open by the Synod of Dort (this argument is used by Amyraldians today). Brown noted that Amyraut was cleared of heresy by the French Reformed Church, and that they were widely held by most of the Reformed Churches of Europe. What was more, he said, the Westminster Confession could not have intended to exclude Amyraldians. He closed with a plea for peace founded on the words of Andrew Fuller.

What the response to this plea was we shall see, God willing, next time.