John Brine (1703-1765), and his Contemporaries as Seen by Modern Revisionists
Part II: Brine’s Theology
In his Treatise on Various Subjects Brine says his calling is to defend the doctrines and principles of our religion, and to vindicate the sacred Word of God. As time is less than our subject craves, I shall select a few of his defences and vindications relevant to today’s debate and deal with justification, duty-faith, redemption, regeneration and sanctification.
Biblical justification involves the full salvation of sinners, including election, union with Christ, adoption, forgiveness of sins, imputation, redemption, regeneration and sanctification. Today’s Pseudo- Reformed claim that justification is a mere legal formality from God’s side pronounced when sinners exercise duty-faith. Sanctification then fills justification’s empty vessel by adherence to a cut-down moral law. Brine, arguing in his Defence of Justification from Eternity for the Reformed position against a critic appropriately called Bragge, confesses that he learnt his doctrines from Gill. A modern Bragge, writing in Errol Hulse’s Reformation Today therefore says:
“The spiritual heirs of John Gill . . . totally deny regeneration, the new birth, conversion, effectual calling, and vital union with Christ. According to them, why should one have to be born again if he was eternally justified in Christ in eternity past?”
This is typical of Reformation Today’s Counter Reformation folly. Of course, God does nothing in ‘eternity past’. There is no such thing. Eternity is not controlled by past, present or future time. Gill’s and Brine’s doctrine of justification centres on the elect being placed in union with Christ in eternity. They recognise union with Christ, effectual calling, regeneration and conversion as the direct application of justification by our God who dwells in eternity and from whence all the blessings of our eternal heavenly inheritance spring. Therefore, Brine argues:
First: Time events are dependent on God in and from eternity not visi versa.
Secondly: Scripture says the elect are placed in Christ from everlasting and they are blest with ALL spiritual blessings in Christ from eternity. Thus the elect must be justified from and for eternity, too.
Thirdly: When Christ gave Himself as a surety for the elect in eternity, he absolved them from guilt, therefore pronouncing them just.
Fourthly: God eternally decreed to impute sin to Christ, and not to Christ’s Bride. He also eternally decreed to impute Christ’s righteousness to His elect. To whom, whenever and wherever sin is not imputed, but righteousness is, this is the justifying process. Modern attempts to describe imputation as mere imagery for pardon were demonstrated by George Smeaton to be Socinian. If our release is fictive, then so is our bondage.
Fifthly: Christ’s atonement and sin-bearing from eternity, is, as far as time is concerned, accomplished in eternity. God’s decree to justify Joe Smith is the justifying of him wherever he may be and whenever he may be in time. God does not restrict justification to past or future time.It is from eternity for eternity. By this means pre-New Testament saints are justified just as present day saints are justified. The modern pseudo- Reformed teaching that the OT saints had to wait until Christ’s Resurrection before being reconciled and justified is Darbyite and a denial of Christ’s work in eternity. I think I got that from Smeaton, too.
Sixthly: Our holy vocation is according to God’s purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ before the World began (2 Tim. 1:9).
Now for Bragge’s objections:
1. God cannot justify a person who has no existence.
Brine says, God justifies us from eternity where He sees all existence, past, present, future and eternal. However if Bragge thinks God cannot justify those without time-existence, then he must believe that God cannot predestine, elect, decree or condemn in Adam or save in Christ, either. Bragge thus denies the whole work of salvation.
2. God cannot justified those under condemnation.
Brine says it is certain that the elect are ‘by nature children of wrath’, but they are also the children of God by grace. All Adam’s descendents are children of wrath, condemned by the law. In Christ, they are the children of God, free from condemnation and objects of his special love and delight from everlasting. God justifies the ungodly. This is a clear Biblical doctrine denied by the Fullerite fraternity. Brine, Gill and Goodwin put us right here.
3. God’s eternal acts are secret. We cannot discern the mind of God.
Erroll Hulse, like Bragge, claims God’s infinite wisdom is darkness to us, so our gospel cannot include election and reprobation as God’s secret will must remain secret. Gospel evangelism prepares sinners to exercise known duties seen through natural theology. Hulse thus teaches fallen sinners at industrious length, enlightening them by their duties, preparing and instructing them how to step up to faith by studying the wind and the weather and exercising Christian discipline that faith might come.
‘Have we not, in the Bible, a clear discovery of (his) God’s immanent acts, which relate to the salvation of his elect; and are they not revealed, in order to be known by them for their peace and comfort? Are not God’s purposes to save the elect, and the contrivance of proper ways or methods to effect such a gracious design, his immanent acts? And are not they declared to us in the holy scriptures? And also are they not, by degrees, known by us, as we are illuminated by his grace?’
In other words, God’s secret acts are made manifest to us in Scripture, in Christ and in Christian experience. Those who teach that we must leave this revealed gospel out of our preaching but dwell on the rain raining on the just and the unjust are blind leaders of the blind.
4. Faith must precede justification as it is the cause of it. The order of salvation is reverted if we put justification before faith.
Brine says it is folly to suppose God’s immanent, eternal acts are dependent on either His or our transient, temporal acts. The order in salvation is that sinners are elected, adopted, justified, reconciled and forgiven when at enmity with God and are converted in God’s appointed time whilst they are still in their sins. Christ’s death does not render God reconcilable to sinners on the chance that they might or might not believe some day, it actually reconciles them.
‘If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:10.).
Regeneration does not make us sons; but, because we are adopted from eternity, we are regenerated. Justification by faith means that faith beholds, views and takes hold of justification. It does not give being to it, nor imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. Faith is God’s act within us which opens our eyes to our justification. Faith remains imperfect but we need a perfect righteousness to justify us. Faith is given to us to renounce our own righteousness and apply to Christ for His which alone can justify us before God. This is the teaching of the Bible and the Reformation which is sadly denied by the bulk of our so-called Reformed preachers.
This man-centred novelty infiltrated the Particular Baptists in 1737 through a Congregationalist pamphlet penned by Matthias Maurice entitled The Modern Question. It taught that fallen sinners are duty-bound by nature to seek salvation in Christ. Brine published a full-gospel refutation in 1743 entitled A Refutation of Arminian Principles, Delivered in a Pamphlet, intitled, the Modern Question. Here is a selection from Brine’s arguments.
First, the new movement, instead of renewing churches as it professed, split and destroyed them. To make their Arminianism look Reformed, they took on the name ‘Strict Calvinists’, calling old orthodoxy ‘Antinomianism’. The emphasis was taken from gospel preaching and placed on militant inner denominational confrontations. These confrontations are still ruining the churches.
Secondly, Duty-Faithism is not built on gospel-grounds. It claims that Adam in his perfect state had a duty to accept Christ savingly and that this duty was not lost in the fall. Thus every sinner has the same power as unfallen Adam to believe in Christ. This is wrong. Adam at his creation was not yet tempted, fallen and lost, so he was under no obligation to believe in Christ savingly. Duty-faithites thus teach that fallen sinners have extra powers that untried Adam never had. Peter Naylor sees this confession on Brine’s part as heretical. A Calvinist, he claims, must believe that prelapsus Adam, Adam in his perfect state, had the same faith as the postlapsarian elect, i.e. that of fallen sinners saved by Christ, and this was via following known duties. This is the Arminianism of Wesley who declared that a child of God today can be a child of the devil tomorrow. We believe that when God saves us, He perfects His work. Adam had a law-duty faith before he lapsed. This is true. But he fell as a result of it! Duty-faith could not even save perfect Adam, so what hope have we if grace does not intervene? Saving faith, Brine teaches, comes as a result of being justified through Christ’s imputed righteousness. Adam had only his own righteousness to rely on. It was obviously not enough. Brine taught that Christ’s righteousness was greater than Adam’s. For this piece of Biblical wisdom, he is called a Hyper-Calvinist.
Thirdly: Saving faith in Christ is not an Old Creation duty but a New Creation gift. Old creation Adam was duty-bound to live under law. New Creation duties are for New Creatures under grace. The former duties do not overlap the latter. Fallen man knows law duties through law. Saved man knows grace-duties through grace. The Fullerite probation theory teaches that rejection of Christ after known duties to believe on Him brings condemnation. If the sinner accepts Christ, he has passed his probation and is saved. Duty-Faithism thus views fallen men as perfect Adams and by-passes the Fall.
Fourthly: Duty-faith teaches that Old Testament sacrifices were a saving duty. Brine agrees that to sacrifice was a law-abiding act but it did not require a duty to believe in Christ savingly. Maurice believes it did because God had revealed Himself to every Old Testament sinner as his personal Redeemer through Christ. ‘Where is such teaching in Scripture?’ Brine asks. Duty-faithists think goats have the ability to become sheep. Brine shows how sheep are given grace to believe when ungodly but not goats. Goats have therefore no natural duty to do what sheep do through supernatural duties given. Goats are goats and sheep are sheep. Fuller taught that fallen sinners have the natural power to believe. Brine says faith comes by God’s power, not man’s.
Fifthly: Maurice argues that the Moral Law leads to repentance and faith. Not so, says Brine. Our salvation has nothing to do with keeping the moral law as a way to faith. One cannot keep it meaningfully at all unless one has been given faith. Sinners are lost under the Law until Christ frees them from the law’s condemnation by grace.
Sixthly: Maurice argues that all sinners have a proper ground and warrant to look upon God as reconciled to them in Christ. Thus Erroll Hulse claims every sinner has a right to salvation. Brine, following Scripture, says that unregenerate man has no claim to gospel benefits and privileges. Sinners have no saving rights. It is here that we might misunderstand Brine who also speaks of the right to salvation. This right, however, is only given to those for whom Christ has died. There is no all-embracing armistice for sinners.
Seventhly: Maurice argues that there is a provision of mercy and grace for the non-elect in that God loves them. Why, then, asks Brine, does He show them eternal wrath? If God has no will to punish sinners, why does He? Don’t you know, says Hulse, this is the paradox of salvation, the Godhead is multi-willed! God has two wills, one to save all and one to condemn some. David Gay, assures us that Christ has a third will, too! What a blasphemous polytheistic chaos our enemies are in!
Redemption, Regeneration, Conversion, Sanctification
Brine does not metaphorise these doctrines as our moderns do but teaches that regeneration is only possible because Christ expiated sin by dying in our stead, the just for the unjust. This death was substitutionary, penal and a true satisfaction for sin. It was not a mere sacrificial token, a symbolic pardon, a moral incentive, prompting sympathy and love from sinners but Christ actually bore our punishment, guilt and condemnation, the just for the unjust. Its efficacy was co-efficient with its sufficiency. Brine emphasises in his The Certain Efficacy of the Death of Christ that the atonement was no conditional matter, saying:
‘To obtain only, a conditional Grant of Freedom from the Law’s Curse, is not real Redemption: If nothing more than this is to be attributed to the Death of Christ; then he obtained not eternal Redemption; his Death was only an Attempt to redeem Men, and it may prove successless, by their Non-performance of the Conditions enjoined’
Brine explains that if Christ’s death were designed as sufficient for all, God would be committing a terrible felony to send sinners to hell for whom Christ’s death atoned. Our modern Fullerites have a God at loggerheads with Himself and a criminal to boot!
Despite Reformation Today’s false description, Brine’s teaching on regeneration and conversion is a fountain of life, flowing deep and wide, couched in sublime language and exquisite in detail. When Brine speaks of the holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, he leads us along paths of praise and glory. How much more holier and sanctified than recent BOT articles on sincere law-keeping to gain sanctification. Instead of such stumbling-stones, Brine gives us the Bread of Life. Brine sees regeneration as the source of conversion and sanctification. Both belong to the act of salvation. Conversion is being turned around by God from sin, self and Satan through Christ and sanctification is the active outworking and consequence of this. Election to eternal life is God’s choice of persons to regeneration, conversion, sanctification and holiness. No one can have evidence of their election who are destitute of conversion and holiness. Thus the saints are quickened by the Spirit and new life is infused in them, giving them a new heart and a new spirit.
Grace does not make our old nature under the Law better but we receive a new nature produced by the infinite power and grace of God. We become New Creatures. The spiritual light communicated in regeneration enables the sinner to see the exceedingly sinfulness of sin, contrary to the holy law of God and creates in him an abhorrence of the vile and loathsomeness of sin. Converted sinners are given grace to discern spiritual things. Brine says, ‘If the mind is possessed of spiritual light, it is not destitute of holiness, for they are inseparable.’ Regarding sanctification, he continues:
‘Sanctification consists in a denial of our corrupt inclinations; or, in an abstinence from sin, out of a regard to the authority of God in the law. Which evidently supposes an approbation of both the precepts and prohibitions of that law; or a liking of what it commands, as good and holy, and an aversion unto what it forbids, as evil and vile. This latter is usually called mortification, and is one considerable branch of our sanctification.’
Sanctification comes from gospel living
We must not misunderstand Brine here. Unlike Maurice Roberts and Mark Johnston who build their sanctification on law-adherence, Brine denies that sanctification is a virtue springing from putting oneself under the yoke of Sinai. He has a higher way and tells us:
‘For there may be an abstinence from acts of evil, without a grain of holiness in the heart. If we forsake sin, only from some prudential considerations; or, through the influence of legal motives, concupiscence maintains its rule in our minds, and will continue so to do. But it is to be feared that many are insensible of this, and content themselves with a bare denial to gratify the flesh in external acts, and take it to be true mortification; whereas, in fact, real mortification of sin, they are utterly strangers to.’
Brine follows his Lord here who said of the law,
‘When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.’ 1
Law duties do not lead to salvation and sanctification. Why is this? The author to the Hebrews answers:
‘For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.’ 2
Maurice Roberts boasts ‘sanctification is living so you will be remembered when you die’ Brine refutes Roberts, saying:
‘If such is our sanctified motive, there will be little of real holiness, though our conduct may be such as raises it above the censure of those who know us best.’
Where many stress the law, Brine stresses the gospel, teaching that sanctification comes through living according to the entire Word of God. Christ prayed to the Father on our behalf saying, ‘Sanctify thy people through Thy truth, whose Word is truth (John 17:17). Brine continues:
‘Real Holiness, and the Practice of true Religion, by sinful Men, can only be promoted by those Principles which are peculiar to the Gospel; the Reason is, that Holiness and Religion are nothing other than the Exercise of Grace in the Hearts of Believers, the Strength and Vigour of which wholly arises from that Nourishment it receives, by digesting the glorious Truths of the Gospel. Evangelical Obedience, which alone deserves the Name of Holiness, . . . can only be promoted by Evangelical Doctrines. Indeed, a Disposition to a merely moral Obedience may be excited by Discourses of Morality and Virtue; but that is not Holiness, or a Meetness for future Blessedness.’
Sanctification comes through Union with Christ
We must constantly be aware of the evil of our nature and the splendour of Christ’s. Our mind should be fixed on what Brine calls the, ‘manifold benefits which we receive from him, merely on the foundation of kindness unmerited.’ He goes on to say:
‘Never let us think that we are any farther holy than we act under the influence of such like considerations and motives; for if we do, we shall form a mistaken opinion of ourselves . . . . It is a very dangerous mistake to think that all opposition to sin is real mortification. And, therefore, let us look well to our ends and our frames, in all our actions. If we fail in this thing, very little real holiness will be found in our walk before God, how free from blame so ever it may be in the sight of men. Our union in Christ is another consideration, whereby our hearts are excited earnestly to desire a conformity to Him, in meekness, lowliness, patience, submission to the will of God, and in every other grace.’
He also says:
‘The new creature cannot be nourished and improved, but by feeding upon, and digesting spiritual food, which is Christ the Bread of Life: unless we receive the nourishing milk, and generous wine of the gospel, we shall languish and decline in our spiritual part. The want of this . . . is the occasion of that leanness of soul, which most complain of at this time, and it is to be feared, not without great reason.’
Indeed, Reformation Today’s denial that Gill and Brine believed in the believer’s union with Christ and Christ’s eternal love for His elect show how divided and all at sea Brine’s superficially united critics are. Peter Naylor looks upon Brine’s emphasis on union with Christ as a sure sign of Hyper-Calvinism. Our enemies are only united in the fact that they hate our stress on gospel and not law. We must show them gospel love by pointing out their misuse of the law.
Sanctification is through the work of the Spirit
Demands for law duties leading to sanctification invariably rule out the work of the Spirit. He is the efficient cause of our holiness. The Neonomian BOT law depicts neither the full law nor full grace, nor full sanctification. So Brine emphasises in his sermon on holiness ‘God hath from the Beginning chosen us to Salvation, through Sanctification of the Spirit’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
‘the divine Spirit gives us views of the glory of the Lord, in the glass of the gospel, whereby we are changed into the heavenly image from glory to glory. He that expects an increase of grace and holiness in any other way, will certainly find himself sadly mistaken in his expectations .’
Brine sees the Spirit’s work in the saint, strengthening and invigorating him, suggesting to his mind ‘the love of God to us; the tender and intense affection of the blessed Jesus; the greatness of that salvation, which we enjoy through His obedience and sacrifice the dignity that is conferred upon us, as we are constituted sons of God, by a sovereign act of His immense goodness; the title we have to all spiritual and eternal blessings, in consequence of our being brought into that relation.’
The modern Baptist historian Raymond Brown, one who appreciates Brine’s doctrinal stance, comments:
“Under the influence of writers like James Foster, ministers and churches could easily pass from doctrinal freedom to theological indifference, and then to Unitarianism. Gill and Brine helped to keep many a reader in the way of truth when others were hopelessly confused”
The situation is sadly the same today.
To conclude: William Cathcart, whose Baptist En- cyclopaedia has been a great help to me through the years said:
‘Mr. Brine was a great man measured by his intellect, his usefulness, and his influence. He was a man of deep piety; he was intimately acquainted with the Holy Scriptures. He had an enthusiastic love for the doctrines of grace, and next to Dr. Gill whose early ministry brought him to Jesus, he was for years the most influential leader in the Baptist denomination.’
John Ryland ranked Brine with John Owen, Stephen Charnock, Herman Witsius, James Hervey, John Gill and George Whitfield. I trust that after these two lectures, you might also feel encouraged to go out and discover Brine as a dependable witness to the cause of God and Truth. Let us preserve his memory and message together in the face of modern gospel-less evangelism and the tragic dumbing down of doctrine.