This week I’m looking at the views of John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) – has one name ever belonged to so many good theologians? (John Brown Covenanter Martyr, John Brown of Haddington, John Brown of Whittburn, John Brown of Edinburgh).
The Dictionary of National Biography notes “Brown was respected by several theologians of his day: as early as 1637 Rutherford noted that he ‘saw Christ in [Brown] more than in his brethren’ (DSCHT, 98). Robert Wodrow referred to him as a man of ‘very great learning, warm zeal, and remarkable piety’ (Wodrow, 1.304).” He was well respected in Scotland and also spent many years as an exile in Holland so is an interesting connection point with continental theology.
Of Brown’s works only one has been reprinted today Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. It seems to have had various publishers and the Soli Deo Gloria seems out of print. It is available here with a very tasteful cover!
What follows are his views of the free offer of the gospel. Again I’ve read the sources and I think I’m representing him fairly but any corrections are welcome.
Brown, John. Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Or a Short Discourse. Pointing forth the way of making use of Christ, for justification, and especially and more particularly, for Sanctification in all its parts from Johan. XIV; Vers. VI. Rotterdam: Printed by H.G. for John Cairns, book seller in Edinburgh, and to be sold there, 1677.
Is it not a wonder that such an all sufficient Mediator, who is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him, should be so little regarded and sought unto, and that there should be so few, that embrace him, and take him as he is offered in the gospel.
Brown, as a Reformed theologian, had no difficulty with the concept of the gospel as an offer. It is standard reformed terminology.
… we Judge not the want of these requisites a ground to excuse any, that heareth the gospel, from the obligation to believe & rest upon Christ, as he is offered in the gospel.
Again it is simply not true that Scottish theology was “preparationist”. Yes Scottish theologians would talk about the necessity of conviction of sin (rightly) but, regardless of whether this was present, the duty to come to Christ was the same! Note of course Brown believed in our obligation or duty to believe savingly on Christ – he believed in duty faith.
The soul must know, that He [Christ] is not only an able and sufficient mediator; but that also he is willing and ready, to redeem & save all that will come… Therefore it is necessary that the soul conceiveth not only a possibility; but also a probability of help this way; and that the dispensation of the gospel of grace, and the promulgation and offer of those good news to him, speak out so much that the patience of God waiting long, and his goodness renewing the offers, confirmeth this, that his serious pressing, his strong motives on the one hand, and his sharp threatenings on the other… his expressed sorrow & grief over such as would not come to him, his upbraidings & objurgations of such, as do obstinately refuse, and the like, put his willingness to save such as will come to him, out of all question… [there is] no impediment lying in the way, but their own unwillingness.
Brown here discusses what sinners need to know before they will come to Christ. First we need to know the sufficency of Christ to save us from our sins, second we need to know that God is willing to save all that come to him. How are we to know God is willing to save us? Well we live in a dispensation of grace where the good news of the gospel is offered to us. This speaks to us of God’s patience and goodness to us. But more than this we know God’s willingness to save all who come to him because he expresses grief and sorrow over those who do not come. There is no reason that we will not be saved but our own unwillingness.
[Those who reject the gospel] as to them, all Christ’s entreaties, motives, allurements, patience and longsuffering, his standing at the door and knocking, till his locks be wet with the dew &c. are in vain: yea they are contemptuously rejected, despised, slighted, & undervalued.
Again note Brown uses Rev 3:20 evangelistically. Also important is Brown’s description of the gospel offer – it is an entreaty, an allurement. Again, and I seem to say this every week, it is not simply a command, a statement of facts – it is so much more.
If it be asked what warrant have poor sinners to lay hold on Christ… Our absolute necessity of him… Christ’s all sufficient furniture, whereby he is a qualified mediator… His being appointed of the Father, to be mediator of the covenant… The Father’s offering of him to us in the gospel, and Christ’s inviting us, who are weary and heavy loaden; yea calling and commanding such to come to him… exhorting further and requesting upon terms of love, pressing earnestly by many motives, sending out his ambassadors to beseech, in his stead, poor sinners to be reconciled… all these are sufficient warrant…
This discussion of the warrant of faith is important. What is our warrant? Our need, Christ’s sufficiency, that he is offered in the gospel, and that God has sent ambassadors in his stead to beseech sinners to come to him.
[Christ] is the Truth, in respect that he carryeth towards poor sinners in all things, according to the tenor of the gospel, and the offers thereof: He offeres himself to all freely, and promiseth to put none away that come to Him; and this He doth in truth… He giveth encouragement to all sinners to come; that will be content to quit their sins…
Again the offer and promise comes to all.
Brown, John. An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle, to the Romans, with Large Practical Observations; Delivered in Several Lectures. Edinburgh: David Patterson, 1766
…God’s goodness… declares how ready he is to embrace sinners, and how unwilling and loath to strike and destroy them…
The free offer of the gospel is an expression of the goodness of God.
So bountiful and liberal is the Lord Creator, in whom we live, move, and have our being, that even wicked, profane hypocrites, and such as delight in their wickedness, and are enemies to him, are participating of his goodness; general temporal favours, are even such getting from him: for God’s goodness was extended even to such here as were despising it. And so wonderfully good is our God, and such is his native kindness, or good nature, that he is ready, and prompt, as it were, to be employed by the creatures, and to do them good…
God is good to all. There is no denial of God’s goodness and favour towards those who are impenitent.
These expressions of bounty and longanimity in God towards the wicked, however they are not pledges of his favour and goodwill towards them, as they are unto his own; yet, in that they show what an one God is, and how well worthy to be turned unto, and contain in them some ground of hope, that he will welcome such as come, they have in them a manuducency unto repentance…
This general goodness is not to be confused with God’s peculiar goodness to his people. Nevertheless God’s general goodness is a testimony and ground of hope that he will accept all who come to him.
So dearly should all ministers love, and so earnestly should they desire the salvation of such as are under their charge, and also all Christians should so seriously desire the salvation of others, that they should be content to be at any loss imaginable and profitable, for the procuring of the same, and should think nothing too dear for that effert…
Ministers are to desire the salvation of all their hearers. Oh that many would feel this within them and preach with according love and passion!
This was the meeting [rejection] which God got at their hands, whom he invited both by his servants the prophets, and his courtesies, most tenderly and affectionately, as a loving father or mother stretcheth out their arms to imbrace their dauted children; and this he did not once or twice, but with great patience and longanimity all day long… he was weary in shewing kindness to them (all this is metaphorically spoken, the more to convince us both of his tender affection and long suffering)…
God’s invitations are tender and affectionate. Note the language Brown uses “as a loving father or mother stretcheth out their arms” to their children. Sure this is a metaphor – but it is one designed to convince of his tender affection and long suffering to those who reject him.
Brown, John. The Life of Justification Opened. No publisher noted in book: 1695
There isn’t too much I want to cover here. There are a few interesting points however in his appendix Arguments Against Universal Redemption. (This argument is repeated in his treatise on Quakerism.)
First Brown argues that the Westminster Confession explicitly teaches definite (particular) atonement in 3.6, 8.1, 8.5, 8.8. Many try to make the case that the WCoF does not explicitly rule out belief in a universal atonement. What is interesting here is that a well respected theologian at the time of the assembly insists that it does.
Second Brown’s first argument for definite atonement is from the covenant of redemption.
Thirdly Brown contra Calvin and others I noted last week limits John 3:16 to the elect.
Fourthly Brown commends Durham’s discussion of limited atonement in his commentary on Revelation calling him “learned & solid”.
Fifthly there is a comment of Brown’s that needs explanation. He criticises an Amyraut like positing of an “antecedent will for the salvation of all… as if God could not effectuate whatever he desired, or could not have a velleity towards anything, which either he could not or would not effectuate”. The key word here is velleity which means an incomplete volition. For Brown and Ball, as we saw last week, we cannot tie desire to intention. What God intends he does. That is not to say Brown would have a problem with the use of desire in general when referring to the revealed will of God in the gospel. As we have seen repeatedly Durham doesn’t, so I don’t imagine Brown would either.