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A Co-Ordinated Event
on July 23, 2010
'The Spirit of wisdom and revelation they know not, they have not, they acknowledge not.' p 44
What does gospel holiness look like in the concrete setting of the Christian's life? Bringing people to repentance and faith, and getting them to know how Christ would have them live, and how He can effectually supply their need in their specific context, was the end in view that John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) would have all followers learn in the 'school of Christ'. His prayer was that through the appropriate application of God's Word and by the Holy Spirit's promise to be involved in the context of daily life, the believer would grow in ever-increasing conformity to Jesus Christ, 'keeping his eye upon the precept and the pattern that his practice may be conform.' p 40
John Brown unwrapped with an elaborate dedication, reminiscent and typical of the Puritan period of writing. He consistently restated the all-important feature that Christ alone is the means by which the believer merits justification and sanctification. His moving questioning prised the vanity of saints open with incisive, and yet, warm piety: 'Are we at a distance from the Father? He is a way to bring us together. Are we blind and ignorant? He is the truth. Are we dead? He is the life.' p 62 And he provided the applicatory framework with a thoughtful keenness: 'Now, for a ground to our following discourse, I would press the solid, thorough and sensible apprehension of this, without which there will be no use-making or application of Christ: "for the whole need not the physician, but the sick"; and Christ is "not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance". Yea, believers themselves would live within the sight of this, and not forget their frailty; for though there be a change wrought in them, yet they are not perfect, but will have need of Christ as "the way, the truth and the life". Let all them who would make use of Christ remember what they were, and what they are, and keep the sense of their frailty and misery fresh; that seeing their need of Him, they may be in better case to look out to Him for help and supply, and be more distinct in their application of Him.' p 62 Brown unlocked the divine lesson that 'teacheth thee how to make use of Christ as thy sufficiency' (p 47) so that you might learn it well: your self-righteousness offends God.
'It is a doctrine not of the tongue, but of the life; it is not comprehended by the understanding and memory alone, as other disciplines are, but is received only when it possesses the whole soul and finds its seat and resting place in the inmost affection of the heart.' John Calvin, Institutes 3:6:4
Writing from Holland in exile, John Brown was in the same way embroiled in battle with those who had cast off the shackles of 'Popery', only to topple to the demands of the opposite extreme and come to entertain unholy thoughts of auto-soteriology. The 'uses' Brown skilfully employed were aimed at those who appeared reluctant to accept that there are redemptive principles at work in Christ. He termed them 'fighters against the grace of God' (p 43); those whom Thomas Goodwin saw as the moralizing preachers of the day whom he identified as Arminian (The Devoted Life, p 108). In a vigorous abridgment of their theology, Brown compared these doubters in Christ with the pinnacle of doubting, found in Scripture in John 14:5-6, where the disciple Thomas got 'into character' and required incredulously of the Lord to show how He, simultaneously, embodied the advent of God's salvation, whilst informing them of His imminent departure. The profound deployment of this scriptural text by John Brown permitted him to disavow the prevailing hostility of some, and reject the constraints that had been imposed upon the relationship between Christ and the elect.
'For it is the elect who are secured from full and final defection and apostacy, Matt 24:24, 31; Mark 7:22, 8:27; Rom 6:5-5, 8:33, 9:11.' p 23
The grand old gospel still works, and Brown's casuistry echoes down the centuries to 'Improve, therefore, this His special help to that purpose, which in a most seasonable time is brought to thy hand' (p 47), whereby we are again served a meet reminder that a sovereign God will have us on His terms; not on ours, or any other.