Rev. John Brown on the Inabilities of Natural Reason

The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge

I’ve just been invited to join the team of contributors here at re:FUNDAMENTALS. I appreciate the opportunity, with a few reservations. In many ways, as I’ve told Jason and Bob, I’m not a seminary graduate, nor a minister—just a lay theology geek who wound up moving from the Independent Baptist movement, through a temporary sojourn in a Southern Baptist Church, to land at this point in an OPC church, which, in the providence of God, my family has yet to join. I may not always be able to perform in the comments thread on the same level as these other brothers, but I can at least cross-post things I’m reading and attempting to digest that may prove edifying or helpful to the readers of this blog as well. If you’d like to read more about me, click here. Otherwise, with gratitude for the opportunity, and anticipation for interacting with you, here goes. . .

The recent unpleasantness regarding Rob Bell’s rejection of orthodox thinking and teaching is sparking a concerted effort among my fellow Reformed bloggers and other online ministries to raise awareness that evangelicalism has been in decline for many years, and it is only accelerating. Bible believing Christians need to get back to the basics of what it means to believe the Bible.

To that end, I will begin a new series of excerpts from my antiquarian Self-Interpreting Bibleby the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, Scotland. One of his numerous helps in highlighting the Bible’s self-attestation to it’s inspiration as well as its self-interpretation, is an essay entitled, “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God.” Chapter one of this lengthy introduction is called, “Of the Divine Authority of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.”

In this chapter, Rev. Brown begins by demonstrating that there are some things which natural reason is unable to accomplish on its own. Such things are impossible to it without the aid of divine revelation. This fact is often something that even the most devout believer of the Bible forgets, and in such cases, the faith and practice of the church are undermined. Such is undoubtedly the case in the present controversy that has been sparked by natural reason in the form of Rob Bell’s postmodern liberalism.

Title page of Rev. John Brown's Self-Interpreting Bible (1859 edition)


No man, who is an unbiased free-thinker, can soberly hearken to the dictates of his natural reason, and seriously ponder the absurd and contradictory principles and practices which have been or are prevalent among mankind, without perceiving that the light, or even the law of nature, is altogether insufficient to direct us to true holiness, or lasting happiness, in our present lapsed condition.

It can give us no plain, distinct, convincing, pleasant, powerful, and lasting ideas of God. It cannot direct us in the right manner of worshipping him with due love, resignation, humility, self-denial, zeal, wisdom, sincerity, and fervent desire of the eternal enjoyment of him. It cannot show us our true happiness, which is suited to our highest powers, which may always be enjoyed without shame, suspicion, fear, or dread of loss or danger, and which will in every situation support and comfort us.

It can discover no true system of morality, perfect in its rules, means, and motives. It can discover no effectual incitements to virtue, drawn from the excellency and presence of God the law-giver, from the authority of his law, or from his discovering a proper regard to it in rewarding virtue and punishing vice. It cannot manifest in a striking manner the certainty, excellence, pleasure, and allurement of virtue in our heart, which will ripen us to that proper pitch of religion and virtue in our heart, which will ripen us for the full and immediate enjoyment of God. It cannot show us one perfect example of virtue, either among learned or unlearned heathens; nor give us any promise of God’s assisting us in the study of it.

It can discover no certainty that God will pardon our sins;

no proper atonement;

no actually pardoned sinner;

no happy soul, praising God for his pardoning mercy;

no spiritual worship, appointed by God for rebellious sinners;

no purpose, promise, perfection, or name of God, that his honour, or is intended in his patient bearing with sinners on earth;

nor does it afford any divine proclamation of pardon, nor even any incitement to us to forgive our injurers;

and, in fine, it cannot effectually sanctify our heart, nor produce that bent of will and affection, that inward peace with God, that sufficiency of light and strength from God, or that solid hope of eternal happiness, which is necessary to produce true holiness and virtue.

It cannot support us under heavy and bitter afflictions, by showing us God’s fatherly care of us, his promises to us, or his making all things to work together for our good; nor can it comfort us against death by certain views of his love to us, and providing everlasting life and happiness for us.



8 comments for “Rev. John Brown on the Inabilities of Natural Reason

  1. March 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    First of all, I am a pastor, but am no seminary grad either. We are not elitists here, just men who are concerned for the truth.
    Thanks for the post, and thanks for joining us.

  2. March 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    “Elitist” is such a strong word. I just offer up my lack of real theological training (I am a dropout of Baptist Bible College, Springfield, MO) as a disclaimer. Being a Presbyterian now, I do have standards, you know ;-)

    By the way, our subject, the Rev. John Brown of Haddington didn’t graduate from seminary either. He was a self-taught man as well. In fact, he advanced so well among his seminary trained peers that at one point early on, he was actually accused of practicing witchcraft in order to make such academic strides on his own. You can read more about that in my ongoing series (which has been on hiatus for a while, due to resume within the week, I’m sure) on his memoir, which was also published in his Self-Interpreting Bible.

  3. March 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    What I meant by “elitist” is that we aren’t going to exclude someone on the basis of education. We desire someone who knows the Scripture and holds to the Fundamentals of the faith.
    Some of us don’t have degrees, but are educating ourselves daily. Sometimes I think that is what is most important, though I understand the blessing of learning in a disciplined setting from those who have invested their lives in learning and teaching.

  4. March 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I know, Jason, I take all of that as a given. I’m just having fun with you.

  5. March 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Nice post, John!

    Good on the re-fundamentals folks for bringing you a-board.

    It’s a pleasure to see brothers interacting on a level that sees us all on level ground at the foot of Jesus.

    Regarding John Brown, he is in good company with other non-seminary Baptist greats like Charles Spurgeon and John Gill (amongst others). Were it only true that Thomas Boston was an untrained man, but no one is perfect, I guess.

    • March 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

      Har har! Alright, guys, you’ve made your point. Glad to be pooling my ignorance with you! :-)

  6. March 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Don’t forget that ignoramus John Bunyan. All he could do was write allegory.
    Hmmm….perhaps we should do some satire?

    • March 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      I don’t know. I always say, “Leave the ministry to the ministers, and leave the entertainment to the entertainers.” What did you do for a living again? ;-)

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