Part I. Brine’s Life
First, a few words of explanation. You might think there is more George Ella and our present contemporaries in this lecture than John Brine and his. This is because there is a good deal of John Brine in George Ella and most of our contemporaries positively hate John Brine so we must deal with them firmly but fairly or Brine has taught us in vain. So I am very blunt and particular in my evaluation of Brine’s reception today amongst our self-styled ‘Moderate Calvinists’. Nowadays, these moderately Reformed ministers who strive immoderately to muzzle us are rejecting every single doctrine of the Reformation, ridiculing and condemning those who do not share their errors. Whether I speak in Germany, Britain, the USA or Canada, my ubiquitous critics phone, write or visit my hosts to tell them how surprised they are to find they have invited such a Hyper-Calvinist and Antinomian to address them. Why, they say, he does not believe that the only rule of salvation and sanctification is found in the Mosaic moral law! One hears regularly of free grace believers being excommunicated by churches who have opted for Fuller’s Christ-denying fables. At present, the Founder’s Ministry in the USA is striking decade-long friends from their lists because they still believe the old time gospel which the Founders’ Journal people now reject. Why are we so weak and ineffective against such gospel-rejecting movements? We have sinister opponents who live on dead men’s duties rather than the free, life-giving grace of God. No wonder Fuller’s contemporaries called his gospel ‘gangrene’. This deadly mock-gospel is infectious and contagious and has contaminated the churches too long.
We have, however, words of life which make dead men live. If we do not apply them faithfully to the corpses around us, we are as dead as they are and deny our Lord. May we accept the great encouragement of men like Brine and his circle. Brine, Gill, Hervey, Huntington, Ryland and Toplady live for ever and still preach through their works the free gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ the only Lord over life and death. If we do not take the Great Commission seriously and embrace these mock-gospellers in our witness and public ministry, we might find ourselves lethally infected, too.
Brine’s early background
Our subject was born in 1703 in Kettering, the Northamptonshire town that was benefited by the birth of John Gill six years previously. Here the true Reformed Gospel was spread by the early Particular Baptists. It was here, too, from 1782 to 1806, that the rot set in and Andrew Fuller took over and destroyed the very church that Gill and Brine had so soundly established. This was after his disastrous disservice to the gospel at Soham, where he wrote his notorious The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation and which he left ruined and polluted with Arianism. William Button compared Fuller to Joseph Priestley the Socinian. Samuel Taylor Colridge, who revealed Fuller’s hob-nobbing with Socinians in the press via his book reviews, found him more extreme than even Priestley. When Fuller was called to account for his Socinian connections before the Grand Jury, the Baptist Press accused him of committing perjury by his denials. The British Critic was so shocked by Fuller’s dealings with error, they accused him of being ‘tolerant; to a degree of idiotism.’ Because of Fuller’s idiotic tolerance of heresy, the BOT now call him the greatest theologian of the century. Which century they might mean, I do not know. I notice that the Soham Baptist Church website, while wishing to cash in on Fuller’s present popularity, nevertheless refrains from giving us the unpopular historical facts.
Brine’s parents could not afford school bills, nor was Brine, as a Dissenter, eligible for scholarships which were mostly for Church of England candidates only. Without generous scholarships, I would have had little education myself, so I can feel for Brine. So Brine was put to work in a factory as a child-labourer early in life. Being very industrious, he soon mastered writing and read profusely. Nevertheless, anyone reading Brine would be convinced that he had a sound academic training. Indeed, he found himself cited as an authority in a number of academic and educational works. However, he was his own Professor and curriculum-writer. His family were members of a church called the Great Meeting, founded under Charles II in 1662, shortly after his Restoration. It was open to all who gave a clear Reformed confession of faith in Christ so baptism was no dividing issue. John Gill’s parents were also members of the Great Meeting, and Edward, John’s father, occasionally preached to the congregation.
One of the elders, William Wallis, however, argued that one could not be united in Christ without agreement on baptism. This was a new idea within Protestant churches and had been rejected by John Bunyan who initially evangelised the Northampton area. The brotherly debates which ensued led to the church giving Wallis their blessing and he and a group of followers founded a separate church at Bailey’s Yard, Kettering with Wallis as pastor. This was called the Little Meeting. John Gill preached at the Little Meeting and at nearby Higham Ferrers in his teens before receiving a call to pastor Goat Yard Church, London.
The members at the Little Meeting called themselves Particular Baptists, following saints like John Skepp and John Noble who had co-founded the Particular Baptist Fund in 1717 in support of poor ministers. The word ‘Particular’ was used to emphasise a belief in particular atonement as opposed to the free-willism of the General Baptists who were Arminians and thus not asked to contribute to the fund. When Wallis died around 1715, his son Thomas took over the ministry on a part-time basis. Brine, aged twelve, was already attending and when Gill started assisting Thomas Wallis a year later, Brine was soundly converted and, after a period of approximately two years instruction and supervision, he was baptised in 1718.
There was a Yorkshireman called John Moore (1662-1726), now preaching in Northampton, reaping in hundreds of souls, including Anne Dutton, well-remembered by most. Gill called Moore, ‘an eminent preacher of the Gospel of considerable abilities and learning, of whom I had the honour to have a personal knowledge of, and acquaintance with.” Some of Moore’s works are available through the Ossett bookshop. You must learn more about Moore to your edification.
Moore befriended Brine and encouraged him in his Biblical studies and young Brine became deeply attached to Moore’s daughter, Anne, who shared his faith. The relationship matured into marriage. After serving the gospel and her husband faithfully for many years, Anne died on the 6th of August, 1745. John Gill, the family’s close friend preached her funeral sermon. John Brine wrote more about his dear wife than he did about himself, so we have a full record from Anne’s and John’s pens of how she came to know the Lord and grew in grace. This is called Some Account of the Choice Experiences. of Mrs. Anne Brine and can be downloaded free of charge from the internet. Brine eventually married again and Mary Brine outlived her husband by almost twenty years, dying in 1784 at the ripe old age, especially in those days, of 86. She was buried in her husband’s grave at Bunhill Fields.
A Hyper-Calvinist and Antinomian by unfounded association
Now the Little Meeting licensed Brine to preach after which he served a church at Coventry for a few years. Around 1730, a very strong invitation to take over the pastorate of Curriers’ Hall, Cripplegate, London came which Brine accepted. The Brines found a house in Bridgewater Square, Barbican.
Curriers’ Hall, founded by the White Friars in the Middle Ages, was one of about five subsequent buildings of that title originally used by a guild of leather curriers, hence the name. Around 1670 Charles II, still struggling against Parliament’s intolerance, nevertheless presented the then Curriers’ Hall, which dated from James I’s reign, to the Presbyterians under Edmund Calamy. Parliament was still fettered by Commonwealth anti-dissenting laws and the politicians also feared that if Charles’ Edict of Toleration became law, not only would Dissenters profit by it but also Rome. If Charles and the many Puritans who supported him had had his way, the Church of England and Protestant Dissent would have been united, but Parliament would have lost control of the Church.
How did Currier’s Hall become Baptist? Hanserd Knollys had pastored a Baptist Church from 1641 to 1691. This church, still going strong, took over Curriers’ Hall around 1705 during Queen Anne’s reign under the shepherdship of David Crossley, a follower of John Bunyan and a very popular preacher, and remained there for about a century. Crossley was also famed as the largest man in the county. John Skepp, after spending a few years as an itinerant preacher, succeeded Crossley around 1712 and served the church until 1721. Then William Morton took over from 1722 to 1730, followed by Brine from 1730 to 1765.
Robert Oliver, a modern Baptist controversialist, and his misguided but vocal coterie, use John Skepp’s pastorate at Curriers’ Hall to twist Brine’s clear evangelical testimony and that of the pioneer Particular Baptists to prove that they were ‘Hyper-Calvinists’. The only historical clue I can find that might be bent towards such an interpretation is that Pastor Skepp criticised Arminian and Unitarian Baptists in the denomination. Those who call Skepp and Brine Hypers today are almost exclusively believers in Arminianism, Fullerism and Anti-Trinitarianism.
It is here that the imagination of Oliver and his associates reaches its full blossom. Because Brine took over a church whose pastor years previously was Skepp, whom they condemn as a Hyper-Calvinist, they also conclude by distant association that Brine must have been a Hyper, too. They also wrongly teach that Gill was Skepp’s pupil, so he, too, was a Hyper-Calvinist. Anne Dutton puts Skepp’s preaching in its real historical setting by testifying that it filled her ‘with wonder and joy and her hungering soul was satisfied with gospel bread’. If that is Hyper-Calvinism, may God bless it!
Oliver, therefore, takes the fact that Brine was converted through Gill’s ministry, as sufficient proof that he was a Hyper-Calvinist because of a supposed joint association with Skepp. This is a most fragile argument. Gill led Brine to Christ and both established their doctrines before they had any even remote connection with Skepp. Nevertheless, Oliver and Naylor speculate as follows: Skepp was a member of a Congregational church in Cambridge, led by Joseph Hussey who left Arminianism around 1707, allegedly adopting Hyper-Calvinism. Around this time or soon after, Hussey quarrelled with Skepp concerning his beliefs which led to Skepp leaving the church around 1709-10 without Hussey’s blessing. Indeed, Hussey complained to Curriers’ Hall saying Skepp had not the recommendation of his church. In spite of such a background, Oliver and Naylor stubbornly maintain that Skepp left Cambridge as a convinced Hussey-type Hyper-Calvinist. Gill followed Skepp, so Gill was also a Husseyite. Brine knew Gill so he must have been a Hussey-type Hyper-Calvinist, too. But Gill hardly knew Skepp who died in 1721 and Brine never knew him. True, Skepp was one of many elders present at Gill’s ordination in 1719 and the Particular Baptist Fund gave Gill a grant to buy some Hebrew grammars which had once belonged to Skepp. This, of course, proves nothing. Such shoddy scholarship pervades all Naylor’s and Oliver’s historical revisionism.
The historical facts show that Skepp, like Gill, was a successful evangelist and preacher of the full gospel. This is illustrated by many contemporary testimonies but also by Skepp’s writings. His book Divine Energy bursts all Hyper-Calvinist and Antinomian bubbles. Its full and very lengthy title exactly describes its evangelical message: The Divine Energy; or the Efficacious Operations of the Spirit of God in the Soul of Man, in his Effectual Calling and Conversion; stated, proved and vindicated. Wherein the real weakness and insufficiency of moral suasion, without the super-addition of the exceeding greatness of God’s power for faith and conversion to God, are fully evinced. Being an antidote against the Pelagian plague. This work was published after Skepp’s death by Gill who added a Foreword. We note that Skepp looks to the efficacious operations of the Spirit in the saving work of the gospel and not through a moral persuasion based on ethical human capacities such as duty-faith or fulfilling the so-called moral law. Now any modern Pelagian who has the ignorance to call this highly evangelical work ‘Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism’ is Alice’s Humpty-Dumpty making nonsense of words. Recently, the BOT magazine published an editorial claiming I was a Hyper-Calvinist who did not believe in preaching the gospel to sinners. I pointed out to Walter Chantry that none of the BOT definitions of Hyper-Calvinism during the last fifty years could possibly be applied to me. He answered most unbrotherly that he would not publish my letter of correction and was free to use the term ‘Hyper-Calvinist’ as he wished. It is no use arguing with quick silver. It runs erratically and is very poisonous. However, such scandalous word-junglers now call New Focus Hyper-Calvinist and Antinomian because we speak highly of Crisp, Ryland, Gill, Toplady, Hervey, Romaine, Brine and Huntington, and might add the Apostle Paul, and emphasise the work of the Spirit in conversion rather than a faith built on moral law-duties!
Robert Oliver admits that his fanatical obsession with Hyper-Calvinism which he defines differently to suit the faces of those he does not like, is due to his personal antagonism in his youth against a certain Particular Baptist church. He now transfers this childhood phobic aggression to all churches, Baptist, Independent, Presbyterian and Anglican who love the works of Brine, Gill, Hawker and Huntington. He re-writes history whenever and wherever he sees it disagreeing with him, to justify his own position.
Searching for further means of tarring and feathering Brine, our BOT friends tell us that he preached at the ordination of Hyper-Calvinist John Ryland, Sen. in Northampton in 1750. Then, we carefully note, Brine ordained Ryland as a gospel evangelist, urging him:
“to preach the Word, the Word of God; the Word of truth; the Word of life; the Gospel of salvation; the Gospel of the grace of God, even of the true grace of God, and not the counterfeit of it.”
Ryland, obedient to this heavenly commission preached in the highways and by-ways all his Christian life founding churches in twenty remote villages. His large College Lane church at Northampton, formerly filled by John Moore, grew even seven times greater and the spacious building had to be extended twice. Sadly, Ryland’s great evangelistic work shrunk when placed in the hands of his Fullerite son who excommunicated those who loved Gill, Brine and Huntington. The father had placed Gill’s works in the church for all to read. His prodigal son removed them. Yet even John Ryland, Jun. called Brine ‘Good Mr Brine’ and defended him against the false charge of Antinomianism. So did Baptist church historian Ivimey. Ryland regularly referred to Brine’s, Gill’s, Toplady’s and Hervey’s works in his own. This scholarly educator, pastor and evangelist requested that he should be buried by the side of his mentor, John Brine. That was his big mistake. Now he is slanderously branded as a Hyper, too.
But the tarring and feathering goes on to more ludicrous extremes. Oliver tells us that John Noble, a contemporary and associate of Moore’s, Brine’s and Gill’s and a friend of the Little Meeting, was also a Hyper-Calvinist and thus one who would not preach the gospel to sinners. Again we note that the evangelical pastor who succeeded Wallis at the Little Meeting come from Noble’s large church and that Noble could always guarantee a church full of seekers and worshippers and his congregation never stopped growing. When Edward Wallin, no Hyper by any means, preached Noble’s funeral sermon, he claimed from his personal experience of his friend Noble that he:
“well knew how to lay open the miserable case of sinners by nature, and preach full and free salvation to such by Christ alone, in a very plain and affecting manner.”
Those who claim Noble did not preach Christ do not know what it means ‘to lay open the miserable case of sinners by nature and preach free salvation by Christ alone’. It is not on their agenda. Their ‘free offer’ is fettered with such chains as Iain Murray’s and Geoff Thomas’s scandalous claim that, “God does His all in salvation and man must do his all”; or, I quote Malcolm Watts’ weird thesis that “Christ is every man’s Saviour”, or I refer to David Gay’s argument that, “Christ has a different will in salvation to His Father’s”; or, I quote Erroll Hulse’s new rationalism theology that, “Every man has a right to be saved”. If these gospel destroyers ever offer anything freely in their preaching, it is freedom in a sinner’s straight-jacket.
The real practical Antinomians
Nowadays, our critical Counter-Reformers prefer the very counterfeit gospel which Brine warned against. They claim their gospel is a free offer based on duty-faith and the keeping of the Mosaic Law as the only rule of faith, life, sanctification and holiness. Theirs is a Christ-less and Spirit-less deadly legal religion. Indeed, they openly adopt Anti-Trinitarian formulas, seeing at least three separate wills in the Godhead, claiming that this three-fold blasphemy is preaching the gospel! Thus these modern polytheists utterly reject the gospel of grace preached by our Lord Jesus Christ and followed by Brine, Gill and Ryland. Note the current shameful debate between David Gay and Dr. Allan Clifford. The great evangelical question for them is not ‘For whom did Christ die?’ but the blasphemous question ‘Under which will of God did Christ die?’ Erroll Hulse denounces such as Gill, Ryland, Brine, Huntington, Romaine and Hawker in his Reformation Today, promising us ‘global revival’ and ‘marvellous expansion’ if we follow him, yet his own church gave him a vote of no-confidence for preaching boring, lifeless sermons, compelling him to leave his pastorate in shame. Brethren, there are quack pastors as well as quack doctors. Bad losers always slander the good winners.
Brine’s sound testimony
Once settled in London, Brine’s ministry was crowned with blessings because he used every opportunity to preach the gospel whether at his own Currier’s Hall, at his Sunday evening lectures at Devonshire Square or through his Wednesday evening lectures at Eastcheap where he succeeded Gill as speaker. Brine was always in demand as a preacher, advisor, leader and mediator amongst the Particular Baptist churches and was a usual first choice as a preacher at funerals and ordination ceremonies. He worked closely with Anglican leaders of the Evangelical Awakening who called him a Master in Israel. Brine was called to represent the denomination in debates with their critics and many of his writings deal with the heresies and errors of his day which appear to be exactly the same as those we have today. In evaluating Brine’s ministry, this comprehensive witness must be taken into account.
Brine’s character and appearance
Our subject’s physical appearance caused many, at first glance, to reject him. He was short and stout and had a facial expression which many called ‘strange’. His great charm and good manners, however, soon reconciled people to his facial features. Like his good friend John Gill, he amassed an amazing amount of knowledge, particularly in exegetical matters and the original Biblical languages. He was a first class expounder of the Word and Christian doctrine. His writings are numerous but little known today. They thrill me. Several modern publishers such as the Baptist Standard Bearer and CBO Publications are now reprinting Brine’s and Moore’s works.
Brine is called by his present-day enemies a “theoretical Antinomian”. This is because, his enemies who see faith and grace as a law duty realise that his sanctified life, witness and conduct were blameless. So they have to resort to groundless theorising and can never substantiate their hypothesis apart from quoting, parrot fashion, baseless, indeed, base, works of their own. Is this not practical Antinomianism?
Brine was called home on the 21st of February, 1765 at the relatively early age of 63. He had preferred to wear himself out in God’s service rather than waste time. He did as much as God ordained him to do and he did it well. Modern critics say that Brine ought to have written on this, that and the other and so become more acceptable. The trouble is that such critics always write on this, that and the other instead of concentrating more on Brine’s essential subjects. They prefer to waste time on their gospel of faith by works and sanctification through Mosaic obedience.
Brine had requested no pompous grave-yard scenes and ceremonies or even a commemorative sermon at his Bunhill-Fields burial. His friend Gill thus did not preach at the funeral but gave his thanks to God for the life of his friend and brother Brine at the end of a sermon addressed to his own Carter Lane congregation. The sermon, however, was based on 1 Corinthians 15:10 – By the grace of God I am what I am. Brine had indirectly chosen this text shortly before he died by saying to his friends, “I think I am of sinners the chief, of saints the least. I know that I am nothing, but, by the grace of God, I am what I am.” After preaching, Gill said of his life-long friend Brine:
“I might take notice of his natural and acquired abilities, his great understanding, clear light, and sound judgement in the doctrines of the Gospel, and the deep things of God; of his zeal, skill, and courage in vindicating important truths, published by him to the world, and by which he being dead, yet speaketh . . . . his walk and conversation in the world, was honourable and ornamental to the profession which he made, and suitable to the character he sustained as a minister of Jesus Christ, which endeared him to his friends, and to all who knew him.”
On Brine’s gravestone, after the usual biographical particulars were written, we find the words: “His ministerial abilities were very extraordinary and his zeal and faithfulness in asserting and defending the important principles of religion equally conspicuous.”
May we, by God’s grace, go and do likewise.
George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.
George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.