By Kevin Campbell
A good book for young and old preachers alike is T.W. Brents’ The Gospel Plan of Salvation, published in 1874. The book is a very basic, simple, and yet comprehensive look at man’s response to the gospel of Christ. Brents ex-plains the purpose of the book in the first paragraph by asking: “Are you `aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world?’ If so, we propose to assist you in arriving at a knowledge of your duty, in order that you may become citizens of God’s government on the earth-children of God’s family-members of Christ’s body, the Church that you may escape the punishment of the damned, and secure for yourselves the favor of God and the bliss of heaven” (p. 7). Although some among our own brethren have been critical of Brents’ book in the past for not discussing in detail the place of the cross in the “Gospel Plan of Salvation,” it must be pointed out that such knowledge is granted and understood in the book. Brents very clearly points out right away that the purpose of the book is to discuss man’s response to the cross and not the place of the cross. Overall, he does a fine job of presenting what the Bible reveals as man’s response to God’s provision of grace.
Chapters and Contents
The following is a list of chapter headings for the book: Predestination; Election and Reprobation; Calvinistic Proofs Examined; The Foreknowledge of God; Hereditary Depravity; The Establishment of the Church; The Identity of the Church; The New Birth; Faith; Repentance; The Confession; Baptism, What Is It?; Who Should Be Baptized; The Design of Baptism; The Holy Spirit. Brents begins by asking whether there is anything that man can do to be saved and then proceeds to answer the question by refuting the popular doctrines of Calvin and then revealing the truth of the matter from the Scriptures.
Space will prohibit a review of each chapter, but a re-view of some of the highlights is in order. First of all, the chapter on Predestination is good in that the author refutes the mistaken notion that God has “unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” Through numerous appeals to Scripture, he shows that what happens in man’s history is often determined by the circumstances surrounding man’s acceptance or rejection of God’s revealed will. The following chapters on Election and Reprobation and Calvinistic Proofs Examined also reveal the weaknesses of John Calvin’s system of thought. Brents shows that election has always been conditional, even in situations not related to personal salvation. He then does a good job of showing that the “proof texts” often used by Calvin’s students do not mean what they say they mean. There are a few weak spots, including his discussion of The Foreknowledge of God, but overall these chapters pro-vide good basic material for study.
There are two chapters devoted to the establishment and identity of the Church, with both of these subjects being related to the overall theme of Calvinism. Brents shows how the church was established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and exposes the concept of the church as a denomination with many “branches.” A definition of the New Birth then follows with a study of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. A good amount of space is devoted to under-standing what is meant by the phrase “born of water and of the Spirit,” which he defines as “immersed in and born of water, according to the teaching of the Spirit” (p. 163).
Next, the author studies the topic of faith, defining it and examining the passages that some quote in support of the notion that God infuses faith into the hearts of men as a gift. Rather, the author shows that faith is that which comes about as the result of hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). He points out three things that must come in order: (1) Fact, (2) Testimony, and (3) Faith (p. 168). This part of the book is very good and is sorely needed today. There seems to be less emphasis being placed upon the historical nature and character of faith with greater weight being placed upon the subjective feelings that some attempt to pass off as faith. These problems existed in Brents’ day and continue unto the present hour. He follows this chapter with one on Repentance (which includes a discussion of the order of faith and repentance) and another on the Confession, both of which are well done.
The next three chapters are devoted to the subject of baptism; its mode, subject and purpose. Quite an extensive treatment is given to the basic definition of the word baptize with both religious as well as secular authors being quoted. He also examines some of the more common arguments made in defense of sprinkling and pouring. The chapter on the proper subject or person for baptism is also good. Brents examines the attempt to connect infant baptism with Infant Church Membership and circumcision. Through the Scriptures, he establishes that faith was al-ways a prerequisite to baptism, which would thus exclude infants from being considered for the practice and he concludes the chapter with a historical examination of the practice of infant baptism (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:36-37). The chapter on the design or purpose of baptism is a favorite of mine since it was a great help in preparation for several debates. He examines the passages that clearly establish the necessity of baptism for salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21) and also spends time dealing with some of the objections that are often offered (requires a “third party,” the thief on the cross, etc.). He concludes the discussion with an examination of the nature of saving faith and the question of works being involved in salvation (James 2:14-26).
The final chapter deals with the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. Time is devoted to the erroneous notion that Holy Spirit baptism still occurs today and he shows how this concept is necessitated by the doctrine of Total Depravity. The case of Cornelius, the question of differing measures of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit are also discussed. Brents points out that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:17-18). One point of disagreement is noted here in that he does contend for a non-miraculous but literal and personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian although he does sound a strong warning against depending upon “feelings” for salvation.
“The Gospel Plan of Salvation” should be in any preacher’s library, especially those who are “younger preachers.” In some circumstances, it appears that too many of today’s preachers are depending upon the works of Swindoll, Wiersbe, Lucado and others instead of basic, sound and fundamental works such as “The Gospel Plan of Salvation.” The result is preaching that is weak and ineffectual in meeting the true spiritual needs of the congregation. Let us never grow tired and ashamed of the gospel of Christ and those of previous generations who have stood strong and fast for the truth of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:8).
Remember that God’s word is timeless and eternal (1 Pet. 1:23-25). When the truth is preached boldly and plainly, it will not return void regardless of the age. Let us never grow tired of preaching the simple, basic truths of New Testament Christianity. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 23, p. 23-24
December 5, 1996