G. C. Brewer on Grace

In 1946 Roy Key of Juneau, Alaska, caused a small stir with his article “The Righteousness of God” in the January 24 issue of the Gospel Advocate. It promoted “some ideas,” one reader wrote, that he “not been accustomed to hearing.” As a result, G. C. Brewer took up his pen to commend the article as substantially summarizing the Pauline teaching of the “righteousness of God” (Gospel Advocate [7 March 1946] 224+).

Apparently the phrase “not been accustomed to hearing” caught Brewer’s attention since it was his own experience that many were “astonished at this teaching” and others were “offended by it at first.” Indeed, Brewer was concerned about both the ignorance and the “false teaching” present among the churches concerning Paul’s gospel of God’s righteousness.

As a younger preacher Brewer had encountered ministers who denied the concept of imputed righteousness. He summarized the teaching of one of these ministers, whom he highly respected, as this:

“You hear people talk about God’s righteousness or Christ’s righteousness being imputed to a man–of the righteousness of Christ covering a man like a garment, etc. This is all false doctrine. The Bible says, ‘He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous’ (1 John 3:7); and David says, ‘All thy commandments are righteousness.’ So you see that a man who does the commandments of God is righteous–no one else is. You can have no righteousness except the righteousness that you do.” 

One would only need to read the Gospel Advocate in the 1940s and beyond to hear the same sentiments in the writings of some prominent writers such as Guy N. Woods and others, particularly in the Texas Tradition. In his younger years fully Brewer embraced this teaching. He bought the party line as he was exposed to it and helped to promote it. He taught the same message and used the same Scriptures to defend it.

However, he “learned the truth on this point by studying Paul” when he began to study Romans to see what it teaches rather than studying “to find something to offset what someone else teaches.” Brewer underwent a theological change from a legalistic concept of faith–a faith where we have no righteousness except our own so that we contribute to the righteousness that achieves for us a righteous standing before God by measuring up to the plan God has given us–to an affirmation of the divine righteousness which is given to us through faith–the righteousness that God himself gives, the gift of righteousness that does not arise from within us or on the ground of our obedience. It was a change from a legalism of works-righteousness to a Pauline doctrine of grace through faith.

Brewer noted that many of his contemporaries had made a similar change. They had begun in legalism but learned to teach a doctrine of righteousness by faith and “not by doing.” As if to counter the charge that his teaching was innovative, Brewer reminded his readers that J. W. McGarvey, E. G. Sewell, T. W. Caskey, David Lipscomb and James A. Harding “knew the truth on this great question and taught it faithfully.” “Harding,” he added, “was especially strong on this doctrine.”

Brewer’s article recognizd a cleavage in the Stone-Campbell Movement over the doctrine of grace. One segment focuses on the righteousness which a person achieves by doing and another segment focuses on the righteousness which God grants a person by faith. It was a cleavage evident in early 1930s when the Gospel Advocate published K. C. Moser’s The Way of Salvation. This book was embraced by Brewer as “one of the best little books that came from any press in 1932” (Gospel Advocate [11 May 1933] 434), but was rejected by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. as full of “denominational error on the gospel plan of salvation” (Present Truth [Ft. Worth, TX: Foy E. Wallace Publications, 1977] 1037). These two contrasting attitudes to Moser’s book illustrate two distinct approaches to the “righteousness of God.” The former belonged to the Tennessee Tradition rooted in the Nashville Bible School. The latter belonged, in large part, to the Texas Tradition. Unfortunately, it is a cleavage that continues to exist.

In 1952, Brewer gave a speech at the Abilene Lectures which J. D. Thomas regarded as a turning point in the history of Texas churches on grace. Thomas had invited him because of his known position and Thomas himself had been directly influenced by K. C. Moser whom Brewer had supported as the “brotherhood” tried Moser in the fire. Brewer revisited his emphasis that salvation by was “faith” and not by “doing.” This was his primary point at the 1952 Abilene Christian College Lectureship (Abilene Christian College Bible Lectureship [Firm Foundation Publishing Co., 1952], 112-114). God’s part is giving, not selling; and man’s part is believing, not doing. Salvation is “not a matter of law;” a matter of doing or achieving or working. We are free from law, any law, because God has “offered us a righteousness which comes to us on account of our faith in Christ Jesus.” To affirm otherwise is to render void the grace of God in Christ. If “we are just as righteous as we do–that is, if we have no righteousness but our own, which we achieve by doing the commandments–by observing laws–we make the death of Christ unnecessary” (Gospel Advocate, 1946, 224).

The “doing” which Brewer rejects in the context of Churches of Christ is measuring up to God’s “plan of salvation” which is effectively a new law which one must work in order to be saved. Brewer once received a question from an Advocate reader concerning the place of confession in the “plan of salvation” who wanted to know if the “plan” had “four steps or three,” and if one “dies following baptism without confession with the mouth, what will Jesus do on the judgment day about it?” Brewer immediately commented on the prominence of the idea of a “plan” in the mind of the reader (Autobiography, 91-93):

He is not alone in this manner of thinking, either. Some of us have observed this in the writing and preaching of some of our young preachers. It is hoped that the attention of these fine brethren will be attracted to this article, and that the point here will be given serious thought by them . . . there seems to be a tendency on the part of some to think of this “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, 16:26) as a ritual, a legalistic rite, a ceremony comparable to the “divers washings” or purification processes of the Mosaic Law. This is a grievous mistake. To put stress upon a “plan” and the specific items and steps of that plan may lead to a wrong conclusion. We are saved by a person, not by a plan; we are saved by a Savior, not by a ceremony. Our faith is in that divine personage–that living Lord–and not in items and steps and ordinances. We are saved through faith in Christ and on account of our faith in Christ, and not because of a faith in a plan. Sometimes we are led to fear that some people only have faith in faith, repentance, confession and baptism. . . We must trust his grace and rely upon his blood and look for and expect his healing mercy. To trust a plan is to expect to save yourself by your own works. It is to build according to a blueprint; and if you meet the specifications, your building will be approved by the great Inspector! Otherwise you fail to measure up and you are lost! You could not meet the demands of the law! You could not achieve success!

Brewer called his readers to re-examine their doctrine of God’s righteousness in the light of Romans and Galatians. He offered this prayer, “May the Lord forgive us all and let his righteousness not only supply our lack of righteousness, but also our lack of understanding of his word!” He counseled his readers, “Christ alone can save us. Trust him, brother” (Gospel Advocate, 1946, 224).

If you are interested in reading Key’s original 1946 articles and Brewer’s endorsement article, click here.

20 Responses to “G. C. Brewer on Grace”

  1.   Carisse Says:

    Would you like to hear that 1952 speech? I hope to have it available later this year or early next year, online.

  2.   randall Says:

    I am sure several of us would like to hear that speech whenever it can be made available.

    Thanks again. I hope to see the day when it is known throughout the CofC congregations that “We are saved by a person, not by a plan; we are saved by a Savior, not by a ceremony.” I was one of those raised under the Texas Tradition and it impacts me and my view of the CofC to this day. Thankfully, through the scriptures the gospel shines through even though it is altered by those who would preach it.

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Carisse, I don’t think hearing it would be of any benefit or excitement. … NOT!… Of course, my friend, I would love to hear it. Your work on the archives will be invaluable to so many of us. Thanks for your love and devotion to the task.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Randall, the gospel is so powerful that it does shine through our feeble and weak efforts to communicate it. God encounters us through the word even when we mishandle the word. All our efforts are flawed, but God nevertheless finds us. I grew up under Texsa Tradition preaching, but at the same time God used that preaching to lead me to him despite all of its weaknesses. The glory belongs to the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    It is real interesting to read those quotes by G.C. Brewer. They reveal a real struggle between a theo-centric faith (Brewer’s position) and an anthro-centric faith. The more I learn about the whole debate between the Tennessee and Texas traditions, the more it seems as though it is a question of whether grace and faith is dependent upon God or humanity.

    Grace and peace,


  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Yes, Rex, I do think that goes to the heart of it. It is theocentric vs. anthropocentric theologies, divine doing or human doing.

  7.   Royce Says:

    Johm Mark,

    How refreshing! I am encouraged that some of my brothers are understanding how lavish, how complete the grace of our God is. Paul said of the gospel “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”. (Romans 1:17) How could it be said any more clearly? Jesus is our righteousness just as He is our life. “The righteous shall live by faith”! We are made righteous and then live by faith. Living by faith doesn’t make us righteous.

    As your post indicated, I see that many of our coC people have about equal faith in Christ and each of the steps of the “5 step plan”. And for many water baptism is depended on more than Christ.

    Thanks for the great post. I will put the link on Grace Digest.


  8.   rich constant Says:

    right of God… OH boy…
    yes i agree theocentric…

    again this my brother is the question that seperates
    the “faith in christ” and the must have “faith in god” which brings us to christ”s words of righteous faithfullness that nulifies the law FOR US THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF LIFE.







  9.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Royce and Rich,

    Brewer as well as Harding and Moser among many others demonstrate that the theology of grace through faith did not disappear amidst the discussions of the five-step plan of salvation. Thanks for your comments.

  10.   rich Says:

    john mark
    by way of an explanation
    i was reading n.t. write a few months ago and found out something interesting to me.
    the cross of christ…
    and the impact on the trinity is what i have been looking at all these years, hence my ignorance of the effect of that act of righteous faith to establish Gods Grace ande our redempshion from the DEAD. The law being nulified by faithfullness,WHICH IS WHAT YOU GUYS CALL ATONEMENT.


  11.   Drew Chapados Says:

    John Mark,

    I really enjoyed this post–G.C. Brewer is a favourite of mine to read and study.
    I have a couple of people to ask you about concerning their views and so on. These men I have also come to admire for various reasons.
    Batsell Barret Baxter and Gus Nichols–did they appear to have more faith in a plan or did they teach in some way with more emphasis faith in the man?

  12.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    I cannot answer the question about Gus Nichols since I have not specifically read in his writings to assess the point. He may have commented on the “Man or Plan” controversy in the 1960s, but I have not investigated him or read widely in his writings.

    As for BBB, my opinion–based on limited listening and reading but nevertheless sufficient, I think–is that he was in a Brewer kind of mode, open to the renewal of grace in the 1960s. But I would need to do more to feel very confident about that judgment.

    Blessings, John Mark

  13.   Drew Chapados Says:

    Thanks John Mark,
    the reason i asked about those two men is due to an observation I have made over the last few years. My family heritage in Churches of Christ comes from the late missionary, J.C. Bailey who worked in India for a number of years. He was what you would call conservative but although many on the far right would use him as a champion he was more along the ideas of G.C. Brewer and lamented the extremes on both sides (not just the ‘anti’) but the conservative movement that in his words would make us into a ‘sect’.
    I have found the same with the way people use Lipscomb, Brewer, even Hardeman when they want to but ignore many of their ‘findings.’
    I really love the spirit I find in studying both Gus Nichols and Batsell and wonder if the two of them would also kind of fit the model of Brewer instead of say much of the far right we hear today.

  14.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Shelley Jacobs of Western Christian has written on the connection between J. C. Bailey and the Nashville Bible School. She wrote her thesis on the topic. She has also published a piece in RQ (http://www.acu.edu/sponsored/restoration_quarterly/documents/Jacobs.484.web.pdf) on the pacifism and the relationship between NBS and Canada. You might find her material very interesting.

    I wish I enough enough or was comfortable enough in assessing Gus Nichols to comment significantly on his life and work. But I do get the sense that there were many in the G. C. Brewer mode who were often private about their concerns.

  15.   randall Says:

    Is this the Gus Nichols that was the pulpit minister at Walnut Hill CofC in Dallas during the 1970s and 80s?

  16.   randall Says:

    My bad. My wife tells me it was Hardeman Nichols that was at Walnut Hill CocC in Dallas in the 1970s and she thinks Hardeman Nichols may have been the son of Gus Nichols.

  17.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Yes, your wife is correct. Gus Nichols spent decades in Jasper, AL.

  18.   Drew Chapados Says:

    thanks for the link to the paper by Shelly Jacobs.
    She often writes history in the Gospel Herald (Canada’s church of christ magazine).
    While J.C. was of the conservative mindset–he really was more along the lines of Brewer and wouldn’t be comfortable today with any of the extremes.
    I don’t know about brother Nichols–but I do believe that the spirit he showed for instance with the issue of the indwelling of the Spirit paved a way for ‘change’ at least in attitude.

  19.   Andrew Says:

    I am currently supply preaching for a Christian Church in Moline, IL and considering I am not a minister by occupation I have run out of sermons I have shared over the years. I thought I would share with the church a sermon on Salvation. Being raised in a Church of Christ in Southern Ohio and attending Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly Missouri my first thought was of the “Five Finger Exercise” that helps explain Salvation. I am still going to speak on Salvation, but I will be very careful not to approach it with the “these are the steps you MUST do in order to be saved” way of explaining Salvation. I am afraid that in times when I have done injustice to Salvation by not explaining Faith well enough. For I have always believed that our faith in Christ is paramount in all things, I think our faith in HIM leads us to righteous behavior. For how are we to be known but by are fruit. How do be bear fruit, but by letting our faith in Jesus Christ change our world. Thank you for the post.

  20.   Dave Says:

    I wonder why Peter didn’t reply to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” with “Have faith in Jesus as your Savior?” He could have settled the matter right there. No discussion needed. I could agree with many of my Baptist friends. All would be clearer, loved ones dearer and all that.
    Is it possible that God does not expect us to bring our righteousness to the water, but does want us to recognize our lost condition and bring our sins?


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