Tuesday, September 04, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - IV

In the 1820s Aberdeen Divinity Students attended classes on alternate days at Marischal and King's Coleges. In Marischal Brown's teacher was Principal W. Laurence Brown (no relation, there are just an awful lot of Browns in Scotland). While he was brilliant, Laurence Brown was no evangelical, and his teaching cold and dry. As a student he had won the £1200 Burnett Prize for an essay on the Being and Attributes of God, beating Anglican Evangelical (and future Archbishop of Canterbury) John Bird Sumner into second place and thus ensuring his appreciation from Aberdeen as a Scotsman who beat and Englishman. The Hebrew Professor, James Kidd, minister of Gilcomston Chapel of Ease (the congregation that gave rise to Gilcomston South Church) was another matter. He was a leading evangelical, though not the best Hebrew tutor in the world. In King's College the Professor of Divinity was Dr. Duncan Mearns, an acomplished theologian and a devoted, pious Christian, but as dry as Laurence Brown was. He was orthodox enough, but it was a dry orthodoxy.
David Brown's faith was sorely tried in the Divinity classes. Most of his fellow-students were utterly worldly and only a few students met together for Bible study and prayer. Brown tried to influence the worldly students to a more spiritual view of the great task to which they had dedicated their lives, but there was little effect.
While at the Divinity Hall, Brown met a former student who was teaching in Aberdeen. This was John Duncan, later nicknamed 'Rabbi'. Duncan had been a theological student, but he had lost his faith and, after a brief period of atheism, he was now a unitarian theist. Since the university's Hebrew teacher was not very effective, Brown went to Duncan to teach him Hebrew privately.
The effect was mixed. Although he learned a lot about Hebrew, Brown's faith was shaken by the arguments of his teacher. Impercetibly, the fervour of Brown's faith lessened until Duncan could refer to himself and his student as 'we Unitarians'.
We hear a lot about university being a dangerous place for young Christians today - it was the same in the 1820s! The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same!
Duncan was licenced to preach in 1825, having decietfully subscribed the Confession of Faith. Brown, his faith eclipsed, completed his studies in Aberdeen and decided to study in Germany, where the Higher Criticism was developing.

God willing, next time we shall see how God brought David Brown back to the faith of his mother.



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