Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XIX.

David Brown returned to Aberdeen in 1857 after an absence of twenty-seven years. He was in his fifty-fifth year, and he was returning to the scenes of his youth. His parents had died some years before, but his brother William was still in business in the Granite City, and hios brother-in-law, Rev. John Murray (no relation that we know of) was one of the city's formost ministers. All suspicion lifted after his inaugural lecture. Its subject was 'Christ the ultimate Refuge for the Doubter', and it was based on Peter's reply to Christ's question in John 6, 'Will ye also go away?' 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.' It was founded on his own experience with John Duncan, and he presented Christ as the one that Christians could not leave. He showed how this simple exchange in the Gospel of John bore on the whole of theology, especially the three subjects he had been given, apologetics, exegetical theology and Church history. He saw the three enemies of the faith, tenscendental philosophy, rationalistic criticism and materialistic science, and he saw the need to contend earnestly for the once-for-all delivered faith. He exhorted his students to abide in Christ. Christ, he said, had to be the centre of the theology student's life. It was as much a sermon as it was a lecture, and both studdents and non-students called for Dr. Brown to publish it, which he duly did.
He addressed apologetics in the traditional way, of course. Kuyper had not yet begun his teaching in the Netherlands, and many decades remained to pass before Cornelius Van Til would burst on the scene like a bright star. He taught textual criticism in his exegetical class, and began to take his Church History classes through the great events of the Church. For the first time in a Scottish theological college, Mosheim was not the textbook, although students were advised to buy his book. Beginning with his fourth-year class, and beginning with the Reformation, he selected a volume by Hardwick on the Reformation. The facts were well presented in the book, but the Anglican Hardwick seriously annoyed Brown. His lectures were quite animated, and no student would have left them thinking Hardwick was unbiassed. Still, Brown reasoned, it would help the students to read history critically. He began to work out a course of Church History lectures that would be more satisfactory than the available books.

At length, David Brown was able to fill up the courses. We give information from his synopsis in the College Calendar. He taught each class for five hours a week. In Apologetics he worked deductively, starting with Christianity as a fact. Natural theology he explored not as proving Christianity, but as demonstrating that it was not false. The exegetical course, because of the constraints of time and a small faculty (three professors), was limited to the Gospels, but included txtual criticism, grammar, special introduction, and exegesis of particular portions of the text. The senior Church History course began with the Reformation, starting with Luther, then the Swiss Reformation, and then the English. It included lectures on the theology of the Reformers. The Counter-Reformation and Council of Trent were dealt with next, then the progress of the various Reformed Churches. Examinations were rigorous and frequent, though regular.

The students on the whole respected Brown. He was second to none in his exegetical abilities, and he was always willing to talk to students about whatever difficulties they might be under. He was a great thinker, and too astute to fall into the traps that some others did. Most of all, he was an earnest Christian, and his lectures breated a devotional spirit.
He held the professorship for thirty years, resigning it in 1887, ten years before his death.

God willing, next time we shall see something of his aims in his work as a professor.



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