Friday, October 26, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XXXVII.

We are in an age today that seems to idolize youth, when Sir Menzies Campbell has recently been removed from the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party apparently just for being too old. Well, the 'cult of youth' has flourished in ages before ours, and with better reason at times! William Robertson Smith was a victim of it at Aberdeen, and David Brown met it from the other side! When he was nominated for the Principalship of the Free Church College, Aberdeen, in 1876 the main objection was that, at seventy-three, he was too old. The other was his involvement in matters outside the College - something we think ought to have been counted in his favour! He was elected unanimously.
In speaking of Brown in the Assembly, Dr. Adam remarked that, since the death of Principal Patrick Fairbairn of Glasgow, there was no minister in the wholer of the Free Church of Scotland with a higher theological reputation than David Brown. The commentary that bore his name, characterised by great research, exegetical skill, spirituality and excellent English, had spread widely, and his book of the Second Advent had become a standard work on the subject (we still think it is devastating). He was a gentleman and a scholar, but best of all, he was a Christian, a deeply religious man whose love for Christ was evident in everything he wrote and said. He was a man of faith and a man of prayer. We think that every other qualification, particularly learning, should be secondary to this in a theological professor. There are many men puffed up with human learning who have been the bane of the Churches. But godly men, men who have been deeply humbled by the work of Christ and lie at the foot of the cross, THEY are fitted to be theological professors and none besides.
As Principal, David Brown's extra duties consisted mainly in presiding at meetings of the faculty and delivering the closing addresses at the end of the sessions. He took great care over these addresses, and ensured that they were always delivered to declare the importance of that true religion that Mr. Hart tells us is 'more than notion'.
David Brown was also very careful to distinguish between that vague 'spirituality' that is the counterfeit of true religion and the real thing. He discribed the old Highland religion that we read of in the works of Dr. Kennedy of Dingwall, a deep religion founded on the rock of Scripture, and contrasted it with an Edinburgh Free Church student he had met. The Edinburgh student had been to study in Germany, as was the fashion then (such a change from the days when Edinburgh students had gone to study at Princeton!), and Brown asked him whose theological lecttures he had attended. "Pfleiderer's," the student replied. "What? Pfleiderer does not believe in the Supernatural at all!" the old theologian exclaimed. "Oh, but he's very spiritual." David Brown had no time for that sort of 'spirituality'! "Walk closely with God in the midst of your studies, as great Bengel (my favourite Biblical scholar) ever did; so that when his students met daily for their studies, and he began with a few words of prayer, they said his prayers were like morning dew. When you preach, remember that you go to the pulpit as ambassadors for Christ, and as such let yourselves be nothing, and your master and your message everything; your motto being, 'He must increase. but I must decrease."
It was surely a telling sign of his influence that, despite its size, the Aberdeen Free Church College supplied more foreign missionaries to the Church than any of the other two.

What a blessing such a principal was to his students! O that men like him might be the only ones allowed to teach in our Evangelical and Reformed colleges and seminaries!

Next time, God willing, we shall consider David Brown's later writings.



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