'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - I
Writing of one Scottish Brown whose name is well-known, but whom little is known about, our thoughts were turned to another, a man whose commentaries are in all the Churches, but of whom we suspect little is known. That man is Dr. John Brown of Broughton Place Secession Church, Edinburgh. This is the John Brown who wrote 'Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord', commentaries on Romans, Galatians, Hebrews and I Peter, and many other books. Most reformed ministers have some of his books in their libraries, but how many know anything about the man?
John Brown was no relation to David Brown that we know of, but he was the grandfather of a far more famous Brown, John Brown of Haddington. The one-time shepherd boy who had learned Greek whilst tending the flock had become a minister and the leading theologian of his denomination, dying as theological professor (this John Brown is our illustration). He also gave rise to a dynasty of John Browns. The eldest son of the patriarch of Haddington, also named John Brown, was graciously converted and called to the Christian ministry in the village of Whitburn, West Lothian. There he spent more than half a century as pastor of the Burgher Secession congregation. Whitburn is still a fairly attractive little village, and in 1777, when the younger John Brown was called there, it was a wild, remote place. John Brown of Whitburn was the first pastor of the church to which he was called, and in his seclusion he maintained the theology he had learned from his great father. He read the Puritans, the Reformers, and the old Scots Divines. Thomas Boston and of course the Erskines were among his favourite authors, and he often contributed articles on these great men. He busied himself in keeping their lives and writings in the public eye, and wrote several books of his own to that end.
Although settled in a small village in the uplands between Edinburgh and Glasgow, John Brown's concerns extended far beyond his immediate neighbourhood. Since the great bridges over the Firth of Forth had not yet been constructed the cattle drovers from the Highlands had to pass through Whitburn on their way to market, and John Brown was horrified to find that few of the cattle-drovers he spoke to could read the tracts that he gave them in English or in the Gaelic. So the minister of Whitburn gave some of his time to missionary visits to the Highlands. Such a man might have been overwhelmed by the reputation of his father, but under God, he laboured in his own sphere, and was held in respect for what he himself had done.
He had married Isabella Cranston, a native of Kelso who had moved to London, and whom he had met whilst supplying the pulpit of the Secession Church in London. Isabella was a woman of humble background but remarkable mental ability. She also had a deep work of grace in her heart at such a young age that she was admitted to the Lord's table at the age of twelve, a thing almost unknown in the strict discipline of the Secession Church. She was the sort of minister's wife they write books about. If anyone thought John Brown was marrying below his station, such thoughts would soon have been forgotten.
John Brown, the subject of this series, was the eldest son of this remarkable couple, though their third child. He was born in 1784, in the manse at Whitburn. God willing, we shall have something to say about his early years next time.
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