Thursday, November 22, 2007

'This One Thing I Do.' John Brown of Broughton Place. - VI

Biggar is a small town in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, situated on the old high-road to Edinburgh from Moffat and Dumfries. Located about twenty-eight miles from Edinburgh in the Souther Uplands, to this day it retains its remote and rural character. In John Brown's day the town consisted mostly of one long street lined with well-built grey stone houses. On 6th February 1806 it presented a singularly bleak aspect. A violent snow storm almost kept John Brown himself from attending, and the ordination was carried out by only three members of the Presbytery - the only members who had been able to get to Biggar in time.
John Brown of Whitburn preached his son's ordination sermon from 1 Corinthians 1.17. He knew that his son was in danger of confusing his hearers in the old country town with poetical and metaphysical language. In a letter written shortly afterwards the old minister of Whitburn urged his son to be "more acquainted with evangelical and practical divinity, such as Ebenezer Erskine's, Dr. Owen's, Traill's, etc.." John Brown listened to his father's exhortation, and grounded himself in the best old writers. We think this is quite necessary. It is a temptation to every young minister to discard the past and to be up-to-date in everything. Unfortunately the Bible was completed nearly two millenia ago. Our task is not so much to be startling, modern (or post-modern!) and up-to-date, but to communicate the Word of God. To clothe the 'old, old story' with the language of the common people, not to confuse it with the language of vain philosophy and speculation.
The Church John Brown came to was one of the oldest Secession congregations in the south of Scotland, founded in 1761. It was not large, however, with only about 300 communicants, living not only in the town but in the villages and hamlets around. As was often the case with the Scottish nonconformists of the period, the congregation were intelligent, devoted people. There were a number of old men in the congregation well-read in the old Puritans and Scots theologians and well-experienced in grace, and they loved their young minister, finding the root of the matter in him.
For seventeen years John Brown was pastor of Biggar, and he was a devoted minister. Under his ministry a new chapel was built (since also replaced), and the congregation grew in strength of numbers and strength of theology. The old Secession ministers believed in preaching the whole counsel of God, and so John Brown did.

But we shall have more to say of his Biggar ministry, God willing, next time.



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