'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XL.
That David Brown, one of the most eminent scholars of the Free Church of Scotland, should have been elected Moderator of the Church's General Assembly, is no wonder. That he should only have recieved the honour after his eightieth birthday is extremely surprising until we recall his fearless contending for the Faith. He was 'divisive', and that played against him in a Church that was increasingly trying to hide the liberals who lurked within it.
Finally, in 1883, William Garden Blaikie (later Brown's biographer) put forward his friend's name in the conference of ministers and elders who were responsible for selecting the next Moderator. Blaikie had previously supported Brown for the Edinburgh chair of New Testament, now he proposed him against Rainy's candidate for Moderator. Again Brown's supporters were defeated, but this time the vote was for an annual office, and so David Brown was elected to the office of Moderator for the 1885 General Assembly.
David Brown was not the sort of man who could be expected to give a comfortable opening address at the Assembly. His text was 'Watchman, what of the night?' His method was to give a survey of the state of the Free Church. It was not good. The missionary task had been comparatively neglected, he said. Certainly, if most missionaries of the Free Church came out of the tiny college at Aberdeen, that had to be true. Why? A lack of faith in God who alone could convert the heathen. The same was true at home. How many in the industrial cities were neglected? Had not the Free Church ecome a comfortable middle-class denomination of nonconformists? As for the middle classes, scepticism and rank atheism was spreading in the universities and among the reading public. The apologist's spirit was stirred as he denounced them all. All the sceptics were simply the fools who had said in their hearts that there is no God.
What of the Free Church of Scotland? Ah, there was no plce there for complacency.
"If this Church continues to be blessed with a converted and quickened ministry, bent supremely on the winning of souls, zealous for the spiritual health of their flocks, and eager for the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom over all lands, it will never die... But how stand we now? Well, in some things we are greatly in advance. The scholarship of our young ministers and their general culture are certainly superior..." But learning and culture are only of use in a minister if they are sanctified, and where was that? So many men, he went on to say, had much learning and little religion. CONSECRATION was needed, men like M'Cheyne, who laid ALL on the altar. As for WHAT was being learned, some of it was directly contrary to Christianity. He referred to the so-called higher criticism, and how it led young men to disparage the Bible and yet profess regard to the truths that it taught. "Rest assured, my younger brethren, that whatever uncertainly is thrown over the books of the Bible will in the end attach to the truths which they teach." It reduced Christianity to mere sentiment, and was in fact, Brown boldly declared, "thin, ill-concealed Unitarianism." He had himself BEEN a Unitarian in theology, he knew what it was, and its evil effects. The Church must go forward, yes, but 'looking unto Jesus', and standing on the Word of God, not looking to an idol invented by men, and giving up the Word. The Postmillenialist Principal could see the latter-day glory, and urged the Church not to lose its nerve before the World. Oh that it had done so!
God willing, next time we shall see something of David Brown's family life.
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