Thursday, November 29, 2007

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

Although his grandfather was a famous author, and his own father had written extensively in vindication of the doctrines of free grace taught in the little book 'The Marrow of Modern Divinity' (really of Puritan Divinity), John Brown was practically forced into authorship. Whilst his father had been called to defend the doctrines of the denomination, John Brown was called upon to defend the central doctrine of Christianity - the deity of Christ.
Brown found himself forced into action by the Unitarian controversy that broke in Scotland in 1814. James Yates, minister of the Glasgow Unitarian congregation (chapel pictured). Yates was a strong believer in the Socinian dogmas of the supremacy of reason and the mere humanity of Christ, and he proclaimed them with zeal, calling forth from Ralph Wardlaw, congregational minister in Glasgow, a volume of Discourses on the Unitarian Controversy. Yates at once replied with A Vindication of Unitarianism. And there John Brown entered the controversy. He was asked by Dr. Andrew Thompson, editor of the Edinburgh Christian Instructor to write a review of Yates' book. But during the writing process the review swelled to such a size that Thompson advised it would be better published in a separate form, and this was done in April 1815 under the title Strictures on Mr. Yates' Vindication of Unitarianism, with a dedication to Doctor Lawson of Selkirk. The book sold well, but as the controversy faded, so did sales, Unitarianism, at least in the form Yates had proclaimed, was shown to be false, and lost its appeal. The book was a scathing reply to Yates' errors, and Yates retired from the field defeated. But John Brown was fairly launched as an author. So does God use the passing controversies of the day to raise up champions of truth.
In the beginning of 1816 Brown found himself called to greater literary responsibility, as his denomination was launching a magazine. He was appointed editor, and for five years the pastor of Biggar was the busy editor of a theological journal. He managed to get the best theological minds of the denomination to write for the little magazine, including Doctor Lawson himself. The magazine never obtained a wide circulation, being regarded as a ministers' magazine rather than a magazine for the people in the pew. Still, it brought his name before people who had never heard of Biggar.
His second book was of a more lasting character than the first. Discourses suited to the Administration of the Lord's Supper was a volume of Communion sermons, discussing the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. Published in 1816, we are glad to say that it is back in print and can be found here.

It seemed that the young pastor of Biggar was marked for success. And it was then that the terrible blow fell, of which more next time.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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

Although John Brown was the minister of a rural Church in deepest Lanarkshire, he did not allow his location in Biggar to blind him to the needs of the wider world. Support of missionary societies was a subject dear to his heart.
Now we are of the opinion that missionary societies are not churches and ought not to act like them. The society is there to help the Churches, not to constrain them, and certainly not to govern them. Having said that, we are sure that these societies, in their place, are instruments of a great deal of good.
The first decades of the 1800s were hardly decades in which the cause of world missions was expanding rapidly, but it WAS expanding. The societies supported by the Burgher Secession Church at Biggar are fairly typical of the period, the Baptist Missionary Society's Serampore Mission, the Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, the Edinburgh Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society, all causes that any Scottish evangelical of the period would support.
Another scheme of his was a manse library, owned by the congregation and kept for the use of succeeding ministers of the congregation. The plan was to build up a well-stocked theological library for the use of ministers of limited means. Congregational libraries we feel to be an excellent use of Church funds when those libraries are stocked with good, sound books. Of course if a library is stocked with the latest paperback bestsellers on having 'Your Best Life Now' and suchlike, it is worse than useless, but stocked with such books as (dare we say it) the writings of John Brown, good Christian biographies, a bit of Calvin and such like volumes, a congregational library is a blessing to the church that owns it.
But John Brown's most important connection with the printed word was just beginning - we refer to his career as an author. 1814


Friday, November 23, 2007

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

John Brown was ordained pastor of the Burgher Secession Church, Bigger, in 1806. The following year he married Miss Jane Nimmo, whom he had known for some years and had met in Glasgow, where her father was a surgeon. They enjoyed a happy life until Mrs. Brown's early death in May 1816.
John Brown's Biggar ministry may be divided into two nearly equal periods of time, with the year 1815 marking the middle point. For the first nine years of his ministry John Brown was devoted, as a young minister ought to be, to his studies and his work as a local minister. In the second period he began to come to more public notice, as an author and as one involved in wider matters. But it cannot be said that this second period saw a slackening of his ministry. Quite the reverse, indeed. It seemed to all that John Brown's ministry became MORE earnest and spiritual at that date. The reason for this was known to be deep exercises and spiritual conflicts of which John Brown never spoke, but which were known to have taken place. Later it would seem that these conflicts prepared him for a far more devastating blow in the death of his wife the following year.
John Brown's first care was bestowed on the work of the pulpit. In a more liturgical church, where the minister is seen as a sacrificing priest, the pulpit may be neglected, but Biblical, protestant Christianity depends on the prophetic message. Nor did John Brown have the attractions of a musical service, for the Seceders of those days sang exclusively from the old Scots metrical Psalms. John Brown also put the work of the preaching ministry above his other duties as a pastor. While in Biggar he wrote a sermon and a 'lecture' weekly. The term 'lecture', as used in the Scottish Church in that period, really meant what we would call an expository sermon. So John Brown was not only preaching on isolated texts, but he was also working his way systematically through whole books of the Bible.
Different ministers have different methods of preaching, and it would be foolish to impose one man's method on others. Some ministers are quite comfortable preaching wholly extemporaneous sermons, others need more or less full notes to help them along, and still others read from full manuscripts. In the nineteenth century it was quite common for ministers to commit their whole sermons, word-for-word, to memory, and then to repeat it. John Brown was of this last class. He spent three days a week preparing his sermon and lecture, leaving three more for pastoral visiting.
Brown's sermons and lectures were of the more usual kind in structure, with two notable features, firstly a long introduction, and secondly recapitulation of what had gone before in the series. For John Brown, unlike C.H. Spurgeon, preached long series' of sermons, once spending a whole year on 2 Timothy 3.16! John Brown's sermons were didactic in character, opening up the Bible and TEACHING from it, not just prefixing a Bible verse to an exhortation to moral living. Thus the long series on 2 Timothy 3.16 was in fact a year-long course on the doctrine of Scripture. We wonder how many modern churches would be able to stand fifty or so sermons like that!
So much for his preaching. What it was we can gather from the content of his books. It was exegetical preaching, founded firmly on the text of Scripture, and it was from this work that his commentaries, so valued today, came.

God willing, next time we shall continue to consider John Brown in his work in Biggar.


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.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

God willing, I shall be preaching at Bethel Chapel, Guildford, this coming Lord's Day. Services are at 10.45 and 6.00. Bethel is a welcoming traditional strict Baptist Church. The Authorised version of the Bible and Gadsby's Selection of hymns are used. The more we use Gadsby's (which is a lot lately, as we attend the Wednesday evening prayer meeting at Zoar Chapel, Norwich, as well as preaching at Barrow and Zion, Leicester - all places that use Gadsby's), the more we find that it is one of the best hymnbooks in use today - quite a feat, considering it is also the oldest!
And there is tea and cake after the evening service!!!


Thursday, November 15, 2007

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

Having completed his studies under George Lawson of Selkirk, John Brown went in September 1804 to Dunblane, to stay with Rev. Michael Gilfillan, Secession minister there and one of his relatives. There he completed his trial exercises for a license to preach before the Presbytery of Sirling and Falkirk. He was licensed to preach the Gospel on 12th February 1805. John Brown of Whitburn, a member of that Presbytery, was present, and no doubt he was overjoyed to see his son come this far.
Whilst a candidate in the Church of Scotland at this period might wait years for a pastorate, owing to there being more preachers than there were vacanicies, and the relatively dead state of the denomination, the Secession Church was still growing. A vibrant, evangelical and Calvinist denomination, the Seceders of this period contained many of the most devoted Christians in Scotland. A license to preach meant that a man was acceptable not, as in some parts of the Church of Scotland, to academics and deists, but to devoted ministers of Christ.
Still, the preacher had to travel around congregations preaching. In 1805 this meant riding around the country on a horse, and often young preachers would spend a whole week getting to the place where they were due to preach on the Lord's Day. John Brown had little experience of this. So short of preachers was the Burgher Secession that there was actually some argument between the Glasgow and Stirling Presbyteries as to whose student Brown was!
His first engagement, the Lord's Day after he was licensed, was at Bathgate, close to Whitburn, and then on the two Lord's Days following he preached at Stirling, supplying for the Rev. Dr. Smart, then pastor of the Church founded by Ebenezer Erskine, one of the founders of the Secession Church (our illustration shows the building that succeeded the original chapel where Brown preached). Soon afterwards the congregation called John Brown to be their assistant minister, one of the greatest honours the Secession could have given a young preacher. But they were unsuccessful, for a call had already been accepted by the young man to the pastorate of the congregation of Biggar. The two calls coming at practically the same time, it was not left to John Brown to decided which he preferred (and there were great advantages in both), but the Synod, the highest court of the Church, was to judge. After careful consideration the claims of the pastorless Church at Biggar were preferred over those of the wealthy Stirling congregation. Perhaps the pleas of John Brown of Whitburn on behalf of the smaller congregation were the decisive factor. Either way, John Brown was sent to Biggar. The date for the ordination was set, and for the six months between the acceptance of the call and the ordination John Brown ministered in various vacant Secession pulpits, and in October in the Secession Church in London to cover the minister's much-needed holiday. Then, in February of 1806, he returned to Biggar to be ordained to the ministry there.

Of which more, God willing, next time.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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

In 1800 the custom of the Scottish Dissenting Churches was for one minister to be the denomination's professor of theology. Self-evidently, if the ministry was to be at all properly educated, this man had to be someone remarkable. John Brown of Haddington had filled this role for the Burgher Secession Church in his day, and his successor was the no less remarkable Dr. George Lawson of Selkirk. We have already authored a series on this man, and those interested will find it linked in the sidebar.
Lawson was a Puritan in his heart. He knew the English Bible by heart, and large portions of the Greek and Hebrew as well. His knowledge and reading was of remarkable extent, but most wonderful of all was the fact that this towering genius could speak with the simplicity of a Selkirk farm-hand. Those who doubt this statement are invited to read his sermons on Ruth and Esther. He was a man who befriended his students, as theological professors ought to. A vein of Scottish humour ran through Lawson, and his influence on the students, due to his character as much as the content of his instruction, was enormous. John Brown always spoke of him with almost unbounded love and veneration. "To have enjoyed the advantage of the tuition and friendship of this truly great and good man, I count one of the principal blessings and honours of my life," John Brown said in later life of his old teacher.
The Divinity course taught at Selkirk stretched over five years, being taught by one man in the six or eight weeks of the long school vacation. It was almost completely limited to Systematic theology (those interested in the form that this instruction took are invited to examine John Brown of Haddington's 'Systematic Theology', published by Christian Focus). That threw a great deal of responsibility upon the student for planning his own study, and the fact that so many great scholars came out of the Secession ministry is a testimony to the habits of piety.
During the sessions at Selkirk some fifty students swelled the population of the little market town. Our picture shows the courthouse and marketplace that would have been familiar to John Brown some two centuries ago. In addition to lectures the students would walk together in the wild hills around Selkirk, and on one occasion John Brown was almost drowned whilst swimming in the Etterick at Selkirk.
The young students were required to preach discourses before the professor, and John Brown's were said to be "as full of good Scripture matter as a leaf of his grandfather's dictionary."
But the pastor is not only a preacher, and Dr. Lawson knew that. So another part of the training at Selkirk was that he took students around with him in his pastoral visiting.
And during term-time, at Elie, John Brown was associated with a theological society of his fellow students located in the vicinity. They met once a month to assist themselves in their studies that ran alongside their work as teachers. Essays were prepared for the society and criticised by fellow-members. Sermons were studied, and books discussed. No doubt this also did much to counteract the effects of the nature of the actual course.
In 1803 John Brown left Elie to take up a private tutor's post in Glasgow, where he remained until his theological course ended in 1804.
A great reader of poetry and philosophy, at one point in his course John Brown unhappily developed a taste for the flamboyant and metaphysical in preaching, imagining that this would win him acclaim. After one of his ‘class sermons’ he was severely criticised by the other students and by a visiting minister. In an interview with ‘the Doctor’ in his study that night Brown confessed that he had deserved all the criticism.
“Yes,” Dr. Lawson agreed, “I fear you have, and if I had gone into criticism I might have been more severe; but, John, we have both good reason to look well to our work, for if you come short in anything, every one will say, how much better you would have turned out if you had studied under your grandfather.”
Happily the excesses that Lawson had criticised were corrected by Brown, and he learned that preaching is about communication, not impressing the learned.
So, in August 1804, John Brown left the Selkirk Hall to complete his trials for license to preach, God willing, we shall see him as a young preacher next time.


Monday, November 12, 2007

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

Although they had seceded from the Church of Scotland over the question of patronage, championing the rights of the Church to call its own pastor, the Seceders remained committed to an educated ministry. In the ordinary course of things this meant that students for the Secession ministry had to attend one of the Scottish universities, at Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews or Aberdeen. A normal student would be expected to take a full university course before or while attending the denominational Divinity Hall.
John Brown was a student at Edinburgh University from 1797 to 1800. Of his time at the universitry very little is known. Apparently he set little store by his university days, valuing more his schooldays in Whitburn and his time at the Divinity Hall. We know that he attended Professor Dalziel's Greek lectures, and can be fairly confident that he attended the Latin lectures of Dr. Hill. In his second winter session at Edinburgh we know he studied Logic under Dr. Finlayson, one of the city's ministers who did something to redeem the system of pluralities that allowed a minister to hold several positions. Finlayson's teaching Brown appreciated as teaching him correct habits of study and clear, logical habits of thought.
One class we know that John Brown did NOT attend was that of Moral Philosophy. His grandfather, John Brown of Haddington, had regarded the course, in the way it was taught in Scottish universities, as a vain substitute for Christian revelation. Although the Edinburgh Professor, Dulgald Stewart, was one of the most famous of the university's teachers at that time, John Brown faithfully obeyed the injunction and stayed away. He did however READ Duglad Stewart's books, and he always admired the man.
John Brown was undoubtedly a careful student, and he certainly gained greatly from his course. What a contrast to too many university students, who gain only extravagant tastes and indolent habits!
When staying in Edinburgh, John Brown stayed with his grandfather's widow, who had moved to Edinburgh after her husband's death, and his closest companion was his uncle (there was a large age-difference in the family), William Brown. So John Brown sought out Christian fellowship, and companionship. The family pastor, Dr. Peddie, was his while he weas in the metropolis.
It should be remembered that the Scottish university of those days was, in terms of the age of the undergraduate students, more like a modern secondary school, with most undergraduates taking their degrees at the age of sixteen or seventeen. Perhaps this is why John Brown recalled little of his university days.
In April 1800 John Brown, aged fifteen and newly graduated from Edinburgh University, went out to work as a teacher at Elie, on the Eastern coast of Fife. This was, as we have said, the usual next step after university for a candidate for the Secession ministry. Not only was teaching a way for a university-educated youth (for at fifteen he could hardly be called a man) to support himself, it was also a means of disciplining the student. If he could keep order in a school, he had some possibility of being able to do so in a Church!

For three years John Brown taught at Elie and, following an examination by the Presbytery, in the long summer vacation, he went up to Selkirk for the Divinity Hall. Of which more, God willing, next time.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

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

The third John Brown, the subject of this series, inherited from his father a love of good books and a faculty of study. From his mother he seemed to inherit something of his appearance, and a more meditative turn of character. He was a sickly infant, and for some days after his birth he was not expected to live. Live he did, but he was a delicate child, and not until his college years did he shoot up to his commanding stature and develop his strong constitution that brought him through life.
Whitburn, scene of his father's ministry, was of course the scene of his childhood. In the final years of the eighteenth century it was a wsild, secluded place, surrounded by the wild moors. The Secession meeting-house was located in a commanding position, and the manse stood beside it. From the manse young John could see, twenty miles away, Edinburgh. The meeting-house stood apart from the village, and so the young family were relatively isolated.
John Brown had two sisters and a younger brother named George, who later also became a pastor. Although his parents had other children, all died in infancy.
The Seceders, concerned for the education of their children kept up their own in the vestry of the meeting-house. As was the custom then, the school teachers were young candidates for the ministry. John Brown attended this school until the age of about eight or nine, when he passed to another school in the village, and finally to the Parish School, where he recieved what he later said was the most valuable part of his education. The parish schoolmaster, one Mr. Macdonald, was a man of great learning, and young John drank up classical and literary learning from this man. Soon John Brown was the highest scholar in the school, no doubt to the delight of his literary father. His passion for books became almost proverbial, and religion was not neglected. His was not a sudden conversion, and John Brown could never name a day on which he had passed from death to life, but he loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he loved the brethren.
John Brown's father did not evangelize the Highlands at the expense of his own faily. The manse parlour was a place where he taught his family, his four children learned from him the truths of religion. As for Isabella Brown, the mother, she loved the hymns of Isaac Watts, and in that metrical form she imprinted the truths of religion on the minds of her children.
So John Brown passed from death to life before he could even recall the fact. He organised prayer-meeting at school, and rebuked his friends if they used improper language. Yet it was natural and child-like religion.
As the son and grandson of ministers, it seemed that his calling was already chosen for him - he would be a pastor. While still at school himself he taught a class of younger children in the Sabbath-school. He taught, apparently, much from the 63rd and 84th Psalms and the 12th and 35th chapters of Isaiah.
His mother died when he was eleven, and he was of course deeply affected by it. He watched her die as one who had all her hope in Christ, and no hope anywhere else. "Guilt stares me in the face; but through grace I desire to trust the promises" were her last words. When she was dead the young John wrote a little account of her life and death. As the sketch, edited of course, was later published, it may be said to have been John Brown's first published work.
His father married again, and the second wife was as much a Christian as the first. She did what she could to fill up the place of the first Mrs. Brown. but never to supplant her in the affections of her children.

A candidate for the ministry in the Secession Church had a clear route marked out for him in life, and the next step on that route for John Brown was Edinburgh University. God willing, that is where we shall see him next time.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

'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.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - Conclusion.

As we have seen, David Brown lived during a period of great change in British evangelical Christianity. He experienced first hand the proto-pentecostalism of the Irvingites, and had to come to his own conclusions about it. He struggled to find a pastorate, and then he went through all the difficulties of the Disruption. Yet even then his trials had just begun. To his distress, David Brown discovered that even a denomination as purely evangelical as the Free Church of Scotland could, within fifty years, decline from the old Calvinistic orthodoxy. In his Highland college in Aberdeen he did what he could to contend for the faith, his students strengthening the things that remained. Though an academic, he lived his life in the thick of the conflicts of his day, and then, full of years, he died.
Now David Brown would have been the last man to say that we should admire him. He would tell us rather to admire the God who made him what he was. By the grace of God, and not otherwise, he was what he was. He always pointed to Christ, like John the Baptist, he said "behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world."

What can we learn from David Brown? First we can learn the lesson of faithful contending. As he grew older, he did not grow more but less tolerant of error. That is how it ought to be. Heretics must be fought, especialy when they are within our own evangelical denominations. As far as possible, those who deny Christ must be expelled if they cannot be convicted of their error. It was a failure to expell heretics that wrecked the Free Church of the 19th century.
Second, while eschatology is important, it must be assessed carefully. Extravagant claims are often made concerning positions on the millenium. For example there have been many Dispensationalists such as Hal Lindsay who have contended that other views are 'antisemitic'. Rubbish! David Brown was a postmillenialist who took an historicist interpretation of Revelation, yet he was absolutely devoted to the cause of Jewish missions. Not only did he write an exegetical study of the Bible's teaching on the restoration of the Jews, he used his biography of 'Rabbi' Duncan to plead the cause of Jewish missions.
We see in David Brown SCHOLARSHIP joined with true RELIGION. The two rarely meet, but when they do the product is wonderful to behold. Brown was one of God's scholars, like Dr. Gill and Dr. Warfield. His scholarship was all subordinated to the glory of God, and he had no place for the so-called higher criticism. If anything he was TOO LEARNED to be taken in by it. He tried it by the Word of God and found it wanting.

David Brown's name is best known today in connection with the Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Bible commentary, or from his work on the Four Gospels. He was a skilled commentator, mighty in the Scriptures, and we think that so long as there are men who love sound scolarship joined with a deep experimental religion, David Brown shall not lack readers.
But not unto him, but to his Lord, be all the glory. For he did it all by the grace of God that was with him.


Monday, November 05, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XLIII.

The years of man are threescore and ten, but David Brown lived, through vigour of constitution, for fouscore years and fourteen, and they were indeed years of trial. A healthy lifestyle, exercise and the bracing sea air of Aberdeen, all contributed, under God, to a remarkably long life. Indeed, it was not until he was on the verge of turning ninety that his health, beyond his eyesight, started to give way. Whilst walking swiftly through the streets of Aberdeen, he tripped on an open coal-hole and fell with all his considerable force. |One of his legs was seriously injured, and it was a great shock even to his system. For three months he was confined to bed, and he was never quite the same again, though the recovery was remarkable. Winters became more difficult, and trips outside of the Aberdeen area less frequent. In early 1895 he had an attack of inlamation of the bladder, but recovered enough to enjoy his birthday in August. It was during the following winter that his great age began to seriously weigh him down. The cold weather confined him to bed, and in 1897 his friend W.G. Blaikie, coming to Aberdeen to lecture, found Brown confined to bed, in great bodily weakness.
But his mind remained active. He corresponded wirth many friends (though his failing eyesight and remaining nervous shock from the fall in 1892 made his handwriting large and difficult to read) on subjects from recent books (which his daughter Hannah would read aloud to him to save his eyes) to the Keswick movement, to Wesleyanism and hymns. He continued even to write for the press, and his thoughts often went back to the Disruption and the sacrifices of those days. At the same time he looked forward, knowing that the time of his dissolution was drawing near, to seeing the Lord he loved and served. "The best is yet to come," he said with certainty as he lay on his bed. His love of hymns had stored his mind not with the sickly sweet effusions of his age, but with those great hymns of men like Toplady and Wesley. His last words were hymns. On the morning of Saturday 3rd July Hannah Brown heard her aged father repeating the words of a little-known hymn by the English Moravian Bishop John Gambold (one of the 'Holy Club' of Oxford Methodists),
And when I'm to die,
Recieve me, I'll cry,
For Jesus hath loved me,
I cannot tell why;
But this I do find,
We two are so joined,
That He won't be in glory
And leave me behind.
Then he fell asleep. An hour later he woke and asked his daughter to read to him that great hymn of Phillip Doddridge,
O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.

’Tis done: the great transaction’s done!
I am the Lord’s and He is mine;
He drew me, and I followed on;
Charmed to confess the voice divine.

That was the faith in which he died. His only hope and all his joy.

Soon afterwards he lapsed into unconsciousness, never to wake in this world again. His soul passed from this world to be with Christ which is far better at about six in the evening.
The Provost of Aberdeen gave the departed champion of the cross a public funeral, and his body was laid in the family plot in St. Nicholas' Kirkyard (pictured), and there it lies still, in blessed hope of the glorious resurrection of life, when he shall know the full gloy he sighed for.

God willing, before we leave David Brown, we shall have a few words to say in measure of the man.


Friday, November 02, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XLII.

David Brown's trials were almost over with the death of his wife in 1879. Now it seemed, at the end of his life, that men were eager to bestow honours upon him. We are tempted to think that in some cases it was because, due to his failing eyesight and hearing, he could no longer be much of a threat to them. In 1872 he had been awarded the honourary degree of D.D. by the University of Aberdeen. In 1885, as we saw, he was made Moderator of the Free Church Assembly and gave a clarion call of warning that the denomination was putting far too much faith in man, and not enough in God.
In 1894 the King of Serbia bestowed on David Brown the decoration of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sava. Why, it may be asked, was a Scottish Free Church Principal awarded such an honour? Well, the decoration was bestowed for David Brown's work in assisting a translation of his commentary on the Gospels into the Serbian language! So we would say to those who value the commentary as issued by the Banner of Truth Trust that the King of Serbia valued it so much that he gave the author the highest civillian order then in existence in Serbia (our illustration shows the order of St. Sava).
In January 1896 David Brown was awarded his last honour, the degree of L.L.D. from the University of Aberdeen. All these honours came unasked. David Brown knew that they were passing, and he himself was fast ripening for eternity.
He was a friendly man, and as we have seen, his position as a decided Free Churchman did not prevent him from seeking friendships with men of other churches who were Christians as he was. There were many with whom he could have Christian fellowship in the Church of England, for example, but he could not have ever joined that denomination himself. He was a man of decided views and was not afraid to state them and, if needs be, to fight for them as well. The lodestone of his ministry was the Gospel, Christ crucified for sinners, and that he not only preached, but urged upon his students. The great end of the Christian ministry was, in his view, to preach Christ and Him crucified. All his learning was subordinated to this end. The Free Church of Scotland had many theological professors in the late 19th century, but of all of them it was David Brown who kept this point most firmly before his students. No wonder, then, that so many of them went out fired with a love for Christ and for perishing sinners.

God willing, next time we shall have something to say about David Brown's final illness and death.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

'Through Many Trials' David Brown - XLI.

It is a sad fact that all too often even the best of ministers have been too busy to pay adequate attention to their families. James Begg, Brown's contemporary and fellow defender of Calvinistic orthodoxy, had a son who became an actor, to his father's distress. With his many responsibilities, as pastor in the Ord, then in Glasgow, as professor and later principal at Aberdeen, not to mention his outside engagements, it might have been expected that David Brown's family would have suffered. This was not the case, however. David Brown and his wife were not of the 'happy all the day' school of Christianity - they could not be, they were not well-off comfortable people but tried believers. At the same time they took very seriously the texts that speak of belivers 'rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory'. There are, we think, two opposite errors to be avoided, that of making Christianity a gloomy thing and that of making it light and frothy. Christ teaches that 'In the world ye shall have afflections, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world'.
The Brown family was governed by the Bible. David Brown and his wife saw from Scripture that no family could thrive except on a foundation of lover and righteousness together. Both rigid legalism and foolish indulgence were shunned, and the children were taught to love the Bible and the great hymns and metrical Psalms. The preacher made sure his children knew the Gospel, but he was also careful not to assume the children were regenerate.
He spent all the time he could with his children, and during the Glasgow pastorate the school holidays were spent away from town, David Brown travelling back to Glasgow on the Saturday to preach and then returning to whatever place they were spending the holiday on the Monday. For this reason the Isle of Arran, linked to Glasgow by a reliable ferry service, yet isolated across the sea, was a popular destination. The separation from Glasgow meant that the essential time with the children was not encroached upon by visitors. A robust and active man, Brown was a father who could lead his children in exciting activities in Arran, on fishing trips and boating. He saw family outings as a means of binding the faily together, and they became almost sacrosanct, an institution kept up as long as possible. They went to Switzerland with him, but for the most part the holidays were confined to Scotland. When he supplied for six weeks at Braemar, the family came too, visits were made to Skye and the Outer Hebrides. In later years the village of Stonehaven, just down the coast from Aberdeen, made a pleasant summer retreat. There David Brown enjoyed walking down to the pier and speaking to the fishermen of the fishermen of Galilee.
But in 1879, on 30th July, David Brown suffered a terrible loss in the death of his beloved wife after a long illness of more than five years. Her last conscious words were "Jesus paid it all." THERE is a basis for hope!
Mrs. Brown had been a support to her husband through all the trials of his life since the marriage. David Brown spoke of his married life as "forty-three years of cloudless sunshine." A happy marriage indeed, and a picture of the love of Christ to the Church.
Six of David Brown's seven children were born during his pastorate at the Ord, and no doubt benefited from the less hurried pace of Highland life. One of these children died in infancy, a great grief to the family. We have already referred to Alexander, David Brown's eldest son. His eldest daughter, Margaret Dyce Brown, was married in 1860 to David Stewart, a wealthy and prominent Aberdeen factory-owner who was twice Lord Provost of Aberdeen, and would have been three times Provost if he had so wished. In 1895 Stewart ran for parliament, but was unsuccessful. He was knighted and lived at Banchory House, a secluded mansion on Royal Deeside. The estate gave David Brown a secluded retreat in his later years. It is our privilege to possess a copy of William Garden Blaikie's biography of David Brown inscribed "To dear Mabel from her affectionate father and mother Sir David and Lady Stewart, Banchory House, 16 May 1898".
The Brown's third daughter, Jane Charlotte, married James S. Fyfe, a merchant who traded from the Philippines. She died in 1882. David Dyce Brown, the only other son, became a London doctor. The remaining daughters, Hannah and Meredith, did not marry, but devoted themselves to looking after their father in what Charles Wesley calls 'age and feebleness extreme'. Meredith Brown eventually became involved in the Shaftesbury Institute in London, and Hannah Brown devoted herself to the care of her father, by this timepractically blind and almost completely deaf.