Thursday, January 17, 2008

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

We are not to imagine that John Brown's interest in the Church Catholic in any way weakened his affection for his own denomination, or his involvement in her life. He regularly attended the meetings of the Presbytery of which he was a member and the Synod of the denomination. What was more, he took part in debates and sat on denominational committees. John Brown was not one of the world's debaters, but he was a man whose opinions, formed as they were by deliberate study, were valuable and deserved to be heard.
Like his father, John Brown was deeply concerned for the evangelization of the Highlands. It may be hard to imagine today, but at the opening of the nineteenth century the spiritual condition of the Scottish Highlands was desperate. The Lowlanders knew little, if anything about the lands to their North, and the Highlanders were appallingly educated. Not only were many Highlanders illiterate, but there were few Gaelic books for them to read anyhow. English, the language of the Church of Scotland, was barely spoken at all, and of course it could be read by even fewer than spoke it. The Reformation had never really penetrated the North, one reason why the Roman Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie had been able to gain so much support among the Highlanders.
The Highlands had of course been divided into parishes, and each parish provided with a church and minister. However the parishes were huge, and the population too scattered for it to be practical for them to gather in the churches that the Church of Scotland had.
Had each parish been provided with a minister with the zeal of Richard Baxter, the constitution of John Wesley, the earnestness of George Whitefield and the learning of John Owen, all with the orthodoxy of John Knox, perhaps the Highlands would have been well-served. This was, however, the period of the reign of moderatism in the Kirk. Let it be recorded with thanks that there were some godly ministers working in the Highlands, and they did what they could, denying themselves to make Christ known. But they were few and limited in what they could do, especially as Moderate ministers did all that they could to keep evangelicals out of their parishes! Those wishing to read of these days are directed to John Kennedy of Dingwall's books The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire and The Apostle of the North.
A few societies for missions or education did what they could, and independent missionaries and Independent and Baptist preachers had been sent out. Still, it was a vast field and the Burgher Synod had an open door ahead of her.
John Brown's father had ensured that the Synod would act as a Synod in directing a co-ordinated plan of action in missions to the Highlands, and John Brown was sent as the Synod's first deputy to the North. He went in the autumn of 1818, preaching the Gospel twelve times in three weeks and distributing tracts in both Gaelic and English.
Denominational strife is a curse wherever it comes, and it was the curse of denominational strife that blighted the Burgher mission to the North. Opposition arose among Church of Scotland evangelicals and the Synod were beaten down. The Church of Scotland was, however, startled into action, and Church of Scotland Evangelicals attacked the neglected Northern Mission field with great vigour, so that only twenty-five years later the Free Church of Scotland, formed by Evangelical seceders from the Church of Scotland, would dominate in the Highlands.

In September 1818 Brown was elected Moderator of the Synod. He preached on Joshua 13.1, and urged that the Burgher Synod should continue to be a missionary Church, at home and abroad. Brown's position in the Synod was prominent, and chages would come that would make him even more prominent. Of which more, God willing, next time.



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