Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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

In February 1820 Dr. George Lawson of Selkirk died. The Burgher Synod was thus left without a professor to teach its students. As the Synod was in talks with the Anti-Burgher Synod for the two fragments of the Secession Church to be made one once more, some thought that the appointment of a new professor should wait until after the Union. Those who wanted a new professor appointed before the Union won, however, and so a committee was appointed to consider who the most suitable men to put before the Synod were. Four men were selected, and John Brown was among them. Ultimately the Synod's choice was between two men, John Brown and Dr. John Dick of Glasgow (John Dick's monument is out illustration). Ultimately the Synod's choice fell on Dr. Dick, by a large majority. The choice, made by devout Christian men, was the right one. Dick was the older man, and his professorship produced his Lectures in Theology (published today by Tentmaker), a book that John Cairns, one of Dick's successors, regarded as "One of the simplest, least exaggerated and most Scriptural exhibitions of the Calvinistic system ever given to the world," and which Archibald Alexander of Princeton called "one of the best works of systematic theology in the English language." John Brown would be a professor, but God's time had not yet come. Brown had much to learn as a pastor, and had other work ahead of him.
The Synod were safe and sensible in choosing the older man. The sort of professorship that the Secession Churches had called for a man with qualities not often found in youth, a man with Dr. Dick's qualities. John Brown's gifts were more exegetical than systematic, as his published works show. Having to teach the sort of class that Dick taught would have robbed us of much of John Brown's work, and of Dick's Lectures as well!
Today we have, alas, become used to the sort of church union scheme that negates everything, affirms nothing and brings up confessions only to say nothing about them. The union of the Burgher and Anti-Burgher Synods in 1820 had nothing of this character. In fact John Brown and a few of the other younger ministers objected that it was too narrowly tied to the Westminster Confession of Faith! Not that their objections were on the fundamentals of the Faith, but they objected to the statement that the Presbyterian is "the only form of government" of the Church sanctioned by the Bible, and they did not think a national establishment of religion was enforced by the Bible. They left a protest on record, but still rejoiced in the fact of the United Secession Church. We think that the very fact that a union could take place on such a rigid basis shows that the union was right. It was no mere fudge, but the cordial union of two Presbyterian Churches that no longer had any reason to remain apart.

Although he had not been made Professor, a change was to come to John Brown's life. In 1822 he was called to the pastorate of the United Secession Church in Rose Street, Edinburgh. God willing, next time we shall see how he responded to the call.



Post a Comment

<< Home