Tuesday, February 12, 2008

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

Dr. John Brown was fifty years old when he was appointed to the chair of Exegetical Theology in the United Secession Church. He had behind him many years of pulpit experience. His studies had always had a large exegetical component - indeed, all preaching ought to be grounded in sound exegesis - and his old lectures were re-worked for the classroom rather than the pulpit, whilst new Broughton Place lectures were prepared with a view to re-using them in the classroom at a later date. Yet the different nature of the classroom meant that he had to enter into discussions that preachers do not and ought not to enter into in the pulpit. Minute philological questions were raised, the Greek and Hebrew took the place of the English Bible.
Dr. Brown felt more at home as an expositor in the professor's chair. Free from the need to address a mixed congregation, he was able to use all the technical terms that he had rigorously excluded from the pulpit. Not that he ever allowed himself to lapse into intellectualism. He held firmly that all study of Scripture must be in a reverent manner.
"There is something sadly deficient when the Christian system, either in the Bible itself, or in the attempts to reduce it to the order of human science, can be treated in the same manner as a mathematical problem, or an abstract speculation in metaphysics."
He was to write in his last work, an Address to Students.
For twenty-four sessions Dr. Brown taught the students of his denomination, and about a thousand students sat under him. Some were from abroad, some from other denominations, but most came from his own Secession Church. During the session the students heard at least an hour of lectures each day, to which was added another hour in either examinations or hearing exegetical exercises read by the students and criticised by the Professor.
Dr. Brown's true home was in the New Testament. His Greek was like a second language to him, and his reading in critical and lexicographal studies extensive. His Hebrew was good, but he was not a Hebraist of the order of John Gill or John 'Rabbi' Duncan. His personal library contained printed editions of the Scriptures in the original tongues from the Reformation to his own day. Commentaries from the Church Fathers onward occupied other shelves, although it was with the exegetical literature of the Reformation and the seventeenth century that he was most familiar. No Scottish work of Biblical interpretation was unknown to him, not even those he regarded as "worthless and inane." Most English Biblical scholarship was also well-known to him. Modern German scholarship he had little interest in, although of course his favourite Bengel was from that nation.
In fact Brown's library was probably the second largest clerical library in Scotland after that of Principal Lee of Edingurgh. Brown's library was carefully selected and, like Spurgeon, he was familiar with every volume he owned.

God willing, next time we shall have a few further remarks to make about Dr. Brown and his books.



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