Tuesday, February 19, 2008

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

"There are worse ways of spending money than buying books," John Brown once said to a man who had complained that he had 'squandered' a large fortune in buying books. His books were of course tools, necessary to his work as a professor. The first quality he looked for in a commentary was understanding of the Scriptures. Sometimes he noted that men with quite strange ideas in one department nevertheless saw clearly in texts that did not affect their systems. Adam Clarke, for example, was extraordinarily helpful on texts that do not enter into the Arminian controversy.
On the study of the Bible he noted that "Dr. Chalmers has hit the true key-note, not, what thinkest thou? but, what readest thou?" Calvin and Bengel were his models, men whose commentaries are full of both the deepest learning and the deepest religion. His students declared that his lectures were devotional in tone, though academic in content. s a preacher he brought much of his pulpit style to the desk, often bringing striking anecdotes. One was concerning Mr. Jameson, who had lectured on John's Gospel. Another minister congratulated him on expounding it to his people, since John was so simple. "You think John simple; but try him, and you will find him deep as the Dead Sea," Jameson replied. A pithy saying, and full of truth indeed. Another deserves to be given in the context Brown's biographer gives:
"Another anecdote was at the expense of Dr. John Taylor of Norwich, who, as is well known, published a Key to the Epistle to the Romans, which professes to open it, in harmony with the lowest Arminianism [Dr. Taylor was a Unitarian-H.H.]. Dr. Brown used to recite, with much enjoyment, the verdict passed by a contemporary divine on the performance:- 'The poor man gave the key a violent wrench, and behold it moved; but it was not the door that was opened, it was only the lock that was broken.'

Like all the best professors, Brown was 'able to have compassion on them that are ignorant and out of the way,' but had only withering contempt for the lazy, the reckless and the proud. Perhaps because of his own experience as a student he abhorred affectation in his students. Of course he showed love to them, with a yearly party in his home. After dinner the party would withdraw to his study. There he would give an informal lecture upon authors and systems, book after book being taken down from the shelves in illustration.
Nor was this labour of love confined to the stated sessions, for in the winter months he conducted a separate class for divinity students who belonged to his congregation, an opportunity they took up eagerly. But the winds of bitter controversy were never far away, and in 1835 there burst upon the scene a controversy the effects of which are felt to this very day.

Of which more, God willing, next time.



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