Sunday, April 13, 2008

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

In 1848 John Brown began his second period of authorship. With the pain of the atonement controversy behind him, Brown began to give his exegetical writings, for which he is still justly famous, to the world. He was in his mid-sixties at the time, and for ten years his pen was that of a ready writer.
In May 1848 he issued the first of these works, his Expository Discourses on the First Epistle of the Apostle Peter. As the title suggests, they were originally delivered as a series of expository sermons on the book. Brown had spent sixteen years in their delivery, a fact that probably amazes most modern preachers. These were not lectures given in the classroom, but sermons to a mixed congregation. And many of those who had heard the sermons had requested the publication. In a typical remark, Brown said:
"The author would probably never have thought of offering these illustrations to the world, had not a number of much respected members of his congregation earnestly solicited him, before increasing age should make it difficult, or approaching death impossible, to furnish them with a permanent memorial of a ministry of considerable length, full of satisfaction to him, and he trusts not unproductive of advantage to them. Such an application could not be treated lightly; and on weighing the subject, he found that he durst not refuse to comply with it."

It is notable that Brown did not speak with a view to publication, a fact which no doubt contributed to the success of his ministry. There is nothing worse than the preacher whose sermons are intended not to be delivered from the pulpit, but to make up a nice volume for the enjoyment of the reading public.
As the quotation from his preface shows, Dr. Brown saw the three volumes of these lectures as his legacy to his congregation, the legacy of a man whose voice would soon be lost in death. The book is a commentary, but of course it partakes also of the usual character of sermons. It is not therefore academic, but popular, for woe betide the preacher who merely lectures to his congregation! The discussion is not general and abstract, but it is applied with all the force that the great master of exegesis was capable. Brown shows us in his 1 Peter how great learning is the foundation, not the superstructure, of the exposition of the Word. He never indulged in a mere display of learning, but subordinated his learning to the good of his hearers.
Of all the men who had written on the Epistle before him, Brown found most to his taste the work by Archbishop Leighton:
"That very remarkable work teaches a singularly pure and complete theology, a theology thoroughly evangelical in the true sense of that often abused epithet."
As a result of this opinion, Brown often quoted the great Archbishop's commentary in his sermons on the book.
Not surprisingly, the work sold very well, both in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It opened the way for more books from Brown's pen, books that quickly followed.
A story is told of the eccentric United Presbyterian minister, William Anderson of John Street (pictured), Glasgow in connection with these volumes on 1 Peter. One morning Anderson was ministering himself, and the afternoon service was to be taken by the noted Dr. M'Farlane of Erskine Church. Anderson was preaching through 1 Peter, and had reached the section in chapter 3. 1-6 about the duties of wives to their husbands. After reading these verses he told the congregation that he had been consulting Dr. John Brown's Expository Discourses on the Epistle, and had found it put so well by Brown that he felt it would be best for him just to read Brown's sermon to the congregation. As he opened the volume he said with a twinkle in his eye: "You are a favoured people this day; you are to hear Professor John Brown in the forenoon and Dr. John M'Farlane in the afternoon!"

Needless to say, we far prefer this manner of using another's sermon than that most often practiced, which is to do so without any acknowledgment at all.
So Dr. John Brown's last and most productive period as an author began.
Of which more, God willing, next time.



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