Monday, July 21, 2008

'This One Thing I do' John Brown of Broughton Place - XXXVI

Dr. John Brown published in 1852 a volume entitled Plain Discourses on Important Subjects. As the title suggests, this was a volume of sermons, including two of his 'Canongate Lectures'. These were sermons given to a congregation at the Canongate Mission in a poor part of the city. Though Brown was a brilliant and popular preacher, he never forgot the ordinary folk, and the work of an evangelist. But a more significant volume was his The Three Gatherings, published in 1857. This was a volume of Missionary Discourses on Isaiah 56, originally preached to encourage and inform the wealthy Broughton Place congregation on the matter of missions. Revised for the press, these were, as befitted their author, deeply exegetical, and spoke of missions to both Jew and Gentile, for this was the Scotland of the Bonar Brothers and Robert Murray M'Cheyne, men who had a great love for God's ancient people. We give a sample:
"The question has been agitated as to the priority and connexion of the two gatherings of the Jews and Gentiles, which together are to form the third gathering. Are the Jews or the Gentiles to be first converted? Are the Jews to be the instruments of the conversion of the Gentiles, or the Gentiles of the Jews? Unfulfilled prophecy, generally covered with clouds, gives on these subjects no certain sound. So far as I can discover its meaning, it intimates that both events shall take place, if not exactly contemporaneously, yet during the same epoch; and Gentiles shall be instrumental in the Conversion of Jews, and converted Jews extensively employed in the final in-bringing of the unconverted Gentiles. It is while men are 'Fearing the Name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun,' that 'the Redeemer will come to Zion.' 'The blindness which happened to Israel' continues till 'the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,' or rather till the fulness of the Gentiles shall be gathering, 'and then all Israel shall be saved.'"

Not content with simply dealing with questions of Jewish and Gentile missions, he also answered those who felt that the present manner of evangelism by the preached Word alone would be superseded by a method involving the miraculous. Such anticipations greatly retarded the growth of the modern missionary movement, and it is most likely that the retort to Carey that "When God sees fit to convert the heathen, he'll do it without your help" was not so much the result of hyper-calvinism, but of this mentality that God must bring in a new age of miracles for the world to be converted to Christ.

Dr. Brown was not pre-millennial, though he did not write off pre-millennialism as heresy, simply as a difference of opinion on a secondary matter. He once remarked on his pre-millennial brothers in Christ:
"We do not look for the Saviour so soon as some of our friends do, but if He should come, we shall be very glad to see Him."
Brown was in fact a post-millennialist, looking for the final triumph of Christianity in this age, before the Second Advent. He had little faith in prophetic speculation, saying that the folly of men who dared to set exactly dates was "manifest to all men but themselves." As in all things, John Brown sought to know what the Bible had to say on unfulfilled prophecy, and to keep Bible and newspaper in their proper places.

Brown was no mere theological antiquarian. He laboured in all his writings to address the unchanging Gospel to the people of his age, and to interpret the Bible according to itself, not some artificial system. He was a Calvinist, but a Bible-Calvinist like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, not a System-Calvinist. In this we think he was quite right - as surely should all Christians think! That is, John Brown was a Calvinist because of the Bible, not the Westminster Confession of Faith. He subscribed the Confession because he felt it was Biblical, he did not try to cram the Bible into the Confession.

So, God willing, next time we shall come to the final scenes of Dr. John Brown's life.



Post a Comment

<< Home