Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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

Some people die suddenly. Dr. Thomas Chalmers was one day in good health, the next dead. It was not so with John Brown of Broughton Place. No, he died at the end of a long illness. With some people long illness unfits them for all activity, and interrupts their walk with God, with others (and Brown was of this number), it draws them closer to Him in devotion.

He finished his work as Professor in the autumn of 1857. Weak and feeling the burden of years, he tried a vacation, and recovered a little strength. He preached for the last time on the 15th of November of the same year. He almost collapsed during his last sermon, but was able to finish by God's help. Thereafter he was never to be seen in the pulpit again. Some told him that they were sure he would soon recover, But John Brown knew differently. He felt the 'sentence of death' in himself physically, and knew that the end of his course was fast drawing on.

The illness was attended with great pain, and in this intense suffering, Brown prayed not that the sickness might be taken from him, but that God would give him the patience that he needed to bear it. His son, Dr John Brown M.D., was providentially able to care for him, so that his medical attendant was one who cared for him more than any other man could have. Dr. Brown M.D. found that his father's condition was bad. He was suffering from a number of illnesses and ailments, and the medical man knew that this was serious. He called in his brother, Dr. William Brown of Melrose, and the two brothers were assisted by the best doctors in Edinburgh. The verdict was that Professor Brown (as we shall call him to distinguish him from his son) had worn himself out. His tireless labours for the Church had left him unable to resist the ravages of old age, and Dr. John Brown reported: "He became as it were suddenly old, and died twenty years older in constitution than in age."
"It is, I fear, the beginning of the end," the venerable minister said, and he was right.

The sufferings that had marked the end of 1857 found some relief early in 1858, but his strength was almost completely gone. Yet God upheld him. "I do not know that I have ever been closer to the unseen world than at this time," he told his daughter as he lay on his sickbed.
"The sovereign love of God, the infinite atonement of the Redeemer, the Ominpotent power of the Divine Spirit - that is sufficient for any; it is sufficient for me."

He found it hard to lie idle, yet he could do nothing else. When he could, he read and spoke with the friends who came to see him. They found him reading books on old age, from the Classical world to his old tutor, Dr. Lawson. Texts such as "This God is our God for ever and ever" gave him great comfort. The covenant of God could not be broken. He was in Christ, and that was enough. Robert Candlish's exposition of 1 Corinthians 15, Life in a Risen Saviour was a precious work to him at that time.
It was in 1858 that the great revival began in America, and as John Brown waited on the borders of Immanuel's Land, he rejoiced to see the beginnings of this great outpouring of grace. He was able to oversee a reprint of his own little book on Revival that he had first published nearly twenty years ago during the Kilsyth revival of 1839. The book followed Edwards, trying to guard against both fanaticism and quenching the Spirit at the same time. He warned of taking all professions of conversion during such times as true, and also against regarding all revivals with suspicion.
Brown was encouraged that the 1858 revival was not centred on men like Charles G. Finney, and was centred in prayer-meetings, not the sort of protracted meetings that Finney used to play on the emotions. The lack of Finney's 'New Measures' in the work cheered him. This was of God, he felt, not of man.

Spring passed into summer, and Professor Brown was able to drive in the country around Edinburgh. He made use of strength that he knew was only temporary to write a farewell letter to his people at Broughton Place. His next work was to write to his students explaining that they would see him in the Professor's chair no longer. Many plans had to be abandoned, as that measure of health and strength deserted him again. He delighted himself in the reading of John Owen, especially Owen's last work, Meditations on the Glory of Christ.

By October, Professor Brown was obviously dying. It seemed on the 13th of October that he was unconscious, but as his daughter whispered to ask if he was well, he replied, "Wonderfully well."
He died soon after, with his family gathered round. Since his own sons were medical doctors, there was no stranger there to break the family intimacy.

He was buried in the New Calton Burying-Ground on the 20th of October, and thousands turned out to pay their last respects. Ministers who had been his students came, great men, and poor men and women who had known him as their pastor and their friend. And there were many, very many, who knew him also as their father in the Gospel. He was laid beside his wife and child, and on their monument was written: "Looking for the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."

Truly he was a man "In labours more abundant," as his friend John Cairns said of him. By his precious writings he still speaks, and if the message of his writings can be condensed to one text it is this: "Search the Scriptures."



Blogger kshirley said...

This message has been a comfort to me, thank you for posting it. I am still learning how to live with declining health...there "is a way" in Jesus.

3:13 pm  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Thank you. I am almost overwhelmed that I have been able to do some good with this, by God's grace.

4:11 pm  
Blogger Roy Kilpatrick said...

Dear Highland Blogger - many thanks for your blogs, and especially on John Brown and Thomas McCrie. My interest in both stems from their Whitburn connection. the Brucefield congregation there (where I was brought up) marks its 250th year, the Auld Licht Anti-Burgher Secession church of Archibald Bruce having been established in 1766. It is remarkable that Bruce and Brown were contemporaries for a number of years in what was then (and in my own childhood), a small village. I am putting together a small collection of artefacts, mainly publications by Bruce, Brown and Shaw of Whitburn and communion tokens. I am also helping in the research of that period in the congregation's history. I would be interested in any links you may have or any publications you might have referenced in your blogs. If also you know of anyone selling any of the works of the three ministers, I would be interested to make contact with the seller. McCrie and John Duncan were of course students in Whitburn, and their works are also of interest. Kind regards, Roy Kilpatrick rrk2502 at gmail.com

11:51 am  

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