John Brown’s last exegetical work was ‘an Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans’, published in July 1857. For more than forty years, Brown had lavished study on this most complex of Epistles, the Apostle’s great system of Gospel theology. He had intended to write a long and complex exposition for the scholar, but increasing age forced him to abandon the plan and to write a more ‘popular’ commentary as a hint of what he had desired to do.
The book occupied more than six hundred pages, a hint that what we today regard as a popular level work is not quite what passed for such in the Scotland of 150 years ago. It was founded on his pulpit ‘lectures’, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ massive series was.
The book of Romans is The centrepiece of the Pauline theology, so it was only natural that so Pauline an exegete as Dr Brown should have planned an elaborate commentary on it. It has over the centuries attracted the greatest of expositors. Martin Luther’s whole worldview was changed by it, John Calvin wrote on it, Thomas Chalmers’ ‘Lectures’ on the Epistle rank high among his writings. Charles Hodge and Robert Haldane both wrote excellent commentaries on the Romans, and Haldane’s lectures on the book began a revival of the Reformed doctrine in the very city of Geneva itself.
Of Brown’s work, Spurgeon wrote: “Dr. Brown’s work must be placed among the first of the first-class. He is a great expositor.” as Spurgeon was not given to unmerited praise, we may take it that he found the work extremely helpful.
John Brown felt that his commentary on the Romans would be his last exegetical work, and in a way he was right. However, after his death the complete manuscript of a commentary on Hebrews was discovered among his papers, and published . The book had been fully prepared for the press by Brown, so that it did not suffer from the usual deficiencies of posthumous works, and his executors felt that it was too important a work to remain hidden simply because its author had died before it had been sent to the printers. Again we quote Spurgeon’s verdict on the work:
“Dr. David Smith says of this work: ‘There is not a single instance of carelessness in investigating the meaning of a text, or of timidity in stating the conclusion at which the author had arrived.’ What more could be said in praise of any exposition?”
So we have seen how John Brown enriched the world with his commentaries, always rich, warm and evangelical. His Edinburgh home at Arthur Lodge, Newington, provided him with the setting he needed to study, surrounded by the works of dozens of orthodox evangelical expositors.
Whilst a few of his works have fallen into obscurity, many more of John Brown’s writings are in print today. Tentmaker Publications of Stoke-on-Trent publishes his ‘Romans’, and the Banner of Truth Trust his ‘Hebrews’.
Yet his later years were not completely taken up with literary work, and it is to his other labours that we shall next turn, God willing.
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