Rev John Brown of Haddington
(1722 – 19 Jun 1787)
(Frontispiece to the 1859 edition of Brown's Self-Interpreting Bible)
John Brown of Haddington: Scotch Burgher minister; b. at Carpow, near Abernethy (on the Firth of Tay, 6 m. s.e, of Perth), Perthshire, 1722; d. at Haddington (12 m. e. of Edinburgh) June 19, 1787. He was poor and self-taught, but acquired no small amount of learning; was a herd-boy, pedlar, soldier, and school-teacher; studied theology under Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher of Glasgow; was licensed in 1750, and in 1751 settled as pastor of the Burgher branch of the Secession Church of Haddington, where he remained till his death, declining a call as professor of divinity in Queen's College, N. J. After 1768 he was professor of theology to the Associate Synod. His yearly income from his church never exceeded £50, and his professorship had no salary; nevertheless he brought up a large family, gave freely in charity, and wrote books (which brought him no pecuniary profit) not only popular but valuable. They include: Two Short Catechisms Mutually Connected (Edinburgh, 1764); A Dictionary of the Bible (2 vols., 1769; revised ed., 1868); The Self-interpreting Bible (2 vols., 1778; often reprinted); and A Compendious History of the Church of England and of the Protestant Churches in Ireland and America (2 vols., Glasgow, 1784; new edition by Thomas Brown, Edinburgh, 1823).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Sketches of his life are prefixed to various editions of his works; the best is that by his son, prefixed to his Select Remains, ed. his Sons, J. and E. Brown, this edited by W. Brown, Edinburgh, 1856. Consult also DNB, vii. 12-14.
Two more substantial biographies of John Brown of Haddington are referenced below, if you have the stamina.
The following texts are explicitly based on an anonymous Memoir of the Rev. John Brown of Haddington included in the 1859 edition of Brown's Self-interpreting Bible. The author was most probably William Brown, Brown's son by his second wife Violet Croumbie, and secretary of the Scottish Missionary Society, who is known to have written a biographical memoir of his father. His natural filial modesty would have ensured that he didn't put his name to the manuscript.
Click here to view Robert Mackenzie's 1918 biography, John Brown of Haddington, that's mentioned in John Chitty's brief introduction below.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 1
By John D. Chitty on August 24, 2010
Brown's Self-Interpreting Bible (1859) contains an extensive biography of the editor. It's a great story, but it's going to take quite a while to get the entire thing transcribed and posted. In the meantime, I'll be mixing it up a little with other features from my new favorite study Bible. The author of this biography is not credited. But you can download Robert Mackenzie's 1918 biography, John Brown of Haddington, in a 178 page PDF file from Still Waters Revival Books for 99 cents at this link.
The REV. JOHN BROWN was born in the year 1722, at Carpow, a small village in the parish of Abernethy, and county of Perth. His parents ranked in that class of society who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. His father could boast of no rent-rolls, nor had he any title of honour, save that of an honest man and an industrious mechanic, who, during the greater part of his life, laboured in the profession of an operative weaver. Though destitute of all the advantages arising from a regular education, he was nevertheless a man of considerable intelligence, moral worth, and Christian sincerity. He made conscience of keeping up the worship of God in his family, and set a Christian example before them, though living in a neighbourhood remarkably careless of these things. His external circumstances were so narrow, that it was little he could afford to promote the intellectual improvement of his son; so that the subject of this memoir found his situation in this respect but little superior to that of his father. He was sent to school; but the time allowed him to acquire the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic, was so very short, that nothing but an excellent genius, and the most intense application, could have enabled him to attain the ordinary education of the lowest orders in the country. This, however, with one solitary month which he bestowed on the Latin, and that without the consent of his parents, appears to have been all the regular education he ever received, till we find him studying philosophy and divinity under the superintendence of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher. It does not appear that his father ever intended him for the church, or even contemplated the possibility of his accomplishing such a design; though the strong propensity of his mind to learning, and particularly to that species of learning the nearest allied to divinity, seems to have suggested to his mother the possibility, that the day might come when his literary predilection might find room for its gratification in the service of the church; and often and again has she pictured to herself that happy day, when her darling child should emerge from his obscurity, clothed in the emblems of the most honourable employment–an ambassador of the Prince of Peace. In the mean time, his personal piety, the most important of all the prerequisite qualifications for an office so sacred, afforded her the lively hope that his labours, should her ardent wishes be ever realized would not be in vain in the Lord. In a short narrative of his experiences written by himself, Brown acknowledges the delight which he had while at school, in committing to memory the Catechisms of Vincent, Flaw, and the Westminster Assembly; and the profit he afterwards derived while yet a boy, from the perusal of the Bible, Rutherford's Letters, and Gouge's Directions how to Walk with God, His God was preparing him inconsciously for the service of Christ. He had separated him from the womb, and was even now calling him by his grace, (Gal. i. 15.) that he might reveal his Son in him, and send him to preach. In the same memoir he records the solemn impressions made on his young mind, by witnessing the dispensation of the Sacrament, and listening to the addresses delivered during the service; and, from his experience of profit argues against the impropriety of excluding children from witnessing a service so calculated to engage the affections. This exclusion appears to have been practiced in the Church of Scotland at the commencement of last century; and was perhaps a remnant of Episcopal feeling, remaining after the restoration of Presbytery. "About the eighth year of my age," says he, "I happened, in a crowd, to push into the church at Abernethy, on a sacrament Sabbath. Then it was common for all but intended communicants to be excluded. Before I was excluded I heard one or two tables served by the minister, who spake much to the commendation of Christ, which in a sweet and delightful manner so captivated my young affections, as has since made me think that children should never be kept out of the church on such occasions."
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 2
By John D. Chitty on August 25, 2010
About the eleventh year of his age his father was removed by death; and in some short time after, his loss was doubled in the death of his mother, and he left a poor orphan, without friends who could render him any essential service in his forlorn situation. But another ingredient was still wanting to fill up the bitter cup of adversity. About four months after the death of his mother, he was seized with a fever, four attacks of which rapidly succeeding each other, rendered his recovery almost hopeless: but his Master had employment assigned for him in his church; and having, by a series of afflicting circumstances, impressed his mind with the ineffable importance of eternal things, and rescued him from the jaws of the grave, provided the homeless orphan with a friend and protector. An elder in the parish of Abernethy–an aged shepherd and an eminent Christian, respectable also for his intelligence, though so destitute of education that he could not so much as read–cheerfully embraced the opportunity of supplying the deficiency under which he laboured, by engaging the homeless orphan, to assist him in tending his flock, and in reading for him as opportunity allowed. It will appear strange to many, that men, of considerable talents and religious intelligence, should have been so utterly neglected in their education, particularly in a country so famed for her public seminaries as Scotland has long been. To account for this, we have only to consult the history of the reigns of Charles II and his brother James, where we find that, during that persecuting period, the laws and social regulations of the country were greatly deranged; and that, under the then prelatic ascendancy, the parochial schools, established by our forefathers, were utterly neglected–a fact which shows how nearly allied the prelacy of the times was to popery–nor were they restored by law till eight years after the Revolution of 1688. The young generations, rising during that long period, must, therefore, have been either partially or totally deficient in point of instruction, with the exception merely of those who could afford a very uncommon expense. John Ogilvie, the elder, whose kindness to young Brown we have just mentioned, had felt the privation of parochial instruction. But the connexion with the orphan boy was peculiarly advantageous to both parties, who, well pleased with one another, set to work and constructed a small hut amongst the hills, to protect them from the rain and the storm, where they read and conversed with one another, and sent up their joint supplications to him who fills the hungry with good things, while the rich are sent empty away. During this reciprocity of kind offices and congenial feelings, by a strict attention to the dispensations of Providence, by pondering over the books he read, and the sermons he heard, the young man was brought under very impressive apprehensions of the majesty of God, the hatefulness of sin, the love of Christ, and the utter insignificance of all earthly enjoyments, when contrasted with the glories of heaven; so that the pleasure of his secret devotions was greatly augmented, while he felt his conscience daily becoming more tender, and his walk and conversation more assimilated to that of his Lord and Master. His mountain was now strong, and his state prosperous; but sun and shade are not more vacillating, in the natural world, than hope and fear, joy and sorrow, are in that of the spiritual. His pastoral friend and companion relinquished his mountain occupation, and settling in Abernethy, Mr. Brown was again out of employment; and wishing to provide for himself things honest in the sight of all men, he found it necessary to enter into the service of a neighbouring farmer, whose premises were much more extensive, and his domestics more numerous, and, as it would appear, whose lives were less exemplary than that of his former friend. Here he soon began to feel a sensible decline in his spiritual attainments, and a general lukewarmness and indifference in the exercise of religious duties, though his external deportment was still distinguished by manifold virtues, and particularly by the ornamental grace of meekness, patience, and Christian forbearance, under the most irritating provocations, with a spirit of Christian charity, ever ready to forgive.–A fellow shepherd, who, in his youthful gaiety, had taken a malicious pleasure in ridiculing and otherwise annoying the young man in his devotions, after observing for some time the unalterable serenity and interminable patience with which he endured the unprovoked insult, blushed himself into repentance; nor could he find rest in his own mind till he had acknowledged his fault, expressed the shame and sorrow he felt for what he had done, and had received an assurance of a frank forgiveness. This led to an intimate and cordial friendship, which lasted during life; and the same individual, when on his death-bed, declared that the admonitions and religious instructions he received from Mr. Brown, during their intercourse as fellow-servants, had laid him under obligations which no language could express.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 3
By John D. Chitty on August 31, 2010
In the year 1733 a serious rupture took place in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in consequence of an act of Assembly passed in 1730, by which it was enacted, that reasons of dissent against the decisions of the judicatories of the Church should not be entered on the record; an enactment which prevented all who dissented in any case from exonerating their consciences by recording their dissent. This gave rise to much righteous indignation on the part of the godly ministers in the Church–an indignation which was augmented when, in 1732, the most solemn remonstrances against intrusive settlements were not so much as listened to. Along with these harsh dealings it was made a cause of censure for any minister to animadvert on the proceedings of the Church courts. Several ministers–inasmuch as they were bound by solemn engagement to the truth as expressed in the subordinate standards–found that they could not, as faithful servants of Jesus Christ, submit to censure for what appeared to them their obvious duty. Accordingly, Mr. Ebenezer Erskine, having freely animadverted on the growing defections of the Church, in a sermon delivered before the Synod of Perth and Stirling, in 1732, was called to account before said Synod, where he was found liable to censure in terms of the enactment aforesaid. To this decision, however, from a sense of duty, he peremptorily refused to submit, both before the Synod and General Assembly. Mr. Erskine was at this time joined by Messrs William Wilson, James Fisher, and Alexander Moncrieff: who, after due deliberation, finding that they could not, with a good conscience, continue in the communion of the church under these circumstances, seceded from her ecclesiastical jurisdiction, on the following grounds:–1st. The sufferance of error without adequate censure. 2d. The infringement of the people's rights in electing their ministers, under the law of patronage. 3d. The neglect or relaxation of discipline. 4th. The restraint on ministerial freedom in opposing error and maladministration. 5th. The refusal of the prevailing party to be reclaimed. On these, and other solemn considerations, stated at large in their Testimony, they constituted themselves into a distinct presbytery, fully persuaded of the lawfulness of their separation.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 4
By John D. Chitty on September 1, 2010
We resume our biography of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787), as he joins the Scottish Secession Church and teaches himself Latin and Greek while a humble, rural shepherd, preparing himself to one day become a shepherd of souls. We are also treated to a providential encounter that wins the young Brown the gift of a Greek New Testament.
To this party (the Secession Church) our shepherd considered it his duty to join himself; and, anxious to become a shepherd of souls in their communion, he prosecuted his studies with incredible ardour and perseverance, and soon acquired a considerable acquaintance with the Latin and Greek languages. In these difficult studies he had no instructor, excepting that, on some occasions of rare occurrence, he could find an hour to call on one or other of two neighbouring clergymen, namely, Mr. Moncrieff of Abernethy, and Mr. Johnston of Arngask, father of the late Dr. Johnston of North Leith, who kindly assisted him in surmounting any formidable difficulty that threatened to arrest the progress of literary pursuits. Having now obtained such an acquaintance with the Greek language as enlivened his hopes that he should ultimately succeed in his darling object of acquiring the necessary qualifications for preaching the blessed gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, he pressed forward with renovated vigour and growing confidence. But amongst the many things wanting to accelerate his motion, he was, at this time, anxious to obtain a Greek Testament, that he might have the satisfaction of reading, in the original language, the character and work, the holy life and vicarious death, of Him who feedeth his flock like a shepherd, and laid down his life for his sheep. Buoyed up with these hopes, and excited by this anxiety, after folding his flock one summer evening, and procuring the consent of his fellow-shepherd to watch it next day, he made a nocturnal trip to St. Andrews, distant about twenty-four miles, where he arrived in the morning. He called at the first bookseller's shop that came in his way, and having inquired for the article in question, the shopman, on observing his apparent rusticity and mountain habiliments (dress characteristic of his occupation), told him that he had Greek Testaments and Hebrew Bibles in abundance, but suspected an English Testament would answer his purpose much better. In the mean time some gentlemen, said to have been professors in the university, happened to enter the shop, and learning what was going on, seemed much of the shopman's opinion. One of these, however, ordered the volume to be produced, and, taking it in his hand, said, "Young man, here is the Greek Testament, and you shall have it at the easy charge of reading the first passage that turns up." It was too good an offer to be rejected: the shepherd accepted the challenge, and performed the conditions to the satisfaction and astonishment of the party; and Mr. Brown very modestly retired with his prize.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 5
By John D. Chitty on October 11, 2010
In his employment as a shepherd–a calling so much ennobled in the patriarchal age, and so universally celebrated both in the ancient and modern pastoral–he enjoyed more leisure, and better opportunities, for prosecuting his favourite studies, than could have fallen to his share in almost any other business; nor did he neglect to improve such promising circumstances. In a very short time he left far behind him many who had the advantage of every thing calculated to quicken their progress,–proper books, leisure to study them, and the best masters for their instructors. Left to his own resources, however, he acquired the knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, with a rapidity that attracted the attention of the neighbourhood, and became the general topic of conversation. But while this procured him many friends, it at the same time hurt the pride, and excited the malice, of some of his outstripped rivals in the race of literary fame. It was, accordingly, whispered, that the progress he was making in his studies, in the absence of all instruction, bearing no proportion to the powers of the human mind, could only be accounted for by supposing that his unaccountable progress was effected by the agency of the devil; who, with a similar temptation, had seduced the mother of mankind, and has, in all ages, taken the advantage of the studious and scholastic habits of individuals to entangle them in his snares.–"Report ye, and we will report: come, let us smite him with the tongue." Notwithstanding that this malevolent slander had absurdity deeply imprinted on its forehead, it was eagerly laid hold of by the ignorant and credulous, and so widely circulated, that the innocent victim felt it extremely distressing, and more especially since even Mr. Moncrieff appeared, for a season, to be influenced by it, and withdrew his countenance from him–a thing which, he afterwards admitted, was very cruel and unkind. For although the charge of diabolical intercourse was no longer admissible in the criminal courts of the country, yet the superstitious notions and prejudices handed down from the dark ages of popery were, at that period, so far from being eradicated from the minds of the people, especially in sequestered corners of the country, that such surmises were still capable of ruining a man's peace, and inflicting a serious wound on a mind of even the most ordinary feeling. To one so ardent in the prosecution of knowledge, and so anxious to attain the qualifications necessary for a minister of the gospel, it must have been no common affliction to have all his pleasing anticipations thus cruelly blighted in a moment; for, as he apprehended, the immediate tendency of this foul reproach was to blast his religious character, and counteract his whole purpose, by shutting against him the door of the divinity hall. On those who were best acquainted with him (the members of a praying society with which he was connected,) the slander had no impression; they continued his steady friends, and their attachment seemed to strengthen in proportion to the anguish he suffered from such an unmerited calumny. In the narrative already quoted we find him speaking thus: "The reproach was exceedingly distressing to me; however, God was gracious, for I enjoyed remarkable mixture of mercy and affliction. At the beginning of the trial these words, "The Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day-time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life,' were peculiarly sweet to my soul."
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 6
By John D. Chitty on November 27, 2011
It's been a while since I last posted an excerpt from the Memoir of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington as it is found in his Self-Interpreting Bible, but a comment from his great great great Granddaughter spurred me to get back on the job. The following excerpt summarizes Brown's move ...
...From shepherd to salesman to schoolmaster.
Some short time after the spreading of this report, and probably owing to the disagreeable situation in which it had placed him, our shepherd abandoned his crook, and undertook the occupation of a pedlar or itinerant merchant; a profession, however, in which he made but an indifferent figure. His mercantile excursions were chiefly confined to those parts of the country lying between the Forth and Tay. He seldom took lodging in any family that was not characterized for religion. The first thing he did in his new lodgings, was to turn over their books, and finding one to his mind, the sale of his wares was forgotten, and every mercantile consideration quenched in the more congenial traffic of literary knowledge. His friends and well-wishers frequently hinted the impropriety of neglecting his business; and some of them ventured to apprize him of his danger, and the difficulties into which his carelessness was likely to involve him; but all their admonitions went for nothing–although he was often obliged to any kind person who would arrange his ill-assorted pack, while he pored for an hour over some book which had fallen into his hand. The acquisition of wealth, unless in so far as it tended to promote the more important acquisition of knowledge, was, in his opinion, a matter about which no wise man would greatly concern himself.
During these perambulations, Charles Stuart the pretender had effected a landing in the north, and boldly laid claim to his grandfather's forfeited throne. The partial success attending his opening career, and the alarm it produced, had thrown the country into considerable disorder. The Presbyterians, in general, were loyal; those of the Secession were universally so. There were many amongst them who had been eye-witnesses of the cold-blooded butcheries, the unqualified tyranny, and ruinous spoliation sanctioned by the last of the Stuarts, and shuddered at the thought of their return. They were inclined, of course, to stand by the king and a Protestant succession, at all hazards; nor was it ever known that one of their body joined the ranks of the pretender. Mr. Brown was imbued with the same political principles; and observing one day a party of Highlanders approaching him, he had the address to conceal himself till they were gone; when, pondering on the unsettled state of the country, which he considered unsafe for one of his profession, he came to the resolution of relinquishing his present employment, at least till quieter times. In pursuance of this new scheme he concealed his pack in a peat-stack, and enlisted in a corps of volunteers that had been raised in the neighbourhood in support of government; with whom he did duty in Blackness, and latterly in the castle of Edinburgh, till the rebellion was extinguished by the decisive battle of Culloden.
On the breaking up of his regiment, he retired to the scenes of his former wanderings, withdrew his deposit from the peat-stack, and recommenced his former employment, which he seems to have followed for at least another year. Tired at last of this uncongenial and wandering life, and wishing to get into a more direct road to his ultimate design, he undertook at the suggestion of several friends the toilsome and troublesome vocation of a teacher. In 1747 he opened a school at Gairney Bridge, a village in the vicinity of Kinross; which he superintended for two years with remarkable success. His experience, as a self-taught scholar, enabled him with more ease to lead them through those elementary difficulties that stand in the way of the young scholar; while his patience and conscientious assiduity, which peculiarly qualified him for an instructor of youth, attracted scholars from every quarter. While thus unwearied in carrying them forward in the various branches of education, he laid hold on every proper opportunity to impress their young minds with the importance of practical religion; particularly on Saturday, before dismissing his school, he made it his constant rule to address them on the duty, the propriety, and urgent necessity of remembering their Creator and Redeemer in the days of their youth; and the happy result of his pious endeavours may be partly gathered from the astonishing fact, that, though only two years a schoolmaster, eight or nine of his scholars were afterwards ministers of the gospel. His strenuous endeavours to press others forward in the paths of wisdom and usefulness, however, did not retard his own motion, or relax his industry. He has been known to commit to memory fifteen chapters of the book of Genesis in an evening after dismissing his school; and after all this unparalleled exertion, to allow himself only four hours in bed.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 7
By John D. Chitty on February 26, 2012
When the religious clause of the burgess' oath came under discussion in the Associate synod, it appeared that the members entertained very different views of the subject; the mournful consequence of which was a complete separation of the opposing parties into two distinct synods; the one denominated the Burgher, the other the Antiburgher synod. Though not as yet officially connected with the Secession Church, yet as a conscientious member, Mr. Brown could not allow the question to pass without duly deliberating for himself and determining the path of duty; the result of his deliberation was, that though not fully satisfied with regard to the lawfulness of the oath, he did not consider it a matter of sufficient magnitude to break up all Christian communion and fellowship; but rather held it as a proper subject for the exercise of mutual forbearance. He consequently ranked with the adherents of the Burgher synod; of which body he continued a zealous and respected member till his death.
Licensed to preach.
During the vacations of his school, Mr. Brown attended the classes of philosophy and divinity under the superintendence of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher; till having gone through the several courses, he passed trials before the presbytery of Edinburgh, and was licensed by that reverend body at Dalkeith, in 1751, to preach the gospel in their connexion. On this sacred service, he entered deeply impressed with the awful responsibility of his office; nor could he help being seriously affected with a coincidence, which one might think sufficient to shut the mouth of every calumniator; namely, that about the same time, if not on the same night, on which he was licensed, and sent forth, in acknowledged innocence, a commissioned messenger of Christ, the author and principal propagator of those malicious imputations, from which he had suffered so much (see this post), was excommunicated by his own supporters.–His probationary labours were of short duration, two calls having been got up almost simultaneously for discharging the duties of the pastoral office; the one from Haddington, the county town of East Lothian; the other from Stow, situated on the southern border of the shire of Edinburgh. The presbytery left him the choice of the two situations; and Mr. Brown accepted of Haddington, partly in consideration of several disappointments that congregation had sustained, and partly also because it was the smallest, and likely to afford him the more leisure to prosecute his studies. In gratitude to the people of Stow, for the predilection they had shown for him, and as a small compensation for their disappointment, he preached for them several Sabbaths, and continued to examine them every year till they were supplied with a pastor of their own.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 8
By John D. Chitty on November 3, 2012
The pastor of a large congregation has but little time to spare from the duties of his office, compared with one engaged with a less numerous charge. In this respect Mr. Brown found himself in his proper element at Haddington. There, without trenching on the duties of his office, he could devote a very considerable portion of his time to study; and this privilege he improved to the best advantage.
In the summer months his constant rule was to rise between four and five, and during the winter by six. From these early hours, till eight in the evening, excepting the time allotted to bodily refreshment, family worship, or when called away on the duties of office, he continued to prosecute his studies with unremitting application. To a mind so ardent in the acquisition of knowledge, with a judgment so clear, a retentive memory, and exertions so intense, it was by no means surprising that he became greatly superior to most men engaged in discharging the same sacred duties.
In acquiring the knowledge of languages, ancient or modern, he possessed a facility altogether his own. Without an instructor, unless for one month to start him in the Latin, as formerly mentioned, he soon got so far acquainted with that language as to relish its beauties; and, left to his own resources, though frequently but indifferently provided with the proper books, he soon became critically acquainted with the Greek, and especially the Hebrew. Of the living languages, he could read and translate the Arabic, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic, the French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and German.
With him natural history, civil law, natural and moral philosophy, were particular objects of research; but divinity, and the history of human affairs, sacred or civil, were his favourite studies; and his success in these departments of knowledge are visible in his various works.Among the writers on divinity with whom he was versant, we find that Turretine, Pietet, Mastrecht, and Owen, with Boston, Erskine, and Hervey, were the chief; which shows that he accounted sound divinity and accurate sentiment a far better recommendation of his author, than the flowing fancy, the brilliant style, or the harmonious period.
Though stimulated by a sense of duty, and strongly excited by inclination, to the study of divinity, such was his anxiety to become a universal scholar, that he made himself acquainted with the whole round of the sciences. In his reading, especially important works, he was in the habit of compendizing his author as he went along. In this way he abridged the whole of Blackstone's Commentaries, the ancient Universal History, and a number of other important works. This, however, is a method concerning which the learned hold different opinions. To lay aside the book, and abridge entirely from memory, and that in the writer's own language, without regarding the style of the author, will make the substance of the work more his own; which, with other reasons that might be named, seems to render it the more eligible method.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 9
By John D. Chitty on November 5, 2012
Professor of Divinity
On the death of the Rev. J. Swanston of Kinross (1768), the professor of divinity for the Burgher branch of the Secession, Mr. Brown was elected to fill the vacant office; nor were they at all disappointed in their choice. The ability and attention with which he fulfilled the various duties of that important charge, met with universal approbation. He found it was absolutely necessary to support the dignity of a teacher amongst his students, but could not help discovering, at the same time, the affection and anxious solicitude of a father for his children, which, on their parts, was rewarded with confidence, love, and obedience.
He treated them with the greatest impartiality; or, if piety, talents, application, or exemplary conduct, in any case inclined him to a preference, he was careful that it should never be observed. To promote their best interests, he was unwearied in his labours of love. That he might satisfy himself that the young men were improving their time, he used to visit them at their lodgings early in the morning, to see that they were properly engaged.
The ordinary course of attendance on the divinity lectures was five sessions, of two months each. In his View of Natural and Revealed Religion, and the Cases of Conscience subjoined to his Practical Piety, we have a connected view of the substance of all these lectures. His General History of the Church, as well as that of the British Churches, were originally intended for the use of his students. He ever considered personal piety the most essential qualification for successfully discharging the various and important duties of the ministerial office; and accordingly pressed on his students the pre-eminent interest they themselves had in the doctrines they were to preach to others; assuring them, that divinity was to be studied in a very different way from that of a system of philosophy; and that, without heart-religion, they must necessarily continue unprofitable students of theology.
He urged, moreover, by all means to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the oracles of God in the original languages; and, next to these, with the writings of Turretine, Owen, Boston, Fisher's Marrow of Modern Divinity, the Erskines, and Hervey's Theron and Aspasio, with his Defence against Wesley. The serious and solemn manner in which, on particular occasions, he was in the habit of addressing his students, but especially on parting at the end of the sessions, seldom failed in melting both the speaker and hearer into tears and of leaving the best impressions on their young minds; and the many able and acceptable ministers, in Great Britain and Ireland, who had been trained up under his tuition, afford the most convincing proof of his success in this department of his manifold labours.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 10
By John D. Chitty on November 8, 2012
But Mr. Brown was not only distinguished as a minister of the gospel, and a teacher of divinity, he is celebrated also as an author. A strong desire to contribute towards the moral and religious improvement of mankind, and that he might, in some measure, be useful to the church of Christ, when he rested from his labours, weighed down every consideration of either profit or applause connected with his writings; indeed the pecuniary reward of all his labours, in this way, was but a matter of small account, never exceeding forty pounds. It was reserved, however, for his booksellers to reap a much more bountiful harvest; several of his works having already appeared in upwards of thirty, and some even in forty editions.
His first attempt as an author was his large work on the Catechism, which appeared in the year 1758; the next was a lesser work, also on the Catechism; and the rest of his works succeeded one another as circumstances seemed to render them necessary. (A modern edition is available from Reformation Heritage Books) That the doctrines he taught might appear with all the solidity and perspicuity in his power, he was at the extraordinary pains of writing his manuscripts thrice, and occasionally four times over, before they went to press; and frequently, after all this trouble in correcting, adding, and retrenching them, to request some one of his brethren to examine, and give his candid opinion concerning them.
But on none of his works has he bestowed so much labour as on his Dictionary of the Bible; a book of such diversified information, extensive research, and generally acknowledged utility, that it is doubtful if any work, of equal size, has hitherto appeared better calculated for assisting in the study of the Holy Scriptures, although now from the increased amount of information on scientific, historical, and other subjects, it necessarily is imperfect as compared with what he doubtless would have made it, had he possessed the opportunities of our day.