John Brown


JOHN BROWN, the well-known author of several highly prized works on practical divinity, is the next Worthy that claims our respectful notice. Much obscurity hangs over his early history. His mother, an intelligent and pious person, had the honour to rank among her correspondents the famous Samuel Rutherford. In writing to Mrs. Brown from Aberdeen on the 13th March, 1637, Rutherford thus refers to the subject of this memoir, who was then a mere youth:—"I rejoice to hear your son John is coming to visit Christ, and to taste of his love. I hope he shall not lose his pains, or rue that choice. I had always, 'as I said often to you,' a great love to dear Mr. John, because I thought I saw Christ in him more than in his brethren. Fain would I write to him to stand by my sweet Master; and I wish you would let him read my letter, and the joy I have, if he will appear for, and side with my Lord Jesus." In another letter to a different correspondent, Rutherford also expresses himself as follows:—"Remember me to Mr. John Brown; I could never get my love off that man, I think Christ hath something to do with him."

On completing his academical studies, he was ordained minister of Wamphray, in the presbytery of Lochmaben. He was indefatigable in his pastoral labours in that parish, as well as throughout Annandale. He continued at Wamphray till after the restoration of Charles the Second. For the conscientious and bold stand which he made against the introduction of prelacy he was cruelly treated, and deprived of his benefice. On the 6th November, 1662, he was placed at the bar of the council, charged with "abusing and reproaching some ministers for keeping the diocesan synod with the archbishop of Glasgow, calling them perjured knaves and villains. He acknowledged that he called them false knaves for so doing, because they had promised the contrary to him. The council ordained him to be secured a close prisoner in the tolbooth till further orders."

In consequence of the severities to which he was subjected, by being confined in a damp cell during the winter of 1662, he was induced to send in a representation to the council, setting forth, "that he had been kept close prisoner these five weeks by-past, and seeing, that by want of free air and other necessaries, for maintaining his crazy body, he is in hazard to lose his life; therefore, humbly desiring warrant to be put at liberty, upon caution, to enter his person when he should be commanded." The lords of council "ordain the suppliant to be put at liberty forthwith of the tolbooth, he first obliging himself to remove and depart off the king's dominions, and not to return without license from his majesty and council, under pain of death." The alternative was a hard one, but rather than pine away in a dungeon, he chose to bid a last adieu to his beloved flock and his numerous friends in Scotland, and repair to Rotterdam, where several of his acquaintance had already taken refuge. Brown was allowed two months, from the 11th of December, to prepare for his final departure from his native country; and, in the spring of 1663, he landed on the continent. He resided partly at Utrecht and partly at Rotterdam. Though he preached frequently in both places, he was never admitted minister of any congregation abroad. In the year 1673, the English congregation at Middleburg, in Zealand, were desirous to have him as their pastor. He remained, however, at Rotterdam, where, in 1676, he was brought forward as a candidate along with his friend Mr. MacWard, when the Dutch government generously agreed that a second minister should be appointed for the Scottish Church in that city. Both candidates, being men of tried worth and ability, found strenuous supporters in the congregation. The consistory, by a majority of votes, elected Mr. MacWard.

Brown was extremely useful at Rotterdam. He assisted the ministers of the Scottish Church, not merely in the pulpit, but also in regularly visiting their people. For a while he peaceably enjoyed the Christian society of his expatriated brethren, and consoled by his printed writings and private letters, the dear friends among whom he now dwelt, as well as those whom he had been forced to leave behind. But this peace was soon broken in upon by the unworthy interference of King Charles. He insisted that the States General should remove from the United Provinces, colonel Wallace, John Brown, and Robert MacWard, because they were obnoxious to his Majesty. The States, with great reluctance, interposed in this delicate matter; and, as we have already fully stated in our Life of Colonel Wallace, persuaded rather than forced these three Worthies, to withdraw from Holland. This occurred in February, 1677. For a short period they were in Germany; but it was not long till they were permitted to recross the frontiers of Holland, and take up their abode in the vicinity of Utrecht.

Mr. MacWard, when corresponding with his session about a successor, thus speaks of Brown, who was at this time living with him in prudent retirement:—"The Lord hath suffered men to rob you of Mr. Brown, of whom I have confidence to say, for a conjunction of great learning, soundness in the faith, fervent zeal for the interests of Christ, and the souls of men, together with his unwearied painfulness while upon the brink of the grave, spending his life to give light to others, and laying out his great receivings for the vindication of precious truth; contradicted and blasphemed by adversaries, I know no minister alive (though the residue of the Spirit be with him) that would fill his room if he were removed; and, whatever particular churches or persons may think, Mr. Brown would be missed out of the church of God at this time, that the greatest men he left behind would count themselves obliged to mourn over that miss. Yea, whatever others may think, it is beyond debate with me, if our captivity were this day returned, that this Mr. Brown, now removed from the Scottish congregation of Rotterdam, would, by a General Assembly, be pitched upon to fill the most famous place in the Church of Scotland."

In the following year Brown returned to Rotterdam, and was received by his attached friends with open arms. His sojourn in this world was now drawing to a close. Having gone to Amsterdam on a visit, he died there in the month of September, 1679.

Of Brown it may with the greatest truth be affirmed, that his heart was in his work.* Deeply impressed with the responsibility of the ministerial office, it seemed ever his grand and primary aim, faithfully and affectionately to discharge its important duties. Rather than violate conscientious scruples, or relax in his firm adherence to the sacred cause, he willingly "suffered the loss of all things;" and, like numbers of his brethren equally minded, he meekly and cheerfully bore many indignities and privations, which a despotic prince, by means of fiend-like emissaries, cruelly delighted to inflict. The subjoined extract is from a sketch of his character which was written, immediately after his decease, by Mr. MacWard to a friend in Scotland:—†

"During all the space we were together in the country, I observed him, (his chamber being just above mine,) to be as much in prayer and communion with God as I ever observed any, yea, more, insomuch that my esteem for him grew above what it had been, though I had good cause. There was no minister now alive in the Church of Scotland, in the same class with him in my esteem and account of abilities, fixedness, faithfulness, and pure zeal according to knowledge; and to sum up all, I must say, alas!—the witness of the Church of Scotland; the man who withstood the present course of desertion; the man who, in resisting the adversaries of the truth of all sorts and sizes, was helped to do valiantly, and made able to do exploits for his God; the man who, while the archers, (his brethren, I mean, for they were the bowmen,) have sorely grieved him and shot at him and hated him, yet his bow abode in its strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong to his very grave; ay, by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.—How hateful soever it may render us to such who hated a man so greatly beloved of his Lord and Master, to have the reasons of what I said rendered, yet as the Lord may, and I hope shall, prepare me to bear the load above the burden they have already laid upon my loins, so they must prepare themselves to hear these set before them. And, my friend, I give you warrant moreover to let as many know as you please, that however some were pleased to give it out that there was a difference and dryness betwixt us, (because many wish it, and would have it had been so,) yet it pleased the Lord to keep us, till death hath now made a separation, of the same sort and sentiments in all things relating to the public work and interest of Christ, yea, we were more so than ever."

Brown was famous for learning and faithfulness, warm zeal, and true piety. He was an able preacher; in controversy, he was acute, masculine, and strong; in history, plain and comprehensive; in divinity, substantial and correct; the first he discovers in his Latin work against the Socinians, and in his treatise De Causa Dei contra Anti-Sabbatarios, which is greatly valued by the learned. There is also a large manuscript history, entitled, Apologia pro Ecclesia, &c., anno Domini 1660, consisting of 1600 pages in 4to, which he gave to Mr. Charles Gordon, sometime minister at Dalmeny, to be by him presented to the first free General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and which, accordingly, was presented to the General Assembly of 1692. Of this history, the Apologetical Relation seems to be an abridgment. His letters and other papers, particularly the history of the Indulgence, written and sent home to his native country, manifest his great and fervent zeal for the cause of Christ. And his other practical pieces, such as that on Justification; on the Romans; Quakerism the Way to Paganism; the Hope of Glory; and Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the first and second parts of his Life of Faith; and Enoch's Testament opened up, &c.;—all evidence his solid piety, and real acquaintance with God and godliness.

The Dutch entertained a high opinion of Brown's theological attainments. Professors Leydecker and Spanheim, and Messrs. Borstius, á Brakel and Koelman, distinguished native divines, were his intimate friends; and, by their united and individual commendations and labours, were instrumental in extensively disseminating the able treatises on practical religion, written by Brown, during his exile. It is not our intention to analyze the numerous books of which he was the author. We may here mention, as not generally known, that several of his more popular writings were circulated in Holland, some years previous to being printed in the English language, by means of the translation of Mr. James Koelman, who obtained the manuscripts from the author, and rendered them into Dutch with extreme fidelity. We have seen seven editions of this foreign version of Brown's "Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and different impressions of some of his other productions, which are still prized in Holland. This eminent person is repeatedly styled, in the register of the Scottish Church at Rotterdam, "a painful helper" in the cause of their divine Master. Did our limits permit, we would willingly dilate on his acknowledged erudition, and the ability and singular zeal by which he was distinguished both at Wamphray and Rotterdam. His memory let us devoutly cherish! By the grace of God he was what he was; and in studying the writings and life of Brown, we cannot fail to admire his enlightened piety, and earnestly desire to follow him as he followed Christ.*


Howie, J. (1853). The Scots Worthies


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