Dr. John Brown
“of Haddington”

Minister of the Secession Church | Grandfather of John Brown of Edinburgh

(Predictions Concerning The Romans)
Rev. xii. 3,4.  There appeared another wonder in heaven, a great dragon, heathen empire, with seven heads, successive forms of government, and ten horns, provinces immediately subject to the emperor, while many were under his viceregents, — and at last formed into ten kingdoms, and seven crowns on his heads, and his persecuting tail drew the third part of the start of heaven, ministers and professed Christians, and did cast them to the ground, and stood before the woman, Christian church, which was ready to be delivered, to devour her child; true members, as soon as it was born.

Rev. vi. 1, — 17  When the Lamb had opened the first seal, the first beast,  like to a lion, representing Vespasian, from the East, said, Come and see.  And behold a white horse, representing Roman conquests over the Jews, &c. and the spread of the gospel ; and he that sat on it had a bow, and a crown was given unto him ; and he went forth conquering and to conquer.   (Scripture Prophecies Fulfilled, p. 146)

“Under the seventh seal, commencing about A.D. 323, the empire, now externally Christianized, enjoyed fifteen years of tolerable quietness.” (Scripture Prophecies Fulfilled, p. 150)

“They are likened to Barren Fig Trees :  Amidst their fair, flourishing, and wide-spread leaves of profession, how destitute of good works, even when Jesus was among them!  For forty years after his death, his intercession procured the sparing of them, till by his gospel, and lesser strokes, he had digged and durged about them.  But continuing barren, they were, by the axe of the Roman troops, cut down, and quickly withered away under his curse.” (Brief View of the Figures ; and Explication of the Metaphors, contained in Scripture, p. 311)

“They are represented as a Carcase gathered to by the eagles : Being separated from God, the life of their soul, and church ; having apostatized from his quickening truths ; and being destitute of his enlivening grace ; how overspread with loathsome and noisome corruption!  How detestable to God and his people!  How surrounded, sought out, murdered and ruined by the eagle-bannered Roman armies!” (Brief View of the Figures, p. 313)

“The Roman empire is represented as a Dragon ; as an exceeding Terrible beast, very different from others, having iron teeth and brazen nails : treading down and devouring everything it found.  It is represented as a Beast with seven heads and ten horns.” (Brief View of the Figures, p. 326)


Philip Schaff
 The name of several Scotch ministers, the most noteworthy being:
1. John Brown of Edinburgh:
 Scotch Burgher minister, eldest son of Rev. John Brown of Whitburn (21 m. w.s.w. of Edinburgh), Linlithgowshire (b. 1754; d. 1832), and grandson of John Brown of Haddington; b. at Whitburn July 12, 1784; d. at Edinburgh Oct. 13, 1858. He studied at Edinburgh and the divinity hall of the Burgher Church at Selkirk; was licensed 1805 and ordained minister of the Burgher Church of Bigger, Lanarkshire, 1806; became minister of the Rose Street Church, Edinburgh, 1822, and of the Broughton Place Church in the same city 1829; was professor of exegetical theology to the United Associate Synod after 1834. He was strongly in favor of the separation of Church and State, and in 1845 was tried (and acquitted) before the synod on a charge of holding unsound views concerning the atonement. He was a fine orator and a voluminous writer; the most prominent of his works are: Expository Discourses on First Peter (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1848); Exposition of the Discourses and Sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ (3 vols., 1850); The Resurrection of Life, an exposition of I Cor. xv. (1852); Expository Discourses on Galatians (1853); Analytical Exposition of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (1857). He was the father of the well-known John Brown, M.D. (b. 1810; d. 1882), author of Rab and his Friends (Edinburgh, 1859).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Cairns, Memoirs of John Brown, Edinburgh, 1861; DNB, vii. 18-19.

  1. John Brown of Haddington:Scotch Burgher minister; b. at Carpow, near Abernethy (on the Frith 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, pedler, 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.

“John Brown of Haddington” (1918)
This book of 320 pages covers the life of one of the most important Scottish Presbyterian ministers of the eighteenth century, John Brown of Haddington. He was born in 1722, and by the age of thirteen he was an orphan, living in poverty. He became a herd-boy, watching sheep to earn his living. However, he had a deep interest in the things of God, and set out to educate himself in the original languages of the Bible. He taught himself Greek, and then went to a book shop to buy a Greek New Testament. The bookseller said he didn’t think Brown could read it, and some University professors who were in the shop asked Brown about himself. “Then one of them, not unlikely Francis Pringle, then Professor of Greek, asked the bookseller to bring a Greek New Testament, and, throwing it down on the counter, said, ‘Boy, if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing.’ He took it up eagerly, read a passage to the astonishment of those in the shop, and marched out with his gift, so worthily won, in triumph” (pp. 34-35).

Brown was able to teach himself not only Greek, but Latin and Hebrew as well. Some young men in the vicinity who were studying for the ministry became jealous of this poor herd-boy who had little formal education but was so advanced in the study of languages. Thus a rumour was spread that John Brown had received his knowledge of the languages from Satan himself! This rumour spread, and stuck with him for years to come, causing him much anguish. (Interestingly, one of the fellows who helped spread this slander was a licentiate who was found guilty of unworthy conduct and deprived of his licence to preach about the same time that Brown himself was licensed).

Brown subsequently became a pedlar, and then a soldier fighting against “the Pretender,” Prince Charles Stuart, who unsuccessfully tried to achieve power with the support of Highland troops. Subsequent to that brief war, Brown became a schoolmaster, and finally a divinity student in the Secession church. After successful completion of his studies, he was called to be a pastor in the town of Haddington. It was there that he spent much of his time writing the books for which he became famous.

Among his better known works are The Self-Interpreting Bible, The Christian Journal, A Dictionary of the Holy Bible, A General History of the Christian Church, The Psalms of David in Metre (his notes on the Psalms), The Absurdity and Perfidy of all Authoritative Toleration of Gross Heresy, Blasphemy, Idolatry, and Popery in Britain (including his defense of the continuing obligation of the Solemn League and Covenant), and The Harmony of Scripture Prophecies.

Brown was a stalwart for many important points of Biblical truth in his day, but his work is of more value today than ever before. Read this book to be encouraged about how God can take a poor, uneducated farm boy, and make him into one of the great spiritual leaders of his day.

Significant Scots
BROWN, JOHN, author of the “Self-Interpreting Bible,” and many popular religious works, was born in the year 1722 at Carpow, a village in the parish of Abernethy and county of Perth. His father, for the greatest part of his life, followed the humble occupation of a weaver, and was entirely destitute of the advantages of regular education, but, nevertheless, seems to have been a man of superior intelligence and worth, and even to have possessed some portion of that zeal in the pursuit of knowledge, and that facility in acquiring it without the ordinary helps, which his son so largely inherited. In consequence of the circumstances of his parents, John Brown was able to spend but a very limited time at school in acquiring the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic. “One month,” he has himself told us, “without his parent’s allowance, he bestowed upon Latin.” His thirst for knowledge was intense, and excited him even at this early period to extraordinary diligence in all departments of study, but particularly to religious culture. The strong direction of his mind from the beginning to scholarship in general, and to that kind of it more closely connected with divinity in particular, seems to have early suggested to his mother the possibility of his one day finding scope for the indulgence of his taste in the service of the church, and made her often picture, in the visions of maternal fondness, the day when she should, to use her own homely expression, “see the crows flying over her bairn’s kirk.”

About the eleventh year of his age he was deprived by death of his father, and soon after of his mother, and was himself reduced, by four successive attacks of fever, to a state which made it probable that he was about speedily to join his parents in the grave. But having recovered from this illness, he had the good fortune to find a friend and protector in John Ogilvie, a shepherd venerable for age, and eminent for piety, who fed his flock among the neighbouring mountains. This worthy individual was an elder of the parish of Abernethy, yet, though a person of intelligence and religion, was so destitute of education as to be unable even to read—a circumstance which may appear strange to those accustomed to hear of the universal diffusion of elementary education among the Scottish peasantry, but which is to be accounted for in this case, as in that of the elder Brown, by the disordered state of all the social institutions in Scotland previous to the close of the seventeenth century. To supply his own deficiency, Ogilvie was glad to engage young Brown to assist him in tending his flock, and read to him during the intervals of comparative inaction and repose which his occupation afforded. To screen themselves from the storm and the heat, they built a little lodge among the hills, and to this their mountain tabernacle (long after pointed out under this name by the peasants) they frequently repaired to celebrate their pastoral devotions. Often “the wilderness and the solitary place were glad for them, and the desert rejoiced even with joy and singing.”

Ere long it happened that Ogilvie retired from his occupation as a shepherd, and settled in the town of Abernethy. In consequence of this change, young Brown entered the service of a neighbouring farmer, who maintained a more numerous establishment than his former friend. This step he laments as having been followed by much practical apostasy from God, and showed itself in a sensible decline of religious attainments, and a general lukewarmness in religious duty. Still, however, during the season of backsliding which he himself saw reason thus to deplore, his external character was remarkably distinguished by many virtues, and especially by the rare and truly Christian grace of meekness. In the year 1733, four ministers of the Church of Scotland, among whomi was Mr Moncrieff of Abernethy, declared a secession from its judicatures, alleging as their reasons for taking this step the following list of grievances; “The sufferance of error without adequate censure; the infringement of the rights of the Christian people in the choice and settlement of ministers under the law of patronage; the neglect or relaxation of discipline; the restraint of ministerial freedom in opposing mal-administration, and the refusal of the prevailing party to be reclaimed.” To this body our young shepherd early attached himself; and ventured to conceive the idea of one day becoming a shepherd of souls in that connection. He accordingly prosecuted his studies with increasing ardour and diligence, and began to attain considerable knowledge of Latin and Greek. These acquisitions he made entirely without aid from others, except that he was able occasionally to snatch an hour when the flocks were folded at noon, in order to seek the solution of such difficulties as his unaided efforts could not master, from two neighbouring clergymen—the one Mr Moncrieff of Abernethy, who has just been mentioned as one of the founders of the Secession, and the other Mr Johnston of Arngask, father of the late venerable Dr Johnston of North-Leith; both of whom were very obliging and communicative, and took great interest in promoting the progress of the studious shepherd-boy. An anecdote has been preserved of this part of his life and studies which deserves to be mentioned. He had now acquired so much knowledge of Greek as encouraged him to hope that he might at length be prepared to reap the richest of all rewards which classical learning could confer on him, the capacity of reading, in the original tongue, the blessed New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Full of this hope, he became anxious to possess a copy of the invaluable volume. One night, accordingly, having folded his flocks in safety, and his fellow-shepherd, whose sentiments towards him were now those of friendship and veneration, having undertaken to discharge his pastoral duties for the succeeding day, he set out on a midnight-journey to St Andrews, a distance of twenty-four miles. Having reached his destination in the morning, he repaired straightway to the nearest bookseller, and asked for a copy of the Greek New Testament. The master of the shop, though, situated as he was in a provincial Scottish University, he must have been accustomed to hear such books inquired for by youths whose appearance and habiliments were none of the most civilized, was nevertheless somewhat astonished by such an application from so unlikely a person, and was rather disposed to taunt him with its presumption. Meanwhile a party of gentlemen, said to have been professors in the university, entered the shop, and having understood the matter, questioned the lad about his employment and studies. After hearing his tale, one of them desired the bookseller to bring the volume, who accordingly produced it, and throwing it down upon time table, “Boy,” said he, “read that book, and you shall have it for nothing.” The offer was too good to be rejected, and young Brown, having acquitted himself to the admiration of his judges, carried off his cheaply-purchased Testament in triumph, and, ere the evening arrived, was studying it in the midst of his flock upon the hills of Abernethy.

His extraordinary acquisitions about this time subjected him to a suspicion, which was more generally entertained, than would now appear credible, that he received a secret aid from the enemy of man, upon the pledge of his own soul. It was probably in consequence of the annoyance he experienced on this account, that he abandoned the occupation of a shepherd, and undertook that of pedlar or travelling-merchant. This mode of life was once of much greater importance and higher esteem in Scotland than at present, when the facilities of communication between all parts of the country and the greater seats of commerce have been multiplied to such a degree, and was often pursued by persons of great intelligence and respectability. Its peculiar tendency to imbue the mind with a love of nature, and form it to a knowledge of the world, have been finely illustrated by a great poet of our day: nor is the Scottish pedlar of the Excursion, though certainly somewhat too metaphysical and liberal, in every respect the unnatural character which it has been represented. It will not, however, be considered very surprising when we say, that young Brown did not shine in his new profession. During his mercantile peregrinations, which lay chiefly in the interior parts of Fife and Kinrosshire, he made it a rule to call at no house of which the family had not the character of being religious and given to reading. When he was received into any such dwelling, his first care was to have all the books it could furnish collected together, among which, if he did but light upon a new one, with avidity he fell to the literary feast, losing in the appetite of the soul, the hunger of the body, and in the traffic of knowledge forgetting the merchandise of pedlar’s wares. It is related, and may well be believed, that the contents of his pack, on his return to head quarters from one of his expeditions, used to present a lively image of chaos, and that he was very glad to express his obligations to any neat-handed housewife who would take the arrangement of them upon herself. Many a time and oft was he prudently reminded of the propriety of attending more to his business, and not wasting his time on what did not concern him—till his monitors at last gave up the case in despair, and wisely shaking their beads, pronounced him “good for nothing but to be a scholar.”

Soon after the close of the Rebellion of 1745, during which period he served as a volunteer in the regiment of militia raised by the county of Fife, in behalf of the government, he resolved to undertake the more dignified duties of schoolmaster. He established himself in the year 1747 at Gairney Bridge, a village in the neighbourhood of Kinross, and there laid the foundation of a school which subsisted for a considerable time, and, fifteen years after, was taught by another individual whose name has also become favourably known to the world—whose lot, however, was not like his predecessor’s, to come to the grave “like a shock of corn fully ripe,” but to wither prematurely “in the morn and liquid dew of youth,”—the tender and interesting young poet, Michael Bruce. During Mr Brown’s incumbency, which lasted, for two years, this school was remarkably successful, and attracted scholars from a considerable distance. He afterwards taught for a year and a half another school at Spittal, in the congregation of Linton, under Mr James Mair. The practical character of his talents, the accuracy of his learning, the intimate experience which, as a self-taught scholar, he must have had of elementary difficulties, and the best mode of solving them, and the conscientiousness, and assiduity which, always formed distinguishing features of his character—must have peculiarly qualified him for the discharge of his present duties. While active in superintending the studies of others, he did not relax in the prosecution of his own. On the contrary, his ardour seems to have led him into imprudent extremes of exertion. He would commit to memory fifteen chapters of the Bible as an evening exercise after the labours of the day, and after such killing efforts, allow himself but four hours of repose. To this excess of exertion he was probably stimulated by the near approach of the period to which he had long looked forward with trembling hope—the day which was to reward the toils and trials of his various youth, by investing him with the solemn function of an ambassador of Christ. During the vacations of his school, he was now engaged in the regular study of philosophy and divinity under the inspection of the Associate Synod, and the superintendence of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, and James Fisher, two of the original founders, and principal lights of the Secession church. At length, in the year 1751, having completed his preparatory course of study, and approved himself on trial before the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, he was licensed by that reverend body, at Dalkeith, to preach the gospel in their society. He entered upon the sacred work with deep impressions of its solemn responsibilities. He has himself mentioned that his mind, immediately previous to his receiving authority to preach, was very vividly affected by that awful text in Isaiah vi. 9, 10, “He said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; see ye indeed, but perceive not; make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert and be healed.” He had not been long a probationer, when he received two nearly simultaneous calls to the settled discharge of ministerial duty; one from the congregation of Stow, a village in the shire of Edinburgh, and the other from that of Haddington, the principal town in the county of that name. The Presbytery of Edinburgh, within whose bounds both congregations were included, and which had therefore, according to the Presbyterian constitution, the right of deciding between their competing claims, submitted the matter to his own discretion. His choice was determined to Haddington, partly by his feelings of sympathy with that congregation for disappointments it had already experienced, and partly by his modest estimate of his own qualifications, to which he felt the smaller of the two charges more suitable. Over this congregation therefore he was finally ordained pastor in the month of June, 1751. It deserves to be mentioned, however, that he continued regularly to visit and examine the congregation of Stow until it was supplied with a regular minister.

To the duties of the sacred office he devoted himself with the most zealous and laborious industry. The smallness of his congregation enabled him at once to undertake the widest range of ministerial duty, and to execute it with the greatest minuteness and accuracy. Besides regularly preaching four discourses every Sunday during the summer, and three during winter in his own place of worship, and occasionally in the country during the week, he visited all his people annually in his pastoral capacity, and carried them twice in the same period through a course of public catechetical examinations. He was very assiduous in his visits to the sick and the afflicted, and that not merely to those of his own congregation, but to all, of every denomination, who desired his services. The peculiar characteristic of his manner of address on all these occasions, public and private, was an intense solemnity and earnestness, which extorted attention even from the scorner, and was obviously the genuine expression of his own overwhelming sense of the reality and importance of the message. “His grave appearance,” says a late English divine, who had attended his ministry for some time, “his solemn, weighty, and energetic manner of speaking, used to affect me very much. Certainly his preaching was close, and his address to the conscience pungent. Like his Lord and Master, he spoke with authority and hallowed pathos, having tasted the sweetness and felt the power of what he delivered.” To the same effect, the celebrated David Hume, having been led to hear him preach on one occasion at North Berwick, remarked, “That old man preaches as if Christ were at his elbow.” Except for his overawing seriousness, and occasionally a melting sweetness in his voice, it does not appear that his delivery was by any means attractive. “It was my mercy,” he says, with characteristic modesty, that “the Lord, who had given me some other talents, withheld from me a popular delivery, so that though my discourses were not disrelished by the serious, so far as I heard, yet they were not so agreeable to many hearts as those of my brethren, which it was a pleasure to me to see possessed of that talent which the Lord, to restrain my pride, had denied to me.” His labours were not in vain in the Lord. The members of his congregation, the smallness of which he often spoke of as a mercy, seem to have been enabled to walk, in a great measure, suitably to their profession and their privileges; and he had less experience than most ministers of that bitterest of all trials attached to a conscientious pastor’s situation—scandalous irregularities of practice among those in regard to whom he can have no greater joy than to see them walking in the truth. In ecclesiastical policy, he was a staunch Presbyterian and Seceder in the original sense of the term, as denoting an individual separated, not from the constitution of the established church, either as a church or as an establishment, but from the policy and control of the predominant party in her judicatures. At the unhappy division of the Secession church in 1745, commonly known by the name of the Breach, on the question of snaking refusal of the burgess oath a term of communion, though personally doubtful of the propriety of a Seceder’s swearing the oath in question, he attached himself to that party, who, from declining peremptorily to pronounce it unlawful, obtained the popular appellation of Burghers,—justly considering that a difference of opinion on this point was by no means of sufficient importance to break the sacred bond of Christian fellowship. His public prayers were liberal and catholic, and he always showed the strongest affection for gospel ministers and true Christians of every name. In an unpublished letter to a noble lady of the episcopal communion, he expresses his hope “that it will afford her a delightful satisfaction to observe how extensive and important the agreement, and how small the difference of religious sentiments, between a professedly staunch Presbyterian and a truly conscientious Episcopalian, if they both cordially believe the doctrine of God’s free grace reigning to men’s eternal life, through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord.” He made a point of regularly attending and acting in the church courts, though he avoided taking any leading part in the management of ecclesiastical business. The uniformity and universality of his habits of personal devotion were remarkable. Of him it might well be said, that he walked with God, and that in God he, as it were to his own consciousness, lived, and moved, and had his being. He had acquired a holy skill in deriving, from every scene of nature, and every incident of life, occasions of Christian thought, impulses of Christian feeling, motives to Christian duty. His “Christian Journal” seems to have been literally the picture of his daily course and association of ideas, and the beautiful motto he has prefixed to it, to have been the expression of his own experience: “The ear that is ever attentive to God never hears a voice that speaks not of Him; the soul, whose eye is intent on him, never sees an atom in which she doth not discern her Best Beloved.” He could hold sweet communion with his heavenly Father in the most terrible displays of His majesty, not less than in the softer manifestations of His benignity. One day, hearing a tremendous crash of thunder, he smilingly exclaimed to those around,-“That is the low whisper of my God.” His seasons of prayer, stated and special, secret and domestic, were frequent beyond the rules of any prescribed routine. Often was he overheard, in the nightly and the morning watches, conversing with his God in prayer and praise, remembering his Maker upon his bed, and having his song with him in the night. Amidst the ordinary details of life, the devout aspirations of the heart were continually breaking forth in ejaculations of thanksgiving and holy desire: his conversation habitually dwelt on heavenly things; or, if secular objects were introduced, he would turn them with sanctifying ingenuity into divine emblems and spiritual analogies. His whole mind and life seemed impregnated with devotion, and all his days formed, as it were, one Sabbath. The extent of his pecuniary liberality was surprising. He considered it a binding duty on every individual to devote at least the tenth part of his revenue to pious uses; and out of an income which, during the greater part of his life, amounted to only forty pounds a year, and never exceeded fifty, and from which he had a numerous family to support, he generally exceeded that proportion. He distributed his benevolence with strict attention to the Saviour’s command, “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”

He was aware of the importance of conversation among the various means of doing good, and, though he laments his own “sinful weakness and unskilfulness in pushing religious discourse,” he was too conscientious to neglect the opportunities which presented themselves of promoting, in this way, the glory of God and the best interests of men. He made it a distinct principle never to leave any company in which he might be placed, without saying something which, by the blessing of God, might promote their spiritual good. It is related, that, having accidentally met Ferguson the poet walking in Haddington church-yard, and being struck with his pensive appearance, he modestly addressed him, and offered him certain serious advices, which deeply affected him at the time, and doubtless had their share in exciting and promoting those terrible convictions which latterly overwhelmed the poet’s mind, and in which it may perhaps be hoped there was something better than “the sorrow that worketh death.” He knew, however, that there was a certain discretion to be used in such cases, and a selection to be made of the “mollia tempora fandi,” the seasons when words are “fitly spoken.” Of this, the following anecdote is an example:—Having occasion to cross the ferry between Leith and Kinghorn, with a Highland gentleman as his fellow-passenger, he was much grieved to hear his companion frequently take the name of God in vain, but restrained himself from taking any notice of it in the presence of the rest of the company. On reaching land, however, observing the same gentleman walking alone upon the beach, he stepped up, and calmly reminded him of the offence he had been guilty of, and the law of God which forbids and condemns it. The gentleman received the reproof with expressions of thanks, and declared his resolution to attend to it in future. “But,” added the choleric Celt, “had you spoken to me so in the boat, I believe I should have run you through.”

It will not be supposed, that, after having given himself with such ardour to study in circumstances of comparative disadvantage, he neglected to avail himself of the more favourable opportunities he now enjoyed of extending and consolidating his knowledge. By a diligent improvement of the morning hours, and a studious economy of time throughout the day, he rarely spent fewer than twelve hours of the twenty-four in his study. He possessed extraordinary patience of the physical labour connected with hard study. No degree of toil in the way of reading, or even of writing, seemed to daunt or to fatigue him. Though he never enjoyed the assistance of an amanuensis, he transcribed most of his works several times with his own hand: and even without a view to the press, he more than once undertook the same fatigue for the convenience of private individuals. In this way, at the request of the Countess of Huntingdon, he copied out his System of Divinity, before its publication, for the use of her Ladyship’s theological seminary in Wales. He had remarkable facility in the acquisition of languages; and of this species of knowledge, the key to every other, he possessed an extraordinary amount. Besides the three commonly called the learned tongues, he was acquainted with Arabic, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic; and of the modern languages, with the French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and German. In the various departments of real as distinguished from verbal knowledge, his reading was very wide in range and various in subject. His favourite pursuits were history and divinity; but every subject, which more nearly or more remotely bore on the literature of his profession, he considered worthy of his attention. He afterwards saw reason to repent of the wideness of his aims in this respect, and to regret “the precious time and talents,” to use his own words, “he had vainly squandered in the mad attempt to become a universal scholar.” His reading, though thus extensive, was at the same time very exact and accurate. In order to render it so, he in many cases adopted the tedious and laborious method of compiling regular abridgments of important and voluminous books. Among the works he thus epitomized, were Judge Blackstone’s Commentaries, and the Ancient Universal History.

In the month of September 1753, about two years after his ordination, Mr. Brown married Miss Janet Thomson, daughter of Mr. John Thomson, merchant at Musselburgh. For eighteen years he enjoyed in her a “help meet” for him in his Christian course, and at the end of that period he surrendered her, as he himself expresses it, “to her first and better Husband.” They had several children, of whom only two survived their mother—John and Ebenezer, both of whom their father had the satisfaction before his death of introducing as ministers into the church of Christ, the former at Whitburn, and the latter at Inverkeithing. Two years after the death of his first wife, which took place in 1771, he was married a second time to Miss Violet Crombie, daughter of Mr. William Crombie, merchant, Stenton, East Lothian, who survived him for more than thirty years, and by whom he left at his death four sons and two daughters, of whom only the half are now alive. In his domestic economy and discipline, Mr. Brown laboured after a strict fidelity to his ordination vow, by which he promised to rule well in his own house. His notions in regard to the authority of a husband and a father were very high, and all the power which as such he thought himself to possess, was faithfully employed in maintaining both the form and the power of godliness.

In the year 1758, Mr. Brown, for the first time, appeared as an author. His first publication was entitled “An Help for the Ignorant, being an Essay towards an Easy Explication of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Catechisms, compiled for the use of the young ones of his own congregation.” In addition to this, he published, six years after, two short catechisms—one introductory to, the other explanatory of, the Shorter Catechism. All these publications have been very extensively useful. In 1765, he published, what was at the time by far the most popular and successful of his works, entitled “The Christian Journal, or Common Incidents Spiritual Instructors.” This work, though it has some of the literary defects which, on such a subject, might have been expected from an author so circumstanced, such as the occasional indulgence of unrefined images, the excess of detail in tracing the analogies, and a certain monotonous rhythm of style, in many cases scarcely distinguishable from blank verse—nevertheless displays an extraordinary richness and ingenuity of fancy, and in many instances rises into a most impressive and heart-warming eloquence. In 1766 he published a History of the Rise and Progress of the Secession, and, the year following, a series of Letters on the Constitution, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church. These tracts were followed by his Sacred Tropology, the first of a series of works which he designed for the purpose of giving a clear, comprehensive, and regular view of the figures, types, and predictions of Scripture. The second and third parts were published in 1781.

In the year 1768, in consequence of the death of the Rev. John Swanston of Kinross, Professor of Divinity under the Associate Synod, Mr Brown was elected to the vacant chair. The duties of this important office he discharged with great ability and exemplary diligence and success. His public prelections were directed to the two main objects, first, of instructing his pupils in the science of Christianity, and secondly, of impressing their hearts with its power. The system of Divinity which he was led, in the course of his professional duty, to compile, and which was afterwards published, is perhaps the one of all his works which exhibits most striking proofs of precision, discrimination, and enlargement of thought; and is altogether one of the most dense, and at the same time perspicuous views which has yet been given of the theology of the Westminster Confession. The charge which he took of those committed to his care, was not entirely of the ‘ex cathedra’ description. The situation of the Hall in a small provincial town, and the manners of the age, combined with his just sense of the importance of the students’ private exertions and personal habits, enabled him to exercise a much more minute and household superintendance over the young men under his direction. Frequently in the morning he was accustomed to go his rounds among their lodgings, to assure himself that they were usefully employing “the golden hours of prime.” The personal contact between professor and pupils was thus remarkably close and unbroken, and hence we find that among those who can recollect their attendance on the Divinity Hall at Haddington, the interest with which every mind looks back to the scenes and seasons of early study has a greater character of individuality, and is associated with minuter recollections than we generally meet with after so long a lapse of years.

The same year in which he was elected to the theological chair he preached and published a very powerful sermon on Religious Steadfastness, in which he dwells at considerable length on the religious state of the nation, and expresses violent apprehensions at the visible diffusion and advance of what he called latitudinarianism, and what we of this tolerant age would term liberality of religions sentiment. He likewise this year gave to the world one of the most elaborate, and certainly one of the most valuable of all his writings, the Dictionary of the Holy Bible. For popular use, it is unquestionably the most suitable work of the kind which yet exists, containing the results of most extensive and various reading both in the science and in the literature of Christianity, given without pretension or parade, and with a uniform reference to practical utility. In 1771, the Honourable and Reverend Mr Shirley, by command of the Countess of Huntingdon, applied to Mr Brown for his opinions on the grand subject of justification, in view of a conference to be held on this question with Mr Wesley and his preachers. This application gave occasion to a long and animated correspondence with that noble lady, (a correspondence which, in consequence of our author’s modesty, remained a secret till after his death,) and to a series of articles from his pen on the doctrine of justification, which appeared, from time to time, in the Gospel Magazine and Theological Miscellany, between the years 1770 and 1776. In the same year he was led, by a desire to contribute to the yet better instruction of his students, to form the design of composing a manual of church history on a general and comprehensive plan. It was to consist of three parts, “the first comprehending a general view of transactions relating to the church from the birth of our Saviour to the present time; the second containing more fully the histories of the Reformed British Churches in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America; the third to comprehend the histories of the Waldenses and the Protestant churches of Switzerland, France, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and Hungary.” Of these he completed the two former, his General History having been published in 1771, and his History of the British Churches in the beginning of 1784. These form very useful popular compends, though destitute of high historical authority. The history of the British Churches, as a work of original research, is much superior to the more general compilation, which is little more than an abridgment of Mosheim, written in a more fervid spirit than the latter is accustomed to display. Mr Brown’s next publication appeared in 1775, and was an edition of the metrical “Psalms, with notes exhibiting the connection, explaining the sense, and for directing and animating the devotion.” In 1778 he gave to the world the great work on which his reputation is chiefly founded, “The Self-Interpreting Bible,” the object of which is to condense, within a manageable compass, all the information which an ordinary reader may find necessary for attaining an intelligent and practical knowledge of the sacred oracles. The first publication of this work was attended with considerable difficulties, in consequence of the claim of the king’s printers to the exclusive right of printing the authorized version of the Scriptures, whether accompanied or not with illustrative matter. This claim, however, having been set aside, the work was at length given to the world in 1778, and received with a high and gradually increasing and still un-exhausted approbation. The same year he published a small tract entitled “the Oracles of Christ Abominations of Antichrist,” and four years after, his “Letters on Toleration:” strenuously maintaining the unlawfulness of tolerating by authority a false religion in a professedly Christian country. These publications originated in the universal sentiment of alarm entertained by the evangelical presbyterians of Scotland, both within and without the establishment, in consequence of the proposed abolition of the penal code against the Roman Catholics.

In 1781, besides his works on the types and prophecies formerly referred to, he published a sermon on the “Duty of Raising up Spiritual Children unto Christ,” preached partly at Whitburn, and partly after his son Ebenezer’s ordination at Inverkeithing. He likewise, in the course of the same year, wrote a pamphlet in defence of the re-exhibition of the testimony, and a collection of the biographies of eminent divines, under the name of the “Christian Student and Pastor.” This was the first of a series of similar compilations intended as illustrations and examples of practical religion, and was followed in 1781 by the “Young Christian,” and in 1783 by the “Lives of thirteen Eminent Private Christians.” In 1783, he published a small “Concordance to the Bible.” The year following, he received an invitation from the reformed Dutch church in America, to become their Professor of Divinity, which he declined, and modestly kept secret. And, in 1785, he concluded his career as an author, by a pamphlet against time travelling of the Mail on the Lord’s-day—a day for the observance of which, in time strictest degree of sanctity, he always showed himself peculiarly jealous, not only abstaining himself, but prohibiting his family, from speaking on that day on any worldly affair, even on such as related to what may be called the secularities of religion and the church. The tracts published by him in periodical works, along with his “Letters on Gospel Preaching and the Behaviour of Ministers,” were collected after his death, and published under the title of “Remains.”

Throughout his writings, Mr Brown’s uniform aim was general utility; personal emolument formed no part of his object, and certainly very little of his attainment, as the whole profit accruing to himself from his voluminous, and in many cases, successful works, amounted to only £40. Without possessing much original genius, but on the other hand too ready, it may be, to submit the freedom of his mind to system and authority, he was endowed with a strong aptitude for acquisition, and great power of arrangement, a sound and generally sober judgment, and a rich and vivid fancy, though united with a defective, or rather, perhaps, an uncultivated taste. The selection of subjects, and general conception of almost every one of them, are very happy, and in many cases the execution proves his high endowments for the task he undertook.

The time now drew near that he should die. For some years previous, he had been greatly annoyed with a gradual failure, at once in the bodily power of digestion and the mental faculty of memory—the symptoms of a constitution fairly worn out by the intense and incessant labours to which it had been subjected. In the beginning of 1787, his complaints increased in such an alarming degree, accompanied by a general and extreme debility, that he found it necessary to abandon the pulpit. During the months of spring, he lived in a continual state of earnest and active preparation for the great change he was about to undergo. He expired on the 19th June, and on the 24th his remains were followed to their place of repose in Haddington church-yard, by nearly the whole inhabitants of the town, and a large concourse of his friends and brethren from a distance. At the first meeting of the Associate Synod after his decease, “the Synod,” as their minute bears, “unanimously agreed to take this opportunity of testifying their respect to the memory of the Rev. John Brown, their late Professor, whose eminent piety, fervent zeal, extensive charity, and unwearied diligence in promoting the interests of religion, will be long remembered by this court, especially by those members of it who had the happiness of studying divinity under his inspection.”

Memoir of Rev John Brown taken from his Bible


Edinburgh and The Lothians
Chapter XXIV – Haddington

A MAN whose daily task was to mole among gas-pipes and the like under every part of the burgh of Haddington told me that wherever he dug he found human bones, and the most he judged to have come there by violence of fire, flood, plague or slaughter. To-day the town is trim and quiet, in its broad streets, with here and there grass between the stones. Some places have old-time names, as Poldrate, The Lang Causey, the Butts. It lies low down by the Tyne, which divides it from the suburb of Nungate. There are trees and abundant green in it, and about it,—as where not in Scotland?—the all-saving presence of the hills—the Garleton ridge to the north, the Lammermuirs to the south. These last change even as living forms under change of weather. Now they gather round and bend over the town, and again they withdraw to far-off horizons, and they smile bright or frown dark, but always potent.

I remember quiet Haddington quainter than it now is. In the admirable Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, by MacGibbon and Ross, are drawings of the Roundles at Bedlam Close, Farmer’s House in the Nungate, and the so-called Bothwell Castle. Those competent judges thought them most important and interesting. The first two are clean vanished, and Bothwell Castle is a crumbling, deserted ruin. The whole of Nungate was once a jewel of rare excellence. Miry and malodorous, dirty and disreputable, it was yet the very image of the old Scots town of centuries ago. It was crammed with every feature of old Scots architecture. Roundles, pends, closes, wynds, outside stairs, everything! Nobody built, nobody pulled down. It culminated in Farmer’s House, some work of the wealthy, ancient Abbey to which Nungate belonged, and there was and still is the ruined old chapel of St Martin, of forgotten origin. When the moonlight scored and underlined the fantastic shadows of the old houses, and you looked across the Tyne at the river front of Bothwell Castle, with its dim yet authentic tradition of Mary Stuart and her wicked spouse, and you caught a snatch of old Scots rhyme, simple and romantic, sung by children at play, you had found the supreme moment for Nungate of Haddington. I shall never walk in it again. There is a new bridge over the Tyne, and a new flour-mill with a new name, and the house-breaker and the house-builder are busy, and Nungate is swept and garnished. If I lived in it I should be delighted, but I would that some millionaire of antiquarian taste had bought all fifty years since, and carefully dusted and preserved it under glass as a unique specimen of what is now gone and cannot return.

The parish church, or Auld Kirk, dedicated to St Mary, was known as Lucerna Laudoniae, the Lamp of Lothian, because it was splendid, or some say because it carried a light to guide the traveller over these dreary wastes and moorland that are now fertile fields. But most church towers of old carried a light; and though the tower be square, and massive, and imposing, yet it lies so low down that I doubt the efficacy of the light. Moreover, just as the old church builder loved his gargoyle and his pinnacle, so the old church writer loved his picturesque phrase and his parable. Does not the light of the lamp admirably image forth spiritual and temporal splendour? The antiquary here puts his spoke in the wheel. The real lamp, he will have it, was a bowshot off—a Franciscan monastery, in fact, whereof not a stone remains. I cannot tell. This at least is served heir to every species of church that ever was in Haddington, and with its comely stone, its fair shape, and a certain restraint and dignity in all its lines, it is a beautiful relic of other days. An old woman who had lived all her life under its shadow told me that as she grew up everything in Haddington shrunk and became less to her save this old church. It has been fearfully mauled about. The “Auld Enemy” with his torch, and the too early Restorer with his compass, the passionate Reformer, the callous Philistine, all did their cruel worst. The choir is a ruin, what is left shored up with difficulty, and every stone has marks of some evil touch, yet it is fair and impressive in spite of everything. The mediaeval world could do one thing, at any rate, supremely well: it could big a kirk. The best your modern can do is to imitate. He cannot always manage even that. If you look across towards the river you will think that same vanished world could do one other thing, and that was, build a brig! The Nungate bridge, which connects with that suburb, is straight and narrow, and it is steep to climb, but it has the same beautiful stone as the kirk, the like graceful arch, the like formal symmetry. The last restorers, to give them their due, have been modest and discreet; they have destroyed the destroyers, and looked back rather than forward. You see brig and kirk to-day under the best conditions.

And what about those “fellows in the cellarage”—those silent witnesses under the soil? Impossible to recover the history of any one, yet the history of the town explains how they came there. It was four times burned. Once by chance or malice, thrice in warfare with the “Auld Enemy,” of course—the enemy that meets you at every turn in Scots annals to check and thwart. It was flooded again and again. The plague, a constantly-returning dread, tore at it year by year. Less than a century since there was a severe visitation of cholera. Careful cleaning, sanitation, whitewash, pure water supply are recent things. One or two scraps of doubtful authenticity have escaped the general oblivion. The flood of 1358 threatened to sweep away kirk and town in common ruin, when a nun, seizing an image of the Virgin, vowed it should go too unless Our Lady condescended to help her own. And there is a comic interlude of a citizen of Nungate who perched on the detached roof of his hut, with dog, cat and cock for fellows.

“Row we merely (merrily)
Quo John Burley,”

japed he with sardonic mirth when he swept under the bridge, “a saying of Nungate in Haddington to this day,” but the scribe himself has gone centuries ago.

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Date:28 Oct 2003Time:10:18:42


Unfortunately, dead preterists were just as wrong as living preterists. The scholarly John Brown made the same basic mistake of relying on his mere personal opinions rather than relying on the complete and consistent typology that God provided as the ONLY key to understanding the NT in general and the first century in particular.

Date:29 Oct 2003Time:05:02:39


Dear Todd: Excellent material, but how many are able to comprehend such elementary truths? Men prefer to build their own systems and worship them at the expense of Truth. Bro. Bob Pelham, N. C. usmc1div@earthlink.net

Date:29 Oct 2003Time:07:48:51


“Excellent material?” Far from it. This article is another example of what the second comment above refers to — men building their own systems and worshiping them at the expense of truth. Man-made systems result from relying on mere personal opinions rather than relying on complete and consistent typology. Unfortunately, a link to a web site dealing with types that has just been posted on the Archive does more harm than good; the claimed difficulties in the understanding and use of types don’t exist. The simple and utterly logical truth is that the natural journeys and battles of natural and temporary OT Israel were types of the spiritual journeys and battles of spiritual and eternal NT Israel (Christ and the church). The seven feasts of Lev. 23 are the God-given road map for those journeys but for 1,900 years Bible “scholars” have proudly and stubbornly refused to admit that they need such a map. Instead, their reliance on their inadequate personal opinions has sent them racing off in different directions and has resulted in a multitude of erroneous and conflicting “systems of theology.” Christ’s parousia occurred in the first century — but NOT in AD 70.

Date:29 Oct 2003Time:16:54:58


Re: THE SEVEN FEASTS —- David Curtis has a 5-part audio and text presentation (click on the 10-26-03 Birks/Cook item) in which he presents some useful information about the seven feasts of Lev. 23. However, Curtis stumbles when he tries to explain the first-century spiritual fulfillment of the last three feasts. First, he seems to be unaware that the fifth feast, rosh ha shanah or head of the year, celebrated on Tishri 1, marked the birthday of THE WORLD (Israel was born in the month of Abib or Nisan). Second, he seems to be unaware that the typifying natural fulfillment of the last three feasts in the case of OT Israel – and thus that nation’s typifying complete natural redemption – did not occur until God enabled natural Israel, through the use of its natural weapons, to overcome the usurping NATURAL dominion of the pagan nations in its natural promised land (Canaan), which occurred AFTER the typifying 40 OT wilderness years. Therefore, in the first century the spiritual fulfillment of the last three feasts – and the complete spiritual redemption of spiritual Israel (the church) – did not occur until God enabled the church, through the use of its spiritual weapons, to overcome the usurping SPIRITUAL dominion of the pagan nations in its spiritual promised land (the world), which by typological definition had to occur AFTER the 40 fulfillment years (AD 30-70). That usurping, satanic spiritual dominion (overlooked by Bible “scholars” for 1,900 years) was the worldwide enforcement of the blasphemy of emperor worship by Rome, the spiritual Babylon of the book of Revelation.

Date: 26 Sep 2006
Time: 06:33:37


Was wondering are there many bibles of john brown of haddington 1722 has the same memoirs as you have on your main page. We was given one from our mum and there is dates from family members datin back to 1895 inside the bible unfortunely it had a little water damage and the front cover has come off also inside there is a mothers union of St Johns Spittal Berwick on Tweed dating 1935 enrolling Mrs W Robson. Would like to get more information on these if you can help or can advise me where to go to find out as the bible has been in the family since 1885

Date: 09 Nov 2007
Time: 16:56:25


Ok, this is going to sound strange but my name is Charlene Brown and John is my relation, My nanna comes from Abernethy and is trying to do her family tree. Im asking for help from anyone to help me with this tree as i cant seem to get any further. I would be VERY grateful for any information.
My e-mail address is cjb1985@hotmail.co.uk.
Thank you.
Charlene Brown.

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