John Brown.

Supplementary chapter to the life of Rev. John Brown, D.D.; a letter to Rev. John Cairns, D.D online

. (page 4 of 6)
Online LibraryJohn BrownSupplementary chapter to the life of Rev. John Brown, D.D.; a letter to Rev. John Cairns, D.D → online text (page 4 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and documents, referring not merely to his own
body the Secession, with all its subdivisions
and reunions but to Nonconformity and Dis-
sent everywhere, and, indeed, to human liberty,
civil and religious in every form, for this, after
the great truths, duties, and expectations of
his faith, was the one master passion of his life
liberty in its greatest sense, the largest ex-
tent of individual and public spontaneity con-
sistent with virtue and safety. He was in this
as intense, persistent in his devotion, as Syd-
ney, Locke, or old Hollis. For instance, his
admiration of Lord Macaulay as a writer and a

and very interesting information. Believe me, my dear Sir, your
much obliged and faithful servant,



man of letters, an orator and a statesman, great
as it was, was as nothing to his gratitude to
him for having placed permanently on record,
beyond all risk of obscuration or doubt, the
doctrine of 1688 the right and power of the
English people to be their own lawgivers, and to
appoint their own magistrates, of whom the
sovereign is the chief.

His conviction of the sole right of God to
be Lord of the conscience, and his sense of
his own absolute religious independence of
every one but his Maker, were the two ele-
ments in building up his beliefs on all church
matters ; they were twin beliefs. Hence
the simplicity and thoroughness of his prin-
ciples. Sitting in the centre, he commanded
the circumference. But I am straying out of
my parish into yours. I only add to what you
have said, that the longer he lived, the more did
he insist upon it being not less true and not less
important, that the Church must not inter-
meddle with the State, than that the State must
not intermeddle with the Church. He used to
say, " Go down into the world, with all its com-
plications and confusions, with this double-
edged weapon, and you can cut all the compo-
site knots of Church and State." The element
of God and of eternity predominates in the re-


ligious more than in the civil affairs of men, and
thus far transcends them ; but the principle of
mutual independence is equally applicable to
each. All that statesmen, as such, have to do
with religion, is to be themselves under its
power ; all that Christians, as such, have to do
with the State, is to be good citizens.

The fourth epoch of his personal life I would
date from his second marriage. As I said be-
fore, no man was ever happier in his wives.
They had much alike in nature, only one could
see the Divine wisdom of his first wife being
his first, and his second his second ; each did
best in her own place and time. His marriage
with Miss Crum was a source of great happi-
ness and good not only to himself, but to us
his first children. She had been intimately
known to us for many years, and was endeared
to us long before we saw her, by her having
been, as a child and girl, a great favourite of
our own mother. The families of my grand-
father Nimmo. and of the Crums, E wings, and
Maclaes, were very intimate. I have heard my
father tell, that being out at Thornliebank with
my mother, he asked her to take a walk with
him to the Rouken, a romantic waterfall and
glen up the burn. My mother thought they
might take " Miss Margaret" with them, and so


save appearances, and with Miss Crum, then a
child of ten, holding my father's hand, away the
three went !

So you may see that no one could be nearer
to being our mother ; and she was curiously in-
genious, and completely successful in gaining
our affection and regard. I have, as a boy, a
peculiarly pleasant remembrance of her, having
been at Thorn liebank when about fourteen, and
getting that impression of her gentle, kind, wise,
calm, and happy nature her entire loveable-
ness which it was our privilege to see minis-
tering so much to my father's comfort. That
fortnight in 1824 or 1825 is still to me like
the memory of some happy dream ; the old
library, the big chair in which I huddled
myself up for hours with the new Arabian
Nights, and all the old-fashioned and un for-
gotten books I found there, the ample old
garden, the wonders of machinery and skill
going on in " the works," the large water-wheel
going its stately rounds in the midst of its
own darkness, the petrifactions I excavated in
the bed of the burn, amnwnites, etc., and brought
home to my museum (!) ; the hospitable lady of
the house, my hereditary friend, dignified, anxi-
ous and kind ; and above all, her only daughter
who made me a sort of pet, and was always


contriving some unexpected pleasure, all this
feels to me even now like something out of a

My father's union with Miss Crura was not
only one of the best blessings of his life, it
made him more of a blessing to others, than it
is likely he would otherwise have been. By her
cheerful, gracious ways, her love for society as
distinguished from company, her gift of making
every one happy and at ease when with her,
and her tender compassion for all suffering, she
in a measure won my father from himself and
his books, to his own great good, and to the
delight and benefit of us all. It was like sun-
shine and a glad sound in the house. She
succeeded in what is called " drawing out" the
inveterate solitary. Moreover, she encouraged
and enabled him to give up a moiety of his
ministerial labours, and thus to devote himself to
the great work of his later years, the preparing
for and giving to the press the results of his
life's study of God's Word. We owe entirely to
her that immense armamentarium libertatis, the
third edition of his treatise on Civil Obedience.

One other source of great happiness to my
father by this marriage was the intercourse he
had with the family at Thornliebank, deepened
and endeared as this was by her unexpected


and irreparable loss. But on this I must not
enlarge, nor on that death itself, the last thing
in the world he ever feared leaving him once
more, after a brief happiness, and when he had
still more reason to hope that he would have
"grown old with her, leaning on her faithful
bosom." The urn was again empty and the
only word was vale ! he was again viduus,

" God gives us love ; something to love

He lends us ; but, when love is grown
To ripeness, that on which it throve

Falls off, and love is left alone.
This is the curse of time"

But still

" 'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all."

It was no easy matter to get him from home
and away from his books. But once off, he
always enjoyed himself, especially in his visits
to Thornliebank, Busby, Crofthead, Biggar, and
Melrose. He was very fond of preaching on these
occasions, and his services were always peculiarly
impressive. He spoke more slowly and with less
vehemence than in his own pulpit, and, as I
often told him, with all the more effect. When
driving about Biggar, or in the neighbour-
hood of Langrig, he was full of the past, show-


ing bow keenly, with all his outward reserve r
he had observed and felt. He had a quite
peculiar interest in his three flocks, keeping his
eye on all their members, through long years of

His love for his people and for his " body"
was a special love ; and his knowledge of the
Secession, through all its many divisions and
unions, his knowledge, not only of its public
history, with its immense controversial and
occasional literature, but of the lives and pecu-
liarities of its ministers, was of the most minute
and curious kind. He loved all mankind, and
especially such as were of "the household of
faith ;" and he longed for the time when, as there
was one Shepherd, there would be but one sheep-
fold ; but he gloried in being not only a Seceder,
but a Burgher; and he often said, that take them
all in all, he knew no body of professing Chris-
tians in any country or in any time, worthier
of all honour than that which was founded by
the Four Brethren, not only as God-fearing,
God-serving men, but as members of civil so-
ciety ; men who on every occasion were found
on the side of liberty and order, truth and
justice. He used to say he believed there
was hardly a Tory in the Synod, and that no
one but He whose service is perfect freedom.


knew the public good done, and the public evil
averted, by the lives and the principles, and
when need was, by the votes of such men, all
of whom were in the working classes, or in the
lower half of the middle. The great Whig
leaders knew this, and could always depend on
the Seceders.

There is no worthy portrait of my father in
his prime. I believe no man was ever more
victimized in the way of being asked to
" sit ;" indeed, it was probably from so many
of them being of this kind, that the oppor-
tunity of securing a really good one was lost.
The best the one portrait of his habitual ex-
pression is Mr. Harvey's, done for Mr. Crum
of Busby: it was taken when he was fail-
ing, but it is an excellent likeness as well as
a noble picture ; such a picture as one would
buy without knowing anything of the subject.
So true it is, that imaginative painters, men
gifted and accustomed to render their own ideal
conceptions in form and colour, grasp and im-
press on their canvas the features of real men
more to the quick, more faithfully as to the
central qualities of the man, than professed
portrait painters.

Steell's bust is beautiful, but it is wanting
in expression. Slater's, though rude, is better.


Angus Fletcher's has much of his air, but is
too much like a Grecian god. There is a mini-
ature by Mrs. Robertson of London, belonging
to my sister, Mrs. Young, which I always liked,
though more like a gay, brilliant French Abbe,
than the Seceder minister of Rose Street, as he
then was. It gives, however, more of his exqui-
site brightness and spirit, the dancing light in his
dark eyes, and his smile, when pleased and de-
siring to please, than any other. I have a
drawing by Mr. Harvey, done from my father
for his picture of the Minister's Visit, which I
value very much, as giving the force and depth,
the momentum, so to speak, of his serious look.
He is sitting in a cottar's house, reading the
Bible to an old bed-ridden woman, the farm
servants gathered round to get his word.

Mungo Burton painted a good portrait which
my brother William has ; from his being drawn
in a black neckcloth, and standing, he looks,
as he sometimes did, more like a Member of
Parliament than a clergyman. The print from
this is good and very scarce. Of Photographs, I
like D. 0. Hill's best, in which he is represented
as shaking hands with the (invisible) Free
Church it is full of his earnest, cordial power ;
that by Tunny, from which the beautiful en-
graving by Lumb Stocks in this Memoir was


taken, is very like what he was about a year
and a half before his death. All the other por-
traits, as far as I can remember, are worthless
and worse, missing entirely the true expression.
He was very difficult to take, partly because he
was so full of what may be called spiritual
beauty, evanescent, ever changing, and requiring
the highest kind of genius to fix it ; and partly
from his own fault, for he thought it was neces-
sary to be lively, or rather to try to be so to his
volunteering artist, and the consequence was,
his giving them, as his habitual expression, one
which was rare, and in this particular case more
made than born.

The time when I would have liked his look
to have been perpetuated, was that of all others
the least likely, or indeed possible ; it was,
when after administering the Sacrament to
his people, and having solemnized every
one, and been himself profoundly moved by
that Divine, everlasting memorial, he left the
elders' seat and returned to the pulpit, and after
giving out the psalm, sat down wearied and
satisfied, filled with devout gratitude to his
Master his face pale, and his dark eyes looking
out upon us all, his whole countenance radiant
and subdued. Any likeness of him in this state,
more like that of the proto-martyr, when his


face was as that of an angel, than anything I
ever beheld, would have made one feel what it
is so impossible otherwise to convey, the min-
gled sweetness, dignity, and beauty of his face.
When it was winter, and the church darkening,
and the lights at the pulpit were lighted so as
to fall upon his face and throw the rest of the
vast assemblage into deeper shadow, the effect
of his countenance was something never to

He was more a man of power than of genius in
the ordinary sense. His imagination was not a
primary power; it was not originative, though in
a quite uncommon degree receptive, having the
capacity of realizing the imaginations of others,
and through them bodying forth the unseen.
When exalted and urged by the understanding,
and heated by the affections, it burst out with
great force, but always as servant, not master.
But if he had no one faculty that might be, to
use the loose words of common speech, original,
he was so as a whole, such a man as stood
alone. No one ever mistook his look, or would,
had they been blind, have mistaken his voice
or words, for those of any one else, or any one
else's for his.

His mental characteristics, if I may venture
on such ground, were clearness and vigour, in-


tensity, concentration, penetration, and per-
severance, more of depth than width. The
moral conditions under which he lived were the
love, the pursuit, and the practice of truth in
everything ; strength and depth, rather than
external warmth of affection ; fidelity to prin-
ciples and to friends. He used often to speak
of the moral obligation laid upon every man to
think truli/, as well as to speak and act truly,
and said that much intellectual demoralization
and ruin resulted from neglecting this. He was
absolutely tolerant of all difference of opinion,
so that it was sincere ; and this was all the more
remarkable from his being the opposite of an
indifferentist, being very strong in his own con-
victions, holding them keenly, even passionately,
while, from the structure of his mind, he was
somehow deficient in comprehending, much less
of sympathizing with, the opinions of men who
greatly differed from him. This made his hom-
age to entire freedom of thought all the more
genuine and rare. In the region of theological
thought he was scientific, systematic, and autho-
ritative, rather than philosophical and specula-
tive. He held so strongly that the Christian
religion was mainly a religion of facts, that he
perhaps allowed too little to its also being a
philosophy that was ready to meet out of its own


essence and its ever unfolding powers any new
form of unbelief, disbelief, or misbelief, and must
front itself to them as they moved up.

With devotional feeling with everything
that showed reverence and godly fear he cor-
dialized wherever and in whomsoever it was
found, Pagan or Christian, Romanist or Pro-
testant, bond or free ; and while he disliked,
and had indeed a positive antipathy to intellec-
tual mysticism, he had a great knowledge of and
relish for such writers as Dr. Henry More, Cul-
verwel, Scougall, Madame Guy on, whom (besides
their other qualities) I may perhaps be allowed
to call affectionate mystics, and for such poets as
Herbert and Vaughan, whose poetry was pious,
and their piety poetic. As I have said, he was
perhaps too impatient of all obscure thinking,
from not considering that on certain subjects,
necessarily in their substance, and on the skirts
of all subjects, obscurity and vagueness, diffi-
culty and uncertainty, are inherent, and must
therefore appear in their treatment. Men
who rejoiced in making clear things obscure,
and plain things the reverse, he could not abide,
and spoke with some contempt of those who
were original merely from their standing on
their heads, and tall from walking upon stilts.
As you have truly said, his character mellowed
and toned down in his later years, without in


any way losing its own individuality, and its
clear, vigorous, unflinching perception of and
addiction to principles.

For the " heroic" old man of Haddington
my father had a peculiar reverence, as in-
deed we all have as well we may. He was
our king, the founder of our dynasty; we
dated from him, and he was "hedged" accord-
ingly by a certain sacredness or " divinity."
I well remember with what surprise and pride
I found myself asked by a blacksmith's wife,
in a remote hamlet among the hop gardens of
Kent, if I was " the son of the Self-interpreting
Bible." I possess, as an heirloom, the New
Testament which my father fondly regarded as
the one his grandfather, when a herd laddie,
got from the Professor who heard him ask for
it, and promised him it if he could read a verse ;
and he has in his beautiful small hand written
in it what follows : " He (John Brown of Had-
dington) had now acquired so much of Greek
as encouraged him to hope that he might at
length be prepared to reap the richest of all re-
wards which classical learning could confer on
him, the capacity of reading in the original
tongue the blessed New Testament of our Lord
and Saviour. Full of this hope, he became
anxious to possess a copy of the invaluable


volume. One night, having committed the
charge of his sheep to a companion, he set out
on a midnight journey to St. Andrews, a dis-
tance of twent} r -four miles. He reached his
destination in the morning, and went to the.
bookseller's shop asking for a copy of the Greek
Xew Testament. The master of the shop, sur-
prised at such a request from a shepherd boy,
was disposed to make game of him. Some of
the professors coming into the shop questioned
the lad about his employment and studies.
After hearing his tale, one of them desired the
bookseller to bring the volume. He did so, and
drawing it down, said, ' Boy, read this, and you
shall have it for nothing/ The boy did so, ac-
quitted himself to the admiration of his judges,
and carried off his Testament, and w^hen the
evening arrived, was studying it in the midst
of his flock on the braes of Abernethy." Me-
moir of Rev. John Brown of Haddington, by
Rev. J. B. Patterson.

" There is reason to believe this is the Xew
Testament referred to. The name on the op-
posite page was written on the fly-leaf. It is
obviously the writing of a boy, and bears a re-
semblance to Mr. Brown's handwriting in mature
life. It is imperfect, wanting a great part of
the Gospel of Matthew. The autograph at the


end is that of his son, Thomas, when a youth
at college, afterwards Rev. Dr. Thomas Brown
of Dalkeith. J. B."

I doubt not my father regarded this little
worn old book, the sword of the Spirit which
his ancestor so nobly won, and wore, and
warred with, with not less honest veneration and
pride than does his dear friend James Douglas
of Cavers the Percy pennon borne away at
Otterbourne. When I read, in Uncle William's
admirable Life of his father, his own simple
story of his early life his loss of father and
mother before he was eleven, his discovering (as
true a discovery as Dr. Young's of the characters
of the Rosetta stone, or Rawlinson's of the
cuneiform letters) the Greek characters, his de-
fence of himself against the astonishing and base
charge of getting his learning from the devil
(that shrewd personage would not have em-
ployed him on the Greek Testament), his eager,
indomitable study, his running miles to and back
again to hear a sermon after folding his sheep at
noon, his keeping his family creditably on never
more than 50, and for long on 40 a year, giv-
ing largely in charity, and never wanting, as he
said, " lying money " when I think of all
this, I feel what a strong, independent, manly
nature he must have had. We all know his


saintly character, his devotion to learning,
and to the work of preaching and teaching ;
but he seems to have been, like most com-
plete men, full of humour and keen wit.
Some of his snell sayings are still remembered.
A lad of an excitable temperament waited on
him, and informed him he wished to be a
preacher of the gospel. My great-grandfather,
finding him as weak in intellect as he was
strong in conceit, advised him to continue in
his present vocation. The young man said,
" But I wish to preach and glorify God." " My
young friend, a man may glorify God making
broom besoms ; stick to your trade, and glorify
God by your walk and conversation."

The late Dr. Husband of Dunfermline called
on him when he was preparing to set out for
Gifford, and was beginning to ask him some
questions as to the place grace held in the
Divine economy. " Come away wi' me, and
I'll expound that ; but when I'm speaking, look
you after my feet." They got upon a rough
bit of common, and the eager and full-minded
old man was in the midst of his unfolding the
Divine scheme, and his student was drinking in
his words, and forgetting his part of the bar-
gain. His master stumbled and fell, and get-
ting up, somew r hat sharply said, " James, the


grace o' God can do much, but it canna gi'e
a man common sense ;" which is as good theo-
logy as sense.

A scoffing blacksmith seeing him jogging up
to a house near the smithy on his pony, which
was halting, said to him, " Mr. Brown, ye're in
the Scripture line the day 'the legs o' the
iarne are not equal/ ;; " So is a parable in the
mouth of a fool."

On his coming to Haddington, there was one
man who held out against his " call." Mr.
Brown meeting him when they could not avoid
each other, the non-content said, " Ye see, sir, I
canna say what I dinna think, and I think ye're
ovver young and inexperienced for this charge."
" So I think too, David, but it would never do
for you and me to gang in the face c> the hale
congregation /"

The following is a singular illustration of
the prevailing dark and severe tone of the
religious teaching of that time, and also of its
strength : A poor old woman, of great worth
and excellent understanding, in whose conver-
sation Mr. Brown took much pleasure, was on
her death-bed. Wishing to try her faith, he
said to her, " Janet, what would you say if, after
all He has done for you, God should let you
drop into hell T " E'en's (even as) he likes ;


if he does, He'll lose mair than Til do." There
is something not less than sublime in this reply.
Than my grandfather and " Uncle Ebenezer,"
no two brothers could be more different in nature
or more united in affection. My grandfather was
a man of great natural good sense, well read
and well knowledged, easy but not indolent,
never overflowing but never empty, homely but
dignified, and fuller of love to all sentient crea-
tures than any other human being I ever
knew. I had, when a boy of ten, two rabbits,
Oscar and Livia: why so named is a secret I
have lost ; perhaps it was an Ossianic union of
the Roman with the Gael. Oscar was a broad-
nosed, manly, rather brusque husband, who
used to snort when angry, and bite too ; Livia
was a thin-faced, meek, and I fear, deceitfullish
wife, who could smile, and then bite. One even-
ing I had lifted both these worthies, by the ears
of course, and was taking them from their clover
to their beds, when my grandfather, who had
been walking out in the cool of the evening met
me. I had just kissed the two creatures, out
of mingled love to them, and pleasure at hav-
ing caught them without much trouble. He
took me by the chin, and kissed me, and then
Oscar and Livia ! Wonderful man, I thought,
and still think ! doubtless he had seen me


in my private fondness, and wished to please

He was for ever doing good in his quiet yet
earnest way. Not only on Sunday when he
preached solid gospel sermons, full of quaint
familiar expressions, such as I fear few of my
readers could take up, full of solemn, affectionate
appeals, full of his own simplicity and love, the
Monday also found him ready with his every-
day gospel. If he met a drover from Lochaber
who had crossed the Campsie Hills, and was

1 2 4 6

Online LibraryJohn BrownSupplementary chapter to the life of Rev. John Brown, D.D.; a letter to Rev. John Cairns, D.D → online text (page 4 of 6)