John Brown.

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

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Online LibraryJohn BrownSupplementary chapter to the life of Rev. John Brown, D.D.; a letter to Rev. John Cairns, D.D → online text (page 6 of 6)
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he is to speak of; he looks troubled even to dis-
tress ; it is the matter of Uriah the Hittite.
He gives out the opening verses of the 51st
Psalm, and offering up a short and abrupt
prayer, which every one takes to himself, an-
nounces his miserable and dreadful subject,
fencing it, as it were, in a low, penetrating
voice, daring any one of us to think an evil
thought ; there was little need at that time of
the warning, he infused his own intense, pure
spirit, into us all.

He then told the story without note or com-
ment, only personating each actor in the
tragedy with extraordinary effect, above all, the
manly, loyal, simple-hearted soldier. I can
recall the shudder of that multitude as of one
man when he read, " And it came to pass in the
morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and
sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote
in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the fore-
front of the hottest battle, and retire ye from
him, that he may be smitten and die." And
then, after a long and utter silence, his exclaim-
ing, " Is this the man according to God's own
heart ? Yes, it is ; we must believe that both
are true." Then came Nathan. " There were
two men in one city ; the one rich, and the other
poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks


and herds ; but the poor man had nothing, save
one little ewe lamb" arid all that exquisite, that
divine fable ending, like a thunder-clap, with
" Thou art the man !" Then came the retribu-
tion, so awfully exact and thorough, the misery
of the child's death ; that brief tragedy of the
brother and sister, more terrible than anything
in ^Eschylus, in Dante, or in Ford ; then the re-
bellion of Absalom, with its hideous dishonour,
and his death, and the king covering his
face, and crying in a loud voice, " my son
Absalom ! Absalom ! my son ! my son !"-
and David's psalm, " Have mercy upon me,
God, according to thy loving- kindness ; accord-
ing unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot
blot out my transgressions," then closing with,
"'Yes; when lust hath conceived, it bringeth
forth sin ; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth
forth death/ ' Do not err/ do not stray, do not
transgress, * my beloved brethren/, for it is first
4 earthly, then sensual, then devilish / " he shut
the book, and sent us all away terrified, shaken,
and humbled, like himself.

I would fain say a few words on my father's
last illness, or rather on what led to it, and I wish
you and others in the ministry would take to
heart, as matter of immediate religious duty,
much of what I am going to say. My father was


a seven months' child, and lay, I believe, for a
fortnight in black wool, undressed, doing little
but breathe and sleep, not capable of being fed.
He continued all his life slight in make, and
not robust in health, though lively, and capable
of great single efforts. His attendance upon
his mother must have saddened his body as
well as his mind, and made him willing and
able to endure, in spite of his keen and ardent
spirit, the sedentary life he in the main led.
He was always a very small eater, and nice in
his tastes, easily put off from his food by any
notion. He therefore started on the full work
of life with a finer and more delicate mechanism
than a man's ought to be, indeed, in these re-
spects he was much liker a woman ; and being
very soon " placed," he had little travelling, and
little of that tossing about the world, which in
the transition from youth to manhood, hardens
the frame as well as supples it. Though deli-
cate, he was almost never ill. I do not re-
member, till near the close of his life, his ever
being in bed a day.

From his nervous system, and his brain
predominating steadily over the rest of his
body, he was habitually excessive in his pro-
fessional work. As to quantity, as to quality, as
to manner and expression, he flung away his


life without stint every Sabbath-day, his ser-
mons being laboriously prepared, loudly man-
dated, and at great expense of body and mind,
and then delivered with the utmost vehemence
and rapidity. He was quite unconscious of the
state he worked himself into, and of the loud
piercing voice in which he often spoke. This I
frequently warned him about, as being, I knew,
injurious to himself, and often painful to his
hearers, and his answer always was, that he
was utterly unaware of it ; and thus it continued
to the close, and very sad it was to me who knew
the peril, and saw the coming end, to listen to
his noble, rich, persuasive, imperative appeals,
and to know that the surplus of power, if re-
tained, would, by God's blessing, retain him,
while the effect on his people would, I am
sure, not have lost, but in some respects have
gained, for much of the discourse which was
shouted and sometimes screamed at the full
pitch of his keen voice, was of a kind to be
better rendered in his deep, quiet, settled tones.
This, and the great length of his public services,
I knew he himself felt, when too late, had in-
jured him, and many a smile he had at my
proposal to have a secret sub-congregational
string from him to me in the back seat, to be
authoritatively twitched when I knew he had


done enough ; but this string was never pulled,
even in his mind.

He went on in this expensive life, sleeping
very little, and always lightly, eating little,
never walking except of necessity ; little in com-
pany, when he would have eaten more, and been,
by the power of social relish made likelier to get
the full good out of his food ; never diverting
his mind by any change but that of one book
or subject for another ; and every time that any
strong affliction came on him, as when made
twice a widower, or at his daughter's death, or
from such an outrage upon his entire nature
and feelings, as the Libel, then his delicate ma-
chinery was shaken and damaged, not merely by
the first shock, but even more by that unrelent-
ing self-command by which he terrified his
body into instant submission. Thus it was, and
thus it ever must be, if the laws of our bodily
constitution, laid down by Him who knows our
frame, and from whom our substance is not hid,
are set at nought, knowingly or not if know-
ingly, the act is so much the more spiritually
bad but if not, it is still punished with the same
unerring nicety, the same commensurate meting
out of the penalty, and paying " in full tale," as
makes the sun to know his time, and splits an
erring planet into fragments, driving it into space


" with hideous ruin and combustion." It is a
pitiful and a sad thing to say, but if ray father
had not been a prodigal in a true but very dif-
ferent meaning, if he had not spent his sub-
stance, the portion of goods that fell to him, the
capita] of life given him by God, in what we
must believe to have been needless and there-
fore preventable excess of effort, we might have
had him still with us, shining more and more,
and he and they who were with him would have
been spared those two years of the valley of the
shadow, with its sharp and steady pain, its fall-
ings away of life, its longing for the grave, its
sleepless nights, and days of weariness and
languor, the full expression of which you will
find nowhere but in the Psalms and in Job.

I have said that though delicate he was
never ill : this was all the worse for him, for,
odd as it may seem, many a man's life is
lengthened by a sharp illness ; and this in seve-
ral ways. In the first place, he is laid up, out of
the reach of all external mischief and exer-
tion, he is like a ship put in dock for repairs ;
time is gained. A brisk fever clarifies the
entire man : if it is beaten and does not beat,
it is like cleaning a chimney by setting it on
fire ; it is perilous but thorough. Then the
effort to throw off the disease often quickens
2 K


and purifies and corroborates the central powers
of life ; the flame burns more clearly ; there is
a cleanness, so to speak, about all the wheels
of life. Moreover, it is a warning, and makes a
man meditate on his bed, and resolve to pull up,
and it warns his friends, and likewise if he is a
clergyman, his people, who if their minister is
always with them, never once think he can be
ever anything but as able as he is.

Such a pause, such a breathing time my
father never got during that part of his life and
labours when it would have availed most, and
he was an old man in years, before he was a
regular patient of any doctor. He was during
life subject to sudden headaches, affecting his
memory and eyesight, and even his speech ;
these attacks were, according to the thought-
less phrase of the day, called bilious ; that is, he
was sick, and was relieved by a blue pill and smart
medicine. Their true seat was in the brain ;
the liver suffered because the brain was ill,
and sent no nervous energy to it, or poisoned
what it did send. The sharp racking pain in the
forehead was the cry of suffering from the an-
terior lobes, driven by their master to distraction,
and turning on him wild with weakness and fear
and anger. It was well they did cry out ; in
some brains (large ones) they would have gone


on dumb to sudden and utter ruin, as in apo-
plexy or palsy ; but he did not know, and no
one told him their true meaning, and he set
about seeking for the outward cause in some
article of food, in some recent and quite inade-
quate cause.

He used, with a sort of odd shame and
distress, to ask me why it was that he was sub-
jected to so much suffering from what he called
the lower and ignoble regions of his body ; and
I used to explain to him that he had made them
suffer by long years of neglect, and that they
were now having their revenge, and in their own
way. I have often found, that the more the
nervous centres are employed in those offices of
thought and feeling the most removed from
material objects, the more the nervous energy
of the entire nature is concentrated, engrossed,
and used up in such offices, so much the more,
and therefore s are those organs of the body which
preside over that organic life, common to our-
selves and the lowest worm, defrauded of their
necessary nervous food, and being in the organic
and not in the animal department, and having
no voice to tell their wants and wrongs, till they
wake up and annoy their neighbours who have
a voice, that is, who are sensitive to pain, they
may have been long ill before they come into


the sphere of consciousness. This is the true
reason along with want of purit} 7 and change
of air, want of exercise,* want of shifting the
work of the body why clergymen, men of let-
ters, and all men of intense mental application,
are so liable to be affected with indigestion,
constipation, lumbago, and lowness of spirits,
melancholia black bile. The brain may not
for a long time give way, because for a time
the law of exercise strengthens it ; it is fed high,
gets the best of everything, of blood and ner-
vous pabulum, and then men have a joy in the
victorious work of their brain, and it has a joy
of its own, too, which deludes and misleads.

All this happened to my father. He had no
formal disease when he died no structural
change ; his sleep and his digestion would have
been quite sufficient for life even up to the last ;
the mechanism was entire, but the motive
power was gone it was expended. The silver
cord was not so much loosed as relaxed. The
golden bowl, the pitcher at the fountain, the
wheel at the cistern, were not so much broken
as emptied and stayed. The clock had run

* " The youth Story was in all respects healthy, and even robust ;
he died of overwork, or rather, as I understand, of a two years'
almost total want of exercise, which it was impossible to induce him
to take." Arnold's Report to the Cummiittc of Council on Educa-
tion, 1860.


clown before its time, and there was no one
but He who first wound it up and set it who
could wind it up again ; and this He does not
do, because it is his law an express injunction
from Him that, having measured out to his
creatures each his measure of life, and left him
to the freedom of his own wall and the regula-
tion of his reason, He also leaves him to reap as
he sows.

Thus it was that my father's illness was not
a disease, but a long death ; life ebbing away,
consciousness left entire, the certain issue never
out of sight. This, to a man of my father's or-
ganization with a keen relish for life, and its
highest pleasures and energies, sensitive to im-
patience, and then over-sensitive of his own im-
patience ; cut to the heart with the long watching
and suffering of those he loved, who, after all,
could do so little for him ; with a nervous
system easily sunk, and by its strong play
upon his mind darkening and saddening his
most central beliefs, shaking his most solid
principles, tearing and terrifying his tenderest
affections ; his mind free and clear, ready for
work if it had the power, eager to be in its
place in the work of the world and of its Master,
to have to spend two long years in this ever-
descending road here was a combination of


positive and negative suffering not to be thought
of even now, when it is all sunk under that
exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

He often spoke to me freely about his health,
went into it with the fearlessness, exactness, and
persistency of his nature ; and I never wit-
nessed, or hope to witness, anything more
affecting than when, after it had been dawning
upon him, he apprehended the true secret of
his death. He was deeply humbled, felt that
he had done wrong to himself, to his people, to
us all, to his faithful and long-suffering Master ;
and he often said, with a dying energy lighting
up his eye, and nerving his voice and gesture,
that if it pleased God to let him again speak
in his old place, he would not only proclaim
again, and, he hoped, more simply and more
fully, the everlasting gospel to lost man, but
proclaim also the gospel of God to the body, the
religious and Christian duty and privilege of
living in obedience to the divine laws of health.
He was delighted when I read to him, and
turned to this purpose that wonderful passage
of St. Paul " For the body is not one member,
but many. If the whole body were an eye,
where were the hearing ? if the whole were
hearing, where were the smelling ? But now
hath God set the members every one of them


in the body, as it hath pleased him. And the
eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need
of thee ; nor again the head to the feet, I have
no need of you. Nay, much more those mem-
bers of the body, which seem to be more feeble,
are necessary ;" summing it all up in words
with life and death in them "That there should
be no schism in the body ; but that the mem-
bers should have the same care one for another.
And whether one member suffer, all the mem-
bers suffer with it ; or one member be honoured,
all the members rejoice with it."

The lesson from all this is, Attend to your
bodies, study their structure, functions, and laws.
This does not at all mean that you need be an
anatomist, or go deep into physiology, or the
doctrines of prevention and cure. Not only has
each organism a resident doctor, placed there by
Him who can thus heal all our diseases ; but this
doctor, if watched and waited on, informs any
man or woman of ordinary sense what things to
do, and what things not to do. And I would
have you, who, I fear, not unfrequently sin
in the same way, and all our ardent, self-
sacrificing young ministers, to reflect whether,
after destroying themselves and dying young,
they have lost or gained. It is said that God
raises up others in our place. God gives you


no title to say this. Men such men as I have
in my mind are valuable to God in proportion
to the time they are here. They are the older,
the better, the riper and richer, and more en-
riching. Nothing will make up for this abso-
lute loss of life. For there is something which
every man who is a good workman is gaining
every year just because he is older, and this
nothing can replace. Let a man remain on his
ground, say a country parish, during half a
century or more let him be every year getting
fuller and sweeter in the knowledge of God
and man, in utterance and in power can the
power of that man for good over all his time,
and especially towards its close, be equalled by
that of three or four young, and, it may be,
admirable men, who have been succeeding each
other's untimely death, during the same space
of time ? It is against all spiritual, as well as
all simple arithmetic, to say so.

You have spoken of my father's prayers.
They were of two kinds : the one, formal, care-
ful, systematic, and almost stereotyped, remark-
able for fulness and compression of thought ;
sometimes too manifestly the result of study,
and sometimes not purely prayer, but more of
the nature of a devotional and even argumenta-
tive address ; the other, as in the family, short,


simple, and varied. He used to tell of his
master, Dr. Lawson, reproving him, in his honest
but fatherly way, as they were walking home
from the Hall. My father had in his prayer
the words, " that through death he might de-
stroy him that had the power of death,
that is the devil." The old man, leaning on
his favourite pupil, said, " John, my man, you
need not have said ' thai is the devil;' you
might have been sure that He knew whom you
meant." My father, in theory, held that a
mixture of formal, fixed prayer, in fact, a
liturgy, along with extempore prayer,, was the
right thing. As you observe, many of his pas-
sages in prayer, all who were in the habit of
hearing him could anticipate such as " the en-
lightening, enlivening, sanctifying, and comfort-
ing influences of the good Spirit," and many
others. One in especial you must remember ;
it was only used on very solemn occasions,
and curiously unfolds his mental peculiarities ;
it closed his prayer " And now, unto Thee,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one Jeho-
vah and our God, we would as is most meet
with the church on earth and the church in
heaven, ascribe all honour and glory, dominion
and majesty, as it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."
2 L


Nothing could be liker him than the interjection,
" as is most meet." Sometimes his abrupt, short
statements in the Synod were very striking.
On one occasion, Mr. James Morison having
stated his views as to prayer very strongly, deny-
ing that a sinner caw pray, my father, turning to
the Moderator, said " Sir, let a man feel him-
self to be a sinner, and, for anything the uni-
verse of creatures can do for him, hopelessly
lost, let him feel this, sir, and let him get a
glimpse of the Saviour, and all the eloquence
and argument of Mr. Morison will not keep that
man from crying out, ' God be merciful to me,
a sinner.' That, sir, is prayer that is accept-
able prayer."

There must be, I fear, now and then an ap-
parent discrepancy between you and me, espe-
cially as to the degree of mental depression
which at times overshadowed my father's
nature. You will understand this, and I hope
our readers will make allowance for it. Some
of it is owing to my constitutional tendency to
overstate, and much of it to my having had
perhaps more frequent, and even more private,
insights into this part of his life. But such
inconsistency as that I speak of the co-exist-
ence of a clear, firm faith, a habitual sense of
God and of his infinite mercy, the living a life


of faith, as if it was in his organic and inner life,
more than in his sensational and outward is
quite compatible with that tendency to distrust
himself, that bodily darkness and mournfulness,
which at times came over him. Any one who
knows " what a piece of work is man ;" how
composite, how varying, how inconsistent human
nature is, that each of us are

" Some several men, all in an hour,"

will not need to be told to expect, or how to
harmonize these differences of mood. You see
this in that wonderful man, the apostle Paul, the
true typical fulness, the humanness,Bo to speak, of
whose nature comes out in such expressions of
opposites as these " By honour and dishonour,
by evil report and good report : as deceivers,
and yet true ; as unknown, and yet well known ;
as dying, and, behold, we live ; as chastened,
and not killed ; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoic-
ing ; as poor, yet making many rich ; as having
nothing, and yet possessing all things."

I cannot, and after your impressive and exact
history of his last days, I need not say anything
of the close of those long years of suffering,
active and passive, and that slow ebbing of
life ; the body, without help or hope, feeling its
doom steadily though slowly drawing on ; the
mind mourning for its suffering friend, com-
panion, and servant, mourning also, some-


times, that it must be " unclothed/' and take
its flight all alone into the infinite unknown ;
dying daily, not in the heat of fever, or in the
insensibility or lethargy of paralytic disease,
but having the mind calm and clear, and the
body conscious of its own decay, dying, as
it were, in cold blood. One thing I must
tell. That morning when you were obliged to
leave, and when "cold obstruction's apathy''
had already begun its reign when he knew us,
and that was all, and when he followed us with
his dying and loving eyes, but could not speak
the end came ; and then, as through life, his
will asserted itself supreme in death. With
that love of order and decency which was a law
of his life, he deliberately composed himself,
placing his body at rest, as if setting his house
in order before leaving it, and then closed his
eyes and mouth, so that his last look the look
his body carried to the grave and faced disso-
lution in was that of sweet, dignified self-pos-

I have made this letter much too long, and
have said many things in it I never intended
saying, and omitted much I had hoped to be
able to say. But I must end.

Yours ever affectionately,











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