Category Archives: John Brown of Haddington

Review: John Brown of Haddington

My review of The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington was published today at takeupandread.com. Brown’s theology is best remembered under the title A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion. Read more here: takeupandread.com.

 

I found the Banner of Truth autobiography/biography very useful in my research. The Life of John Brown (1856/2004) was edited by his son William Brown (the same man who slightly abridged Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor now published by the Banner of Truth). It provides useful historical information about Brown’s extraordinary life and several rich letters and meditation essays written by John Brown. If the life of John Brown interests you, I recommend this volume (ISBN: 0851518575).

 

John Brown of Haddington: The Pastor

The Pastor
By John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787)

I’ve been working on a review of The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (more commonly known as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion, published in 1782 and reprinted by Christian Focus in 2002). Taking the past month to become acquainted with this remarkable man has been a great blessing to my own soul. Brown was the son of a basket weaver, whose poor Christian parents were both dead by the time he was 11-years old. He became an orphan shepherd. Although every circumstance in Brown’s life pointed towards a rough future of poverty and ignorance, he would teach himself NT Greek! Under the sovereign direction of God, being self-taught from the well of Scripture, this man would become one of the most prominent theological professors, writers, preachers and theologians in Scottish history, producing a long-revered Bible dictionary and a massive study Bible (The Self-Interpreter’s Bible). Most striking in his life, letters and books is Brown’s vast and encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture. The following is an excerpt from an address given to students of theology published in the preface of his systematic theology. I would encourage pastors to print this out and return to it frequently. Blessings! Tony

“See that your minds be deeply impressed with the nature, extent, and importance of your ministerial work, — that therein it is required of you, as ambassadors for Christ, as stewards of the mysteries and manifold grace of God, — to be faithful; — to serve the Lord with your spirit, and with much humility in the gospel of his Son: — to testify repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, not keeping back or shunning to declare every part of the counsel of God, or any profitable instruction, reproof, or encouragement; and not moved with any reproach, persecution, hunger, or nakedness, — to be ready not only to be bound, but to die for the name of the Lord Jesus, in order to finish your course with joy. Bearing with the infirmities of the weak, and striving together in prayer, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, and your message provided by God, and made acceptable to your hearers, you must labor with much fear and trembling, determined to know, to glory in, and to make known, nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, — preaching the gospel, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, as men-pleasers, but with great plainness of speech, in demonstration of the Spirit and with power, – speaking the things which are freely given you by God, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but in words which the Holy Ghost teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, — as having the mind of Christ, always triumphing in Him, — and making manifest the savor of the knowledge of him in every place, that you may be a sweet savor of Christ in them who are saved, and in them who perish; — as of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God, speaking in Christ, and through the mercy of God, not fainting, but renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty; — not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, or corrupting the truth, but manifesting the truth to every man’s conscience, as in the sight of God; — not preaching yourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and yourselves servants to the church for his sake, always bearing about his dying, that his life may be manifested in you; — and knowing the terror of the Lord, and deeply impressed with the account which you and your hearers must give to him of your whole conduct in the day of judgment, — awed by his infinite authority, constrained and inflamed by his love, you must persuade men, beseeching them to be reconciled unto God, and making yourselves manifest to God and to their conscience, — and, as their edification requires, changing your voice, and turning yourselves every way, and becoming all things to all men, in order to gain them to Christ, — jealous over them with a godly jealousy, in order to espouse them to him as chaste virgins, — travailing in birth, till he be formed in their hearts. You must take heed to your ministry which you have received in the Lord, what you may fulfill it; — stir up the gifts which were given you, — give yourselves wholly to reading, exhortation, and doctrine; — and perseveringly take heed to yourselves and to the doctrine which you preach, that you may save yourselves and them that hear you; — watching for their souls, as they who do, and must give an account for them to God, — rightly dividing the word of truth, and giving every man his portion in due season, faithfully warning every man with tears night and day, teaching every man, particularly young ones, and laboring to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, — and warring, not after the flesh, nor with carnal weapons, but with such as are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds and casting down imaginations, and subduing every thought and affection to the obedience of Christ. Having him for the end of your conversation, and holding fast the form of sound words in faith in, and love to him, — not entangling yourselves with the affairs of this life, nor ashamed of the Lord, or of his cause or prisoners, but ready to endure hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and to endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain salvation with eternal glory; — ye must go forth without the camp, bearing his reproach, and, exposed as spectacles of suffering to angels and men, must not faint under your tribulations, but feed the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood, and over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, — preaching the word in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine, — taking the oversight of your people, not by restraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre of worldly gain, or larger stipends, but of a ready mind, — neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but as examples to the flock, — exercising yourselves to have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards man, — having a good conscience, willing in all things to live honestly, — exercised to godliness, — kindly affectioned, disinterested, holy, just, and unblamable, — prudent examples of the believers in conversations [daily life], in charity, in faith and purity, — fleeing youthful lusts, and following after righteousness, peace, faith, charity, — not striving, but being gentle to all men, — in meekness, instructing them who oppose themselves, avoiding foolish and unlearned questions, and old wives’ fables, — fleeing from perverse disputings and worldly mindedness, as most dangerous snares; and following after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness; — fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold on eternal life, — keeping your trust of gospel truth and ministerial office, and, without partiality or precipitancy, committing the same to faithful men, who may be able to teach others; — and, in fine, faithfully laboring, in the Lord, to try, and confute, and censure false teachers, restore such as have been overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness, — and having compassion on them, to pull them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, and never conniving at, or partaking with an in their sins. Who is sufficient for these things? May your sufficiency be of God; and as your days are, so may your strength be. (Ezek. 2:7, 3:9, 17-21, 33:7-9; Isa. 58:1; Jer. 1:17-18, 15:19-20; Mic. 3:8; Mal. 2:6-7; Matt. 10:16-39, 19:28-29, 20:25-28, 23:3-12, 24:42-51, 28:18-20; Acts 18:24-28, 20:18-35, 24:16, 26:16-23; 1 Cor. 2:1-5,9,12-13, ch. 1-5, 9, 12-14; 2 Cor. ch. 2-6, 10-13; Rom. 1:9,16, 9:1-2, 10:1, ch. 12 and 15; Gal. 1:8-16, 4:19; Eph. 3:7-9, 4:11-15, 6:19-20; Col. 4:7,17, 1:23-29, 2:1-2; 1 Thes. ch. 2, 3, 5:12; 1 Tim. ch. 3-4; 2 Tim. ch. 1-3; Heb. 13:7,17-18; 1 Pet. 4:10-11, 5:1-4; Jude 22, 23; Rev. ch. 2, 3, 11:3-7, 14:6-11).”

- John Brown of Haddington, “Address to Students of Divinity,” in The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Christian Focus: 1782/2002), pp. viii-xi.

“Like pangs of death”: Letting go of legalism

“Like pangs of death”: Letting go of legalism
by Tony Reinke

What is “legalism?” Legalism is an attempt to please God through self-righteous obedience, a counterfeit replacement to the merits and works of the perfect Son. You can be legalistic by not drinking alcohol and thinking God is more pleased with you and you can become legalistic by drinking alcohol and thinking God is more pleased with you. Legalism is not merely defined by specific rules or strictness. Legalism is all about seeking to please God with self efforts and we do that in our ‘looseness’ just as easily as our strictness. That’s the gist of a short post I wrote (“Understanding Legalism”) last September.

This past winter I heard two separate public statements to the effect that if you read a lot of Puritan literature you will grow legalistic. Certainly there is a danger in all Christian literature to do what I did before I was a Christian — highlight all the passages of books and Scripture that give a command, seek to obey and appease God in the end. That’s legalism and it doesn’t matter what you read, our hearts fall into this legalism naturally.

The criticism of the Puritans however is overall unfounded simply on the basis of the Cross-centered focus of the Puritans. You cannot exalt in the sufficient work of the Son without striking legalism at the root.

But this criticism is also unfounded because the Puritans attacked legalism directly.

This weekend I was reading through an excellent systematic theology written by John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787). On the covenant of works, Brown launched into a lengthy paragraph on the nature of legalism and why all unregenerate sinners – and even converted Christians – are lured by legalism. Listen carefully to his arguments.

“All men by nature, and even believers, in so far as they are unrenewed, desire to be under the covenant of works, and to obtain happiness by their own righteousness, or the condition of it. 1. It is natural to men, and hence men of every form or religion, station, office, education, or manner of life, agree in it (Romans 9:31,32; 10:3; Jonah 1:16; Matthew 19:16; John 6:28; Acts 2:37; Luke 15:19). 2. Our own working or suffering, in order to obtain happiness from God, is exceedingly suited to the pride of our corrupt nature, and makes us to look on God as our debtor (Romans 10:3; 7:9,13; John 5:45; Isaiah 58:3). It is like pangs of death to quit our hold of the law (Romans 7:4,9; Galatians 2:19). 3. Men’s ignorance of the extensive and high demands of the broken law, and of their own utter inability to keep it, — or their care to abridge their apprehensions of them, and to enlarge their conceit of their own ability, mightily promote their desire to be under it (Romans 7:9-13; 10:3; Galatians 4:21). 4. Men have naturally a peculiar enmity against God and his gracious method of redemption, — against Jesus Christ and his whole mediation, particularly his sacrificing work; and hence love to oppose the honor of it be cleaving to legal methods of obtaining happiness (Romans 8:7; John 15:24; Romans 10:3; 9:32; 5:21; Galatians 2:21; 5:2,4).”

- The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington [Reformation Heritage Books: 2002] p. 212 (updated spellings and formatting).

Not only were the Puritans aware of the dangers of legalism, they understood legalism to be a false understanding of the appeasement of God. That is, they rightly understood legalism to be a false gospel. And what’s more, the Puritans were fully aware of the battle waging in the soul of the Christian that “it is like pangs of death to quit our hold of the law.” We must die to the Law, not because the Law is bad, but because all sinners are naturally inclined to think appeasing God is possible through Legal obedience. We think that we will find life in obedience to the Law when in fact the Law is really only eternally useful after it kills us in our self-righteousness. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me” (Romans 7:10).

The Puritans were fully aware of the heart’s addiction to self-righteousness and they responded by attacking legalism directly and indirectly (by rejoicing in the perfect work of Jesus Christ). To conclude that Puritan literature births legalism is very clearly a broad statement without foundation.

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