Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/19

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Brown
Brown
13


found more congenial occupation as a schoolmaster. He taught at Oaimey Bridge, near Kinross, and at the Spittal, Tenicuik, near Edinburgh. He been teaching in 1747, known as the year in which the 'breach' occurred in the secession church, to which he belonged. Two bodies were formed, called the Burghers and the Anti-burghers, of whom the first maintained that it was, and the second that it was not, lawful to take the burgess oath in the Scottish towns (for full account see McKerrow's History, chap, vi.) Brown adhered to the more liberal view, and now began to prepare himself for the ministry, he studied theology and philosophy in connection with the Associate Burgher Synod under Ebenezer Erskine of Stirling, and James Fisher of Glasgow. In 1750 he was licensed to preach the gospel, and next year was unanimously called to the associate congregation of Haddington. His congregation was small and poor, but though afterwards invited to be pastor to the Dutch church, New York, he never left it. His ministerial duties were very hard, for during most of the year he deliverea three sermons and a lecture every Sunday, whilst visiting and catechising occupied many a weekday. Still he found time to do much other work. In 1758 he published ' An Help for the Ignorant. Being an Essay towards an Easy Explication of the Westminster Confession of Jraith and Catechism, composed for the young ones of his own congregation.' This ' easy explication ' was a volume of about 400 pages. In it he had taken occasion to affirm that Christ's righteousness, though in itself infinitely valuable, is only imparted to believers according to their need, and not so as to render them infinitely righteous. In the following year 'A brief Dissertation concerning the Righteousness of Christ' expounded the same view. He had branded the doctrine he opposed as 'antinomian and familistic blasphemy,' but notwithstanding it was defended by various anti-burgher divines, who retorted on him the charges of 'heresy,' 'blasphemy,' and 'familism,' accused him of 'gross and palpable misrepresentation,' lamented the 'poisonous fruit,' and dwelt on the 'glaring absurdity ' of his doctrine (see Doctrine of the Unity and Uniformity of Christ's Surety righteousness viewed and vindicated, &c. By Rev. John Dalziel (Edin. 1760), pp. 72-4). This bitter controversy did not prevent Brown from doing acts of practical kindness to various anti-burgher brethren. He continued to write diligently, and his name became more widely known. In 1768 he was appointed professor in divinity to the Associate burgher Synod. A great deal of work, but no salary, was attached to this office; the students studied under Brown at Haddington during a session of nine weeks each year (McKerrow's History, p. 787). In 1778 his best-known work, the 'Self-interpreting Bible,' was published at Edinburgh in two volumes. Its design, he explains in the preface, is to present the labours of the best commentators ' in a manner that might best comport with the ability and leisure of the poorer and labouring part of mankind, and especially to render the oracles of God their own interpreter.' Thus the work contains history, chronology, geography, summaries, explanatory notes, and reflections — in short, everything that the ordinary reader might be supposed to want. It is a library in one volume. Brown is always ready to give what he believes to be the only possible explanation of each verse, and to draw its only possible practical lesson therefrom. The style throughout is clear and vigorous. The book at once acquired a popularity which among a large class it has never lost. It has been read widely among the English-speaking nations, as well as in Wales and the Scottish highlands. How well known it and Brown's other works were in Scotland some characteristic lines of Burns bear witness : —

 For now I'm grown sae cursed douce,
 I pray an' ponder butt the house ;
 My shins, my lane, I there sit roastin'
 Perusing Bunyan, Brown, an' Boston.
  {Letter to James Tail of Glenconner,
   lines 19-22.)

His numerous other works strengthened his reputation, but none broiight him any profit. One of his publishers, 'of his own good will,' presented him with about 40l., but this he lent and lost to another. His salary from his church was for a long time only 40l. per annum, and it was never more than 50l. Only a very small sum came to him from other sources. The stem self-denial that was a frequent feature in the early Scottish household enabled him to bring up a large family, and meet all the calls of necessity and duty on this income. 'Notwithstanding my eager desire for books, I chose rather to want them, and much more other things, than run into debt,' he says. At least one-tenth of his small means was set apart for works of charity.

Throughout his 1ife Brown was an eager student, and his attainments were considerable. He knew most of the European and several oriental languagess. He was well read in history and divinity ; his acquaintance with the Bible was of the most minute description. Although he says that 'few plays or romances are safely read, as they tickle the imagination.