John Brown

John Brown was born in 1722 in the village of Carpow in the Parish of Abernethy, Perthshire. His parents were rich in faith and full of humble godly giving.

To quote from John Brown's Bible:

"Among the class from which John sprang, his name and Bible have long been, and still continue to be a household word and work; the family Bible in our cottage homes has been and is 'The Self-Interpreting Bible of Brown' and thus through many years has his name been spoken and treasured among the lowly and devout."

His parents, being poor, could only give John a limited education, just covering the '3Rs'. He later said "his greatest gift was to be born into a family that took care of his Christian instruction".

When he was eleven his father died and soon after his mother also. He was then brought up by an aged shepherd named John Ogilvie. When at school he learned the catechisms of Vincent, Flavel and the Westminster Assembly.

When the old shepherd retired John entered the service of a local farmer. While tending the sheep it gave him the opportunity to read and learn. The knowledge he gained in Latin, Greek and Hebrew left far behind all those who had the benefit of regular instruction.

Though there were many who revered his great knowledge, there were also many who thought he must be in league with the devil. Unfounded as this allegation was , it caused John great distress. He said "the reproach was exceedingly distressing to me". He turned to God as his shield from the unmerited rejection of men.

About the age of eight, before he was excluded, he entered with the crowd The Church of Abernethy (for at that time only those intending to eat the Lord's Supper were allowed in). He heard the Minister speak in such a sweet and delightful manner it captivated his young heart and later made him think children should never be excluded on such occasions.

Towards the end of his life he often observed that during his early period he experienced more clear and delightful discoveries of 'divine truth' than he ever afterwards enjoyed on earth. Soon after his parents died he had four attacks of fever and again when he was nineteen he seized with a fever which laid him low and filled him with agonising terrors of being deserted by God.

In 1748 he became a teacher and due to his dedication eight or nine of his students became ministers. Such was his own ardour in the pursuit of divinity that in one evening after school he learned fifteen chapters of 'Genesis'.

His great thirst for learning meant that frequently he had no more than four hours' sleep a night and this accounted for his poor health in later life.

In 1750, after regular study of divinity, he became licensed to be a preacher. Both Haddington and Stow wanted him for their minister and he chose Haddington but he often preached at Stow to make up for their disappointment. His small congregation would enable him to spend a great proportion of his time in the week to study. He would rise in the summer between 4 and 5 am and in the winter at 6 am and except for time spent in family worship or public duty, would closely apply himself to study till 8 pm every evening.

Without the advantage of a proper education, by his own study he became proficient in Greek and Hebrew and also understood Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and German languages. He also studied philosophy, natural history and civil law but of all his pursuits history and divinity were his decided preferences.

In 1768 John was elected by the Synod to the Chair of Divinity Professor, an honourable and highly respected trust. 'Impartiality' was his motto and he treated all his students alike. His parting address at the end of each session was so impressive it brought tears to the eyes of the student, many of whom subsequently became ministers.

John was not only distinguished as a Minister and Professor of Divinity but also famous as an author.

His desire was to write for the spiritual well-being of mankind and never for self-glory. From all his prodigious works (29 in all) he never gained more than £40. For volumes published and requested abroad, he would sometimes write them out three or four times in order that they might be easily understood.

His greatest labour was spent on producing the 'Dictionary of the Bible'. It is a book of such merit that there is no work of its size more useful in the study of the scriptures. His fame spread and he was invited by the Dutch Reformed Church in America to be their Professor of Divinity. Famous men in both America and Britain courted his correspondence but he always maintained a low and unassuming profile.

John's first marriage was to Mrs Janet Thomson. She was the mother of several children, some of whom were to become famous in the church. She died in 1771. John said he trusted "that she went to her first and best husband". His second wife, who he married two years later, was Mrs Violet Croumbie by whom he had six children, four sons and two daughters. Two of his sons entered the ministry and one was a writer. Others of his descendants in the third and fourth generations have been distinguished in literature, science and theology.

John's physical well-being became greatly diminished by his long hours of study. For a number of years his stomach was gradually losing its tone and in the last year of his life - 1787 - almost stopped functioning. He was not afraid to die and remained collected, cheerful and happy until the end. If his public usefulness was over in his own words he said "he would not turn a straw for either life or death". Everything alarming in respect of his last enemy was removed and "to be with Christ was far better".

On one occasion he said "I am as assured of my eternal happiness as that there is an eternity". At the very close of life with a smile expressing the joy and serenity of his heart he said "the Lord is my strength and song and he has become my salvation". With his last breath he said "my Christ!" and closed his eyes in death.

These notes were assembled by the late Mrs J Ferguson, Haddington.

More information about John Brown's family tree is available on request.