In the year 1733 a serious rupture took place in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in consequence of an act of Assembly passed in 1730, by which it was enacted, that reasons of dissent against the decisions of the judicatories of the Church should not be entered on the record; an enactment which prevented all who dissented in any case from exonerating their consciences by recording their dissent. This gave rise to much righteous indignation on the part of the godly ministers in the Church—an indignation which was augmented when, in 1732, the most solemn remonstrances against intrusive settlements were not so much as listened to. Along with these harsh dealings it was made a cause of censure for any minister to animadvert on the proceedings of the Church courts. Several ministers—inasmuch as they were bound by solemn engagement to the truth as expressed in the subordinate standards—found that they could not, as faithful servants of Jesus Christ, submit to censure for what appeared to them their obvious duty. Accordingly, Mr. Ebenezer Erskine, having freely animadverted on the growing defections of the Church, in a sermon delivered before the Synod of Perth and Stirling, in 1732, was called to account before said Synod, where he was found liable to censure in terms of the enactment aforesaid. To this decision, however, from a sense of duty, he peremptorily refused to submit, both before the Synod and General Assembly. Mr. Erskine was at this time joined by Messrs William Wilson, James Fisher, and Alexander Moncrieff: who, after due deliberation, finding that they could not, with a good conscience, continue in the communion of the church under these circumstances, seceded from her ecclesiastical jurisdiction, on the following grounds:–1st. The sufferance of error without adequate censure. 2d. The infringement of the people’s rights in electing their ministers, under the law of patronage. 3d. The neglect or relaxation of discipline. 4th. The restraint on ministerial freedom in opposing error and maladministration. 5th. The refusal of the prevailing party to be reclaimed. On these, and other solemn considerations, stated at large in their Testimony, they constituted themselves into a distinct presbytery, fully persuaded of the lawfulness of their separation.
Time for our first break from Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible. How about if we dabble in the doctrine of particular redemption?
I ran across, once again, the famous quote by Puritan theologian par excellence, John Owen (1616-1683), from his book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Among statements in defense of the Reformed doctrine of particular redemption, this one is literally viral in the Reformed blogosphere. This quote is Owen’s logical critique of general redemption, and is worth thinking through and searching the Scriptures about if you’ve never taken the time.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of his complex argument from Reformed.org:
The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
- All the sins of all men.
- All the sins of some men, or
- Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
- That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
- That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
- But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, “Because of unbelief.”
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”
I’ve looked at this many times and have until now always had trouble keeping the whole train of thought on the rails in my head, if you know what I mean. Finally, the other day, I decided I’m going to have to do with this what I do with Scripture verses and catechism questions that I want to memorize–put it to music!
The following is the result. It’s roughly based on the tune to the children’s song “I’m in the Lord’s Army,” although there are some divergences. Do what you will with it. So, without further ado, I give you . . .
by John D. Chitty
Did Christ die for
all sins of all men
or all sins of some men
or some sins of all men?
If Christ died for
some sins of all men,
then all die
for those he did not.
But if Christ died for
all sins of some men,
that’s what we believe,
all th’elect of all the nations!
But if Christ died for
all sins of all men,
why are not
all men saved?
You will answer
“Because of unbelief”–
Is unbelief a sin or not?
If not, why then,
for it give account?
Either for it
Christ was punished, or not!
If he was, then,
why does unbelief
more than other sins he died for?
But if he did not
die for unbelief,
then for all sins of all men
Christ did not die!
So Christ died for
all sins of some men,
those the Father
gave to His Son!
I’m from Geneva, and I’m here to help!
About the eleventh year of his age his father was removed by death; and in some short time after, his loss was doubled in the death of his mother, and he left a poor orphan, without friends who could render him any essential service in his forlorn situation. But another ingredient was still wanting to fill up the bitter cup of adversity. About four months after the death of his mother, he was seized with a fever, four attacks of which rapidly succeeding each other, rendered his recovery almost hopeless: but his Master had employment assigned for him in his church; and having, by a series of afflicting circumstances, impressed his mind with the ineffable importance of eternal things, and rescued him from the jaws of the grave, provided the homeless orphan with a friend and protector. An elder in the parish of Abernethy—an aged shepherd and an eminent Christian, respectable also for his intelligence, though so destitute of education that he could not so much as read—cheerfully embraced the opportunity of supplying the deficiency under which he laboured, by engaging the homeless orphan, to assist him in tending his flock, and in reading for him as opportunity allowed. It will appear strange to many, that men, of considerable talents and religious intelligence, should have been so utterly neglected in their education, particularly in a country so famed for her public seminaries as Scotland has long been. To account for this, we have only to consult the history of the reigns of Charles II and his brother James, where we find that, during that persecuting period, the laws and social regulations of the country were greatly deranged; and that, under the then prelatic ascendancy, the parochial schools, established by our forefathers, were utterly neglected—a fact which shows how nearly allied the prelacy of the times was to popery—nor were they restored by law till eight years after the Revolution of 1688. The young generations, rising during that long period, must, therefore, have been either partially or totally deficient in point of instruction, with the exception merely of those who could afford a very uncommon expense. John Ogilvie, the elder, whose kindness to young Brown we have just mentioned, had felt the privation of parochial instruction. But the connexion with the orphan boy was peculiarly advantageous to both parties, who, well pleased with one another, set to work and constructed a small hut amongst the hills, to protect them from the rain and the storm, where they read and conversed with one another, and sent up their joint supplications to him who fills the hungry with good things, while the rich are sent empty away. During this reciprocity of kind offices and congenial feelings, by a strict attention to the dispensations of Providence, by pondering over the books he read, and the sermons he heard, the young man was brought under very impressive apprehensions of the majesty of God, the hatefulness of sin, the love of Christ, and the utter insignificance of all earthly enjoyments, when contrasted with the glories of heaven; so that the pleasure of his secret devotions was greatly augmented, while he felt his conscience daily becoming more tender, and his walk and conversation more assimilated to that of his Lord and Master. His mountain was now strong, and his state prosperous; but sun and shade are not more vacillating, in the natural world, than hope and fear, joy and sorrow, are in that of the spiritual. His pastoral friend and companion relinquished his mountain occupation, and settling in Abernethy, Mr. Brown was again out of employment; and wishing to provide for himself things honest in the sight of all men, he found it necessary to enter into the service of a neighbouring farmer, whose premises were much more extensive, and his domestics more numerous, and, as it would appear, whose lives were less exemplary than that of his former friend. Here he soon began to feel a sensible decline in his spiritual attainments, and a general lukewarmness and indifference in the exercise of religious duties, though his external deportment was still distinguished by manifold virtues, and particularly by the ornamental grace of meekness, patience, and Christian forbearance, under the most irritating provocations, with a spirit of Christian charity, ever ready to forgive.—A fellow shepherd, who, in his youthful gaiety, had taken a malicious pleasure in ridiculing and otherwise annoying the young man in his devotions, after observing for some time the unalterable serenity and interminable patience with which he endured the unprovoked insult, blushed himself into repentance; nor could he find rest in his own mind till he had acknowledged his fault, expressed the shame and sorrow he felt for what he had done, and had received an assurance of a frank forgiveness. This led to an intimate and cordial friendship, which lasted during life; and the same individual, when on his death-bed, declared that the admonitions and religious instructions he received from Mr. Brown, during their intercourse as fellow-servants, had laid him under obligations which no language could express.
Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1859) contains an extensive biography of the editor. It’s a great story, but it’s going to take quite a while to get the entire thing transcribed and posted. In the meantime, I’ll be mixing it up a little with other features from my new favorite study Bible. The author of this biography is not credited. But you can download Robert Mackenzie’s 1918 biography, John Brown of Haddington, in a 178 page PDF file from Still Waters Revival Books for 99 cents at this link.
The REV. JOHN BROWN was born in the year 1722, at Carpow, a small village in the parish of Abernethy, and county of Perth. His parents ranked in that class of society who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. His father could boast of no rent-rolls, nor had he any title of honour, save that of an honest man and an industrious mechanic, who, during the greater part of his life, laboured in the profession of an operative weaver. Though destitute of all the advantages arising from a regular education, he was nevertheless a man of considerable intelligence, moral worth, and Christian sincerity. He made conscience of keeping up the worship of God in his family, and set a Christian example before them, though living in a neighbourhood remarkably careless of these things. His external circumstances were so narrow, that it was little he could afford to promote the intellectual improvement of his son; so that the subject of this momoir found his situation in this respect but little superior to that of his father. He was sent to school; but the time allowed him to acquire the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic, was so very short, that nothing but an excellent genius, and the most intense application, could have enabled him to attain the ordinary education of the lowest orders in the country. This, however, with one solitary month which he bestowed on the Latin, and that without the consent of his parents, appears to have been all the regular education he ever received, till we find him studying philosophy and divinity under the superintendence of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher. It does not appear that his father ever intended him for the church, or even contemplated the possibility of his accomplishing such a design; though the strong propensity of his mind to learning, and particularly to that species of learning the nearest allied to divinity, seems to have suggested to his mother the possibility, that the day might come when his literary predilection might find room for its gratification in the service of the church; and often and again has she pictured to herself that happy day, when her darling child should emerge from his obscurity, clothed in the emblems of the most honourable employment—an ambassador of the Prince of Peace. In the mean time, his personal piety, the most important of all the prerequisite qualifications for an office so sacred, afforded her the lively hope that his labours, should her ardent wishes be ever realized would not be in vain in the Lord. In a short narrative of his experiences written by himself, Brown acknowledges the delight which he had while at school, in committing to memory the Catechisms of Vincent, Flaw, and the Westminster Assembly; and the profit he afterwards derived while yet a boy, from the perusal of the Bible, Rutherford’s Letters, and Gouge’s Directions how to Walk with God, His God was preparing him inconsciously for the service of Christ. He had separated him from the womb, and was even now calling him by his grace, (Gal. i. 15.) that he might reveal his Son in him, and send him to preach. In the same memoir he records the solemn impressions made on his young mind, by witnessing the dispensation of the Sacrament, and listening to the addresses delivered during the service; and, from his experience of profit argues against the impropriety of excluding children from witnessing a service so calculated to engage the affections. This exclusion appears to have been practiced in the Church of Scotland at the commencement of last century; and was perhaps a remnant of Episcopal feeling, remaining after the restoration of Presbytery. “About the eighth year of my age,” says he, “I happened, in a crowd, to push into the church at Abernethy, on a sacrament Sabbath. Then it was common for all but intended communicants to be excluded. Before I was excluded I heard one or two tables served by the minister, who spake much to the commendation of Christ, which in a sweet and delightful manner so captivated my young affections, as has since made me think that children should never be kept out of the church on such occasions.”
The following is the original preface to Rev. John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible, in which he explains the various features he’s included, and shows how they will aid the reader in understanding and profiting spiritually from the Word of God. I’ve highlighted the features as they occur throughout. The rest is original to the editor.
My intention in the coming posts will be to demonstrate to varying degrees, each of these features, along with pictures of the numerous beautiful lithographs that are found along the way.
PREFACE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION
Not to depreciate the valuable commentaries of Pool, Patrick, Clarke, Henry, Burkitt, Gill, and Doddridge, &c., but to exhibit their principal substance with all possible advantage, 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, and enable every serious reader to judge for himself what doctrines ought to be believed, and what duties practiced by the Christian, are the avowed aims of this publication.
In the copious INTRODUCTION, the principal proofs of the Divine Authority of the Old and New Testaments, and the rules necessary to promote the profitable perusal of the oracles of God therein contained, are largely exhibited. The connected scheme of the Hebrew Laws, and their evangelical signification,–and of the fate of nations, narrated or predicted in Scripture, as subservient to the glorious work of our redemption,–together with the large Chronological Index,–form a summary of the most celebrated labours of the learned world on these diversified subjects. An accurate attention thereto will, through the blessing of God, greatly assist in searching the Scriptures with success.
The contents of the sacred books, and their respective chapters, are an accurate, full and explicatory representation of their subject. Properly attending to these, the reader must discern of whom, or of what, the Holy Ghost there speaks, and understand the passage accordingly. He may easily fix in his mind a general, but distinct view of the whole system of inspiration; and thus be capable, with the utmost readiness, to find out or compare whatever passages of Scripture he may desire.
The EXPLANATORY NOTES are chiefly confined to the figurative, the prophetic, and the practical parts. Here the obscurity of Scripture, or the importance of faith and holiness, chiefly required them.
In our Saviour’s delightful discourses, and the epistles of his inspired Messengers, our holy religion is most fully delineated; and there the explication is peculiarly extensive, and attempts to exhibit the substance of many learned and expensive commentaries, in a manner which, attending to the beautiful connexion, clearly unfolds the scope and meaning of the Spirit of God.
A particular and lively application of divine truth to the heart, and an unspotted holiness of conversation, being the immediate end of God’s revelations to men, the contents of each chapter, which are often in an explicatory manner, are in the Reflections practically summed up, and directed home to the reader himself, for enlightening his understanding, awakening his conscience, warming his heart, and for directing and animating his practice.
An exact knowledge of the seasons in which the oracles of God were delivered, or the events mentioned in them took place, being of no small importance for obtaining a distinct perception of their meaning, the dates before and after our Saviour’s incarnation have been adjusted from the best chronologers, and marked in the margin.
But, as every Protestant must allow the Scripture itself to be its own best interpreter—as God, to oblige men to a diligent search of his word, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, has seldom fully unfolded any of his more important truths in one particular passage—the uncommon collection of Parallel Scriptures, such as is not to be found anywhere else that I know of, has formed the most laborious, and will, to the diligent peruser, be found by far the most valuable part of the work. Some of these are similar in phrase, others in meaning, and, in fine, others in their scope and design. In these, and others which may be added, we have a delightful view of the harmony of the Scripture, and multiplied proofs of every article of our Christian faith; we have a real Concordance, which may abundantly furnish preachers and others with their desired quotations; we have, in little room, a large Commentary, infinitely more certain than any dictates of men; and of which the very words are, as nails and as goads, pointed and fastened by the great Master of assemblies. In a truly diligent comparison of them, many texts all at once explain, and are explained by each other. Nor, unless at first, will the careful reader find much trouble in comparing the texts: but the mere view of the marginal quotations will direct his memory to that part of them which corresponds with the sentence to which they are annexed for explication. And, for his encouragement, I can only say, that my labour, in collecting the parallel texts in this work, has afforded me much more pleasant insight into the oracles of God than all the numerous commentaries which I ever perused.
Thus we may listen to, and converse with God, and lay our consciences open to the inspired arrows of our all-conquering Redeemer;–we find his words, and eat them, to the joy and health of our soul; we hide them in our heart, that we may not sin against him; we become mighty in the Scriptures, and expert in handling this sword of the Spirit, in opposition to every enemy of our soul: in fine, we are made wise unto salvation; are reproved, corrected, and instructed in righteousness, and perfectly furnished for every good work. May the Lord himself prosper it for these ends!