“Bunyan, Brown and Boston”

John Brown's Self-Interpreting Bible (1859)

“For now I’m grown sae cursed douce
I pray and ponder butt the house;
My shins, my lane, I there sit roastin’,
Perusing Bunyan, Brown, an’ Boston,”

These lines are from a Robert Burns poem of 1789 entitled, “Epistle To James Tennant of Glenconner.” (The rest of his poetry is linked to from this page) The final line of this excerpt features the names of three figures from church history: John Bunyan, John Brown, and Thomas Boston. This poem references these writers in passing, highlighting what household names these three were in the eighteenth century.

Many of us are already familiar with the first, John Bunyan, seventeenth century Baptist preacher, who penned Pilgrim’s Progress during a twelve year sabbatical in jail. The third figure, Thomas Boston, may be less familiar nowadays, but he still has currency among readers within the Reformed tradition. He’s the author of The Fourfold State of Man. But the least familiar of these to modern Americans (perhaps even most Presbyterian and Reformed Americans) is the second figure, the Reverend John Brown of Haddington. The volume that elevated John Brown to household name status was his then-widely read Self-Interpreting Bible. Originally published in 1778, it went through at least 26 known editions.

I recently came into possession of the 1859 edition. It’s in very good shape, and I hope I’m able to preserve that condition as I regulary mine it’s pages for it’s amazing lithographs and it’s even more amazing Reformed study notes, devotional applications and indices. I found it at a local antique store, and purchased it for my wife (and, of course, myself) as a gift for a significant milestone birthday that shall remain confidential. This is an appropriate gift for her because we share a love of old books and lithographs. The extensive study notes are more of interest to me, but she enjoys listening to them as I read them aloud to her on occasion.

So far, I’ve found little online about the book, but there was one very informative article that will make many of you desire along with me that this Reformed study Bible would find a publisher that would reintroduce it to the modern world during this period of renewed interest in Reformed theology. Since I’m not a publisher, and since this book is so old it’s bound to not be under any copyright restrictions, I’ll begin posting freely from it from now on for who knows how long. There’s so much wonderful material in here that I want to share with you, so subscribe to this blog either by email or RSS feed, and keep up with every entry. I know I’m not the most regular blogger, but now that I’ve got an antiquarian Bible full of stuff you’ve likely never read, I’ll be doing so more regularly.

The article “John Brown’s Bibles” may be read at this link; John Brown of Haddington’s Wikipedia entry may be read here, but I’ll be posting even more detailed biographical information about him in the days and weeks to come from the pages of his claim to fame. Banner of Truth Trust sells Life of John Brown with Select Writings.

If you browse through online Reformed booksellers, you will encounter a later theologian named John Brown who wrote many exegetical commentaries. I ordered his commentary on Galatians recently thinking it was the Brown of Haddington, only to be disappointed upon its arrival. But that’s alright, it looks like it’ll be a useful help itself. You can read an interesting article about the later John Brown here.

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