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.”