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.
Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 2