Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 8

John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1859)

Presbyterian Polymath

The pastor of a large congregation has but little time to spare from the duties of his office, compared with one engaged with a less numerous charge. In this respect Mr. Brown found himself in his proper element at Haddington. There, without trenching on the duties of his office, he could devote a very considerable portion of his time to study; and this privilege he improved to the best advantage.

In the summer months his constant rule was to rise between four and five, and during the winter by six. From these early hours, till eight in the evening, excepting the time allotted to bodily refreshment, family worship, or when called away on the duties of office, he continued to prosecute his studies with unremitting application. To a mind so ardent in the acquisition of knowledge, with a judgment so clear, a retentive memory, and exertions so intense, it was by no means surprising that he became greatly superior to most men engaged in discharging the same sacred duties.

In acquiring the knowledge of languages, ancient or modern, he possessed a facility altogether his own. Without an instructor, unless for one month to start him in the Latin, as formerly mentioned, he soon got so far acquainted with that language as to relish its beauties; and, left to his own resources, though frequently but indifferently provided with the proper books, he soon became critically acquainted with the Greek, and especially the Hebrew. Of the living languages, he could read and translate the Arabic, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic, the French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and German.

With him natural history, civil law, natural and moral philosophy, were particular objects of research; but divinity, and the history of human affairs, sacred or civil, were his favourite studies; and his success in these departments of knowledge are visible in his various works.Among the writers on divinity with whom he was versant, we find that Turretine, Pietet, Mastrecht, and Owen, with Boston, Erskine, and Hervey, were the chief; which shows that he accounted sound divinity and accurate sentiment a far better recommendation of his author, than the flowing fancy, the brilliant style, or the harmonious period.

Though stimulated by a sense of duty, and strongly excited by inclination, to the study of divinity, such was his anxiety to become a universal scholar, that he made himself acquainted with the whole round of the sciences. In his reading, especially important works, he was in the habit of compendizing his author as he went along. In this way he abridged the whole of Blackstone’s Commentaries, the ancient Universal History, and a number of other important works. This, however, is a method concerning which the learned hold different opinions. To lay aside the book, and abridge entirely from memory, and that in the writer’s own language, without regarding the style of the author, will make the substance of the work more his own; which, with other reasons that might be named, seems to render it the more eligible method.

Memoir of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington


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