Category Archives: John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible

Divine Inspiration Required by the Subject Matter of the Scriptures

John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1859)

The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition).

I. The subject MATTER of them requires a divine inspiration. The history of the creation, and part of that of the flood, &c., therein related, were known only to God. Mysteries relative to the Trinity of persons in the Godhead; the covenant of grace; the incarnation of the Son of God; his undertaking, offices, and states, and our union with him; justification, adoption, sanctification, spiritual comfort, and eternal blessedness, in him, are therein declared;–which God only could comprehend or discover.

The scheme of religion therein prescribed is so pure and benevolent, that God alone could devise or appoint it. While it represents the Most High as everywhere present—as infinitely perfect, powerful, wise, and good—holy, just, and true—an infinitely gracious lover of righteousness, and hater of iniquity,–as our bountiful Creator and Preserver, and as the infinitely merciful Redeemer of our souls, by the obedience and death of his only begotten Son,–it requires us to know, believe in, and revere him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, as our Father, Friend, Husband, Saviour, and Portion in Christ; and confidently to depend on him, and ask from him whatever we need in time or eternity; and to obey him in all that he commands, as children whom he hath begotten again to a lively hope, and established as the heirs of his everlasting inheritance.

We are here taught how human nature may be truly improved and perfected, by our receiving Jesus Christ as made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,–as an effectual principle and root of true holiness;–and by our walking in him by faith, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly, patiently, contentedly, and cheerfully,–setting our affections upon things above, where Christ is, and through the Spirit mortifying every sinful and selfish inclination. We are taught to love our neighbours as ourselves, perfectly fulfilling the particular duties of every relative station; and to lay aside all malice, envy, hatred, revenge, or other malevolent dispositions or passions; to love our enemies; to render good for evil, blessing for cursing; and to pray for them that despitefully use us. These laws of universal purity and benevolence are prescribed with an authority proper only to God, and extended to such a compass and degree as God alone can demand: and those sins are forbidden which God alone can observe or prohibit.


The most powerful motives to duty, and dissuasives from vice, are here most wisely proposed, and powerfully urged; motives drawn from the nature, the promises, the threatenings, the mercies, and the judgments of God; particularly from his kindness in the work of our redemption, and his new-covenant relations to us in Christ; and from advantages or disadvantages, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. And, while the most excellent means of directing and exciting to, and of exercising piety and virtue, are established on the most prudent forms and authoritative manner, the most perfect and engaging patterns of holiness and virtue are set before us in the example of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and of God as reconciled in him, and reconciling the world to himself (Ex. 21:1-17; Lev. 18-20; Deut. 4-25; Mat. 5—7; Rom. 6:12—15; Gal. 5-6; Eph. 4—6; Col. 3:4; 1 Thes. 5; Tit. 2; Jam. 1-5; 1 Pet. 1-5; 2 Pet. 1; 1 John 1—5, &c., &c).


The Divine Inspiration of Scripture Demonstrated

Lithograph of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington

Here’s part two of my planned, looong series of consecutive excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God” from the Self-Interpreting Bible (1859 edition), edited by Rev. John Brown of Haddington. You’ll always be able to access each post in this series by clicking on the category “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God” in the sidebar or at the bottom of any of the posts in this series.

While reason, then, plainly suggests the possibility, the desirableness, and the necessity of a revelation from God, adapted to our circumstances, the books of the Old and New Testament manifest themselves reasonable, credible, and divinely inspired: It is their DIVINE INSPIRATION (which indeed supposes them reasonable and credible) that we now attempt to demonstrate. In what manner the influence, by which the penmen of the Scriptures were directed, affected them, we pretend not fully to explain. It is enough for us to know, that thereby they were infallibly guided and determined to declare what they did not formerly know; to conceive properly of what they had formerly known; and to express their subject in terms absolutely just in themselves, and calculated to convey the truths represented to others. But so far we may conclude, that, while the penmen exercised their own reason and judgment (Ps. 45:1; Mark 12:36; Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:11) the Holy Ghost:

(1) Effectually stirred them up to write (2 Pet. 1:21);

(2) Appointed to each his proper share or subject correspondent with his natural talents, and the necessities of the church in his time (Mat. 25:15; 2 Pet. 1:21);

(3) Enlightened their minds, and gave them a duly distinct view of the truths which they were to deliver (Jer. 1:11-16; 13:9-14; Ezek. 4:4-8; Dan. 10:1,14; 9:22-27; 8:15-19; 12:8; Amos 7:7,8; 8:2; Zec. 1:19, 21; 4:11-14; 5:6; John 16:13; Eph. 3:3,4; 1 Pet. 1:10,11). Perhaps this illumination was given all at once to Paul, when caught up to the third heaven, but was bestowed gradually on the other apostles (Mark 4:34; Luke 24:17,45; John 20:22; Acts 2:4; 10:9-15,28,34).

(4) He strengthened and refreshed their memories to recollect whatever they had seen or heard, which he judged proper to be inserted in their writings (Jer. 31:3; Luke 1:3; John 14:26).

(5) Amidst a multitude of facts, he directed them to write precisely what was proper for the edification of the church, and neither more nor less (John 20:30, 31; 21:25; Rom. 4:23, 24; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6-11).

(6) He excited in their minds such images and ideas as had been treasured up in their memories, and directed them to other ends and purposes than themselves would ever have done of their own accord. Thus, under inspiration, Amos draws his figures from herds, flocks, and fields; Paul makes use of his classical learning (Amos 1, 9; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Tit. 1:2).

(7) He immediately suggested and imprinted on their minds such things as could not be known by reason, observation or information, but were matters of pure revelation (Is. 46:9, 10; 41:22,23; 45:21) whether they respected doctrines (1 Tim. 3:16), or facts past or future (Gen. 1:2,3; Lev. 26 &c).

(8) He so superintended every particular writer, as to render him infallible in his matter, words, and arrangement; and by his superintending influence, made them all in connexion so to write, as to render the whole Scripture, at any given period, a sufficient infallible rule to direct men to true holiness and everlasting happiness (Deut. 8:4; Ps. 1:2; 19:7-11; 119:105; Mat. 22:29; Luke 16:29,31; John 5:39; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:19). Many of the sentences recorded in Scripture are not inspired in themselves, being the words of Satan or of wicked men; but the Scripture report relative to these expressions is directed by divine inspiration. –That our books of the Old and New Testament, the APOCRYPHAL TRACTS being excluded from both, are of an INFALLIBLE and DIVINE original, is thus evident.

Rev. John Brown on the Inabilities of Natural Reason

John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1859)

The recent unpleasantness regarding Rob Bell’s rejection of orthodox thinking and teaching is sparking a concerted effort among my fellow Reformed bloggers and other online ministries to raise awareness that evangelicalism has been in decline for many years, and it is only accelerating. Bible believing Christians need to get back to the basics of what it means to believe the Bible.

To that end, I will begin a new series of excerpts from my antiquarian Self-Interpreting Bible, by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, Scotland. One of his numerous helps in highlighting the Bible’s self-attestation to it’s inspiration as well as its self-interpretation, is an essay entitled, “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God.” Chapter one of this lengthy introduction is called, “Of the Divine Authority of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.”

In this chapter, Rev. Brown begins by demonstrating that there are some things which natural reason is unable to accomplish on its own. Such things are impossible to it without the aid of divine revelation. This fact is often something that even the most devout believer of the Bible forgets, and in such cases, the faith and practice of the church are undermined. Such is undoubtedly the case in the present controversy that has been sparked by natural reason in the form of Rob Bell’s postmodern liberalism.

No man, who is an unbiased free-thinker, can soberly hearken to the dictates of his natural reason, and seriously ponder the absurd and contradictory principles and practices which have been or are prevalent among mankind, without perceiving that the light, or even the law of nature, is altogether insufficient to direct us to true holiness, or lasting happiness, in our present lapsed condition.

It can give us no plain, distinct, convincing, pleasant, powerful, and lasting ideas of God. It cannot direct us in the right manner of worshipping him with due love, resignation, humility, self-denial, zeal, wisdom, sincerity, and fervent desire of the eternal enjoyment of him. It cannot show us our true happiness, which is suited to our highest powers, which may always be enjoyed without shame, suspicion, fear, or dread of loss or danger, and which will in every situation support and comfort us.

It can discover no true system of morality, perfect in its rules, means, and motives. It can discover no effectual incitements to virtue, drawn from the excellency and presence of God the law-giver, from the authority of his law, or from his discovering a proper regard to it in rewarding virtue and punishing vice. It cannot manifest in a striking manner the certainty, excellence, pleasure, and allurement of virtue in our heart, which will ripen us to that proper pitch of religion and virtue in our heart, which will ripen us for the full and immediate enjoyment of God. It cannot show us one perfect example of virtue, either among learned or unlearned heathens; nor give us any promise of God’s assisting us in the study of it.

It can discover no certainty that God will pardon our sins;

no proper atonement;

no actually pardoned sinner;

no happy soul, praising God for his pardoning mercy;

no spiritual worship, appointed by God for rebellious sinners;

no purpose, promise, perfection, or name of God, that his honour, or is intended in his patient bearing with sinners on earth;

nor does it afford any divine proclamation of pardon, nor even any incitement to us to forgive our injurers;

and, in fine, it cannot effectually sanctify our heart, nor produce that bent of will and affection, that inward peace with God, that sufficiency of light and strength from God, or that solid hope of eternal happiness, which is necessary to produce true holiness and virtue.

It cannot support us under heavy and bitter afflictions, by showing us God’s fatherly care of us, his promises to us, or his making all things to work together for our good; nor can it comfort us against death by certain views of his love to us, and providing everlasting life and happiness for us.

Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 5

Lithograph of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington

In his employment as a shepherd–a calling so much ennobled in the patriarchal age, and so universally celebrated both in the ancient and modern pastoral–he enjoyed more leisure, and better opportunities, for prosecuting his favourite studies, than could have fallen to his share in almost any other business; nor did he neglect to improve such promising circumstances. In a very short time he left far behind him many who had the advantage of every thing calculated to quicken their progress,–proper books, leisure to study them, and the best masters for their instructors. Left to his own resources, however, he acquired the knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, with a rapidity that attraced the attention of the neighbourhood, and became the general topic of conversation. But while this procured him many friends, it at the same time hurt the pride, and excited the malice, of some of his outstripped rivals in the race of literary fame. It was, accordingly, whispered, that the progress he was making in his studies, in the absence of all instruction, bearing no proportion to the powers of the human mind, could only be accounted for by supposing that his unaccountable progress was effected by the agency of the devil; who, with a similar temptation, had seduced the mother of mankind, and has, in all ages, taken the advantage of the studious and scholastic habits of individuals to entangle them in his snares.–“Report ye, and we will report: come, let us smite him with the tongue.” Notwithstanding that this malevolent slander had absurdity deeply imprinted on its forehead, it was eagerly laid hold of by the ignorant and credulous, and so widely circulated, that the innocent victim felt it extremely distressing, and more especially since even Mr. Moncrieff appeared, for a season, to be influenced by it, and withdrew his countenance from him–a thing which, he afterwards admitted, was very cruel and unkind. For although the charge of diabolical intercourse was no longer admissible in the criminal courts of the country, yet the superstitious notions and prejudices handed down from the dark ages of popery were, at that period, so far from being eradicated from the minds of the people, especially in sequestered corners of the country, that such surmises were still capable of ruining a man’s peace, and inflicting a serious wound on a mind of even the most ordinary feeling. To one so ardent in the prosecution of knowledge, and so anxious to attain the qualifications necessary for a minister of the gospel, it must have been no common affliction to have all his pleasing anticipations thus cruelly blighted in a moment; for, as he apprehended, the immediate tendency of this foul reproach was to blast his religious character, and counteract his whole purpose, by shutting against him the door of the divinity hall. On those who were best acquainted with him (the members of a praying society with which he was connected,) the slander had no impression; they continued his steady friends, and their attachment seemed to strengthen in proportion to the anguish he suffered from such an unmerited calumny. In the narrative already quoted we find him speaking thus:  “The reproach was exceedingly distressing to me; however, God was gracious, for I enjoyed remarkable mixture of mercy and affliction. At the beginning of the trial these words, ‘The Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day-time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life,’ were peculiarly sweet to my soul.”

Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 4



Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1859 edition)

We resume our biography of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787), as he joins the Scottish Secession Church and teaches himself Latin and Greek while a humble, rural shepherd, preparing himself to one day become a shepherd of souls. We are also treated to a providential encounter that wins the young Brown the gift of a Greek New Testament.



To this party (the Secession Church) our shepherd considered it his duty to join himself; and, anxious to become a shepherd of souls in their communion, he prosecuted his studies with incredible ardour and perseverance, and soon acquired a considerable acquaintance with the Latin and Greek languages. In these difficult studies he had no instructor, excepting that, on some occasions of rare occurrence, he could find an hour to call on one or other of two neighbouring clergymen, namely, Mr. Moncrieff of Abernethy, and Mr. Johnston of Arngask, father of the late Dr. Johnston of North Leith, who kindly assisted him in surmounting any formidable difficulty that threatened to arrest the progress of literary pursuits. Having now obtained such an acquaintance with the Greek language as enlivened his hopes that he should ultimately succeed in his darling object of acquiring the necessary qualifications for preaching the blessed gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, he pressed forward with renovated vigour and growing confidence. But amongst the many things wanting to accelerate his motion, he was, at this time, anxious to obtain a Greek Testament, that he might have the satisfaction of reading, in the original language, the character and work, the holy life and vicarious death, of Him who feedeth his flock like a shepherd, and laid down his life for his sheep. Buoyed up with these hopes, and excited by this anxiety, after folding his flock one summer evening, and procuring the consent of his fellow-shepherd to watch it next day, he made a nocturnal trip to St. Andrews, distant about twenty-four miles, where he arrived in the morning. He called at the first bookseller’s shop that came in his way, and having inquired for the article in question, the shopman, on observing his apparent rusticity and mountain habiliments (dress characteristic of his occupation), told him that he had Greek Testaments and Hebrew Bibles in abundance, but suspected an English Testament would answer his purpose much better. In the mean time some gentlemen, said to have been professors in the university, happened to enter the shop, and learning what was going on, seemed much of the shopman’s opinion. One of these, however, ordered the volume to be produced, and, taking it in his hand, said, “Young man, here is the Greek Testament, and you shall have it at the easy charge of reading the first passage that turns up.” It was too good an offer to be rejected: the shepherd accepted the challenge, and performed the conditions to the satisfaction and astonishment of the party; and Mr. Brown very modestly retired with his prize.

Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 3

“Abraham Offering Up Isaac” from Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible

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.

Memoir of the Rev. John Brown, part 2

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 1

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.”

Rev. John Brown’s Original Preface

Title Page to Brown's Self-Interpreting Bible

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.


            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.

Lithograph of the Reverend John Brown of Haddington

            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!


“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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