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brownJohn_haddingtonJohn Brown of Haddington (1722 – 19 June 1787), was a Scottish pastor and author. His works include The Self-Interpreting Bible, The Dictionary of the Bible, and A General History of the Christian Church.

Born at Carpow in the parish of Abernethy, in Perthshire, Scotland, he was the son of a self-educated weaver and river-fisherman, also called John Brown [At which point I have to ask, are the designations of “Jr.” and “Sr.” a more recent innovation?]. His own formal education was scanty, and after both of his parents died when he was about 12, he became a shepherd. It was at about that time that he to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, though details of his conversion are lacking.

Brown taught himself Latin, Greek, and Hebrew just by comparing the English text of Scripture with texts set in those languages. In 1738, after hearing that a Greek New Testament was available in a local bookshop, he left his sheep with a friend and walked 24 miles to St. Andrews to purchase a copy. There he met Dr. Francis Pringle, a professor of Greek who challenged him to read from it, saying that he would buy it for him if he could do so; Brown succeeded. His learning led to controversy among the members of the Secession Church, to which he belonged, as some claimed he had managed his remarkable learning with the aid of the devil.

Over the next few years, Brown worked as a teacher and aided his small income by peddling common kitchen wares. He also had a turn as a soldier, oddly enough, on the side of the Jacobites during the Rebellion of Forty-Five, having volunteered with his best friend, Tim Knab.

At last, and following a division in the Secession Church, the need arose for preachers in the Burgher branch, and Brown was the first new divinity student. He was ordained as a minister at Haddington, East Lothian, on 4 July 1751, and that was his home for the rest of his life. He was called to occupy the position of Moderator of the Synod for the year from November 1753. His first publication was in 1758, and he published regularly from that date until the end of his life.

Brown also, while continuing his duties as a minister, took up the position of professor of divinity by the unanimous agreement of the Synod from 1768. From 1768 until the year of his death he also had the permanent post of clerk of the synod.

His contacts with three famous contemporaries have been documented:

  • In 1771 Brown began a long correspondence with Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. which encouraged them mutually in their Christian endeavour.
  • In 1772 Brown was walking in Haddington Cemetery when he met Robert Fergusson, the poet, in a dark mood.
  • The philosopher David Hume commented that Brown preached “as if he were conscious that Christ was at his elbow”.

Brown died at his home in Haddington on 19 June 1787, after months of stomach problems.

John Brown wrote numerous books, of which the most notable are described here.

Only one dictionary of the Bible (by Thomas Wilson (1563–1622)), by then long out of print, had preceded Brown’s The Dictionary of the Bible. It therefore met a need and after the initial edition published in 1769 numerous editions, variously amended, were issued until 1868. It expressed a Calvinist theology, and in it, the author estimated that 2016 would see the Millennium. Many articles in it are long and appear to be tracts or sermons.[1]

A General History of the Christian Church was issued in two volumes in 1771.

The Self Interpreting Bible was Brown’s most significant work, and it remained in print (edited by others), until well into the twentieth century. The objective of providing a commentary for ordinary people was very successful. The idea that the Bible was “self-interpreting” involved copious marginal references, especially comparing one scriptural statement with another. Brown also provided a substantial introduction to the Bible, and added an explication and “reflections” for each chapter.

A measure of its popularity is that it was translated into Welsh, and its appearance in Robert Burns‘s “Epistle to James Tennant”,

My shins, my lane, I sit here roastin’
Perusing Bunyan, Brown and Boston,


John Brown’s works[edit]

  • 1758, A Help for the Ignorant
  • 1765, The Christian Journal
  • 1766, An Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the Secession
  • 1767, Letter on the Constitution, Government, and Discipline of the Christian Church
  • 1768, Sacred Typology
  • 1769, A Dictionary of the Bible
  • 1771, A General History of the Christian Church
  • 1778, The Self-interpreting Bible
  • 1780, The Duty of Raising up Spiritual Children to Christ
  • 1782, The Young Christian
  • 1783, Practical Piety exemplified in the Lives of Thirteen Eminent Christians
  • 1784, A Compendious History of the British Churches
  • 1785, Thoughts on the Travelling of the Mail on the Lord’s Day[2]


Brown had six sons, from two marriages, of whom four became ministers, and another the provost of Haddington. His great-grandson John Brown was known as a physician and essayist


  1. Jump up^ Mackenzie, Robert (1964) John Brown of Haddington. The Banner of Truth Trust p120
  2. Jump up^ Brown, John. Brown’s Self-interpreting Family Bible. Green Street Bradford: Edward Slater.

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Mackenzie, John Brown of Haddington 1918 (Paperback 1964 The Banner of Truth Trust)
  • J. Brown Patterson, Memoir of the Rev. John Brown

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WTJ1938v1The PCA Historical Center was recently blessed with accession of the first four issues of THE WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL (1938-1940). As you might imagine, these issues are rather scarce, and we’re pleased to be able to add them to our research library. Still missing from our collection are Volumes 3 through 17 (1940-1954), but Lord willing, in time we hope to find these as well. 

That accession prompts our post today, and lacking a specific date in this instance, let’s just say that it was probably in that first week of the month, maybe around November 6, in 1938, when pastors, elders and interested laymen would have gone to their mailboxes and found waiting for them the first issue of THE WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL. That first issue—Volume 1, number 1—bears the date of November 1938. Seventy-seven years later, the JOURNAL continues in its mission. That mission was clearly stated on the opening pages of that first issue, and as both the Seminary and its JOURNAL have played an important part in the conservative Presbyterian movement of the 20th and 21st centuries, it seems relevant to present our readers with the commitments, hopes and intentions laid out by the editors at that time :


If we are not mistaken (and editors, like others, sometimes make mistakes), more periodicals are dying than are being born at the present time. The Westminster Theological Journal in sending out its first issue is, therefore, going against the current of the times. It is doing that in a more important sense, however, than merely by the fact of publication. The Journal is founded upon the conviction that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and of practice, and that the system of belief commonly designated the Reformed Faith is the purest and most consistent formulation and expression of the system of truth set forth in the Holy Scriptures.

This position is the position of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Journal is edited by two members of that Faculty on behalf of the entire body.

We stand today in the Christian Church as debtors to nineteen centuries of Christian history, thought, and experience. It would not only be futile but wrong to try to dissociate ourselves from the great stream of Christian tradition. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours. It is only by thorough acquaintance with and appreciation of the labours of God’s servants in the centuries that have passed that we can intelligently and adequately present the Christian Faith in the present.

But while we cling tenaciously to the heritage that comes to us from the past we must ever remember that it is our responsibility to present the Christian Faith in the context of the present. The position we maintain, therefore, necessarily involves the bringing of every form of thought that may reasonably come within the purview of a theological acuity to the touchstone of Holy Scripture and the defining of its relations to our Christian Faith.

The need for a scholarly theological journal in this country to uphold historic Christianity is very great. Certain periodicals that at one time supplied this need have ceased to exist. Into the breach The Westminster Theological Journal aims to enter.

The policy of the Journal will be:
1. To maintain the highest standard of scholarship;
2. To publish contributions which will promote the study of theology and the interests of the Reformed Faith;
3. To publish reviews of current literature of importance to the Christian Church and to theological study.

The Faculty is undertaking this task with humility and confidence. They do so with humility because they are aware of the responsibility and of their own insufficiency. Yet they do it with confidence because they believe they are on the side of the truth, and in reliance upon divine grace and power. The battle is the Lord’s, and as His is the wisdom and strength so to Him shall be all the glory.


[Note: Professors Paul Woolley and John Murray served as editors of the JOURNAL from 1938 until May 1953, at which time Murray resigned. Woolley continued, first as editor and later as managing editor, until May 1967.]

Pictured below: The inside of the front cover, showing the contents of Volume 1, number 1 (November 1938). The Stonehouse article was a print version of his inaugural lecture, upon installation as Professor of New Testament. —


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Machen’s article only becomes more relevant with the passing years.

What Should Be Done by Christian People Who are in a Modernist Church?
by Dr. J. Gresham Machen

[The following article was originally published in The Presbyterian Guardian, vol. 1, no. 2 (21 October 1935): 22.]

machen03What is the duty of Christian congregations or Christian individuals who find themselves in a church that is dominated by unbelief? Shall they remain in such a church, or shall they withdraw from it and become members of a consistently Christian Church?

That is certainly the question of the hour for the orthodox part of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Various attempts are being made to answer the question. Various considerations are being urged on one side or the other.

If we separate from the existing church organization, it is being said, shall we be able to retain any of our congregational property, or will that all have to be abandoned to the uses of the existing organization?

On the other hand, if we remain in a church that is dominated by unbelief, does that not mean that we are simply heaping up greater resources for the Modernists in future years to use? Will not every gift that we make, every church building that we put up, be turned over ultimately to the uses of unbelief?

No doubt such considerations on one side or the other of this question are very interesting. I am bound to say in passing that the considerations in favor of separation seem to me to be much stronger than the considerations on the other side.

But I propose to the readers of this page that we should now approach the question in an entirely different way. I propose that we should see what the Bible has to say about the matter. Does the Bible permit Christian people to live year after year, decade after decade, in a church that is so largely dominated by unbelief as is the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.?

The answer to that question is surely not difficult. I am not thinking just now so much of individual texts directly bearing on the question, though those texts are not difficult to find and though they are not really balanced by any texts on the other side; but I am thinking of the Bible’s whole teaching about the Church and what the Church ought to mean in the individual’s Christian life. If we read what the Bible says about the Church and then examine the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., can we really put our hands upon our hearts and say in the presence of God that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. even approximates being what the Bible says a church of Jesus Christ must be or provides that nurture which the Bible says every Christian ought to have?

Now I know very well that we ought to be careful when interrogating the Bible on this point. Sometimes, when the Bible speaks about the Church, it is speaking about the Church as it will finally be when it appears without blemish before Christ. We have no right to demand of the Church militant a perfection that will belong only to the Church triumphant to the Church in its final, glorious state. When the Bible speaks of the Church militant, the Church as it actually appears upon this earth, it detects always the presence of error and sin in that Church, and it does not permit a Christian to withdraw from that Church or any branch of that Church just because that Church or that branch of it is not perfect.

All this is true. But it really does not apply to the situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The point is that that Church is very largely dominated by unbelief. It does not merely harbor unbelief here and there. No, it has made unbelief, in the form of a deadly Modernist vagueness, the determinative force in its central official life.

Such a body is hardly what the Bible means by a church at all. The Bible commands Christian people to be members of a true church, even though it be an imperfect one. It represents the nurture provided by such a true church as a necessity, not a luxury, in the Christian life. There must therefore be a separation between the Christian and the Modernist elements in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That is perfectly clear. The only question is how the separation shall be effected.

Unquestionably the best way would be the way of reform. If Modernism should be removed from the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., and that church should be brought back to conformity with its constitution and with the Word of God, all would be well.

The other way is the way of separation from the existing organization on the part of the loyal part of the church. Only, if the separation comes, it ought to come in such fashion as to make perfectly clear the fact that those who are separating from the present Modernist organization are not founding a “new church,” but are carrying on the true, spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.

Something will no doubt be said regarding both of these possibilities on this page in future issues of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:
It should always be a fearsome thing to propose division or separation, even for reasons such as stated above. And I am quite certain that separation was never a light matter in Dr. Machen’s consideration. In our daily prayers, we ought to regularly pray for the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church. As long as we are in this sinful flesh, there will always be divisions, for our understanding of God’s Word is imperfect. But the way to greater unity rests not in pushing aside the truth of God’s Word, but rather, in pressing forward to know more and more of God’s will, as revealed in the Scriptures.

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kerr_robertPWe return today to our Saturday visits with a little book by the Rev. R.P. Kerr, titled PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE. Today’s section is chapter three of that book, covering the earliest examples in the Bible of the Presbyterian system of government.

Rev. Kerr was the author of some eight other books and numerous articles. Born in 1850, he began his ministerial career in 1873 as pastor of a church in Lexington, Missouri. Kerr served churches in both the old Southern Presbyterian Church [1873-1903] and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [1903-23]. Honorably retired and in ill health in 1915, he died on March 25, 1923.

Presbyterianism for the People.
by Robert P. Kerr


We claim that whereas no kind of Church government is commanded, yet Presbyterianism was practiced from the earliest times. There is no command to change the Sabbath from the last to the first day of the week, but the Christian Church observes the first day because it was the practice of the apostolic Church so to do.

The Church existed first in the family, the father being the head. As families multiplied, their several heads, or elders, would naturally form a ruling assembly; but because a body composed of all the heads of families in an extensive community would be too large for general efficiency, the people would elect from the number of older men certain ones conspicuous for piety and wisdom to be their representative rulers. They would then have a Presbytery. In a simple state of society this body would have charge of both religious and secular affairs, but as society advances a necessity arises for the separation of the affairs of Church and State. In Old-Testament times they were united, but were separated under the New Dispensation.

We find this presbyterial government in operation among the children of Israel in Egypt when Moses came upon the stage of history. God told him to go and call together the “elders of Israel” and lay his business before them. He was to be their leader in the exodus from Egypt and in the journey to Canaan; but, through divinely appointed to this office, he did not undertake it without calling together the elders of the people and explaining God’s purpose to them. In the Presbyterian Church of to-day, if a man feels called of God to be a pastor and to preach the gospel, the Presbytery must sit in judgment upon his credentials and qualifications. Moses afterward organized a higher court, or assembly—very like a General Assembly—of those whom he knew to be elders, to preside over the government of the whole Church. This body was composed of seventy elders, and was in alter times called “the Sanhedrim.” Beginning with Exodus iii. 16, the word “elder” (signifying “ruler”) is used in the Old Testament about one hundred times, and over sixty times in the New. Their duties were the same as those of elders now—administrative and judicial, to administer the government and to decide cases. This is a simple statement of the functions of elders in all ages, growing out of the very nature of things and having God’s endorsement. The administrative function is seen in their coming together to receive Moses; the judicial (Deut. xix. 11), where they were instructed to try men for murder. These two cases are selected as typical of the large number, which may be seen by referring to any concordance of the Bible, under the word “Elder.”

The introduction of the priesthood interfered not with the office of elder. The priesthood was part of the ceremonial system of worship, of which the temple was the representative. The business of the priest was to offer sacrifices and to intercede for the people, as a type of Christ. But when Christ came the great sacrifice was made, and there was no further use for sacrifice or priest to remind men that Christ was coming; so the veil of the temple was rent when Christ said, “It is finished!” Then priestly sacrifices and gorgeous ritual passed away, God destroying, through the agency of Rome, every vestige of the temple where so long they had served. But there still remained untouched the old government of elders. In each synagogue there was a bench of elders and a “minister.” In Luke iv. 20, Christ “gave the book to the minister and sat down.” The synagogue elders were responsible to the Sanhedrim in Jerusalem, as we learn from The Life of Josephus (section xii.) and from other sources.

This was a government on the great principle of representative assemblies; which is Presbyterianism. The men who administered the government were often corrupt, but the principle was sound and was never called in question in the Scriptures.

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The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson was organized on a Saturday afternoon, April 8, 1837 by the Reverend Peter Donan and four persons: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and John Robb and his wife, Marion.  The organization meeting was held in “the Old State House,” Mississippi’s first capitol, a small two-story structure on the northeast corner of E. Capitol and N. President Streets.   Peter Donan continued as the church’s pastor for four years.  There were no elders for two years, no deacons for six years, nor a Presbyterian house of worship for nearly nine years.  In the first two years of its existence, the church had but three new members.

In 1841, Reverend Donan was followed by Reverend  S. H. Hazard, who was pastor for little more than one year.  He was succeeded by the Reverend  Leroy Jones Halsey, a dynamic man and preacher, under whose ministry the congregation commenced to grow.  Halsey spurred the building of the first sanctuary on the northwest corner of North State and Yazoo Streets.  When Dr. Halsey resigned in 1848, the pulpit was supplied until February 22, 1849. The congregation then called as pastor the Reverend Isaac James Henderson, who served until he was succeeded by the Reverend L. A. Lowry on December 3, 1853.   Mr. Lowry was a fine pastor and effective preacher, but died of Yellow Fever after but two years service.  The pulpit was supplied from March, 1855, until a call was extended to the Reverend John Hunter on January 24, 1858.

[For more on the history of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, see the church web site.]

Words to Live By:
Blessed Zion: First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 1837-2012, is a wonderful church history, written by Dr. Sean Lucas and published early in 2013. The book’s preface alone would be worth the purchase price, in my estimation. There Dr. Lucas summarizes several lessons drawn from the writing of this history:

1. It only takes one generation for a church to die. The reasons may vary: “a poor pastoral choice; a failure to continue to preach God’s Word faithfully; a transition in the church’s understanding of mission; an inability to see and adapt to the neighborhood around it.” By the grace of God, First/Jackson has been blessed in making many right choices over the many years.

2. The quality of the ruling elders who serve the church. These men who form the Session of the church must be talented, godly men.

3. The value of long-term pastorates, allowing for great stability, space for godly pastors to “to shape the theological and experiential perspective of the congregation in favor of the grand, winsome, evangelical truths of Reformed Christianity,” and enabling pastors to earn the long-term trust of their congregation.

4. What Dr. Lucas calls “The Road Not Taken,” i.e., knowing that mistakes, even disastrous ones, can be so easily made, we must recognize and rely upon God’s mercy and blessing. We note that Rev. Peter Donan, the founding pastor of First/Jackson, later departed from the Reformed Faith, but in God’s providence, that was some years later and by that time he had no influence on the life of this congregation. “Churches that stand faithful through the generations are those that seek men who are faithful to the Scripture, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.”

5. The blessings of evangelical Presbyterianism. A great church will not “major in the minors” but will focus on proclaiming Christ and Him crucified.

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