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Counsel to Gospel Ministers

By John Brown
February 2018 | Review by David Campbell
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
  • ISBN: 1601785305
  • Price: £7.46
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John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) was one of the great ministers of the Scottish church during a dark period in her history. As a pastor, divinity professor and writer he did much for the spiritual good of his native land. And not only for Scotland — through his writings, his influence extended far beyond Scottish borders and continues to do so to this day.

From 1751 until his death, Brown was minister of a congregation in Haddington belonging to one of the branches of the Secession Church. For the final 20 years of his life, he was also responsible for preparing young men for ministry. For nine weeks each year, these men would gather in Haddington, where Brown would teach them biblical languages, theology, church history and homiletics.

Brown’s deep concern for an able and godly ministry is reflected in this book. It is a compilation of three short, separate works. The first is Letters on gospel preaching (six in number); the second, Letters on the exemplary behaviour of ministers (of which there are ten); and the third, Address to students of divinity, originally appeared as the preface to his Compendious view of natural and revealed religion.

His counsels — as the titles indicate — have to do with a minister’s preaching and lifestyle. Much is said in few words, so the book is best read slowly. All is helpful, though.

For me, what are especially apt are Brown’s counsels on the godliness that should characterise a gospel minister, and the solemn consequences of its absence. Space allows for only one quotation: ‘By unholiness and vice, ministers … are exceedingly hurtful to the church, exposing her ordinances to neglect and contempt.

‘Their bad example spreads far and wide among the people. Their wickedness introduces manifold errors and corruptions into the church. Nothing is more difficult to cure than the heart of an ungodly minister, and their corruptions expose them to the most fearful judgments of the Most High’ (pp. 58-59). This was a word for the eighteenth-century, but no less apposite to the twenty-first.

David Campbell

Preston

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