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        John Brown's final letter to his flock

by John Brown of Haddington.

John Brown (1722-1787) was raised in extreme poverty, but his herdsman father was a godly man who led the family in worship morning and evening. He died when John was eleven, and his dear mother followed soon after, leaving the youth to earn his living as a shepherd in the hills around Abernethy, Scotland. From an early age he gave evidence of the work of Christ in him, and also of prodigious academic abilities to the disbelief of many, he taught himself New Testament Greek while in the fields with his flock. Having sought righteousness by the works of the law, he at length received and grew in the knowledge of God's grace, and as a good soldier of Jesus Christ was enabled to endure many early hardships and persecutions. He eventually became renowned as a pastor – though in a small Presbyterian denomination – and for his literary works such as the Self-Interpreting Bible and his devotional notes on the Metrical Psalms.




     Having through the patience and mercy of God, long laboured among you, not as I ought, far, far from it, but as I could, I must now leave you, to appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of my stewardship. You cannot say that I ever appeared to covet any man’s silver or gold, or apparel, or ever uttered one murmur about what you gave me; or that I sought yours, not you. You cannot charge me with idling away my devoted time in vain chat, either with you or others, or with spending it in worldly business, reading of plays, romances, or the like. If I had, what an awful appearance should I soon have before my all-seeing Judge! You cannot pretend that I spared either body or mind in the service of your souls, or that I put you off with airy conceits of man’s wisdom, or anything else than the truths of God. Though I was not ashamed, as I thought Providence called me, to give you hints of the truth presently injured, and for the support of which is the declared end of the Secession, yet I laboured chiefly to show and inculcate upon your consciences the most important truths concerning your sinfulness and misery, and the way of salvation from both through Christ, and laboured to hunt you out of your lying refuges, and give your consciences no rest but in Christ and Him crucified. The delight of my soul was to commend Him and His free and great salvation to your souls, and to direct and encourage you to receive and walk in Him. I call heaven and earth to record against you this day, that I laboured to set life and death, blessing and cursing, before you, and to persuade you to choose life that ye might live. By the grace of God, I have endeavoured, however poorly, to live holily, justly, and unblameably among you. And now I leave all these discourses, exhortations, instructions, and examples, as a testimony for the Lord against you, if you lay not your eternal salvation to heart, as the one thing needful, the better part which shall never be taken from you.


But I have no confidence in any of these things before God as my Judge. I see such weakness, such deficiency, such unfaithfulness, such imprudence, such unfervency, and unconcern, such selfishness, in all that I have done as a minister or a Christian, as richly deserves the deepest damnation of hell. I have no hope of eternal happiness but in Jesus’ blood, which cleanseth from all sin, in redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of my sins, according to the riches of His grace. It is the everlasting covenant of God’s free grace, well ordered in all things and sure, that is all my salvation and all my desire.


Now I die firmly persuaded [of the truth] of those things which I preached unto you. I never preached unto you any other way of salvation than I essayed to use for myself. I now, when dying, set to my seal that God is true. After all that I have said of the sinfulness of your hearts, I have not represented to you the ten-thousandth part of their vileness and guilt. Knowing, in some measure, the terrors of the Lord, I endeavoured to persuade you that it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of His wrath. But who knoweth the power of His wrath? Knowing, in some measure, the deceitfulness of sin, and the devices of Satan, I laboured to warn you of them. But what especially delighted my heart was, to set before you the excellencies, the love, the labours of our Redeemer, and God in Him, giving Himself, and applying Himself to sinful men; and to represent to you the work of God on the heart in the day of His power, and the exercise of the heart in its diversified frames. What I saw, and tasted, and handled, both of the bitter and the sweet in religion, declared I unto you. Little as I am acquainted with the Lord, I will leave it as my dying testimony, that there is none like Christ, there is nothing like fellowship with Christ. I dare aver before God, angels, and men that I would not exchange the pleasures of religion which I have enjoyed, especially in the days of my youth, for all the pleasures, profits, and honours of this world, since the creation till the present moment, ten thousand times told. For what, then, would I ever exchange my entrance into the joy of a being for ever with my Lord? Truly God hath been good to a soul that but poorly sought Him. Oh! what would He be to yours, if you would earnestly seek Him! With what heart-ravishing power and grace He hath testified against my wicked and unbelieving heart, that He is God, even my God! And whom have I in heaven but Him? nor is there any on earth whom I desire besides Him. My heart and flesh fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Left early by both father and mother, God hath taken me up, and been the orphan’s stay. He hath given my the heritage of them that fear Him. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. I have a goodly heritage. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; He maintaineth my lot: Yea, mine own God is he, my God that doth me save.


Had I ten thousand worlds in my offer, and these secured to me for ever, they should be utterly contemned. “Doubtless I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; and I do count them but dung to win him, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness of God which is through faith.”


Now, when I go to give my account to God, think what it must be! Alas! must it be that, in too great conformity to your careless neighbours, some did not attend the means of grace at examinations, in meetings for prayer and spiritual conference, as ye ought? Must it be that ye were called, but you made light of the marriage with Christ, and of His great salvation? Must it be that ye contented yourselves with a form of godliness, without knowing the power of it? Must it be that some few, trampling on their most solemn engagements, forsook me, having loved this present world? Must it be that others were not careful to train up their seed for the Lord? Must it be, that ye often heard the most searching sermons, or the most delightful, and went away quite unaffected? Or must it be that you were awakened, that your souls looked to Jesus and were enlightened; that ye believed with your heart unto salvation; that ye harrowed in the seed of the truth, which I sowed among you, by serious meditation and fervent prayer; that ye laboured to win souls to Christ? Alas! I fear many of you will go down to hell with a lie in your hand, with all the gospel sermons and exhortations you ever heard in your conscience, to assist it to upbraid, gnaw, and torment you! My dearly beloved hearers, shall I see you next in everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels? Shall I see those faces all in flames at the last day, and those eyes, which often looked at me, looking lively bright horror at the judgement-seat of Christ? Must I hear the Redeemer bid you depart from Him as cursed, into the everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? And must I, who have so often prayed for your salvation, and preached for your salvation, add my hearty AMEN to the sentence of your eternal damnation? God forbid!


Let me then beseech you, now, without a moment’s delay, to consider your ways. Listen to the Lord’s invitations! Believe His self-giving declarations and promises, which, times without number, have, with some measure of earnestness, been sounded in your ears. For the Lord’s sake, dare not, at your infinite peril, to see me again in your sins, and refusers of my glorious Redeemer and Master? Oh! give Him your hearts, give Him your hearts! I never complained of you giving me too little. Nay, I thought myself happier than most of my brethren as to all outward matters. But I always thought and complained that you did not use my Master Christ as I wished in your hearts, lives, and houses. And now I ask nothing for myself, or any of my family, but make this my only dying request to you, that you would receive my Master Christ into your hearts and houses. Could my soul speak back to you from the eternal state, could all my rotting bones and sinews, and every atom of my body, speak back to you from the grave, they should all cry, “Oh that you were wise, that you understood this, that you would consider your latter end!” Oh that you would give my Master, Christ, these ignorant, guilty, polluted, and enslaved hearts of yours, that He, as made of God unto you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, might enter in and fill them for evermore with His grace and truth! Oh, say not to a dying, a dead minister, but to a living Redeemer, and His Father, and blessed Spirit, NAY.


Dearly beloved, whom I wish to be my joy and crown in the day of the Lord, suffer me to speak from the dead to you. Let me obtest you, by all your inexpressible sinfulness and misery, by all the perfections, words and works of God, by all the excellencies, offices, relations, labours, sufferings, glory, and fulness of Christ, by all the joys of heaven and horrors of hell, now to make serious work of the eternal salvation of your souls. Try what improvement you have made of all my ministrations. Call to mind what of my texts, sermons, or other instructions you can; and pray them over before the Lord, applying them closely to your own conscience and heart. Wash yourselves thoroughly in the blood of Jesus Christ from all the sins of holy things since you and I met together.


I recommend to you, young persons, my two addresses annexed to my Catechisms; and to you, parents and masters, my address in the Awakening Call, and my sermons on Raising up Children to Christ, as a part of my dying words to you. They will rise up in judgement against you, if you contemn them.


With respect to your obtaining another minister, let me beseech you, by much fervent prayer, get him first from the Lord. And let it be your care to call one whose sermons you find to touch your consciences. May the Lord preserve you from such as aim chiefly to tickle your fancy, and seek themselves rather than Jesus Christ the Lord! Let there be no strife among you in calling him. And when you get him, labour at his entrance to receive his message from Christ with great greediness. Let your vacancy make you hungry and thirsty for the Gospel. And let all hands and hearts be intent on raising up a seed for Christ in poor withered and wicked East Lothian.


Oh! how it would delight my soul to be informed, in the manner of the eternal state, that Christ had come along with my successor, conquering and to conquer! How gladly should I see you and him by hundreds at the right hand of Christ at the great day, though I should scarcely have my ten! Oh, if Christ were so exalted, so remembered among you, as to make me scarcely thought of! I desire to decrease, that He may increase.


“Now unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, be honour and glory, dominion and blessing, for ever and ever.


“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”


Your once affectionate pastor,                                                                                                         





“John Brown of Haddington” by Robert Mackenzie. Banner of Truth Trust, 1964. pp 262-267.