John Brown of Haddington on the form of Biblical revelation

2013/09/19

The Scriptures are not laid down in a systematical form, though some of Paul’s epistles come near to it. Such a form would neither comport with the majesty of God their author, nor with the weak capacities of some men.—It would not shut up men to a diligent comparison of Scripture texts. It would not admit of such delightfully diversified connections of divine truths, nor represent them so suitably to the diversified conditions of men; nor could they be so usefully illustrated with a variety of historical facts.

The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), p 58. Originally published as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion.

It is encouraging to see in this older author, this Scottish divine of the 18th century, that he was untroubled by the fact that the Bible was not written as a doctrinal handbook. What is more striking is how he was spurred on by it. If I could take one thing from this quote it’s how John Brown felt compelled to search the Scriptures by the fact that it is a collection of different writings, by different authors, in different genres. In fact, he found the diverse form of Scripture an encouragement to the enterprise of systematic theology.

Note also the spirit different from what one sometimes finds today. Too often I have heard the diversity of Scriptural writings put forward as an excuse for claiming contradiction and clouded obscurity for the Biblical message. Never mind that often proponents of Biblical obscurity (as opposed to perspicuity) need some confusion to cover for their unsound doctrines. No facile justifications for sloppy doctrinal formulations here!

John Brown, in contrast to modern evasions, strikes a balance. He points to the near systematical form of some of Paul’s letters. Doubtless Romans comes to mind as it has impressed Bible students through the centuries with it’s sustained thinking through glorious and awe-inspiring themes. May this meditation on the diversity of Scripture lead you to treasure the Bible more and more.

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