Systematic Theology: A Compendium View of Natural and Revealed Religion

Systematic Theology
John Brown of Haddington
Reformation Heritage Books, 576 pages (hardback, 2015)

Like many earlier systematic theologies this entry by the Scottish Seceder pastor and theologian John Brown of Haddington (no relation to the American scoundrel of the same name) originally had the form of lectures Rev. Brown gave as the professor of divinity of the Associate Church Synod in Scotland and was originally published in 1782. As was common in the day, especially in smaller denominations, one professor was responsible for the entire instruction of a whole class of would-be ministers. Rev. Brown’s “college” usually consisted of around thirty students per year. At the same time he served as minister of the burgher Seceder church in the Scottish town of Haddington, East Lothian, which is in the southeastern part of the country not too far from the English border. He would minister there until his death on June 19, 1787.

Given to us in an attractive new edition by the good folks at Reformation Heritage Books this work is beautifully bound and just the right size. Though summarizing the contents of a 576 page book is no simple task, especially when you consider the density of a book that has as its mission to summarize the whole of the Christian faith. But as was noted above being a series of lectures with the purpose to teach divinity students Brown’s systematics follows the predictable pattern of these kinds of works, even unto today. He begins with a prolegommena (Doctrine of Scripture, Natural Reason, etc…), then theology, (Doctrine of God), soteriology, (Doctrine of Salvation/Redemption), christology (Doctrine of Christ), exposition of the covenants, (Covenant Theology), and closes with sacramentology and ecclesiology (Doctrine of the Church). What makes Rev. Brown’s systematics stand out from the crowd is unquestionably the amount and depth of scripture references to be found in the work. 26, 819 bible references are to be found in the book and if you take the time (and it is very much worth it) to look up each verse not only will you see the beauty of the author’s arguments, but your devotional life shall be richly blessed.

In many ways this systematic theology has more in common with Dutch works like Herman Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants and Wilhelmus A’Brakel’s A Christian’s Reasonable Service than with other contemporary Scots and later American systematics like fellow Associate minister John Dick’s Lectures on Theology and Princeton’s Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. You can see this in two ways. First, Brown has the kind of devotional aspect which is a feature in A’Brakel, including prayers and a charge for reflection at the end of each head of doctrine. Also like A’Brakel Brown is a fluid and clear writer which makes it both a pleasure and a joy to read. Second, Brown in league with Witsius has an almost Proto-Vossian focus on the history of redemption. Every page is concerned with God’s glory and how these doctrines work in concert with the nature of God and His salvific work. A criticism one often hears of systematic theologies like Hodge’s is their scholastic focus (not that scholasticism itself is bad) can lead to a dry and disassociated grounding which can seem unrelated to the larger work of the Church. This is certainly not the case with Brown’s work. It is very accessible, even to the youngest Christian and would be a valuable addition to even a high school-level curriculum.

Another feature of this book is Brown’s unique Associate views. There is not room here to summarize what this means in full, but you will see a focus upon the free offer of the gospel, a defense of psalm-singing and Sabbath observance, robust understanding of the Law of God in life of the believer, as well as a discussion on social covenanting. Lastly, in regards to these Seceder issues Brown takes an almost “third way” in the conversation between the “Gillespie” and “Covenanter” understanding of Christ’s mediatorial kingship. While both schools defend church establishment there is disagreement over whether Christ is King as Creator or Mediator. That is a bit of an oversimplification, and I would recommend reading the principles themselves on this.

In closing, I cannot recommend this work enough. If I was to be tapped to teach Systematic Theology I would use this book as my main textbook. Its clarity and depth rewards a second, third, fourth, and constant reading. Buy it today and be blessed.

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