John Brown (1784-1858), Scottish divine, grandson of the last-named, was born at Whitburn, Linlithgowshire, on the 12th of July 1784. He studied at Glasgow university, and afterwards at the divinity hall of the "Burgher" branch of the "Secession" church at Selkirk, under the celebrated George Lawson. In 1806 he was ordained minister of the Burgher congregation at Biggar, Lanarkshire, where he laboured for sixteen years. While there he had an interesting controversy with Robert Owen the socialist. Transferred in 1822 to the charge of Rose Street church, Edinburgh, he at once took a high rank as a preacher. In 1829 he succeeded James Hall at Broughton Place church, Edinburgh. In 1835 he was appointed one of the professors in the theological hall of the Secession church, and, great as was his ability as a preacher and pastor, it was probably in this sphere that he rendered his most valuable service. He had been the first in Scotland to use in the pulpit the exegetical method of exposition of Scripture, and as a professor he illustrated the method and extended its use. To him chiefly is due the abandonment of the principle of interpretation according to the "analogy of faith," which practically subordinated the Bible to the creed.
Brown's exegesis was marked by rare critical sagacity, exact and extensive scholarship, unswerving honesty, and a clear, logical style; and his expository works have thus a permanent value. He had a considerable share in the Apocrypha controversy, and he was throughout life a vigorous and consistent upholder of anti-state-church or "voluntary" views. His two sermons on The Law of Christ respecting civil obedience, especially in the payment of tribute, called forth by a local grievance from which he had personally suffered, were afterwards published with extensive additions and notes, and are still regarded as an admirable statement and defence of the voluntary principle. The part he took in the discussion on the Atonement, which agitated all the Scottish churches, led to a formal charge of heresy against him by those who held the doctrine of a limited atonement. In 1845, after a protracted trial, he was acquitted by the synod. From that time he enjoyed the thorough confidence of his denomination (after 1847 merged in "the United Presbyterian church"), of which in his later years he was generally regarded as the leading representative.
He died on the 13th of October 1858. His chief works were: Expository Discourses on First Peter (1848); Exposition of the Discourses and Sayings of our Lord (1850); Exposition of our Lord's Intercessory Prayer (1850); The Resurrection of Life (1851); Expository Discourses on Galatians (1853); and Analytical Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (1857).
See Memoir of John Brown, D.D., by John Cairns (1860).