Philippine Bible Society

The Young John Brown: Reader and Learner

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Article by Kito Espiritu (Guest Contributor)


A Rough Start


Young John had a tough childhood. He was born into a poor family that couldn’t even afford to send him to public school. He had less than a year of formal education, though he did learn to read. Then, when he was only 10, his father died of illness. Two years later, the same illness made him a full orphan.


Instead of drowning in his difficulties, though, John looked to God for answers, and at the age of 12, he earnestly began his walk with the Lord.


Plodding On


He was eventually hired by John Ogilvie, a shepherd, and an elder of the town church. The two developed a strong friendship. Ogilvie was godly and smart, but even less educated than John was. So while they were out in the mountains tending the sheep, Ogilvie would ask John to read the Bible to him, and they would pray and worship together.


John enjoyed working for Ogilvie, but he had a passion for learning that he longed to satisfy. There were huge obstacles in his path, though. Aside from his poverty and lack of education, his work took him into the mountains, far from any school. The town didn’t have a public library, either.


Many boys would have given up at this point, but not John. He borrowed books wherever he could find them. During his lunch breaks, he would walk five kilometers to be tutored by the local pastors. Through sheer determination and ingenuity, he learned Latin, Greek, and even some Hebrew!


By the time he was 16, he had finally saved enough to buy a Greek New Testament. Excitedly, he set out for the nearest book store, about forty kilometers away.


When he arrived and tried to buy the book, the store attendant skeptically replied, “What will you do with that book? You can’t read it!” Young John answered with characteristic humility, “I’ll try to read it.” They were suddenly interrupted by a professor from the nearby seminary, who had overheard the conversation. He took a copy of the Greek New Testament, threw it down on the counter, and said, “Boy, if you can read that book, you’ll have it for free.”


The professor probably thought he was calling young John’s bluff, but John wasn’t bluffing! He opened the book and read a passage. After recovering from shock, the professor made good on his word. The attendant had never seen a happier lad leave the store!


John Brown of Haddington (1722-87)


God may have placed many obstacles in young John’s path, but He also gave him the grace to overcome them. The boy eventually grew to become the renowned John Brown of Haddington, beloved pastor and one of the greatest scholars of the Presbyterian Church in the 18th century. The Lord used him in amazing ways not only because he was brilliant, but also because he was a man of character — humble, gentle, compassionate, and above all, godly.



1. Robert MacKenzie, John Brown of Haddington.



About the Guest Contributor:

Kito Espiritu is a pastor-in-training, blogger, and musician. He currently serves in the youth ministry of their church in Quezon City.


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