"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Evangelical Witness of John Brown

His Conversion and View of the Bible
John had been taught from earliest childhood to ‘fear God & Keep his commandments’; & though quite skeptical, he had always by turns felt much serious doubt as to his future well being, & about this time became to some extent a convert to Christianity & ever after a firm believer in the divine authenticity of the Bible. With this book he became very familiar: & possessed a most unusual memory of its entire contents. (Source: John Brown’s autobiographical sketch, July 15, 1857)
His Belief in the Depravity of Sinful Man and Justification by Faith in Jesus Christ
. . .we hope that a life still lengthened, may not all be misspent; & that the little duty to God, & mankind it may yet be in his power to do, may be done with his might; & that the Lord Jesus Christ will be the end of the law for righteousness, for that which must be left undone. This is the only hope for us; Bankrupts, as we may see at once; if we will but look at our account. (Source: John Brown, Springfield, Mass., to Owen Brown, Hudson, Ohio, December 2, 1847)
His Conviction Concerning the Christian Life
Do not forget for One Moment the amazing power of a kind & consistent, Christian example. (Source: John Brown, New York, N.Y., to Mary Brown, North Elba, N.Y., July 3, 1850)
His Desire for the Conversion of His Children

That God in infinite mercy for Christ’s sake may grant to you & Wealthy, & to my other Children “Eyes to see” is the most earnest and constant prayer of Your Affectionate Father, John Brown (Source: John Brown, Akron, Ohio, to John Brown Jr., Vernon, Ohio, August 6, 1852)

. . .would to God all our dear children had the consolation of the Christian religion to support them while the cords that bind them to Earth are broken asunder. I have been drinking of the cup all along; & still need it no doubt. (Source: John Brown, Rockford, Ill., to Mary Brown, North Elba, N.Y., May 18, 1855)
His Regard for the Church and Disdain for the Pro-slavery Church

I am much rejoiced at the news of a religious kind in Ruth’s letter; and would be still more rejoiced to learn that all the sects who bear the Christian name would have no more to do with that mother of all abominations, man-stealing. I hope, unfit and unworthy as I am, to be allowed a membership in your little church before long; and I pray God to claim it as his own, and that he will most abundantly bless all in your place who love him in truth. “If any man loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” [1 John 4:20] (Source: John Brown, Akron, Ohio, to Henry & Ruth Thompson, June 30, 1853)
His Faith in Christ and Conviction of Martyrdom

I am not a stranger to the way of salvation by Christ. From my youth I have studied much on that subject, and at one time hoped to be a minister myself; but God had another work for me to do. To me it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. (Source: John Brown, Charlestown, Va., jail, to Rev. James W. McFarland, November 23, 1859)
As always, John Brown can speak for himself. More of a religious nature can be found in the body of Brown’s extant letters, especially in the letters written in the weeks prior to his hanging. It is a shame that Brown is not embraced in the bosom of his own faith community to this day. The day may yet come when evangelical Christians–having overcome their own racial and cultural prejudices–will come to appreciate that John Brown was far ahead of them by way of faith, action, and example. Perhaps, too, some of John Brown’s non- and anti-evangelical admirers will get over their own academic and cultural prejudices and learn to respect the message of the cross that he so fervently embraced as his faith, hope, and inspiration.--LD

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