REV. DANIEL GUNN BROWN
Rev. J. MacMillan, Dundalk
Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1990 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society
Five years before the nineteenth century had entered on its course, two young Scotsmen - William Brown and Daniel Gunn - bade adieu to their native land and sailed as missionaries for Persia. Carey had just completed his Bengalese Version of the new Testament; Morrison had not yet started for China; Henry Martyn's eyes had not yet been gratified with the sight of India; John Williams and Robert Moffat were still in their mother's arms.
The Scottish vessel was wrecked off the Skerries, the two soldiers of the Cross escaping with their lives. They had to abandon all immediate hope of seeing the land of their dreams. By-and by, they felt convinced that their mission field lay nearer home, assuredly gathering that they were called to labour in Ireland, whither they had been brought in such a strange and unexpected way.
Accordingly, in 1796, William Brown settled as Congregational minister in Moy, Co. Tyrone, where his son was born on the 5th of January, 1808. The child had given to him in baptism the full name of his father's friend - "Daniel Gunn" - and, as he grew in wisdom and in stature, he doubtless pondered much on this incident in the paternal history and was led to see a new meaning in the old words: "I will bring the blind by a way which they knew not".
We never knew anyone who took to himself greater comfort from meditation on the sovereign rule and kingly care of the Most High. On one occasion, when the hearts of many were failing them for fear, we well remember quoting, with kindling eye and upturned face, words from a venerable symbol of the Christian faith which came to us with the force of a fresh revelation: "God's works of providence are His most holy, wise and powerful, preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions".
After a careful training under the roof of his father, himself a man of much culture, and after subsequent attendance at the school in Armagh, conducted by Dr. Oliver Edgar, Daniel Gunn Brown matriculated in the Belfast College in 1823, with the view of entering the ministry of the Presbyterian Church, of whose doctrine and form of government he continued to be a conscientious and enthusiastic support to his latest day.
He pursued his collegiate studies with great devotion, distinguishing himself in every class, and gaining the respect of every professor. He was awarded prizes in Logic and Belles Lettres, Greek, Literary Criticism, Mental Science; for "distinguished manner of answering at examination for general certificate in the regular and extra course of Metaphysics, Philosophy and Polite Literature"; whilst, according to Professor Stevelly's certificate, he "all but obtained the Faculty medal in Moral Philosophy, Logic and Belles Lettres".
Nearly every class makes mention of his sound judgement, his high character, his honourable bearing, his exceptional regularity - in some cases only absent for one hour during a session, in most instances not at all. No wonder his teachers took note of his "honourable bearing", for throughout his long life he ever illustrated and adorned the "grand old name of gentleman".
In 1829, he set out for Edinburgh University, where he resided for two years and completed his theological curriculum. He there gained prizes in Rhetoric, "The Humanities" and for "a very ingenious and eloquent essay, which reflected great credit on his learning and taste". There lie on the table of the present writer autograph certificates from the hand of Chalmers. According to one, "he subjected himself to all the regular exercises and examinations and was distinguished by his superior appearances"; according to another, "he is an ardent student and evinced great intelligence and proficiency in the course"; whilst a third adds, "he particularly distinguished himself by a series of very able voluntary compositions". The subject of these compositions are set forth in a note and are as follows: "Philosophy of Unbelief"; "Philosophy of Poor Laws"; "Connection of Evangelical Doctrine with Sound Morals"; "Ethics of Christianity contrasted with Ethics of Heathenism"; "Moral Influence of Infidelity"; "Self-evidencing Power of the Scriptures". The venerable and reverend John Knox Leslie, one of the very few who now remain of the little Irish band that sat at the feet of the great Boanerges of the Modern Athens, distinctly remembers him say of one of these papers - that on the "Philosophy of the Poor Laws" - "It is the most ( - ?) article I have ever read or heard".
If there was sincere appreciation on the part of the preceptor towards the student, there was intense admiration on the part of the student towards the preceptor. Chalmers visited this country in 1842, when an address of welcome was presented to him by the ministers who had enjoyed the privilege of attending his classes in the University. It was signed on behalf of these ministers by William Gibson, D.G. Brown, L.D. Elliot, H. McKay and William Johnston.
To the bearer of the second of these names was left the drafting of the address which, if placed alongside of the finest specimens of the English tongue, would not suffer by comparison. It says: "We cannot forget the paternal care and affection uniformly displayed in your conduct towards us in the counsels of wisdom, and the precepts of piety poured by your fervid eloquence into our hearts.... Our teacher was our friend; our master was our patient guide through the loftiest speculations of moral and theological science. Those days have passed away for ever: many of us are now engaged in the arduous duties of the Gospel ministry, widely separated from you and from each other; yet in our most grateful recollections, and in the re-perusal of your imperishable works, which are the monuments of a genius consecrated to God, we still sit as disciples at your feet..... Scotland is our revered fatherland; and it is our privilege, as well as yours, to be descendants of the blessed martyrs. Their tragic history is a portion of our own and we rejoice that its pages of sorrow were never pages of shame. We cannot, then, prove recreants to the cause for which Scotland shed her best and noblest blood, or dishonour the memory of those of whom the world was not worthy, else the grey mossed stones which cover their lowly graves would rise up in judgement against us. We are pledged in the most solemn manner to stand side by side with the Church of Scotland in her present conflicts and dangers; and our devotion to her best interests is not the less ardent that we have been brought into the Christian ministry under the auspices of one of her most distinguished sons, whose praise is in all the Churches of the Reformation, and whose living memory is indelibly engraven upon our hearts. We feel happy that your presence among us has given us an opportunity of thus addressing you - it may be the last we shall ever enjoy; and we pray the Father of mercies that you may long be spared to the Church, to your family and to the wide circle of your friends, and that in the decline of your life you may enjoy the peace of God which passeth understanding, until, in a good age, and amid the calm delights of domestic tranquility you shall be removed from the solemn duties and vain turmoil of earth into the rest and blessedness of heaven".
Having passed with much distinction through a curriculum extending over seven years, Mr. Brown was licensed in Dundalk, on 8th November, 1831, by the Presbytery of Armagh. On the following Lord's Day, he preached in the same church his first public sermon from the text: "Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God". In that sermon he struct the key-note of his life. His aim was to bring the Gospel to bear on personal conduct, social customs and national laws that they might be so transfigured as to be a counterpart of the life of heaven and reflect the mind of the Eternal.
The text of his last sermon, preached forty-one years after, is just as significant: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil".
It is touching and edifying to see a man of imperial gifts entering upon the work that comes to his hand without a thought of fame. Most young men, with a tithe of his talents, would have waited to choose their own fields but Mr. Brown accepted the first call that was presented to him and, three months after licenture, was ordained over the joint charge of Creggan and Newtownhamilton, Messrs. Richard Dill and Shuldham Henry assisting in the service.
Two years after, on account of the distance between the churches and the inevitable drudgery involved, the congregations were disunited, the subject of our sketch remaining minister of Newtownhamilton, where he lived and laboured for thirty-seven years, ministering to his own people with assiduity and freely giving his help to brethern whenever or wherever applied for. His text-book shows that there were few pulpits in Ulster to which he was not invited, either by way of exchange or for special sermons.
On one occasion, he started early in the morning on horseback, as he had arranged to preach on that day in Dundalk. The road was passed over very pleasantly as far as Forkhill, when, all of a sudden, the horse refused to go farther. An hour was spent in trying to humour him but he was not easy to be entreated. Some farmers going to chapel saw the minister's plight and, after their efforts to persuade had proved futile, a fresh horse was offered and saddled. He was mounted by the traveller, who reached his place of destination half an hour past the appointed time of service - followed all the way by his own unbridled steed in apparently penitent and apologetic mood. The congregation had left with the exception of one member, who immediately collected the necessary quorum of "the two or three" whose meeting together secures the presence of Another, when the service was solemnly conducted and greatly enjoyed by preacher and worshippers. The daughter of the gentleman who put so much trust in the preacher's faithfulness to his promise as to linger within the precincts of the sanctuary in confident expectation of his appearing, if at all in the land of the living, is now well known as a thinker and educationist both in this country and on the Continent.
In 1844, the year after McCheyne's death, Mr. Brown paid a visit to Dundee and, by invitation, occupied the pulpit of the recently organised Free Church of St. David's during the month of April and May. His ministrations were so acceptable that the people were anxious to. secure the young Irishman for their minister but he discouraged any steps towards their making out a call in his favour. He could not, however, hinder them from presenting him with a valuable selection of books in token of their affection and esteem. Great was his love for Scotland but his love for Ireland was still greater and although he was in receipt of a miserably inadequate and, as far at least as stipend was concerned, a precarious professional income, he returned to the land of his birth, explaining his action to bewildered friends and neighbours in a sentiment as noble as was ever expressed; "If I should go away now, who would come and work here".
He was essentially a "public soul". He loved the people. He sympathised with them in their trials and burdens. It is not surprising that he dwelt much on the moral, the social, the humane aspects and outcome of the full-orbed Gospel of Him who declared His mission in the synagogue of Nazareth by applying the words of the prophet to Himself: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord".
The years of famine gave him large opportunities for exhibiting the practical side of pure and undefiled religion. He was untiring in his exertions. He not merely took a ceaseless part in distributing public relief - he had himself a hand open as day for melting charity, freely gave the bread from his own table, the last shilling in his own pocket, or the last change of raiment in his own wardrobe. The sum of the Ten Commandments was the rule of his life: "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself". To him "neighbour" was not merely one of his own family, or friends, or social circle, or denomination, but every Irishman or man, irrespective of creed or class, whom he could help by work or by act. He never asked a blessing at meals without tender remembrance of the poor and needy and them that have no helper.
The Gospel, he thought, when properly received should affect the relation between landlord and tenant, should establish mutual sympathy, which would result in their "bearing one another's burdens". He threw himself with characteristic ardour into the Tenant-Right Movement, necessitated by the famine, and led by such men as Sharman Crawford, James McKnight and John Rogers. He supplied it with brains on many a platform and rendered it noble service in his evidence before the Select Committee on Outrages in 1852. The following are among his statements: "I distinctly remember that when I was ordained in 1833, in making my first visitaion to the families of my congregation, I saw either bacon or other meat in the houses of the farmers, but I could travel a week through the parish and not see anything like that at present, or for some time past, and I believe the pawnbrokers' shops in the small town would give a most startling indication of the rapid deterioration of that class and of the humble classes"..... ``I think if you give a constitutional remedy for these social wrongs, you would cut up crime by the root and establish order on the basis of justice"..... "I mean by a social wrong this kind of case: that if I take a farm and improve it, the improved value would be absorbed by an increase in rent, without giving me compensation for what I consider to be my property, because I made it, and that at any time, upon seven days' notice, I am liable to be ejected through the caprice or arbitrary conduct of the landlord"..... "When the State has not provided a constitutional remedy for social wrongs, the principles of our nature look for a remedy and bad men, taking advantage of that, very often commit crime. Coercion, without remedial measures, will only aggravate the disorders of the community. Justice is the only firm basis of public order. The oppression of rack rents and of extra police taxation, punishing the innocent for the guilty, exasperates and disturbs the community and drives multitudes away to a land where labour finds its reward"..... "I think before all other matters there should be security of tenure on fair principles to both landlord and tenant".....
The Attorney-General asked: "Do you think a man has not a right to do what he likes with his own?".
He replied: "I think no man has a right to do what is wrong".
"Speak out now", said the same official, "and imagine you are addressing a meeting of the Tenant League".
Whereupon John Bright interposed with the rebuke: "The Attorney-General should not forget that he is speaking to a gentleman and a Christian minister".
This course of public action subjected Mr. Brown to much misrepresentation, obloquy and abuse. He was hurt sore; he winced under a sense of wrong; but he retaliated never and he never swerved from what he considered the path of duty, though painful as if it were thick with thorns or spiked with steel. On account of seccessions from the people's cause, the treachery of Parliamentary representatives, the perfect indifference and even hostility of successive governments, he was greatly tried in spirit but he did not bate one jot of heart or hope, being assured that justice would prevail in the long run.
He lived fifty years in advance of his time and before he fell asleep it was given him to see constitutional changes in the laws of the nation which had been projected half a century before by his own clear mind and outlined in his own eloquent words, whilst some who enjoyed a momentary triumph either had the mortification of seeing what they contended for swept hopelessly away, or else they themselves passed out of life, weary of its vain battles, and convinced that even if the shadow were to go back on the dial, there would soon be nothing on earth worth living for. Considerations like these suggest some of the compensations of life.
Early in the fifties, he was pressed by a wide circle of ministers and elders to offer himself as a candidate for the Chair of Moral Philosophy in the Assembly's College, a position for which in the opinion of very many he possessed unrivalled aptitude. Accordingly, he issued his address but was not elected. The course which he had pursued in public life, the stand which he had taken in Church Courts, the side (he)had espoused in educational, collegiate and politico-ecclesiastical debates, the independent position he had held in every question regardless of frown or favour, were not conducive to constitute him a popular idol. The recognition he received from his Church was scanty enough. Some had hoped to see the Theological Faculty place their wreath upon the brow of the aged veteran - after the din of battle had ceased - but he is beyond their reach now and has received instead the crown that fadeth not away.
From the date of his retirement in active life in 1869, rendered necessary by heart disease, induced by his manifold labours, he became more than ever the loving and beloved head of his household, and to a very wide circle of relatives, ministers and acquaintances from far and near, the "guide, philosopher and friend". The fond attachment which his brethern who knew his worth manifested did far more than supply any lack of service of which Church loaders had ever been guilty.
To the last, he took a keen interest in public events, in all matters relative to church life and work, in all meetings of presbyteries, synods and assemblies. He read the newspaper "to see how his Father was governing the world". It was almost a means of grace to see at times his eyes assume a far-off look, as if gazing on the hills already empurpled with the days, and hear him speak of the great new time that was coming on.
In replying to an expression of good wishes forwarded to him by the Newry Presbytery on his eighty-fourth birthday, he writes under date of 2nd March 1892: "For many years past I have traced with increasing interest the movements of Divine Providence in the affairs of this lower world. My day of observation is now as a shadow that swiftly declineth, but younger brethern may live to see great changes in churches, states and governments, and greater still may be anticipated when the enlightened nations of Christendom come to comprehend and to apply the sublime truths and counsels of Him who is wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end".
His memory remained with him to the end. At family worship he often repeated whole chapters. The Word of God was his meditaion. A few days before his death, he remarked: "What a comfort that twenty-third psalm has been to me". He never murmured. Once he said, referring to the years of an old man; "Yet is their strength only labour and sorrow", but, on being reminded that the infirmities incidental to age will be laid aside, that old senses will be rejuvenated and new senses imparted, that we shall see as we are seen, know as we are known, and grow up into the stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus after the power of an endless life, tears of joy ran down his cheeks and feelings of gratitude strove for utterance on his lips.
The message came as he was surrounded by the members of his family, who had waited on him with touching devotion all through his declining years, and as one of his daughters was reading to him some of the promises of the Saviour, followed by his favourite hymn, "O God of Bethel", and the psalm he particularly loved. As it was with Israel when they passed through the Jordon as if on dry ground, because the priests that bore the ark of the convenant had touched the waters with their feet, parted them, and stood in the valley between, so it was with him, for he had the promise of the High Priest of our confession: "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall now overflow thee". "Now just as the gates were opened to let in the man, I looked in after him, and behold the city shone like the sun, the streets also were paved with gold, and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands and golden harps to sing praises withal".
That was on the 24th of May 1892, at half past four in the afternoon.
The wife of his youth, now his widow, who will ever mourn his absence until God's love set her at his side again, came upon a leaflet during the last illness and kept it for the burial. By her wish, it was read at his grave. Two of the verses are subjoined:
|"I shine in the light of God;
His likeness stamps my brow;
Through the valley of death my feet have trod,
And I reign in glory now!
|I have reached the joys of heaven;
I am one of the sainted band;
For my head a crown of gold is given,
And a harp is in my hand".