Archibald G. Brown
ARCHIBALD G. BROWN
By Iain Murray
Banner of Truth. 432 pages. £16.00
ISBN 978 1 848 711 396
The church that is today East London Tabernacle was founded just over 150 years ago in 1861 in Stepney.
In that same year a young man in South London named Archibald Brown was converted through the witness of a Sunday school teacher (whom he later married) and an itinerant Anglican evangelist. Six years later, Brown, at the age of 23, was called to be the minister of the Stepney church. In the intervening period he cut his teeth in ministry preaching to workers on the railways lines then being built, as well in chapels and the open air. The well-known preacher C.H. Spurgeon recognised Brown’s gifts as a preacher and admitted him to his Pastors’ College. After a short pastorate at Bromley Baptist Church, which he planted, Brown became pastor of the Stepney church on Spurgeon’s recommendation. At one service some 40 young men were converted and later baptised and added to the church after an extraordinary prayer meeting. The congregation grew very quickly, necessitating the move to Mile End, where a new tabernacle was built on the site of the present tabernacle (the former was destroyed by enemy action in 1941).
In his latest book Iain Murray tells the remarkable and inspiring story of Archibald Brown. Largely forgotten today, in the late 19th century the congregation of 2,500 that gathered every Sunday at East London Tabernacle was second in size only to Spurgeon’s at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. On Sundays tram conductors would call out either ‘Over the water to Charlie’ or ‘Going east to Archie’. After almost 30 years in East London (and receiving over 4,000 people into membership), Brown became pastor of Chatsworth Way Baptist Church in West Norwood and then, for a few years, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, after which he travelled extensively for ministry in the United States, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere.
Younger than his mentor, Brown was one of Spurgeon’s closest friends. They were both committed to classic evangelical and Reformed Christianity, the priority of preaching and prayer in advancing Christ’s kingdom, the reality of revival and a simple, straightforward approach to the work of the local church. When the Downgrade Controversy came, Brown stood shoulder to shoulder with Spurgeon when most others didn’t. Like Spurgeon, Brown initiated a number of practical ministries for the poor and needy of Victorian London without letting himself get distracted from his ministry of word and prayer. In fact, Brown became something of an authority on social conditions in the East End.
His own man
However, closely associated with Spurgeon as he was, Brown was his own man. The sermons that survive have a different feel to Spurgeon’s — less elaborate in their language and often very original and striking in form. Personally, Brown suffered much heartache. During his time at East London Tabernacle, his first two wives died, leaving him to raise his children on his own, supported by his mother. The long ministry in east London also took its toll. But what is overwhelmingly impressive is the testimony of Brown’s ministry to the supernatural reality of genuine Christianity. Brown believed that ‘the full-orbed gospel’ (as one of his sermons is entitled) is the power of God unto salvation. Here is one Brown quote that reveals the man: ‘The gospel is a fact, therefore tell it simply; it is a joyful fact, therefore tell it cheerfully; it is an entrusted fact, therefore tell it faithfully; it is a fact of infinite moment, therefore tell it earnestly; it is about a Person, therefore preach Christ’. Today evangelical Christians need to be reminded of that. Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain was very different from early 21st-century Britain, but the gospel preached then and now is the same.
Beautifully produced, the book is a compelling read. There is an example of Brown’s sermon notes as an appendix, as well as a mildly tendentious one on Brown’s (and Spurgeon’s) view on instrumental music in public worship. Read this splendid biography to strengthen your faith and enlarge your vision of what God can do to advance his kingdom of grace in our generation.
minister, East London Tabernacle Baptist Church, Mile End, London