Two Revolutionaries

George Washington, the first president of the United States, and Rev. John Brown of Scotland were each revolutionaries in their own right. 

Although they never met, the president and the pastor lived at the same time and there was a sovereignly ordained camaraderie between them. Separated by the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, their quiet yet immensely significant efforts to equip ordinary families with God’s written Word impacted myriad homes for generations to come.

John Brown, the pastor-theologian whose name appears on the title page of his mammoth work, the Self-Interpreting Bible, entered the world in 1722. He began life in a tiny Scottish village steeped in poverty. After losing his parents before the age of twelve, young John earned food and shelter by working for  an elderly farmer. Academically gifted and passionate about the Bible, John became a pastor in the town of Haddington, near Scotland’s cold North Sea coastline.

Meanwhile, across the deep sea, George Washington was born in 1732. He was the fifth child of Augustine Washington Sr., a prosperous yet widowed Virginia tobacco planter, and the first child of Augustine’s new wife, a sincere young Christian woman named Mary Ball Washington.

Like Brown, Washington’s father died when George was only eleven. Unlike Brown, George continued to receive an education that, while not at the level of his older brothers, allowed his talent for mathematics to become evident. However, Washington believed his education was deficient and he worked throughout his life to make up for that deficiency by reading and amassing a library of more than 1,200 titles.

At twenty years of age, Washington was appointed a major in the Virginia provincial militia. He participated in the French and Indian War of the 1750s and credited his survival to God’s providential hand. The wealthy plantation farmer and war veteran became a leader in his church and an elected member of the House of Burgesses. He also helped to write the Fairfax Resolves, proposals that included a plan to end the African slave trade in Virginia. In 1775, he was asked to lead the soldiers of the colonies in America’s war for independence from Great Britain, which continued until 1783. Only a few years later, he was unanimously chosen to be the first President of the United States. His unparalleled role in early American history earned him the moniker the “father of his country.”

The Writing, Publishing, and Popularization of the Self-Interpreting Bible

Meanwhile, John Brown focused on being a pastor, husband, and father. He wrote several significant books—including his massive Self-Interpreting Bible with cross-references, study helps, and devotional homilies. This unprecedented tool enabled the common man to understand the scriptures by letting its myriad cross-referenced verses and passages interpret themselves. Quietly and skillfully wielding the sword of the Spirit, Brown ultimately helped launch a worldwide revolution of hearts.

With its New York printing, Brown’s study Bible effectively “jumped the ocean.” This was largely due to Washington’s name that appeared atop the list of 1,279 otherwise alphabetically listed men and women who joined him in subscribing. Those 1,279 people made this first American edition of Brown’s family study Bible possible. The Self-Interpreting Bible went from obscurity to popularity and became a worldwide phenomenon within a generation. Without further explanation, his name served as Washington’s silent yet powerful endorsement.                                                     

Both George Washington and John Brown were imperfect yet honorable and dedicated men. One threw off the fetters of poverty and illiteracy to become a revolutionary pastor and Bible teacher in Scotland. The other, born into a culture where enslavement was normal, became a revolutionary soldier and farmer who stood against the heavy hand of a tyrannical king and set free, at the end of his life, all whom he had the legal right to liberate.

Though Brown and Washington never met, their mutual desire to equip ordinary families with the extraordinary and life-changing truth of the Bible intersected and drove decisions that are among their most important legacies. They were both leaders of immense influence by their commitment to the transformative power and authority of God’s written Word.