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Brown, Archibald Geikie (1844–1922), Baptist minister, was born at 10 St Ann's Place, Brixton Hill, Streatham, on 18 July 1844, the son of John William Brown (1815–1872), clerk to a bill broker, and his wife, Emma, née Heath (1818–1893). He experienced an evangelical conversion in 1861 after attending religious meetings led by Sir Arthur Blackwood and began itinerant preaching with the London City Mission. He was encouraged by Charles Spurgeon to enroll at his Pastors' College for the year 1861–2 and became one of Spurgeon's closest friends.

From 1862 Brown led a mission to Bromley by Bow that resulted in the foundation of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, in 1864. He married in 1865 Ann Bigg (c.1840–1874), with whom he had six children. He ministered at Southwark until 1867 when he became pastor of Stepney Green Tabernacle. At Stepney he led a campaign to construct a £13,000 building which opened in 1872 as the East End Tabernacle. It was reckoned to be the second largest church in Britain with a congregation numbering 2500. He made the tabernacle the hub of an urban mission by establishing a range of philanthropic organizations including an orphanage, soup kitchens, homeless hostels, convalescence homes, and preaching stations. Data supplied by Brown and missionaries from the East London Tabernacle was central to Andrew Mearns's Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883). After his first wife's death, he married again three times: in September 1875 to Sarah Dawson Hargraves (1848–1876); in 1878 to (Edith) Constance Barrett (1855–1895), with whom he had four children; and in 1897 to Hannah Gearing Hetherington (1850–1922).

Brown served as president of the London Baptist Association in 1877. He was a vigorous expository preacher, ‘hardy in metaphor, familiar in gesture and action’ (Pike, 115). A Calvinist and fierce opponent of higher criticism, he led the tabernacle out of the Baptist Union and London Baptist Association during the ‘Down Grade Controversy’ of 1887–8. He gained notoriety by the publication of The Devil's Mission of Amusement (1889), a short pamphlet that accused the church of substituting entertainment for evangelism. Contemporaries were perplexed by his mixture of innovative philanthropy and unyielding doctrinal traditionalism. His friend J. C. Carlile called him ‘a Conservative by education, and a Socialist by inclination’ (Baptist Times, 7 April 1922, 213).

In 1897, seeking a smaller charge, Brown accepted a call to Chatsworth Road Baptist Church, West Norwood. He again presided over a large church building project and helped increase the church's membership. An ardent premillennialist, he had the words ‘Surely I am Coming Soon’ painted behind the pulpit. In 1907 he became co-pastor with Thomas Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, assuming sole pastoral responsibility the following year after Spurgeon's resignation. He retired to Balham in 1911 where he sometimes deputized for his son, Arthur Douglas Brown [see below], the minister of Ramsden Road Baptist Church. He died at The Rock, Easton on the Hill, Northamptonshire, on 2 April 1922.

His son with his first wife, Arthur Douglas Brown (1874–1940), Baptist minister, known as A. Douglas Brown, was born at 2 Mornington Road, Bromley by Bow, on 13 March 1874. He described his father as ‘a constant and sacred inspiration to me’ (A. Douglas Brown, The Great Harvester, 1923). As a young man, he served in the Merchant Navy. He retained a love for the sea throughout his life, adorning the stairway of his manse with a ship's wheel.

Brown studied at the nondenominational East London Institute (Harley House) under its founding principal, Henry Grattan Guinness. In 1895 he became minister of Herne Bay Baptist Church but resigned the position in 1897 for medical reasons. In 1896 he married Lilian Blanche Ludbrook (1871–1963), with whom he had one daughter, (Lilian) Doris (1898–1987).

In April 1898 Brown became minister of Splott Road Baptist Church, Cardiff. A combination of financial crisis and quarrelling church members triggered another breakdown. He resigned on medical advice in April 1899. In September 1899 he was ordained minister of Kensington Baptist Church, Bristol, where he presided over an extensive building project, introduced a new form of church government, and rebranded the church as Kensington Tabernacle. The membership swelled by over 200 during his ministry, but he was troubled by several controversies within the church leadership. He and his wife also received anonymous defamatory letters. These difficulties precipitated several more periods of extended illness. He resigned on grounds of ill health in May 1907.

In October 1907 Brown was ordained minister of Ramsden Road Baptist Church, Balham. Although he moved to Balham ‘seeking some smaller sphere of labour’, Brown's ministry promoted massive church growth, turning Balham into ‘one of the striking stories of modern Church life’ (Baptist Times, 24 April 1925). In 1907 the church had around 250 members; by 1923 this had grown to over 1000. Crowds were drawn to Balham because of the quality of his sermons. He believed that ‘the art of preaching is the highest function of the Christian ministry’ (A. Douglas Brown, A Call to Advance, 1925, 17). He was a compelling and dramatic orator, preaching ‘with voice and hands and feet, and with the whole of his body’ (The Christian, 27 July 1922). He focused on ‘the old Bible doctrines’, which he described as ‘Ruin by the Fall, Redemption through the Finished Work of Christ, Regeneration by the Holy Ghost, Sanctification by the Spirit, and the Hope of Our Lord's Personal Return’ (Fergusson, 241). He gave particular priority to the last of these themes, serving on the board of the premillennial Advent Testimony and Preparation Movement from 1921.

In late 1920 Brown was invited to Lowestoft to lead a four-day interdenominational mission. The invitation triggered a protracted spiritual crisis that culminated in an intense numinous encounter that he called ‘baptism in the Holy Ghost’. Energized by this experience, Brown arrived in Lowestoft in March 1921 and preached, often ‘with tears and sweat running down his face’ (The Christian, 10 Nov 1921, 9), at a series of meetings in the town's churches. He focused particularly on the return of Christ. Huge crowds attended and the ‘Lowestoft revival’ attracted national attention. During the summer of 1921 Brown held further meetings across East Anglia.

Brown's popularity soared. He claimed to have preached 1700 sermons at revival meetings across the British Isles between March 1921 and August 1922. His style was intense and fervent, but he decried sensationalism. ‘The church has not learned the art of doing the transcendental quietly’, he complained (Baptist Times, May 1929, 353). J. C. Carlile, the president of the Baptist Union, observed that he avoided ‘the common tricks of the platform’ (A. Douglas Brown, A Call to Advance, foreword). His meetings, which often culminated in local clergy kneeling together before the communion table, were, in fact, aimed more at renewal in the church than at conversion of sinners. ‘Revival is not for the drunken man coming to the penitent form’, Brown argued, ‘it is for the proud church member … [and] unconverted deacon’ (The Christian, 27 July 1922).

Sympathizers warned that Brown's punishing schedule was leading to another nervous breakdown. In June 1922 an interdenominational committee, under the direction of J. Stuart Holden, assumed the administration of his itinerant work to lighten his burden. Nevertheless, Brown had to cancel engagements frequently during 1922 and 1923.

In August 1922 Brown used an invitation to give five ‘Bible expositions’ at the annual Keswick convention to launch a stinging attack on what he called the ‘religious deceit’ of Christian subculture (The Christian, 27 July 1922, 11). His addresses were the talking point of the convention. In September 1924, he assumed the unsalaried position of commissioner for evangelism with the Baptist Union, but resigned in July 1925, again owing to ill health. He remained involved in denominational strategies for evangelism and congregational renewal. In 1926 he travelled extensively to fundraise for the Baptist Missionary Society. He offered his resignation from the pastorate at Balham in late 1926, but the church persuaded him to remain by offering a reduced workload. In 1928 he became vice-president of the Baptist Union. McMaster University awarded him an honorary doctorate of divinity in the same year. In 1929 he became president of the Baptist Union and used his term of office to champion renewal in rural Baptist congregations.

In 1934 Brown was forced by illness to resign his position at Balham for the less demanding pastorship of Frinton Free Church, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex. He helped to clear the church's debt and oversaw a period of church renovation. Although he clearly lacked the physical and emotional power of his earlier days, the congregation nevertheless respected his pastoral warmth and homiletic skill. He died at Ellisdene Nursing Home, Victoria Road, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, on 27 April 1940 after suffering a stroke.

A. Douglas Brown's compelling vision for renewal offered solace to a church mired in post-war malaise. A Baptist leader described him as ‘the wonder man of our denomination’ (The Ramsden Messenger, April 1930, 5) and many evangelicals believed that his meetings in the early 1920s were the dawn of widespread revival. Brown himself was not so sanguine. ‘Do not be deceived into thinking that there is any real revival in England to-day—there is not’, he wrote in 1923 (The Great Harvester, 12). He was more concerned with long-term local church renewal than with high-profile mass meetings. Despite co-operating with professional revivalists such as Gypsy Smith and Jock Troup, Brown believed that ‘Evangelism … is not a work to be done for the churches by isolated and independent men. Revival is a Church word’ (The Christian, 6 Oct 1921, 11).

Brown was theologically conservative with streaks of gentle progressivism. He claimed that the British church would only see revival ‘when critics stop picking holes in Divine revelation … when preachers cease to be politicians, when churches put spiritual before social’, and ‘when Calvary preaching replaces critical essays’ (Griffin, 57). However, by the late 1920s he was appealing for modernists and fundamentalists to learn from each other's views. He rarely spoke on hell or divine judgement, instead preferring to focus on Christ as the healer of the weary and broken. The key to his theology was, in fact, the ecstatic vision of Christ he had experienced in 1921. This led him to propose an essentially pietistic, rather than dogmatic, response to theological controversies, claiming that ‘God's answer to Modernism … is a Church baptized in mysticism’ (Keswick Week, 1922, 275).

Brown was, by his own admission, ‘a sensitive fellow’ (Ramsden Messenger, Aug 1934, 2). This sensitivity caused numerous physical and mental breakdowns, but it also gave him the ability to speak with pathos, authenticity, and effectiveness. Despite gaining public attention for his role in the East Anglian revival, Brown's heart was always with the local church. ‘He is never weary of emphasizing the fact that he is a minister rather than an evangelist’, wrote one observer (The Christian, 16 June 1921). His obituarist therefore rightly noted that Balham, not Lowestoft, was his true monument.

Martin Spence

Sources  

G. H. Pike, The life and work of Archibald G. Brown, preacher and philanthropist (1892) · Baptist Times (7 April 1922) · The Times (4 April 1922) · W. C. Johnson, Encounter in London: the story of the London Baptist Association, 1865–1965 (1965) · T. A. Curtis, Chatsworth Road Baptist Church, West Norwood: a brief history of the twenty-five years, 1878–1903 (1904) · C. Skinner, Spurgeon and son (1999) · college records, Spurgeon's College, London, library · H. Fergusson, ‘The revival in East Anglia’, Keswick Week (1921), 241 · b. cert. [A. G. Brown] · m. cert. [A. G. Brown, 1875] · census returns, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 · A. D. Brown, The great harvester (1923) · A. D. Brown, Revival addresses (1922) · C. Parker, Faithfulness: the history of Kensington Baptist Church, 1831–2006 (2006) · Baptist Union minutes, 1920–40, Regent's Park College, Oxford, Angus Library, Baptist Union Archives · minute books of deacons' meetings, 1892–1909, DBAP49/2/2; minute books of church meetings, 1899–1910 DBAP49/1/3; Splott Road Baptist Magazine, 3 vols., 1926–8, DBAP49/12/1–3, Glamorgan Archives, Splott Road Baptist Church records · deacons meeting minutes and church meeting minutes, Kensington Baptist Church Records, Bristol Records Office, 43436 · uncatalogued minutes and church magazines, 1907–34, Balham Baptist Church, Ramsden Road, Balham · D. Whybrew, The story of Frinton Free Church (1990) · Keswick Week (1921–2) · Baptist Union Handbook (1941) · East Essex Gazette (4 May 1940) · I. M. Randall, The English Baptists of the twentieth century (2005) · S. C. Griffin, A forgotten revival (1992) · C. Le Noury, In the steps of F. B. Meyer (2007) · b. cert. [A. D. Brown]

Archives  

Balham Baptist Church, Ramsden Road, Balham, uncatalogued minutes and church magazines · Bristol RO, Kensington Baptist Church records, minutes · Glamorgan Archives, Splott Road Baptist Church records


Wealth at death  

£4222 14s. 10d.: probate, 3 May 1922, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £1176 2s. 4d.—Arthur Douglas Brown: probate, 19 Aug 1940, CGPLA Eng. & Wales