John Brown was a Scottish farm lad full of passion for Christ. He came from the homeland of the Lollards, the Shire of Ayr. Reared in reformational and free-church faith, Brown was a close friend of Richard Cameron, called the Lion of the Covenant, and Alexander Peden, the Prophet of the Covenant. At Brown’s wedding in 1685, Peden told the new Mrs. Brown: “Ye have a good man to be your husband, but ye will not enjoy him long. Prize his company, and keep linen by you to be his winding sheet, for ye will need it when ye are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one.”
A speech impediment kept Brown from becoming a preacher, but in
his humble cottage he ran a Bible school where he taught youth in what
may have been the first regular Sunday school.
The year 1685 has been called the worst killing time in a terrible era.
Scottish Covenanters were relentlessly pressed, harassed, and murdered,
as recorded by historian Lord McCauley and author Daniel Defoe. When
troops arrived at Brown’s door that year, they were seeking Peden, whom
they believed was nearby. They ransacked Brown’s cottage and found a
few papers. They wanted to know about these writings and to know
Peden’s whereabouts. Instead, Brown gave them prayers and lessons, cut
short by the commander’s order to assemble a firing squad.
Brown turned to his wife, “Now, Isabel, the day is come.” She replied, “John, I can willingly part with you.”
“That is all I desire,” he said. “I have no more to do but die.” He kissed her and his child, saying he wished gospel-promise blessings to be multiplied upon them.
The six soldiers ordered to shoot Brown were apparently so moved by the scene and its disregard for law that they lowered their muskets and refused to fire. Their officer placed his own pistol at Brown’s head and ended his life, just outside his cottage.
Isabel Brown set her child on the ground, took her linen, and wrapped her husband’s body. She mourned alone until neighbors, told of the murder, gathered to support her and to remember anew their own losses of that terrible year. Scotland was fighting for its identity and for freedom to worship in the form and fashion its people deemed right. Brown’s murder was simple cruelty, yet the reason for it eventually won the day.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
This story is an excerpt from Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs. You can get your own copy free with any donation to The Voice of the Martyrs.