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The Covenanter’s are often depicted as fanatics, and no doubt even among those noble men and women there were those who were less noble and less worthy. Yet they also shared the isolation that I experience first hand so continuously, and I wonder if in part, that may have added to their having such passions about the things that mattered and were important to them, much like I often find myself in this afflicted lot in life. Unless you’ve been there, and done that, and suffered the unimaginable in this degree of isolation, you most likely will not understand the truth of that, and how one is often a consequence of the other.
Now on to John Brown of Priesthill. John Brown stuttered violently when he conversed. Yet whenever he prayed, he spoke fluently and without the stammering and stuttering that normally defined his speech. His heart must have been lifted up to heaven when in prayer for that too be so. He was a well liked, popular family man. Loved and esteemed by all who knew him. And at the hands of bloody Claverhouse, this was the end he came to, but it was for the cause of God, and that’s what made these men and women different, and noble. That they were willing to part with all for the cause of God, and they so often did do. The world really was not worthy. The liberty we have today, has the seeds in the blood of such noble martyrs, for who no cost was too great, to put Christ’s Crown and Covenant, before anything else, even life itself.
John Brown lived at a house called Priesthill, in the parish of Murikirk. It occupied an eminence commanding a wide and waste view of heath, mosses and rocks. John Brown was an amiable and blameless man. He had taken no part in the risings or public testifying of the times. His only crimes were his non-attendance on the curate of the parish, and his occasionally retiring with some like-minded, to a favourite ravine among the moors, where they spent the Sabbath day in praise and prayer. His wife was a noble spirit; blithe, Leal-hearted, humorous even. While he, on the other hand, was gravely mild and sedate, her smile shone on him like sunshine on a dun hill-side, and transfigured him into gladness. His family was one of peace, although Isabel Weir was his second wife, and there were children of the first alive. All were wont to pour out like blood from one heart, to meet him, when he was seen approaching on his pack-horse from his distant excursions. Latterly, as the persecution fell darker, and closed in around those Ayrshire wolds, John could no longer ply his trade; nay, was even compelled, occasionally to leave his home, and spend days and nights in the remoter solitudes of the country. Nevertheless his house at last arrived. It was the 30th of April, 1685. John Brown had been at home, and unmolested for some time: he had risen early, and had performed family worship. The Psalm sung was the twenty seventh; and the chapter read the sixteenth of John; which closes with the remarkable words: “In this world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” His prayer was, as usual, powerful and reverent. Meanwhile Claverhouse had come in late at night to Lesmalisgow, where a garrison was posted; he heard of John; had risen still earlier than his victim; and by six on that grey April morning had tracked him to the moss; had surrounded him with three troops of dragoons, and led him down to the door of his own house. With the dignity of Cincinnatus, leaving his plough in mid-furrow, John dropped his spade, and walked down, it is said, “rather like a leader than a captive.” His wife was warned of their approach, and with more than the heroism of an ancient Roman matron, with one boy in her arms, with a girl in her hand, and alas! with a child within her, Isabel weir came calmly out too play her part in this frightful tragedy! Claverhouse was no trifler. short and sharp was he always in his brutal trade. He asked John at once why he did not attend the curate, and if he would pray for the king. John stated, in one distinct sentence, the usual covenanting reasons. On hearing it, Claverhouse exclaimed “Go to your knees, for you shall immediately die!” John complied, without remonstrance, and proceeded to pray in terms so melting, and with such earnest supplication for his wife and their born and unborn children, that claverhouse saw the hard eyes of his dragoons beginning to moisten, and their hands to tremble, and thrice interrupted him with volleys of blasphemy. When the prayer was ended, John turned round to his wife, reminded her that this was the day come which he had told her of when he first proposed marriage to her, and asked her if she was willing to part with him. “Heartily willing,” was her reply. “This,” he said, “is all I desire. I have nothing more to do now but die.” He then kissed her, and the children and said, “May all purchased and promised blessings be multiplied unto you!” “No, more of this!” roared out the savage, whose own iron heart this scene was threatening to move. “You six dragoons, there, fire on the fanatic!” They stood motionless, the prayer had quelled them. Fearing a mutiny, both among his soldiers and in his own breast, he snatched a pistol from his belt, and shot the good man through the head. He fell, his brains spurted out, and his brave wife caught the shattered head in her lap. “What do you think of your husband now?” howled the ruffian. “I though muckle o’ him, Sir, butt never as muckle as I do this day.” (muckle-much). “I would think little to lay thee beside him,” he answered. “If you were
permitted, I doubt not ; you would; but how are ye to answer for this mornings wark?” “To men, I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands.” And with these desperate words, he struck spurs to his horse, an of her led his dragoons away from the inglorious field. Meekly and calmly did this heroic and Christian woman, tie up her husband’s head in a napkin, compose his body, cover it with her plaid—and not till these duties were discharged did she permit the pent-up current of her mighty grief to burst out, as she sat down beside the corpse and wept bitterly. [George Gilfillian]
The Epitaph of John Brown on his gravestone, which as you can see the first letter of each line spells his name.
In death’s cold bed the dusty part here lies
Of one who did the earth as dust despise;
Here in this place from earth he took departure,
Now he has got the garland of the martyr.
Butchered by Clavers and his bloody band.
Raging most ravenously o’er all the land,
Only for owning Christ’s supremacy,
Wickedly wronged by encroaching tyranny.
Nothing how near soever he to good
Esteemed, nor dear for any truth his blood.