"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones."
Scotland in the late 1600's was a place of intense persecution for those who stayed true to the truth that the Lord Jesus is the Head of His church, regardless of the claims of an earthly king on his throne.
Jock Purves, in his excellent work, "Fair Sunshine" chronicles the stories of 13 Covenanters, believers who overcame the enemy by "the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death," (Rev. 12:11). The following is the account of one of the godly ones whose death was precious in the sight of the Lord.
"John Brown was the very close friend of both Richard Cameron, the Lion of the Covenant, and Alexander Peden, 'Puir Auld Sandy', the Prophet of the Covenant. When Brown fell, Peden referred to him as 'a clear shining light, the greatest Christian I ever conversed with.' In 1682, he had performed the marriage ceremony of Brown to Isabel Weir, and after the simple Puritan ceremony had said to Isabel, '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 Covenanting wedding! The Covenanter's deepest joys ever carried the shadow of the Cross.
John Brown of Priesthill was poor. Till the day he died he never owned much more than twenty sheep and a cow. His small crofting cottage is now no more. On every side stretch miles upon miles of melancholy moorlands with the heather creeping lovingly around his memorial stone.
By all accounts he was rarely gifted, and carried a brilliant intellect yielded to Christ. He had his own rustic school of theology, and his classes were attended by youths from miles around. Three of these class members sealed their testimonies with their blood, and their leader had oftentimes to flee. An impediment in his speech had made him give up the thought of being a Covenanting minister, but here was his own Bible School where he taught youth to resist unto blood, striving against sin. In the summer time they held their classes in the sheepfold, and in the winter they sat around the peat fire in the kitchen. We rightly look upon John Brown of Priesthill as being one of our first founders of Bible Classes and Sunday Schools.
The year 1685 was a terrible year in a terrible era. The Killing Time reeked reddest then. Long is the roll of the names of the martyrs - the lashed to the hooks, the burned by the match, the redhot iron branded, the starved to death, the bone mangled and crushed, the earclipped, the banished, the wounded and torn by bullet and knife.
Claverhouse, chief tool of the king's plan to eradicate the Covenanters, led three troops of horse to Priesthill in May of that year, ransacking Brown's cottage and finding so-called treasonable papers. Brown was questioned. His stammering disappeared, and he answered every question so solidly and distinctly that Claverhouse asked his base guides if ever they had heard him preach. 'No, no,' they said, 'he was never a preacher.'
'Well,' said he, 'if he has never preached, much has he prayed in his time. Go to your prayers,' he shouted, 'for you shall immediately die.' The peasant went to his knees and began to pray, but three times Claverhouse interrupted him, and then completely stopped him as John Brown interceded, asking God to spare a remnant.
'I gave you leave to pray,' he bawled, 'and you begin to preach!' The Covenanter turned on his knees, 'Sir,' he said, 'you know neither the nature of preaching nor praying that calls this preaching,' and, looking to God, finished his last prayer.
Isabel Brown was standing by with her child in her arms, and another child of John Brown's first wife by her side. He came to her saying, 'Now, Isabel, the day is come that I told you would come when I spoke to you first of marrying me.' She said, 'Indeed, John, I can willingly part with you.' 'That is all I desire,' he replied. 'I have no more to do but to die. I have been in happy case to meet with death for many years.' He kissed her and his children, saying that he wished Blood-bought and gospel-promised blessings to be multiplied upon them, and Claverhouse roughly broke in, ordering six dragoons to shoot him.
As he stood before them, their hearts were moved; they lowered their muskets and refused to fire. But the killer of many unbelted his pistol, and hastily walking up to John Brown, placed it to his head, and blew his brains out, scattering them upon the ground.
Looking at his ghastly work with a sardonic smile, he turned to Isabel saying, 'What do you think of your fine husband now?', and through her sad tears she bravely answered, 'I ever thought much good of him, and more than ever now.'
'It were but justice to lay you beside him,' he returned. Said she, 'If you were permitted, I doubt not but your cruelty would go to that length. But then, how will ye answer to God for this morning's work?'
Arrogantly, he blustered, 'To man I can be answerable. And as for God, I shall take Him into my own hand!' He then mounted his horse and haughtily rode off at the head of his troops. He later confessed that if he gave himself liberty to think of it, he could never forget John Brown's prayer.
Isabel Brown set her child upon the ground, gathered up her husband's brains, tied up his head, straightened his body, and covering it with a plaid, sat down and wept. Thus was she found by widow Jean Brown, whose own husband and two sons had been slain in the same great cause.
Thus it was that Isabel offered up the priceless jewel of her life, John Brown her husband. He went swiftly to company he had often longed for, where he would be much at home. She lived on in brave, godly, covenanting widowhood, bringing up her children, succouring the godly, and comforting the mourner with the comfort with which she herself was comforted by God."