The story of faith through history includes many unlikely individuals whom God used to guard the truth of the Gospel, some to the point of giving up their lives. One such man was John Brown. Not the abolitionist John Brown, but the Scottish farmer John Brown. He was a poor man who never owned more than 20 sheep, but Brown was rich in faith; he loved Jesus Christ. He and his wife were married by Alexander Peden, a Scottish covenanter, who pronounced after the wedding in 1682 that Isabel should love her husband well because she would not have him for long. He told Isabel to keep John’s shroud (burial cloth) close by because she would need to use it, and when she did it would be stained in blood. Not a typical toast at a wedding reception, but the Scottish Presbyterians were under heavy persecution then.
John had a speech impediment that prevented him from his heart’s desire of becoming a pastor. However, his stammering did not prevent John from teaching young people. Every week, they came to his house and he taught them the Bible and the foundations of the faith. This was one of the reasons why Brown was hated by the authorities. They came to his house in 1685, claiming to be searching for Alexander Peden. While ransacking Brown’s house, the soldiers found papers that related to the teaching of the Bible and they questioned him about that. They asked him to swear an oath of allegiance to the king and he refused. The officer in charge then told John Brown to kneel and pray because after that he would be shot. John began to pray. And pray. And pray. Apparently, he was not stammering at all and at one point the officer got angry because the prayer was sounding like a sermon. He said to one of his soldiers, “I thought you said he couldn’t preach!” John Brown looked up and said, “Sir, you know neither the nature of preaching nor of praying that calls this preaching.” One biographer wrote that John Brown ran to God in the face of death with the alacrity of a boy bounding home from school. When the prayer was done, the officer said, “Take good night of your wife and child.” The woman whom he loved was standing nearby with a baby in her arms and he turned to her and said, “Now, Isabel, the day has come.” She answered, “John, I can willingly part with you.” He replied, “This is all I desire. I have no more to do but die.” He kissed her and his child and said he wished gospel-promised blessings to be multiplied upon them. The officer then ordered the soldiers to shoot, but they were so moved by the scene they had witnessed that none of them moved. In a rage, the officer took one of the soldier’s guns, put it to John Brown’s head and pulled the trigger. He then turned to Isabel and snarled, “What think ye of your husband now?” She replied, “I have never thought so much of him.”
The persecution you and I suffer who hold to the truth of the Gospel is not worthy to be compared to that of men such as John Brown. Or to Ri Hyon Ok, a 33-year-old mother of three who was executed just three years ago in North Korea for distributing Bibles. But according to the World Christian Database, approximately 171,000 Christians are martyred each year.
We who follow Christ are called to “guard what was committed to (our) trust.”