May 1st In Christian History – Joseph Addison and John Brown

Series: On This Day In Christian History

 Significant Events on This Day:

1551: The eleventh session of the Council of Trent opened. The council, which began in December 1545, was interrupted so many times as it dealt with deep issues that it took eighteen years to accomplish its work on the Counter-Reformation, finally closing in December 1563.

1873: Missionary-Explorer David Livingstone died in Africa near Lake Bangweolo (now within Zambia).

1939: The popular radio series that has featured Theodore Epp, Warren W. Wiersbe, and currently Woodrow Kroll (pictured on the left) – Back to the Bible began broadcasting from Nebraska.

 “Raised Up to Remake English Morals”

God raised up Mr. Addison and his associates to lash the prevailing vices and ridiculous and profane customs of this country, and to show the excellence of Christ and Christian institutions. – John Wesley

To win such praise from John Wesley, Joseph Addison must have been a good influence indeed.

God “raised up” Addison on May 1st in 1672. He was born in England near Amesbury in Wiltshire, in the heart of Old Wessex, not far from the Avon River. His health at birth did not give much assurance that he would survive long, so he was baptized the same day. Despite his early poor health, he survived and grew into a young man, surrounded by strong moral influences. He was related to clergymen on both sides of his family. Hs mother was sister to the bishop of Bristol, and his father became the dean of Lichfield while Joseph was a youngster. Richard Steele visited the Addison home and considered its air of affectionate peace worthy of writing about in an issue of The Tatler.

Addison became one of the great stylists of the English language. His Latin poetry was also among the best written by an Englishman. But his real fame comes from the periodicals he and Richard Steele produced together: The Tatler, The Spectator and The Guardian.

The papers enjoyed a wide readership. Addison’s stated purpose in The Tatler was “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.” The papers introduced the middle-class readership to recent developments in philosophy and literature. It is said that Addison and Steele’s works in the three papers were responsible for raising the general cultural level of the English middle class.

One of the most popular sections of the papers was Addison’s tales about a fictional character named Sir Roger de Coverly. Lively anecdotes about him exposed folly and suggested better behavior:

My friend Sir Roger has often told me, with a great deal of mirth, that at his first coming to his estate, he found three parts of his house altogether useless: that the best room in it had the reputation of being haunted, and by that means was locked up; that noises had been heard in his long gallery, so that he could not get a servant to enter it after 8 o’clock at night; that the door of one of his chambers was nailed up, because there went a story in the family that a butler had formerly hanged himself in it; and that his mother, who lived to a great age, had shut up half the rooms in the house, in which either her husband, a son, or daughter had died. The knight, seeing his habitation reduced to so small a compass and himself a manner shut our of his own house…ordered all the apartments to be flung open and exorcised by his chaplain, who lay in every room one after another, and by that means dissipated the fears which had so long reigned in the family.

I should not have been thus particular upon these ridiculous harrows, did not I find them to very much prevail in all parts of the country.

Although he trained to become a priest, Addison never became one. It would have been a difficult path for him, for he was painfully shy. Instead of preaching to the public in a church, the press became his pulpit. In addition to his satires, Addison wrote hymns such as “When All Thy Mercies, O My God”:

When all Thy mercies, O my God,

My rising soul surveys,

Transported with the view, I’m lost

In wonder, love and praise.

(Addison pictured on left)

On his deathbed, Addison was calm and courageous. He urged his nephew to “see how a Christian can die.” The excellence of his writing ensures that his memory will not perish soon, for his essays are often included in anthologies of English literature.

Author’s of the Above Article: A. Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves edited This Day In Christian History. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications Inc., 2005. The article above was adapted from the entry for May 1st.

A. Kenneth Curtis, Ph.D, is president of the Christian History Institute and the founding editor of Christian History magazine. He has written and produced several award winning historical films for Gateway Films/Vision Video’s Church history collection. He is also coauthor of 100 Most Important Dates in Christian History and From Christ to Constantine: The Trial and Testimony of the Early Church. He and his wife, Dorothy, reside in eastern Pennsylvania.

Daniel Graves is the Webmaster for the Christian History Institute and holds a master’s degree in library science from Western Michigan University. He is the author of Doctors Who Followed Christ and Scientists of Faith. Dan and wife, Pala reside in Jackson, Michigan.


John Brown Finds A Wife

The mid-1680s is remembered as the Killing Time in Scotland. Royal regiments martyred Scottish Presbyterians at will. Despite the danger, Presbyterian John Brown fell in love with Isabel Weir. He proposed to her, but warned that he would one day seal his testimony with blood. Isabel replied, “If it be so, I will be your comfort. The Lord has promised me grace.” They were married in a secret glen by the outlawed minister, Alexander Peden. “These witnesses of your vows,” said Peden, beginning the illegal ceremony, “have come at risk of their lives to hear God’s word and his ordinance of marriage.” The vows were spoken, and then Peden drew Isabel aside, saying, “You have got a good husband. Keep linen for a winding-sheet beside you; for in a day when you least expect it, thy master shall be taken.”

The Brown home soon included two children. It was happy, filled with prayer and godly conversation. Fugitive preachers were hidden and cared for there. But on May 1, 1685 John rose at dawn, singing Psalm 27, to find the house surrounded by soldiers. The family filed onto the lawn. The commander, Claverhouse, shouted to John, “Go to your prayers; you shall immediately die.” Kneeling, John prayed earnestly for his wife, pregnant again, and for his children. Then he rose, embraced Isabel, and said, “The day is come of which I told you when I first proposed to you.”

“Indeed, John. If it must be so, I can willingly part with you.”

“This is all I desire,” replied John. “I have no more to do but to die.” He kissed his children, then Claverhouse ordered his men to shoot. The soldiers hesitated. Snatching a pistol, Claverhouse placed it to John’s head and blew out his brains. “What thinkest thou of thy husband now, woman?” he snarled. Isabel, fixing Claverhouse in her gaze, told him she had never been so proud of him. Claverhouse mounted his horse and sped away, troops in tow. Isabel tied John’s head in a napkin and sat on the ground weeping with her children until friends arrived to comfort them.

“Armies may surround me, but I won’t be afraid; War may break out, but I will trust you. I ask only one thing, Lord: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.”Psalm 27:3,4

About the Author: Robert J. Morgan, is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best-selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, Red Sea Rules, and On This Day – this article was adapted from the May 1st entry in this excellent book. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country.


“The Death of John Brown”

 The child on the moss she laid 

And she stretched the cold limbs of the dead,

And drew the eyelid’s shade,

And bound the corpse’s shattered head,

And shrouded the martyr in his plaid;

And where the dead and living slept,

Sat in the wilderness and wept.

This POEM, written by Henry Inglis, tells the story of death of John Brown, Covenater martyr.

The Covenanters were Scottish Presbyterians who resisted the Episcopal system that Charles I, Charles II, and James VI imposed upon Scotland from 1637 to 1690. They opposed the divine right of kings, believing that limitless sovereignty belongs to God alone. When Presbyterianism was outlawed and replaced by episcopacy, the situation became very serious for the Covenanters, who were forced to choose between obedience to God or to the king. During the reign of Charles II they were haunted, jailed, and killed in large numbers.

John Brown was a poor farmer in Priesthill, Scotland, who aspired to be a Covenanter minister, but felt hampered by a problem with stammering. A brilliant man, Brown instead put his intellect and love of the Bible to work at home—teaching theology classes to local youth at his farm. Being a Covenanter meant being willing to give up his life for Christ at any moment, and Brown taught his students not to fear persecution but rather to consider it joy to suffer for Christ. Students came from miles around to be inspired by the gifted teacher (John Brown pictured on left).

In 1682 Covenanter pastor Alexander Peden performed the wedding ceremony for John Brown and Isabel Weir. After the ceremony Peden said to the bride, “Isabel, you have got a good man; but you will not enjoy him long. Prize his company and keep linen by you to he his winding sheet; for you will need it when you are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one.”

On May 1, 1685, the king’s troops came to Priesthill looking for Peden. They surprised Brown in his field and brought him back to his house and ransacked it. Finding some Covenanter literature, they began to interrogate him. Speaking in a clear, stammer-free voice, Brown’s confident answers made the chief officer ask whether he was a preacher. When told no, the officer replied, “Well, if he has never preached, much has he prayed in his time. Go to your prayers, for you shall immediately die.”

John Brown fell on his knees, asking God to spare a remnant of believers in Scotland. The officer, cut him short, accusing him of preaching rather than praying. The officer later confessed that he could never forget John Brown’s powerful prayer.

Brown then said to his wife, “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.”

He replied, “That is all I desire. I have no more to do but die. I have been ready to meet death for years past.”

As he said his good-byes and kissed his wife and baby, the officer broke in and ordered the troops to shoot him. The soldiers were so moved by the scene that they would not comply. The officer angrily pulled out his pistol, walked over, and shot John Brown in the head.

“What do you think of your fine husband now?” he asked Isabel.

Through her tears she answered, “I ever thought much good of him, and more than ever now.”

As the poem tells, Isabel laid her baby on the ground, bound up her beloved husband’s head, straightened his body, covered him with a plaid blanket, and sat down and wept.

Peden was in a nearby Covenanter home and described seeing a meteor that morning, “a bright, clear, shining light [that] fell from heaven to the earth.” He told his fellow believers, “And indeed there is a clear, shining light fallen this day, the greatest Christian that I ever conversed with.”


John and Isabel Brown’s marriage was filled with love and yet accompanied by the awful reality of the constant threat of death. Can you imagine what it would be like to live with martyrdom as a continual possibility? How would you live differently?

“You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my youthful witness, was martyred among you by Satan’s followers.” Revelation 2:13

Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the May 1st entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

Author: lifecoach4God

I am the Lead Pastor of Marin Bible Church (Bay Area), born and raised in Huntington Beach, Ca., and currently living in Novato, California. I am married to my best friend of 30 years - Dana - and have five adult children; and seven grand children. I have been a Teaching Pastor for over thirty years. I was privileged to study at Multnomah University (B.S. - 1988); Talbot School of Theology (M.Div. - 1991); Westminster Theological Seminary & Northwest Graduate School (D. Min. - 2003). I founded Vertical Living Ministries in 2008 with the goal of encouraging Christian Disciples and Leaders to be more intentionally Christ-Centered in how they live by bringing glory to God in nine key areas of life: (1) Intimacy with God, (2) marriage, (3) family, (4) friendship, (5) vocationally/ministry , (6) emotional and physical health, (7) stewardship of resources, (8) discipleship, and (9) mentoring.

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