John Nisbet born about the year 1627, was son to James Nisbet, and lineally descended from one Murdoch Nisbet in Hardhill, who about 1500, joined those called the Lollards of Kyle; but, a persecution being raised against them, he fled over seas, and took a copy of the new Testament in writing. Sometime after, he returned home, digged a vault in the bottom of his own house, unto which he retired, serving God, reading his new book, and instructing such as had access to him. But to return,
John Nisbet, being somewhat advanced in years, and one who had the advantage of a tall, strong, well-built body, and of a bold, daring, public spirit, went abroad and joined in the military, which was of great use to him afterwards. Having spent some time in foreign countries, he returned to Scotland, and swore the covenants when king Charles at his coronation swore them at Scoon in 1650. Then, having left the military, he came home and married one Margaret Law, who proved an equal, true and kind yoke-fellow to him all the days of her life, and by whom he had several children, three of whom survived himself, viz. Hugh, James and Alexander.
In the month of Dec.1683, she died on the 8th day of her sickness, and was buried in Stone-house church-yard. This behoved to be done in the night, because it might not be known, neither would any do it but such as might not appear in the day-time. The curate having knowledge of it, threatened to take the corpse up, burn it or cast it to the dogs; but some of the persecuted party sent him a letter, assuring him, That if he touched these graves they would burn him and his family, and all he had; -- so he forbare.
He early applied himself to the study of the holy scriptures, which, through the grace of God, was so effectual, that he not only became at last one well acquainted with the most interesting parts of practical religion, but also he attained no small degree of knowledge in points of principle, which proved of unspeakable advantage to him in all that occurred to him in the after-part of his life, in maintaining the testimony of that day.
He married and took up the Hardhill in the parish of Loudon, in which station he behaved with much discretion and prudence. For no sooner did prelacy and Erastianism appear on the field, in opposition to our antient and laudable form of church-government, at the restoration of Charles II. than he took part with the presbyterian side. And having anno 1664, got a child baptized by one of the ejected ministers (as they were then called), the incumbent or curate of the parish was so enraged, that he declared his resolution from the pulpit, to excommunicate him the next Lord's day. But behold the Lord's hand interposed here; for, before that day came, the curate was landed in eternity.
This gentleman, being always active for religion, and a great encourager of field-meetings, was, with the rest of Christ's faithful witnesses, obliged to go without the camp bearing his reproach. When that faithful remnant assembled together, and renewed the covenant at Lanerk 1666, his conscience summoned him out to join them in that particular circumstance, which being known and he threatened for such an action, he resolved to follow these persecuted people, and so kept with them in arms till their defeat upon the 28th of Nov. at Pentland hills, at which fight he behaved with great courage and resolution. He fought till he was so wounded, that he was stript for dead among the slain, and yet such was the providence of God, that (having more work for him to accomplish) he was preserved.
He had espoused Christ's cause by deliberate choice, and was indeed of an excellent spirit; and, as Solomon says, more excellent than his neighbour. His natural temper was likewise noble and generous: As he was travelling through a muir on a snowy day, one of his old neighbours (who was seeking sheep) met him, and cried out, |O Hardhill, are you yet alive! I was told, you was going in a pilgrim's habit, and that your burns were begging, and yet I see you look as well as ever.| Then taking out a six-dollar, he offered it to him. John, seeing this, took out a ducat, and offered it to him, saying, |I will have none of yours, but will give you if you please; for you may see that nothing is wanting to him that fears the Lord, and I would never have thought that you (calling him by his name) would have gone so far with the enemies of God, as to sell your conscience to save your gear, &c. Take warning, H. go home and mourn for that, and all your other sins, before God; for, if mercy do not prevent, you will certainly perish.| The poor man thanked him, put up his money, and went home.
After this remarkable escape he returned home, where probably he continued (not without enduring many hardships) till the year 1670, that by his fame for courage, wisdom and resolution among the sufferers, when that party who were assembled near Loudon-hill to hear the gospel, June 1st, came in view of an engagement with Claverhouse (who attacked them that day at Drumclog), Hardhill, not being present, was sent for by one Woodborn in the mains of Loudon, to come in all haste to their assistance. But before they got half-way they heard the platoons of the engagement, and yet they rode with such alacrity, that they just came up as the firing was over. Upon their approach, Hardhill (for so he was commonly called) cried to them to jump the ditch, and get over upon the enemy sword in hand. Which they did with so great resolution and success, that in a little they obtained a complete victory over the enemy, wherein Hardhill had a share, by his vigorous activity in the latter end of that skirmish.
The suffering party, knowing now that they were fully exposed to the rage and resentment of their bloody persecuting foes, resolved to abide together. And for that purpose sent a party to Glasgow in pursuit of the enemy, among whom Hardhill was one. After which he continued with them and was of no small advantage to the honest party, till that fatal day June 22d, that they fled and fell before the enemy at Bothwel-bridge. Here, says Wodrow, he was a captain, if I mistake not. And being sent with his party along with those who defended the bridge, he fought with great gallantry, and stood as long as any man would stand by him, and then made his retreat just in time, and through the goodness of God, he escaped from their hands at this time also.
After Bothwel, he was denounced a rebel, and a large reward offered to such as could apprehend him. At which time the enemy seized all that he had, stripped his wife and four children of all, turning them out of doors, whereby he was reduced as one of those mentioned Hebrews xi.38. They wandered about in desarts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, &c. Thus he lived for near the space of five years, suffering all manner of hardships, not accepting deliverance, that he might preserve to himself the free enjoyment of the gospel, faithfully preached in the fields. And being a man of a public spirit, a great observer of fellowship meetings (alas, a duty now too much neglected!) and very staunch upon points of testimony, and become very popular among the more faithful part of our sufferers, and was by them often employed as one of their commissioners to their general meetings, which they had erected some years before this, that they might the better understand the mind of one another in carrying on a testimony in that broken state.
One thing very remarkable was -- The Sabbath night (being that day eight days before he was taken) as he and four more were travelling, it being very dark, no wind, but a thick small rain: no moon, for that was not her season; behold, suddenly the clouds clave asunder, toward east and west, over their heads, and a light sprang out beyond that of the sun, which lasted above the space of two minutes. They heard a noise, and were much amazed, saying one to another, What may that mean? but he spoke none, only uttering three deep groans, one of them asked him, What it might mean? He said, |We know not well at present, but within a little we shall know better: yet we have a more sure word of prophecy, unto which we would do well to take heed:| And then he groaned again, saying, |As for me, I am ready to live or to die for him, as he in his providence shall call me to it, and bear me through in it; and although I have suffered much from prelates and false friends these 21 years, yet now I would not for a thousand worlds I had done otherwise; and if the Lord spare me, I will be more zealous for his precious truths, and if not, I am ready to seal his cause with my blood; for I have longed for it these 16 years, and it may be I will ere long get it to do. Welcome be his will, and if he will help me through with it, I shall praise him to all eternity.| Which made them all wonder, he being a very reserved man; for although he was a strict observer of the Sabbath, a great examiner of the scripture, and a great wrestler in prayer, yet he was so reserved as to his own case and soul's concernment, that few knew how it was with him as to that, until he came to prison.
All this and more could not escape the knowledge of the managers, as is evident from Earlston's answers before the council 1683, and we find that one of the articles that John Richmond suffered for, at the cross of Glasgow, March 19th 1684, was his being in company with John Nisbet. This made the search after him and other sufferers more desperate. Whereupon in the month of November 1683, having retired amongst other of his lurking places, unto a certain house called Midland, in the parish of Fenwick, where were assembled for prayer and other religious exercises (on a Saturday's night) other three of his faithful brethren, viz. Peter Gemmel, a younger brother of the house of Horse-hill in the same parish, George Woodburn, a brother of the Woodburns in the Muirs of Loudon, and one John Fergushill from Tarbolton. Upon notice that lieutenant Nisbet, and a party of col. Buchan's dragoons were out in quest of the wanderers (as they were sometimes called) they resolved on the Sabbath morning to depart. But old John Fergushill, not being able to go by reason of some infirmities, they were obliged to return back with him, after they had gone a little way from the house; and were, the same day, apprehended. The way and manner of which, with his answers both at Ayr, and before the council at Edinburgh, as they stand in an old manuscript given under his own hand, while he was their prisoner, is as follows:
|First when the enemy came within sight of the house, we seeing no way of escape, John Fergushill went to the far end of the house, and the other two and I followed. And ere we were well at the far end of the house, some of the enemy were in the house. And then in a little after they came and put in their horses, and went to and fro in the house for more than an hour, and we four still at the far end of the house; And we resolved with one another to keep close till they should come just on us; and if it should have pleased the Lord to have hid us there, we resolved not to have owned them; but if they found us out, we thought to fight, saying one to another, It was death at length. They got all out of the house, and had their horses drawn forth. But in a little time came back, tittling one to another, and at last cried for a candle to search the house with; and came within a yard of us with a light burning in their hand. According to our former resolution, we did resist them, having only three shot; and one of them misgiving, and they fired above twenty-four shot at us, and when we had nothing else, we clubbed our guns, till two of them were quite broke, and then went in grips with some of them; and when they saw they could not prevail, they cried, All to go out and fire the house. Upon which we went out after them, and I received six wounds in the going out. After which, they getting notice what I was, some of themselves cried out to spare my life, for the council had offered 3000 merks for me. So they brought me towards the end of the yard, and tied my hands behind my back, (having shot the other three to death). He that commanded them, scoffingly asked me, What I thought of my self now? I smiled and said, I had full contentment with my lot, but thought that I was at a loss that I was yet in time and my brethren in eternity. At which he swore he had reserved my life for a farther judgment to me. When we were going towards Kilmarnock; he (the lieutenant, who was a cousin of his own) called for me, and he and I went before the rest, and discoursed soberly about several things. I was free in telling him what I held to be sin, and what I held to be duty; and when we came to Kilmarnock tolbooth, he caused slack my arms a-little, and inquired if I desired my wounds dressed: and at the desire of some friends in the town, he caused bring in straw and some cloaths for my brother John Gemmel and me to lie upon, but would not suffer us to cast off our cloaths. On Monday, on the way to Ayr, he raged against me, and said that I had the blood of the three men on my head that were killed yesterday; and that I was guilty of all, and the cause of all the troubles that were come on the poor barony of Cunningham first and last. But when we came near the town, he called me out from the rest, and soberly asked me, What he should say to the superior officers in my behalf? I told him, That if the Lord would keep me from wronging truth, I was at a point already in what he put me to, as to suffering. When we first entered the tolbooth of Ayr, there came two and asked some things at me, but they were to little purpose. Then I was taken out with a guard and brought before Buchan. He asked me, 1st, If I was at that conventicle? I told him, I looked upon it as my duty. 2dly, How many armed were there? I told him, I went to hear the gospel preached, and not to take up the account of what men were there. 3dly, Where away went they, &c.? I told him it was more than I could tell. 4thly, Do you own the king? I told him, while he owned the way and work of God, I thought myself bound both to own and fight for him, but when he quitted the way of God, I thought I was obliged to quit him. 5thly, Will ye own the duke of York as king? I told him, I would not; for it was both against my principles and the laws of the nation. 6thly, Was you clear to join with Argyle? I said, No. He held me long, and spoke of many things. We had the musters through hands, popery, prelacy, presbyterianism, malignants, defensive and offensive arms, there being none in the room but him and I. I thought it remarkable, that all the time from sabbath and to this present, I had and have as much peace and quietness of my mind, as ever in my life. O help me to praise him! for he alone did it. Now, my dear friends and acquaintance, cease not to pray for me while I am in the body, for I may say I fear nothing, but that, thro' weakness, I wrong truth. And my last advice is, that ye be more diligent in following Christian duties. Alas! that I was not more sincere, zealous and forward for his work and cause in my day. -- Cease to be jealous one of another, and only let self-examination be more studied, and this, through his blessing, shall open a door to more of a Christian soul-exercise; and more of a soul-exercise, through his blessing, would keep away vain jangling, that does no way profit, but gives way to Satan and his temptations, &c.
|When I came to Edinburgh, I was the first night kept in the guard. The next night I was brought into their council-house, where were present Drummond (viz. Perth) Linlithgow and one Paterson, together with some others. They first said to me, that they looked upon me as one acquainted with all that was done amongst these rebellious persons, therefore the lords of his majesty's privy council would take it as a great favour that I would be free in telling them what I knew, that might most conduce to the peace and security of the nation. I told them, That when I came to particulars, I should speak nothing but truth, for I was more afraid to lie than to die, but I hoped they would be so much christians as not to bid me tell any thing that would burden my conscience. Then they began thus: (1.) What did ye in your meetings? I told them, We only sung a part of a psalm, read a part of the scripture, and prayed time about. (2.) Why call ye them fellowship and society-meetings? A. I wonder why you ask such questions, for these meetings were called so when our church was in her power. (3.) Were there any such meetings at that time? A. There were in some places of the land. (4.) Did the ministers of the place meet with them in these? A. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they did not. (5.) What mean you by your general meeting, and what do you do at them? While I was thinking what to answer, one of themselves told them more distinctly than I could have done, and jeeringly said, looking to me, When they have done, then they distribute their collections. I held my peace all the time. (6.) Where keep ye these meetings? A. In the wildest muirs we can think off. (7.) Will ye own the king's authority? A. No. (8.) What is your reason? you own the scriptures and your own confession of faith? A. That I do with all my heart. (9.) Why do ye not own the king's authority (naming several passages of scripture, and that in the 23d chapter of the confession)? A. There is a vast difference, for he being a Roman catholic, and I being not only brought up in the presbyterian principles from my youth, but also sworn against popery. (10.) What is that to you though he be popish, he is not bidding you be a papist, nor hindring you to live in your own religion? A. The contrary does appear, for we have not liberty to hear a gospel-preaching, but we are taken, killed and put to the hardest of sufferings. They said, It was not so, for we might have the gospel, if our wild principles would suffer us to hear it. I said, They might say so, but the contrary was well known through the land, for ye banished away our faithful ministers, and thrust in such as live rather like profligates than like ministers; so that poor things neither can nor dare join with them. (11.) Are ye clear to join with Argyle? A. No. Then one of them said, Ye will have no king but Mr. James Renwick; and asked, If I conversed with any other minister upon the field than Mr. Renwick? I told them, I conversed with no other: -- -- And a number of other things that were to little purpose.
|Sirs, this is a true hint of any material thing that passed betwixt them and me. As for their drinking of healths, never one of them spoke of it to me, neither did ever any of them bid me pray for their king; but they said, That they knew I was that much of a christian, that I would pray for all men. I told them, I was bound to pray for all; but prayer being instituted by a holy God, who was the hearer of prayer, no christian could pray when every profligate did bid them, and it was no advantage to their cause to suffer such a thing.
|How it may be afterwards with me, I cannot positively say, for he is a free Sovereign, and may come and go as he pleaseth. But this I say and can affirm, that he has not quarreled with me since I was prisoner; but has always waited on to supply me with all consolation and strength, as my necessity required; and now when I cannot lay down my own head nor lift it without help, yet of all the cases that ever I was, I had never more contentment. I can now give the cross of Christ a noble commendation. It was always sweet and pleasant, but never so sweet and pleasant as now. Under all my wanderings, and all my toilings, a prison was still so terrifying to me, that I could never have been so sure as I would have been. But immediately at my taking, he so shined on me, and ever since that, he and his cross are to me far beyond whatever he was before. Therefore let none scare or stand at a distance from their duty for fear of the cross, for now I can say from experience, that it is as easy, yea, and more sweet, to ly in prison in irons, than it is to be at liberty. But I must forbear at present.|
Upon the 26th, he was ordered by the council to be prosecuted before the justiciary. Accordingly on the 30th he was before the justiciary, and arraigned, his own confession being the only proof against him, which runs thus, |John Nisbet of Hardhill, prisoner, confesses, when examined before the council, That he was at Drumclog, had arms, and made use of them against the king's forces; and that he was at Glasgow; and that he was at a field meeting within these two months, betwixt Eglesham and Kilbride; &c.| The which being read, he adhered to, but refused to subscribe it. The assize brought him in guilty, and the lords sentenced him to be hanged at the grass-market, Dec.4th, betwixt two and four in the afternoon, and his lands, goods and gear to be forfeited to the king's use.
It was inserted by the council in his confession, That the reason why he could not join with Argyle was, that one Cleland told him, that Argyle and his party were against all kingly government. Mr. Wodrow thinks this false, and that it was only foisted in by the clerk of the council, it not being the first time that things of this nature had been done by them. But he behoves to have been in a mistake here, for in one of Hardhill's papers, in manuscript, left behind him in way of testimony, he gives this as the first reason for his not joining with Argyle, and the second was to the same purpose with what Mr. Wodrow has observed, viz. because the societies could not espouse his declaration, as the state of the quarrel was not concerted according to the ancient plea of the Scottish covenanters, and because it opened a door to a sinful confederacy.
His sentence was accordingly executed, and he appeared upon the scaffold with a great deal of courage and christian composure, and died in much assurance, and with a joy which none of his persecutors could intermeddle with. It was affirmed by some, who were present at his execution, that the scaffold or gibbet gave way and came down, which made some present flatter themselves, that by some laws in being, he had won his life (as they used to say in such cases). But behold a disappointment here, for he behoved not to escape so (for to this end he was born). Immediately all was reared up, and the martyr executed.
In his last testimony, which is inserted in the cloud of witnesses, after a recital of many choice scripture texts, which had been comforting and strengthening to him in the house of his pilgrimage, he comes among other things in point of testimony, to say, |Now, my dear friends in Christ, I have alway since the public resolutioners were for bringing in the malignants, and their interest, thought it my duty to join with the Lord's people, in witnessing against these sinful courses, and now see clearly that it has ended in nothing less than the making us captains, that we may return to Egypt by the open doors, that are made wide to bring in popery, and set up idolatry in the Lord's covenanted land, to defile it. Wherefore it is the unquestionable and indispensible duty of all who have any love to God and to his son Jesus Christ, to witness faithfully, constantly and conscientiously against all that the enemies have done or are doing to the overthrow of the glorious work of reformation, and banishing Christ out of these lands, by robbing him of his crown rights. -- -- And however it be, that many, both ministers and professors, are turning their back upon Christ and his cause, reproaching and casting dirt upon you and the testimony of the day. Yet let not this weaken your hands, for I assure you it will not be long to the fourth watch, and then he will come in garments dyed in blood, to raise up saviours in mount Zion, and to judge the mount of Esau; and then the cause of Jacob and Joseph shall be for fire, and the malignants, prelates and papists, shall be for stubble; the flame thereof shall be great: But my generation work being done with my time, I go to him who loved me, and washed me from all my sins.|
Then he goes on declaring, that he adhered to the scripture, confession of faith, catechisms larger and shorter, and all the pieces of reformation attained to in Scotland from 1638, to 1649, with all the protestations, declarations, &c. given by the faithful since that time; owns all their appearances in arms, at Pentland, Drumclog, Bothwel, Airs-moss, &c. against God's stated enemies, and the enemies of the gospel, and kingly government, as appointed and emitted in the word of God, they entering covenant ways and with covenant qualifications. And withal adds, |But I am persuaded, Scotland's covenanted God will cut off the name of Stuart, because they have stated themselves against religion, reformation, and the thriving of Christ's kingdom and kingly government in these lands; and although men idolize them so much now, yet ere long there shall none of them be to tyrannize in covenanted Britain any more.|
Then he proceeds in protesting against popery, prelacy, the granters and accepters of the indulgence, and exhorting the people of God to forbear contention and censuring one another; to keep up their sweet fellowship and society-meetings, with which he had been much comforted: -- -- And concludes, bidding farewel to all his dear fellow-sufferers, to his children, christian friends, sweet Bible, and to his wanderings, and contendings for truth. Welcomes death, the city of his God, the blessed company of angels, and the spirits of just men; but above all, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; -- -- Into whose hands he commits his spirit. Amen.
After he wrote his last speech, he was taken out immediately to the council, and from that to the place of execution. All the way thither he had his eyes lifted up to heaven. He seemed to rejoice, and his face shined visibly. He spoke but little till he came to the scaffold. When he came there, he jumped upon it and cried out, |My soul doth magnify the Lord, my soul doth magnify the Lord. I have longed these 16 years to seal the precious cause and interest of precious Christ with my blood, who hath answered and granted my request, and has left me no more to do but to come here and pour out my last prayer, -- sing forth my last praises of him in time on this sweet and desirable scaffold, mount that ladder, and then I shall get home to my father's house, see, enjoy, serve and sing forth the praises of my glorious Redeemer for ever, world without end.| Then he resumed the heads of his last testimony to the truth, and enlarged on what he owned and disowned, but the drums being beat, little could be heard. Only with difficulty he was heard to say, |The covenanted God of Scotland hath a dreadful storm of wrath provided, which he will surely pour out suddenly and unexpectedly, like a thunderbolt, upon these covenanted lands, for their perfidy, treachery, and apostacy, and then men shall say, they have got well away that got a scaffold for Christ.| He exhorted all to |make use of Christ for a hiding place; for blood, blood, shall be the judgment of these lands.| He sang the first six verses of the 34th psalm, and read the 8th of the Romans, and prayed divinely with great presence of mind and very loud. Then went up the ladder rejoicing and praising the Lord, which all evidently saw: And so ended the race which he had run with faith and patience upon the 4th of Dec.1685, in the 58th year of his age.
He was a man of strong memory, good judgment, and much given to self-denial. It is said of him, that, under his hidings in a cave, near or about his own house, he wrote out all the new testament; which probably (according to some accounts) might be a transcription of an old copy, which one of his ancestors is said to have copied out in the time of popery, when the scriptures were not permitted to be read in the vulgar language.
Hardhill was always a man very particular upon the testimony of the day, which made some compliers censure him as one too harsh and rugged in point of principle; but this must be altogether groundless. For in one of the forementioned manuscripts, he lets fall these words, |Now as for misreports, that were so much spread of me, I declare, as a dying person going out of time to eternity, that the Lord never suffered me in the least to incline to follow any of those persons who were drawn away to follow erroneous principles. Only I thought it still my duty, to be tender of them, as they had souls, wondring always wherefore I was right in any measure, and they got leave to fall in such a manner. I could never endure to hear one creature rail and cry out against another, knowing we are all alike by nature.| And afterwards when speaking of Argyle's declaration, he farther says, |Let all beware of refusing to join with ministers or professors, upon account of personal infirmities, which is ready to raise prejudice among persons. But it shall be found a walking contrary to the word of God, and so contrary to God himself, to join either with ministers or professors, that hold it lawful to meddle with sinful things; for the holy scriptures allow of no such thing. He is a holy God, and all that name the name of God must depart from evil.|
There were also twenty-six steps of defection drawn up by him (yet in manuscript) wherein he is most explicit in proving from clear scripture proofs the sinfulness of the land's apostacy from God, both nationally and personally, from the public resolutions to the time of his death in the year 1685. He was by some thought too severe in his design of killing the prisoners at Drumclog. But in this he was not altogether to blame, for the enemies word was No quarters, and the sufferers were the same; and we find it grieved Mr. Hamilton very much, when he beheld some of them spared, after the Lord had delivered them into their hand. Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us, &c. Psalm cxxxvii.8. Yea Hardhill himself seems to have had clear grounds and motives for this, in one of the above mentioned steps of defection, with which we shall conclude this narrative.
|Fifteenthly, As there has been rash, envious and carnal executing of justice on his and the church's enemies, so he has also been provoked to reject, cast off, and take the power out of his people's hand, for being so sparing of them, when he brought forth and gave a commission to execute on them that vengeance due unto them, as it is Psalm cxlix.9 For as justice ought to be executed in such and such a way and manner as aforesaid; so it ought to be fully executed without sparing, as is clear from Joshua vii.24. &c. For sparing the life of the enemy, and fleeing upon the spoil, 1 Sam. xv.18. Saul is sharply rebuked, and though he excused himself, yet for that very thing he is rejected from being king. Let the practice of Drumclog be remembered and mourned for. If there was not a deep ignorance, reason might teach this; for what master, having servants and putting them to do his work, would take such a flight at his servants hands, as to do a part of his work, and come and say to the master, That it is not needful to do the rest; when the not doing of it would be dishonourable to the master, and hurtful to the whole family. Therefore was the wrath of the Lord against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his inheritance, and hiding his face from his people, making them afraid at the shaking of a leaf, and to flee when none pursueth, being a scorn and a hissing to enemies and fear to some who desire to befriend his cause. And, O lay to heart and mourn for what has been done to provoke him to anger, in not seeking the truth to execute judgment, and therefore he has not pardoned. Behold! for your iniquities have you sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away, Isa. l.1.; &c.|