At his execution, John Nisbet of Hardhill “sang the first six verses of the 34th psalm, and read the eighth chapter of the Romans, and prayed with great presence of mind, and very loud. He then went up the ladder, rejoicing and praising the Lord.”


“John Nisbet was born about the year 1627. He was the son of James Nisbet, and was lineally descended from Murdoch Nisbet of Hardhill, who, about the year 1500, joined those called the Lollards of Kyle; when a persecution being raised against them, he fled over seas, and took a copy of the New Testament, in writing, along with him. Some time after, he returned home, and digged a vault in the bottom of his own house, to which he retired, serving God, reading his new book, and instructing such as had access to him out of it.

John Nisbet being somewhat advanced in years, and having the advantage of a tall, strong, well built body, and of a bold, daring, manly spirit, went abroad and joined the military. Having spent some time in foreign countries he returned to Scotland, and swore the covenants at the same time that King Charles, upon his coronation, swore them at Scone, viz. 1650. Then, having left the military, he came home and married Margaret Law, one who proved a 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…”

At the time of his execution…

“He sang the first six verses of the 34th psalm, and read the eighth chapter of the Romans, and prayed with great presence of mind, and very loud. He then went up the ladder, rejoicing and praising the Lord. And so, upon the 4th of December, 1685, in the 58th year of his age, ended that race, which he had run with faith and patience.”

Psalm 34:1-6 from the 1650 Scottish Psalter:

1 God will I bless all times; his praise my mouth shall still express.
2 My soul shall boast in God: the meek shall hear with joyfulness.
3 Extol the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, he heard, and did me from all fears deliver.
5 They look’d to him, and lighten’d were: not shamed were their faces.
6 This poor man cry’d, God heard, and sav’d him from all his distresses.

From Lives of the Scottish Covenanters by John Howie, p465 ff, found here


John Nisbet the younger “had a grave courage and staidness when he came to the place of execution; he prayed, and sang Psalm 16:5, to the close, with a great deal of affection and joy.”

“In 1683, Major White was fully empowered to fine and imprison all those who refused to acknowledge the Episcopal rule, or were supposed to sympathise with the Covenanters. It was in this year the Council granted him Justiciary power upon his apprehending John Nisbet the younger, as he was styled, to distinguish him from John Nisbet of Hardhill to prosecute him on the spot on the charge of being at Bothwell Bridge. He was accordingly tried at Kilmarnock, and sentenced to be hanged at the Cross. The spot where the gallows stood at the south comer is still marked by a circle of small white stones, and the initials of his name, J. N. Wodrow says “he had a grave courage and staidness when he came to the place of execution ; he prayed, and sang Psalm 16:5, to the close, with a great deal of affection and joy.”

Psalm 16:5 from the 1650 Scottish Psalter:

God is of mine inheritance and cup the portion;
The lot that fallen is to me thou dost maintain alone.

Nisbet belonged to the parish of Loudon. His execution was the only one which took place at Kilmarnock. His remains were buried in the Low Church burying-ground; an upright stone marks his grave, on which is carved a pistol, cross swords, and flags, and on a sculptured scroll the words,

Solemn League and Covenant, God and our Country, and underneath is inscribed :

who was Taken by-
Major Balfour’s Party &
Suffered at Kilmarnock
4th April 1683 for adhering
To the Word of GOD and our
Covenants. Rev. xii. & 1 1
Renewed by Public
A.D. 1823.

On the other side:

Come, Reader, see, here pleasant NISBET lies :
Whose Blood doth pierce the high and lofty Skies.
Kilmarnock did his latter Hour perceive ;
And Christ his Soul to Heaven did receive.
Yet bloody Torrans did his Body raise
And bury’d it into another place :
Saying, Shall Rebels ly in Grave with me?
We’ll bury him where Evil-doers be.

Near the grave of Nisbet is a martyr-stone of remembrance to John Ross and John Shields, who suffered at Edinburgh, and had their heads set up at Kilmarnock.

From Inscriptions on the Tombstones and Monuments Erected in Memory of the Covenanters [microform] with historical introd. and notes (1881), p 134-135 found here

Pilgrim Covenant Church of Singapore

The following article on Pilgrim Covenant Church of Singapore appeared recently in The Straits Times newspaper:

“The church sings psalms from a 1650 Scottish hymn book in a room without adornment. There are no instruments.

Pastor J. J. Lim, 46, exhorts the congregation of 150 at Pilgrim Covenant Church, perched on stackable plastic chairs, to obey God rather than bend to modern society’s norms and noise.

In 1999, the former software engineer founded the church, which desires to live right by being rooted in Biblical truths. ‘We are taught how to worship in the fear of God rather than merely for carnal enjoyment,’ he says.

‘We are taught how to respect and obey our civil authorities. We are taught to do good works and how to deal with disappointments in life. We are taught how husbands and wives ought to relate to one another.’

Such an emphasis on upright living flows from searching the Bible and the Reformed statements of beliefs, mainly the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is regarded as an accurate summary of the Bible covering all aspects of church, society and family life. ‘It teaches us who God is, and what duty God requires of man. It points us to the Holy and Sovereign God, and to Jesus Christ our Saviour,’ Pastor Lim explains.

Reformed churches are a spectrum of Protestant denominations established in 16th-century Europe. They were part of the Reformation, a radical time when reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin opposed the doctrines and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

Theologian Simon Chan of the Trinity Theological College notes: ‘Reformed churches are a mixed bag ranging from purists like the Bible Presbyterians to the majority of Presbyterians in Singapore who are quite indistinguishable from other ‘mainstream’ Christians.’

Some Reformed churches want to return to the ideal of John Calvin’s 16th-century Geneva, where he was influential as a church reformer. ‘It presupposes that that period was the unsurpassed high point of the Reformation.’

Core Reformed beliefs include the sovereignty of God, and that salvation depends on God’s grace and not man’s merit or effort.

At Pilgrim Covenant Church, roots and anchors are important. Says its deacon, Dr. Fong Chee Wai, a biomedical scientist in his early 40s: ‘We live in a world that is changing constantly – our physical, social, economic and cultural environment evolves so fast due to Singapore’s openness to the world.

‘However, it is important that we hold firmly to our Christian values and principles, and not let our secular life dictate our worship and view of God.’

Sometimes, the pervasive sense of roots slips into speech. Pastor Lim prays in Elizabethan English with words like ‘thee’ and ‘thy’. When asked, he smiles good-naturedly and says he grew up in a Bible Presbyterian church that used the King James Bible translated in 1611. ‘We naturally speak in King James English when we address the Lord. But that is not essential. Prayer is an outpouring of the heart. I relate to God as sovereign, before whom I show deep reverence.’

Members of the more back-to-roots Reformed coterie know what to say when fellow Christians think their churches are strict or boring. Student Sarah Lim, 15, who attends Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, says the Reformed life is ‘invigorating and passionate’ – whether she is studying the life of unrelenting reformers or bonding with friendly church mates of all ages over sports, picnics, and Bible study.

Certainly, Mr. Jeff Low, 26, from Pilgrim Covenant, leads a life steeped in beauty. The administrator of a contemporary Western art gallery is trained in classical guitar. His repertoire runs from classical to Spanish flemenco, and he has danced the tango for years.

While music is his passion, he can appreciate singing without instruments from the 1650 Psalter or hymn book. Unlike modern versions, it contains only biblical psalms arranged for singing.

Dr. Fong Choon Sam, dean of academic studies at the Baptist Theological Seminary, discerns both roots and constant reform within the movement. ‘In their time, reformation ideals were radical and almost anti-institution,’ he says.

But there is a Reformational saying that ‘the church is always in reform’. So the younger generation is taking this up, and saying the modern church needs reform all over again. ‘So yes, there is a need to return to some old things.’

Meanwhile, Pastor Lim prays that more Singaporeans, always busy, with no time to reflect, and seeking instant gratification even in church, will ‘return to the old paths’.

He says: ‘Unless we return to God for stability, we are essentially left with shifting sand.’

by Lee Siew Hua

ORIGINS: The first Reformed churches were established in Switzerland, and they spread in Europe during the 16th century. They were one branch of the Protestant Reformation, ignited when reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin opposed the doctrines, practices and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. New Protestant churches were birthed in this religious upheaval.

TRADITIONS: Reformed theology is expressed in statements of belief such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, deemed an accurate summary of doctrines and covering all aspects of church, society and family. The more austere churches limit their music to Biblical Psalms and exclude instruments.

BELIEFS: The movement emphasises God’s sovereignty, and that it is God’s grace that powerfully saves and regenerates sinners – salvation is not based on man’s merit.

IN SINGAPORE: Reformed churches are a spectrum of denominations ranging from purists like the Pilgrim Covenant Church and Bible Presbyterians to the majority of Presbyterians, now quite indistinguishable from other mainstream Christians.”

“How Almighty God is to be worshipped is no trifle to be decided according to human pleasure and preference.”

“2. The Covenanter Church believes that it is sinful to sing uninspired hymns in the worship of God. The Presbyterian, Methodist and many other denominations do not so believe. We are convinced that we can give a valid Scriptural proof for our position on this matter. To us it is not a matter of indifference, but a very important matter indeed. How Almighty God is to be worshipped is no trifle to be decided according to human pleasure and preference. But the advocate of open communion asks, in effect, that the position of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches be made the rule that shall govern the practice of the Covenanter Church concerning admission to the Lord’s Supper.”

J.G. Vos discussing admittance to the Lord’s table.

The whole work can be found here