Second Biography - from "Scots Worthies"
John Welsh was born a gentleman, his father being laird of
Colliston in Nithsdale, an estate rather competent than large. He was born
about the year 1570, the dawning of the Reformation being then but dark, and
became a rich example of grace and mercy, although with him the night went
before the day, being a most hopeless extravagant boy. It was not enough for
him frequently, when he was a young stripling, to run away from school and play
the truant; but after he had passed his grammar, and was come to be a youth, he
left the school and his fathers house, and went and joined himself to the
thieves on the English border, who lived by robbing the two nations, and
amongst them he stayed until he spent the suit of clothes. Then, when he was
clothed only with rags, the prodigals misery brought him to the
prodigals resolution, so he resolved to return to his fathers
house, but durst not adventure till he should interpose a reconciler.
In his return homewards he took Dumfries in his way, where he had an aunt, one Agnes Forsyth, and with her he spent some days, earnestly entreating her to reconcile him to his father. While he lurked in her house, his father came providentially to the house to visit his cousin, Mrs Forsyth; and after they had talked a while, she asked him whether he had ever hard any news ol his son John. To her he replied witi great grief, 0 cruel woman, how can you name him to me! The first news I expect to hear of him is that he is hanged as a thief. She answered that many a profligate boy had become a virtuous man, and comforted him. He insisted upon his sad complaint, but asked whether she knew if his lost son were yet alive. She answered, Yes, he was; and she hoped he should prove a better man than he was a boy; and with that she called upon him to come to his father. He came weeping and kneeled, beseeching his father, for Christs sake, to pardon his misbehaviour, and deeply engaged to be a new man. His father reproached and threatened him, yet at length by his tears, and Mrs Forsyths importunities, he was persuaded to a reconciliation. The boy entreated his father to send him to college, and there to try his behaviour; and if ever thereafter he should break off, he said he should be content that his father should disclaim him for ever. So his father carried him home and put him to the college, and there he became a diligent student of great expectation, showing himself a sincere convert. And so he proceeded to the ministry.
His first settlement (in 1588) was at Selkirk, while he was yet very young and the country rude. His ministry was rather admired by some than received by many, for he was always attended by the prophets shadow, the hatred of the wicked; yea, even the ministers of that country were more ready to pick a quarrel with his person than to follow his doctrine, as may appear to this day in their synodical records, where we find he had many to censure and few to defend him. Yet it was thought his ministry in that place was not without fruit, though he stayed but a short time there. Being a young man unmarried, he boarded himself in the house of a man named Mitcheihill, and took a young boy of his to be his bedfellow, who to his dying day retained both a respect to John Welsh and his ministry, from the impressions Mr Welshs behaviour made upon his apprehension, though but a child. His custom was, when he went to bed at night, to lay a Scots plaid above his bedclothes, and when he went to his night prayers to sit up and cover himself negligently therewith, and so to continue; for from the beginning of his ministry to his death he reckoned the day ill-spent if he stayed not seven or eight hours in prayer. This the boy did not forget, even to old age.
An old man of the name of Ewart, in Selkirk, who remembered Mr Welshs being in that place, said, he was a type of Christ; an expression more significant than proper, for his meaning was that he was a man who imitated Christ, as indeed in many things he did. He also said that Welshs custom was to preach publicly once every day, and to spend his whole time in spiritual exercises; that some in that place waited well upon his ministry with great tenderness, but that he was constrained to leave because of the malice of the wicked.
The special cause of his departure was a profane gentleman in the country, Scot of Headschaw, whose family is now extinct. Welsh, either because he had reproved him, or merely from hatred, was most unworthily abused by the unhappy man, and among the rest of the injuries he did him this was one: Mr Welsh kept always two good horses for his own use; and the wicked gentleman, when he could do no more, either with his own hand or by his servants, cut off the rumps of the two innocent beasts, upon which they both died. Such base usage as this persuaded him to listen to a call to the ministry at Kirkcudbright, which was his next post.
When he was preparing to leave Selkirk, he could not find a man in the whole town to transport his furniture, except Ewart, who was at that time a poor young man, but master of two horses, with which he transported Mr Welshs goods, and so left him. But as he took his leave, Welsh gave him his blessing and a piece of gold for a token, exhorting him to fear God, and promised he should never want, which promise Providence made good through the whole course of the mans life, as was observed by all his neighbours.
At Kirkcudbright he stayed not long; but there he reaped a harvest of converts, who continued long after his departure, and became a part of Samuel Rutherfords flock (though not of his parish), while he was minister of Anwoth. Yet when his call to Ayr came, the people of the parish of Kirkcudbright never offered to detain him, so his translation to Ayr was the more easy.
While he was at Kirkcudbright he met with a young gentleman in scarlet and silver lace (the gentlemans name was Mr Robert Glendinning), newly come home from his travels. He much surprised the young man by telling him that he behoved to change his garb and way of life, and betake himself to the study of the Scriptures; which at that time was not his business, for he should be his successor in the ministry at Kirkcudbright; which accordingly came to pass some time thereafter.
Mr Welsh was translated to Ayr in the year 1590, and there he continued till he was banished. There he had a very hard. beginning, but a very sweet end. For when he came first to the town, the country was so wicked and the hatred of godliness so great, that there could not be found one in all the town who would let him a house to dwell in, so he was constrained to accommodate himself for a time as best he might, in part of a gentlemans house, whose name was JohnStuart, merchant, and some-time provost of Ayr, an eminent Christian, and great assistant of Mr. Welsh.
When he first took u; his residence in Ayr, the place was so divided into factions and filled with bloody conflicts, that a man could hardly walk the streets with safety. Welsh made it his first undertaking to remove the bloody quarrellings, but found it a very difficult work; yet such was his earnestness to pursue his design, that many times he would rush betwixt two parties of men fighting, even in the midst of blood and wounds. He used to cover his head with a head-piece before he went to separate these bloody enemies, but would never use a sword, that they might see he came for peace and not for war; and so, by little and little, he made the town a peaceable habitation. His manner was, after he had ended a skirmish amongst his neighbours, and reconciled them, to cause a table to be covered upon the street; he there brought the enemies together, and beginning with prayer, persuaded them to profess themselves friends, and eat and drink together; then last of all he ended the work with singing a psalm.
After the rude people began to observe his example, and listen to his heavenly doctrine, he came quickly to such respect amongst them, that he became not only a necessary counsellor, without whose advice they would do nothing, but also an example to imitate.
He gave himself wholly to ministerial exercises, preaching once every day. He prayed the third part of his time; and was unwearied in his studies; for a proof of this, it was found among his papers that he had abridged Suarezs Metaphysics when they came first to his hand, even when he was well stricken in years. By all this it appears that he had been not only a man of great diligence, but also of a strong and robust natural constitution, otherwise he had never endured the fatigue.
Sometimes, before he went to sermon, he would send for his elders, and tell them he was afraid to go to the pulpit, because he found himself sore deserted; thereafter he would desire one or more of them to pray, and then he would venture to the pulpit. But it was observed that this humble exercise used ordinarily to be followed by a flame of extraordinary assistance; so near neighbours are, many times, contrary dispositions and frames. He would often retireto the church at Ayr which was some distance from the town, and there spend the whole night in prayer; for he used to allow his affections full expression, and prayed not only with an audible, but sometimes a loud voice.
There was in Ayr, before he came to it, an aged man, a minister of the town, named Porterfield. The man was judged no bad man for his personal inclinations, but was of so easy a disposition, that he frequently used to go too great a length with his neighbours in many dangerous practices; and amongst the rest he used to go to the bow butts and archery on the Sabbath afternoon, to Welshs great dissatisfaction. But the way he used to reclaim him was not by bitter severity, but this gentle policy. Welsh, together with John Stuart and Hugh Kennedy, his two intimate friends, used to spend the Sabbath afternoon in religious conference and prayer, and to this exercise they invited Porterfield, which he could not refuse; by which means he was not only diverted from his former sinful practices, but likewise brought to a more watchful and edifying behaviour in his course of life.
While Welsh was at Ayr, the Lords Day was greatly profaned at a gentlemans house about eight miles distant, by reason of great confluence of people playing at the football and other pastimes. After writing several times to him to suppress the profanation of the Lords Day at his house (which he slighted, not loving to be called a puritan), Welsh came one day to his gate, calling him out, to tell him that he had a message from God to show him, viz.: that because he had slighted the advice given him from the Lord, and would not restrain the profanation of the Lords Day committed in his bounds, therefore God would cast him out of his house, and none of his posterity should enjoy it. Which accordingly came to pass; for, although he was in a good external situation at this time, yet henceforth all things went against him, until he was obliged to sell his estate; and when giving the purchaser possession thereof, he told his wife and children that he had found Welsh a true prophet.
Welsh married Elizabeth Knox, daughter of the famous John Knox, minister at Edinburgh, who lived with, him from his youth till his death. By her he had three sons. 1. The first. named William was a doctor of medecine, and was unhappilly killed upon an innocent mistake in the Low Countries [whither he had gone for the practice of his profession]. 2. The second, Josias, who was heir to his fathers graces and blessings, was minister at Temple-Patrick in the north of Ireland, and was commonly called the Cock of the Conscience by the people of that country, because of his extraordinary awakening and rousing gift. He was one of that blessed society of ministers, which wrought the extraordinary work in the north of Ireland, about the year 1636, but was himself a man most sadly exercised with doubts, and would often say, That minister was much to be pitied, who was called to comfort weak saints, and had no comfort himself. He died in his youth, and left as his successor, Mr John Welsh, minister for Irongray. What business was made in Scotland, in the time of the late episcopal persecution, for the space of twenty years, is known to all Scotland. He maintained his dangerous post of preaching the Gospel upon the mountains, notwithstanding of the threatenings of the state, the hatred of the bishops, the price set upon his head, and all the fierce industry of his cruel enemies.
3. Nathaniel, the third son, was most lamentably lost at sea; for, when the ship in which he was, sank, he swam to a rock in the water, and starved there for want of necessary food and refreshment. When, found, he was in a praying posture, upon his bended knees, with his hands stretched out; and this was all the satisfaction his friends and the world had upon his melancholy death. As the duty wherein John Welsh abounded and excelled most was prayer, so his greatest attainments fell that way. He used to say, he wondered how a Christian could lie in bed all night and not rise to pray; and many times he rose, and many times he watched. One night he rose and went into the next room, where he stayed so long at secret prayer, that his wife, fearing he might catch cold, was constrained to rise and follow him, and as she hearkened, she heard him speak, as by interrupted sentences, Lord, wilt Thou not grant me Scotland ? and after a pause, Enough, Lord, enough. She asked him afterwards what he meant by saying, Enough, Lord, enough? He showed himself dissatisfied with her curiosity; but told her that he had been wrestling with the Lord for Scotland, and found there was a sad time at hand, but that the Lord would be gracious to a remnant. This was about the time when bishops first overspread the land and corrupted the Church.
This is more wonderful still: An honest minister, who was a parishioner of Mr Welsh for many a day, said, that one night as he watched in his garden very late, and some friends were waiting upon him in his house, and wearying because of his long stay, one of them chanced to open a window toward the place where he walked, and saw clearly a strange light surround him, and heard him speak strange words about his spiritual joy.
But though John Welsh, on account of his holiness, abilities, and success, had acquired among his subdued people a very great respect, yet was he never in such admiration as after the great plague which raged in, Scotland in his time. And one cause was this: The magistrates of Ayr, forasmuch as this town alone was free, and the country around infected, thought fit to guard the ports with sentinels and watchmen. One day two travelling merchants, each with a pack of cloth upon a horse, came to the town desiring entrance, that they might sell their goods, producing a pass from the magistrates of the town from whence they came, which was at that time sound and free. Notwithstanding all this, the sentinels stopped them till the magistrates were called, and when they came they would do nothing without their ministers advice; so John Welsh was called, and his opinion asked. He demurred, and putting off his hat, with his eyes towards heaven for a pretty space, though he uttered no audible words, yet he continued in a praying posture, and after a little space told the magistrates that they would, do well to discharge these travellers their town, aflirming, with great asseveration, that the plague was in these packs. So the magistrates commanded them to be gone; and they went to Cumnock, a town about twenty miles distant, and there sold their goods, which kindled such an infection in that place that the living were hardly able to bury their dead. This made the people begin to think of Mr Welsh as an oracle.
Yet as he walked with God, and kept close with Him, so he forgot not man; for he used frequently to dine abroad with such of his friends as he thought were persons with whom he might maintain the communion of the saints; and once in the year he used to invite all his familiar acquaintances in the town to a treat in his house, where there was a banquet of holiness and sobriety. He continued the course of his ministry in Ayr till King Jamess purpose of destroying the Church of Scotland, by establishing bishops, was ripe, and then it became his duty to edify the Church by his sufferings, as formerly lie had done by his doctrine.
The reason why KingJames VI. was so violent for bishops, was neither their Divine institution, which he denied they had, nor yet the profit the Church should reap by them, for he knew well both the men, and their communications; but merely because he believed they were useful instruments to turn a limited monarchy into absolute dominion, and subjects into slaves, the design in the world which he minded most. Always in the pursuit of his design, he resolved first to destroy General Assemblies, knowing well that so long as Assemblies might convene in freedom, bishops could never get their designed authority in Scotland; and the dissolution of Assemblies he brought about in this manner: The General Assembly which was held at Holyrood House in November 1602, with the kings consent, appointed their next meeting to be kept at Aberdeen on the last Tuesday of July 1604; but before the day came, the king, by his commissioner, the Laird of Laurieston, and Mr Patrick Galloway, moderator of the last General Assembly, in a letter directed to the several presbyteries, prorogued the meeting till the first Tuesday of July 1605, at the same place.
Last of all, in June 1605, the meeting expected to be kept in the month following was, by a new letter from the kings commissioner and the commissioners of the General Assembly, absolutely discharged and prohibited, but without naming any day or place for another Assembly; and so the series of our Assemblies expired, never to revive again in due form till the Covenant was renewed in 1638. However, many of the godly ministers of Scotland, knowingwell that once that if once the hedge of government was broken, corruption or doctrine would soon follow, resolved not to quit their Assemblies so. And therefore a number of them convened at Aberdeen upon the first Tuesday of July 1605, being the last day that was distinctly appointed by authority; and when they had met, did no more but constitute themselves and dissolve.
Among those was Mr Welsh, who arrived at Aberdeen on the 4th of July [two days after the Assembly]; and though he had not been present upon that precise day, yet, because he came to the place and approved of what his brethren had done, was accused as guilty of the treasonable act committed by them - so dangerous a point was the name of a General Assembly in King Jamess jealous judgment.
Within a month after this meeting many of these godly men were incarcerated, some in one prison, some in another. Mr Welsh was sent to Edinburgh Tolbooth, and then to Blackness; and so from prison to prison, till he was banished to France, never to see Scotland again.
And now the scene of Welshs life begins to alter; but before his sufferings he had this strange warning: After the meeting at Aberdeen was over, he retired immediately to Ayr. One night he rose from his wife and went into his garden, as his custom was, but stayed longer than ordinary, which troubled his wife, who when he returned, expostulated with him very hard for, his staying so long to wrong his health. He bade her be quiet, for it should be well with them; but he knew well that he should never preach more in Ayr, and accordingly, before the next Sabbath, he was carried prisoner to Blackness Castle. After this he, with many others who had met at Aberdeen, were brought before the. Council of Scotland at Edinburgh, to answer for their rebellion and contempt in holding a General Assembly not authorised by the king. And because they declined the Privy Council as cornpetent judges in causes purely spiritual,. such as the nature and constitution of a General Assembly, they were remitted to prison at Blackness and other places. Thereafter, six of the most considerable were brought over night to Linlithgow, before the criminal judges, to answer to an accusation of high treason, at the instance of the kings advocate, for declining, as he alleged, the kings lawful authority, in refusing to admit the council as judges competent in the cause; and after their accusation and answer were read, by the verdict of a jury of very considerable gentlemen, they were condemned as guilty of high treason, the punishment deferred till the kings pleasure should be known. Thereafter, their punishment was made banishment, that the cruel sentence might somewhat seem to soften their severe punishment,as the king had contrived it.
While he was in Blackness, Welsh wrote his famous, letter to Lilias Graham, Countess of Wigton, in which be utters in the strongest terms his consolation under persecution,, his desire to be dissolved that he might be with the Lord, the true cause of the sufferings of himself and his fellow-confessors and the state of their testimony, and the judgments he foresaw coming upon Scotland. After a few introductory sentences, he thus proceeds: My desire to remain here, is not great, knowing that so long as I am in this house of clay I am absent from God: and if it were dissolved, I look for a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. In this I groan, desiring to be clothed upon with my house which is in heaven, if so be that being clothed, I should not be found naked. Fir I that am in this tabernacle do oftimes groan and sigh within myself:, being oftimes burdened: not that I would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. I long to eat of the fruit of that tree which is planted in the midst of the paradise of God; and to drink of the pure river, clear as crystal, that runs through the streets of the New Jerusalem. I know that my Redeemer liveth,and that He shall stand at the latter day upon The earth: and that though after my skin worms devour my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself and not another for me, and mine eyes shall behold Him, though my reins be consumed within me. I long to be refreshed in company with the souls of them that are under the altar, who were slain for the Word of God and the testimony which they held; and to have these long white robes given me, that I may walk in white with those glorious saints who have washed their garments, anti made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Why should I think it a strange thing to be removed from this place to that wherein is my Hope, my Joy, my Crown, my Elder Brother, my Head, my Father, my Comforter, and all the glorified saints, and where the song of Moses and of the Lamb is sung joyfully; ,where we shall no longer be compelled to sit by the rivers of Babylon, and hang our harps upon the willows, but shall take them and sing the new hallelujah" Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, to Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever! What is there under this old vault of the heavens, and in this old worn-out earth (which is under the bondage of corruption,, groaning and travailing in pain, and as it were still shooting out the head, looking, waiting, and longing fore the redemption of the sons of God) - what is there, I say, that should make me desire to remain here? I expect that new heaven and that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, and wherein I shall dwell for evermore. I look to get entry into the New Jerusalem, at one of those twelve gates whereupon are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. I know that Christ Jesus hath prepared room for me; why may I not then, with boldness in His blood, step into that glory into which my Head and Lord hath gone before me? Jesus Christ is the Door and Porter; who, then, shall hold me out? Will He let them perish for whom He died? Will He let that poor sheep be plucked out of His hand for whom He hath laid down His life? Who shall condemn the man whom God hath justified? Who shall lay anything to the charge of the man for whom Christ hath died, or rather risen again? I know I have grievously transgressed, but where sin abounded grace hath superabounded. I know my sins are red as scarlet and crimson, yet the blood of Christ my Lord can make me as white as snow and as wool. Whom have I in heaven but Him, or whom desire I on earth beside Him? 0 Thou, the fairest among the children of men, the light of the Gentiles, the glory of the Jews, the life, of the dead, the joy of angels and saints, my soul panteth to be with Thee! I will put my spirit into Thy hands and Thou wilt not put it out of thy presence. I will come unto thee, for Thou castest none away that come unto Thee, 0 Thou only delight of mankind! Thou camest to seek and save that which was lost. Thou, seeking me, hast found me: and now being found by Thee, I hope, 0 Lord, Thou wilt not let me perish. I desire to be with Thee, and do long for the fruition of Thy blessed presence and joy of Thy countenance. Thou, the only good Shepherd, art full of grace and truth: therefore I trust Thou wilt not thrust me out of the door of Thy presence and grace. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Thee. Who shall separate me from Thy love? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things I am more than conqueror through Thy Majesty who hath loved me. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, is able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. I refuse not to die with Thee, that I may live with Thee. I refuse not to suffer with Thee, that I may rejoice with Thee. Shall not all things be pleasant to me which may be my last step, by which orjpon which I may come unto Thee? When shall I be satiate with Thy face? When shall I be drunk with Thy pleasures? Come, Lord Jesus, and tarry not. The Spirit saith Come. The Bride saith Come. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly, and tarry not.
Why should the multitude of mine iniquities, or the greatness of them, affright me? Why should I faint in this mine adversity to be with Thee? The greater sinner I have been, the greater glory will be Thy grace to me, unto all eternity. 0 unspeakable joy, endless, infinite, and bottomless compassion! 0 ocean of never-fading pleasures! 0 love of loves! 0 the height and the depth, and breadth and length, of that love of Thine that passeth knowledge! 0 uncreated love! Beginning without beginning, and ending without end! Thou art my glory, my joy, my gain, and my crown. Thou hast set me under Thy shadow with great delight, and Thy fruit is sweet unto my taste. Thou hast brought me into Thy.banqueting house, and placed me in Thine orchard. Stay me with Thy flagons, and comfort me with Thine apples: for I am sick, and my soul is wounded with Thy love. Behold, Thou art fair, my love: behold, Thou art fair, Thou hast doves eyes. Behold, Thou art fair, my love, yea, pleasant also: our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedars, and our rafters are of fir. How fair and how pleasant art Thou! 0 love for delights! my heart is ravished with Thee. 0 when shall I see Thy face? How long wilt Thou delay to be to me as a roe or a young hart, leaping upon the mouintains and skipping upon the hills? As a bundle of myrrh be Thou unto me, and lie all night between my breasts. Because of the savour of Thy good ointment, Thy name is as an ointment poured out; therefore desire I to go out of the desert, and through to the place where Thou sittest at Thy repose, and where Thou makest Thy flocks to rest at noon. When shall I be filled with Thy love? Certainly, if a man knew how precious it were, he would count all things dross and dung to gain it. I would long for that scaffold, or that axe, or that cord, that might be to me the last step of this my wearisome journey, to go to Thee, my Lord. Thou who knowest the meaning of the spirit, give answer to the speaking, sighing, and groaning of the spirit within me. Thou who hast inflamed my heart to speak to Thee in this silent yet love-language of ardent and fervent desire, speak again unto my heart; answer my desires which Thou hast made me speak to Thee. 0 death! where is thy sting? 0 grave! where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God that giveth me the victory, through my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What can be troublesome to me, since my Lord looks upon me with so amiable a countenance? And how greatly do I long for these embracements of my Lord! 0 that He would kjiss me with the kisses of His mouth! for His love is better than wine. O that my soul were the throne he might sit eternally! 0 that my heart were the temple wherein He might be magnified and dwell for ever!
Who am I that He should first have called me, and then constituted me a minister of the glad tidings of the Gospel of salvation these sixteen years already, and now last of all to be a sufferer for His cause and kingdom? Now let it be so, that I have fought my fight and run my race, and now from henceforth is laid up for me that crown of righteousness which the Lord that righteous God will give; and not to me only, but to all that love His appearance and choose to witness this, that Jesus Christ is the King of saints, and that His Church is a most free kingdom, yea, as free as any kingdom under heaven, not only to convocate, hold, and keep her meetings, and conventions, and assemblies, but also to judge of all her affairs in all her meetings and conventions amongst her members and subjects. These two points, first, that Christ is the Head of the Church; secondly, that she is free in her government from all other jurisdiction except Christs - these two points, I say, are the special cause of our imprisonment, being now convicted as traitors for the maintaining thereof. We have been ever waiting with joyfulness to give the last testimony of our blood in confirmation thereof, if it should please our god to be so favourable as to honour us with that dignity: yea, I do affirm that these two points above written, and all other things which belong to Christs crown, sceptre, and kingdom, are not subject, and cannot be, to any other authority, but to His own altogether. So that I would be most glad to be offered up as a sacrifice for so glorious a truth.
But alas! I fear that my sins and the abuse of so glorious things as I have found deprive me of so fair a crown; yet my Lord doth know, if He should call me to it and strengthen me in it, it would be to me the most glorious day and the gladdest hour I ever saw in this life; but I am in His hand to do with me whatsoever shall please His Majesty. It may suffice me I have had so long a time in the knowledge of the Gospel, and that I have seen the things that I have seen, and heard the things that I have heard, and through the grace of God I have been so long a witness of these glorious and good news in my weak ministry, and that my witnessing hath not been alto. gether without fruit and blessing. So that I hope at that day I shall have Him to be my crown, my glory, my joy and reward, and therefore boldly I say with Simeon, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; not in a peaceable dying in my bed, but by surrendering unto Him my spirit, and the sealing and stamping this truth with my blood. I desire not to have it remedied, but let my Lords will be done. . brethren, bishops, counsellors, and commissioner, it is they, even they, that have stirred up our prince against us. We must therefore lay the blame and burden of our blood upon them especially, however the rest above written be partakers of their sins with them: and as to the rest of our brethren, who either by silence approve or by crying, Peace, peace, strengthen the arm of the wicked that they cannot return, and in the meantime make the hearts of the righteous sad, they shall all in like manner be guilty of high treason against the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, His crown and kingdom.
Next unto them, all our commissioners, chancellor, president, comptroller, advocate; and next unto them, all that first or last sat in council, and did not believe plain testimony for Jesus Christ's and His kingdom, for which we do suffer. And next unto them all those who should have at present, and who should. at such times have come and made open testimony of Christ faithfully, although it had been contrary to plain law and with the hazard of their lives. When the poor Jews were in such danger that nothing was expected but utter destruction, Queen Esther, after three days fasting, concluded thus with herself: I will, said she, go in to the king, though it be not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish' (Esther 4:16). With this resolution such as are born councillors should have said, Christs kingdom is now in my hand, and I am bound also and sworn by a special covenant to maintain the doctrine and discipline thereof, according to my vocation and power, all the days of my life, under all the pains contained in the Book of God, and danger of body and soul in the day of Gods fearful judgment: and therefore, though I should perish in the cause, yet will I speak for it, and to my power defend it, according to my vocation. Finally, all those that counsel, command, consent, and allow, are guilty in the sight of God. But the mourners for these evils, and the faithful of the land, and those who are unfeignedly grieved in heart for all these abominations, those shall be marked as not guilty (Ezek. ix.). I know not whether I shall have occasion to write again; and therefore, by this letter, as my latter will and testament, I give testimony, warning, and knowledge of these things to all men, according to the Lords direction to the prophet, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman (Ezek. xxxiii. 7, etc.). Therefore I give warning to all men hereby, that no mans blood be required at my hand. Thus desiring the help of your prayers, with my humble commendations and service in Christ to my lord, your husband, and all the saints there, the messenger of peace be with you all for evermore. Amen.
Yours, to my full power, for the time, Christ's prisoner.
Welsh wrote about the same time to Sir William Livingstone of Kilsyth. There are some prophetical expressions in his letter that merit notice.
As for that instrument Spottiswoode, we are sure the Lord will never bless that man, but a malediction lies upon him, and shall accompany all his doings; and it may be, sir, your eyes shall see as great confusion covering him, ere he go to his grave, as ever did his predecessors. Now surely, sir, I am far from bitterness, but here I denounce the wrath of an everlasting God against him, which assuredly shall fall, except it be prevented. Sir, Dagon shall not stand before the ark of the Lord, and these names of blasphemy that he wears, of arch, and lord bishop, will have a fearful end. Not one beck is to be given to Haman, suppose he were as great a courtier as ever he was. Suppose the decree was given out, and sealed with the kings ring, deliverance will come to us elsewhere and not by him, who has been so sore an instrument, not against our persons - that were nothing, for I protest to you, sir, in the sight of God, I forgive him all the evil he has done, or can do, to me - but unto Christs poor Kirk, in stamping under foot so glorious a kingdow and beauty as was once in this land. He has helped to cut Samson'e hair, and to expose him to mocking; but the Lord will not be mocked. He shall be cast away as a stone out of a sling; his name shall rot; and a malediction shall fall upon his posterity after he is gone. Let this, sir, be a monument of it that it was told before, that when it shall come to pass, it may be seen there was warning given him; and therefore, sir, seeing I have not the access myself, if it would please God to move you, I wish you would deliver this hard message to him, not as from me, but as from the Lord.
The man of whom he complains and threatens so sore was John Spottiswoode, at that time designated Archbishop of Glasgow; and this prophecy was literally accomplished, though after the space of forty years. For first, the archbishop himself died in a strange land, and as many say, in misery; next, his son, Robert Spottiswoode, sometime president of Session, was beheaded by the Parliament of Scotland at the market cross of St Andrews, in the winter after the battle of Philiphaugh to which many thousands witnessed. And as soon as ever he came upon the scaffold, Mr Blair, the minister of the town, told him that now Welshs prophecy was fulfilled upon him; to which he replied in anger, thhat Welsh and he were both false prophets. But before John Welsh left Scotland, some remarkable passages in his behaviour are to be remembered. And first; when the dispute about Church government began to be warm, as he was walking upon the street of Edinburgh betwixt two honest citizens, he told them that they had in their town two great ministers, who were no great friends to Christs cause presently in controversy, but it should be seen the world should never hear of their repentance. The two men were Mr Patrick Galloway and Mr John Hall; and accordingly it came to pass; for Patrick Galloway died suddenly, and John Hall, being at that time in Leith, and his servant woman having left him alone in his house while she went to market, he was found dead at her return.
He was some time prisoner in Edinburgh Castle before he went into exile. One night sitting at supper with Lord Ochiltree, he entertained the company with godly and edifying discourse, as his manner was, which was well received by them all except a debauched popish young gentleman, who sometimes laughed, and sometimes mocked and made wry faces. Thereupon Mr Welsh brake out in a sad abrupt charge upon all the company to be silent, and observe the work of the Lord upon that mocker, which they should presently behold; upon which the profane wretch sank down and died beneath the table, to the great astonishment of all the company.
Another wonderful story they tell of him at the same time: Lord Ochiltree, the govenor of the castle, being both son to the good Lord Ochiltree and Mr Welshs uncle-in-law, was indeed very civil to him; but being for a long time through the multitude of affairs, kept from visiting Welsh, as he was one day walking in the court, and espying him at his chamber window, he asked him kindly how he did, and if in anything he could serve him? Welsh answered, that he would earnestly entreat his lordship, being at that time about to go to court, to petition King James in his name that he might have liberty to preach the Gospel; which my lord promised to do. Mr Welsh then said, My lord, both because you are my kinsman, and for other reasons, I would earnestly entreat and obtest you not to promise, except you faithfully perform. His lordship answered, he would faithfully perform his promise; and so went for London. But though, at his first arrival, he really purposed to present the petition to the king, he found the king in such a rage against the godly ministers, that he durst not at that time present it; so he thought fit to delay, and thereafter entirely forgot it.
The first time that Mr Welsh saw his face after his return from court, he asked him what he had done with his petition. His lordship said that he had presented it to the king, but that the king was rage against the ministers at that time, he believed it had been forgotten, for he got no answer. "Nay" said Welsh to him "My lord, you should not lie to god and to me; for I know you never delivered it, though I warned you to take heed not to undertake it except you would perform it. But because you have dealt so unfaithfully, remember God shall take from you both estate and honours, and give them to your neighbour in your own time. This accordingly came to pass, for both his estate and honours were, in his own time, translated to James Stuart, son of Captain James, who was indeed a cadet, but not the lineal heir of the family.
While he was detained prisoner in Edinburgh Castle, his wife used for the most part to stay in his company, but upon a time fell into a longing to see her family in Ayr, to which with some difficulty he yielded. When she was to take her journey, he strictly charged her not to take the ordinary way when she came to Ayr, nor to pass by the bridge through the town, but to cross the river above the bridge, and so reach his own house without going into the town; for, said he, before you come thither you shall find the plague broken out in Ayr, which accordingly came to pass. The plague was at that time very terrible, and being necessarily separate from his people, it was to him the more grievous; but when the people of Ayr came to him to bemoan themselves, his answer was that Hugh Kennedy, a godly gentleman in their town, should pray for them, and God would hear him. This counsel they accepted, and the gentleman, convening a number of the honest citizens, prayed earnestly for the town. He was a mighty wrestler with God, and accordingly after that tire plague decreased.
Now the time is come when he must leave Scotland never to see it again. So, upon the 7th of November 1606, he with his neighbours took ship at Leith; and though it was but two oclock in the morning, many were waiting with their afflicted families to bid them farewell. After prayer they sung the twenty-third Psalm, and so, to the great grief of the spectators, set sail for the south of France, and landed in the river of Bordeaux. Within fourteen weeks after his arrival - such was the Lords blessing upon his diligence - Welsh was able to preach in French, and accordingly was speedily called to the ministry, first in a small village called Nerac, thereafter in St Jean dAngely, a considerable walled town, where he continued, the rest of the time he sojourned in France, which was about sixteen years.
When he began to preach, it wasobserved by some of his hearers that while he continued in the doctrinal part of his sermon he spoke very correct French, but when he came to his application, and when his affections kindled, his fervour made him sometimes neglect the accuracy of the French construction. But there, were godly young men who admonished him of this, which he took in very good part; so for preventing mistakes of that kind he desired them, when they perceived him beginning to decline, to give him a sign by standing up; and thereafter he was more exact in his expression through the whole sermon. So desirous was he not only to deliver good matter, but to recommend it in neat expression.
There were many times persons of great quality in his auditory, before whom he was just as bold as ever he had been in any Scottish village. This moved Mr Boyd of Trochrig once to ask him after he had preached before the University of Saumur with boldness and authority, as if he had been before the meanest congregation, how he could be so confident among strangers and persons of such quality. To which he answered, he was so filled with the dread of God that he had no apprehensions for man at all. This answer, said Mr. Boyd; "did not remove my admiration, but rather increased it.
There was in his house, amongst many others who boarded with him for good education, a young gentleman of great quality arid suitable expectations, the heir of Lord Ochiltree, governor of the castle of Edinburgh. This young nobleman, after he had gained very much upon Mr Welshs affections, fell ill of a grievous sickness, and after he had been long wasted by it, closed his eyes and expired, to the apprehension of all spectators; and was therefore taken out of his bed, and laid on a pallet on the floor, that his body might be more conveniently dressed. This was to Mr Welsh a very great grief, and therefore he stayed with the body fully three hours, lamenting over him with great tenderness. After twelve hours the friends brought in a coffin, into which they desired the corpse to be put, as the custom was; but Mr Welsh desired that for the satisfaction of his affections they would forbear for a time; which they granted, and returned not till twenty- four hours after his death. Then they desired with great importunity that the, corpse might be coffined and speedily buried, the weather being extremely hot; yet he persisted in his request,once more, so they left the corpse upon the pallet for full thirty-six hours. But even after all that, though he was urged not only with great earnestness, but displeasure, they were constrained to forbear for twelve hours more. After forty-eight hours were past, Mr Welsh still held out against them; and then his friends, perceiving that he believed the young man was not really dead, but under some apoplectic fit, proposed to him for his satisfaction that trial should be made upon his body by doctors and chirurgeons, if possibly any spark of life might be found in him; and with this he was content.
So the physicians were set to work, who pinched him with pincers in the fleshy parts of his body, and twisted a bow-string about his head with great force; but no sign of life appearing in him the physicians pronounced him stark dead, and then there was no more delay to be made. Yet Mr Welsh begged of them once more that they would but step into the next room for an hour or two, and leave him with the dead youth; and this they granted. Then Mr Welsh fell down before the pallet and cried to the Lord with all his might, and sometimes looked upon the dead body, continuing to wrestle with the Lord, till at length the dead youth opened his eyes and cried out to Mr Welsh, whom he distinctly knew, 0 sir, I am all whole, but my head and legs" and these were the places they had sorely hurt with pinching. When Mr Welsh perceived this, he called upon his friends, and showed them the dead young man restored to life again, to their great astonishment. And this young nobleman, though he lost the estate of Ochiltree, lived to acquire a great estate in Ireland, became Lord Oastlestuart, and was a man of such excellent parts, that he was courted by the Earl of Strafford to be a counsellor in Ireland. This he refused to be until the godly silenced Scottish ministers, who suffered under the bishops in the north of Ireland, were restored to the exercise of their ministry; and then he engaged, and continued so all his life, not only in honour and power, but in the profession and practice of godliness, to the great comfort of the country where he lived. This story the nobleman communicated to his friends in Ireland.
While Mr Welsh was minister in one of these French villages, upon an evening a certain popish friar travelling through the country, because he could not find a lodging in the whole village, addressed himself to Mr Welshs house for one night. The servants acquainted their master, and he was content to receive the guest. The family had supped before he came, and so the servants conveyed the friar to his chamber; and after they had made his supper they left sleep, he was surprised with the hearing of a silent but constant whispering noise, at which he wondered very much, and was not a little troubled. The next morning he walked in the fields, where he chanced to meet with a countryman, who, saluting him because of his habit, asked him where he had lodged that night. The friar answered, he had lodged with the Huguenot minister. Then the countryman asked him what entertainment he had. The friar answered, Very bad ; for, said he, I always held that devils haunted these ministers houses, and I am persuaded there was one with me this night, for I heard a continual whisper all the night over, which I believe was no other thing than the minister and the devil conversing together. The countryman told him he was much mistaken, and that it waa nothing else than the minister at his night prayer. Oh, said the friar, a.does the minister pray? Yes, more than any man in France, answered the countryman; and if you please to stay another night with him, you may be satisfied. The friar got home to Mr Welshs house, and pretending indisposition, entreated another nights lodging, which was granted him.
Before dinner Mr Welsh came from his chamber and made his family exercise, according to his custom. And first he sung a psalm, then read a portion of Scripture, and discoursed upon it; thereafter he prayed with great fervour to all which the friar was an astonished witness. After exercise they went to dinner, where the friar was very civilly entertained, Mr Welsh forbearing all question and dispute with him for the time. When the evening came, Mr Welsh made exercise as he had done in the morning, which occasioned more wonder to the friar, arid after supper they went to bed; but the friar longed much to know what the night-whisper was, and therein he was soon satisfied; for after Mr Welshs first sleep the noise began. The friar resolved to be certain what it was, and to that end he crept silently to Mr Welshs chamber door, and there he heard not only the sound, but the words distinctly, and communications betwixt God and man, such as he thought had not been in this world. The next morning, as soon as Mr Welsh was ready, the friar came, arid confessed that he had lived in ignorance the whole of his life, but now he was resolved to adventure his soul with him; and thereupon declared himself a Protestant. Mr Welsh welcomed and encouraged him, and he continued a Protestant to his death.
When Louis XIII., King of France, made war upon his Protestant subjects because of their religion, the city of St Jean dAngely was besieged by him with his whole army, and brought into extreme danger. Mr. Welsh was minister of the city, and mightily encouraged the citizens to hold out, assuring them that God would deliver them. In the time of the siege a cannon-ball pierced the bed where he was lying; upon which he got up, but would not leave the room till he had by solemn prayer acknowledged his deliverance. During this siege the citizens made stout defence, till one of the kings gunners planted a great gun so conveniently upon a rising ground, that he could command the whole wall upon which they made their greatest defence. Upon this they were constrained to forsake the wall in great terror; and though they had several guns planted upon the wall, no man durst undertake to manage them. This being told to Mr Welsh, he, notwithstanding, encouraged them still, to hold out; and running to the wall, found the cannonier, who was a Burgundian, near the wall. Him he entreated to mount the wall, promising to assist in person. The cannonier told Mr Welsh that they behoved to dismount the gun upon the rising ground, else they were surely lost. Welsh desired him to aim well, and he would serve him, and God would help them. The gunner fell to work, and Welsh ran to fetch powder for a charge; but as he was returning, the kings gunner fired his piece, which carried the ladle with the powder out of his hands. This did not discourage him, for having left the ladle, he filled his hat with powder, wherewith the gunner dismounted the king's gun at the first shot, and the citizens returned to their posts of defence. This discouraged the king so much, that he sent to the citizens to offer them fair conditions, viz.: that they should enjoy the liberty of their religion, their civil privileges, and that their walls should not be demolished; the king only desiring that he might enter the city in a friendly manner with his servants. This the citizens thought fit to grant, and the king and a few more entered the city for a short time.
While the king was in the city, Welsh preached as usual. This offended the French court; and while he was at sermon the king sent the Duke dEspernon to fetch him out of the pulpit into his presence. The duke went with his guard; and when he entered the church where he was preaching, Mr Welsh commanded to make way and to place a seat, that the duke might hear the Word of the Lord. The duke, instead of interrupting him, sat down and gravely heard the sermon to an end, and then told Welsh that he behoved to go with him to the king, which he willingly did. When the duke returned, the king asked him why he brought not the minister with him, and why he did not interrupt him. The duke answered, Never man spake like this man, but that he had brought him along with him. Whereupon Mr Welsh was called; and when challenged him how he durst preach in that place, since it was against the laws of France that any man should preach within the verge of his court, Mr Welsh answered, Sire, if you did right you would come and hear me preach, and make all France hear me likewise. For, said he, I preach that you must be saved by the death and merits of Jesus Christ, and not your own; and I preach that, as you are King of France, you are under the authority of no man on earth. Those men whom you hear subject you to the Pope of Rome, which I will never do. The king replied, Well, well, you shall be my minister, and, as some say, called him father, which is an honour bestowed upon few of the greatest prelates of France. However, he was favourably dismissed at that time, and the king also left the city in peace.
But within a short time thereafter the War was renewed, and then Welsh told the inhabitants of the city that now their cup was full, and they should no more escape. This accordingly came to pass, for the king took the town, but commanded Vitry, the captain of his guard to enter and preserve the minister from all danger. Horses and waggons were provided for Mr Welsh to transport him and his family to Rochelle, whither he went, and there sojourned for a time.
After his flock in France was scattered, Welsh obtained liberty to go to England, and his friends entreated King James VI. that he might have permission to return to Scotland, because the physician declared there was no other method to preserve his life but by the freedom he might have in his native air. King James would never yield his consent, protesting that he would be unable to establish his beloved bishops in Scotland if Mr Welsh were permitted to return thither ; so he languished at London a considerable time. His disease was considered by some to have a tendency to leprosy; physicians said he had been poisoned. He suffered from an excessive languor, together with a great weakness in his knees, caused by his continual kneeling at prayer, by which it came to pass that, though he was able to move his knees and to walk, yet he was wholly insensible in them, and the flesh became hard like a sort of horn. But when in the time of his weakness he was desired to remit somewhat of his excessive labours, his answer was, he had his life of God, and therefore it should be spent for Him.
His friends importuned King James very much, that if he might not return to Scotland, at least he might have liberty to preach in London; which he would not grant till he heard all hopes of life were past, and then he allowed him liberty to preach, not fearing his activity. Then, as soon as ever Welsh heard he might preach, he greedily embraced this liberty; and having access to a lecturers pulpit, he went and preached both long and fervently. This was his last performance; for after he had ended his sermon he returned to his chamber, and within two hours, quietly and without pain, resigned his spirit into his Masters hands, and was buried near Mr Deering, the famous English divine, after he had lived little more than fifty- two years.
During his sickness he was so filled and overcome with the sensible enjoyment of God, that be was overheard to utter these words: 0 Lord, hold Thy hand, it is enough; Thy servant is a clay vessel, and can hold no more, As his diligence was great, so it may be doubted whether his sowing in painfulness or his harvest in success was great in seeking the Lord, or his fruitfulness in converting souls be considered, they will be found unparalleled in Scotland. And many years after his death Mr David Dickson, at that time a flourishing minister at Irvine, was frequently heard to say, when people talked to him of the success of his ministry, that the grape-gleanings in Ayr in Mr Welshs time, were far above the vintage of Irvine in his own.
John Welsh, in his preaching, was spiritual and searching, his utterance tender and moving; he did not much insist upon scholastic purposes, and made no show of his learning. One of his bearers, who was afterwards minister at Muirkirk, in Kyle, used to say that no man could hear him and forbear weeping, his conveyance was so affecting.
There is a large volume of his sermons now in Scotland, only a few of which have come to the press. Nor did he ever himself appear in print, except in his dispute with Abbot Brown, wherein he makes it appear that his learning was not behind his other virtues; and in another treatise, entitled, LArmageddon de Ia Babylon Apocalyptique, in French, printed in the year 1612 at Jonsac, by Jerome Maran - a work in which he gives his meditation upon the enemies of the church, and their destruction; but it is now rarely to be found.
(From "Scots Worthies" by J. Howie - edited by Andrew A. Bonar D.D.)
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