L I F E
OF THE REVEREND
MR. JOHN WELCH,
Minister of the Gospel at AIR.
MR. John Welch was born a Gentleman, his Father being Laird of Coliestoun, (an Estate rather competent than large, in the Shire of Nithsdale) about the Year 1570, the Dawning of our Reformation being then but dark. He was a rich Example of Grace and Mercy; but the Night went before the Day, being a most hopeless extravagant Boy: It was not enough to him, frequently, when he was a young Stripling, to run away from the School, and play the Truant; but, after he had past his Grammar, and was come to be a Youth, he left the School and his Father's 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 till he spent a Suit of Clothes. Then, when he was clothed only with Rags, the Prodigal's Misery brought him to the Prodigal's Resolutions, so he resolved to return to his Father's House; but durst not adventure, till he should interpose a Reconciler. So, in his Return homeward, he took Dumfries in his Way, where he had a Friend, one Agnes Forsyth, and with her he diverted 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 salute his Cousin, Mrs. Forsyth, and after they had talked a while, she asked him, Whether ever he had heard any News of his Son John? To her, he reply'd with great Grief. O! cruel Woman, How canst thou name his Name to me, the first News I expect to hear of him is that he is hanged for a Thief; She answered, Many a profligate Boy hath turned a virtuous Man, and comforted him. He insisted upon his sad Complaint, but asked her whether she knew his lost Son was 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 Christ's Sake, to pardon his Misbehaviour, and deeply engaged to be a new Man. His Father reproached him and threatened him: Yet, at Length, by the Boys Tears and Mrs. Forsyth's Importunities, he was persuaded to a Reconciliation. The Boy entreated his Father to put him to the College, and there to try his Behaviour, and if ever thereafter he should break, he said, he should be content 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, and shewed himself a sincere Convert: and so he proceeded to the Ministry.
His first Post in the Ministry was at Selkirk, while he was yet very young and the Country rude. While he was there, his Ministry was rather admired by some than received by many: For he was always attended with the Prophet's 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 Synodal Records, wherein we find he had many to censure him, and only some to defend him: Yet it was thought his Ministry in that Place was not without Fruit, though he stayed but short Time there. Being a young Man unmarried, he tabled himself in the House of one Mitchel, and took a young Boy of his to be his Bedfellow, who, to his dying Day retained both a Respect to Mr. Welch and his Ministry, from the Impressions Mr. Welch's Behaviour made upon his Apprehensions, though but a Child. His Custom was, when he went to Bed at Night to lay a Scots Plaid above his Bed Clothes, 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 stay'd not seven or eight Hours in Prayer; and this the Boy would never forget till hoary Hairs.
I had once the Curiosity, traveling through the Town, to call for an old Man, his Name was Ewart, who remembered upon Mr. Welch his being in that Place; and after other Discourses, enquired of him, What Sort a Man Mr. Welch was? His Answer was, O, Sir! He was a Type of Christ. An Expression more significant than proper; for his Meaning was, That he was an Example that imitated Christ; as indeed in many Things he did. He told me also, That his 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 that Place, because of the Malice of the Wicked.
The special Cause of his Departure was a profane Gentleman in the Country, one Scot of Hawickschaw, whose Family is now extinct; but because Mr. Welch had either reproved him, or merely out of Hatred, Mr. Welch was most unworthily abused by the unhappy Man; and, among the rest of the Injuries he did him, this was one, Mr. Welch kept always two good Horses for his Use, and the wicked Gentleman, when he could do no more, either with his own Hand, or his Servants, cut off the Rumps of the two innocent Beasts, upon which followed such Effusion of Blood that they both died; which Mr. Welch did much resent, and such base Usage as this persuaded him to listen to a Call to the Ministry at Kirkcudbright, which was his next Post.
But when he was to leave Selkirk, he could not find a Man in all the Town to transport his Furniture, except only Ewart, who was at that Time a poor young Man, but Master of two Horses, with which he transported Mr. Welch his Goods, and so left him; but as he took his Leave, Mr. Welch 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 Man's Life, as was observed by all his Neighbours.
At Kirkcudbright he stayed not long, but there he reaped a good Harvest of Converts, which subsisted long after his Departure, and were a Part of Mr. Samuel Rutherford's Flock, though not his Parish, while he was Minister at Anwith: Yet when his Call to Air came to him, the People of the Parish of Kirkcudbright never offered to detain him; so his Transportation to Air was the more easy.
While he was in Kirkcudbright, he met with a young Gallant in Scarlet and Silver-Lace, the Gentleman's Name was Mr. Robert Glendoning, new come home from his Travels, and much surpriz'd the young Man, by telling him, 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. Welch was transported to Air, 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 one in all the Town be found to set him a House to dwell in, so he was constrained to accommodate himself the best he might in a Part of a Gentleman's House for a Time, the Gentleman's Name was John Stewart Merchant, and sometime Provost of Air, an eminent Christian, and great Assistant of Mr. Welch.
And when he had first taken up his Residence in that Town, the Place was divided into Factions, and so filled with bloody Conflicts, that a Man could hardly walk the Streets with Safety. Mr. Welch made it his first Undertaking to remove the bloody Quarrellings; but found it 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 never used 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 these bitter Enemies, to cause cover a Table upon the Street, and there brought the Enemies together, and, beginning with Prayer, he persuaded them to profess themselves Friends, and then to eat and drink together: Then, last of all he ended the Work with singing a Psalm. So, after the rude People began to observe his Example, and listen to his heavenly Doctrine; he came quickly to that Respect amongst them, that he became not only a necessary Counsellor, without whose Counsel they would do nothing, but an Example to imitate, and so he buried the bloody Quarrels.
He gave himself wholly to ministerial Exercises; he preached once every Day; he prayed the third Part of his Time; was unwearied in his Studies; and for a Proof of this, it was found amongst his other Papers, that he had abridged Suarez his Metaphysicks when they came first to his Hand, even when he was well stricken in Years. By all which it appears, that he was not only a Man of great Diligence, but also of a strong and robust natural Constitution, otherwise he had never endured the Fatigue.
But if his Diligence was great, so it is doubted whether his Sowing in Painfulness, or his Harvest in Success, was greater; for if either his spiritual Experiences in seeking the Lord, or his Fruitfulness in converting Souls, be considered, they will be found unparalleled in Scotland. And many Years after Mr. Welch's 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 Air, in Mr. Welch's Time, were far above the Vintage of Irvine in his own. Mr. Welch's Preaching was spiritual and searching; his Utterance tender and moving: He did not much insist upon scholastic Purposes. He made no Show of his Learning. I heard once one of his Hearers, (who was afterwards Minister at Moorkirk in Kyle) say, That no Man could hardly hear him, and forbear weeping, his Conveyance was so affecting. There is a large Volume of his Sermons now in Scotland; but never any of them came to the Press, nor did ever appear in Print, except in his Dispute with Abbot Brown the Papist, wherein he makes it appear his Learning was not behind his other Virtues: And in another Piece, called Dr. Welch's Armageddon, printed, I suppose, in France, wherein he gives his Meditation upon the Enemies of the Church, and their Destruction. But the Piece itself is rarely to be found.
Sometimes, before he went to Sermon he would send for his ELDERS and tell them, he was afraid to go to Pulpit; because he found himself sore deserted: And thereafter desire one or more of them to pray, and then he would venture to the Pulpit. But, it was observed, this humbling Exercise used ordinarily to be followed with a Flame of extraordinary Assistance; so near Neighbours are many Times contrary Dispositions and Frames. He would many Times retire to the Church of Air, which was at 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 some Times a loud Voice; nor did he irk in that Solitude, all the Night over; which hath (it may be) occasioned the contemptible Slander of some malicious Enemies, who were so bold, as to call him no less than a Wizard.
There was in Air, before he came to it, an aged Man, a Minister of the Town, call'd Porterfield, the Man was judged no bad Man, for his personal Inclinations; but of so easy a Disposition, that he used many Times to go too great a Length with his Neighbours in many dangerous Practices; amongst the rest, he used to go to the Bow-Buts and Archery on Sabbath-Afternoon, to Mr. Welch's great Dissatisfaction. But the Way he used to reclaim him was not bitter Severity; but this gentle Policy: Mr. Welch, together with John Stewart, and Hugh Kennedy, his two intimate Friends, used to spend the Sabbath-Afternoon in religious Conference and Prayer; and to this Exercise they invited Mr. Porterfield, which he could not well refuse; by which Means, he was not only diverted from his former sinful Practice, but likewise brought to a more watchful and edifying Behaviour in his Course of Life.
He married Elisabeth Knox, Daughter to the Famous Mr. John Knox, Minister at Edinburgh, the Apostle of Scotland, and she lived with him from his Youth, till his Death. By her, I have heard, he had three Sons. The first was called Dr. Welch, a Doctor of Medicine, who was unhappily kill'd upon an innocent Mistake in the Low Countries, and of him never heard more. Another Son, he had most lamentably lost at Sea; for when the Ship, in which he was, sunk, he swam to a Rock in the Sea, but starv'd there fore want of necessary Food and Refreshment; and when sometime afterward his Body was found upon the Rock, they found him dead 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 this lamentable Death, so bitter to his Friends. Another Son, he had who was Heir to his Father's Graces and Blessings, and this was Mr. Josias Welch, Minister at Temple-Patrick, in the North of Ireland, commonly called the Cock of the Conscience, by the People of the Country, because of his extraordinary wakening and rousing Gift. He was one of that blest Society of Ministers, which wrought that unparalleled Work in the North of Ireland, about the Year 1639. But was himself a Man most sadly exercised with Doubts about his own Salvation all his Time, and would ordinarily 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 for his Successor Mr. John Welch, Minister at Iron-Gray in Galloway, the Place of his Grand-father's Nativity. What Business this 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 of Scotland, 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. It is well known, that bloody Claverhouse, upon secret Information from his Spies, that Mr. Welch was to be found in some lurking Place, at forty Miles Distance, would make all that long Journey in one Winter's Night, that he might catch him; but when he came he miss'd always his Prey. I never heard of a Man endured more Toil, adventured upon more Hazard, escap'd so much Hazard, not in the World. He used to tell his Friends, who counseled him to be more cautious, and not to hazard himself so much, That he firmly believed dangerous Undertakings would be his Security, and that whenever he should give over that Course, and retire himself, his Ministry should come to an End. Which accordingly came to pass, for when after Bothwelbridge, he retired to London, the Lord called him by Death, and there he was honourably buried, not far from the King's Palace.
But to return to old Mr. Welch; as the Duty wherein he 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 from his Wife, 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; and so she returned to her Bed, and he followed her not knowing she had heard him; but when he was by her, she asked him what he meant by saying, Enough, Lord, enough: He shewed himself dissatisfied with her Curiosity, but told her, 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 over-spread the Land, and corrupted the Church. This is more wonderful I am to relate, I heard once an honest Minister, who was a Parishioner of Mr. Welch's many a-Day, say, That one Night as he watched in his Garden very late, and some Friends waiting upon him in the House; and wearying because of his long stay; one of them chanced to open a Window towards the Place where he walked, and saw clearly a Light surround him, and heard him speak strange Words about his spiritual Joy. I do neither add nor alter: I am the more induced to believe this, having heard it from as good a Hand as any in Scotland, that a very godly Man (though not a Minister) said, That after he had spent a whole Night in a Country House of his, at the House in the Muir, declared confidently, He saw such an extraordinary Light as this himself, which was to him both Matter of Wonder and Astonishment. But tho' Mr. Welch had, upon the Account of his Holiness, Abilities and Success, 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 about the Year,
And one Cause was this,
"The Magistrate of Air, forasmuch as this alone Town was free, and the Country about infected, thought fit to guard the Ports with Sentinels and Watchmen; and one Day two traveling Merchants, each with a Pack of Cloath upon a Horse, came to the Town, desiring Entrance, that they might sell their Goods, producing a Pass from the Magistrates of the Town whence they came, which was at that Time sound and free; yet notwithstanding all the Sentinels stop'd them till the Magistrates were called, and when they came, they would do nothing without their Minister's Advice: So Mr. Welch was called, and his Opinion ask'd; he demurred, and put off his Hat, with his Eyes towards Heaven for a pretty Space, though he uttered no audible Words, yet continued in a praying Gesture; and after a little Space, told the Magistrates they would do well to discharge these Travelers their Town, affirming with a great Asseveration, the Plague was in these Packs; so the Magistrates commanded them to be gone, and they went to Cumnock, a Town some ten 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 Mr. Welch 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 always to invite all his Familiars 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 Air, till King James his Purpose of destroying the Church of Scotland, by establishing Bishops, was ripe; and then it fell to be his Duty to edify the Church by his Sufferings, as formerly he had by his Doctrine.
The Reason why King James 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 he minded most. Always in the Pursuit of his Design he followed this Method; In the first Place, he resolved to destroy a General Assembly; 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 at Holy-Rood-House, in the Year 1602, with the King's Consent, indict their next Meeting to be kept at Aberdeen, the last Tuesday of July, in the year 1604; and, before that Day came, the King, by his Commissioner, the Laird of Lauriestoun, discharged them to meet. Mr. Patrick Galloway Moderator of the last Assembly, in a Letter directed to the several Presbyteries, continued the Meeting till the first Tuesday of July 1605, at the same Place. Last of all, in June 1605, the expected Meeting to have been kept in July following, is, by a new Letter from the King's Commissioner, and the Commissioners of the General Assembly, discharged and prohibited; but without naming any Day or Place for any other Assembly absolutely: And so the Series of our Assemblies expired, never to revive again in due Form, till the Covenant was renewed in the Year 1638. However, many of the godly Ministers of Scotland, knowing well, if once the Hedge of the Government was broken, the Corruption of the Doctrine would soon follow, resolved not to quit their Assembly 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, and that was all. Amongst those was Mr. Welch, who though he had not been present upon that precise Day, yet because he came to the Place, and approved what his Brethren had done, he was accused as guilty of the treasonable Fact committed by his Brethren. So dangerous a Point was the Name of a General Assembly, in King James's jealous Judgment.
Within a Month after this Meeting, many of these godly Men were incarcerate, some in one Prison, some in another; Mr. Welch was sent first 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 his Life begins to alter; but, before his blessed Sufferings, he had this strange Warning:
After the Meeting at Aberdeen was over, he retired immediately to Air; and 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 bid her be quiet, for it should be well with them; but he knew well, he should never preach more in Air. And accordingly, before the next Sabbath, he was carried Prisoner to Blackness Castle. After that, 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 authorized by the King; and because they declined the Secret Council, as Judges competent in Causes purely spiritual, such as the Nature and Constitution of a General Assembly is; they were first remitted to the Prison at Blackness, and other Places; and thereafter, six of the most considerable of them, were brought under Night from Blackness to Linlithgow, before the Criminal Judges, to answer an Accusation of high Treason, at the Instance of Sir Thomas Hamilton, the King's Advocate, for declining, as he alleged, the King's lawful Authority, in refusing to admit the Council Judges competent in the Cause of the Nature of Church Judicatories. And after their Accusation, and Answer was read, by the Verdict of a Jury of very considerable Gentlemen, they were condemned as guilty of high Treason, the Punishment continued till the King's Pleasure should be known; and thereafter their Punishment was made Banishment, that the cruel Sentence might someway seem to soften their severe Punishment, as the King had contrived it.