Mr. John Welch was born a gentleman, his father being laird of Colieston (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 resolution, so he resolved to return to his father's house, but durst not adventure, till he should enterpose a reconciler. In his return homeward, he took Dumfries in his way, where he had an aunt, one Agnes Forsyth, and with her he spent some days, earnestly intreating 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 ever he had heard any news of his son John; to her he replied with great grief, O cruel woman, how can you name him 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 had become a virtuous man, and comforted him. He insisted upon his sad complaint, but asked, 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 his tears, and Mrs. Forsyth's importunities, he was persuaded to a reconciliation. The boy entreated his father to send 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 settlement 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 by 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, where 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 boarded himself in the house of one Mitchelhill, 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 apprehension, 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 stayed not seven or eight hours in prayer; and this the boy did not forget even to old age.
An old man of the name of Ewart in Selkirk, who remembered Mr. Welch's being in that place said, 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 also said, 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 prophane gentleman in the country (one Scot of Headschaw, whose family is now extinct), because Mr. Welch had either reproved him, or merely from 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 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.
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's 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 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 Anwoth. Yet when his call to Ayr came to him, the people of the parish of Kirkcudbright never offered to detain him, so his transportation to Ayr was the more easy.
While he was at Kirkcudbright, he met with a young man in scarlet and silver lace (the gentleman's name was Mr. Robert Glendining) new come home from his travels, he much surprised 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 sometime thereafter.
Mr. Welch was transported 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 one in all the town be found, who would let 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 Stuart merchant, and sometime provost of Ayr, an eminent Christian, and great assistant of Mr. Welch.
And when he had first taken up his residence in that town, the place was so divided into factions, and filled with bloody conflicts, a man could hardly walk the streets with safety; wherefore Mr. Welch made it his first undertaking to remove the bloody quarrelings, but he 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 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, then to eat and drink together, then last of all he ended the work with singing a psalm: For 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 council they would do nothing, but an example to imitate.
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 among his papers, that he had abridged Suarez's metaphysics when they came first to his hand, even when he was well stricken in years. By all which it appears, that he has not only been 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 pulpit; because he found himself sore deserted: and thereafter desire one or more of them to pray, and then he would venture to 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 Ayr, 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 audible, but sometimes a loud voice.
There was in Ayr before he came to it, an aged man, a minister of the town, called Porterfield, the man was judged no bad man, for his personal inclinations, but so easy a disposition, that he used many times 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 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 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 Mr. Porterfield, which he could not 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.
While Mr. Welch was at Ayr, the Lord's day was greatly profaned at a gentleman's house about eight miles distance from Ayr, by reason of great confluence of people playing at the foot-ball, and other pastime. After writing several times to him to suppress the profanation of the Lord's day at his house, (which he slighted, not loving to be called a puritan) Mr. Welch came one day to his gate and calling him out to tell him, that he had a message from God to shew him, that because he had slighted the advice given him from the Lord, and would not restrain the profanation of the Lord's day committed in his bounds; therefore the Lord 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 Mr. Welch a true prophet.
He married Elizabeth Knox, daughter to the famous Mr. John Knox minister at Edinburgh, and she lived with him from his youth till his death. By her he had three sons.
As the duty wherein Mr. Welch abounded and excelled most in his prayer, so his greatest attainments fell that way. He used to say, He wondered how a Christian could ly 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 staid 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 following 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 overspread the land, and corrupted the church. This is more wonderful still, An honest minister, who was a parishioner of Mr. Welch many a day, said, |That one night as he watched in his garden very late, and some friends 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 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 in his time.
And one cause was this: The magistrates of Ayr, forasmuch as this town alone was free, and the country about infected, thought fit to guard the ports with centinels and watchmen; and 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; yet notwithstanding all this, the centinels stopt 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 asked: He demurred, and putting off his hat, with his eyes towards heaven for a pretty space, though he uttered no audible words, yet continued in a praying posture; and after a little space told the magistrates, They would do well to discharge these travellers their town, affirming, with great asseveration, 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. 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 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 James's 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 he had done 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 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 at Holyrood-house, anno 1602, with the king's consent, indict their next meeting to be kept at Aberdeen, the last tuesday of July anno 1604, and before that day came, the king by his commissioner the laird of Laureston, 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 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, absolutely discharged and prohibited, but without naming any day or place, for any other assembly; and so the series of our assemblies expired, never to revive again in due form, till the covenant was renewed anno 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 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. 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 them. 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 sufferings, he had this strange warning.
After the meeting at Aberdeen was over, he retired immediately to Ayr; 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 at Ayr; 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 deferred till the king's pleasure should be known; and 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, he wrote his famous letter to Lilias Graham countess of Wigton; in which he utters, in the strongest terms, his consolation in suffering; his desire to be dissolved, that he might be with the Lord; the judgments he foresaw coming upon Scotland, &c. He also seems most positively to shew the true cause of their sufferings, and state of the testimony in these words:
|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 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, 1. That Christ is the head of his church.2. That she is free in her government, from all other jurisdiction except Christ's: These two points, I say, are the special cause of our imprisonment; being now convict 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 Christ's crown, sceptre and kingdom, are not subject, nor 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: 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.
|I am also bound 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 God's 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.|
He wrote about the same time to Sir William Livingston of Kilsyth: There are some prophetical expressions in this letter that merit notice.
|As for that instrument Spotswood, we are sure the 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 book 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 king's 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 Christ's poor kirk, in stamping under foot so glorious a kingdom and beauty as was once in this land; he has helped to cut Sampson's 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 hand-message to him, not as from me, but from the Lord.|
The man of whom he complains, and threatens so sore, was bishop Spotswood, at that time designed arch-bishop of Glasgow; and this prophecy was punctually accomplished, though after the space of forty years: For, first the bishop himself died in a strange land, and, as many say, in misery; next his son Robert Spotswood, sometime president of the 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 Mr. Welch's prophecy was fulfilled upon him; to which he replied in anger, That Mr. Welch and he were both false prophets.
But before he left Scotland, some remarkable passages in his behaviour are to be remembered. And first, when the dispute about church-government began to warm, as he was walking upon the street of Edinburgh, betwixt two honest citizens he told them, They had in their town two great ministers, who were no great friends to Christ's 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 Mr. Patrick Galloway died easing himself upon a stool; and Mr. John Hall, being at that time in Leith, and his servant woman having left him alone in his house while she went to the market, he was found dead at her return.
He was sometime prisoner in Edinburgh castle before he went into exile, where one night sitting at supper with the Lord Ochiltry, who was uncle to Mr. Welch's wife, as his manner was, he entertained the company with godly and edifying discourse, which was well received by all the company, except a debauched popish young gentleman, who sometimes laughed, and sometimes mocked and made wry faces; whereupon Mr. Welch brake out into a sad abrupt charge upon all the company to be silent, and observe the work of the Lord upon that profane mocker, which they should presently behold; upon which the profane wretch sunk down and died beneath the table, to great astonishment of all the company.
Another wonderful story they tell of him at the same time: -- The Lord Ochiltry the captain, being both son to the good Lord Ochiltry, and Mr. Welch's uncle in law, was indeed very civil to Mr. Welch, but being for a long time, through the multitude of affairs, kept from visiting Mr. Welch in his chamber, as he was one day walking in the court, and espying Mr. Welch at his chamber window, asked him kindly how he did, and if in any thing he could serve him? Mr. Welch answered him, He would earnestly intreat his lordship, being at that time 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. Welch answered, My lord, both because you are my kinsman, and for other reasons, I would earnestly intreat and bidest 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 was really purposed to present the petition to the king, when 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 it, and thereafter entirely forgot it.
The first time that Mr. Welch saw his face after his return from court, he asked him what he had done with his petition. His lordship answered, He had presented it to the king, but that the king was in so great a rage against the ministers at that time, he believed it had been forgotten, for he had got no answer. Nay, said Mr. Welch 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: which 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; but when she was to take her journey, he strictly charged her not to take the ordinary way to her own house, when she came to Ayr, nor to pass by the bridge through the town, but to pass the river above the bridge, and so get the way to his own house, and not to come 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 he 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 should hear him. This counsel they accepted, and the gentleman conveening a number of the honest citizens, prayed earnestly for the town, as he was a mighty wrestler with God, and accordingly after that the plague decreased.
Now the time is come when he must leave Scotland, and never to see it again. So upon the 7th of November 1606, in the morning he with his neighbours took ship at Leith, and though it was but two o'clock in the morning, many were waiting on with their afflicted families, to bid them farewel. After prayer, they sung the 23d psalm, and so to the great grief of the spectators, set sail for the south of France, and landed in the river of Bourdeaux. Within fourteen weeks after his arrival, such was the Lord's blessing upon his diligence, he was able to preach in French, and accordingly was speedily called to the ministry, first in one village, then in another; one of them was Nerac, and thereafter was settled in St. Jean d' Angely, a considerable walled town, and there he continued the rest of the time he sojourned in France, which was about sixteen years. When he began to preach, it was observed 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 fervor 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 the young gentlemen, when they perceived him beginning to decline, to give him a sign, viz. that they were to stand up; and thereafter he was more exact in his expression through his 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 a Scots village; which moved Mr. Boyd of Trochrig once to ask him (after he had preached before the university with Saumur with such 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, That he was so filled with the dread of God, he had no apprehensions from man at all; and this answer, said Mr. Boyd, did not remove my admiration, but rather increase it.
There was in his house, amongst many others who boarded with him for good education, a young gentleman of great quality, and suitable expectations, and this was the heir of Lord Ochiltry, captain of the Castle of Edinburgh. This young nobleman, after he had gained very much upon Mr. Welch's affections, fell ill of a grievous sickness, and after he had been long wasted with 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 the more conveniently dressed. This was to Mr. Welch a very great grief, and therefore he stayed with the dead body full three hours, lamenting over him with great tenderness. After twelve hours, the friends brought in a coffin, whereinto they desired the corpse to be put, as the custom is; but Mr. Welch desired, that for the satisfaction of his affections, they would forbear it for a time, which they granted, and returned not till twenty-four hours after his death were expired; 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, earnestly begging them to excuse him 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. Welch 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 are let 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. Welch 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. Welch fell down before the pallet, and cried to the Lord with all his might, and sometimes looked upon the dead body, continuing in wrestling with the Lord, till at length the dead youth opened his eyes, and cried out to Mr. Welch, whom he distinctly knew, O Sir, I am all whole, but my head and legs; and these were the places they had sore hurt with their pinching.
When Mr. Welch perceived this, he called upon his friends, and shewed them the dead young man restored to life again, to their great astonishment. And this young nobleman, though he lost the estate of Ochiltry, lived to acquire a great estate in Ireland, and was Lord Castle-Stuart, and a man of such excellent parts, that he was courted by the earl of Stafford to be a councellor in Ireland; which 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 to for 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 be lived. This story the nobleman himself communicated to his friends in Ireland.
While Mr. Welch was minister in one of these French villages, upon an evening a certain popish friar travelling through the country, because he could not find lodging in the whole village, addressed himself to Mr. Welch's house for one night. The servants acquainted their master, and he was content to receive this guest. The family had supped before he came, and so the servants convoyed the friar to his chamber, and after they had made his supper, they left him to his rest. There was but a timber partition betwixt him and Mr. Welch, and after the friar had slept his first sleep, he was surprized 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 country man, who saluting him because of his habit, asked him, Where he had lodged that night? The friar answered, He had lodged with the hugenot minister. Then the country man 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 country man told him, he was much mistaken, and that it was nothing else than the minister at his night prayer. O, said the friar, does the minister pray any? Yes, more than any man in France, answered the country man, and if you please to stay another night with him you may be satisfied. The friar got home to Mr. Welch's house, and pretending indisposition, intreated another night's lodging, which was granted him.
Before dinner, Mr. Welch 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 fervor, to all which the friar was an astonished witness. After exercise they went to dinner, where the friar was very civilly entertained, Mr. Welch forbearing all question and dispute with him for the time; when the evening came, Mr. Welch made exercise as he had done in the morning, which occasioned more wonder to the friar, and 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. Welch's first sleep, the noise began; then the friar resolved to be certain what it was, and to that end he crept silently to Mr. Welch's chamber-door, and there he heard not only the sound, but the words distinctly, and communications betwixt man and God, such as he thought, had not been in this world. The next morning, as soon as Mr. Welch was ready, the friar went to him, and told him, that he had lived in ignorance the whole of his life, but now he was resolved to adventure his soul with Mr. Welch, and thereupon declared himself protestant: Mr. Welch welcomed and encouraged him, and he continued a protestant to his death.
When Lewis XIII. king of France made war upon the protestants there, because of their religion, the city of St. Jean d' Angely was besieged by him with his whole army, and brought into extreme danger. Mr Welch was minister of the town, and mightily encouraged the citizens to hold out, assuring them, 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 townsmen made stout defence, till one of the king's gunners planted a great gun so conveniently upon a rising ground, that therewith he could command the whole wall upon which the townsmen made their greatest defence. Upon this, they were constrained to forsake the whole wall in great terror, and tho' they had several guns planted upon the wall, no man durst undertake to manage them. This being told to Mr. Welch, 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 him in person. The cannonier told Mr. Welch, that they behoved to dismount the gun upon the rising ground, else they were surely lost; Mr. Welch desired him to aim well, and he would serve him, and God would help him; the gunner fell to work, and Mr. Welch ran to fetch powder for a charge, but, as he was returning, the king's gunner fired his piece, which carried the laddle with the powder out of his hands: This did not discourage him, for having left the laddle, he filled his hat with powder, wherewith the gunner dismounted the king's gun at the first shot, and the citizens returned to their post 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 their walls should not be demolished; the king only desired that he might enter the city in a friendly manner with his servants. This the city thought fit to grant, and the king with a few more entered the city for a short time. While the king was in the city, Mr. Welch preached as usual, which offended the French court, for while he was at sermon the king sent the duke de Espernon to fetch him out of the pulpit into his presence. The duke went with his guard, and when he entered the church where Mr. Welch was preaching, Mr. Welch 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 Mr. Welch he behoved to go with him to the king, which he willingly did. When the duke came to the king, 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 he had brought him along with him. Whereupon Mr. Welch is called, and when he had entered the king's room, he kneeled and silently prayed for wisdom and assistance. Thereafter the king 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. Welch answered, Sir, if you did right, you would come and hear me preach, and make all France hear me likewise. For, said he, I preach 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, he said, 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 in 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 Mr. Welch told the inhabitants of the city, That now their cup was full, and they should no more escape; which accordingly came to pass, for the king took the town, and commanded Vitry the captain of his guard to enter and preserve his minister from all danger; then horses and waggons were provided for Mr. Welch, to transport him and his family for Rochelle, whither he went, and there sojourned for a time.
After his flock in France was scattered, he obtained liberty to return to England, and his friends intreated that he might have permission to come to Scotland, because the physicians declared there was no other method to preserve his life, but by the freedom he might have in his native air. But to this king James would never yield, protesting he would be unable to establish his beloved bishops in Scotland, if Mr. Welch was permitted to return thither; so he languished at London a considerable time; his disease was considered by some to have a tendency to a sort of leprosy, physicians said he had been poisoned; a languor he had 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 painfulness, 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 be might not return to Scotland, at least he might have liberty to preach in London, which he would not grant, till he heard all the hopes of life were past, and then he allowed him liberty to preach, not fearing his activity.
Then as soon as ever he heard he might preach, he greedily embraced this liberty, and having access to a lecturer's pulpit, he went and preached both long and fervently: which was his last performance: For after he had ended his sermon, he returned to his chamber, and within two hours, quietly and without pain, he resigned his spirit into his Maker's 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 he was overheard to utter these words, |O Lord, hold thy hand, it is enough, thy servant is a clay vessel, and can hold no more.| -- --
If his diligence was great, so it may be doubted whether his sowing in painfulness, or his harvest in success was greatest; for if either his spiritual experiences in seeking the Lord, or his fruitfulness in converting souls be considered, they will be found unparallelled 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 Ayr, in Mr. Welch's time, were far above the vintage of Irvine in his own. Mr. Welch in his preaching was spiritual and searching, his utterance tender and moving, he did not much insist upon scholastic purposes and made no shew of his learning. One of his hearers, who was afterward minister at Moor-kirk 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 them have come to the press, nor did he ever appear in print, except in his dispute with Abbot Brown, wherein he makes it appear, his learning was not behind other virtues; and in another called Dr. Welch's Armagaddon, supposed to have been printed in France, wherein he gives his meditation upon the enemies of the church, and their destruction; but the piece itself rarely to be found.