Mr. John Semple was, for his exemplary walk and singular piety, had in such esteem and veneration, that all ranks of people stood in awe of him, and particularly the clergy, he being a great check upon the lazy and corrupt part of them, who oftentimes were much afraid of him. -- -- One time, coming from Carsphairn to Sanquhar, being twelve miles of a rough way, on a Monday morning, after the sacrament, the ministers, being still in bed, got up in all haste, to prevent his reproof; but he, perceiving them putting on their cloaths, said, |What will become of the sheep, when the shepherds sleep so long; in my way hither, I saw some shepherds on the hills looking after their flocks.| -- Which, considering his age, and early journey so many miles, after he had preached the day before at home, had much influence on them, and made them somewhat ashamed.
He was one who very carefully attended church-judicatories, from which he was seldom absent, and that from a principle of conscience; so that almost no impediment could hinder him in his purposes; for one time going to the presbytery of Kirkudbright, twenty miles distant from Carsphairn, when about to ford the water of Dee, he was told by some that it was impassable, yet he persisted, saying, |I must go through, if the Lord will; I am going about his work.| -- -- He entered in, and the strength of the current carried him and his horse beneath the ford; he fell from the horse, and stood upright in the water, and taking off his hat, prayed a word; after which he and the horse got safely out, to the admiration of all the spectators there present.
He was also a man much given to secret prayer, and ordinarily prayed in the kirk before sacramental occasions, and oftentimes set apart Friday in wrestling with the Lord for his gracious presence on communion sabbaths; and was often favoured with merciful returns, to the great comfort of both ministers and people; and would appoint a week day thereafter for thanksgiving to God.
As he was one faithful and laborious in his Master's service, so he was also most courageous and bold, having no respect of persons, but did sharply reprove all sorts of wickedness in the highest as well as in the lowest, and yet he was so convincingly a man of God, that the most wicked (to whom he was a terror) had a kindness for him, and sometimes spoke very favourably of him, as one who wished their souls well; insomuch as one time, some persons of quality calling him a varlet, another person of quality (whom he had often reproved for his wickedness) being present, said, he was sure if he was a varlet he was one of God's varlets, &c. At another time, when a certain gentleman, from whose house he was going home, sent one of the rudest of his servants, well furnished, with a horse, broad sword and loaded pistols, to attack him in a desert place in the night time; and the servant was ordered to do all that he could to fright him. -- Accordingly he surprized him with holding a pistol to his breast, bidding him render up his purse under pain of being shot; but, Mr. Semple, with much presence of mind (although he knew nothing of the pre-conceit), answered, It seems you are a wicked man, who will either take my life or my purse, if God gives you leave; as for my purse, it will not do you much service, though you had it; and for my life, I am willing to lay it down when and where God pleaseth; however if you will lay bye your weapons I will wrestle a fall with you for my life, which if you be a man, you cannot refuse, seeing I have no weapons to fight with you. -- -- In short, after many threats (though all in vain), the servant discovered the whole plot, and asked him, If he was not at the first afraid? -- Not in the least, answered he, for although you had killed me, as I knew not but you might, I was sure to get the sooner to heaven; and then they parted.
Mr. Semple was a man who knew much of his Master's mind, as evidently appears by his discovering of several future events: -- for on a time when news came, that Cromwel and those with him were upon the trial of Charles I. some persons asked him, What he thought would become of the king? He went to his closet a little, and coming back he said to them, The king is gone, he will neither do us good nor ill any more; which of a truth came to pass. At another time, passing by the house of Kenmuir, as the masons were making some additions thereunto, he said, Lads, ye are busy, enlarging and repairing the house, but it will be burnt like a crow's nest in a misty morning, which accordingly came to pass, for it was burnt in a dark misty morning by the English.
Upon a certain time, when a neighbouring minister was distributing tokens before the sacrament, and when reaching a token to a certain woman, Mr. Semple (standing by) said, Hold your hand, she hath gotten too many tokens already; she is a witch; -- -- which, though none suspected her then, she herself confessed to be true, and was deservedly put to death for the same. At another time, a minister in the shire of Galloway, sending one of his elders to Mr. Semple, with a letter, earnestly desiring his help at the sacrament, which was to be in three weeks after; he read the letter, and went to his closet, and coming back, he said to the elder, I am sorry you have come so far on a needless errand; go home and tell your minister, he hath had all the communions that ever he will have; for he is guilty of fornication, and God will bring it to light ere that time. -- This likewise came to pass. He often said to a person of quality (my lord Kenmuir) that he was a rough wicked man, for which God would shake him over hell before he died; and yet God would give him his soul for a prey: which had its accomplishment at last, to the no small comfort and satisfaction of all his near and dear relations.
When some Scots regiments, in the year 1648, in their march through Carsphairn for Preston in England to the duke's engagement (as it was commonly called) and hearing that the sacrament was to be dispensed there next Lord's day, some of the soldiers put up their horses in the kirk, and went to the manse, and destroyed the communion elements in a most profane manner, Mr. Semple being then from home. The next day he complained to the commanding officer, in such a pathetical manner representing the horrible vileness of such an action, that the officer not only regretted the action, but also gave money for furnishing them again: -- he moreover told them, He was sorry for the errand they were going upon, for it would not prosper, and the profanity of that army would ruin them. About or after this, he went up to a hill and prayed; and being interrogated by some acquaintances, What answer he got? He replied, That he had fought with neither small nor great, but with the duke himself, whom he never left until he was beheaded: -- which was too sadly verified.
His painful endeavours were blest with no small success, especially at sacramental occasions, and this the devil envied very much; and particularly one time, among many, which he designed to administer the Lord's supper, before which he assured the people of a great communion, by a gracious and remarkable down-pouring of the Spirit, but that the devil would be envious about this good work, and that he was afraid he would be permitted to raise a storm or speat of rain, designing to drown some of them: but, said he, it shall not be in his power to drown any of you, no, not so much as a dog. Accordingly it came to pass on Monday, when he was dismissing the people, they saw a man all in black entering the water a little above them, at which they were amazed, as the water was very large. He lost his feet (as they apprehended) and came down on his back, waving his hand; the people ran and got ropes, and threw them in to him; and there were ten or twelve men upon the ropes, yet they were in danger of being all drawn into the water and drowned -- Mr. Semple looking on, cried, Quit the rope, and let him go; I see who it is; it is the devil, he will burn but not drown, and by drowning of you would have God dishonoured, because he hath got some glory to his free grace in being King to many of your souls at this time, and the wicked world to reproach the work of God, &c. All search was made in that country to find if any man was lost, but none was heard of, which made them conclude it to be the devil.
Mr. Semple, being one of the faithful protestors, in the year 1657, was apprehended with the famous Mr. James Guthrie at Edinburgh in Aug.1660, and after ten months imprisonment in the castle, was brought before the bloody council, who threatened him severely with death and banishment; but he answered with boldness, My God will not let you either kill or banish me, but I will go home and die in peace, and my dust will lie among the bodies of my people; accordingly he was dismissed, and went home, and entered his pulpit, saying, I parted with thee too easy but I shall hing by the wicks of thee now. It was some time after the restoration, that, while under his hidings, being one night in bed with another minister, the backside of the bed falling down to the ground, the enemy came and carried away the other minister, but got not him: -- which was a most remarkable deliverance.
Lastly, He was so concerned for the salvation of his people, that when on his death-bed, he sent for them, and preached to them with such fervency, shewing them their miserable state by nature, and their need of a Saviour, expressing his sorrow to leave many of them as graceless as he got them, with so much vehemency as made many of them weep bitterly.
He died at Carsphairn (about the year 1677, being upwards of seventy years of age) in much assurance of heaven, often longing to be there, rejoicing in the God of his salvation; and that under great impressions of dreadful judgments to come on these covenanted sinning lands; and when scarce able to speak, he cried three times over, A popish sword for thee, O Scotland, England, and Ireland! &c.