... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
L I F E
OF THE REVEREND
MR. JOHN WELCH,
Minister of the Gospel at AIR.
But after 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 his Stool; and Mr. John being at that Time at Leith, and his Servant Woman having left him alone in his House while she went to the Market, he was found dead all alone at her Return.
He was some Time 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, save only one debauched popish young Gentleman, who sometimes laughed, and sometimes mocked, and made 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 immediately the profane Wretch fell down and died beneath the Table; but never returned to Life again, to the great Astonishment of all the Company.
Another wonderful Story they tell of him at the same Time. The Lord Ochiltry, the Captain of the Castle of Edinburgh, and Son to the good Lord Ochiltry, who was 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 Case 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 obtest you, not to promise, except you faithfully perform. My Lord answered, He would faithfully perform his Promise; and so went for London: But tho', at his first Arrival, he was really purposed to present the Petition to the King; yet when he found the King in such a Rage against the godly Ministers, that he durst not at that Time present it, he therefore thought fit to delay it, and thereafter fully forgot it.
The first Time Mr. Welch saw his Face after his Return from Court, he asked him, What he had done with his Petition? My Lord 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 gotten 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, tho' 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 upon James Stuart, Son to 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 a longing to see her Family in Air, 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 House when she came to Air, nor to pass by the Bridge thro' the Town, but to pass the River above the Bridge, and so to get the Way to her own House, and not to come into the Town; for he said, Before you come thither, you shall find the Plague broke out in Air. 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 Air 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, convening a Number of the honest Citizens, prayed fervently for the Town, as he was a mighty Wrestler with God, and accordingly after that the Plague decreased.
Now, the Time is come he must leave Scotland, and never to see it again; so, upon the seventh of November, 1606, in the Morning, he, with his Neighbours, took Ship at Leith, and though it was but Two a-Clock in the Morning, many were waiting on, with their afflicted Families to bid them Farewell. After Prayer, they sang the twenty-third Psalm, and so, with 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 on 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 Saint 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 first 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 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 the preventing Mistakes of that Kind, he desired the young Gentlemen, when they perceived him beginning to decline, to give him a Sign, and the Sign was, they were both to stand up upon their Feet, and thereafter he was more exact in his Expressions 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 Troch-rig, once to ask him, after he had preached before the University of 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 Apprehension from Men at all: And this Answer, said Mr. Boyd, did not remove my Admiration, but rather increased it.
There was in his House, among many others who tabled with him for good Education, a young Gentleman of great Quality, and suitable Expectations, and this was the Heir of the Lord Ochiltry, who was Captain of the Castle of Edinburgh. So that this young Nobleman, after he had gained very much upon Mr. Welch's Affections, fell sick of a grievous Sickness, and after he had been long wasted with it, closed his Eyes, and expired, as dying Men use to do. So, to the Apprehension and Sense of all Spectators, he was no more but a Carcass, and was therefore taken out of his Bed, and laid upon a Pallat on the Floor, that his Body might be the more conveniently dressed, as dead Bodies use to be. This was to Mr. Welch a very great Grief, and therefore he stayed with the young Man's dead Body full three Hours lamenting over him with great Tenderness. After twelve Hours, the Friends brought 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 the Youth for a Time; which they granted, and returned not till twenty-four Hours after his Breath was expired: Then they returned, desiring with great Importunity the Corpse might be coffined, that it might be speedily buried, the Weather being extremely hot; yet he persisted in his Request, earnestly begging them to excuse him for once more. So they left the Youth upon his Pallat 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 yet more. After forty-eight Hours were past, Mr. Welch was still where he was, and then his Friends perceived he believed the young Man was not really dead, but under some Apoplectic Fit; and therefore proponed to him, for his Satisfaction, that Trial should be made upon his Body by Doctors and Surgeons, if possibly any Spark of Life might be found in him; and with this he was content. So the Physicians were set a-Work, who pinch'd him with Pincers in the fleshy Parts of his Body, and twisted a Bowstring about his Head with great Force; but no Sign of Life appeared in him, so the Physicians pronounced him stark dead; and then there was no more Delay to be desired: 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 Pallat, and cried unto the Lord with all his Might for the last Time, and sometimes looking 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, who 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 the dead young Man restored to Life again, to their great Astonishment. And this young Nobleman, though his Father lost the Estate of Ochiltry, lived to acquire a great Estate in Ireland, and was Lord Castlesteuart, and a Man of such excellent Parts, that he was courted by the Earl of Strafford, to be a Counsellor 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 so continued 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 he lived. This Story the Nobleman communicated to his Friends in Ireland, and from them I had it.
While Mr. Welch was Minister in one of these French Villages, upon an Evening a certain Popish Friar, traveling through the Country, because he could not find Lodging in the whole Village, addressed himself to Mr. Welch his House for one Night. The Servants acquainted their Master, and he was content to receive this Guest. The Family had supp'd 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 surprised with the Noise of a silent but constant whispering Noise, at which he wondered very much, and was not a little troubled with it.
The next Morning he walked in the Fields, where he chanced to meet 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 Hugonot Minister. Then the Country-Man asked him, What Entertainment he had? The Friar answered, Very bad; for, said he, I always held there were Devils haunting 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 but the Minister at his Night-Prayers. O, said the Friar, does the Minister pray any? Yes, more than any Man in France, answered the Country-Man, and if you'll please to stay another Night with him, you may be satisfied. The Friar got him Home to Mr. Welch's House, and pretended Indisposition, entreated 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 Fervour, as his Custom was: To all which the Friar was an astonished Witness. After the Exercise they went to Dinner, where the Friar was very civilly entertained, Mr. Welch forbearing all Question and Dispute for that Time. When the Evening came, Mr. Welch made his Exercise as he had done in the Morning, which occasioned yet more wondering in the Friar; and after Supper to Bed they all went: But the Friar longed much to know what the Night-Whisper was, and in that he was soon satisfied, for after Mr. Welch's first Sleep, the Noise began; and then the Friar resolved to be sure what it was; so he creep'd silently to Mr. Welch's Chamber-Door, and there he heard not only the Sound, but the Words exactly, and Communications betwixt God and Man, and such as he knew not had been in the World. Upon this, the next Morning as soon as Mr. Welch was ready, the Friar went to him, and told him, that he had been in Ignorance, and lived in Darkness all his Time; but now he was resolved to adventure his Soul with Mr. Welch, and thereupon declared himself Protestant. Mr. Welch welcomed him, and encouraged him, and he continued a constant Protestant to his dying Day. This Story I had from a godly Minister, who was bred in Mr. Welch's House in France about the Year 16---.
When Lewis XIII of France made War upon the Protestants there, because of their Religion; the City of St. Jean d'Angely was by him and his royal Army besieged, and brought into extreme Danger. Mr. Welch was Minister in the Town, and mightily encouraged the Citizens to hold out, assuring them, God should deliver them. In the mean 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 once one of the King's Gunners placed 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 Terrour, and though they had several Guns planted upon the Wall, no Man durst undertake to manage them. This being told Mr. Welch with great Affrightment, he, notwithstanding, encouraged them still to hold out; and running to the Wall himself, found the Cannonier (who was a Burgundian) near the Wall; him he entreated to mount the Wall, promising to assist him in Person: So to the Wall they got. The Cannonier told Mr. Welch, that either they behoved to dismount the Gun upon the rising Ground, or else were surely lost. Mr. Welch desired him to aim well, and he should serve him, and God would help him; so the Gunner falls a-scouring his Piece, and Mr. Welch ran to the Powder to fetch him a Charge; but as soon as he was returning, the King's Gunner fires his piece, which carried both the Powder and Shot out of Mr. Welch's Hands; which yet did not discourage him; for having left the Ladle, he filled his Hat with Powder, wherewith the Gunner loaded his Piece, and dismounted the King's Gun at the first Shot. So the Citizens returned to their Post of Defence.
This discouraged the King so, that he sent to the Citizens to offer them fair Conditions; which were, that they should enjoy Liberty of their Religion, their civil Privileges, but their Walls should be demolished: Only the King desired, for his Honour, that he might enter the City with his Servants in a friendly Manner. This the City thought fit to grant, and the King with a few more entered the City for a short Time. But while the King was in the City, Mr. Welch preached as was his ordinary, which much offended the French Court; so one Day, while he was at Sermon, the King sent the Duke d'Espernon to fetch him out of the Pulpit into his Presence. The Duke went with his Guard, and as soon as he entered the Church where Mr. Welch was preaching, Mr. Welch commanded to make Way, and to set 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 Mr. Welch willingly did. When the Duke came to the King, the King ask'd 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 with him. Whereupon Mr. Welch is called, and when he entered the King's Room, he kneeled upon his Knees, and silently prayed for Wisdom and Assistance. Thereafter the King challenged him, How he durst preach where he was, since it was against the Law 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 not as those Men you hear preach; my Preaching differs from theirs in these two Points, First, I preach you must be saved by the Death and Merits of Jesus Christ, and not your own. Next, I preach, said he, that as you are King of France; you are under the Authority and Command of no Man on Earth; those Men, said he, whom you hear, subject you to the Pope of Rome, which I will never do. The King replied no more, but & bien vous etiez mon Ministre. Well, well, you shall be my Minister; and some say, called him Father, which is an Honour the King of France bestows 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 as soon as ever it fell into his Hand, he commanded Vitry, the Captain of his Guard, to enter the Town, and preserve his Minister from all Danger; and then were Horses and Wagons provided for Mr. Welch, to transport him and his Family for Rochel, whither he went, and there sojourned for a Time. This Story, my Lord Kenmure, who was bred at Mr. Welch's House, told Mr. Livingstoun, Minister at Ancrum, and from him I had it.
After his Flock in France was scattered, he obtained Liberty to come to England; and his Friends made hard Suit that he might be permitted to return to Scotland, because the Physicians declared there was no other Way 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 should never be able to establish his beloved Bishops in Scotland, if Mr. Welch were permitted to return thither; so he languished in London a considerable Time; his Disease was judged by some to have a Tendency to a Sort of Leprosy; Physicians said, he had been poisoned. A Langour he had, together with a great Weakness in his Knees, caused with his continual Kneeling at Prayer: By which it came to pass, that tho' 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 he might not return into Scotland, at least he might have Liberty to preach at London; which King James, would never 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 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 the last Performance of his Life; for after he had ended 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. Derling the famous English Divine, after he had been little more than 52 Years of Age.