John Welch - Prison (1605)

Now the scene of Welch’s life begins to alter, but before his sufferings he had this strange warning: After the meeting at Aberdeen was over, he retired immediately to Ayr. One night he got up went into his garden, as was his custom, but he stayed longer than usual, which worried his wife. When he returned she told him off for his staying out so long on account of his health. He asked her to be quiet. He told her that they would be all right, but he knew well that he would never preach again in Ayr; and accordingly, before the next Sunday he was carried to Blackness Castle, a prisoner. After this he, with many others who had met at Aberdeen, were brought before the Council of Scotland at Edinburgh to answer for their rebellion and contempt in holding a General Assembly not authorised by the king. Because they refused to recognise the authority of the secret council over spiritual matters, such as the nature and constitution of a General Assembly, they were first remitted to the prison at Blackness, and then other places. Six of the most important of them were brought at night from Blackness to Linlithgow to stand before the criminal judges to answer an accusation of high treason. They were condemned by the verdict of a jury of very considerable gentlemen, as guilty of high treason, the punishment being deferred till the king’s pleasure should be known. Their punishment was banishment. While he was in Blackness, Welch wrote his famous letter to Lilias Graham, Countess of Wigton, in which he mentions, in the strongest terms, his consolation in suffering; his desire to be dissolved that he might be with the Lord; and the judgments he foresaw coming on Scotland. He wrote:

‘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 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 convicted as traitors for the maintaining thereof. We have been ever waiting with joyfulness to give the last testimony of our blood in confirmation thereof, if it should please our God to be so favourable as to honour us with that dignity; yea, I do affirm, that these two points above written, and all other things which belong to 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 Livingstone of Kilsyth.

‘As for that instrument, Spottiswoode, we are sure the Lord will never bless that man, but a malediction lies upon him and shall accompany all his doings; and it may be, sir, your eyes shall see as great confusion covering him, ere he go to his grave, as ever did his predecessors. Now, surely, sir, I am far from bitterness, but here I denounce the wrath of an everlasting God against him, which assuredly shall fall, except it be prevented. Sir, Dagon shall not stand before the ark of the Lord, and these names of blasphemy that he wears, of Arch and Lord Bishop, will have a fearful end. Not one beck is to be given to Haman, suppose he were as great a courtier as ever he was. Suppose the decree was given out, and sealed with the 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 underfoot 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.’