The Apprehension of Rebels for God, and John Welsh of Irongray



This is a story of a Mr. John Michael Welsh who was one of God’s dedicated pastors, and grandson of the famous John Welsh of Ayr.

It is recorded by the historian, Kirkton who says in his history, that “Mr. Welsh was a godly, meek, humble man, and a good preacher, but as bold an adventurer as I ever knew as a minister in Christ’s Church, old or new; for, notwithstanding all the threatenings of the State, including the great price of 500 pounds set upon his head, the spite of bishops, the diligence of all bloodhounds, Welsh maintained his difficult task of preaching upon the mountains of Scotland, many times to many thousands for nearly twenty years, and yet was kept always out of the enemy’s hand.

It is well known that bloody Claverhouse, upon intelligence that Welsh was lurking in some secret place, would ride forty miles in a winter’s night; yet when he came to the place he always missed his prey. I have known Mr. Welsh ride three days and two nights without sleep, and preach upon a mountain at midnight on one of the nights. He had for some time a dwelling-house near Tweedside; and sometimes, when the Tweed was strongly frozen, he preached in the midst of the river, that either he might shun the offense of both nations, or that two kingdoms might dispute his crime. He was eminently successful on the Borders.

He used to say to his friends, who counseled him to be more wary, that he believed God would preserve him as long; as he continued among dangers, but whenever he betook himself to safety, then his time should come; which accordingly came to pass after Bothwell, in 1679; when all forsook field-meetings, he went to London, and there died on the 9th of January, 1681.

Being pursued with unrelenting rigor, he was one time quite at a loss where to go; but depending on Scottish hospitality, and especially on the providence of God, he in the evening called at the house of a gentleman of known hospitality to host itinerant field-preachers. He was kindly received. In the course of conversation, the host mentioned John Welsh by name, and the difficulty of finding and getting hold of him. The stranger (who was our John Welsh) said, ‘I know where he is to preach to-morrow, and I will give you him by the hand.’

At this the host was exceedingly glad, and engaged the company of his guest with great cordiality. They set off the next morning. When they arrived at the meeting place, they made way for the minister, and also for his host. As they neared the front, Welsh asked his host to sit down on a chair, while he stood and preached.

During the sermon, the gentleman appeared much affected. At the close, Mr. Welsh gave his host his hand, which he cheerfully received, and said,’ Ye said you was sent to apprehend rebels, and I, a rebellious sinner, have been apprehended this day.’

–Taken from, The Religious anecdotes of Scotland


Meet this fearless preacher of God and part of your Christian heritage: John Michael Welsh of Irongray (c. 1624 – 1681) was a leader of the Scottish Covenanters movement.

He was the grandson of John Welsh, minister of Ayr, and a great-grandson of John Knox. He is called “of Irongray” – referring to the parish of Irongray in Dumfriesshire, to differentiate him from his grandfather.

On one occasion, John Welsh preached to a large crowd at Kinkell, near St Andrews. Philip Standfield, son of Sir James Standfield and a student at St Andrews University, attended the sermon and threw some missile that struck the preacher. Welsh said “I do not know who has put this public affront on Christ; but, be he who he may, there shall be more at his death than hearing me preach today”. This turned out to be true, for the young man was later hanged for murdering his father.

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