John Welsh, you are to report to the King’s Council in Edinburgh.”
When John Welsh stepped out of his pulpit in Ayr, Scotland, on this day, July 23, 1605, the King’s men came for him with that order. The Scottish pastor had preached that morning on the heart-warming promise that there is no condemnation for God’s elect, concluding with the words, “Now let the Lord give his blessing to his word, and let the Spirit of Jesus, who is the author of this verity [truth], come in and seal up the truth of it in your hearts and souls, for Christ’s sake.”
John had expected this arrest. Earlier that year, King James VI of Scotland forbade any pastor from attending a convention in Aberdeen. Like many Scottish pastors, Welsh believed no king had the right to stop preachers from conducting God’s business. He had never been one to buckle in face of danger. Needless to say, he had gone to the meeting. Now it was pay day.
Welsh said good-bye to his crying family and weeping church folk. “God send you back soon,” they prayed. But it was not to be.
John was given a mock trial and jailed. At first he was held in the prison known as the tollbooth, where many Scottish preachers served time. Later he was taken to brutal Blackness Castle. According to tradition, he was lowered into a dungeon pit that could be reached only through a hole in the floor. Its rough floor was uneven and slanted. There was no flat place on which to lay and no smooth spot on which to get comfortable. One could not sit, stand or lie down without misery. John spent ten months at Blackness. Well-known for his prayer-life (he averaged seven hours a day in prayer), John no doubt continued his earnest pleas for Scotland. Like his father-in-law John Knox, he pleaded, “O God, will you not give me Scotland!”
Perhaps he also remembered his hard years of service for Christ. At his first pastorate, in Selkirk, the local folk rejected the gospel completely, even cruelly cutting his horse so that he could not ride to nearby villages to preach. His next position was in a Roman Catholic region. The previous minister was killed for preaching reformation. At neither place did he have much success. But in his third pulpit, at Ayr, many people came to know Christ.
Ayr was a rough town. Duels and fights were so common, people feared to step onto the streets. Whenever John heard that a fight was brewing, he rushed to the spot and urged the rowdies to sit down to a peace meal together. He did this so often that the town became quieter and safer. James did not have the best interests of Ayr in mind when he arrested John. He felt that if he allowed Scotland to abolish bishops, they would want to abolish the king too!
James banished John to France. John quickly learned French and served as a preacher among the persecuted Protestants there. When his health broke, John’s wife pleaded with King James to let him return to Scotland’s air. The king said John could–if he submitted to the bishops. John’s wife was made of the same heroic stuff as her husband. She held out her apron and replied with spirit that she would rather have his head cut off and placed in her apron then have him betray the truth!
Roberts, Maurice. “John Welsh of Ayr.” Revival Library. http://www.revival-library.org/ index.html.
Smellie, Alexander. Men of the Covenant. Revell, 1903.
Taylor, James. The Scottish Covenanters. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., no date.
Last updated June, 2007
Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010, www.christianity.com