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John Welsh

"O brother, pray; in spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friends than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea and supper--and sleep too--than not pray. We must not just talk about prayer, we must pray in right earnest."  Andrew A. Bonar

"In God's name, I beseech you, let prayer nourish your soul as meals nourish your body!"  Fenelon

"My present deadness I attribute to want of sufficient time and tranquility for private devotion. Oh, that I might be a man of prayer!"  Henry Martyn

"Every promise of Scripture is a writing of God, which may be pleaded before him with this reasonable request: ‘Do as Thou hast said...Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope...It is Your Word, will you not keep it? Why have You spoken of it if You will not make it good? You have caused me to hope in it; will You disappoint the hope that You have Yourself begotten in me?"  Charles H. Spurgeon

"Put Me in remembrance-remind Me of your merits-let us plead and argue together. Set forth your case that you may be justified..."  I Am - (Isaiah 43:26 Amplified Bible)

John Welsh prayed. It was said of John Welsh that he thought a day "ill-used" if he did not spend seven to eight hours of it in prayer. At different times throughout the day he would stop what he was doing, retire to a secluded room or location and boldly go before the throne of grace, that he may obtain mercy and find grace to help him in his time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It was his prayer life that sustained him. It was prayer that strengthened him in the trials and persecutions that were leveled against him. It was prayer that gave him the fortitude to continue preaching the gospel in the face of adversity and peril. It was prayer that increased his intimacy with his Savior. It was prayer that not only changed the hearts of thousands but an entire town to the things of God. It is said that the power in which a man walks in God is a reflection of the time he spends in prayer and oh, what power John Welsh walked in. You see, John Welsh prayed.

Welsh was a solid acclamation to the longsuffering, mercy and grace of our loving Lord. When Welsh was young he knew little of nor cared anything for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or the salvation brought about by His only begotten Son and if there was an eternal damnation in hell, how far worse could it be to the poverty, pestilence and disease of the world in which he lived. Born in 1568, his father was a wealthy gentleman of considerable note around Scotland and possessed an extensive estate in the Scottish Highlands. His rebellion started early becoming a constant truant from school sometimes for extended periods of time. Refusing any corrective instruction from friends and family he eventually left school and his father's estate and headed out to the Scottish borders where he joined one of the numerous bands of border gangs or "freebooters" as they were called. The border districts were infested with these marauders who preyed upon everyone who happened to venture near their territory. These ruffians were despicable thieves who showed no mercy in robbing and humiliating their victims. Welsh spent years among these highwaymen and it is not known how or when the Spirit of God began to motivate him to change his ways. He repented of his ways and resolved to return to his father's house. He contacted an aunt and asked her to mediate between himself and his father which she did. His aunt asked his father, previous to her producing him, whether he had heard from young John. His father then answered, "The first news I expect to hear of him is, that he is hanged as a thief." She convinced his father that he had changed his ways and that he wanted to continue schooling and enter the ministry. His father pardoned him and Welsh shortly entered the newly-formed University of Edinburgh to prepare for the ministry of the Scottish Church. The University had become a model "Reformed Theological Seminary" where its students became well grounded in the truths of the Word of God. Scotland was experiencing a revival at this time and the study of theology was being earnestly pursued by persons of all ranks. Welsh was a diligent student and in August 1588 he received his M.A. degree, the first Edinburgh graduate to be ordained to the ministry.

So now, John Welsh, at the age of twenty was on his way to his first ministry position. It was in the city of Selkirk, about thirty-eight miles south of Edinburgh. His extraordinary character, intensity and fervor for a moral and Godly point of view and his unremitting and untiring zeal soon led him to become an object of dislike and jealousy both to the clergy and the lay men of the organized church in the district where he was now living. The hatred in which he was persecuted by his peers along with the realization of the lostness of the people led him into a life time of intense prayer. It was here in Selkirk, a time of constant struggle, that he began his eight hours of daily prayer which he continued the rest of his life.

Selkirk was a hard town. The people were poorly educated and, as Welsh says in his own words, "Uncouth." They refused to listen to him because they were content with the dead religion those in charge had been giving them. They resisted his ministry even to the point of violence. Welsh labored among the people of Selkirk for six years and it was a constant struggle. He would preach publically once or twice each day but to no avail. Praying unceasingly about the barbaric actions of the townsfolk he would not let a night go by without it witnessing his passionate and intense devotions before the Lord. Every night before going to bed, he would place a Scotch plaid (small blanket or shawl) on the side of the bed, that when he awoke in the cold of the night for his midnight prayers it would be handy to wrap around his shoulders. Agonizing with God in prayer he would ask that these hearts be changed or remove him to a more suitable place for the gospel. The answer would come soon.

The one good and positive thing that came out of his sojourn in Selkirk was his marriage in 1594 to Elizabeth Knox, the youngest daughter of the mighty Scottish reformer John Knox. Knox is remembered for bringing a country-wide move of God that changed the whole of Scotland for a time. It was Knox that passionately cried out to God in prayer, "Give me Scotland, or I die." So now another great man of prayer through marriage has been given the torch of revival for the land. Elizabeth was a positive influence on Welsh, being brought up from her early years in the principles of Holy Scripture she was a worthy helpmate in the trials and sufferings, for the gospel's sake, that would continue throughout their lives.

Living in meager lodgings because no one in the town would offer them a rectory or church house to live, Welsh's frustration with the outright refusal of the people to heed the Lord or His Word forced him to journey out into the country-side in search of more fertile hearts. This infuriated the populous even more. They did all they could to stymie the work of God even to the point of viciously destroying the only mode of transportation that he and his wife owned. Maurice Roberts fills us in:

"...the gospel light brought by Welsh was far from welcomed by the people of Selkirk. It appears that they preferred their former darkness to Christ's gospel. No very considerable fruits were evident, and the hostility there was such that one of the local gentlemen, Scot of Headschaw, even cut off the rumps of the two horses which Welsh used for his preaching excursions into the surrounding countryside."

It was in this atmosphere, after six years of constant intercession by Welsh, that the hand of God was lifted and, commanded not to pray anymore for them, Welsh was released to preach the Gospel elsewhere.

"And as for Me also, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity, but I will recompense their deeds on their own head." (Ezekiel 9:10)

In 1595, Welsh was offered and accepted a pastorate in the town of Kirkcudbright. Welsh and his wife could not find anyone in Selkirk, except one poor young man by the name of Ewart that would lend any assistance in moving his furniture to his new destination. Needless to say, I am sure that Welsh felt relief as he knocked off the dust of that city from his shoes and headed toward his new home. For all practical purposes it was not much different from Selkirk. Kirkcudbright was a hot bed of Catholicism and its previous Reformed Scottish Church minister, Andrew Blyth, was murdered as a heretic, in the town square, for preaching reformation. It was his shoes that Welsh was now sent to fill. Buoyed by his amazing prayer life Welsh entered that town and pulpit wearing the full armor of God and wielding the Sword of the Spirit.

From the first day he arrived the town was shaken by his powerful preaching. Worldliness and a religious spirit were the first strongholds he began to tear down. He next attacked the worship of idols and observing man-made doctrines:

"These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me . And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines of God the commandments of men."(Matthew 15:8/9)
Next he preached against the lack of true repentance for sins, saying:


"There is a godly sorrow which leads a man to life; and this sorrow is wrought in a man by the Spirit of God, and in the heart of the godly; that he mourns for sin because it has displeased God, Who is so dear and so sweet a father to him. And even if he had neither a heaven to gain, nor a hell to lose, yet he is still sad and sorrowful in heart because he has grieved God."

Converts soon began to trickle in and soon the harvest was plentiful. The reformed Presbyterian message of Welsh and a few others soon overflowed into a great revival throughout Southern Scotland. It wasn't only the people but also ministers who were experiencing this wonderful "refreshing from the Lord." By 1596 a General Assembly in Edinburgh was called and over 400 men were present for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The business of the Assembly was prayer and the confession of ministerial sin. Many were humbled to tears of conviction and repentance for the sins of their office. The hours and hours of prayer that John Welsh spent over the years now seemed to be bearing fruit. David Calderwood described the scene on a Tuesday morning:

"While they were humbling themselves, for the space of quarter of an hour, there were sighs and sobs, with shedding of tears...everyone provoking another by his example...so that the place might worthily have been called Bochim; for the like of that day was never seen in Scotland since the Reformation, as every man confessed."

Liz Hardie writes that during this revival, "It seems that Welsh's preaching took on a new power during this time." It was also during this time that King James VI began a persecution to put down the Presbyterian Church and replace it with the Episcopal Church, the Church of England. The main reason for this was that he was trying to smooth the way to easily assume the throne of both kingdoms, England and Scotland. He believed that, since this revival, the Presbyterian ministers were too zealous in exalting the headship of Christ over the King. So it was that John Welsh's preaching would soon fall foul of the King's policy. Maurice Roberts continues:

"Outspoken in defense of the Church's true liberties, Welsh preached a notable sermon in St. Giles, Edinburgh, in December 1596. It was admirable theology; but under the existing political circumstances, it was deemed to be a virtual act of treason."

James Young in his biography of Welsh states that the sermon dealt specifically with the "royal encroachment on the monies that were seeded to the churches for preaching of the gospel." Welsh laid the damnation of millions of souls of the poor brethren, who might have been saved by having the Word of Salvation preached to them, on the royal collectors and landowners who preferred to pocket the funds intended to support the ministry. It would be a while before King James acquired the throne of both kingdoms so for a short time Welsh was safe but as Maurice Roberts writes, "King James would soon have his revenge on Welsh in ample measure."

Welsh was now at the point where he would soon take his place as one of the great Reformed Scottish Revivalists. After four years at Kirkcudbright he now journeyed to a town "to which his name has ever after been most closely associated." In 1600, he arrived at the country-town of Ayr. Welsh would spend less than five years in this town, from August 1600 to July 1605, it was here that revival fires would blaze.

Ayr, locally called Ayrshire, over the years had gospel seeds planted by other Reformed ministers. Even Welsh's late father-in-law, John Knox, had visited and preached there occasionally. But at this day and age the state of Scotland had deteriorated to a rude and barbarous cess-pool. The sanitation of the area was no better. On his was to Ayr, traveling on the King's Highway, his senses were so overwhelmed with the sight of mounds and mounds of Offal (piles of decaying animal parts) and other filth accumulated on each side of the road. The people of Ayr were, as expected, crude, barbaric, immoral and ignorant. One historian notes:

"Fighting and dueling in the streets was common. The private feuds of competing noblemen frequently led to the loss of many lives. A man could hardly pass through the streets in safety when Welsh first came to the town, so common were the fights and quarrels."

Common people feared to venture out of doors as gangs of ruffians controlled the streets. Welsh saw all this and his spirit was stirred within him:


"What a nation so polluted with all abominations and murders as thou art? Thy iniquities are more than the sand of the sea, the cry of them is beyond the cry of Sodom."

On his arrival at Ayr, the aversion to him as a minister was so strong that he could find no one in the town who would let him and his wife have a house to live in. He would eventually find a Christian merchant by the name of Stewart, who offered him shelter under his roof.

Strengthened by the Lord and the power of His might, in prayer always, Welsh attacked the problem of street fighting with all the "energy of his holy soul." When he heard that a brawl was taking place he would immediately rush into the thick of the fight, clad often with a steel helmet, and would urge the combatants to sit down to a meal on a table placed in the street! After talking it over with the two sides he would conclude with a prayer and the singing of a psalm. Gradually Ayr grew more peaceful.

The glory of God was falling over the town and Welsh praying fervently and preaching frequently was having an eternal effect on the masses. He labored to end the habit of Sabbath Games, promoted decent social habits, disciplined and warned the unruly of a day of judgment and as a result revival spread through the town. Welsh was soon holding two Sabbath Services, preaching from nine to twelve in the morning and from four to six in the afternoon and in between visiting those who needed grounding in the Word of God. Welsh's preaching was so moving that those in the congregation could not restrain themselves from weeping under the intense presence of God in the services. Sometimes he would not preach but ask those present to just pray for Divine assistance at which time the weight of the glory of God would fall on the shoulders of all. Welsh's intensity as a preacher soon became known and he was sought after from one end of Scotland to the other. Maurice Roberts tell us:

"More than twenty years later when men spoke of the remarkable revival under David Dickson's preaching at Irvine, Dickson was to comment that ‘ the grape gleanings of Ayr in Mr. Welsh's time were far above the vintage of Irvine in his own."

In 1604, because of the unsanitary conditions which were common in those days, a fearful plague began to spread over the country. The plague moved westward from city to city and the 3000 people of Ayr became more and more alarmed as it approached their city. Welsh used this time to call the people to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ while at night he would spend hours praying for the mercy of God upon his congregation. Robert Murray McCheyne relates how one night during Welsh's travailing before God this incident occurred:

"He used to keep a blanket on his bed that he might wrap himself against the cold when he rose during the night to pray. One time his wife was awakened and found him on the floor weeping. When she complained that he should be back in the bed, he said, ‘Oh women, you do not understand, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them."

Amazingly the plague swept through all of Scotland but did not come near the town of Ayr. At one-time during the height of the pestilence two peddlers arrived at the north side of the river seeking admittance into the town. Although they were able to show a clean bill of health from the place they last visited, the magistrates would not admit them without first seeking the advice of Welsh. Welsh came and on hearing the problem said, "I will go to God in prayer and give you my answer." After a while he returned and told the magistrates to "cause these men to put on the packs again and be gone; for if God be in heaven, the plague is in the packs." The peddlers moved on and travelled to the town of Cumnock, a few miles to the east, where soon after their arrival the plague broke out with fearful loss of life.

Soon the plague ended and hundreds of visitors would flock into Ayr, the City of God, and from afar look into the Garden of Prayer where Welsh would spend many an hour in intercession. He was now renowned for his prolonged seasons of prayer. Borrowing from his late Father-in-Law, Welsh would cry out "Oh God, wilt Thou not give me Scotland! Oh God, wilt Thou not give me Scotland!"

King James had by this time assumed both thrones over England and Scotland and he vowed to imprison all the preachers, like Welsh, whose gospel was not that of the State Church. Harboring for years an anger against the outspokenness of Welsh, the King was ready to make his move. Welsh's final sermon at Ayr was on July 23, 1605. Its theme was "No condemnation to God's Elect." On ending the sermon Welsh prayed, "Now let the Lord give His blessing to His Word, and let the Spirit of Jesus, who is the author of the verity, come in and seal up the truth of it in your hearts and souls, for Christ's sake."

Immediately after the sermon the King's men summoned him to appear before a council in Edinburgh. Welsh would never see Ayr again. Welsh and other ministers were thrown into prison and indicted to stand trial. They went through the most unjust, illegal and arbitrary proceedings that ended in a verdict of guilty to being heretics and traitors to the crown with a sentence of death. Awaiting the date of execution Welsh was delivered to a most brutal place of confinement called Blackness Castle. Welsh was put in a darkened dungeon that could only be described as "a barbaric foul hole that could only be entered through a hole in the floor." The Castle still stands to this day and the dungeon was an uneven floor with shelving rock, sharp and pointed so that a prisoner can neither sit, walk, or stand without pain and it was impossible to find comfort during sleep. There is no fire-place for warmth and no light to read by. For over ten months Welsh was imprisoned in this hell-hole. Can you imagine what it was like. Would our American Christian faith withstand such an ordeal? In the lonely darkness second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month for ten months? Welsh said that many times during his prayers the Angel of the Lord stood beside him to strengthen his heart and he continued to glorify God that he was considered worthy to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. (Philippians 3:10)

After those ten months King James sent a letter to the Council commuting the death sentence of the ministers and instead banishing them from the kingdom. Welsh was banished to France.

On arriving in France, Welsh immediately took on the Catholic oppression over the country and preached among the persecuted Protestants there. After years of playing cat and mouse with the Church authorities he was finally summoned to the court of King Louis XIII. The King then demanded of Welsh how he had dared to preach against the true church on which principles his reign was founded. Welsh replied, "Sir, if your majesty knew what I preached, you would not only come and hear for yourself, but make all France hear it; for I preach not as those men who you are used to hearing. First, I preach that you must be saved by the merits of Jesus Christ, and not your own, next, I preach, that you are King of France, there is no man on earth above you; but these priests whom you hear, subject you, the King, to a pope of Rome, which I would never do." This totally disarmed the King of his anger and he instantly received Welsh into his royal favor making him the King's royal minister.

Living in relative peace to preach the Gospel, Welsh at this time was seized with an illness which his physicians said could only be removed by his returning to breathe the air of his native country. His wife then sought an interview with King James, who actually agreed to hear her. Dr. M'Crie, in his book the "Life of Knox" records her famous interview with the King:

"His majesty asked her ‘Who is your father." She replied, ‘John Knox.' ‘Knox and Welsh,' exclaimed the King, ‘the devil never made such a match as that.' ‘That is quite right sir', said she, ‘for we never asked his advice.' He then asked her, ‘How many children did your father leave, and were they lads or lasses.' She said, ‘Three, and they were all lasses.' ‘God be thanked!' cried the King, lifting up both his hands, ‘ for if they had been three lads, I would never have enjoyed my three kingdoms in peace.' She again urged her request that the King would give her husband his native air in Scotland. ‘ Give him his native air! Give him the devil!' the King replied. ‘Give the devil to your hungry courtiers' said she, offended at his profaneness. He then told her at last, that if she would persuade her husband to submit to the bishops, he would allow him to return to Scotland. Mrs. Welsh, lifting up her apron, and holding it toward the King, replied, in the true spirit of her father and husband, ‘Please your majesty, I would rather have his head cut off and placed in my apron, than have him betray the truth!'"

It took some persuading but the King did relent, not to permit Welsh to return to Scotland, but to allow him to live in London. On arriving in London Welsh immediately went to the pulpit and preached but his time on the earth was running out. Not long after that he preached a long sermon went home and two hours later died in prayer in his 53rd year of life. The doctors of that day said that Welsh died of "ossification of the limbs, brought on by much kneeling in his long and frequent devotional exercises."

Maurice Roberts laments:


"So died one of those mighty spiritual giants whom it pleased God to give his Church from time to time. May it please him to raise up many another to the confounding of His enemies and the glory of His Name!"

Luke 21:36 "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."

JJ (Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church
http://www.canecreekchurch.org