Cloud of Witnesses

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John Welch

Mr Welch was born about the year 1570. His first settlement as a minister was at Selkirk. From there he was translated to Kirkcudbright and afterwards to Ayr. In all of these places, but especially the last of them, his labours were signally blessed. It is chiefly, however, for the persecutions he endured on behalf of religion and Presbyterian church government that he is justly regarded as a most eminent Scots Worthy. With other five of his brethren he was banished to France, and remained there till within a short time of his death. He was then allowed to come to England, but not to enter Scotland. He died at London in the year 1622, after a violent exertion in preaching. No detail of his last words has been preserved, but the following extracts from a letter written to a noble lady, shortly before his banishment, in 1606, may serve to indicate the state of mind, in reference to eternity.

' My desire to remain here is not great, knowing that so long as I am in this house of clay, I am absent from the Lord: and if it were dissolved, I look for a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. In this I groan, desiring to be clothed upon with my new house which is in heaven: if so be, that being clothed, I shall not be found naked. For I that am within this tabernacle, do often groan and sigh within myself, being often burdened; not that I would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. I long to eat the fruit of that tree which is planted in the midst of the paradise of God; and to drink of the pure river, clear as crystal, that runs through the streets of the new Jerusalem. I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and that though after my skin worms devour my body, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and not another, and mine eyes shall behold Him, though my reins be consumed within me.

I long to be refreshed in company with the souls of them that are under the altar, who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they held; and to have the long white robe given me, that I may walk in white with those glorious saints, who have washed their garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Why should I think it a strange thing to be removed from this place to that wherein is my hope, my joy, my crown, my Eldest brother, my Head, my Father, my Comforter, and all the glorified saints; and where the song of Moses and of the Lamb is sung joyfully; where we shall no longer be compelled to sit by the rivers of Babylon, and hang our harps upon the willows, but shall take them and sing the new Hallelujah - blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, to Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever!

What is under this old vault of the heavens, and in this old worn out earth, (which is under the bondage of corruption, groaning and travailling in pain, and as it were still shooting out the head, looking, waiting, and longing for the redemption of the sons of God) what is there I say, that should make me remain here? I expect that new heaven and that new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, and wherein I shall dwell for evermore.

I look to get entry into the new Jerusalem, at one of those twelve gates whereupon are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. I know that Christ Jesus hath prepared room for me; why may I not then, with boldness in His blood, step into that glory, into which my Head and Lord hath gone before me? Jesus Christ is the Door and the Porter, who then shall hold me out? Will He let them perish for whom He died? Will He let that poor sheep be plucked out of His hand for whom He hath laid down His life? Who shall condemn the man whom God hath justified? Who shall lay anything to the charge of the man whom God hath justified? Who shall lay anything to the charge of the man for whom Christ hath died, or rather risen again?

I know I have grievously transgressed, but where sin abounded, grace have super abounded. I know my sins are red as scarlet and crimson, yet the blood of Christ my Lord, can make me as white as snow and as wool. Whom have I in heaven but Him, or whom desire I in earth beside Him? O Thou, the fairest among the children of men, the light of the Gentiles, the glory of the Jews, the life of the dead, the joy of angels and saints, my soul pants to be with Thee!

I will put my spirit into Thy hands, and Thou wilt not put it out of Thy presence. I will come unto Thee; for Thou cast none away that come to Thee, O Thou only delight of mankind! Thou came to seek and save that which was lost. Thou, seeking me, hast found me: and now being found by Thee , I hope, O Lord Thou wilt not let me perish. I desire to be with Thee, and do long for the fruition of Thy blessed presence, and joy of Thy countenance. Thou, the only good Shepherd, art full of grace and truth: therefore, I trust, Thou wilt not thrust me out of the door of Thy presence and grace. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Thee. Who shall separate me from Thy love? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things I am more than conqueror through Thy majesty who hath loved me. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, is able to separate me from the love of the majesty which is in Christ Jesus, my Lord.

I refuse not to die with Thee, that I may live with Thee. I refuse not to suffer with Thee, that I may rejoice with Thee. Shall not all things be pleasant to me, which may be my last step, by which, or upon which, I may come unto Thee. When shall I be satiate with Thy face? When shall I be drunk with Thy pleasures? Come, Lord Jesus, and tarry not. The Spirit says come. the Bible says come. Even so Lord Jesus, come quickly, and tarry not.

'Why should the multitude of mine iniquities, or the greatness of them affright me? Why should I faint in this mine adversity to be with Thee? The greater sinner I have been, the greater glory will be Thy grace to me, unto all eternity. Oh unspeakable joy, endless infinite and bottomless compassion! O, ocean of never ending pleasure! O! Love of Love! O! the height, and the depth, and breadth, and length of that love of Thine that passes knowledge! O uncreated love! Beginning, without beginning, and ending without end! Thou art my glory, my joy, my gain, and my crown. Thou hast set me under the shadow with great delight, and Thy fruit is sweet to my taste.

Thou hast brought me into Thy banqueting house, and placed me in Thine orchard. Stay me with flagons, and comfort me with Thine apples: for I am sick: behold, Thou art fair, Thou hast dove's eyes. Behold, Thou art fair my love; yea, pleasant also: our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedars and our rafters are of fir. How fair and how pleasant art Thou! O love for delights! My heart is ravished with Thee. O when shall I see Thy face? How long wilt Thou delay to be to me as a roe, or a young hart, leaping upon the mountains, and skipping upon the hills? As a bindle of myrrh be Thou unto me, and lie all night between my breasts. Because of the savour of Thy good ointments, Thy name is as an ointment poured out; therefore, desire I to go out of the desert, and through to the place where Thou sittest at Thy repose, and where Thou makest Thy flocks to rest at noon. When shall I be filled with Thy love? Certainly, if a man knew how precious it were, he would count all things but dross and dung to gain it. I would long for that scaffold, or that axe, or that cord, that might be to me the last step of this my wearisome journey, to go to Thee my Lord. Thou, who knowest the meaning of the spirit within me.

Thou, who hast inflamed my heart to speak to Thee in this silent, yet love language of ardent and fervent desire, speak again unto my heart, answer my desires, which Thou hast made me speak to Thee. O death! Where is thy sting? O grave! Where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, that giveth us the victory, through my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What can be troublesome to me, since my Lord looks upon me with so amiable a countenance? And how greatly do I long for these embraces of my Lord! O that He would kiss me with the kisses of His mouth: for His love is better than wine! O that my soul were the throne whereon He might sit eternally! O that my heart were the temple wherein He might be magnified and dwell for ever. Who am I that He should first have called me, and then constitute me as 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, yet as free as any kingdom under heaven, not only to hold and keep her meetings, and conventions and assemblies; but also to judge of all her affairs, in all her meetings and conventions amongst her members and subjects. these two points, First, that Christ is the Head of His church. Secondly, 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 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 can be, to any other authority, but to His own altogether. So that I would most glad to be offered up as a sacrifice for so glorious a truth: but alas! I fear that my sins and the abuse of so glorious things as I have found, deprive me so fair a crown; yet my Lord doth know, if He should call me to it, and strengthen me in it, 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.

It may suffice me I have heard, and through the grace of God, I have been so long a witness of this glorious and good news, in my weak ministry, and that I hope at that day, I shall have Him to be my crown, my glory, my joy, and reward, and therefore boldly I say with Simeon, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, not in a peaceable dying in my bed, but by rendering up to Him my spirit, and sealing and stamping this truth with my blood. I desire not to have it remedied, but let my Lord's will be done.

' The guilt of our blood shall not only lie upon our prince, but also upon our own brethren, bishops, counsellors, and commissioners, it is they, even they have stirred up our prince against us; we must therefore lay the blame and burden of our blood upon them especially, however the rest above written be partakers of their sins with them; and as to the rest of our brethren, who either by silence approve, or by crying peace, peace, strengthen the arm of the wicked, that they cannot return, in the mean time make the hearts of the righteous sad, they shall all in like manner be guilty of high treason against the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, His crown and kingdom.

' Next unto them, all our commissioners, chancellor, president, comptroller, advocate, and next unto them, all that first or last sat in council and did not bear plain testimony for Jesus Christ and His kingdom, for which we do suffer. And next unto them, all those who should have been present, and who should at times have come, and made open testimony of Christ faithfully, although it had been contrary to plain law, and with the hazard of their lives. When the poor Jews were in such danger, that nothing was expected but utter destruction, Queen Esther, after three days fasting, concluded thus with herself, ' I will', said she, ' go in to the king,' though it be not according to law, ' and if I perish, I perish.' With this resolution, such as are born counsellors, should have said, 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 judgement; 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.

Finally, all those that counsel, command, consent, and allow, are guilty in the sight of God. But the mourners for these evils, and the faithful of the land, and those who are unfeignedly grieved in heart, for all these abominations, those shall be marked as not guilty, ' I know not whether I shall have occasion to write again; and therefore, by this latter will and testament, I give testimony, warning, and knowledge of these things to all men, according to the Lord's direction to the prophet, ' Son of man, I have made thee a watchman.' Therefore I give warning to all men hereby, that no man's blood be required at my hand. thus desiring the help of your prayers, with my humble commendations and service in Christ, to my Lord, your husband, and all the saints there, the messenger of peace be with you all for evermore. Amen. Yours to my full power, for the time Christ's prisoner.