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John Welch

Mighty Man of Prayer

"He reckoned the day ill-spent if he stayed not seven or eight hours in prayer."

Introduction    Biography   Lifestyle   Quotations    Stories   Letters and Sermons


John Welch was a mighty man of prayer who served God in Scotland during difficult times. He believe that a day was wasted when seven to eight hours were not spent in prayer. He often woke up during the night to pray. Once questioned by his wife, he responded that God had put 3,000 souls on his heart.



“He used to say, he wondered how a Christian could lie in bed all night, and not rise to pray; and many times he rose, and many times he watched. One night he rose and went into the next room, where he stayed so long at secret prayer, that his wife, fearing he might catch cold, was constrained to rise and follow him, and, as she hearkened, she heard him speak as by interrupted sentences, “Lord, wilt Thou not grant me Scotland?” and, after a pause, “Enough, Lord, enough.” This biography comes from John Howie’s Scots Worthies, first published in 1775. (Read the rest of this brief biography)

Falkirk, Life and History of John Welch pdf

This brief biography was published in 1817 and includes additional letters.


His Lifestyle

He gave himself wholly to ministerial exercises, preaching once every day; he prayed the third part of his time, and was unwearied in his studies. For a proof of this, it was found among his papers, that he had abridged Suarez’s metaphysics when they came first to his hand, even when he was well stricken in years. By all this it appears, that he has been not only a man of great diligence, but also of a strong and robust natural constitution, otherwise he had never endured the fatigue.

His custom was, when he went to bed at night, to lay a Scots plaid above his bed clothes, and when he went to his night-prayers, to sit up and cover himself negligently therewith, and so to continue; for, from the beginning of his ministry to his death, he reckoned the day ill-spent if he stayed not seven or eight hours in prayer.

Sometimes, before he went to sermon, he would send for his elders, and tell them he was afraid to go to the pulpit, because he found himself sore deserted; he would therefore desire one or more of them to pray, and then he would venture to the pulpit. But it was observed that this humble exercise used ordinarily to be followed by a flame of extraordinary assistance.

He would often retire to the church of Ayr, which was at some distance from the town, and there spend the whole night in prayer; for he used to allow his affections full expression, and prayed not only with an audible, but sometimes a loud voice.



On Much Praying...
When his wife complained when she found him lying on the ground weeping, He responded: “O woman, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them!”

Defending Christ as the Head of the Church...
“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.

Warning Mockers...
“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 under foot 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.”

Faithful to the Word of God...
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.”




A Friar Comes Calling

This delightful story shares how the prayers of John Welch brought about the conversion of a Catholic priest. (Read all of the story)

Praying at Night...
As the duty wherein John Welch abounded and excelled most was prayer, so his greatest attainments fell that way. He used to say, he wondered how a Christian could lie in bed all night, and not rise to pray; and many times he rose, and many times he watched. One night he rose and went into the next room, where he stayed so long at secret prayer, that his wife, fearing he might catch cold, was constrained to rise and follow him, and, as she hearkened, she heard him speak as by interrupted sentences, “Lord, wilt Thou not grant me Scotland?” and, after a pause, “Enough, Lord, enough.” She asked him afterwards what he meant by saying, “Enough, Lord, enough?” He showed himself dissatisfied with her curiosity; but told her that he had been wrestling with the Lord for Scotland, and found there was a sad time at hand, but that the Lord would be gracious to a remnant. This was about the time when bishops first overspread the land, and corrupted the Church.

Giving Warnings...
One night sitting at supper with Lord Ochiltree, he entertained the company with godly and edifying discourse, as his manner was, which was well received by them all, except a debauched Popish young gentleman, who sometimes laughed, and sometimes mocked and made wry faces. Thereupon Mr Welch brake out into a sad abrupt charge upon all the company to be silent, and observe the work of the Lord upon that mocker, which they should presently behold; upon which the profane wretch sunk down and died beneath the table, to the great astonishment of all the company.

Protecting His Wife from the Plague...
While Welch was detained prisoner in Edinburgh Castle, his wife used for the most part to stay in his company, but upon a time fell into a longing to see her family in Ayr, to which with some difficulty he yielded. When she was to take her journey, he strictly charged her not to take the ordinary way when she came to Ayr, nor to pass by the bridge through the town, but to cross the river above the bridge, and so reach his own house, without going into the town; “for,” said he, “before you come thither, you shall find the plague broken out in Ayr,” which accordingly came to pass. The plague was at that time very terrible, and being necessarily separate from his people, it was to him the more grievous; but when the people of Ayr came to him to bemoan themselves, his answer was, that Hugh Kennedy, a godly gentleman in their town, should pray for them, and God would hear him. This counsel they accepted, and the gentleman, convening a number of the honest citizens, prayed earnestly for the town. He was a mighty wrestler with God, and accordingly after that, the plague decreased.

John Welch Helped a Traveler...
Though John Welch, on account of his holiness, abilities, and success, had acquired among his subdued people a very great respect, yet was he never in such admiration as after the great plague which raged in Scotland in his time. And one cause was this: The magistrates of Ayr, for as much as this town alone was free, and the country around infected, thought fit to guard the ports with sentinels and watchmen. One day two travelling merchants, each with a pack of cloth upon a horse, came to the town desiring entrance, that they might sell their goods, producing a pass from the magistrates of the town from whence they came, which was at that time sound and free. Notwithstanding all this, the sentinels stopped them till the magistrates were called, and when they came they would do nothing without their minister’s advice; so John Welch was called, and his opinion asked. He demurred, and putting off his hat, with his eyes towards heaven for a pretty space, though he uttered no audible words, yet he continued in a praying posture, and after a little space told the magistrates that they would do well to discharge these travellers their town, affirming, with great asseveration, that the plague was in these packs. So the magistrates commanded them to be gone, and they went to Cumnock, a town about twenty miles distant, and there sold their goods, which kindled such an infection in that place, that the living were hardly able to bury their dead. This made the people begin to think of Mr Welch as an oracle. Yet, though he walked with God, and kept close with Him, he forgot not man, for he used frequently to dine abroad with such of his friends as he thought were persons with whom he might maintain the communion of the saints; and once in the year he used to invite all his familiar acquaintances in the town to a treat in his house, where there was a banquet of holiness and sobriety.

Persisting in Prayer for a Deceased Young Man...
There was in his house, amongst many others who boarded with him for good education, a young gentleman of great quality and suitable expectations, the heir of Lord Ochiltree, Governor of the Castle of Edinburgh. This young nobleman, after he had gained very much upon Mr Welch’s affections, fell ill of a grievous sickness, and after he had been long wasted by it, closed his eyes and expired, to the apprehension of all spectators; and was therefore taken out of his bed, and laid on a pallet on the door, that his body might be more conveniently dressed. This was to Mr Welch a very great grief, and therefore he stayed with the body fully three hours, lamenting over him with great tenderness. After twelve hours, the friends brought in a coffin, whereinto they desired the corpse to be put, as the custom was; but Mr Welch desired that, for the satisfaction of his affections, they would forbear for a time; which they granted, and returned not till twenty-four hours after his death. Then they desired with great importunity, that the corpse might be coffined and speedily buried, the weather being extremely hot; yet he persisted in his request, earnestly begging them to excuse him once more, so they left the corpse upon the pallet for full thirty-six hours; but even after all that, though he was urged not only with great earnestness, but displeasure, they were constrained to forbear for twelve hours more. After forty-eight hours were past, Mr Welch still held out against them; and then his friends, perceiving that he believed the young man was not really dead, but under some apoplectic fit, proposed to him for his satisfaction, that trial should be made upon his body by doctors and chirurgeons, if possibly any spark of life might be found in him; and with this he was content. So the physicians were set to work, who pinched him with pinchers in the fleshy parts of his body, and twisted a bow-string about his head with great force; but no sign of life appearing in him, the physicians pronounced him stark dead, and then there was no more delay to be made. Yet Mr Welch begged of them once more that they would but step into the next room for an hour or two, and leave him with the dead youth; and this they granted. Then Mr Welch fell down before the pallet, and cried to the Lord with all his might, and sometimes looked upon the dead body, continuing to wrestle with the Lord, till at length the dead youth opened his eyes, and cried out to Mr Welch, whom he distinctly knew, “O sir, I am all whole, but my head and legs;” and these were the places they had sorely hurt with their pinching. When Mr Welch perceived this, he called upon his friends; and showed them the dead young man restored to life again, to their great astonishment. And this young nobleman, though he lost the estate of Ochiltree, lived to acquire a great estate in Ireland, became Lord Castlestuart, and was a man of such excellent parts, that he was courted by the Earl of Stafford to be a counsellor in Ireland. This he refused to be, until the godly silenced Scottish ministers, who suffered under the bishops in the north of Ireland, were restored to the exercise of their ministry; and then he engaged, and continued so all his life, not only in honour and power, but in the profession and practice of godliness, to the great comfort of the country where he lived. This story the nobleman himself communicated to his friends in Ireland.

Letters and Sermons

Letter to the Countess of Wigton (Written while he was confined at Blackness) pdf