Kenneth W. H. Howard
Brief extracts from a lecture given at Evington Chapel, Leicester, on December 12th 1977.
Marion was the wife of the Reverend William Veitch, a Scottish covenanting Minister, whose adventurous and hazardous and much blessed life she shared to the full; that will tell you immediately that she lived a good while ago. She was in fact born in 1639 and died in 1722. When she died, it was found that she had left behind a written account of the Lord’s dealings with her. It is headed, “An account of God’s gracious dealing with me and of His “remarkable hearing and answering of my supplications.”
Her husband, William Veitch, also wrote a memoir in which he gives the name and the family of his wife, otherwise we would not know even that. She came from a family of Scottish nobility, the Fairleys of Braid, now part of Edinburgh. They were a very old family; their descent goes back to King Robert II of Scotland. The most notable member of the family was probably Robert Fairley, who was an intimate friend of John Knox. Robert Fairley was with John Knox at his deathbed.
I have been able to establish, beyond any doubt, the date of Marion’s baptism, which was on 20th December 1639 in the Old Parish Church of Canongate.
Now let me read just the opening sentence or so in Marion’s memoirs. “It pleased God, in His great goodness, early to incline my heart to seek Him, and I bless Him I was born in a land where the gospel was at that time purely and powerfully preached. Also, that I was born of godly parents and well-educated; but above all things, I bless Him that He made me see that nothing but the righteousness of Christ could save me from the wrath of God.”
The next time that we hear anything about her, we find her in the county town of Lanark where she wrote, “One day, having been at prayer and coming into the room where one was reading a letter of Mr Rutherford’s (Samuel Rutherford), then only in manuscript and directed to one John Ball of Roscoe, giving an account of how far one might go and yet prove an hypocrite, and miss heaven, which occasioned great exercise to me. This belief said I would go to hell, but one day at prayer. He was graciously pleased to set home that word, ‘To whom shall we go, for thou hast the words of eternal life? At another time that word, ‘They that seek me early shall find Me’, and at another time that word, ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in them that hope in His mercy’, which was very refreshing to me.”
The reading of the letter, and the registering of it in her mind and heart, shows the reality and the depth of the work of God in her soul.
The next thing we meet with concerning her is her marriage, which took place in Lanark. But before I come to that, I ought to say a word or two about the young man that she married. For just a year after Marion was born in the Canongate of Edinburgh, a boy, a fifth son, was born to a man named John Veitch, the Parish minister of Roberton, a tiny village in Lanarkshire, some ten miles away from Lanark. This boy was named William; he was one of four sons in that family who became ministers of the Gospel, all of whom suffered immensely as such. Around 1663/1664 William tells us, ‘Forming an acquaintance with godly families in the place, I was induced to match with a young virgin in that town called Marion Fairley who proved a wife of eminent piety.”
So they were married on November 23rd by the parish minister.
Now let me quote you Marion’s account of how she entered the marriage state. She says, “Some years after, when providence seemed to call me to change my lot, because many suitors came, it was often my earnest supplication to the Lord that I might be matched in Him and for His glory, which graciously He was pleased to grant me. Yet in this business I met with difficulties. Several of my friends dissuaded me from it by divers reasons and this among others, that it was an ill time and I might be brought to straits in the world, which bred trouble to my spirit and put me many times to seek His mind in it. At length, He sent home that word. Psalm 22:4, Our fathers trusted in thee, and thou deliveredst them,’ and verse 5, ‘They trusted in thee and were not confounded.’ Upon this, I was inclined to trust Him both for spirituals and for temporals, and these promises were remarkably made good to me in all the various places of my sojourning in diverse kingdoms, which I here mention to the commemoration of His faithfulness. His word in this has been a true word to me, worthy to be recorded to encourage me to trust Him for he future, and heretofore has not only provided well for me and mine, but made me in the places where my lot was cast, useful to others, and made that word good, 2 Corinthians 6:10, ‘As having nothing, yet possessing all things’.”
I read to you from Marion’s memoir her expectation of trouble if she married a minister in those troubled days, when Covenanting ministers were officially silenced. Well, she did not have to wait long for the fulfilment of her expectations. We read again in her memoirs, “A little after I was married, the storm of persecution arose upon us for the parting of my husband and me, and increased so as I was necessitated to leave my native land having borne four children ‘ere I came out of Scotland, two of them died in the land. The other two I brought with me, and being deprived of what once I had, then I renewed my suit to God for me and mine, and that was that He would give us the tribe of Levi’s inheritance. For it said, ‘They had no inheritance, for the Lord God was their inheritance.’ When I entered in to a strange land, (England, of course!), I besought the Lord that He would give me food to eat and raiment to put on, and bring me back to see His glory in Scotland. This promise was exactly made out to me.”
There are three famous battles of Covenanting history, The Battle of Bothwell Bridge, the Battle of Drumclog and the Battle of the Pentlands or Rullion Green. Now all three of those places are in the Lanarkshire area, so that fact by itself tells you that the area where William and Marion were living was a tremendous stronghold of Covenanting interest.
John Welsh, who was a descendant of John Knox, himself an ousted minister from Galloway, took the initiative on one occasion and induced William Veitch to join in this particular fight against the Royal Forces, under the headship of Colonel Thomas Dalyell, a godly neighbour from Dunsyre, where William and Marion were then living, who led the Cavalry, but that particular battle was lost. The Covenanters were routed and those who were captured did not live very long!
By a miracle William Veitch escaped with his life, but the one thing he dared not do was to return home to Marion, because that was the obvious place where he would be sought. The charge against the Covenanters was, not surprisingly, treason. So what he did was to flee to the home of his brother John, who was a parish minister in Berwickshire. When he got there, the information was given to him that his name was included in a Royal Proclamation for arrest and death. The only course open to him was to flee Scotland and seek refuge in England. This of course is what he did, and he arrived in Newcastle upon Tyne in the winter of 1666/67. Like a good many before him, he was forced to assume another name, just as John Knox long years before him had in certain situations for safety passed by the name of John Sinclair, which was his mother’s maiden name. So William Veitch passed by the name of William Johnson, Johnson being his mother’s maiden name. There were godly people in Newcastle upon Tyne, and he found friends there; in particular a Family whose name also happened to be Johnson, one William Johnson, who was a former Lord Mayor of the city, a godly man, a Presbyterian, a Reformed believer. This William Johnson and his wife took the other William Johnson, the fugitive William Veitch, into their home as chaplain. Through this connection, he was introduced to godly men and other godly ministers. He is known to have preached in various parts of Yorkshire, in Nottingham, in Blackburn, in Chester, and in London.
The other particular sphere of his ministry during the period about 1667-72 was in North Northumberland, that very rural part stretching up over the northern end of the Pennines towards Carter Bar and the Scottish Border, an area which was wild in the extreme. There had been no Gospel preaching there since that of the famous Bernard Gilpin, who was known as the Apostle of the North, but the Lord blessed Veitch, and used him, and among a wild and reckless people there was a transformation of behaviour and conduct brought about through the hearing of the Word of God.
I must come back to the question of what was happening to Marion all this time, whom he had left at home in Dunsyre. Well, during this period 1667-1672, on several occasions William visited her, secretly of course, taking his life in his hands. He found that, in his absence, the soldiers and others had constantly visited the farm, The Hills, and Marion was being constantly harassed and insulted. When they searched for her husband, she just said, “He is away, he is in England. God has given him his liberty, and you may search as you will”. So the point came when William advised his wife to leave the farm at Dunsyre and go back to her relatives in Edinburgh, and this she did.
I come on now to speak about another period in Marion’s life, that is the period when she was in England from early 1672 to late 1687. How then did it come about that Marion came to leave Scotland and go to settle in England? Charles II’s Act of Indulgence came out in March 1672, and looking at the Register of those Indulgencies one finds this entry. “A licence issued to William Johnson to teach at Farnham Hall, Presbyterian”. William Johnson was in fact, William Veitch, and so, armed with a certificate from the King and an English Declaration of Indulgence, William and Marion set up house in a remote part of North Northumberland.
Later the family moved to a place called Stanton Hall which is not so far from Morpeth. This seemed to be a more settled situation, but alas there was trouble again. The vicar of the parish, a man named Thomas Bell, a Scotsman, stirred up trouble against William and Marion and his object was to chase William back to Scotland. Marion speaks about this: “Several years after it pleased the Lord to let my husband fall into the enemy’s hands, who took him on January 17th about five o’clock in the morning, 1679, in Stanton Hall, which bred some trouble and new fear in my spirit, but He was graciously pleased to send home that word. Mark 7:37, ‘He does all things well, trust in the Lord, and fear not what man can do’, which wrought peace to me in such a measure that I was made often to wonder, for all the time the officers were in the house, He supported me, so I was not in the least discouraged before them, which made Major Oglethorpe say, he wondered to see me. I told him I looked to a higher Hand than his in this. I knew he could not go one hair’s breadth beyond God’s permission. He answered, ‘He permits His enemies to go a great length.’ Then they took him (that is my husband,) to prison where he lay about twelve days, but this time I was under much exercise of spirit, which made me go to God many times on his behalf. He made that word often sweet to me, ‘He performeth the things appointed for me,’ and that verse, ‘He is of one mind, and who can turn Him?’ Much means was used for his liberty, but all to none effect, which bred new errands to God for him and me….”
I have not time to read on, but what happened was that William was taken to Edinburgh where there was a trial of sorts. There was a great deal of delay, but, finally, Veitch was released. Marion went to Edinburgh, and met him, and together, they came back home to their house, and there they were settled.
“After a few months”, she says, “my good God was pleased to give orders for his liberty, and when the news came to my ears, that word came in my mind, ‘He hath both spoken it, and Himself hath done it; I will walk softly in the bitterness of my spirit all my days’. So, we both came home in peace to our children where we lived at Stanton Hall, three miles from Morpeth in Northumberland, August1679.”
What then? Well, William resumed his ministry, his foes abounded; there were conventicles, both on the English and on the Scottish side of the border. It is a fascinating story. I have not really even begun to tell you the exciting things, how the Earl of Argyll escaped out of Edinburgh Castle (he was the great leader of the Protestant cause), and came in disguise to Veitch’s home at Stanton Hall, how Veitch ministered to him, and took him in disguise to London in terrible times and terrible circumstances.
Eventually, William and Marion were able to go back to Scotland, and Marion had her heart’s desire in getting back to the land of her birth. They went to Peebles, and he was minister of the Gospel there. They were in a lot of trouble, but there was a lot of blessing for four years. Then, through certain circumstances, troublesome circumstances, they had to move, and they went to Dumfries on the Solway, not so far from Rutherford’s Anwoth, and from 1694 to 1715, William ministered there. In 1715, when he was seventy-six years of age, he came to the end of his ministry.
Obviously I have only just touched the edges of the subject. One day, maybe, Marion’s memoirs and all her husband’s escapades will be published in a more accessible form and we shall be able to study them more closely.
This is but a brief summary of the lecture, and an even briefer summary of a book some 729 pages which is advertised on the rear cover of this magazine. It is hoped that this short account will whet the appetite of those who have a taste for Christian history and biography, and encourage them to read the whole story.