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Life of the Rev. Thomas Guthrie D.D.
Chapter XII - Miscellaneous Incidents and Movements


Hitherto we have looked only at the more prominent features of Dr Guthrie's public career. There were many movements and occurrences, however, of minor import and significance, to which he lent a helping hand. Indeed, without travelling out of the record, we might go much further, and say that there were no movements of a charitable, moral, social, or religious kind with which he has not been more or less prominently identified. At a meeting held in the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, on the 20th Dec., 1838, for the purpose of commemorating the restoration of civil and religious liberty, and of Presbyterian Church Government, as secured by the celebrated General Assembly at Glasgow in 1638, he made a speech, in which the following passage occurs:—"I remember when Mr Dunlop and Mr Cunningham brought out, from the dust and rubbish of forty years, the anti-patronage banner, and unfurled and shook it in the face of the Assembly, thirty-three good men and true were all who mustered round it, and I had the honour to be one of the number. The next time it was displayed there were forty-two of us, and they called us in scorn the 42d Highlanders. I remember being at Arbroath, calling on the people to send up petitions against patronage, and I told them that, although they called us the 42d Highlanders last year, we would be the 92d this year, and I was nearly a correct prophet." It was this same small despised nucleus of forty-two who brought about the Disruption, and established the Free Church.

The national commemoration of the tricentenary of the Reformation from Popery in Scotland, was held in Edinburgh, in August, 1860. The proceedings lasted for four whole days, and were of a most interesting character. These consisted of devotional exercises, the reading of papers on Reformation subjects, and the exhibition of a collection of memorials of the Reformation. The opening sermon was preached on Tuesday, the 14th August, by Dr Guthrie, and has been properly described as one of his most thrilling and magnificent efforts. It produced such a profound impression, that, regardless of the sacred character of the service and occasion, the audience at its close gave expression to their admiration and approval in a burst of cheering.

From the first, he took a warm interest in the question of Union among the Churches, and to the last, he ably and earnestly pleaded for its consummation. We give a few of his manly and truly Christian utterances:—

If I cannot consent to give a silent vote on this great and momentous occasion. When I say that I intend to vote for Dr Buchanan's motion, I have said nothing that has taken the House by surprise at any rate. I have made no progress any more than my friend Dr Gibson. I am in the very position to-day that I stood in, in the year 1843, when I made my first speech as a Free Church minister in our General Assembly. Whether I have logic or not, I have a good pair of eyes, and I saw a long way a-head of me, which was more than Dr Gibson, with all his logic, did. I see a long way ahead of me this happy day; and I expressed the very sentiments in the Free Church General Assembly of 1843, that I stand up now to express. I find, in turning to the Witness of that period, that I said, 'I am for union in the meantime, in the way of co operation. I would propose to Dr Brown,' (speaking of home mission work), 'you take that portion of the work, and to Dr Alexander, you take that, and I will take this; let us devote ourselves to this labour, and go forth to the heathen lanes of Edinburgh just as we go forth to the heathen lands of Africa.' 'But, sir,' I added, 'We cannot stop there,' And in reference to the very chapter which Sir Henry Moncreiff read here this day, I went on to say, 'I defy any man to stop there, who has at heart what our clerk read this evening, that touching and affecting prayer of Jesus for His disciples! What is first and foremost in that prayer? What is mentioned, once, twice, thrice, four, and five times? What is repeated over and over again, in that prayer of our Redeemer?—-'That they may be all one, as I and my Father are. one. And I never will rest content, I will never cease to pray and work, till that end is achieved, and, as I do so, I will bury in oblivion the memory of former controversies.' Yes, sir; 'oh that the day were come,' (and it is not far distant now); 'oh that the day were come, that I might meet with my brethren,' (and I see some of them before me in this House), 'over the grave of all former controversies, that we might shake hands, and join hearts, and be one in Christ Jesus; one regiment bearing the same colours, and going forth like an army mighty for battle, against one common and tremendous foe.'

"There are still some crotchety spirits among us. I don't doubt there are some among the Dissenters, too, who still keep their wounds rankling that they received in the Voluntary controversy. For my part, my wounds have been healed for many a day; and I wish to remind those who have got their old sores about them, that if they are not yet healed, it is a proof they have got a bad constitution. So I say, both to the Free Church and the Dissenters, that if they have not yet got their wounds healed, they will need to look after their constitution. There is something wrong about the heart.

"No matter what the subject is, there are some men who can't unite or co-operate unless you drive them into a corner, and bring them to what they call a logical conclusion. I'll tell you what, and you know it as well as I do, that on all points we will never be agreed till we are in a better church than any here below. Is that a reason why we should not act together, because there may be differences of opinion among us? Just think of the roses on a bush kicking up a row because they are not all painted alike. Just think of the planets resolving that they won't go round the sun because they have not the same weight, or the same orbit. When is this going to end! It would destroy all nature. And if people refuse to act together for God's glory and for a good cause, for the reason that in all points they do not think alike, it will not be so much the dividing of the church into sections, as it will be the dividing of the blessed robe of Christ into separate threads; we would all be reduced to the condition of an excellent and learned man in Edinburgh, who would agree in worship with nobody but his own housekeeper, and who, when she died, was left to worship along in the world. Now, if asked what I am going to do with men who won't agree with us, I just say that I will try to remove their difficulties; I will get up the steam of love, of zeal, and of charitable affection, till I get a pressure of fifty pounds to every square inch on my brother, and he goes over the difficulty like a railway train."

Of every question he took a broad, catholic, and large-hearted view; and this was especially characteristic of his dealings with other religious denominations. Unity, concord, and reciprocity were the aim of his efforts; and freedom in matters of conscience and ecclesiastical polity—more especially the freedom of a congregation to elect its own minister —was the height of his great argument. No more fitting example of his toleration could be quoted than the following extract from his examination before the Committee, appointed to consider the subject of refusing sites to the Free Church, to which reference has already been made. "Committeeman—' I ask you what is your opinion on that point—your claiming sites for the Free Church upon the great and general principles of toleration! Are you of opinion that that toleration ought to exist, and to extend, if pushed to its legitimate consequences, to granting sites to Roman Catholics!' Dr Guthrie—'I would grant a site to a Mahometan—to any man who worshipped God according to his conscience.' Committee-man—'Jew or Mahometan?' Dr Guthrie—'Yes.'Committee-man—'Or idolater?' Dr Guthrie—'Yes; I have no right to stand between man and his God, whatever that God may be.'"

He had a longing for millennial peace, and did what he could to hasten its accomplishment by maintaining reciprocity with other denominations. He preached in many churches and chapels that had little in common with the Free Church; and he was ever ready to accommodate himself to the peculiar idiosyncrasies and customs of the sect, with which he was for the time being identified. It is related of him that, being invited to preach one evening in a chapel in Edinburgh, and not aware, of the dislike of the congregation to badges of priesthood, he despatched his beadle with a bag containing his gown and bands to await him in the vestry. While assuming these insignia of office, one of the deacons caught sight of him, and, if not horrified, at least, felt the "old man" rising within him. He speedily communicated the fact to his brother deacon, and the two, with edifying zeal, hastened to the scene of action. After telegraphing to each other for a little, one of them took speech in hand—

"Ahem! Mr Guthrie, we're no unco fond o' seein' thae things in the poopil—we're no used to the gown—we wad like better to see you without it."

"Very well, gentlemen ; it's all the same. Hae, Jamie, put that in the bag."

"Ahem! and the bands?"

"Oh! ye like me better wanting them too, do ye?'

The deacons nodded.

"Here then, Jamie, put them beside the gown."

The night had been very wet, and Mr Guthrie had walked through the rain. He proceeded to put on a pair of dry shoes which Jamie handed him. Looking at them for a minute with a droll expression on his countenance' he held them up to the Nonconformists, adding,—

"Maybe, gentlemen, ye wad like me better wantin' these, too?'

The abashed and rebuked elders looked foolishly at each other for a moment, muttered something about the "plate no bein' attended to," and made off to watch its contents.

We can only mention, in the briefest possible manner, Dr Guthrie's labours for the suppression of the social evil—the compassion with which he looked upon fallen women, and the strong, kindly hand that he was ever ready to extend for their rescue and reclamation. Nor can we forget that such movements as that of early closing, and the better payment of the toiling, wage-earning classes, had his hearty sympathy and co-operation. He encouraged, also, the efforts made by working men and women to improve their circumstances, and was especially given to enjoin habits of thrift and economy. Strikes and all violent efforts at social amelioration, he deprecated as "productive of enormous evils." although, admitting "that the working man may hare justice on his side, in refusing to work for low wages and demanding higher." He valued the Volunteer movement "because it is not, nor can it be, one of offence or aggression, but is, and must be, one of defence alone;" and he held that every man who had health and strength ought to be a volunteer. He took a warm interest in the regular army, and pleaded that our soldiers should be provided more regularly and astoniatically with the means of grace; and he contrasted our army in this respect with the army in the days of Cromwell, when religious parents sent their sons to be soldiers that they might receive a religious training. Another point on which he felt strongly and spoke effectively was the practice of celibacy in the army, and the recent legislation to which it has led. Certain Acts, much discussed at present, had no more uncompromising enemy than Dr Guthrie. We quote a few of his utterances on some of these subjects:—

"What right has Government to collect a thousand men together and give them no minister of religion? If Government, in the matter of Established Churches, thought it right that a thousand people in a parish should have a minister, what right have they to collect a thousand men together, bound and prepared to die for their country's defence, and leave them without a minister? I know no men who have more need; and it is both a cruel and an anti-Christian system, to deprive these men of the regular provision of the means of grace. In the days of Marlborough, every regiment had its chaplain, who marched and campaigned with the soldiers, and even went to the field of battle with them. In Marlborough's time, the soldiers never battled with the enemy but they rose from their knees to do it; and the regular practice was for the men to join in prayer before they joined in fight; and many of the officers went to the Lord's table and communicated, believing it might be for the last time; and, with all honour to the British army, we have never had better soldiers than in the days of Marlborough. In the days of Cromwell, Christian parents did what no Christian parents in our day would do. They sent their sons into the army, that they might get a religious upbringing. Yes, they sent their sons to be privates in the army, that they might be brought up in the strictest, godliest system. And what was the result? It was then that Cromwell's men, from the very power which they felt and exercised, got the name of Ironsides, and they never went into battle but they went to victory—a complete proof that the more religious a man is, he is the better soldier, and that the more a man fears God, he is the less likely to fear man. There is another thing that prevents the army from being the true representative of a Christian nation; and that is, that domestic comforts and influence are denied to the soldier. Now, that is a grievous wrong, and it is idle to prove it. I hold that if celibacy is a bad thing in the church, it is a worse thing still in the army. They may blame the soldier if they would, but I blame the system under which the soldier is tempted. Ah, it will be said, married soldiers would be a great expense. But what right-has a Christian nation to secure its defence at the risk of the ruin of a man's happiness? Give a soldier better pay. That's it. The soldier was at one time paid twice the wages of a day labourer; and I say, that until they pay the soldier as well as they do the mason or the carpenter, they will not do the army justice."

The Doctor was fond of seeing innocent amusements. "He liked to see a kitten chasing its own tail, if it had nothing else to do." But his toleration on this point was used as a testimony against him. On one occasion, at Dundee, h had advocated more and better ways and means of providing amusement for the working classes, and, to quote his own words, "a short time afterwards there was sent me a play bill. Yes, a play bill with my name in it! The Reverend Dr Guthrie in a play bill issued in Dundee by some provincial players! I never was more astonished in all the days of my life, I found that my friends, the players, had made an unfair use of an expression made by me on that occasion, and had stuck my name into the, bill between, if I recollect, The Merry Wires of Windsor and A Roland for an Oliver. Surely I may say, necessity makes strange bedfellows, and play bills strange companions.''

In keeping with his kindly disposition and commiseration for those whose lines had fallen in less pleasant places, he never tired of speaking a word in season, if it was likely to have anything like an ameliorating influence. He was particularly anxious that the harsh practice of allowing "no followers" to servant girls should be dispensed with. To the horror of not a few old ladies, and with the result of lowering himself in their estimation, he asserted that "lads and lasses should have opportunities for courting," and declared that he "had always given his servants facilities for seeing decent and respectable young men.'" Speaking of the "no follower" condition, he said—"The world would come to an end before many years if that rule was to take place; and what is the world to do? I say that is not the way to treat a servant. No good servant would like to have boundless liberty; but I say that every servant should have liberty to have her holiday, and that every servant should have liberty to see her lad at a decent hour, and the more (I was going to say), the more she had the betterI but that would not be good. I say that every attempt to fly in the face of nature and prudence can only lead to mischief; and to prevent a decent servant girl from being courted, for, firstly, she will be courted whether you will or no; and, secondly, to refuse, a servant girl proper time and opportunities for being courted, is to drive her into dangerous times for being courted."

As might be anticipated, Dr Guthrie took a deep interest in the movement for the abolition of slavery in America and throughout the world. He regarded slavery as the sum of all villanies, and the origin of the worst evils that afflict humanity, Hence, he was ever ready to lift up his pen and his voice against the accursed system. Among other meetings at which he spoke with effect on this subject, there is one that stands out with special prominence. It was the meeting held in the Queen Street Hall, Edinburgh, on the 24th December, 1859, to express sympathy with Dr Cheever under the painful circumstances in which that eminent divine was placed—some of the wealthier portion of his congregation having, it will be remembered, endeavoured to get him to resign in consequence of his preaching on the subject of slavery, and, failing in that, sought, by withholding all support from the congregation, to shut him up to the necessity of abandoning the position which he held as pastor of the Church of the Puritans in New York. Referring at this meeting, which was exceptionally numerous and influential, to his having declined many invitations to go to America, Dr Guthrie assigned as his reason for not going, that, if he went, he could not keep his temper on seeing the operation and effects of slavery. "I could not," he said, "go and see a fellow-creature, a little child, or a woman, set up to be sold by auction, perhaps with a horse or a wheelbarrow; it would stir my blood, and I could not hold my tongue. I could not stand the sight of such things in the South, and there are things also in the North which 1 could not stand. I could not go into one of their pulpits and see a large sea of faces, and there behold some poor negro, in whose beaming eye, in the tears rolling down whose cheeks, I see a loving heart towards my blessed Lord and Saviour, and who, perhaps, is a believer passing any in that house— I could not see that man standing in a corner and professing Christians refusing to sit down with him at the Lord's table -—the man who perhaps will go into the kingdom of heaven, in front of them all —these are things which I could not stand. Neither could I stand this in a railway carriage— some poor woman whose misfortune it is, if it is a misfortune, to be black, and who, because she is black, is turned out of that carriage, and dares not. set her foot among her white-footed and proud oppressors. These are things I could not stand; and therefore I have never gone to America."

When the war which led to the complete abolition of slavery in the United States was at its height, many meetings expressive of sympathy with the North were held all over the United Kingdom. Being such a pronounced abolitionist, Dr Guthrie's feelings were entirely in favour of the Northern States, not so much because he wished to see the integrity of the Union preserved, as because the success of the North ultimately involved, as its necessary corollary, the abolition of slavery. On this account he believed that good would come out of evil. "There," said he, "in America at this moment, you have a house divided against itself. You have brethren in mortal combat by the cradle where they were rocked, over the graves of their common parents. The world has never seen such a horrid strife; and, if the dead walk this earth, I could fancy the spirits of the Red Indians saying, that the hour of their revenge had come now, when the sons of those that had exterminated them were exterminating each other. Ay, and I could fancy the negro, though he does not express it, chuckling in his heart at the sight which America now presents, when the men who hunted him, and the men who assisted in the hunt, are in a death grapple, and having each other by the throat, and are burying their swords in each other's bosoms; and if the negro knows our proverb, I can fancy him saying to himself, 'When de rogues fall out, de honest men will get dair own.'

"I believe God will overrule the American struggle for good, and, I hope, that when fathers in America are washing the blood from the bodies of their sons, they will come to abhor the cause of all the turmoil and ruin in that country! I say of it, what the man now lying in Dundee jail under sentence of death, said of drink. He was a poor, honest, well-doing man, and the highest testimony was borne to his character at the trial. When his wife learned the habit of drinking, she spent his hard-earned wages! His children were ragged and neglected. Driven to desperation, the man took to drinking himself. On one occasion, he gave her twenty shillings to pay an account, but soon after the creditor came in, and he found that his wife had only paid thirteen shillings, and had drunk the rest! Back she came with the children. His passions were roused. He knocks her down. He tramples on her body, he beats her with his heavy shoes, till he beats her dead. By-and-by the storm is over. Ah! there is the bleeding corpse of his wife. They assure him she is dead. He hangs his head in misery, and covering his face with his hands, exclaims, 'Curse that drink.' And when America stands over the bleeding bodies of her own sons fallen in this fraternal war, I trust she will cover her face with her hands, and cry, 'Curse that Slavery:'


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