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Life of the Rev. Thomas Guthrie D.D.
Chapter XV - Illness—Death—Funeral—Conclusion


Nearly ten years have elapsed since Dr Guthrie was, in consequence of failing health, laid aside from the more active and laborious duties of his clerical office. Since then he has been living quietly, and enjoyed a fair measure of strength until last summer, when he had an attack of acute rheumatism, which, lasting as it did for some months, aggravated a morbid affection of the heart that had subsisted for many years. This illness was to a certain extent got over, but in November last he was again brought very low by an attack of congestion of the lungs, from which he never effectually rallied. A remission of the symptoms admitted of his being removed to St Leonards-on-Sea, in Sussex, where it was hoped by his medical adviser that he might benefit by change of air. No improvement, however, took place. On the contrary, there was a gradual falling off, until the symptoms again assumed an alarming character. On Tuesday, the 18th February, the change in his appearance, and particularly in the. colour of his face, was so great, that the members of his family were telegraphed for—it being considered quite uncertain when a fatal crisis might arrive. This paroxysm passed, and he lingered on, suffering much from breathlessness, but perfectly conscious, and cheered by the presence of those near and dear to him. Day after day, further failure of strength took place, but consciousness remained, and he looked forward in peace and resignation to what now seemed the not far distant end. On Friday, a telegram was received from Her Majesty the Queen, desiring information as to Dr Guthrie's condition. For two days more no material change occurred, though the continually increasing prostration indicated that the end was drawing near. At a late hour on Sunday night ha was still conscious, and at twenty-five minutes past two, on the morning of Monday, the 24th February, 1873, he peacefully breathed his last. Thus died, in a good old age, in his 71st year, at a distance from his native place, but surrounded by the members of his family, and enjoying all the solace of domestic affection, and the consolation of an unwavering faith in the> Redeemer, one of whom the Free Church and Scotland may be justly proud, and whose name will long be a household word in many lands.

"Sure the last end
Of the good man is peace; how calm his exit;
Night dews fall not more softly to the ground,
Nor weary worn out winds expire so soft."

On Friday, the 28th of February, the mortal remains of Dr Guthrie wore interred in the Grange Cemstery, Edinburgh. The weather was exceedingly fine. The sun shone brightly, and even warmly, through a clear, blue, frosty sky, flecked with fleecy clouds. It was just such a day as one could have wished for the funeral of a man of genial nature, and whose name will ever be associated with sunny memories. The family had complied with the general desire that the funeral should be public, and it was attended by the municipal, ecclesiastical, and other public bodies; by many private citizens, and by numerous strangers from a distance. The route of the funeral procession—from the house in Salisbury Road to the cemetery—extended for about a mile, and both sides of the streets were crowded with decorous and mournful onlookers; whilst in the cemetery itself many thousands had assembled to testify their respect for the deceased. The funeral procession extended for about three quarters of a mile, and was arranged in the following order:—

Detachment of Policemen.
Original Ragged School.
Edinburgh Industrial Brigade
(Directors and Boys).
Kirk Session and Deacons' Court of St John's.
U.P. Presbytery of Edinburgh.
Free Presbytery of Edinburgh.
Professors and Students of the New College.
Magistrates and Town Council.
High Constables.
Mutes.
Hearse, with Pall Bearers.
Relatives and Mourners.
Congregation of St John's.
General Public.
Private Carriages.

Probably upwards of thirty thousand were assembled, the largest funeral gathering seen In Edinburgh since the death of Sir James Y. Simpson.

On the arrival of the funeral procession at the grave, a suitable and impressive prayer was offered up by the Eev. Dr Blaikie, and the coffin, of ?,inc and polished oak, was lowered into the tomb. The coffin bore the following inscription:—

Thomas Guthrie, D.D.,
Born, July 12th, 1803,
Died, Feb. 24th, 1873.

The children of the ragged school sang "There is a happy-land," and two of their number—a girl and a boy—amid the tears of the spectators, placed a wreath upon the new made grave.

The place of interment is the family burying-ground, and is next the south wall of the cemetery. A slab of stone let into the wall bears the simple inscription, "Burying-ground of Rev. Thomas Guthrie, D.D." The wall around the stone is thickly covered with ivy, and at each side of the extensive ground there grows a weeping ash. It is on the sunny side of the pleasant grounds of the Grange, and we may suppose that, with his keen sense of the beautiful in nature, and the becoming in Christian burial, he selected this spot where the grassy turf should cover his dust, and "many an evening sun shine sweetly o'er his grave."

On the Sabbath following the funeral, reference was made in many churches, and in all denominations, to the death of Dr Guthrie.

Dr Candlish preached in Free St John's Church, which was densely crowded, from the text, Hebrews ix. 27,28— "And as it is appointed unto all men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." In concluding his discourse he said :--I ask you, beloved brethren, to listen to these sentences which I am about to read, and which are not mine, but another's. "Thank God my tongue has been unloosed!" "All reserve is gone—I can speak out now." "Oh! most mighty and most merciful, pity me, once a great sinner, and now a great sufferer." "Blessed Jesus! what would I now do but for thee!" "lama father, and I know what a father's heart is. My love to my children is no more to God's infinite love as a Father than one drop of water to that boundless ocean out there," "Death is mining away here, slowly, but surely, in the dark."' "I often thought, and even hoped, in past years, that God would have granted me a translation like Chalmers or Andrew Thomson. But it would appear now this is not to he the way of it." "Oh! the power yet in that arm'"—the right arm stretched out with force while in bed—"I doubt it presents the prospect of a long fight; and if so, Lord help me to turn my dying hours to better purpose than ever my preaching ones have been.' "The days have come in which I have no pleasure them." "Vani-tas vanilatum! I would at this moment gladly give all my money and all my fame for that poor body's"—(a smiling country woman tripping by)—"rigour and cheer fulness." "A living dog is better than a dead lion." "I have often seen death-beds. I have often described them; but I had no conception till now what hard work dying really is!" "Had I known this years ago, as I know it now, I would have felt far more for others in similar circumstances than I ever did." "Ah! my dear children, you see I am now just as helpless in your arms as you ever were in mine." Of telegraphic messages about hirn, he said—"I bless God for the telegraph; because these will serve as calls to God's people to mind me, in their prayers." Of the Queen's inquiry "It is very kind." Of a young attendant—"Affection is very sweet; and it is all one from whatever quarter it comes —whether from this Highland lassie or from a peeress--just as to a thirsty man cold water is equally grateful from a spring on the hillside as from a richly ornamented fountain."

Parting with a humble servant—"God bless you, my friend." "I would be most willing that any man who ever wrote or spoke against me should come in at that door, and I would shake hands with him." These are fresh and racy death bed utterances; true to the nature of the man who, to the last, retained his genial originality; the man who, with genuine courtesy and his wonted humour, apologised for the trouble he was giving, referring to Charles the Second's begging his courtiers to excuse him for being such an unconscionable time in dying; the man who, child like as he always was, chose "bairns' hymns," as he called them, for his solace in his weakness—Oh! that will be joyful," "There is a happy land;" relishing them as he relished that one of Cowper's, "There is a fountain tilled with blood;" and preferring them to all other uninspired songs of praise. Here I would fain stop, and leave the last words of a singularly true and gifted man to tell with their own proper weight, free from the intrusion of more commonplace remarks. I cannot, in fact, in the view of such an affecting chamber of sickness, find it in my heart to deal in the ordinary topics of consolation and edification for which death furnishes occasion. I am in no mood for moralising or sermonising over my beloved brother's grave. Nor can I attempt to compose a funeral oration or eloge upon the life and character, the rare endowments and accomplishments, the manifold good works and services, of him who is gone. This is not the place, this is not the time, for eulogy. I am not the man competent to such a theme. His praise is in all the churches, and through all society in many lands. I am here simply to express my own feelings and yours under the pressure of a heavy grief. How I admired and loved Thomas Guthrie, and how he reciprocated my affection during all the years, some five-and-thirty, of our close familiarity and most intimate and cordial friendship; how genuine and trustworthy a friend I ever found him; what experience I have often had of his noble generosity; how very pleasant he has been to me, I dare not trust myself to say. Friend and brother, comrade in the fight, companion in tribulation, farewell! But not for ever. May my soul, when my hour comes, be with thine! A great man truly in Israel has fallen. Men of talents, men of abilities, men of learning, are not uncommon. Men powerful in thought and speech are often raised up; but genius, real poetic genius, like Guthrie's, comes hut once in many generations. We shall not look upon his like soon, if ever. Nor was it genius alone that distinguished him. The warm heart was his and the ready hand; the heart to feel, and the hand to work. No sentimental dreamer or mooning idealist was he. His pity was ever active. Tears he had, hut also far more than tears, for all who needed sympathy and help. His graphic pictures of the scenes of misery he witnessed were inspired by no idle dreamy philanthropy after the fashion of Sterne or Kosseau, but by a human love for all human beings intensely real and vigorously energetic.

His self-denying labours among the families of the Cowgate, where he shrunk from no drudgery for himself, and shunned no contact with poverty and vice in others; his noble zeal in every good and holy cause; his rising, al most alone at first, to the full height of one of his best enterprises—the rescuing of children from sin and sorrow, from ignorance and crime: these and many other little memorials of his wide, comprehensive, practical benevolence, will not soon pass from the grateful memories of his countrymen. The fruits of his evangelical ministrations, and that powerful preaching of the Word which captivated so many thousand ears and hearts, the day will declare. The blank which his removal makes in our own church, the church of our fathers,—the Free Church of Scotland,—is one that can scarcely soon, if ever, be supplied. It will be felt for years to come. In fact, the church does not seem to me what it was, now that Guthrie is away. He was a power, unique in himself, and rising in his uniqueness above other powers. He did not, indeed, venture much on the uncongenial domain, to him, of ecclesiastical polemics, or the wear and tear of ordinary church administration; leaving that to others whose superiority in their department he was always the first to acknowledge. But in his own sphere, and in his own way, he was to us, and to the principles on which we acted, a tower of strength. His eloquence alone—so expressive of himself— so thoroughly inspired by his personal idiosyncrasy—so full always of genial humour—so apt to flash into darts of wit— and yet withal so profoundly emotional and ready for passionate or affectionate appeals,—that gift or endowment alone made Guthrie an invaluable boon to our church in the time, of her Ten Years' Conflict, and afterwards. But the Guthrie monument, so far as our Free Church is concerned, is in our thousand manses; a monument which he himself reared, and in the rearing of which he may be truly said to have sacrificed his health and strength. But endangered health and diminished strength did not quench the ardour of his burning soul. Laid aside from enforced professional labour, in pulpit or in parish, Guthrie was still the man for men, holding himself always open to all calls and appeals in the line of Christian and catholic benevolence. To our own church he was to the last loyal and loving. No one more so. But he grew, as I would desire to grow, more and more from year to year, in sympathy with all who love Jesus and hold the truth as it is in Him, May the Lord, in His own good time, answer his many prayers for the repairing of all breaches in Zion, and send to the divided and distracted Christian family all over the world that peace and living unity on which his large heart was set.

We close this all too imperfect record of a noble life with the following sentences from a personal friend of Dr Guthrie:—The leading and most essential and characteristic peculiarity of this great man is—that he was deeply, earnestly, intensely Christian. All other qualities of mind and heart and life were merged in the intensity of Christian feeling. In his studies, his pursuits, his family—in his social habits, his warm-hearted friendships, his zealous philanthropy —in his pastoral labours and his pulpit ministrations—in his work and in his life, love for "the Master'' was the pervading, animating, sustaining power which upheld him. That Master has now called his servant home. He had no fear of death. He had long known and felt that his life was precarious, and that his death might be sudden. Yet the tranquillity, the trustfulness, even the joyfulness of his walk, was not disturbed by the conviction that he held life by a very feeble tenure. In a spirit of serene and devout trust, he awaited his call. As he himself once expressed it, in speaking of a departed friend, "Death was to him like the chariot which Joseph sent to bear his brethren home." In the crisis of his alarming illness in Edinburgh, some months ago, he was, by himself and his weeping family, believed to be at the point of death, and at the gates of the Eternal Kingdom. Turning his tender eye to the dear ones around, he said, "It may be that, before the morning dawns, I shall see my mother, and my Saviour.'' Few things could more sweetly and touchingly illustrate the rare combination of the child-like tenderness of human love, and the devout simplicity of Christian faith. He was spared for a season. That call was a call for preparedness. Another call has come, and been obeyed.

As a preacher, Dr Guthrie, notwithstanding some excellent published discourses, can scarcely be appreciated by those who have not heard him. None who have heard him could readily forget him. Few heard without deep impression. To a rugged nobleness, a majestic simplicity of figure, voice, and manner, was added a vivid imagination, solemnized by the sacredness of his theme, a fine poetic feeling, and a wealth of varied illustration from the world of nature and the experiences of life. He combined the highest rhetorical power with simple and earnest evangelical preaching. There is probably no instance of a man who, for nearly thirty years, sustained in so signal a manner the high reputation and great popular acceptance of his pulpit ministrations. His church was uniformly crowded to the doors; and many a man has stood in the passage to hear him, and, with streaming eyes and throbbing heart, has bowed before the power of his soul-stirring eloquence.

A zealous Free Churchman, he loved all who loved the Master. He had many warm friends within the Established Church and other churches; and he was earnest and unwavering in his desire for union among all Presbyterians; and, in the first place, and at all events, for union among the Nonconforming Presbyterian Churches. He was the zealous advocate of National Education—liberal according to the enactments of the State, and religious according to the convictions of the people; and he was, under all circumstances and at all times, the friend of the principles of civil and religious liberty, which he used to speak of as "the good old cause."

The distinguished abilities, attractive manners, and great popularity of Dr Guthrie brought him frequently into the society of persons of high rank. He was there, as elsewhere, greatly liked and highly respected; but he was not spoiled. He retained to the last the simplicity of the Scottish pastor, and the manly and genial nature which endeared him to high and low.

There are great preachers and good men left among us, but we shall rarely see one leave us for the better land who will be more widely, deeply, and affectionately remembered than Dr Thomas Guthrie.


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