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Northern Lights
Thomas Guthrie, D.D.


THOMAS GUTHRIE was born in Brechin, in the year 1803. Bearing the name of the famous martyr of the Covenant, who also sprung from Forfarshire, he would gladly have established a relationship with him, but k though he was not able to do this with certainty, the probability that he was a branch of that heroic stock had a beneficial influence on his life, determining .him to uphold at all hazards what he believed to be the truth. His grandfather on the paternal side was a farmer, who lived to the age of eighty-seven. He was a devout man, and gave to the house something of the sanctity of a church, by the solemn and fervid manner in which he conducted family worship and besought a blessing on the daily meals. He showed great kindness to his grandchildren, who were frequently at the farm; but the grandmother was a stern woman and had an unpleasant dread of spoiling her young visitors by over-indulgence. When she washed them, she rubbed their faces with a rough towel, as if she thought they were as hard and as destitute of feeling as her oaken tables; and once when they asked for mustard at dinner, they got from her a reproof much sharper than that condiment, for presuming to think of such a luxury. But with a heart that seemed as incapable of producing kind deeds and genial words as a block of Aberdeen granite is of producing primroses or violets, she had a deep sense of what she had been led to regard as religious duty. She fasted one day in the week, and spent the greater part of it in prayer, commonly retiring to one of the outhouses of the farm that she might be undisturbed in her communion with God.

Thomas Guthrie’s father was a merchant in Brechin, and was for some years Provost of the town. He was a worthy, godly man, but it was from his mother that Thomas inherited the finest features of his mind and character. She did most in preparing him for his high and useful career. He never forgot what he owed to her influence, and when eminent and honoured as a leader in the Christian and philanthropic movements of his time, said, “ It was at my mother’s knees that I first learned to pray; that I learned to form a reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God; that I learned to hold the sanctity of the Sabbath; that I learned the peculiarities of the Scottish religion; that I learned my regard to the principles of civil and religious liberty which have made me hate oppression, and whether it be a pope, or a prelate, or a patron, or an ecclesiastical demagogue, resist the oppressor.’’

The Sabbath was strictly observed in the home at Brechin; whistling on that day was reckoned a deadly sin, and Thomas and his brothers were accustomed to show their feeling as to the difference between the Sabbath and the fast-day in point of sanctity, by indulging in one short whistle on the latter. It was too much to expect children to be as serious as grown-up people without finding weariness in the Sabbath; but it was no small advantage to the future preacher that so many hours were spent in reading the Bible, for he then became familiar with its stirring incidents, its glowing poetry, and sublime doctrines, and had large portions of it indelibly impressed on his memory. The only other book for which he had any affection, that was available on the Sabbath, was a rudely-illustrated copy of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” but this he could not always have, for one of his brothers often contested the possession of it with him. Though not a dunce, he did not show any special aptitude for study in the different schools he attended in Brechin, but he was not behind any of the boys in fighting, swimming, climbing and other athletic sports. In boyhood he had some narrow escapes from death, one of which may be mentioned. He and a brother went one Saturday to their uncle’s farm at Maisondieu, about a mile from Brechin. They found their uncle’s gun, and not supposing that it was loaded, amused themselves by pointing it at each other and snapping its flint-lock. While they were so doing, the gun went off; the charge struck deep into the wall, and their boyish fun was changed to horror as they saw how, but for the watchful care of God, one of them would have been at that moment a bleeding corpse.

When twelve years old, Thomas set out, under the care of a young man who acted as his tutor, for the Edinburgh University. They had one apartment for bed-room, parlour, and study; and cultivated science on oatmeal, fresh herrings and potatoes, though this plain fare was occasionally varied by richer viands supplied by a chest sent from Brechin, and showing by its contents how tenderly the mother thought of her distant boy. During some of Thomas’s later sessions his younger brother lodged with him, and the mistress of the house was frequently drawn to the door of their room by what was to her unusual with students, audible reading of the Scriptures and prayer. Memories of their godly home clung to them in the great city, and they continued the household worship to which they had been accustomed from infancy.

While in Edinburgh, Thomas occasionally attended the Old Greyfriars’ Church. With some of his fellow-students he used to sit on the unoccupied space in the elders’ pew, a raised platform in front of the pulpit. This was thought an intolerable presumption, and the youths going one Sabbath to their usual place in the church, found the pew-door locked. Most of them were retreating down the aisle, when Guthrie sprang over the door, and the others took courage and followed him. Years after, when he preached his first sermon as minister of the Old Greyfriars, one of the members of the Church felt sure he had seen the face before, and whispered, “That’s the same long student who jumped into the elders’ seat.” His college course was. continued through eight years, four of which he spent in literary and philosophic classes, and four as a Divinity student; but still being too young to be licensed as a probationer, he spent two additional years in Edinburgh, studying chemistry, anatomy, and natural history. When he had nearly completed his stay in Edinburgh, he was suddenly called to Brechin to see his father for the last time.

By the death of his father the awful realities of eternity were brought near to him, and he was impressed by what he saw of the power of faith in Christ to sustain the soul in nature’s extremity. It has been well said, “His heart was awed and made tender by affliction just when his hand was on the pulpit-door.” Before being licensed as a preacher, he had to preach a trial sermon in the old cathedral church in Brechin. As he was well known in the town, a large congregation assembled to hear him, and he was abashed and almost petrified when he looked from the pulpit on so many faces, but secured himself from the ignominy of a break-down by reading his sermon. But he had determined not to be a mere pulpit-reader, and the following Sabbath, after much anxiety, succeeded in delivering a memoriter discourse in the parish church of Dun.

The high position his father had held in Brechin, secured for him such influence that he had the offer of one of the best livings in Scotland, but as his acceptance of it would have brought him into slavish relations with the Moderate party, he manfully declined it, and was ever after thankful that he had been able to make such a sacrifice to principle. No suitable opening presenting itself, and being in easy circumstances, he went to Paris as a student at the Sorbonne. Returning thence to Brechin, but still without a call to a church, he took charge of a Bank Agency which had been held by his father and a deceased brother. His purpose was to fill the vacant place until his brother’s son should be old enough to take it; and so efficiently did he go through all its duties, that one of the bank authorities said to him, “If you only preach, Sir, as well as you have banked, you will be sure to succeed.”

At length he was able to enter on his ministerial course. In 1830, he was ordained as minister of Arbirlot, a parish near to Arbroath. He succeeded a minister named Richard Watson, who boasted that he had challenged John Wesley to a public disputation in Arbroath, and never forgot to add that the latter had declined the challenge, “which,” says Dr. Guthrie, “he might have good reasons for doing other than the fear of Richard Watson.” He was very penurious, but perhaps scarcely made so forlorn an appearance as another minister of whom Dr. Guthrie writes, who working one day in his garden in ragged clothes and battered hat, was startled by seeing the carriage of the proprietor of the parish driving up to the manse. He could not retreat, and dare not be recognised in such a plight, so pulled his hat over his shoulders, struck out his arms, and improvised himself into a scarecrow. He stood still enough while his visitors passed up the garden-path, then slipped in at the back-door, and quickly appeared before them in his Sunday clothes.

Though the manse and church were in a ruinous condition when Mr. Guthrie went to them, he was soon able to effect improvements; and with a bright, affectionate wife by his side, healthful sea-breezes to invigorate his body, beautiful scenery to charm his eye, and pastoral duties to call out all his mental powers, his Arbirlot life was a succession of as happy days as have ever fallen to the lot of a country clergyman. His parishioners were on the whole decent people, but he had trouble with a few of them. A farmer, who in wealth, intelligence, and social influence, was the principal man of the parish, had insisted one rainy harvest on his labourers working in the fields on the Sabbath. As members of the church they were amenable to discipline, and though on explaining the circumstances, and expressing regret for what they had done, the Kirk Session dealt leniently with them, their master made a great stir, and talked largely about ecclesiastical tyranny. But he was silenced by the loss which befell him; for while the farmers who waited till Monday got in their com in good condition, his, being damp, heated, and was much damaged.

The Sabbath was a great day in Arbirlot while Mr. Guthrie was there. In the morning numerous groups of people, with Bible and Psalm-book in their hands, were seen walking along the roads leading to the church. From cottages and farmhouses in the parish, from the shadow of the old abbey in Arbroath, from Boysack Muir four miles, and from Panbride five miles away, they gathered to hear the man who was able to stir their deepest emotions, and give them thoughts to make music in their souls through the week. The preacher stood before them in the pulpit, no puny weakling, but over six feet in height, and with genius in his eyes, and holy fire on his lips. His sermons were not tame descants on the beauty of virtue, or cold statements of doctrine given in “lang-nebbed words,” but representations of evangelical truth instinct with feeling, and illustrated by telling anecdotes, and by figures drawn from earth and sea and sky. As he went on from topic to topic, the faces of the people were now in a glow of exultation, and now wet with tears. When they left the church, they were all prepared to endorse the verdict of the blacksmith, who was thought a great critic, but was heard saying after hearing Mr. Guthrie for the first time, “That’s the preacher, lads; that’s the preacher!” At night he had a class in the church for young people, when there were examinations in the Catechism, and a review of the morning’s discourse, concluding with a lecture of about a quarter of an hour long. This class excited great interest, and there was a large congregation, consisting not only of young people, but of parents and others, who found the meeting as profitable for themselves as for those for whom it was specially intended.

But it was not likely that a man of such powers would be allowed to stay long in the comparative obscurity of Arbirlot; and Thomas M‘Crie, the accomplished biographer of John Knox, after spending a day with him, remarked to a friend, “He will not be long there.” It was in connection with the Voluntary Controversy that he first became prominent. A meeting of Voluntaries was held in Arbroath, and Mr. Guthrie, with some of his brethren and the Wesleyan minister then stationed in Arbroath, were present. Dr. Ritchie, a clever antagonist of the Established Church, spoke with great force and humour, and concluded a little after midnight by challenging any one to reply, an easy way of assuming that his arguments could not be answered, as no one was likely to take up the matter at that hour. The Wesleyan minister protested against this as unjust. He was invited to the platform, and was soon engaged in sharp discussion. Mr. Guthrie and his friends felt bound to stand by him, and followed him to the platform. The former refused to go into the subject that night, but pledged himself to cal) a meeting in Arbroath, when he would refute Dr. Ritchie’s statements. Several years after Dr. Guthrie was in London, and was lunching at a chop-house in the Strand with an eminent Wesleyan layman, who crossed the room to speak to a minister. “Who is your friend?” said Dr. Guthrie to him on his return; “I have surely seen his face before.” The name was given. “Was he ever in Arbroath? ” inquired the Doctor. He was told that he was, and on hearing this said, “Why, Sir, that is the man who made me.”

The meeting was held according to notice in Arbroath, and one of its effects was his translation to the Old Grey-friars, in Edinburgh. He spent seven happy years in Arbirlot, and it was not without a pang that he left the people among whom he had laboured so successfully,—the wooded banks, the stream of the Elliott, the cottages overshadowed by ancient trees, the manse from which he could look on the sea in its varying aspects of storm and calm, and the white sails passing to and fro. But he had not hasted to go, and had there not been a clear intimation of Providence, he would have thankfully remained in his rural parish. Henceforth Edinburgh was his home, and its romantic features and historic glories accorded well with his imaginative spirit. He delighted in it himself, and delighted in showing it to visitors. “Ere the heat of the day,” he said, “has cast a misty veil upon the scene, I take a stranger, and, conducting him to yonder rocky rampart, I bid him look. Gothic towers and Grecian temples, palace, spires, domes, monuments and verdant gardens, picturesquely mingled, are spread out beneath his eye; wherever he turns, he finds a point of view to claim his admiration. What rare variety of hill and hollow! What happy combinations of ancient and modern architecture! Two distant ages gaze at each other across the intervening valley.”

But the city has its darker side, and vice in its most repulsive forms, and misery to fill the heart of the spectator with dismay, mingle strangely with those grandeurs of precipice and pinnacle, storied rock and stately streets. From the first, Mr. Guthrie threw himself into earnest efforts for the neglected and heathenish thousands which throng the dark wynds and alleys of this Northern Athens. He was appalled by the wickedness and destitution which made themselves known to all his senses; but he had confidence in the power of the Gospel to transform and elevate the vilest and lowest in those foul and crowded neighbourhoods. On one occasion, looking from the George IY. bridge on the dingy houses, the filthy street, and squalid people below, he felt sad as he contrasted the scene with the one he had left, “its singing larks, daisied pastures, decent peasants and the grand blue sea rolling its lines of snowy breakers along the shore.” While thus musing, a hand was laid on his shoulder. Turning round, he saw Dr. Chalmers at his elbow. The great man looked on the scene, and then with enthusiasm glowing on his face, and arm raised as if in exultation, exclaimed, “A beautiful field, Sir; a very fine field of operation.” Mr. Guthrie applied all his powers to the culture of that field, and had the satisfaction of seeing that his labours were not in vain.

Greyfriars was a collegiate charge, but he went to Edinburgh with the understanding that as soon as arrangements could be made he should have his own church and pastoral district. The new church was opened in 1840, the pews and aisles were filled every Sabbath, and people even sat on planks placed on the rafters near the ventilating apertures in the roof. The right of the people of the district to sittings was strictly observed: this was necessary, for otherwise they would have been crowded out of the church by visitors to the city, and people from other parishes, intent on hearing the eloquence of the now famous preacher. The poor sat comfortably in pews, while noblemen and great ladies and representatives of the wealth and genius of Scotland were standing in the passages, and were thankful even in that way to participate in the benefits of Mr. Guthrie’s ministry. He had the good sense not to spoil himself when he went to Edinburgh by shrinking his broad poetic nature and his simple energy of speech into the dimensions of a classic model. He believed that what reached the hearts of the people in the village, would reach the hearts of the people in the city, and he would not clip the forest-like exuberance of life which characterised his sermons, to the formal pattern of a Dutch garden. He studied the art of preaching thoroughly, but he preached in his own way; yet we must not think of him as a mere pulpit-artist, caring only to fill up an hour with a succession of word-pictures, or to stir the Scottish blood of his hearers with anecdotes of Scottish heroism. Picture and anecdote were made subservient to the enforcement of Christian truth, and he sought, and often rejoiced, in the salvation of those who heard him.

Could he have ordered the activities of his own life, they would have been to the close those of a preacher and a Home-Missionary. He coveted no higher honour than that of a minister, preaching . the everlasting Gospel and reclaiming and evangelising the wretched families in the wynds and streets of his parish. But the Providence of God laid on him the task of secessionist, social reformer and popular author. Though not one of the foremost in the Disruption Controversy, he was decided in his opposition to what he regarded as an unwarrantable and ungodly interference with the spiritual independence of the Scottish Church. Much as he loved that Church, he would not remain in it, when its movements were trammelled by secular authority; and when he left his home for the General Assembly on the morning of May 18th, 1843, he said to his wife, “Well, Anne, this is the last time I go out of this door a minister of an Established Church.”

Twenty years after his heart was thus stirred by memories of the great day on which so many ministers severed themselves, at the bidding of conscience, from the emoluments, the social advantages and endeared associations of the Establishment:—

“There is something more eloquent than speech. I am bold to say that Hall, Foster or Chalmers, never preached a sermon so impressive or sublime as the humblest minister of our Church did when he gave up his living to retain his principles, and joined the crowd that bursting from the door of St. Andrew’s Church, with Chalmers at its head, marched out file by file in steady ranks—giving God’s people, who anxiously thronged the streets, occasion to weep tears, not of grief but of joy, as they cried, ‘They come! They come! Thank God, they come!’.... We did not come out a small and scattered band; but on the day of the Disruption burst out of St. Andrew’s Church as a river bursts from a glacier—a river at its birth. In numbers, in position, in wealth, as well as in piety, our Church, I may say, was full grown on the day it was born. Above all, and next to the prayers which sanctified our cause, we were followed by a host of countrymen, whose enthusiasm had been kindled at the ashes of martyrs, and who saw in our movement but another phase of the grand old days that won Scotland her fame, and made her a name and a praise in the whole earth.”

Mr. Guthrie was appointed one of a Deputation to plead the cause of the Free Church in England, and on his return said at a public meeting:—

“The people of England did not help ns out of pity; but on principle. We made no lachrymose stories to them. In fact it was suggested to ns by one of our best friends —I mean Mr. Bunting, son of the celebrated Dr. Jabez ' Bunting—that we were not the right sort of Deputation at all; that we were far too merry-looking men; that the Deputation ought to have been composed of rueful, lachry-moserlooking fellows—men more like martyrs than we were, who would have had a much greater effect upon the people of England. Why, a clear conscience makes a sunny face, and it is not easy for a man to look unhappy who feels himself far better with a hole in his coat than a hole in his character.’*

Large sums were raised by the Free Church for the erection of churches and school-houses and for the Sustentation and other Funds, but it was felt that there was still one great want, that of manses for the ministers, many of whom were lodged in inconvenient and even wretched dwellings. It was accordingly resolved to secure £50,000 at once, and £100,000 ultimately, for the purpose of providing suitable homes for them. At the suggestion of Dr. Chalmers, Mr. Guthrie was requested to travel through the country, making appeals both in public and private for the Fund. He accepted the task, and such was his success that in twelve months he was able to announce promises to the amount of £116,000. His biographers write:—

“The raising of the Manse Fund was Mr. Guthrie’s greatest service to the Free Church, and many a sweet dwelling, by sea-shore and in highland glen, will long remain his monument. In the course of his joumeyings in after years, even in the Ultima Thule of Shetland, he had the unique satisfaction of seeing substantial dwellings he had helped to rear, surrounded by gardens and greenery, and occupied by men of God and their families, whose comfort he had been honoured to promote; and we can testify to the loving welcome he received from the peaceful groups at these manse firesides.”

But Mr. Guthrie’s benevolence did not exhaust itself in efforts to provide homes for his brethren in the ministry. The condition of the starving, neglected children of Edinburgh pressed on his heart, and he meditated plans by which both to feed and educate them. Strolling one day with a friend through “the romantic scenery of the crags and green valleys round Arthur’s Seat,” they came to St. Anthony’s Well, and sitting on a black stone near to it, began to talk to two boys who were there with their tins, in the hope of getting a few coppers by drawing water for visitors. Mr. Guthrie ascertained their history, and by way of experiment said to them; “Would you go to school, if beside your learning you were to get breakfast, dinner and supper there?” One of them with a sudden flash of the eye started up, and exclaimed: “Ay, will I, Sir, and bring the haill land too! ” and then, as if afraid that three meals were too much to expect, added,“I’ll come for but my dinner, Sir.” A large room under Mr. Guthrie’s church was fitted with apparatus for making soup and porridge, and a number of ragged children were got together and fed and taught there. The scheme widened, and in a year there were three Ragged-Schools in Edinburgh, with an attendance of two hundred and sixty-five children. In furtherance of his object Mr. Guthrie published his “Plea for Ragged-Schools,” which touched many hearts, and was the cause of good even in distant regions. In 1848 a Barbadian merchant visited Scotland and was taking back with him about £2,000 worth of goods. He was wrecked on one of the West Indian Islands, and all his property was lost, with the exception of a copy of the “Plea,” which was washed on the beach. It was handed about, and led to the formation of a Ragged-School for negro children.

Mr. Guthrie’s work in Edinburgh assumed such proportions, and rose to such importance, as to become matter of national interest. It involved him in toils and discussions, not always of the most agreeable kind, but his name was honoured as that of a true philanthropist, and men illustrious in statesmanship and literature came forward with eloquent eulogies of the noble spirit evinced by him in his struggles with destitution and ignorance. And not only did such men as Thackeray, Ruskin and Gladstone extol his labours, but even lips accustomed to vilest blasphemies had a word of praise for him. In an unlicensed drinking den in Glasgow, a number of low drunkards were making remarks not at all complimentary to ministers, when one of them interposed with: “I’ll tell you a gude man, a really gude man.” “Wha’s that?” asked three voices at once. “Weel,” was the reply, “that’s just Tam Guthrie.” “Ay! you’ve said it now,” was the remark of another; “I believe Dr. Guthrie to be as gude a man as ever waggit his head in a poopit; he’s different frae the ithers a’thegither; he practises mair than he preaches.” But Mr. Guthrie’s greatest satisfaction was in seeing the change effected in the wretched objects he took under his care. On one occasion cards of invitation to a soiree were sent to all the old scholars that could be found in Edinburgh, and of that gathering he wrote:—

“The hour of reception arrived. The tread and shuffling of many feet rose on the stairs. The living stream set in, in a constant succession of sober, well-to-do-like young men and women. Wives, once Ragged-School girls, were there with blushes and honest pride, introducing their husbands to me, and husbands once Ragged-School boys, their wives. There they were all dressed, some even genteelly; without a rag on their backs, or a trace of wretchedness in their bright and happy faces; self-supporting, upright, earning by honest industry wages that in some cases reached the thirty or forty shillings a week of the skilled workman, shopman or clerk. It was a marvellous sight! I was ready to ask: Are these my Ragged-School children? ‘ he Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.’ They were one hundred and fifty in all! What happy faces theirs were! How joyous to meet again within these walls! . . . . The evening flew away on lightsome wings: songs were sung, good counsels given, prayers were offered and blessings asked. We lingered over the scene. Nor could I look on that gathering of young men and women, so respectably clad and wearing such an air of decency, and think what but for the Ragged-School they would have been—without tears of joy and gratitude to God welling up to the eyes. It was our Harvest Home.”

Mr. Guthrie was also distinguished as an advocate of Temperance principles. While in Arbirlot he saw comparatively little of the misery occasioned by drink, but in Edinburgh the evil was presented to him in frightful forms at every turn, and he resolved to do his part in counteracting it both by example and influence. He rendered great service to the cause of Temperance by his genial and eloquent speeches, and also by his beautiful little book, “The City: its Sins and its Sorrows.” It was popular from the first, and having been published by the Scottish Temperance League at a reduced price, has had a circulation of over fifty thousand copies.

Mr. Guthrie’s efforts for the Manse Fund told seriously on his constitution, and for two years he was compelled to rest, but in 1849 he was able to resume his ministry to the extent of preaching one sermon on the Sabbath. In the same year he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh ; a distinction gratifying to him as coming from his Alma Mater, and as indicating good feeling on the part of those from whom he was ecclesiastically separated. Through, all the stages of his ministry in Edinburgh he was highly popular, and the church which had been built for him after the Disruption was always crowded when he preached. Few men have excelled him in the art of pictorial representation. He was once suggesting some change in a picture, when the artist said, “Dr. Guthrie, remember you are a preacher and not a painter.” “ I beg your pardon, my good friend,” he replied, “I am a painter; only I paint in words, while you use brush and colours.” In advising a young preacher he wrote: “Mind the three P’s. In every discourse the preacher should aim at Proving, Painting and Persuading; in other words addressing the reason, the fancy and the heart.”

His own sermons were exemplifications of the above rule, and his hearers were often strangely charmed by the power, the vividness and pathos of his words. One Sunday afternoon, a man having the appearance of a Highland cattle-drover was in St. John’s.. He was evidently enraptured by what he heard, and as the Doctor concluded one of his grand and picturesque illustrations, he turned round to the crowd behind him, and audibly exclaimed: “Ha, Sirs ! but I never heard the like of that.” Another time Dr. Guthrie described a wreck and the launching of a lifeboat to save the crew. So distinctly did he present the scene, that a young naval officer, in front of the gallery, started to his feet and began to take off his coat in preparation for manning the life-boat, and was only recalled to consciousness of the place and the time by his mother laying hold of him and drawing him back to his seat. Strangers coming to Edinburgh thought it as necessary to hear Dr. Guthrie, as to see the Castle and the Calton Hill; and noblemen and titled ladies, authors and artists, might have been seen crammed with peasants, mechanics and poor women in pews and aisles, all listening with equal eagerness to the magnificent periods of the orator.

One auditor has been graphically sketched by Dr. Hanna, the colleague of Dr. Guthrie in the St. John’s pastorate:—

“There was in the crowd at St. John’s always one conspicuous figure. Looking only at the rough, red, shaggy head, or at the checked plaid flung over the broad shoulders, you may think it is some shepherd from the distant hills, who has wandered in from his shieling among the mountains to hear the great city preacher. But look again,—the massy head, the broad projecting brow, the lips so firmly closed, the keen grey eye, and above all, the look of intelligent and searching scrutiny cast around, all tell of something higher than shepherd life. It is Hugh Miller, the greatest of living Scotchmen, never to be missed from this congregation, of which he was not only a member but also an office-bearer.”

In 1862 Dr. Guthrie was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church. At the close of the Assembly he gave an address on “Ministerial Support,” in the course of which he introduced the following:—

“An honest weaver in my native town, whose minister was a highly-esteemed ‘Old Light,’ and what is more a true light, was clear for keeping the minister’s stipend down at the lowest figure; and he alleged in proof of the advantage of a poor stipend, that the Church never had better, nor so good, ministers as in those days when they wandered in sheep-skins and goat-skins, and in dens and caves of the earth. If any sympathise with the weaver, I answer that I have an insuperable objection to ‘dens and caves’—they create damp; and secondly as to the habiliments, it will be time enough to take up that question when our people are prepared to walk Prince’s Street with Dr. Candlish and me, not in this antique dress (that of the Moderator,) but in the more primitive and antiquated fashion of goat-skins with the horns on.”

In 1864 Dr. Guthrie was compelled by the state of his health to give up all but a nominal connection with St. John’s; but though he could not preach Christ as he had done from the pulpit, he was still able to serve the cause of truth by his pen. Authorship, in which he had already been very successful, was henceforth his principal function. His summers, when not on the Continent, were usually spent at Lochlee, in the North of Scotland, where a house was provided for him by the kindness of his friend, the late Lord Dalhousie. It is a romantic spot, and with its dark crags and ledges, its green glens and blue-grey loch, will always be associated with the memory of the great preacher. It was amid those scenes of blending beauty and grandeur, that he gave his last sermon, ending a long and faithful ministry with the text, “The just shall live by faith.” Hoping for benefit from a Southern atmosphere he went to Hastings in December, 1872, and there he died. He had peace and joy in the brief eventide of his life. When no longer able to glorify his Master by active service, he mentioned the* case of a young woman whom an old Scotch minister proposed to keep back from the Lord’s table on account of her ignorance. As she rose to go she burst into tears and said: “It’s true, Sir, I canna speak for Him, but I think I could die for Himand, continued Dr. Guthrie, “I feel I cannot speak of Him as He deserves, yet if I were to lie here a thousand years I would think nothing of it, if it were to honour Christ.” Referring to one of his sons who was in California, he said: “Tell him in all circumstances to stand up for Christ.” Of a child who died in infancy he remarked: “Johnnie was a sweet lamb, though he didna like me; he was long ailing and aye clung to his mother. Perhaps the greatest trial in all my life was when I lifted the clay-cold body and laid it in his little coffin, in that front room in Lauriston Lane. He has gone before us all, though the youngest. Ay! though his little feet never ran on this earth, I think I see him running to meet me at the golden gate.”

Dr. Guthrie’s last days were cheered with the brightest hopes of immortality, whilst the sympathy of friends was deep and true. On the evening of the 21st of February, 1873, a telegram was sent by the Queen from Windsor inquiring of his state. When he heard of it, he said, “It is most kind.” He suffered much, but singing seemed to soothe him, and a psalm or hymn, softly sung to the piano in the adjoining room, was often requested. Being asked whether believers would recognise friends in heaven, he said, “I have great sympathy with the old woman, who, when some one doubted the likelihood of her recognising her departed husband in a better world, exclaimed, ‘Do you really think we will be greater fools in heaven than we are here?’”

Sabbath, February 23rd, was his last day on earth. Lying quietly, he was heard to say, “A brand plucked from the burning.” Midnight approached, and as his friends were commending the passing spirit into the Redeemer’s hands, he departed as in a quiet sleep.

His body was borne to Edinburgh, and interred in the. Grange Cemetery. The funeral was imposing from the numbers who attended it, but nothing was more touching than the presence of two hundred and thirty Ragged-School children, who stood at the grave and sung,

“There is a happy land,
Far, far away,”

The children rescued from squalor and vice were bright memorials of Dr. Guthrie’s work, and he was honoured more by their simple strain, than he could have been by the tolling of muffled bells, or by organs sounding the notes of a laboured requiem. Though no man, with the exception of Dr. Chalmers, did more for the Free Church, he was far from regarding it as cast in the only mould of ecclesiasticism approved by God; and delighted in brotherly communion with the ministers and members of other Christian denominations. His name is justly venerated by Wesleyans as that of a generous and appreciative friend. He occupied Wesleyan pulpits on several important occasions—opening chapels or preaching on behalf of Missions. At the Missionary Meeting in Exeter Hall, in 1858, when the late Lord Dalhousie was in the chair, he said, after expressing his joy in the enlargement and success of the Society’s operations, “I miss the presence of one of the best, one of the greatest, men that it was ever my honour, privilege, and delight to know. I thank God that that man is yet on this earth, and that, though he is not able to speak for this cause, he is still able to pray for its success. I commend him to the prayers of all this assembly. Let your prayers be ever offered up for him, that God would yet spare him for His Church and country; and that whenever the hour of his departure comes, the brilliant star which has set in this world may rise in a far better one. Since Thomas Chalmers left this world—I speak my own sentiments and my own feelings when I say, that he has left Dr. Bunting to be, in my estimation, one of the greatest and best men on the earth.”

Dr. Guthrie did good service to religious literature by his pen, editing the “Sunday Magazine,” and publishing several volumes of discourses. He was not an expositor like Dr. John Brown, or a scientific theologian like Dr. Candlish; but seizing the prominent truths of the Gospel, irradiated them with poetic imagery. Illustration frequently takes up more space than the thought illustrated; and panoramic representations of Highland scenery or thrilling stories of Scottish heroism and magnanimity, fill up vacancies in argument and doctrinal statement. There is genius in almost every paragraph, but it is the genius of the artist, not of the patient and profound thinker. But Dr. Guthrie knew his own intellectual limitations, and did not flatter himself that he was a great teacher, but rather strove to allure men and women to experimental and practical godliness by giving a picturesque interest to “the faith once delivered to the saints.” His efforts were successful, and thousands have read and profited by his books who would not have cared for the truth if it had been presented to them in a less attractive form. Though his voice is silent, his influence is felt in his works; and as soul after soul is brought to God by his graphic delineations of the beauty and blessedness of religion, there is additional assurance that he is one of those of whom it is said: “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

The following is an example of Dr. Guthrie’s style, and shows how he rejoiced in the fulness and sufficiency of Christ:—

“I have found it an interesting thing to stand on the edge of a noble flowing river, and to think, that although it has been flowing for six thousand years, watering the fields and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and painted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvests of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliant as ever, his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of light less full for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ? Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing. For, when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness that is in Christ shall follow on throughout eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour, Image of God, Divine Redeemer! in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What Thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy.”


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