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Significant Scots
Henry Guthrie

GUTHRIE, HENRY, afterwards bishop of Dunkeld, was born at the manse of Coupar-Angus, of which his father, Mr John Guthrie, a cadet of the family of Guthrie of that ilk, was minister. At an early age he made considerable progress in the acquisition of the Greek and Latin languages, and was soon afterwards transferred to the university of St Andrews, where he continued to study with the same success, and took his degrees in arts. After finishing the philosophical part of his education, he became a student of divinity in the New College at the same time.

The qualifications of Mr Guthrie, added to the great respectability of his family, easily procured for him the appointment of a chaplain, which was then considered as a sure step to promotion in the church. The family of the earl of Marr, with whom he remained in that capacity for several years, treated him with much respect; and on leaving them, he obtained through the earl’s recommendation, a presentation to the church of Stirling, to which he was episcopally ordained. [Account of Guthrie by Crawford, preface to his Memoirs, edit. 1738, pp. 3-5.]

"Being now a minister in the church," says his biographer, Mr Crawford, "he was diligent in the pastoral care of all the parts of his function, and was well affected to the government in church and state." Unfortunately for Mr Guthrie, however, the minds of the Scottish people had become impatient under the innovations begun by king James, and obtruded upon them with less caution by his son. But in justice to the moderate Episcopalians, it must be mentioned, that they disapproved of the introduction of a liturgy by force.

At length the call for a General Assembly became so urgent, that its "induction" was consented to by the king, and it accordingly took place at Glasgow in 1638. Guthrie, with many of his colleagues, took the covenant required by it, but does not seem to have obtained much credit with his brethren in the ministry; nor was his conduct viewed in the most favorable light, conciliating. Upon the establishment of Episcopacy in Ireland, some of the Scottish inhabitants had determined to emigrate to New England, where liberty of conscience was permitted, but were driven back by storm, and as conformity was rigidly insisted upon, many of them returned to Scotland, where they obtained a favourable reception. The "errors of Brownism," had, in the meantime, crept in among them, but their remarkable piety procured the good will of the people, till they reached our author’s parish of Stirling. The laird of Leckie, a gentleman who is said to have suffered much at the hands of the bishops, was at this time much esteemed for his intelligence and seriousness, and many who could not conscientiously acquiesce in the services of the church, had been in the habit of assembling with him for the exercise of private worship. In these meetings, it had been alleged, but whether with truth we are not informed, that he had in prayer used some expressions prejudicial to Mr Guthrie. The holders of such meetings were therefore "delated" before the presbytery, and expelled their bounds, but Guthrie was not willing to dismiss them so easily—he left no means untried to injure their character, and the name of "sectarian" was at this time too powerful a weapon in the hands of a merciless enemy. In the assembly of 1639, he tried to obtain an act against private meetings; but some of the leading clergymen, fearing more injury to the cause of religion from his injudicious seal than from the meetings he attempted to suppress, prevented the matter from being publicly brought before the assembly. He was still, however, determined to have some stronger weapon in his hand than that of argument—a weapon it need hardly be said the assembly allowed him,—and in order to prepare for a decisive conclusion at the next session, he roused the northern ministers, "putting them in great vehemency," to use Baillie’s expression, "against all these things he complained of." Accordingly, in the assembly of 1640, after much debate, an act anent the ordering of family worship, was passed. By this act it was ordained, that not more than the members of one family should join in private devotion—that reading prayers is lawful where no one can express themselves extemporaneously—that no one should be permitted to expound the Scriptures but ministers or expectants approved of by the presbytery—and, lastly, that no innovation should be permitted without the express concurrence of the assembly. But this decision rather widened than appeased their differences, and the subject was again investigated in 1641, when an act against impiety and schism was drawn up by Mr Alexander Henderson.

For several years after this period, little is mentioned by our historians relative to Mr Guthrie. On Sunday the 3d of October, 1641, he had the honour of preaching before his majesty in the abbey church of Edinburgh, but Sir James Balfour does not give us any outline of this sermon—a circumstance the more to be regretted as none of his theological works have come down to us. In his memoirs he mentions having addressed the assembly of 1643, when the English divines presented a letter from the Westminster Assembly, and the declaration of the English parliament, in which we are told they proposed "to extirpate episcopacy root and branch." It is remarkable that principal Baillie, the most minute of all our ecclesiastical historians of that period, and who has left behind him a journal of the proceedings of that very assembly, takes no notice of this speech; but it is evident from what he says elsewhere, that the presbyterians found it necessary to overawe Mr Guthrie. He had, in name of the presbytery of Stirling, written "a most bitter letter" to Mr Robert Douglas, "concerning the commissioners of the General Assembly’s declaration against the cross petition;" and though it was afterwards recalled, it seems to have been used in terrorem, for, to quote the expressive words of Mr Baillie, "Mr Harry Guthrie made no din" in that assembly. The last public appearance he made while minister of Stirling was in 1647, when the king was delivered by the Scots to the English parliament. He was among the number of those who exonerated themselves of any share or approval of that transaction; "and as for the body of the ministry throughout the kingdom," says he, "the far greater part disallowed it; howbeit, loathness to be deprived of their function and livelihood restrained them from giving a testimony." [Memoirs, edit. 1748, p. 239.]

It has been already stated, that the Scottish clergy do not appear to have placed much confidence in Mr Guthrie; and from his opposition to many of their favourite, measures, this is little to be wondered at. In 1647, when the parliament declared for "the engagement," the ministers declaimed against it, as containing no provision for the support of their religion; but Guthrie and some others preached up the lawfulness of the design, and although no notice was taken of this at the time, no sooner was the Scottish army defeated, than they were considered proper subjects of discipline. "Upon November fourteenth, came to Stirling that commission which the General Assembly had appointed, to depose ministers: in the presbyteries of Stirling and Dumblane, for their malignancy, who thrust out Mr Henry Guthrie and Mr John Allan, ministers of the town of Stirling,"&c. [Guthrie’s Memoirs, p. 299.]

From the period of his dismissal from his charge, till after the Restoration, Guthrie lived in retirement. He is mentioned by Lamont of Newton, as "minister of Kilspindie in the Carse of Gowrie; [Lemont’s Diary, edit, 1830, p.181.] but the Rev. Mr Macgregor Stirling, in his edition of Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire, merely says that he lived there. In 1661, when Mr James Guthrie was executed on account of his writings, Henry Guthrie became entitled by law, and was indeed invited by the town council, to resume his duties at Stirling, but he declined on account of bad health. [Mr Stirling’s Nimmo’s Stirlingshire, p. 376, note.] He was well known to the earl of Lauderdale, and was recommended by him to the diocese of Dumblane, then void by the death of bishop Halyburton. He had during his retirement devoted his attention to the study of church government, and had become convinced, "that a parity in the church could not possibly be maintained, so as to preserve unity and order among them, and that a superior authority must be brought in to settle them in unity and peace." With this conviction, and with a sufficient portion of good health for this appointment, he accepted the diocese, and remained in it till his death, which happened in 1676.

The only work which bishop Guthrie is known to have left behind him, is his "Memoirs, containing an Impartial Relation of the affairs of Scotland, Civil and Ecclesiastical, from the year 1637 to the Death of King Charles I."—written, it is believed, at Kilspindie. The impartiality of his "Relation" is often questionable,—nor could we expect that it should be otherwise, at a period when both civil and ecclesiastical dissensions ran so high. In point of style it forms a striking contrast to most of the other histories of that time, which, however valuable otherwise, are often tedious and uninteresting.

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