Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What can we Learn from Dr Guthrie?

Over the last few months in The Record we have looked at different aspects of Dr Guthrie’s incredible ministry: his preaching, his pastoral work, his work as a social reformer, his pioneering work as a church planter and his role as the 'Apostle of Temperance'.  
His legacy is awe inspiring and very humbling.  The key question is what can we learn from Dr Guthrie and apply in our own situation today?
1.  Vision - Dr Guthrie had incredible vision.  He literally, by God's grace, changed Scotland.  His vision was not shaped by the challenges of 19th Century Scotland but rather shaped by the greatness of the God he served.  He believed that the Christian gospel could save anyone and transform any community.  By the time of his death Guthrie had, along with many other social reformers, changed childhood.  Rather than being seen as commodities, towards the end of the 19th Century, children were seen as those in need of protection and nurture.  Partly as a result of lobbying from social reformers like Guthrie legislation was passed protecting children from working long hours in often dangerous situations.  The DNA of men like Thomas Guthrie and Thomas Chalmers is that they had a big vision.  It wasn't a congregational vision or even a Free Church vision but a national vision.  Surely Guthrie teaches us that our current vision for Scotland is too small and parochial.   



2. Truth - We need to know what we believe.  Unlike so many Christians who get involved in social action, Guthrie never lost his Biblical moorings when he became a social reformer.  It is clear from his writings that he adhered to the Bible as the word of God and remained confessionally Reformed throughout his ministry.  He believed in the supremacy and centrality of preaching as the main method that God uses to save sinners.  Guthrie preached the whole counsel of God with love and tenderness but never compromised on doctrine.  Are we as a church falling out of love with the reformed theology that compelled men like Guthrie and Chalmers?  Are we embarrassed by our reformed heritage?



3. Love - As a minister of the Gospel, Guthrie embodied love.  We are told in James 1 v 27:  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  The fruit of true Christianity is always love for the poor and the oppressed.  Many people regard practical love for the poor as a deviation from the gospel.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Guthrie's work with ragged children enhanced his message and gave his Christianity a reality and authenticity that made the gospel attractive to sinners.  We must never love people just because they may become Christian’s or come to our church.  We must love them because they are made in the image of God and the gospel commands us to love our neighbour.  The very essence of grace is to love with no strings attached.  How are we loving those on the margins of society like Dr Guthrie?  Are our churches places where people with addictions, relationship difficulties, prisoners, women experiencing domestic violence will find grace and love? Do we want these kind of people in our churches?  If we do, how will we support them and disciple them?



4. Hope - It was this combination of truth and love that gave Guthrie such hope for the communities he worked in and for the individuals he sought to reach.  The gospel, when preached in all its fullness and freeness, should fill every sinner with a sense of hope that Christ died to reconcile them to a holy God.  The church has gone though many periods when this message has been lost or when she has lost confidence in the power of this gospel to reach the darkest and most hopeless parts of our communities.  Guthrie (among others) gave the Free Church the belief that the gospel, accompanied by education for the poor and the practical outworking of love through the local church could redeem the darkest and most hopeless communities. Do we still have this hope?

There is a famous story about Dr Guthrie and Thomas Chalmers standing on George IV Bridge looking down on to the Cowgate.  Guthrie tells us; ‘Hopeful of success, he [Chalmers] surveyed the scene beneath us, and his eye, which often wore a dreamy stare, kindled at the prospect of seeing that wilderness become an Eden, these foul haunts of darkness, drunkenness and disease, changed into "dwellings of the righteous where is heard the voice of melody."  Contemplating the scene for a little in silence, all at once, with his broad Luther-like face glowing with enthusiasm, he waved his arm to exclaim, "A beautiful field, sir; a very fine field of operation” (Out of Harness, Thomas Guthrie).  

It takes great vision to look at some parts of Scotland and see them as a ‘beautiful field’ but yet that is what men like Dr Guthrie saw in places like the Cowgate. Thomas Guthrie brought hope to thousands through his preaching, his pastoral care and his practical Christianity.  Nobody was beyond redemption for Guthrie.  He preached a gospel that was free for the worst sinner and believed that nobody was a hopeless case.  He is an inspiration to us, that in dark and difficult days, the gospel can once again reach the darkest corners of Scotland. 




Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Singing the Song of the Incarnation

Most of the material in this blog post comes from Tim Keller's excellent book 'Hidden Christmas'

Luke 1 

 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

What does Christmas mean to you?

For most of us it probably involves some extra shopping, lots of food, presents, family and friends.

Hopefully for most of us it is also a reminder of the glory of Christs Incarnation – how God became Emmanuel - God with us.

Unfortunately, the way the Christmas story is told has become so sentimental, that when we read what the Bible actually says, we are shocked.  Far from a cosy scene of domestic bliss we see Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem under the prospect of shame and uncertainty.   Mary was an unwed, pregnant mother in a culture where marriage was important.

Far from receiving kindness and sympathy, Mary and Joseph took refuge in a stable, or perhaps a cave, or maybe the house of a poor relative who lived with animals.  An ‘Inn’ can mean a furnished room so its possible that Mary and Joseph were staying with relatives but they had to stay with the animals.

At some point in his young life Jesus flees from a genocide commanded by the paranoid, bloodthirsty Herod.

The Christmas story is wonderful – but it is also full of the brutal reality of poverty, shame,  uncertainty and fear – which is good news because that is what most of us struggle with.  

The Christmas story reminds us why Jesus came into the world – to bring light into darkness.  The Christmas story is not sweet and sentimental – it deals with the most fundamental issue that we struggle with – the sin of the human heart.

But what the Christmas story does give us is hope, hope in the midst of despair and light in the midst of darkness.

And at the heart of the Christmas story is a mother – frightened, confused, unsure – just like thousands of mothers in Scotland today.

We see in Mary, this young, vulnerable mum, the hope that can come when we see the wonder of Jesus and when we tell others about that wonder.

While Matthews account focuses more on Joseph, Luke tells us more about Mary.  We want to look in this blog about how she responds to the news of Jesus coming into the world through her.  She responds thoughtfully, gradually, in wonder and in willing surrender.

1.  She responds thoughtfully Luke 1 v 26 - 38

People often accuse Christians of ‘blind faith’ of not asking enough ‘hard questions’.  But when the angel appeared to Mary in Luke 1 v 28 we are told that she was ‘greatly troubled’ or ‘moved at the strangeness of it’. We are told that Mary ‘wondered’ – ‘to make an audit’ (accounting, to add up, weighing, pondering).  She asks in verse 34 ‘How can this be?  It is a question of innocence because she is not yet married.

We sometimes look back at ancient cultures and think they were less developed and less enlightened that we are.  But this is not true.  Mary was just as astonished at the appearance of an angel as we would be.  She had also been trained by her culture never to believe that God could become a man. Mary has just as much difficulty in believing in the Christmas message as many people do today – it is a belief in the supernatural.

But a mixture of evidence and experience shatter Mary’s objections.  It’s interesting when we compare Mary to Zacharias, that when Zacharias expresses doubt, he is struck dumb. You see there is doubt that comes from a closed mind (like Zacharias) and doubt that comes from an open mind (like Mary).  Mary was open to truth and she found faith despite her initial doubts.



2. Mary responds Gradually

It is a dangerous experience to standardise Christian experience. 

Some people come to faith like the Philippian jailer while some come to faith very gradually like the dawning of the sun.

We see Mary’s first response as one of incredulity v 34.  Mary’s is basically saying to the angel ‘this is crazy!’  How can I give birth to the Saviour of the world?

For most of us we can think of a time in our lives when we have finally understood the gospel in a real way and we have reacted like Mary.  The gospel is (at one level) ridiculous, impossible and inconceivable.  But Mary’s response is measured – she wants to know more.

Secondly, she responds with simple acceptance. Mary says these beautiful words in verse 38: ‘I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled.’  Mary has gone from shock to submission – she is now a disciple, a servant.  At this stage Mary still doesn’t understand everything but despite her fears and reservations, she follows.  We also see that she exercises faith from the heart.

It is only when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth that Mary fully comprehends what is happening. Elizabeth by the power of the Holy Spirit recognizes that Mary is carrying the Messiah.  This confirms what the Angel and said to Mary and gives her assurance.  Mary breaks out into praise and recognises that the child she is carrying is the fulfilment of centuries of promises:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant’ Luke 1 v 46-47.

Mary is no longer agreeing with what the Angel said, she has gone from mental assent and duty, to worshipping joyfully with her heart.  Mary’s faith was gradual.  

Why does faith take so many different paths?

Well because it is God who gives us faith – it is a gift of grace – we are not in control.
We may have heard the Christmas story a thousand times but one day God opens our eyes to see it a different way – gradually God draws us to himself and assures us of his love.

Where are you in terms of faith?  Are you a sceptic? Are you a seeker? Are you saved?

Follow Mary’s example – seek, submit and serve.

3.  Mary Responds in Wonder

We see in verses 46 and 47 that Mary speaks of her soul glorifying/magnifying and her spirit rejoicing in God her Saviour.  What is the difference between her soul and spirit?  The answer is that there is no difference.  It is a repetition that is saying every part of her being is moved to worship.

But Mary is also amazed that this is happened to a sinner like her ‘…the Mighty One has done great things for me.’ v 49

Mary is looking down through history and suddenly recognises that the baby she is carrying is the fulfilment of centuries of promises. And as we see from the genealogy in Matthew 1 – who does God use?  God uses women, he uses Gentiles, he uses prostitutes, adulterers and cultural outsiders.  Even the royalty in Jesus family tree was a murderer and an adulterer.  As Tim Keller says ‘even the begats of Jesus are dripping with God’s mercy’.

What was God saying? What God says through the Christmas story is people who are excluded through culture, by society, excluded by the law of God, can all be brought into Jesus’ family. Just like Mary – it is not our family, or pedigree, or our church connections that saves us – it is God’s grace.

God spent centuries preparing his people for the Messiah, and how would the Messiah be born in to this world?  Through a simple, poor, teenage, unmarried mother.

Surely this sense of wonder and amazement is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  Grace is a miracle – that God should shower us with his love.  Have you responded like Mary with wonder?


4.  Mary responds with Willing Surrender

If we go back to verse 38 Mary says ‘I am the Lords servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled.’  ‘Behold the servant of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word.’ (Geneva Bible).  Remember Mary was in a traditional, paternalistic society where shame was real. She knew that even if Joseph stayed with her, people would work out that Jesus was the result either illegitimacy or unfaithfulness.  But in her song of praise she links her experience to Abraham.  What is the connection?

Well remember God promised Abraham that salvation would come through his offspring, his family. But the first thing God told him to do was to give everything up – he had to leave his homeland, your family, your friends, your security and go out into the wilderness.  Hebrews 11 v 8: ‘He went out not knowing where he was going.’  Just like Abraham, Mary was asked to put aside her hopes and dreams of a normal, average married life. Mary simply says ‘I am your servant.’

This is what it means to be a Christian.  It means surrendering our will, and our plans to God’s plans.  It is the most radical thing we can do in out individualistic, rights based culture.  But look at Mary.  She knew that her surrender would sink her even lower down the social ladder.  Imagine the pain she felt watching her son being tortured and crucified. Mary is a living example of the verse in Matt 23 v 12 ‘those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

But however low Mary had to go for Jesus, think how far Jesus came for you – from the glory of heaven to this dark world.  Jesus accepted God’s will knowing it would cost him everything.  Christ’s surrender to his fathers will brought salvation to a broken world.  That’s what Christmas is all about.  Jesus was born to die – to give us eternal life.

Mild, he lays his glory by,
born that we may no more may die
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

He used a poor, unmarried young mother to carry the Messiah.  This Saviour who came from generations of cultural and racial outsiders.  Today he is offering you the greatest gift of all – eternal life.  There is an answer to sin and suffering – Jesus came to bring life and hope.  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Life of Joseph (3) - A Rapid Promotion

The Life of Joseph – Genesis Chapters 37 - 50

The story so far (Studies 1 and 2)
  • Joseph is Jacobs favourite son
  • He has 2 dreams that involve his family bowing down to him
  • His brothers think about killing him but eventually fling him down a well
  • He is sold into slavery and then accused by his master’s wife of rape
  • He interpreted 2 dreams in prison and was promised that a ‘good word’ would be put in with the Pharaoh but he remained in prison.

Themes so far:
  • God is at work even when it looks like he isn’t
  • Challenges mould and shape our character and made Joseph a better man
  • Joseph is not consumed by bitterness despite the injustice he experiences
  • Joseph is like Jesus is many different ways


Study 3
Genesis chapter 41

1.  A Unexpected Opportunity

What was Pharaoh’s dream ch 41 v 1-7?

What do you think would have been the significance of Kings dream in ancient Egypt?

Can you think of any other Biblical examples of God speaking to people through dreams?
  • Genesis 28
  • Judges 7
  • I Kings 3
  • Daniel 2, 4
  • Matthew 2, 19, 22, 27

Does God still use dreams to speak to us today?

How should we test if dreams are from God?
  • Does the dream confirm or contradict scripture?
  • Does the dream confirm something that you feel God has already been saying though his word.
  • Is the dream confirmed through providence?
  • Consult mature Christians.

Look at verse 16 and verse 25 – Who does Joseph say will interpret the Kings dream?

What does that say about Joseph?  This shows hos God centred Joseph was - God received all the glory.

What was Josephs interpretation of the Kings dream? v 25-36  Seven years of plenty followed bhy seven years of famine.

2.  A Rapid Promotion Gen 41 v 37 – 57

Look at verse 38.  What were the personal traits that Pharaoh saw in Joseph and which marked him out as a believer in a different God?  He was a man of integrity, humility and deep wisdom.

If we claim to be a Christian, what personal traits do people see in our life?

How did Joseph cope with his rapid rise to power at the age of 30?

How do you think his thirteen years as a slave and then a prisoner would have prepared him for power?

What does godly leadership look like?

3.  The Pressure to Conform

Joseph live in a culture that worshipped many gods – how do we know that he continued to worship the living and true God – v 50-52  He called his sons Manasseh (God has made me forget my hardship and my fathers house) and Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction).  Joseph wasn't consumed with bitterness but had forgiven his brothers and acknowledged God's hand in his suffering/

How can we live a Christ centred life in a society that hates God and everything he stands for?

What can we learn from Jesus?

Personal Application

Do you ever think that all the challenges you are going through are preparing you in the future for a God given opportunity?

Joseph seemed to move on from all the injustices he had suffered.  What are we holding on to from the past that we need to let go?

Where do you feel most under pressure to confirm to the word rather than following Christ?

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Pharaoh saw the Spirit of God in Joseph – how does this compare with Luke 3 v 22 when the Spirit rested on Jesus at his baptism?  What did God say of Jesus?

When Jesus read from the scroll in Luke 4 he was ascribing all the Old Testament promises of a coming Messiah on himself – he was the promised Saviour.

Both Joseph and Jesus were saviours but Jesus name is above all names.

Prayer

Lord thank you for the godly wisdom you gave Joseph.  Give me a similar wisdom to discern the times we are living in and to live godly in Christ Jesus.  Lord protect me from the pressures all around me that would pull me away from you and keep in a closer walk with Jesus every day.  We pray for peace in this prison and for more men to come to know the living and true God and Jesus his beloved son – amen.

               

                

The Life of Joseph (2) - Promotion and Imprisonment

This is the second Bible study used with a group of prisoners in my local jail.  You can read more about the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.  It is not meant to be exhaustive but to provoke discussion.

In our first study we saw how Joseph's brothers planned to kill him but ultimately sold him in to slavery.

1.  Success and Promotion – Gen 37 v 1-6
What do you think the Egyptian slave market would have been like?  More than likely the prisoners would have been naked and shackled as people bartered over them. It would have been humiliating and degrading.

Joseph was sold to Potiphar.  What was Potiphar’s position? Gen 39 v 1

What position did Potiphar give Joseph?
            Gen 38 v 4, 5 and 6.

How do we know that Potiphar trusted Joseph?  We are told that he gave him responsibility so that he didn't know anything other than the food that was in front of him.

How many times do we read in verses 1-6 that God was with Joseph?  Isn't it amazing how often we read that God is with saints in the Bible even in really difficult circumstances?

How could God still be with Joseph after all that happened?
  • Attempted murder
  • Flung down a well
  • Sold into slavery
  • Ripped from his country and family

Why do you think God allows suffering?  Check out Gen 45 v 7-8

God was working out his eternal purposes through the life of Joseph.  We see many examples in the Bible like in Job and David of how, through great suffering, God was still working.

2.  Accused and Imprisoned Gen 39 v 7 (b) – 20

Joseph has the chance to sleep with Potiphar’s wife – how persistent was she? 39 v 10

What arguments did Joseph use to resist Potiphar’s wife in verse 9?
  • Marriage to Potiphar
  • Breaking of God’s law/code of conduct

What is the Bible’s view of marriage and how seriously should we take this commitment?
What are the benefits of a good marriage?

What does Potiphar’s wife accuse Joseph off in v 11-18?
  • How would Joseph have felt given that he was still a slave?
  • Notice how once again his coat is used in a conspiracy against him.
  • Notice how she shifts the blame onto her husband v 14.

How do you think Joseph would have felt as he was flung into prison?

Where was God v 21?  He was there all the time.

In what way was God with Joseph in prison?

3.  False Hope

Why did the Cup Bearer and Baker end up in jail?  40 v 1

Did Joseph claim to intemperate dreams v 8?  He gave all the glory to God.

Read v 23 – how do you think Joseph would have felt?

Personal Application

Have you ever been falsely accused?  How did you react?

Was God more with Joseph when he was promoted, when he was falsely accused or when he was in prison?

Why do you think we sometimes feel nearer to God when everything is going wrong?

What can we do to feel nearer to God?

Why do we find it so hard to ‘wait on God?’

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Christ was exalted like Joseph was in but then falsely accused imprisoned and ultimately killed.
Isaiah 53 v 4-9
           
Just like Joseph God was with Jesus in all his trials and temptation
John 17

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the story of Joseph.  Thank you that you remained with Joseph through promotion, false accusation and imprisonment.  Even in the midst of great evil and darkness we thank you that you showed him your steadfast love and favour.  Please show that love to me today.  Help me to put all my faith and trust in your son Jesus.  Thank you that he was accused and condemned so that I can be declared innocent from my sin and set free to live a life of obedience and truth.  Help me to stay closer to you as I resist sin and live the way you want me to live.  For Jesus sake Amen.

Dr Thomas Guthrie: The Apostle of Temperance

In daily pastoral visitations, Dr Thomas Guthrie needed no convincing about the devastating effects of alcohol on his parish in Edinburgh.  He often visited homes without a stick of furniture after everything had been sold to buy alcohol.  Children were left starving and homes devastated in the pursuit of addiction.  As Guthrie says: ‘Believe me it is impossible to exaggerate, impossible even truthfully to paint the effect of this vice either on those who are addicted to it, or on those who suffer from it – crushed husbands, broken hearted wives, and most of all those poor innocent children that are dying under cruelty and starvation, that shiver in their rags upon our streets, that walk unshod the winter snows, and with their matted hair and hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes, and sallow countenances, glare out upon us, wild and savage like, from these patched and dusty windows.’


The determination with which Guthrie pursued the temperance cause was all the more remarkable when we understand how unusual this position was in the first half of the 19th century.  In his Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie reckoned that there was not a single student in Edinburgh University who was an abstainer. Perhaps even more remarkably Guthrie was unaware of any minister in the Church of Scotland who was a teetotaller. Undeterred by this, Guthrie established the Free Church Temperance Society along with Horatius Bonar and William Chalmers Burns.

When the Scottish Association for the Suppression of Drunkenness was formed in 1850 they turned to Guthrie to write their first booklet entitled A Plea on behalf of Drunkards and against Drunkenness. As Guthrie says in the booklet: ‘On principles of patriotism and Christian expediency, we think that the evil has arrived at such a pitch, that it were well if, instead of either attempting to muffle or even muzzle the monster, the country would agree to put a knife through its heart, in the entire disuse of intoxicating liquors.’  Other booklets followed and Guthrie was instrumental in bringing about the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1853 or the Forbes Mackenzie Act, as it is better known. This Act forced public houses to close at 10.00 pm on weekdays and all day on Sundays.


Guthrie’s appeal for temperance was articulated in his book on Luke 19 v 41-48: ‘The City its Sins and Sorrows’.  The four sermons in this volume teach us much about the man. Guthrie preaches like the Saviour he loved. His words are full of love, pity and pathos. His heart had been broken by the sights he had seen in his pastoral visitation of the Cowgate and this is reflected in his sermons. As Christ wept over the state of the people of Jerusalem, Guthrie was broken over the drunkenness he saw ruining lives and destroying families across Scotland. 

Dr Guthrie should act as a challenge to all of us as we seek to once again win cities for Christ.  We need to be challenged by men like Guthrie to have a vision for our cities that are so ruined by drink and drugs.  A vast amount of family breakdown, abuse and neglect of children has its root in addiction. If ever there was a time for coordinated and concerted Christian action it is now.  As Guthrie said: ‘Let each select their own manageable field of Christian work. Let us embrace the whole city, and cover its nakedness, although, with different denominations at work, it should be robed, like Joseph, in a coat of many colours. Let our only rivalry be the holy one of who shall do most and succeed best in converting the wilderness into an Eden, and causing the deserts to blossom as the rose.’


The City its Sins and Sorrows by Dr Thomas Guthrie is available as an e-book from Amazon with a Foreword by Andy Murray.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Dr Guthrie the Social Reformer

Dr Guthrie was no ivory tower minister.  He was the embodiment of salt pressed against the decaying flesh of the world around him.  This came at a heavy price with Guthrie's future health problems.  He became a magnet for his parishioners seeking temporal and spiritual help on a daily basis; 'My door used to be besieged every day by crowds of half-naked creatures, men, women, and children, shivering with cold and hunger; and I visited many a house that winter, where there was a starving mother and starving children, and neither bed, bread nor Bible - till, with climbing stairs my limbs were like to fail, and with spectacles of misery, my heart was like to break.'  So how did Guthrie respond to all the challenges around him?

His starting point was that man is made in the image of God.  The half-naked child sleeping on the streets of Edinburgh was, to Guthrie, as precious in the sight of God as the Queen on the throne. In his first plea for Ragged Schools in 1847 he compared what some regarded as 'rubbish' as shining jewels; 'Yes it is easy to push aside the poor boy in the street, with a harsh and unfeeling refusal, saying to your neighbour, "These are the pests of the city."  Call them, if you choose, the rubbish of society; only let us say, that there are jewels among that rubbish, which would richly repay the expense of searching.  Bedded in their dark and dismal abodes, precious stones lie there, which only wait to be dug out and polished, to shine, first on earth, and hereafter and forever in a redeemer’s crown.'  

Secondly, Guthrie took sin seriously.  He was no socialist.  He knew that little is achieved by the mass and indiscriminate distribution of money or food.  Sinful nature often makes a bad situation worse as Guthrie found on his many pastoral visits.  Poor families with little we're ravaged further by a drunken or profligate parent.  This was the time of the 'dram houses' and 'gin palaces'. Indiscriminate (however well meaning) compassion often compounds problems rather than solving them.

Thirdly, Guthrie believed in the 'almost omnipotent power of Christian kindness'.  Our response to poverty needs to be gospel centred.  Guthrie knew that compassion without the power of the gospel would change little.  Only the grace of God can truly change the human heart.  We get a flavour of Guthrie's view of poverty in his great work 'Seed Time and Harvest of Ragged Schools' (published 1847, 1849 and 1860).  Having outlined the plight of thousands of 'ragged children' on the streets of Edinburgh he famously said 'These Arabs of the city are as wild of those of the desert, and must be broken into three habits, - those of discipline, learning, and industry, not to speak of cleanliness.  To accomplish this, our trust is in the almost omnipotent power of Christian kindness.  Harsh words and harder blows are thrown away here.'  Unlike today's welfare state the Ragged Schools did not crush people under the weight of a faceless and unresponsive bureaucracy.  Christian compassion needs to be personal, genuine and it needs to go 'above and beyond'.

Fourthly, Guthrie's response went to the root of the problem.  His response to poverty was what might be termed today 'tough love'.  He sought to restore self-respect, hard work and sobriety.  While he had all the time in the world for the innocent victims of drunkenness and poverty he was very outspoken against those who perpetuated their poverty through vice.   Welfare must always be a hand up not a hand out.  This is surely the principle of 2 Thessalonians 3 v 10.  If a man is able to work, and work is available, our whole system of welfare should be focussed on helping him work.

Finally, Guthrie wasn't interested in 'harm minimisation' or 'risk management'.  His focus was on transformation. This final quote perhaps best sums up Guthrie's views.  It encourages us to have a 'wise' response to the poor.  
'Blessed is he that wisely doth
The poor man's case consider'


'So run the opening words of the 41st Psalm, in the Scottish Psalter.  Wisely?  He wisely considers the case of the poor who, wherever it is possible, supplies them with work rather than money; who helps them to help themselves, who encourages them to self-exertion, and teaches them self respect; who patronises not indolence but industry, not the intemperate but the sober; who applies his money to relieve the misfortunes that come from the hand of Providence, rather than such as are the divinely ordained and salutary penalties of vice.  And who thus goes to the work of Christian benevolence will meet with many cases to cheer him on, and keep him up to this mark, "Be not weary in well-doing."