Monday, 25 May 2015

Read any Good Books Recently?

This is an article by my father (Rev John J Murray) which appeared in the Banner of Truth Magazine in April 2015 entitled 'Profiting from Good Books'.  The article is also available as a separate leaflet.

How many pastors today have to acknowledge that their people are not readers of good books? In the same way as there is not a great desire for sound preaching, so likewise there is not a hunger for good books. There was a time in the 1960s and 1970s when congregations seemed eager to have bookstalls, and publishers readily complied. It was not unusual even to see a queue forming when a newly published title reached a Christian bookshop.

What has gone wrong? The spiritual appetite seems to have decayed.  Judging by the front window displays in many Christian Bookshops the literature in popular demand is of a very light character. We are also living in a visual age. The overhead is taking over in our churches. Items of praise and Scripture passages are projected on to a screen in front of us. Bibles are being set aside.  The ‘download’ is being used more and more. It is a rare sight to see a Christian home with a bookshelf of Christian classics.

The testimony of history
We have only to look back in history to see the important place that books have played in the progress of the Christian Church.

There are many instances of books being used in the conversion of sinners, who subsequently became mighty instruments in God’s hands. There is one oft-quoted chain of effect in this area. The ‘heavenly’ Richard Sibbes produced The Bruised Reed in 1630 and it was used in the conversion of Richard Baxter. The ‘saintly’ Baxter wrote  A Call to the Unconverted (1657). Many years later, the book was blessed to the conversion of Philip Doddridge. His Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (1745) was used to bring light into the soul of William Wilberforce.  Then years later Wilberforce’s Practical View of Christianity (1797) helped to bring from death into light and life the soul of the ‘Moderate’ churchman, Thomas Chalmers, who became  the instrument under God of the Revival of 1839-42. We could also think of Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man being the means of the conversion of George Whitefield.

There are also instances of books that have had an influence in producing a new era in spiritual life.  At the time of the first Awakening in New England,  Jonathan Edwards gave an account of it in  A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737).  Iain Murray notes:  ‘Edwards’ Faithful Narrative was possibly the most significant book to precede the great evangelical Awakening on both sides of the Atlantic’. (Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Edinburgh: Banner, 1987, p 122). We have also to think of the effect that Edwards’s An Humble Attempt to Promote Extraordinary Prayer had on the Baptists in England and the subsequent rise of the  worldwide missionary movement. Dr John Macleod gives an interesting example of the power of a book when he tells us of what happened in Kilbrandon (Argyll). The minister, Rev John Smith, was invited by Lady Glenorchy to translate Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted into Gaelic. ‘As he advanced with the work he used what he translated as pulpit matter, and when the people of Kilbrandon came thus in touch with the bones of the Puritan prophet, an awakening began, the memory of which has not yet passed away.’ (John Macleod, Some Favourite Books, Edinburgh: Banner, 1974,p 90).

We could also recall the way in which good books shaped the lives of generations of Christians in, for example, Puritan England and Presbyterian Scotland. Family religion encompassed regular family worship, the keeping of the Sabbath and the reading of good books. Most Christian homes would have a shelf or more of books some of which were ‘thumbed out of existence’ There were the classic writings of such men as Rutherford, Guthrie, Bunyan, Boston, Brown, Henry, M’Cheyne and Spurgeon. The books would be passed on through the generations. Of Boston’s Fourfold State it could be said,  ‘It did more to mould the thought of a generation than anything except the Westminster Shorter Catechism’.  The farm labourer had more knowledge of Scripture and a greater grasp of doctrine than many a learned scholar.

The need of the present hour
The effect of a renewed hunger for reading would do much to rectify some of the failings of modern evangelicalism:

1 Ignorance of doctrine, ‘children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine’ (Ephesians 4.14). In the words of Dr Robert Reymond, ‘a theological illiteracy which invites the rise of wholesale heresy pervades the Church’. The great lack of discernment, even among leaders in the Church, is alarming.

2 Lack of depth in Christian experience,  ‘even as unto babes in Christ’  (1 Corinthians 3.1). We have an anaemic version of faith that signs up to the benefits purchased by Christ with no evidence of a radical change in relationship and lifestyle.

3 Neglect of Church history, ‘There arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord nor yet the works which he had done for Israel’ (Judges 2.10). As Dr Lloyd-Jones observed many modern evangelicals think that evangelism began with D L Moody. Others think the blessings of Pentecost were only re- discovered in the 20th century! The love and promotion of good books could provide an antidote to these ills.

1 The Reformers knew that ignorance, not learning, was the breeding ground for heresy and superstition. Luther, Calvin and Knox flooded the market with instruction in the Christian faith.  They saw the need for producing catechisms, confessions and manuals of doctrine. A solid foundation was laid in the minds of the young. How desperately our generation stands in need of that foundation!

2  The more genuine and deep the conversion experience the  more likely our people are to go back to the books that came out of ‘white hot’ soul experience and have an unction attending them. George Whitefield, writing of the Puritans, said:  ‘Though dead, by their writings they yet speak, a peculiar unction attends them to this hour, and for  these thirty years past I have remarked, that the more true and vital religion hath revived either at home or abroad, the more the good old Puritanical writings have been called for’. (Whitefield’s Works, Vol 4, p 306).  A modern preacher presents a vivid picture of what we mean: ‘As furnaces burn with ancient coal and not with leaves that fall from today’s trees so my heart is kindled with the fiery substance I find in the old Scripture-steeped sermons of Puritan pastors.’ (John Piper, in a recommendation for Meet the Puritans by Beeke and Pederson).

3 It is by reading the history of the Church and the biographies of men and women of God in the great eras of the Christian Church that we come to be convicted of what we are lacking in our day, individually and corporately.  It gives the longing in our hearts to identify with the spirituality of those days and to recapture something of it for ourselves.  C H Spurgeon speaks of his discovery of Puritan classics in the room in the old manse at Stambourne. ‘Out of that darkened room I fetched those old authors when I was yet a youth, and never was I happier than when in their company’. (Autobiography of C H Spurgeon, vol. 1:The Early Years, London: Banner, p 11). Happily, they had the effect of producing a God-centred, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered ministry, the effects of which continue with us to this day.
May we respond with Augustine to the voice which cried ‘Take up and read’!

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Men of Lewis (1924 reprint)

This volume, first published in 1924, under the title The ‘Men’ of the Lews, consists of articles which originally appeared as a series in the Stornoway Gazette. They present  sketches of some of the Lewis worthies of the 19th and 20th centuries, some of whom were known to the author himself. Norman C Macfarlane was a native of Lewis and after studies at Glasgow University and the New College, Edinburgh he was ordained and inducted to the ministry, serving congregations in Cruden and Juniper Green, Edinburgh. With the help of Dr John Macleod he has provided an invaluable collection of material well worth bringing to the attention of a new generation. Apart from the lives of the men themselves, there is interesting sidelights on church life in Lewis in past years, including Communion Seasons, Question meetings and such like.
Published by William Murray, Dornoch £5.00 (p&p £1.50)
John J Murray, 7 Greenacres Way, Glasgow G53 7BG

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Dr Guthrie on true Christianity - doing good and being good

What is true Christianity?  There are so many churches and so much confusion today that we desperately need to answer this question.  Knowing and understanding what constitutes true Christianity is critical not only for our own salvation but also so we can preach and defend true Christianity against false Christianity.  It shouldn't really surprise us that there are people claiming to preach Christ when they are preaching error.  Christ said that 'many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many' Matthew 24 v 11.  Many

So what is real, genuine Christianity?  Dr Guthrie, in his book 'Man and the Gospel', entitles his sermon on James 1 v 26, 27 'Doing Good and Being Good'.  In it he gives a helpful summary of true Christianity.  Christianity is about truth and love, faith and practice.  As Dr Guthrie says;

'It is not, therefore, what we profess, but practise; it is not what a man says with his tongue, or signs with his hand, but what he does with his heart, that settles his religion in the sight of God, and on that great day of judgement shall settle his fate.'

Later on in the sermon he also says;
'Still it should not be forgotten, lest any deceive themselves, that to talk about religion, ministers and sermons, missions and missionaries, religious schemes and books, revivalists and revivals, in not religion.  Some have been the most fluent talkers about things who felt them least.  Shallow rivers are commonly noisy rivers; and the drum is loud because it is hollow.  Fluency and feeling don't always go together.  On the contrary, some men are most sparing of speech when their feelings are most deeply engaged.'

James was probably the earliest New Testament book written after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  The fledgling church was struggling with all sorts of issues; their founder was dead and had ascended into heaven, they were impatient, there was bitterness amongst them, some had become materialistic, there was spiritual apathy, they lacked focus, purpose, direction and vision.  Sound familiar?  James was seeking to teach these early Christians what the true characteristics of the faith were.  At the end of chapter 1 he gives them what can only be described a sort of early 'mission statement' of the early church.  How does James define true Christianity?  Well in keeping with this incredibly practical book, often described as the 'Proverbs of the New Testament',  James seeks to define true Christianity as more than just belief in God and a range of doctrines.  Faith in Christ, according to James, is connected to;
  • What we say

  • Who we love and,

  • What we seek

1. True Christianity is directly related to what we say
James 1 v 26 is a powerful verse against hypocrisy.  It says that our words betray our hearts.  The 19th century United Presbyterian minister Robert Johnstone translates the verse like this; 'If any man among you think himself to be observant of religious service, whilst at the same time bridling not his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, that mans religious service is vain.' 

Why the strong emphasis on our words?  Well surely it is because our words reveal what is in hearts and it is our hearts that is the source of sin.  This is very much in keeping with Christ's teaching in Matthew 15 v 17-20.  It is not our surroundings, our background, our social class or even peer pressure that makes us sin.  Some of these problems may make our lives more challenging but we can't blame anything except our own hearts when we sin against God.  What is the evidence of what is in our hearts?  The stuff that comes out of our mouths.  We see this connection between the heart and the mouth again and again in the bible; 'The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil' Proverbs 15 v 28.  James (in chapter 3) describes the tongue as a forest fire, corrupting the whole person, set on fire by hell and just like the rudder on a ship, small but incredibly influential in terms of our direction.

Somebody has said 'the tongue is the hinge on which the whole personality turns.'  James tells us that if we can't bridle out tongue our religion is vain, useless, devoid of power, of no purpose.

2.  True Christianity is connected to who we love
In James 1 v 27 we read that true religion is also connected to who we love.  One of the main characteristics of Christianity is love for the needy.  If we claim to be followers of Jesus we need to follow his example of loving the marginalised.  If Christ loved with no strings attached we need to do the same.

The Bible often mentions our duty to love and care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  In Deuteronomy 10 v 17,18 we are told 'He administers justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.'  Time and time again God was identifying himself with the three groups of people who were most marginalised and often despised in society.

Why are these groups of people mentioned again and again?  Well it is because these groups have nothing and the little they have is often swept away in a moment.  None of these groups have anything to repay if we show them kindness and generosity.  If we love God we must love those who God loves; the marginalised, the rejected, the unloved and the unlovely.   We must love with no strings attached.  Christian love is active, risky and costly.  As Dr Guthrie says;

'Religion does not consist in doctrinal or prophetical speculations; no lie like a corpse entombed in old dusty confessions.  She lives in action, and walks abroad among mankind - calling us to leave our books, to shut our bibles, to rise from our knees, and go forth with hearts full of love and hands full of charities.'

3.  True Christianity is connected to what we seek
It is not good enough to do good - the bible commands us to be good, to seek holiness.  Goodness and righteousness are bound together in scripture.  As Thomas Manton says 'let the hand be open and the heart pure'. As Micah 6 v 8 commands us; do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. James 2 v 27 tells us to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We are literally to guard our hearts like a fortress.  The 'world' is the sinful system around us that includes what we see and hear every day. As Christians know only too well the world can defile or stain us.

The extent to which we seek the world is an evidence of true religion.  We are called to be in the world but not of it. Just like certain toxic paint that can cause brain damage Christians need to use a filter as we live in this world. We need to view sin as a deadly viper rather than as a house pet that we welcome in and feed.  Holiness can be an incredible witness.  As Manton says 'a holy life and a bounteous heart are ornaments of the gospel.'

So what do these two verses teach us about true Christianity?

Well we see that true faith is active. Visible obedience testifies to inner commitment.  A good tree bears good fruit.

We also see that the Christian who wants to bring glory to God needs to bridle their tongue.  We need to pray that the Lord would set a guard over our mouths (Psalm 141 v 3).  It is in the multitude of words that sin is not lacking (Proverbs 10 v 19).

We also see from these verses that God loves the needy and therefore it should be part of our DNA. Do we love the lonely?  Do we care for the old?  Do we support the sick?  This is the calling of the true Christian.

This passage also show us that true faith involves crucifying the world.  Always remember that the world is a dangerous place for the Christian.  Let's not have a legacy like Demas who forsook the godly because he loved this present world (2 Timothy 4 v 10).

Lastly true Christianity is about seeking Christ.  None of us can display pure and faultless religion without grace. We need to receive Christ by faith if we want to display that religion that God is pleased with.  God calls us to a high standard but not as a tyrant but as a father.  As Manton says;

'We serve God most comfortably when we consider him as a father in Christ.  Duty in the covenant of grace is far more comfortable, not only as we have more help, but because it is done in a sweeter relation.'

True religion is more than Sunday religion, it is a love and obedience from day to day.  Are we fit for Christ's service?  Are we pure?  Are we loving?  Are we guarding out mouths?  Let's remember it is grace that saves but it is also grace that enables us to serve him. Let's seek more of that grace and pray for greater fruit in his service.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

David - A Man after God's own Heart

We read in Acts chapter 13 v 22 ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.’  It is incredible when we think of David and his moral failings that his Biblical legacy is that he was a man after God’s own heart.  

David lived a remarkable life; he was born into a rural farming family the youngest of 8 sons, he was athletic and brave as a shepherd boy, he was divinely chosen to be King and anointed by Samuel, he was a great harpist and played for King Saul, he defeats Goliath and becomes a national hero,  he is hated by Saul who pursues him on a murderous campaign, the tribe of Judah anoints him as King eventually followed by the tribe of Israel, David captures Jerusalem, he sleeps with another man’s wife and then murders him, his son Absolom rebels against him and David once again becomes a fugitive.  Finally he anoints his son Solomon his successor who goes on to build the temple.  He also writes some of the most famous songs in history.  What a life!  What can we learn from it?

1.  David is an example that the life of faith is full of ups and downs.  David was possibly the world’s greatest poet and song writer.  The Psalms are read and sung by millions of people around the world.  God used David’s incredible life to forge these amazing ‘songs of experience’ that are still being blessed to millions centuries later.  Psalm 51 is a gut wrenching poem written after he grasped the extent of his moral failings.  It gives us hope that even after we sin we can find grace and mercy.  David gives us hope that God can use us even in our mistakes and failings to bring glory to him. 

2.  David helps us to see that a nobody can become a somebody.  Samuel was sent to the house of Jesse to find the future King of Israel.  He took one look at David’s brother Eliab and thought he must be the chosen one.  But God has a very different set of assessment criteria from us – God looks at the heart (I Sam 16 v 7).  We may sometimes feel insignificant and undervalued.  David was a simple shepherd boy working in an isolated part of Bethlehem.  But God had great plans for him because his heart was right.  Sometimes we are called to work in obscurity and in challenging situations, but God knows the ultimate plan.

3.  Whenever God calls he equips.  We read that after David was anointed the spirit rushed on him (1 Sam 16 v 13).  God calls us to some big challenges but he gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us, guide us and comfort us.  The spirit empowered David to be the most incredible leader of Israel and gave him boldness and wisdom.  The same spirit is available to us today.

David, the wee shepherd boy from Bethlehem, pointed to the great shepherd who was to come in the Lord Jesus Christ. David wrote about him in Psalm 2, 45, 68, 110, 118 and 132.  The New Testament opens with three names; Abraham, David and Jesus.  David, with all his faults and failings, was used in a remarkable way to usher in a new and radical kingdom.  While Saul was consumed with hatred and died a tragic death, David stands as a giant in Biblical history because he was a man after God’s own heart.  Let’s follow his example.

If you want to read more of David's incredible life buy Walter Chantry's fantastic book 'David: Man of Prayer Man of War published by the Banner of Truth.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dr Thomas Guthrie on politics

Dr Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873), as I've said in previous articles on this blog, was one of the last great Christian polymaths of the Victorian era.  He was a preacher, a writer and a social reformer with great influence in the areas of education and politics.  Dr Guthrie did not stray into writing and politics with some guilty notion that he was going 'off piste'. His Christianity was a theology for life and informed every area of society.  Christ is not just the head of the church but he is also King of the nation and his teaching and commands needed to be applied to poverty relief, education and politics.  It is the compartmentalisation of our Christianity into sacred and secular that has led the the Scottish church having a diminishing influence over the last 100 years.

So where did Guthrie stand politically?  Well he was never a party political man despite being on friendly terms with some of the most powerful men and women in the country; Lord Jeffrey, the Duke of Argyll, Lord Southesk, the Right Hon. Fox Maule (Earl of Dalhousie), the Duchess of Sutherland, Dr Tait the Bishop of London and Mr Gladstone.  In 1871 Guthrie was the only dissenting Scottish minister to be invited to the marriage of Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne where he was presented to the Queen.  During one of his Ragged School speeches Guthrie spoke of his political views;

'I am a Conservative in conserving all that is good; I am a Liberal in advocating a wise liberality as regards Government funds towards all institutions that aim to make men better, soberer and wiser; and I am a red-hot Radical in seeking to uproot everything tending to disgrace the grand old name of Britain.'

Guthrie was familiar with politics and politicians and made frequent visits to Westminster in the cause of the Ragged Schools.  But Guthrie never had faith in politics to transform a nation as so many people do today.  Indeed he was badly let down by government despite his many powerful friends and great influence.  After giving evidence to a Parliamentary Committee in 1856 the Privy Council decided to provide 50 shillings per year for children from Ragged Schools.  In 1857 this decision was reversed and the funding was reduced to 5 shillings.  Guthrie was understandably angry and said;

'I do not wish to speak evil of dignities, but there are some things in respect of which it is difficult to keep one's temper, and this is one of them.  We have leaned on a broken reed.  For a brief period, in answer to importunity like the widow's, we got fifty shillings a year for every child of the abandoned classes trained within our school - only one third of the cost....It's injustice and folly are still more plainly brought out by the contrast between the liberality shown to those institutions which attempt to reform the child who has committed crime, and the meanness dealt out to such institutions  as ours, that, reckoning prevention better than cure, seek to destroy crime in the very bud.  What a monstrous state of matters!'  (Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie and Sons, 1896)

After this there was a deputation to the Privy Council to reconsider in 1859.  Guthrie talks vividly of leading this delegation to London and walking up the street like 'a column of soldiers'.  They met with Mr Adderly in the Treasury building who Guthrie described as 'fighting shy'.  It must have been quite a sight to see Guthrie in full flow and he says he got 'quite animated'!!  The only outcome was the passing of the Industrial School Act in 1860 which gave state assistance to children in ragged schools committed there by magistrates.  A Privy Council report from 1861 recorded that of 6172 children in ragged schools across the UK, only 242 had been committed by magistrates thus the vast majority were supported by voluntary contributions.

At a public meeting convened in Edinburgh in 1860 to consider what steps should be taken to rectify the huge deficit of £700 caused by the withdrawal of the government grant, Dr Norman Macleod said;

'It is monstrous that Government, who would not give sixpence to save a man's leg, would quite willingly give twenty pounds for a wooden one after the leg was taken off.'

Dr Guthrie himself let the government have it with both barrels;

'What I wish the public to understand, is this - you must either help us in our present extremity, or we must cast seventy of these poor children overboard. Now, who is to select these victims?  I will not do it.  I sympathise with Hagar, when after her doing her utmost to sustain her son, she withdrew, not choosing to see him die.  It will be a black day for Edinburgh when these children are cast into the streets.  God says 'Room in heaven for the guilty:'  here they cry, 'Room in the prison for the innocent;' and when these poor creatures have gone their horrid march from our blessed school to yon dreary cells, let them put upon the door of the prison, "Under the patronage of the Privy Council".' 

Guthrie left his most stinging rebuke to the end;  

'I have been three times at Downing Street, and it is a shocking cold place. I have seen a bunch of grapes put into a well, and you took it out, instead of a bunch of grapes it was a bunch of stones.  There are such things as petrifying wells, and I have seen a kind and good hearted man go into office in Downing Street, and the next time I saw him he was as hard as stone.'

He had been to Westminster and pleaded for help with the poor ragged children of Edinburgh.  He had eloquently argued in his 'Plea for Ragged Schools' the value of prevention rather than cure.  But it had all fallen on deaf ears. Thankfully at the meeting in question rather than the £700 that was needed from the good people of Edinburgh they raised a staggering £2200.  One donation of £157 was from domestic servants in Edinburgh.  Another donation came from a farm servant who said; 'I am a poor farm servant, and it is all I can spare at present as I have a widow mother to support and I am the one son.  I do not want my name down in any of the records.'

Dr Guthrie engaged with the government of the day.  He realised the power and influence of politics but he also saw how it could crush the local, and at times more informal compassion that was making a huge difference.  During his evidence to a Commons Committee in 1852 that was set up to enquire into the 'condition of criminal and destitute juveniles in this country', Guthrie made this famous statement which in many ways predicted the next 150 years of welfare provision; 'the practical suggestion that I would make is not that the government should come forward and supersede our local efforts; I should look upon that as a great calamity; I do not wish the government to supersede our efforts but I wish the state to do this, to supplement them.'  It is the superseding of all local and voluntary efforts that have led to so many of the problems we have today.  God's primary welfare state was and is the nuclear and extended family and only as we once again support and encourage God's institution of the family will we see stronger communities.

Guthrie also realised how limited politics was.  It was not the government that was the great motivating power that assisted thousands of desperate and destitute ragged children, it was the power of Christian love and compassion in men like Dr Thomas Guthrie.  Just as in Victorian Scotland, Guthrie's faith was not in politics but in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and its power to bring spiritual and moral reformation.  Of course we need to engage in politics and more Christians need to stand for parliament.  But what we need most is a spiritual revival in our country and reformation of the church.  We need a radical and yet winsome Christianity best summed up in my favourite Guthrie quote;

'We want a religion that, not dressed for Sundays and walking on stilts, descends into common and everyday life; is friendly, not selfish; courteous, not boorish; generous, not miserly; sanctified, not sour; that loves justice more than gain; and fears God more than man; to quote another's words - "a religion that keeps husbands from being spiteful, or wives fretful; that keeps mothers patient, and children pleasant; that bears heavily not only on the 'exceeding sinfulness of sin,' but on the exceeding rascality of lying and stealing; that banishes small measures from counters, sand from sugar, and water from milk-cans - the faith, in short, whose root is in Christ, and whose fruit is works ." '

Thomas Guthrie, Faith and Works, Man and the Gospel.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Elijah and Elisha (1) law and grace

There is very little preaching on Elijah and Elisha today.  You will struggle to find almost any material on Elisha apart from Rev Alexander Stewart's excellent little book 'Elisha: Prophet of Grace'. I'm genuinely not sure where you can get this book today although the Free Church Bookshop in Edinburgh is probably your best option.

The ministry of Elijah and Elisha was during a pretty bleak period in the history of Israel.  Elijah ministered during the reign of Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel.  Alexander Stewart's description of Jezebel is well worth quoting; 'Jezebel was a woman of tremendous force of character, savage, vindictive, unscrupulous, indomitable.  To the energy of a proud and insatiable nature she united the zeal of a religious fanatic.'

Through her weak willed husband, Jezebel set up Baal worship throughout Israel with all the associated immorality and fanatically drove out the true worship of Jehovah.   These were Israel's 'killing times'.  Prophets were cut off without mercy.  Those who survived lived as fugitives in dens and caves. The supremacy of God seemed completely overthrown and Baal seemed to reign supreme.

Elijah's name means 'Jehovah is God'.  His ministry was to vindicate God's supremacy and call Israel back to fidelity to their covenant God.  Elijah was the messenger of judgement.  The authority of God had been disowned. His majesty had been insulted. The claims of his covenant had been denied.  The disease was desperate and it called for a desperate remedy.  Elijah's ministry brought down judgement after judgement on Israel's unfaithfulness and sin.

At Horeb God spoke to Elijah through a mighty wind, an earthquake a fire and finally through a still small voice. Elijah was asked to pass the mantle on to Elisha in the wilderness of Damascus.

While Elijah had been the prophet of law and judgement, Elisha was primarily a prophet of grace. Elijah's ministry had been characterised by the wind, the earthquake and the fire but Elisha's ministry was more like the still small voice.  It was gentler, filled with love and the overtures of grace.  Instead of crushing the people with judgement he responded to their backsliding with gentleness and grace. Of course judgement and law is just as necessary as grace and love.  As Stewart says; 'Before Elisha could have sown the seeds of grace, Elijah must have ploughed the fields of judgement.' Indeed Elisha means 'God is salvation' and in many ways as Elijah is a figure of John the Baptist so Elisha is a type of Christ.  

It is sad so little is known of Elijah and Elisha.  So much in their ministry was taught by symbols and parables, by deeds rather than words.  It was the age of prophetic action rather than prophetic speech. Whatever work we put in to studying these incredible prophets will be richly rewarded   As Stewart says; 'On every hand we find ourselves in a field that, on the devout and diligent gleaner, yields a harvest of vital truth.'

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Dr Guthrie: Preacher and Social Reformer by Rev John Murray

An address given in 1995 by Rev John J Murray on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the opening of  St John's Church. Edinburgh
We extend a warm welcome to you all here this evening to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of this building.  There is a leaflet prepared for the occasion giving you information about the opening of the building and the early days. As I address the subject of Thomas Guthrie, preacher of the Gospel, ministering in a city of sin and sorrow, I am conscious that I have not had the time to give adequate treatment to this great man, but I do want to share some things with you this evening which I think will be  of profit to us and I hope to make some application to our own situation..

This building was opened on 18th April 1845 and Dr Guthrie wrote: ‘The sun rose bright on Friday:  We had an overflowing audience. The church looked beautiful’  The Church was designed to accommodate 1200 people.  Of course the interior has changed since those days but when it was built it was intended to accommodate that number of people.  It is good to get a contemporary account of what was going on in this building in the middle of last century.  For that  account we go to Dr J W Alexander, son of  Dr Archibald Alexander, from America who was visiting Edinburgh in 1857. He tells us about his visit to this Church:
'At 2.00 pm I went to Free St John’s, strangers, how truly I comprehend the term.  I was admitted only after the first singing. I found myself waiting in a basement with about 500 others.  At length I was dragged through a narrow passage and found myself in a very hot overcrowded house near the pulpit. Dr Guthrie was praying. He preached from Isaiah 44:22, Return unto me for I have redeemed thee.  It was fifty minutes but it passed like nothing.  I was instantly struck by his strong likeness to Dr John H Rice.     If you remember him, you will picture the type of man he is, but then it is Dr Rice with an impetuous  freedom of motion,  a play of  decibel and speaking features and an overflowing unction of passion and compassion which  would carry home even one of my sermons.  You can see what it is, with his exuberant diction and poetic imagery, the best of all is that it was honey from the comb, dropping, dropping,  in effusive gospel preaching. I cannot think Whitefield surpassed him in this.  You know while you listen to his mighty voice broken with sorrow that he is overwhelmed with the love of the Spirit.  He is a colleague and preaches only in the afternoons. As to manner it is his own, but in general like Duff’s with as much motion but more significant and less grotesque but still ungraceful.  His English moreover is not spoilt so much. The audience was wrapt and melting. It was just like his book, all application and he rose to his height in the first sentence.'
Guthrie the Preacher
Now we may note  certain things recorded for us there in that account by Dr Alexander. 

First of all, we see the  the mass appeal that Dr Guthrie had as a preacher.  'Strangers and  visitors are admitted only after the first singing. I found myself waiting in a basement with about 500 others’. Perhaps the basement was a little larger than it is today because you can hardly imagine 500 people in the hall downstairs.  Dr Alexander goes on to say: ‘Dr Guthrie is the link between evangelical religion and the aristocracy.  People of all sorts  go, nobility come down from London and stopping here cannot pass without hearing him. They are willing to pay any sum for pews (those were the days of seat rents) in order to secure an occasional hearing.’  Of course the original St John’s in Victoria Street, which is still standing, had been built to house local people from the densely  populated tenements of the old town, particularly in the Cowgate, and so the church was intended for the poor people in the community. One says about the congregation: ‘Looking around, while all were setting themselves you have before you as mixed and motley a collection of human beings as ever assembled within a church, peers and peasants, citizens and strangers, millionaires and mechanics, the judge on the bench, the passers on the roadside, the high-born dame, the serving maid of low degree, all in one close together.’  Cowgate folk mingled with such men as Hugh Miller the Geologist, men of Letters and Sir James Young Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform.   And that was Guthrie's  congregation in those days. 

Secondly, as to the manner of his preaching.  Dr Alexander  speaks about that impetuous freedom of motion, that overflowing unction of passion and compassion, that exuberant diction and poetic imagery.  It is believed that after Thomas Chalmers,  Dr Guthrie was the most admired pulpit orator in the 19th century. He was indeed, as someone has described him, ‘the pictorial preacher of the age’

Then, thirdly, there is the matter of his preaching. ‘It was honey from the comb, dropping, dropping in effusive gospel preaching, and I cannot think that Whitefield surpassed him in this’.  And that tells us of course that Dr Guthrie was first and foremost a preacher of the everlasting gospel.  He preached Christ and Him crucified.  A Mr Dick, who was a parishioner in his first charge, says: ‘I recollect the first text he preached from at Arbirlot. I was too young to collect much of the sermon but I remember this, the name of Christ seemed as it were ringing in my ears, it was the golden thread that bound all his sermons together.   He was a preacher of Christ and him crucified.’ 

Then we have the motivation: 'You know that while you listen to his mighty voice broken with sorrow that he is overwhelmed with the love of the Spirit'.  And I believe that was the secret to Dr Guthrie’s life and ministry..  That is what made him the preacher he was.  He preached with the earnest desire to do good to the souls of men and women.  That is what led him to give his very best to the humble farming folk in the district of Arbirlot, near Arbroath, which was his first charge.  That is what brought him here to Edinburgh to work in the charge of Old Greyfriars and eventually to see the formation of St John’s. That is what made him such an advocate of Church extension, not only nationally but here locally in Edinburgh.  That is what led him to the setting up of the Ragged Schools and to the support of the temperance movement..
Early Ministry

We have no record in his autobiography as to his early spiritual experiences and we  have no reference to his call to the ministry.  It was common enough in that century that  parents looked for at least one of the sons in the family to enter the ministry, and that is exactly what happened in the case of Thomas Guthrie.    

Guthrie was born at  Brechin in 1803, and after local schooling, he came to Edinburgh University at the tender age of twelve. He spent eight years in a regular course in the University plus two additional years and then he was licensed to preach the Gospel.  We speak today about the difficulties of those who are licensed to preach the Gospel and have become probationers, to find charges.  Well, considering the preacher Dr Guthrie turned out to be, it was five years before he received a presentation, as it was called then, to a vacant charge. He used up some of that time by going to Paris and studying there and also working in his father's bank in Brechin.  But eventually he was presented with a  charge,  and on the 13th May 1830 he was inducted to the rural parish of  Arbirlot.  The district  is very near to Arbroath and in that day there were 1,000 parishioners in the place.   After the induction there was a reception, 'at a cost to myself of some sixty pounds'.  He continues: 'The fees to the Crown cost about thirty pounds, and the other thirty pounds or more went to defray the cost of  a dinner which  I gave that day in a hotel in Arbroath to the members of the Presbytery, some of mine own private friends, and the farmers of the parish of Arbirlot.' He goes on to comment:  'Happily nowadays these old convivial customs are to a large extent abandoned. They not infrequently led to excesses, unseemly at any time and, and on such solemn occasions as an ordination; not unseemly only, but revolting. On this occasion one or two of the farmers were rather uproarious and one minister got drunk before leaving the table. Some years thereafter, he was tried by the Presbytery, and deposed by the General Assembly for drunkenness and other crimes.’  

When Thomas Guthrie came to the Parish of Arbirlot he succeeded a very old man, Richard  Watson, who  persisted in preaching to within a fortnight of his death, at the age of 87. Although he was popular in his day, and always evangelical, one does not wonder that, in his closing years, there was lethargy in the pews.  The very first sermon of the new minister sounded like a trumpet call, the repose of the sleepers was effectually broken. Mr Guthrie determined that his every hearer should understand him; carrying out in a higher sphere Lord Cockburn’s rule while at the bar (an anecdote Mr Guthrie delighted to tell as an illustration of the witty judge's sagacity): ‘When I was addressing a jury I invariably picked out the stupidest-looking fellow of the lot and addressed myself specially to him - for this good reason:  I knew that if I convinced him I would be sure to carry all the rest.’

When Guthrie went to the parish of Arbirlot there was, as was the custom in that time, two diets of worship on the Lord’s Day, separated from each other by an interval of half-an-hour.  'This required  the getting up of two distinct discourses week by week, a serious task for any man and an almost impossible task for a raw young man to do well'.  He speaks about the counsel of Hugh Miller, a very competent and indeed first rate authority in matters of composition, that he wondered how a minister could come forth Sunday after Sunday with even one good finished discourse.  'Robert Hall had no lower estimate of the difficulties and labours of the pulpit; as appears in his reply to the question of one who  asked “How many discourses do you think, Mr Hall, may a minister get up each week?”   “If he is a deep thinker and great condenser,” was Hall’s answer, “he may get up one, if he is an ordinary man two, but if he is an ass, Sir, he will produce half-a-dozen”. ’ 

And so as these two diets lay heavily on Guthrie, he planned  to do something about it.  He decided to dispense with the two services and instead have one service which lasted two hours   This was a view which he had throughout his ministry that his hearers’ attention might be fixed on one thing, because he found that the congregation’s attention was indeed lapsing when it came to the second service.  Not all of them went to the second service, and even those who went were finding it very difficult to concentrate.  So here at an early stage in the ministry he was showing the need to concentrate and to get through to his hearers, and not only that but he set up what was at that time quite a novel thing and that was he gathered together a class for young men and young women between the ages of 15 and 25. He had this class every Sabbath evening, with psalm singing and prayer, much the same as in ordinary public worship but also had subjects of examination. First, there were  one or two questions on the Larger Catechism, the subject matter being broken down for most ordinary comprehension and abundantly illustrated by examples and anecdotes.  Secondly, the sermon or lecture delivered in the forenoon was gone over head by head, introduction and peroration,  various topics being set forth by illustration drawn from nature, the world, history etc  of a kind that greatly interested the people but such as would not always have suited the dignity and gravity of the pulpit.
This was a kind of catechising and introducing people in a more informal way to the subject matter of the sermon and this appears to have had great success in the community,  and so that was another way in which he helped to get through to the people. 
But he also speaks about the mode of his preaching. ‘I had when a student in divinity paid more than ordinary attention to the art of elocution,  knowing how much of the effect  produced on the audience depended on the manner as well as the matter; that in point  of fact, the manner is to the matter as the powder is to the ball.  I attended elocution classes, winter after winter, walking across half the city and more after eight o’clock at night, fair night and foul, and not getting back to my lodgings until half-past-ten. There I learned to find out and correct many acquired and more or less awkward defects in gesture  - to be in fact , natural; to acquire a command over my voice so as to suit it force and emphasis to the sense, and to modulate it so as to express the feelings, whether of surprise, or grief , or indignation, or pity.'

We can see in the beginnings of his ministry the potential that was to develop in future years. Dr McCosh,  who became President of  Princeton College in the United States,  was a colleague of his in the ministry for some years before he left this country. He said: ‘The dull eye of the cow boy and the servant girl who had been toiling all week among the horses and cows immediately brightened up as he spoke in this way and they were sure to go back next Sabbath and take others with them.  It should be added that his unsurpassed power of illustration was always employed to set forth the grand old cardinal truths of the Gospel.’   There is a little incident from this time that is worth mentioning. 'He soon became a popular idol and the country people had all sorts of stories about him illustrating his kindness of heart. He had a favourite dog, Bob, black, rough and ungainly, much attached to his master but in no way amiable to other men and dogs.  This animal at times insisted in going into Church when his master was preaching and the minister in the midst of his sermon would open the pulpit door and let him in, evidently to keep him quiet.’  Another informant remembers seeing this actually occur.  ‘Bob lay quietly at his master’s feet until the close of the service.  When the blessing had been pronounced the people were vastly amused to see his four paws lain on the book board, the great black head appearing above it as he gravely surveyed the departing congregation.’
Other interests
In his first congregation Dr Guthrie established  a  reputation as an orator and as a popular preacher.  There were other concerns that came into his life too.  He became involved in the Church Extension work  that Dr Thomas Chalmers had launched.  He tells us, ‘On behalf of Church extension I visited a considerable area of Forfarshire to stir up zeal in that cause in the ministers and the people.’  In this connection he mentioned how the Rev  Robert Murray M'Cheyne met with an accident that resulted in an illness that terminated in his death.  ‘He accompanied me on my tour to Erroll, full of buoyant spirit and heavenly conversation.  After breakfast we strolled into the garden,  where there stood some gymnastic poles, an apparatus set up for the use of Mr Grierson’s family.  No aesthetic, no stiff and formal man, but ready for any innocent and healthy amusement, these soon caught M'Cheyne’s eye and, challenging me to do the like, he rushed at a horizontal pole resting on two upright ones and went through a lot of manoeuvres.  I was buttoning up to succeed and try if I could not outdo him when, he as he hung by his heels and hands, some five or six feet above the ground, all of a sudden the pole snapped asunder and he came down with his back on the ground with a tremendous thud.   He sickened, was borne into the manse and lay there for days, and was never the same man again.’ 

But not only did Dr Guthrie become involved in the Church Extension Scheme but he also became prominent in connection with the Ten Years’ Conflict which lead to the Disruption.  He was one of the Non-Intrusionists and he worked very zealously for that cause.  He was very much involved in all the events connected with the Disruption. There is one famous story about  Dr Guthrie in connection with the Disruption controversy which I would not like to omit..  This is what he had to say  about the interdicts that were being put on Courts and so on at that time:  ‘In going to preach at Strathbogie, I was met by an interdict from the Court of Session -  an interdict to which as regards civil matters I gave implicit obedience.  On the Lord’s Day when I was preparing for divine service, in came a servant of the law and handed me an interdict.  I told him he had done his duty and I would do mine.  The interdict forbade me under the penalty of the Calton-hill jail to preach the Gospel in the parish churches of Strathbogie.  I said the churches are stone and lime and belong to the state, I will not intrude there.  It forbade me to preach the Gospel in the schoolhouses.  I said, the schoolhouses are stone and lime and belong to the state; I will not intrude there.  It forbade me to preach in the churchyard and  I said, the dust of the dead is the state's  and I will not intrude there.   But when these Lords of Session forbade me to preach my Master’s blessed Gospel and offer salvation to sinners anywhere in that district under the arch of heaven, I put the interdict under my feet and I preached the Gospel'.  And that was the man whose chief love was for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And he saw that the cause of Christ was tied up so  intimately with the contendings of the Disruption times.
Move to Edinburgh
We need to retrace our steps. After a seven year ministry at Arbirlot, Thomas Guthrie was destined for Edinburgh.  A vacancy came in Old Greyfriars Church and although the whole Kirk Session of that Church was moderate in their outlook, the Town Council gave the presentation of that vacancy to Guthrie. He was inducted as colleague to the Rev John Sym on 21 September 1837. There could be no greater contrast between the  place he left and the place he came to. From  Arbirlot, with its fresh rural fields,  and he came to the Cowgate , with its dingy closes and overcrowded tenements. 

There is a story told about  how Guthrie stood on George IV Bridge one day soon  after he arrived in Edinburgh. His great  heart was stirred to its inmost depths by the crime, wretchedness and poverty he saw around him.  and thinking how he could best deal with the discordant and seemingly irreclaimable material  when a hand was laid on his shoulder.  On looking round he saw the famous Dr Thomas Chalmers. 'Hopeful of success, he 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; those 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.”.''

He spoke of the contrast with his previous field of labour. ‘The contrast both morally and physically between my present and my former sphere was such as without God’s help to appal the stoutest heart.’  Where  he was preaching in the Old Greyfriars Church there were many revellers but also some men of nobility, including Lord Jeffrey and Lord Coburn.  The story is told of Lord Coburn that being asked by a friend who met him one Sunday where he was going to Church.  He answered, ‘Going to have a greet with Guthrie.’   He speaks about his preaching in the Old Greyfriars Church and the collegiate minister there who was an older man and how all the crowds were coming out to hear Dr Guthrie, but this man was not jealous. .

Guthrie delighted to take his turn in the service for the poor, which Mr Sym had, some years before, had commenced in the old Magdalene Chapel in the Cowgate:
'With my excellent and able colleague I have a parish where there are two congregations. We have in the Greyfriars Church , a congregation of ladies and gentleman, and in the Magdalene Chapel we have a not less interesting -to me in some respects a more interesting – congregation in so far as it contains some who, like the lost sheep of the wilderness, have been brought back by the parochial system graciously and rejoicingly to the fold they had left'.

'When I preached there on Sunday afternoons the seats were free in the first instance only to the poor parishioners of the district.  Till they were accommodated others had to wait at the door and a curious and interesting sight it was to see two lines of ladies and gentlemen stretching out into the street as they waited their time while the poor, the maim, the halt and the blind marched up between them to take precedence in the house of God.  The gold ring and the goodly apparel were at a discount with us in the Cowgate where the respectable stood in the passages and the poorest of the poor occupied the pews.  Now I will give a little description about this.  ‘Living in the parish on the very borders of its sin and misery, the hours of the day were exposed to constant interruption by my poor wretched parishioners when I was in the house.  But most of the day was spent outside among them and by the evening I was so tired and exhausted that I was fit for nothing but the newspaper, light reading and the lessons and play of my children.  Anyway, I had resolved on coming to Edinburgh to give my evenings to my family, to spend them not in my study as many ministers did but in the parlour among my children.’ 
The  first winter he was in Edinburgh (1837-38) was one of extraordinary severity.  'For six weeks at least there was not a spade put into the ground.  The working classes, most of them living from hand to mouth, contracted debts which weighed them down for years.  For the poorest of the people, who had not character enough to procure on credit, were like to starve for lack of food and fuel.  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 were starving mothers and starving children, and neither bread nor Bible.   With climbing stairs my limbs were like to fail and with such spectacles of misery my heart was like to break'.

That is the situation he came to and after speaking about the disease and so on that were so rife in these places, he says:  'It was not disease or death, it was the starvation, the drunkenness, the rags, the heartless, hopeless, miserable condition of the people, the debauched and drunken mothers, the sallow, yellow, emaciated children, the wants both temporal and spiritual, which one felt themselves unable to relieve which sometimes seemed to overwhelm me, making me wonder why for such scenes of suffering I had ever left my happy country parish with its fragrance of  bush, the golden firs of its moor and the green and clover flowers of cultivated fields, with heath blowing in every breeze and bloom in the rosy cheeks of infants laughing in their mothers arms and of boys and girls on their way to school.  I began my visitations in the Horse Wynd and he speaks of the condition of the Horse Wynd before but now he says:
 'Of the first one hundred and fifty I visited going from door to door there was not five who attended any house of God either Church or Chapel.  Most of the families were clothed in rags.  Many of the houses were almost without chair or table; the bed was a quantity of straw gathered in one corner beneath some thin and ragged coverlets and in almost every case all their misery was due to drunkenness.  The fathers and mothers drunk and the children were starved with cold and hunger and so brutally used that the young looked old and with a fixed expression of sadness seemed as if they had never smiled.'
On one occasion he was baptising  a child, in a house in the Cowgate.  There was a terrific commotion next door and as the walls were very thin, he could hear there was a violent struggle, someone was thrown to the floor and a great cry went out.  And he says: ‘not to baptise but to prevent murder though at some risk, was present duty, so stopping the service, I asked the father of the child I was to baptise to stand by me while I forced my way into the room where this murder was going on.  Strange and startling as it was to me, he having lived long in such localities had become familiar with such scenes and would have nothing to do with it:’ and Guthrie had to do that on his own. 

Free St John's
Before long another church was planned to have for these poor people in the Cowgate. The building was commenced in the Nether Bow, re-named Victoria Street, in 1838  and completed in 1840. Guthrie entered his new pulpit on 19th November of that year. The gallery of the  church, with three hundred and fifty sittings, was let to applicants from all parts of the city; but six hundred and fifty sittings – the whole area of the church in fact – were reserved as absolutely free seats for residents in the parish, poor or rich, who applied for them.  Guthrie, writing to his brother said 'We are abundantly filled with people, and you would be delighted to see the masses of common people who cram every corner and nook of the area.' Following the Disruption of May 1843 Guthrie and his congregation left their nearly new building and for two years met in a large Wesleyan Chapel in Nicholson Square.

Plans were soon put in place to erect a new building just across on the other side of Victoria Street with its front on Johnston Terrace. The sum of £6,000 was raised for the project and it was recognised that the amount ruled out an elaborate exterior. Guthrie was anxious that the architect, Thomas Hamilton, should devote his energies 'chiefly to the interior'. The building was opened on 18th April 1845 as was mentioned already. Guthrie comments: 'After sermon I made a short address; in which, among other matters, I set myself frankly and fairly to defend and justify the ornate character of our church, telling my hearers that “there is no sin in beauty and no holiness in ugliness”.'
Other Ministries
There  were may other calls on Dr Guthrie's time. He became involved in what was known as the Manse Fund.  After the Disruption of 1843 and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland the ministers involved not only lost their church buildings but also their manses. There was an incredible amount of suffering for ministers and their families. So Dr Guthrie was appointed to go round the country campaigning for funds for new manses.  After he had toured thirteen Synods and fifty eight Presbyteries in a year he was able to announce to the General Assembly of 1846 that £116,370 had been raised.  £116,000 was raised in one year and he put a great deal of effort into that, an effort that affected his health. 
But Dr Guthrie became involved in many other things.  He was concerned for the situation in this area and what they wanted to do was to have further Church extension, and plans were put in hand for this The church was given an area of Edinburgh to operate in and that area was The Pleasance.  So they began to work there and Dr Guthrie delivered sermons in support of an appeal for that church and he preached on the text, He beheld the city and wept over it (Luke 19:41).     These sermons were published under the title The City: Its Sins and Sorrows.  That volume made a great impact upon the people of his day.  He says: 
'Well, upon entering on a work in The Pleasance, certainly not the worst district in the town, we found more than one-third of its 2,000 inhabitants, more than 600 of the whole 2,000 people, passing on the grave as careless of their souls as if they had none to care for:  living without the profession of religion, living without God and hope in the world, living to all practical purposes, heathens in a Christian land.'
The Ragged Schools
Guthrie's familiarity with the needs of the city,  especially the area around the Cowgate , inspired him to become a social reformer and he is remembered today more than anything else perhaps for the promotion of the Ragged Schools.  The idea of these Ragged or Industrial Schools  originated in England with John Pounds in Portsmouth. The inspiration for the Ragged Schools in Scotland was Sheriff Watson who started one in Aberdeen in 1841. However  it was Guthrie who became the driving force behind the Scottish movement.  Guthrie appealed for public backing in his book, Plea for Ragged Schools, published in 1847 and it went through eleven editions in one year.  It was met with a good response and such a response  in Edinburgh that Guthrie was able to secure premises for the first Ragged School on the Castle Hill in 1847.  For these destitute children this institution was intended to provide free food and clothing, vocational training and religious instruction.  They were sorely needed and a great provision for the desperate situation that many children faced, homeless, parentless, cast out in the street, and Guthrie had this great compassion for these children. 

Now some dissension arose later on over the religious aspect of the education provided.  Guthrie and most of his backers argued that they were acting in loco parentis to the children and so were entitled to instruct them in Protestant Christianity.  Other people of course were making claims for Roman Catholic teaching and later on there were separate Ragged Schools.  Dr Guthrie had pioneered this work in Edinburgh and also in other parts of Scotland. In 1852 he gave evidence before a House of Commons Committee and an Act was passed in 1854 which empowered Scottish Magistrates to commit vagrant children aged four and under to Industrial Schools.  So the State took recognition of what Dr Guthrie was doing and that was put on a more established basis in the city.. 

We noticed in the extracts already quoted how  Dr Guthrie was deeply concerned about  the drunkenness in the areas and the effect the drunkenness had in the sadness and the sorrow that it was bringing into so many lives.  Drink was at the root of all the destitution, misery and crime.  So both his experience and his pastoral work in the Cowgate and other places led him to support the Temperance Movement.  In 1851 the Scottish Association for the Suppression of Drunkenness was formed and Dr Guthrie was urgently requested to write the introductory pamphlet of a series to be issued by the Association.  That pamphlet is called Plea on behalf of Drunkards and Against Drunkenness.  He himself became a total abstainer.  In the book, The City: Its Sins and Sorrows, he laid so much to the door of strong drink, appealed so earnestly on behalf of its victims that public feeling in Edinburgh and wherever his books were read was stirred to its uttermost depths.
His Latter Years
All these labours took a toll on his health.  After all his exertions going round the country for the Manse Fund he developed a heart problem and he had to be off  preaching for more than a year (1848-49).  And so Dr William Hanna, who was to become the biographer of Thomas Chalmers, was inducted as his colleague in the congregation of St John's  in 1850.  But after he recovered from that illness he was able to preach again but  once on the Lord’s Day  for a further fourteen years.  And that was why  Dr Alexander from the USA heard him preaching at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  His colleague would have preached in the morning.  There would have been no evening service in those days.  He retired from the pastorate in 1864.

In his retirement he engaged in many activities, including writing and travel. He preached his last sermon during a trip to his beloved Highland retreat at Lochlee in August 1872.  In the parish church in the presence of  the Duke of Edinburgh and the Lord Chancellor he preached from Hebrews 10.38, 'The just shall live by faith'.   By September of the year he suffered and attack of congestion of the lungs. During his final days he was at  St Leonards-on-Sea,  in the south of England.  Such was his name and reputation that a telegram was received from the Queen at Windsor asking for information as to his health. He passed to his eternal reward on the 24 February 1873 at the age of 70.

His funeral took place to the Grange Cemetery.  What a scene that was.  He lived on Salisbury Road about a mile from the Cemetery.  The funeral procession  was three-quarters of a mile long and both sides of the road, from the Salisbury Road to the Grange, were lined with thousands of people.  They reckon that upwards of 30,000 people were assembled that day,  the largest funeral gathering seen in Edinburgh since the death of Sir James Young Simpson.  And at the graveside there in Grange Cemetery the children of the Ragged Schools were among the people who were the mourners.  They sang  There is a Happy Land.  Two of these little ones from the Ragged Schools placed a wreath on the grave of Dr Guthrie.  Such then was the man who lived to do such great things out of his love for God and for his people.
Lessons from his life
I would  like in conclusion to draw some lessons from the life and ministry of Dr Guthrie.  I would mention four in particular that we might profit from.

First of all, we, especially those of us who are involved in the work of ministry  must learn a lot from his preaching: this determination he had to make his hearers understand, to gain the attention of the people.  As we saw in that extract from Dr Alexander, 'the audience was wrapt and melting' because he was getting home to them.  As Guthrie said: ‘speaking to convert the hearers was not within my power, but to command their attention, to awaken their interest, to touch their feelings, and instruct their minds was, and I was determined to do it.’

He was a master in the use of illustration.  The story is told of a seaman in the congregation listening to Guthrie’s description of a nautical disaster.  As he listened to this illustration, he leapt up and removed his coat and was ready to dive in and save the drowning person.  That was the power that this man had, the power of illustration and he read widely, he took his illustrations from nature. How many illustrations were given to him in those days in his first congregation.  He was there beside the sea and he got illustrations from the sea and from shipping.  He got illustrations from nature around him.  And he used all these things, he pressed them into the service of the Gospel and no wonder he was such a popular preacher and such an effective preacher of the Gospel and the preparation he put into his sermons.  Perhaps we preach too many sermons in a week in some parts of this land today.  There is wise counsel from Dr Guthrie  that a sermon needs a tremendous amount of preparation if it is going to be effective and for good.

Then, secondly, his soul-winning.  It was the worth of the human soul that affected Dr Guthrie.  It affected him in his first  charge in Arbilot as well as in Edinburgh.  He did not make any distinction.  He did not regard Arbilot as just a nice, comfortable place to be in.   No, in his rural setting he gave himself to seeking and saving souls. Likewise in the crowded tenements of the Cowgate he went out after the lost. It cost him something as we have seen in his state of health..  But he went after the people.  Like his Saviour, he beheld the city and he wept over it.  As Dr Candlish says of him, ‘his pity was ever active and he went out after the lost and he sought them in the darkest places’.
Thirdly, his love.  ‘He was overwhelmed,’ says Dr Alexander, ‘by the love of the Spirit.’  You see it extended not only to the souls of men but to the whole man.  He had that orthodoxy of doctrine and he was clear enough on the basic truths of the Gospel.  But he also had the orthodoxy of life.  He says in one of his sermons, ‘there is no respect in which we are more like our Father than this, love’.  And he says, ‘And so, brethren, get me the love of Christ into a man’s heart.  Let God the Holy Spirit kindle that flame in a man’s heart, I say, that man is fit for anything.’  That’s what inspired Thomas Guthrie to be a preacher, to be a philanthropist, to be a social reformer, to have an impact upon his city, to the needy around him, and no wonder there is a statue to him in Princes Street gardens. The people of the city and of the nation acknowledged the tremendous contribution that he made to this city and to its needs.

And there is one final thing that we can say about Dr Guthrie, and that is  his  fervency.  What fervency he manifested in all that he did.   He gives an illustration of this himself.  He says:  'An obscure man rose up to address the French Convention.  At the close of his oration, Mirabu, the giant genius of the revolution, turned round to his neighbour and eagerly asked, “Who is that?”  The other, who had been in no way interested by the address wondered at Mirabu’s curiosity, whereupon the latter said, “That man will yet act a great part” and asked to explain himself added “he speaks as though he believes every word he says.”  Much of pulpit-power under God depends on that.  .  They make others feel who feel themselves.  How can he plead for souls who does not know, does not feel, the value of his own.’  And that was Dr Guthrie.  He had that desire to see souls being saved, to see men and women being brought to the knowledge of the truth and how he went about this work with such energy, and with such eagerness and he speaks about the city, he says, ‘If this is not to be done, and nothing effectual is to be done to meet the evils that afflict our country, what shall be the end of these things?.  Unless they are met, met in time, and before the constitution sinks and loses all power to rally, the end of these things must be the ruin of our land.  Our cities, especially our large cities, being in this, as they are in every other country, the great centres of influence, if they increase in ignorance, irreligion and immorality during the next century as they have done in the past, those who fear the God of heaven and profess the faith of Jesus Christ will find themselves a weak minority.  We are just now rapidly moving on to such a dangerous crisis.  That is the rock to which the vessel of the State is drifting and when that happens it needs no orator to tell what shall be the end of these things.’ 

And this is the rallying call he gives to us today.  Under God, he says, it depends upon ourselves whether that shall or shall not be our fate.  Matters are not so far gone but it may be averted.  A great French General, who reached the battlefield at Sandown, found that the troops of his country had been worsted in the fight.  Unskillful arrangements had neutralised gallant bravery, and offered the enemy advantages they were not slow to seize. He accosted the unfortunate Commander.  Having rapidly learned how matters stood, he pulled out his watch, turned his eyes on the sinking sun, and said, ‘there’s time yet to gain the victory.’   He rallied the broken ranks, placed himself at their head and launching them with the arm of a giant in war upon the columns of the foe, he plucked the prize from their hands and won the day.  There is time yet also to save our country.  There is no time to lose.  To her case perhaps we would apply the words which we would leave as a solemn warning to every worldly, careless, Christless man, ‘Behold now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation.’ 

May what Guthrie stood for, what he believed and what he worked for, make us men and women of God, rise up to follow in his footsteps, to claim the lost for Christ, and this country once again for God.