All churches must love & identify with their local community, and yet at the same time be able and willing to critique and challenge it.— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) December 5, 2013
Thursday, 5 December 2013
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
|Captain Murray at the helm|
|One of the volunteers, David, who has been volunteering for 11 years and Tim Fielder the 'Floor Coordinator'|
Thursday, 24 October 2013
|St John's Parish Church, Victoria Street , Edinburgh where Guthrie ministered from 1840-43|
Dr Thomas Guthrie is famous for his 'Ragged Schools'. The schools went on to become a huge movement that saved thousands of children from a life of crime and abuse. But as with every great movement it had humble beginnings at Guthrie's church plant in Victoria Street in 1840. They had a huge room in the basement and the elders initially agreed to set up a ragged industrial feeding school for '20-30 waifs'. As time drew near for the launch the elders took fright and the project was abandoned. While Guthrie was cast down, and felt like a man who has 'launched a good sturdy boat, sees her before she has taken ten strokes from the shore seized by a mighty billow, flung back, and dashed to pieces on the strand.'
Saturday, 5 October 2013
- I wrote a summary article on Thomas Guthrie in the June Banner of Truth.
- Some of you will have seen the series entitled 'Ragged Theology' in the Free Church Record. There will be articles in the (2013) September, October, November and a follow up in the December Record. There has been a lot of good feedback and let's hope that it will lead to a greater interest in Guthrie as a preacher and his views of biblical community engagement.
- I was delighted to be contacted by a publisher from America who wants to make 'The City its Sins and Sorrows' by Thomas Guthrie available as an e-book. The publisher has asked me to write a preface which will be a huge privilege. The book should be out by Christmas. We have also had some discussions about 'Seed Time and Harvest - A Plea for Ragged Schools' and Thomas Guthrie's 'Autobiography and Memoirs'. If this blog achieved little else than to get these books back in the public domain I would be a very happy man.
- It was great to speak about Thomas Guthrie in Govan a few weeks ago. Norman and Alison Mackay asked me to speak to a delegation of Americans who were visiting Scotland. It was very exciting to hear about Norman's vision for Govan and there were so many parallels with Guthrie's work in 19th century Edinburgh. If we are to have any hope in Scotland we need to see more church planters like Norman. I've blogged about it here.
- I have met with a publisher who has shown an interest in seeing a modern biography of Guthrie published. I feel that I have gathered a lot of material together and would love to get the time to pull together a short biography on Guthrie for a modern readership.
- I have made contact with one of Guthrie's relatives and hope to meet up over the next few months.
My last visit of the day was to the National Archives where I managed to look through the Kirk Session Minutes of Guthrie's first charge in Arbirlot, Angus. He was minister in Arbirlot from 1830 - 1837.
One of the things that struck me was that each month the minutes had lists of names with small amounts of money beside them. On closer inspection it became clear that every month the Arbirlot Kirk Session were giving around 20 of the poorest people in the parish small amounts of money. As we look back nearly 200 years we see that this church and these elders loved the poor and provided for them in a very practical way. They didn't delegate compassion to some cranky committee. Mercy was simply part of the churches DNA. It wasn't something they just did at Harvest or Christmas. It was planned, intentional and regular help for the poor. It was also very relational mercy as Guthrie knew everyone in his parish of 1000 souls. He knew the drinkers and criminals well and never sanctioned financial help (in Arbirlot or Edinburgh) that would fund greater vice. This giving to the poor was, along with the savings bank and library that Guthrie set up, part of Guthrie's theology. This theology saw truth and love as two sides of the gospel coin. As with his Saviour, Guthrie saw his fundamental mission to 'preach glad tidings to the poor and bind up the broken hearted.'
Thomas Guthrie was a faithful, loving pastor who both in Arbirlot and Edinburgh was daily in and out of the homes of his parish. Even during a cholera epidemic in 1832 and typhus fever in 1834 Guthrie faithfully visited his parish in a systematic way. He embodied the concept of servant leadership and never used his great status to 'lord it over' his parishioners. In talking about his library and bank in His Memoirs, Guthrie says; 'These and other labours which I undertook showed the people that I was seeking to live for them, not for myself - that I came not to lord it over God's heritage, not to be their master, but their minister, in the original sense of the word; and to the man who wants to establish himself in the heart of his people, wean them from vice and the world, turn them to virtue and Christ, I may venture to say, let him go and do likewise' Memoirs and Autobiography, 1896, page 114. As Tim Keller says; 'a life poured out in doing justice and mercy for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith'. Thomas Guthrie and his Kirk Session at Arbirlot leave a legacy of mercy for all of us to follow.
Monday, 30 September 2013
|The Pearce Institute, Govan, Glasgow|
Driving around Govan and other inner city areas of Scotland it's hard not to feel sad and overwhelmed at the lack of hope that seems to permeate every aspect of life. I was reminded of Guthrie when he came to Edinburgh in September 1837. As Guthrie stood on George IV Bridge and stared down on the Cowgate these were his reflections;
The streets were a puddle; the heavy air, loaded with smoke, was thick and murky; right below lay the narrow street of dingy tenements, whose toppling chimneys and patched and battered roofs were apt emblems of the fortunes of most of its tenants. Of these, some were lying over the sills of windows innocent of glass, or stuffed with old hats and old rags; others, course looking women with squalled children in their arms or at their feet stood in groups at the close-mouths - here with empty laughter chaffing any passing acquaintance - there screaming each other down in a drunken brawl, or standing sullen and silent, with hunger and ill-usage in their saddened looks. A brewers cart, threatening to crush beneath its ponderous wheels the ragged urchins who had no other playground, rumbled over the causeway - drowning the quavering voice of one whose drooping head and scanty dress were ill in harmony with song, but not drowning the shrill pipe of an Irish girl who thumped the back of an unlucky donkey and cried her herrings at 'three-a-penny' (Out of Harness, Thomas Guthrie, p 126).
Guthrie talks about Thomas Chalmers coming up behind him;
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, 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, p 130).
Like many Victorian writers Guthrie could be a little 'flowery' in his writing but it is still an incredible story. Chalmers and Guthrie contended against huge social problems but saw incredible success by the saving power of the gospel. The same God who transformed Glasgow and Edinburgh in the 1840's can transform Scotland again.
Below is a short article by Norman. Please pray for him and Alison as they take up this great work. We need more church planters like Norman if we are to see Scotland won for Christ.
Living for Eternity
The Senate Room located in the Free Church College building in Edinburgh is a fascinating place, because in that room there is a goldmine of information concerning the history and heritage of the Scottish church.
Norman, Alison, Nathan and Peter
Thursday, 11 July 2013
Firstly, Guthrie leaves us a legacy of biblical community engagement. When Guthrie arrived in Edinburgh in 1837, the city was growing rapidly with the industrial revolution. With large scale immigration from Ireland and large scale movement within Scotland from the country to the cities, Guthrie found extreme overcrowding combined with the most heart rending poverty within central Edinburgh. Drunkenness was a widespread problem with many children being forced out to beg, borrow and steal to feed their parents’ habit. There is a famous st
Never mistake the dead robes for the living body of religion. Never forget that "to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly before God," is what the Lord requires of thee; that faith without works is dead; that form without spirit is dead; and that, the highest piety being ever associated with the deepest humility, true religion is like the sweetest of all singing-birds, the skylark, which with the lowest nest but highest wing dwells in the ground, and yet soars to the skies - (Thomas Guthrie, The Pharisee and Publican, The Parables, 1874).
Tuesday, 9 July 2013
When Thomas Guthrie (1803 - 1873) eventually had to leave his congregation of St John's, Edinburgh due to ill health in May 1864, it seemed that his ministry was at an end. In God's providence, a new field opened up to him in the writing and editing of a weekly periodical the Sunday Magazine. With the exception of a Plea for Ragged Schools first published in 1847, Guthrie's other publications, until 1864, were mainly published sermons; the Gospel in Ezekiel in 1855, The City its Sins and Sorrows in 1857, Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints in 1858 followed by The Way to Life and Speaking to the Heart. We might wonder what would have happened if Guthrie had been given such an opportunity earlier in his ministry. As Dr Tweedie said of Guthrie; 'I wonder [if] Dr Guthrie did not discover his literary faculty twenty years before he did, if he had, his usefulness would have been trebled' (quoted by Oliphant Smeaton in Thomas Guthrie, Famous Scots Series).
Many of Guthrie's later books were first serialised in the Sunday Magazine which he co-edited with Dr Blaikie. Guthrie was involved in editing and writing the magazine from 1864 and was editing The Lepers Lesson 10 days before his death in February 1873. The magazine continued after his death and was published until 1905. It is incredible to think that even with a credible and widely read Christian magazine called Good Words (published by Dr Macleod) the Sunday Magazine still had a circulation in the early days of over 100,000!
The magazine was pitched at ordinary people and was designed to be read on the Lords Day. Sold weekly for sixpence, the Sunday Magazine was printed on good quality paper with attractive illustrations from wood engravings drawn by several different artists including George John Pinwell. The magazine embodied much of Guthrie's deeply held principles; the uniting of the classes, social philanthropy, evangelical ecumenicalism, education of the poor and solid, accessible doctrine. Guthrie outlines the purpose of the magazine as follows;
to make the Sunday a more pleasant as well as a more profitable day to thousands; to make our magazine plain to common people without being vulgar, interesting to cultivated minds without being unintelligible to men of ordinary education; to make good our entry into cottages as well as drawing rooms; to be read by people of all Christian denominations; to be of no class, of no sect, of no party, but belonging to all, and profitable to all...
By todays standards Guthrie's writing style would be described as 'flowery'. His illustrations can be full of vivid imagery from nature and foreign lands but often last for pages which can be weary to the modern reader. Despite this, it is remarkable that Guthrie, with all his other commitments was able to write so much, so often and to such a high quality.
Many of Guthrie's articles were eventually published; Man and the Gospel (1865), The Angels Song (1865), The Parables (1866), Our Fathers Business (1867), Out of Harness (1867), Early Piety (1868), Studies of Character (1868 and 1870) and Sundays Abroad (1871). The sheer volume of writing is staggering when one considers that Guthrie was writing weekly. As well as articles, Guthrie was flooded with letters from all over Britain offering articles for the magazine. Often he found it difficult to say no and a few articles appeared in the Sunday Magazine that were not in complete accord with the title and objects of the magazine.
In God's providence, when Guthrie was shut out from the pulpit, God opened a far greater field of service where he could influence an audience a hundred times that of St Johns. In a letter he wrote to one of his sons in 1870 after crossing the Channel, he described how he met a Scottish engineer on the boat. The man, from Berwick-on-Tweed, approached Guthrie and told him that despite living for many years in St Petersburg, he was a regular reader of the Sunday Magazine. As Oliphant Smeaton says 'the Sunday Magazine proved a blessing to many in the highest and best sense of the word, and from 1865 to 1873 Thomas Guthrie's personality was impressed on every page of it.'
One of the greatest tragedies is that none of Guthrie's books remain in print today. One of my greatest hopes is that Ragged Theology might be the means of stirring up some interest in Guthrie again so that some of his works can be republished. In the meantime, much of the Sunday Magazine is available online and can be viewed here.