Thomas Guthrie - Encyclopedia

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THOMAS GUTHRIE (1803-1873), Scottish divine, was born at Brechin, Forfarshire, on the 12th of July 1803. He entered the university of Edinburgh at the early age of twelve, and continued to attend classes there for more than ten years. On the and of February 1825 the presbytery of Brechin licensed him as a preacher in connexion with the Church of Scotland, and in 1826 he was in Paris studying natural philosophy, chemistry, and comparative anatomy. For two years he acted as manager of his father's bank, and in 1830 was inducted to his first charge, Arbirlot, in Forfarshire, where he adopted a vivid dramatic style of preaching adapted to his congregation of peasants, farmers and weavers. In 1837 he became the colleague of John Sym in the pastorate of Old Greyfriars, Edinburgh, and at once attracted notice as a great pulpit orator. Towards the close of 1840 he became minister of St John's church, Victoria Street, Edinburgh. He declined invitations both from London and from India. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the movement which led to the Disruption of 1843; and his name is thenceforth associated with the Free Church, for which he collected r 16,000 from July 1845 to June 1846 to provide manses for the seceding ministers. In 1844 he became a teetotaller. In 1847 he began the greatest work of his life by the publication of his first "Plea for Ragged Schools." This pamphlet elicited a beautiful and sympathetic letter from Lord Jeffrey. A Ragged School was opened on the Castle Hill, which has been the parent of many similar institutions elsewhere, though Guthrie's relation to the movement is best described as that of an apostle rather than a founder. He insisted on bringing up all the children in his school as Protestants; and he thus made his schools proselytizing as well as educational institutions. This interference with religious liberty led to some controversy; and ultimately those who differed from Guthrie founded the United Industrial School, giving combined secular and separate religious instruction. In April 1847, the degree of D.D. was conferred on Guthrie by the university of Edinburgh; and in 1850 William Hanna (1808-1882), the biographer and son-in-law of Thomas Chalmers, was inducted as his colleague in Free St John's Church.

In 1850 Guthrie published A Plea on behalf of Drunkards and against Drunkenness, which was followed by The Gospel in Ezekiel (1855); The City: its Sins and Sorrows (1857); Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints (1858); Seedtime and Harvest of Ragged Schools (1860), consisting of his three Pleas for Ragged Schools. These works had an enormous sale, and portions of them were translated into French and Dutch. His advocacy of temperance had much to do with securing the passing of the Forbes Mackenzie Act, which secured Sunday closing and shortened hours of sale for Scotland. Mr Gladstone specially quoted him in support of the Light Wines Bill (1860). In 1862 he was moderator of the Free Church General Assembly; but he seldom took a prominent part in the business of the church courts. His remarkable oratorical talents, rich humour, genuine pathos and inimitable power of story-telling, enabled him to do good service to the total abstinence movement. He was one of the vice-presidents of the Evangelical Alliance. In 1864, his health being seriously impaired, he resigned public work as pastor of Free St John's (May 17), although his nominal connexion with the congregation ceased only with his death. Guthrie had occasionally contributed papers to Good Words, and, about the time of his retirement from the ministry, he became first editor of the Sunday Magazine, himself contributing several series of papers which were afterwards published separately. In 1865 he was presented with £5000 as a mark of appreciation from the public. His closing years were spent mostly in retirement; and after an illness of several months' duration he died at St Leonards-on-Sea on the 24th of February 1873.

In addition to the books mentioned above he published a number of books which had a remarkable circulation in England and America, such as Speaking to the Heart (1862); The Way to Life (1862); Man and the Gospel (1865); The Angel's Song (1865); The Parables (1866); Our Father's Business (1867); Out of Harness (1867); Early Piety (1868); Studies of Character from the Old Testament (1868-1870); Sundays Abroad (1871).

See Autobiography of Thomas Guthrie, D.D., and Memoir, by his sons (2 vols., London, 1874-1875).

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