Thomas Guthrie

APOLLYON has his vineyard in all great cities, and no sadder sights can be conceived than those revealed there from time to time. His terrible vintage is always being gathered, and his gatherers leave no gleanings. Many of my readers have doubtless stood on the spot where George iv. Bridge spans the Cowgate. The stranger who comes to view the place for the first time expects to see a river flowing beneath. A "river" there certainly is, but of a different type to what he anticipates. When he gazes into the ravine below, he beholds - a river of seething, pulsating human life, perpetually swollen with the vices and follies of mankind.
But as the observer looks down into the Cowgate, he descries not only a river of human life, but a drama of existence being enacted before his eyes - a drama Protean in its variety and infinite alternations. He beholds a teeming population beneath, moving hither and thither, but a population bearing the stamp on well-nigh every countenance, of that sullen hopelessness which ensues a when a soul has relinquished the moral struggle to subdue its own vicious propensities. Right below lies the narrow street of towering tenements whose chimney-pots reach the level of the bridge, and whose patched and battered roofs are emblematic of the character and fortunes of the tenants. Of these some are lying over the sills of windows innocent of glass, or stuffed with old hats or dirty rags; others, coarse-looking women with children in their arms, stand around in groups. Able-bodied men who should have been at work are moodily smoking at the mouths of the closes, or brawling among themselves over some partition of the proceeds of crime; brazen-faced girls who have long lost woman's subtlest charm - virtuous modesty - are either egging their male friends on to quarrels, or shouting coarse jests to one another; wrinkled crones, upon whose locks the snows of the "sixties" and "seventies" have fallen heavily, are gossiping conveniently near the public-house; while troops of children prematurely old and hardened - many of them born out of wedlock, and therefore left to hang as they grow - are darting in their noisy games hither and thither, picturesque in their raggedness, but by their gaiety introducing the one human element into the picture; fish-hawkers and fruit-sellers are shouting their wares; while, high over all, two termagants, who have quarrelled over a lover, are tearing each other's hair out to a running accompaniment of oaths and shouts from their respective partisans. The public-houses are nearly as numerous as autumn leaves - and they are all well patronised! Disease is present on all sides; while sin, sorrow, and suffering, are writ large on almost every face.
Such then was the Vineyard of Apollyon Mr. Guthrie was called upon to take as his parish. I will not say that the magnitude of the task did not appal him, much though he longed to engage in such work. He was standing at the point of view named above, a day or two after his arrival in Edinburgh, and was gazing somewhat despondently upon the awful epics and tragedies of misery being enacted below, and contrasting the scene with the rural peace of "Bonnie Arbirlot, when an arm was slipped through his, and the broad, Luther-like face of Dr. Chalmers looked up into his own, with an encouraging smile. For a moment or two they stood both silently eyeing the Cowgate. Then the great man, with a sweep of his arm that took in the whole district, said in tones of genuine rapture - "A grand field, sir, for your work; yes, indeed, a beautiful field. Far greater is He that is for you, than all that are against you."
Like the morning cloud Mr. Guthrie's despondency vanished, never to return. Largely to Dr. Chalmers did he owe the opportunity now about to be afforded him of exercising his powers in evangelising the masses. That extraordinary man, at this time only slightly past the meridian of his superb intellectual force, had, since the death of Sir Henry Moncreiff and of Dr. Andrew Thomson, been the recognised leader of the Evangelical party in the Church of Scotland. He was now engaged in carrying into effect his great scheme of Church Extension, a prominent feature in which was his plan for evangelising the "Lapsed Masses" by the system of "Territorialism". To understand this thoroughly we must realise what the Edinburgh parochial system comprehended.
In 1625, Charles 1., affirming the scheme formulated by his father, enacted

"That the town of Edinburgh, including the Westport, Cowgait Street, and the head of the Canongait, incorporated with them by ane late Act of Parliament, and whole sall be distributed in four several paroches . . . and that eache of the said Paroches and Congregatiouns sall be provided with twa Ministers, so that the Town sall have eight Ministers in the whole."

In 1641 the number of churches was raised to six, and at a later date to eleven. "In all the churches" (as Hugo Arnot said in I777) "within the royalty, excepting Lady Yester's and New Greyfriars , two ministers officiate." But after the city overflowed its ancient boundaries, and spread north and south and east, when, in addition, the wealthier parishioners left the older churches to attend quoad sacra places of worship erected in the New Town, the Town Council found a difficulty in paying the stipends of two ministers who were doing work that could easily be overtaken by one. Accordingly, one by one they were uncollegiated. In 1834 the Town Council definitely put the question whether the Presbytery of Edinburgh would give its consent to the same course being applied to the five remaining charges within the jurisdiction of the regality - to wit the High Church, the Old Church, the Tron, Old Greyfriars, and St. Andrew's.
This consent the Presbytery expressed its willingness to grant, upon condition that the city should be divided into eighteen instead of thirteen parishes, each parish to have a minister of its own But eventually the Council shrunk from the undertaking - nay, at one time even from fulfilling its pledge to provide a new church for Mr. Guthrie. Then Dr. Chalmers interposed to relieve the Council of its difficulty. Thirty individuals were induced by him to subscribe 100 stirling for the erection of a church in the Cowgate, one of the most destitute places in the whole of Edinburgh.
The proposal was not destined to be promoted by the Town Council to the extent hoped, and had help not been extended by Lord Medwyn, one of the judges of the Court of Session, and a son of Sir W. Forbes the banker - a man, moreover, who though a bigoted Episcopalian and cherish ing a dislike to Presbyterianism, yet placed benevolence above sectarian feeling - the erection of the building would have been indefinitely delayed.
Lord Medwyn, with some other prominent citizens of Edinburgh, had started what they called "a Savings-Bank " in the city. As soon as his lordship understood that the Church of Scotland was about to try the experiment of reviving the old parochial or territorial system, and that there was a difficulty in securing the necessary funds, he proposed to his fellow-managers - then engaged with him in winding up their institution, which had been superseded by the National Savings Bank - that some 1700 of un-claimed deposits should be devoted to the purpose. Help never came more opportunely.
We now behold Mr. Guthrie installed in his new sphere as colleague-minister of Old Greyfriars, a position he would hold, sharing the pulpit duties alternately with the Rev. John Sym, until the new territorial church was built. Into the work of this new sphere he threw himself with an energy and enthusiasm which astonished some of his patrons of the Town Council, accustomed to the "easy-ozy ways of most of his brethren. His many-sided nature, cramped hitherto within the narrow bounds of a quiet rural parish, where the poor were few, the destitute fewer still, while the vicious, criminal, and reprobate classes were practically unknown, had now free scope to expand itself. Now he had been "called" to the Vineyard of Apollyon, where his parishioners would largely be found among those who were not merely indigent, but vicious as well.
The oversight of the Old Greyfriars congregation he, in great measure, left to his colleague, whose flock they would continue to be after the charge was uncollegiated. Mr. Guthrie opened a vigorous campaign against the powers of evil by a "house-to- house", nay, we may almost say a "room-to-room" visitation - for few of the residents could afford more than a single apartment - of the whole field of his operations. Of the awful sights he witnessed he speaks again and again in his works. They were sights which filled him both with sorrow and despair. More than once he remarks that had his faith not been firmly grounded on the Lord's grace being sufficient to enable him to achieve all things, he would have relinquished the work as hopeless. The frightful destitution, the ravages of disease among people with constitutions undermined by want and excess, the unblushing brazenness of vice, the callous criminality of those who lived by robbery and violence, the hateful hypocritical deceit which feigned religious impression in order to obtain money, the prevalence of juvenile depravity, with the almost general indulgence in the most degrading forms of drunkenness - all combined to form a picture of "sin, sorrow, and suffering never absent from his thoughts until life's latest hour.
But he never faltered. He took as his motto "Jehovah-nissi: The Lord my Banner," and every disappoint ment and failure only caused him to redouble his efforts and his prayers. "We must win if we have only faith enough", he was wont to say to those critics who were inclined to sneer at a man of his ability throwing himself away "on a lot of paupers and pickpockets". But despite his hope fulness and cheery good spirits, the position was one of great anxiety. He knew he was being watched, not only by his own Church, but by all the other denomina tions, who were on the qui vive to see how the experiment of reviving "Territorialism" would work. He realised that not only his own reputation but that of Dr. Chalmers, and others who had so eagerly promoted the scheme, were all involved in his successful achievement of the great work set before him. Therefore, in season and out of season, morning, noon, and night, Mr. Guthrie and his devoted helpmate were at work visiting, relieving the sick and destitute, obtaining work for the unemployed, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry. He virtually lived in his parish in every sense of the word, for his dwelling was situated upon the southern ridge overlooking the Cowgate, viz, first in Argyle Square and next in Brown Square. Within two minutes he could be at the bedside of any sufferer who summoned him.
Such an existence, lived at pressure so high, necessarily detracted much from that quiet home life which was Mr. Guthrie's keenest delight during his Arbirlot days. His arrival in Edinburgh marked the close of what may be described as the "domestic" period of his life. Henceforward he had to pay the price of popularity and metropolitan position, in diminished domesticity; henceforward he had to keep "open house". His table and the warm "Guthrie" welcome were ever made free to all his country brethren and friends who might come to town. His growing fame also drew strangers to his roof who, after being electrified by his eloquence on the Sabbath, desired to see if the great pulpit orator practised in private what he inculcated in public. I have always maintained that Dr. Guthrie preached as powerfully by his life as by his lip, for those who came to see found that for him the precepts of the Sunday moulded the practice of the Monday. Though for thirty-six years he lived continually in the fierce light of public scrutiny which beats on our prominent men, the words of Monod express no more than the truth, "He is even more marvellous as a man than as a minister."
On the 19th November 1840, Mr. Guthrie's new church, named St. John's, was opened, and as the Witness of the day remarked, "the event formed an important era in the history of the Church of Scotland." The whole area of the building, containing six hundred and fifty sittings, was reserved as absolutely free seats for residents in the parish, while the gallery was let to applicants from all parts of the city. As might be expected, within a day or two every seat was taken up, and hundreds were unable to obtain accommodation. Mr. Guthrie's reputation as a pulpit orator had now been unquestionably established. When he was announced to preach in aid of a scheme or charity at any church other than his own, the fact was sufficient to ensure the building being packed to suffocation long before the hour of service. In consequence, he was overwhelmed with applications for such occasions, the promoters being thereby assured of a good collection. Though the Edinburgh pulpit was at this time exceedingly strong in pious, evangelical, and earnest ministers - the Revs. Dr. R. S. Candlish being in St. George's, Dr. Gordon at the High Church, Dr. Cunningham at Trinity College Church, Dr. Bruce at St. Andrew's, Dr. J. Buchanan at North Leitb, Dr. Charles Brown in the New North, and Dr. Begg at Liberton - yet the opinion was widely current that, with the solitary exception of Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Guthrie was the greatest pulpit orator in the city. While he never manifested the metaphysical subtlety of Candlish, nor the massive thought of Cunningham, nor the curiosa felicitas, at times even approaching quaintness, of Bruce, nor the majestic stateliness of Buchanan, and thus was not their equal as a "preacher" or theologian, in all the supreme qualities of oratorical pre-eminence, in range, volume, and compass of voice, in knowledge of the human heart, and skill in adapting tone to tenor of thought, in vividness and warmth of imagination united to wealth of diction, Guthrie took rank before all, in some respects even excelling Chalmers himself. He was the popular pulpit orator, the magic of whose tones swayed thousands at will; but there was in his oratory something higher as well, the poet's love of the picturesque and the beautiful.
From 1837 to 1840, when the Non-Intrusion struggle began in grim earnest, Mr. Guthrie spared neither time nor trouble to make the territorial experiment so great a success under God's blessing, that it would justify other schemes of a cognate character being tried. What those scenes of horror and of misery cost him in agony of spirit when witnessing a destitution so widespread, only an infinitesimal portion of which he was able to relieve, can be guessed by those alone who knew the great compassionate heart of the man, or who peep into his notebooks and memoranda.
With regard to his new church and the special purpose it was designed to serve in the neighbourhood, Mr. Guthrie at this stage held very strong views with regard to the absolute necessity for State connection and State aid in prosecuting effectively such operations. On this subject he remarked in a speech delivered in 1838

"I have read of a cave from which the most thoughtless came out sobered, the most talkative came out silent; and I have often fancied that if I could get some Voluntary to accompany me on my parochial visitations for a single day, the College Wynd and the Cowgate would rival that cave in the wondrous change they would work on him. He might go in a Voluntary, but he would come out for an Establishment, . . . and with the conviction that there was no means which would move and lift up these people but that thorough parochial system and that pastoral superintendence which is inseparable from an Establishment, never has existed with Voluntaryism, and, what is more, never can."

I quote these words at length in order to show how far Dr. Guthrie had modified his views on this subject when, in November 1871, at the centenary of the Wallace Green U.P. Church, Berwick (Rev. Dr. Cairns ), he remarked amid thunders of applause

"There is nothing in our formula binding our ministry or any one now to hold the principle of endowments, . . . and though the Government were to offer me endowments tomorrow, I would fling them in the face of the Government, and I would say - " I have learned to walk on my own feet, and am no more disposed to lean on your crutches," knowing perfectly well from the whole history of the past that when I lost the power of walking and depended on your crutches, you would knock them out from below me and lay me at your feet."

What the process of "Territorialism" would have effected in the direction of evangelising the masses can now, however, only be matter for speculation. The promising and daily increasing interest in Church Extension was to be arrested, to the intense grief of Dr. Chalmers and Mr. Guthrie, by the chilling frost of ecclesiastical controversy which for years laid its numbing hand upon the healthy development of the Church of Scotland. The Evangelical party had to lay down the spiritual mattock and hoe and take up the controversial sword and breastplate. Scotland, however, was to be covered with churches in another way than to either of the two friends of "Extension" had appeared possible or expedient. But the Lord had His own methods of ecclesiastical development to work out,and when despair was deepest, the dawn of a new era of spiritual blessing for Scotland was e'en then ruddying the East .

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