Social reformer and founder of the Free Church.
Guthrie's father was a merchant and provost of
Brechin and Thomas was born in Brechin,
in 1803 (Robert S. Candlish was born 3 years later) and attended the University
of Edinburgh from the age of only twelve.He spent ten years, from 1815 - 1825),
at the University studying many different subjects, including science and
medicine. From Edinburgh he went to study in Paris and spent a further two
years there. He became minister of Arbirlot (Angus) 1827, where he started a
savings bank on the model of Dr Henry Duncan's pioneering example at Ruthwell
(Dumfries and Galloway).
In 1837, he moved to take up the charge of Greyfriars in Edinburgh, where he was shocked by the poverty and deprivation. He quickly made the link between poverty, ignorance, disease and crime, and worked to set up schools, improve housing and working conditions and promote temperance.
He met at this time Robert Murray M'Cheyne and witnessed the accident that shortened his life.
During this time his medical knowledge came in useful during
the cholera epidemic of 1832.Then in 1840 he moved to St John's, also in
During the Disruption of 1843 he, and most of the congregation left the established Church to form the Free St John's Church at Castlehill. (For some extra information on this event, see "Disruption" and click here for "Intrusion") He was active in the deliberations that preceded the Disruption, also, and firm in the convicton that Godly, Christian men would not allow any separation. Events didn't prove him wrong - they vindicated his view of the Established Church. Many ministers suffered extreme hardship, being thrown out of manse as well as church, but none was more active in raising money for their assistance than Guthrie.
He became active in the Free Church,
campaigning against landlords who refused land for Free Churches and he
raised over £116,000 in just 11 months for the
building of manses. He was also concerned with the social conditions of the
time and wrote his Plea for Ragged Schools, and it is his advocacy of
non-sectarian schools that he is best remembered. One child said of Guthrie
that 'He was the only father I ever had'.
His work became widely known and he appeared before a Committee of the House of Commons on 'criminal and destitute juveniles'. His book The Gospel in Ezekiel sold more than 50,000 copies, an indication of his popularity. He felt that alcohol brought about many of the problems in society and he became a total abstainer in 1845 as well as being heavily involved in the Forbes-Mackenzie Act which reduced public house opening hours. His 1857 work, The City: its sins and sorrows described why he set out on the path he did. In 1862 he became Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly and retired in 1865.
Guthrie is buried in the Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh.
The first part of his autobiography - started when he was 67, and unfortunately never completed (is any autobiography ever completed?) - can be found here. It is hoped to continue with more at a later date...
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