AT the point of junction of three thoroughfares in the Scots capital - the Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, and the West Bow, - thoroughfares with a Past as splendid as their Present is squalid - stands a church placed on high like a lighthouse, to cast the beacon- gleams of the Gospel over the seething sea of misery and vice among the lapsed masses of the Grassmarket and Cowgate. Fifty-five years ago, in St. John's Free Church, that light was kindled by the devotion and spiritual enthusiasm of Thomas Guthrie, and its cheering ray, though trimmed now by other hands, is burning brightly yet.
A midsummer Sabbath morning in the later - fifties of the nineteenth century! A firmament of cloudless blue and a June sun warm on the towering tenements on the quaint, crow-stepped gables and peaked dormer windows, on the carven architraves and deeply mullioned casements of the romantic capital of the Stuarts !
Ten of the clock had only recently "chappit" from the steeples of St. Giles and the Tron. At the Bowhead, however, a crowd had already collected before the still closed doors of Free St. John's. Momentarily it increases, swelled by all sorts and conditions of men and women. Will these doors never open? Patiently the crowd tarries as the half-hour approaches, a hum of conversation rising the while from the densely packed mass, while the bloated and blear-eyed dwellers of the Bowhead, in whom godliness and cleanliness alike have become vanished virtrues along with the days when a Bowhead Saint was a synonym for shining piety, lounge at their doors or lean over their windows, discussing in strident Milesian altissimo what could be the attraction thus to induce people to stand for half an hour in a blazing sun.
At last the doors are opened. Then the rush and the push commence. One American minister( JW Alexander) described his experiences as "fighting my way in to hear Guthrie through a crowd that almost tore the coat from my back." When the hour of service arrived every available inch of space in the great edifice was occupied. An extraordinarily varied audience it was, when the tourist season was at its height, and Edinburgh was filled to overflowing with strangers from well-nigh every clime under heaven, few of whom returned to their homes without having heard that wonderful orator of the Castlehill, whose discourses, in their persuasive earnestness, their passion and compassion, as Lord Cockburn phrased it, were likened to those of the great Massillon in France.
What with his regular congregation and casual hearers, his audience was representative of every class in the community, from the peer to the peasant. St. John's was often called the great leveller, inasmuch as scions of the proudest families in the aristocracy sat side by side with the working tailor or the journeyman mason. Yonder, seated in the front of the gallery, is the well- known face and figure of the most popular of all the Scots Dukes - the MacCallum Mohr, otherwise George Douglas Campbell, Duke of Argyll, who has brought a brother peer to hear the Champion of the Ragged Schools proclaim that Gospel of Salvation, full, free, and finished, which makes every partaker of it, be his colour what it may, a man and a brother in the fraternal unity of the Sons of God. There also, busily conning the metrical version of the Psalms ere the service commenced, might be seen William Ewart Gladstone, greatest of England's Chancellors of the Exchequer, and yet to be four times Premier of Britain. Yonder, in Episcopal apron and cassock, is Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, who had worthily earned the title - Remodeller of the Episcopate. Not far from him towered the massive frame of William Makepeace Thackeray, whose expressive features surmounted by his silvery hair attracted the gaze of many an admirer of Becky Sharp and Pendennis. Immediately in front of the pulpit, and but a short distance from each other, were seated two notable and noticeable men - Hugh Miller, next to Chalmers, the sturdiest and most vigorous of Scottish thinkers of the nineteenth century, yet, alas! within half a year to perish by the saddest of all deaths; and Dr. James Young Simpson (not yet Sir James), to hundreds - the beloved physician, his name even then wreathed with the imperishable laurels of having robbed surgery, and especially maternity, of its terrors by the discovery of chloroform.
We cannot even name all the notables present in these pews, - peers. and judges, professors of European fame, merchant princes, artists, liltêrateurs British and American, soldiers of world-wide celebrity, sitting side by side with the labourer and the domestic servant, with the tradesman and the clerk, with strangers of well-nigh all lands and languages who could make shift to understand our tongue - and all attracted by the genius and eloquence of a great orator.
But the hour of service had come. Scarcely had the bells ceased when the old beadle, John Towert, was seen entering with the books, and a hush of expectancy fell upon the vast congregation as the preacher made his appearance. It was an impressive and commanding figure that met the eye. His stature, at least two inches over six feet, his erect carriage, his lithe and sinewy frame, his broad square shoulders, which the folds of his severely simple Genevan gown could not hide, impressed the spectator with an idea of latent power, which a view of head and features burdened with the sense of a mighty to confirm. The face, crowned with locks powdered with the frost of the fifties, was suggestive of great intellectual strength. The high pile of forehead sharply chiselled back towards the temples and the occiput, but overhanging the eye sockets with an almost excessive frontal development, would denote, if the readings of phrenology be worth aught, superior imaginative faculties. The eyes, bright and piercing, by their quick, almost restless, glances, lent an expression of intense alertness to the visage. The cheeks were thin and long, the nose prominent, the chin resolute and firm in outline and moulding. The face would, in truth, have left the impression of a somewhat stern and severe character, an idea still further strengthened by the shaggy, protuberant penthouses of eyebrows, had it not been relieved by the influence of the wonderfully mobile and expressive mouth. The lips, finely and delicately curved, were so sensitively alive to the emotions of the mind, that almost every feeling could be read by their subtle index. When he smiled the whole features seemed irradiated, every line and wrinkle appearing to laugh in concert. Altogether it was a noble and impressive figure that stepped into the pulpit of Free St. John's on that Sabbath morning in June and faced his audience.
The opening psalm was announced and read in mellow, resonant tones, and with faultless articulation. After this had been sung a prayer followed, not too long, but full of unction and earnestness, while the voice in its rise and fall was just touched and no more with that subtle rhythmic cadence that exercised a hallowing influence upon the hearer. A chapter from Holy Writ came next, read with appropriate accent and emphasis, but with no elocutionary embellishments to catch the sensation-lover. Another psalm, and then ensued a visible settling down of the congregation each into his special attitude wherein to listen to the sermon. The preliminary exercises were over. Up to this point there had been nothing in either voice or action to indicate that one of the greatest pulpit orators of the nineteenth century was before that audience. Had Guthrie's eloquence been a mere elocutionary trick, it would have made itself manifest in all he did. But the great deeps of his emotions and his sympathies needed to be broken up before the irresistible flood of his oratory could find adequate means of expression. He only revealed himself the peerless orator when his feelings were stirred to the inmost Siloam-depths of his many-sided nature.
The preacher now announced his text, 1 Cor. 1. 17-18: - Lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For a moment he allowed his gaze to wander over the sea of faces surrounding him on all sides, as he slowly and impressively repeated the words, - The Cross of Christ made of none effect - the cross of Christ the power of God. His voice as he entered upon the introductory part of his discourse was pitched almost on a conversational key. He talked of this great theme being the prime problem of every man's being, more vital to his welfare, temporal and spiritual, than the most crucial question of science or of metaphysics.
But ere long his utterance became more rapid. His emotions were beginning to be stirred. His eyes were sparkling with animation, his face was lighted up with the reflected gleams from his spirit's lofty enthusiasm, his long arms were used with perfect gesture to lend still further emphasis to the forcibleness of his language as it rapidly mounted towards its climax. Then with a burst of eloquence, impetuous and irresistible as some mighty mountain torrent swollen with winter s snows, he broke forth into the following lofty passage, which at once lifted his discourse on to a higher plane alike of thought and feeling. He was describing Christ's utter desertion and loneliness at the Cross, and a thrill of emotion like an electric shock vibrated through the audience as they heard the words

"Christ was alone, awfully alone, in that last terrible conflict with the Prince of Darkness. The day had been when crowds followed Him, tracked His steps from city to city, from shore to shore, hanging on His lips, thronging the streets through which He passed, and besieging the houses where He lodged. The day was when ten thousand tongues would have spoken and ten thousand swords would have flashed in His defence; but the day had arrived when, during for a while, they all fell away, and of the crowds that swelled His jubilant train all - all deserted Him, the only voice lifted up in His behalf coming from the cross of a dying thief, "This man hath done nothing amiss: Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."

The full, rich tones, now deep as the diapasons of some mighty organ, sweet anon as the strains of a well-tuned harp, gradually sank in pitch as he neared the close of the passage, until, with hushed voice, and eyes and hands raised pleadingly to Heaven, he uttered the pathetic words of the dying malefactor, - Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom. The audience was now thoroughly in his thrall. Every word was followed with a jealous, hungry interest that never for an instant flagged. Every type of lofty, persuasive oratory was impressed into the service of demonstrating that the Cross of Christ is worthy of having all things accounted loss for it. Now he thundered forth indignant remonstrance against the scoffer who sneered at the Carpenter of Galilee -

"The history of infidelity, were it written, would present a succession of ignominious defeats - defeats due, not to any want of ability in those who have assailed the truth, but to this, that its defenders have driven them out of all their positions. We have seen the soldier return from the fields of war with scars as well as medals on his breast; but the Cross of Christ and our religion, based upon it, has come out of a thousand fights unscarred, from a thousand fires unscathed. Our faith bears no more evidence of the assaults she has sustained than the air of the swords that have cloven it, or the sea of the keels which have ploughed its foaming waves; than some bold rocky headland of the billows that, dashing against it in proud but impotent fury, have shivered themselves on its sides."

At other times his voice became tenderly low and pleading as he described the love of Christ for the sinner

Ah, dear friends, He can and will be all in all to us. Am I wounded ? - He is balm! Am I sick ? - He is medicine! Am I naked ? - He is clothing! Am I poor ? - He is wealth! Am I hungry ? - He is bread! Am I thirsty ? - He is water! Am I tried ? - He is my advocate! Is sentence passed, and am I condemned? - He is my pardon! 0 blessed Jesus, whose Cross of shame has become the sinners crown of justification!"

Presently he began to picture the career of a noble-minded, noble-spirited youth setting out on the voyage of life without religion as his compass. He likened him to a stately vessel leaving harbour with all her sails set, a thing of beauty and of grandeur. But ere long her course is cut short. She gets among the breakers of temptation. In vivid and picturesque language he described the awful scene of the wreck, the launch of the lifeboat of salvation, and the terrible struggle with the powers of evil. As he worked up the various details of the picture with realistic skill, his hearers lost the consciousness of its parabolic character. The whole scene became visualised to them. At one time a sob, at another a gasp of excitement, passed over the whole church. Some in the back seats involuntarily rose as though to view the scene better. As the cry was echoed, - Man the lifeboat! a young sailor in the front of the gallery, oblivious of everything, leapt to his feet and began to pull off his coat to volunteer, until he is drawn down into his seat again by his friends. Then, when the great picture is completed, and the salvation of a soul achieved, a long sigh of relief, betokening the loosening of the tension of the feelings, seemed to break involuntarily from the great gathering.
But the preacher is now nearing the conclusion of his discourse. Only the personal application remains to be enforced. With what earnestness, what depth of love, what fervour of appeal - nay, with what keen knowledge of the human heart - was that application of his sermon not driven home? The orator seemed to bend down from the pulpit and literally entreat the sinner to accept Christ as his individual Saviour -

"The day is quickly dying; soon will come the night of death for all of us, when life's fitful fever shall be over. By all you hold dear, by the memories of your beloved dead who have passed within the veil before you, by the value of that immortal essence within you, which is neither yours to give nor yours to take away, I charge you this day, this hour, this moment, to look well to it that your calling and your election is made sure, for it is a fearful thing for an unrepentant soul to fall into the hands of the living God!"

The solemn close of the sermon produced a deep impression. People looked at each other anxiously, as though mutely inquiring, - How does that affect us? Ten minutes more and all was over. The mighty audience was slowly pouring out from the church into the brilliant sunshine, discussing the while the merits of the remarkable discourse to which they had been listening. As the preacher passed down from his pulpit to the vestry he overheard two young and beautiful ladies of title referring to the sermon - Oh, what a charming discourse it was! Is he not a delightful preacher? said one to the other, an opinion the latter warmly indorsed. The man of God looked back at them sadly, and the light seemed to die out of his face. - 0 my Saviour! he unconsciously murmured in the hearing of one of his elders who, unseen by him, stood near, why will they always exalt the instrument and not Thee? My preaching is a failure if I can only charm but not change!

From "Thomas Guthrie" by Oliphant Smeaton

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