Testimonial to Thomas Guthrie
The following two passages are from
"Chapters From The History of the Free Church of Scotland"
by Norman L.Walker D.D. and published by Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier 1895.
THE FIRST FREE CHURCH GENERAL ASSEMBLY
But perhaps no deputation was regarded with so much interest as that which came to carry the greetings of the Synod of United Original Seceders. Their presence gave a special historical significance to the events which were then occurring. A century before, the Erskines had seceded, not, as they themselves testified, from the Church of Scotland, but only from what was then the prevailing party in that Church; and now the Free Churchmen of 1848 had the gratification of hearing, from one of the ablest descendants of the Erskines, the following remarkable tribute to the position which they had been led in Providence to occupy.
"I recognise in you," said Mr. White of Haddington, "not the prevailing party from which our fathers seceded, but that free, faithful, and reforming General Assembly to which they appealed." The testimony was felt to be a peculiarly interesting one; and the speech of Dr. Guthrie, in proposing a vote of thanks to the deputation, glistened with a genial and joyful wit from beginning to end, and while it was followed throughout with cheers and laughter, it closed - as the report tells us - amid "tremendous applause."
RECONSTRUCTING THE FRAME WORK
A college for the training of young men for the ministry was of course also from the first regarded as a necessity, and a house in George Street, Edinburgh, was bought, in which the work was begun. But the rearing of a suitable building for the classes was not lost sight of for a moment; and at the Assembly of 1845 it was reported that, besides a large sum which Mr. Macdonald had promised to raise, £21,000 had been subscribed for the purpose by twenty individuals, - one of the twenty undertaking for £2000 instead of £1000.
But another work needed to be done. It is highly creditable to the ministers of the Disruption age, that they showed themselves so willing to postpone the consideration of their own wants to the more urgent public claims of the Church. Many of them endured almost intolerable hardships when driven out of their manses in 1843. In many cases no suitable dwelling-houses could be found in the parishes where they laboured, and it was the commonest thing possible for men to send away their families to towns at a distance, while they themselves found accommodation of the poorest kind in the cottages of their neighbourhood. This state of matters could not be suffered long to continue, and in the Assembly of 1844 an outcry arose against it from among the laity. A Committee was then appointed, and some subscriptions came in. But the movement was then regarded as premature, and no general effort was made till 1845, when, at the suggestion, it is believed, of Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Guthrie was invited to undertake the task of raising £100,000 for manse-building alone.
No man then living was better fitted to undertake this business.
Born in 1803 at Brechin, and educated there and (for a short time) at Dun, he was sent to the University of Edinburgh when he was twelve years of age, and was licensed to preach in 1825. His father had political influence enough to secure for him very soon afterwards the presentation to an important charge, but one of the conditions on which it was offered to him was that he should ally himself to the Moderate party. That condition he refused to accept, and he remained a probationer for five years. In 1830, however, he was settled at Arbirlot, and there he remained till 1837, when he was translated to Edinburgh to become the colleague of Mr. Sym in the Old Greyfriars. Here his home missionary predilections found scope so far, inasmuch as he and his colleague held a service each every Sabbath in the Cowgate; but in coming to Edinburgh he had always contemplated devoting himself to work a district on the territorial plan, and when the new Church of St. John's was completed, it was with great satisfaction that he undertook to become its first minister. The church filled almost immediately, and here and in the new Church of Free St. John's, which was built for him after the Disruption, Dr. Guthrie maintained for many years the position of the most popular preacher in the city. Brought up an Evangelical, he fought, both at Arbirlot and Edinburgh, in the Conflict for the Church and the people, and when the crisis of 1843 arrived, he was one of the band of distinguished men who, without hesitation, withdrew from the Establishment. Alike in the pulpit and on the platform he showed that he possessed the power of moving whatever audience he addressed.
Especially he had the gift of touching men so that they broke into laughter or melted into tears. And when it was known that he had undertaken to raise a fund for the erection of manses, the general feeling was that the work was virtually done. Nor were those who cherished this hope doomed to be disappointed. Dr. Guthrie set out on the great enterprise on the 9th of July, and, six weeks later, he was able to tell the Assembly at Inverness that he had raised £35,000 of the whole amount in Glasgow and its neighbourhood alone. Not only so. When the Assembly of 1846 came round, he had the satisfaction of reporting that the whole and more had been promised ,- the entire sum subscribed (including £5000 from Lord Breadalbane) being £116.3 70.
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