William Guthrie



Mr William Guthrie, minister at Fenwick, in the shire of Ayr, used the greatest of freedom and sincerity in his sermons at this time. I am too nearly concerned in this great man to say much about him, and therefore choose to give this in the words of a worthy minister, his contemporary, in his character of him. "In his doctrine, Mr William Guthrie was as full and free as any man in Scotland had ever been; which, together with the excellency of his preaching gift, did so recommend him to the affections of people, that they turned the cornfield of his glebe to a little town, every one building a house for his family upon it, that they might live under the drop of his ordinances and ministry." Indeed, the Lord gave him an opportunity to bear a longer testimony against the defections of this time than most of his brethren; till at length the malice of the Archbishop of Glasgow turned him out in the year 1664, as we may hear.

A good many ministers kept congregational fasts, and that was all almost they could do, since now there was scarce any opportunities of presbyterial or synodical appointments of this nature; and in some places, where there were disaffected persons to delate them, ministers suffered not a little for this practice, and the plainness of their doctrine. * * * * * * * * The other instance I promised, as to the sufferings of old ministers this year, is that of the reverend and singularly useful Mr William Gutbrie, minister of the gospel at Fenwick. This extraordinary person I have particular opportunities to have certain . 57 and distinct accounts of. I heartily wish some proper hand would give the public a just narrative of this great man's life, which might, I persuade myself, be very useful. The broken hints we have, before the last edition of his excellent "Saving Interest," at London, 1705, are lame and indistinct, and were written without the knowledge of his remaining relations, who could have given more just and larger accounts. I shall therefore here give the more particular history of his sufferings at the time, and his being forced to part with his dear flock.

By the interest of several noblemen and others, to whom Mr Guthrie was very dear, be enjoyed a connivance, and was overlooked for a considerable time, when lie continued at his Master's work, though in his sermons he was more than ordinarily free and plain.

WHEN BISHOP BURNET COMES TO GLASGOW, HE AND SOME OTHER MINISTERS ARE ATTACKED. But soon after Dr Alexander Burnet was brought from the see of Aberdeen to that of Glasgow, he and the few remaining ministers about him were attacked; such as, Mr Livingstone at Biggar, Mr M Kail at Bothwell, Mr Gabriel Maxwell at Dundonald, Mr Gabriel Cunningham at Dunlop, and Mr Andrew Hutcheson, and Mr William Castlelaw, ministers at Stewarton; and perhaps the Chancellor's death about this time helped to pave the way for the greater severity against these worthy persons.

The Archbishop had been addressed by some of the greatest in the kingdom in behalf of Mr Guthrie, and treated them very indiscreetly. By no importunity would he suffer himself to be prevailed upon to spare him any longer. When means and intercession could not prevail, Mr Guthrie was warned of the Archbishop's design against him, and advised by persons of note, his friends, to suffer no resistance to be made to his dispossession of the church and manse; since his enemies wanted only this for a handle to prosecute him criminally for his zeal and faithfulness in the former times: such was their spite against this useful man of God.

Under the prospect of parting with his beloved people, Wednesday the 20th of July this year was set apart by him for fasting and prayer with his congregation. The text he preached from was, Hosea xiii. 9, "0 Israel! thou haat destroyed thyself." His sermon was afterwards printed very unfairly and indistinctly, from an uncorrect copy. From that Scripture, with great plainness and affection, be laid before them their sins, and those of the land, and of that age; and, indeed, the place was a Bochim.

At the close of that day's works, he gave intimation of sermon upon the next Lord's Day very early, and his own people and many others met him at the church of Fenwick betwixt four and five in the morning, where he preached twice to them from the close of his last text, "But in me is thine help." And as he used upon ordinary Sabbaths, he had two sermons and a short interval betwixt them, and dismissed the people before nine in the morning. Upon this melancholy occasion he directed them unto the great Fountain of help, when the gospel and ministers were taken from them; and took his leave of them, commending them to this great God, who was able to build them up, and help them in the time of their need.

His people would willingly have sacrificed all that was dear to them, in defence of the gospel, and adhering to him. Indeed, Mr Guthrie had some difficulty to get their affection to him so far moderated as to keep them from violent proceedings against the party who came to dispossess him; they would have effectually prevented the church its being declared vacant, and were ready to have "resisted even to blood, striving against sin," if they had been permitted. But Mr Guthrie's peaceable disposition, his great regard to lawful civil authority, which his prudent foresight of the consequences of such a procedure, both as to the interests of the gospel, his people, and himself, made him lay himself out, and use the interests he had in the people, which was very great, to keep the peace; and there was no disturbance which could be made a handle of by adversary.

When the Archbishop of Glasgow resolved upon dispossessing him, he dealt with several of his curates, to intimate his sentence against Mr Guthrie, and as many refused it. There was an awe upon their spirits, which scared them from meddling with this great man; besides, they very well knew it was an action would render them for ever odious to the West country, and they feared the consequences. At last he prevailed with one who was curate of Calder, as I am told, and promised him five pounds sterling for his reward: but, poor man! it was the price of blood, the blood of souls, and neither he nor his had much satisfaction in it.

Upon the 24th of July, this man came with a party of twelve soldiers to Fenwick church on the Lord's Day, and by commission from the archbishop, discharged Mr Guthrie to preach any more at Fenwick, declared the church vacant, and suspended him from the exercise of his ministry.

The commanders of the party and the curate, leaving the soldiers without, came into the manse, or minister's house. The best account I can at this distance give of what passed in the house, is by inserting a short minute of this, left amongst the small remains of a valuable collection of papers belonging to Mr Guthrie; which were taken away, as we shall afterwards hear, some years after this, by violence, and against all the rules of equity, from his widow, and fell into the hands of the bishop. The paper was drawn up at the time to keep up the remembrance of this affair, without any design of it being published, and I give it its own native and plain dress.

"The curate showed, that the bishop and committee, after much lenity shown to him for a long time, were constrained to pass the sentence of suspension against him for not keeping of presbyteries and synods with his brethren, and his unpeaceableness in the Church; of which sentence he was appointed to make public intimation to him, for which he read his commission under the Archbishop of Glasgow his hand." Mr Guthrie answered, "I judge it not convenient to say much in answer to what you have spoken: only, whereas you allege there hath been much lenity used towards me, be it known unto you that I take the Lord for party in that, and thank him for it; yea, I look upon it as a door which God opened to me for preaching this gospel, which neither you nor any man else was able to shut, till it was given you of God. And as to that sentence passed against me, I declare before those gentlemen (the officers of the party) that I lay no weight upon it, as it comes from you, or those who sent you; though I do respect the civil authority, who by their law laid the ground for this sentence; and were it not for the reverence I owe to the civil magistrate, I would not surcease from the exercise of my ministry for all that sentence. And as to the crimes I am charged with, I did keep presbyteries and synods with my brethren; but I do not judge those who now sit in these to be my brethren, but men who have made defection from the truth and cause of God; nor do I judge those to be free or lawful courts of Christ that are now sitting. And as to my unpeaceableness, I know I am bidden follow peace with all met but I know also I am bidden follow with holiness; and since I could not obtain peace without prejudice to holiness, I thought myself obliged to let it go. And as for your commission, sir, to intimate this sentence, I here declare I think myself called by the Lord to the work of the ministry, and did forsake my dearest relations in the world, and give up myself to the service of the gospel in this place, having received an unanimous call from this parish, and being tried and ordained by the presbytery: and I bless the Lord he hath given me some success, and a seal of my ministry upon the souls and consciences of not a few that are gone to heaven, and of some that are yet in the way to it. And now, sir, if you will take it upon you. to interrupt my work among this people, as I shall wish the Lord may forgive you the guilt of it, so I cannot but leave all the bad consequences that follow upon it, betwixt God and your own conscience. And here I do further declare before these gentlemen, that I am suspended from my ministry for adhering to the covenants and work of God, from which you and others have apostatizcd."
Here the curate interrupting him, said, "That the Lord had a work before that covenant had a being, and that he judged them apostates who adhered to that covenant; and that he wished that not only the Lord would forgive him, (Mr Guthrie,) but, if it were lawful to pray for the dead, (at which expression the soldiers did laugh,) that the Lord would forgive the sin of this Church these hundred years past." "It is true," answered Mr Guthrie, "the Lord had a work before that covenant had a being; but it is as true that it hath been more glorious since that covenant, and it is a small thing for us to be judged of you in adhering to that covenant, who have so deeply corrupted your ways, and seem to reflect on the whole work of re-formation from Popery these hundred years past, by intimating that the Church had need of pardon for the same. "As for you, gentlemen," added he, directing himself to the soldiers, "I wish the Lord may pardon you for countenancing of this man in this business." One of them scoffingly replied," I wish we never do a greater fault." "Well," said Mr Guthrie, "a little sin may damn a man's soul."

When this had passed, Mr Guthrie called for a glass of ale, and craving a blessing himself, drank to the commander of the soldiers, and after they had been civilly entertained by him, they left the house. I have it confidently reported, that Mr Guthrie at parting did signify to the curate, that he apprehended some evident mark of the Lord's displeasure was abiding him, for what he was now a-doing, and seriously warned him to prepare for some stroke a- coming upon him very soon.

Mr Guthrie's relations, and a worthy old minister yet alive when I write this, who was that day at Fenwick with him, from whom I have part of this account, do not mind to have heard any thing of this denunciation; but it might have been without their hearing, since none of them were present at parting. Whatever be in this, I am well assured the curate never preached more after he left Fenwick. He came into Glasgow, and whether he reached Calder, but four miles from it, I know not; but in a few days he died in great torment of an iliac passion, and his wife and children died all in a year, or thereby; and none belonging to him were left. So hazardous a thing it is to meddle with Christ's sent servants.

When they left the manse, the curate went into the church of Fenwick with the soldiers his guard, and now his hearers, and preached to them not a quarter of an hour, and intimated from the pulpit the bishop's sentence against Mr Guthrie. Nobody came to hear him, but the party who came with him, and a few children and boys, who created him some disturbance, but were chased off by the soldiers.

Mr Guthrie continued in the parish, but preached no more in the church, where, as far as I can learn, there was no curate ever settled. Upon the 10th of October next year, this excellent person died in Angus, whither he went to settle some affairs relating to his estate of Pitforthy there. Thus, by the malice of the prelates, this bright and eminent light of the West of Scotland was put under a bushel, yea extinguished.

By this time many of the old Presbyterian ministers, who had seen the glory of the former temple, were got to their rest. The 10th day of October this year brought the Reverend Mr William Guthrie to his Father's house. I shall only add the remark made upon his lamented death, by the worthy minister his contemporary, whom I cited before, when I spoke of him: "This year the Presbyterians in Scotland lost one of their pillars, Mr William Guthrie, minister of the gospel at Fenwick, one of the most eloquent, successful, popular preachers, that ever was in Scotland. He died a sufferer, for he was deposed by the bishop, but in hopes that one day the Lord would deliver Scotland from her thraldom." Many others of the old ministers of this Church died about this time in peace, being taken away from the evil to come, which was fast coming on in great measures, and departed under the solid and firm hope of a glorious deliverance coming to this poor Church.

Mr William Guthrie was the eldest son of a country gentleman, in the shire of Angus in Scotland, of a good family, and of a competent estate. After he had past his course of philosophy at the University of St Andrews, he went to the New College there, where theology and Hebrew are taught by several professors. And it was then no rare thing for young gentlemen that had no design of engaging themselves in any of the three learned professions of law, physic, or divinity, to spend some time at that College. Then, and there, it pleased the Lord, who had separated him from his mother's womb, to call him by his grace, by the ministry of excellent Mr Samuel Rutherford, and this young gentleman became one of the first-fruits of his ministry at St Andrews. His conversion was begun with great terrors of God on his soul, and was completed with that joy and peace in believing that did accompany him through his life. Upon this blessed change wrought in him, he did immediately resolve to obey the call of God, to serve him in the ministry of the gospel, which was given him with the Lord's calling him effectually to grace and glory. And he did for this end so dispose of his outward estate (of which he was born heir) as not to be entangled with the affairs of this life. After some time spent in study, he was called to preach, and quickly after was settled in a congregation in the West of Scotland, and did shine in that place, till a few months before his death, that he was driven away by persecution, in 1665. In this place he laboured with great diligence, and with no less success, as himself owned to the Lord's praise, when he said that there was hardly any under his charge but were brought to make a fair profession of godliness, and had the worship of God in their families. And it was well known, that many of them were sincere, and not a few of them eminent Christians. The love he had to his people made him stiffly refuse all calls and invitations to Glasgow or Edinburgh, or Stirling, (where his own cousin, grave Mr James Guthrie, was minister, afterwards Christ's faithful martyr, -whom I saw die in and for the Lord, at Edinburgh, June lst, 1661,) and pleaded much in a General Assembly, that he might have his ministry in that city, which was malignant and profane at that time. But all to no purpose; in this place, though an obscure one, but by his ministry, he spent all his few days. I have heard several judicious ministers and Christians observe this of him, that whereas many worthy ministers have outlived their zeal, the vigour of their gifts, and their acceptance with the godly, this blessed man rather increased in all these to the last.
His stature was tall and slender, his aspect grave. His natural temper was cheerful, witty, and facetious, yet tempered with gravity becoming a minister of Christ. I have seen somewhat of this rare mixture in him myself, and have heard from many who have had a great intimacy with him, that they have admired this in him, that immediately after his recreations, and singular sallies of wit and innocent mirth, when called to pray, he would speak to God with that holy awe, and faith, and love, and life, as if he had come down from the mount.
His gifts were great, strong natural parts, a clear head, and a sound heart. His voice was of the best sort; loud and yet managed with charming cadencies and elevations. His oratory singular, and by it he was master of the passions of his hearers. His action in preaching was more than ordinary; yet was it all decent and taking in him. I have oft thought him in this the likest to the famous Mr John Rogers of Dedham in Essex, by the character I had of him by many; and especially from his kinsman, Mr William Jenkin, who died Christ s prisoner in Newgate, 1634.
In preaching, praying, dealing with distressed consciences, and in pleading for the cause of God in the assemblies of ministers, he was eminent, and generally so esteemed in his day, which I do well remember.. I have heard many passages of God's presence with him, and of his blesaing of his labours, which I forbear to mention; both because it is unfit to give a long preface to a short book, and because I am not without hope, that some will think it fit to make this great man better known.
The main humbling thing that attended him (next to the apostacy in the land, and cruel persecution of the Church of Christ in it) was a crazy body, afflicted much with the stone, and at last with an ulcer in his kidneys, which brought him to his grave, in 1665, when he had lived little above forty-two years.
This was the man that the rulers in Scotland could not then bear. But though the love and esteem that most of the neighbouring nobility and gentry bare to him did prevail, for a year or two, to preserve him in his place, -after many of his brethren were cast though yet at length, a party of the king's guards was sent to turn him out, and to put a stranger m his place. Unto which violence he gave way; and went on a visit to his friends, where he was quickly seized with a fit of his distemper, and died in 1665, in Angus. I have oft seen him, conversed with him, and have heard him preach; and if my youth then did make me an unfit judge of his real great worth, yet his name was so famous his ministry so followed, especially in his last two or three years, by many ejected ministers, and so many desolate congregations, (and both were multiplied in fatal 1662,) that I do but declare what was then the common sense of thousands in Scotland, that Mr Guthrie was every way an eminent gospel minister. I had also a special advantage for knowing the spirit of this great man. My own honoured father and he kept for many years a constant weekly correspondence by letters; many of which from Mr Gutbrie to my father I did peruse, and several of them I have still by me, wrote by his own hand.

1. Dunlop says he died in his forty-fifth year.
2. Wodrow was married to Margaret Warner, daughter of Rev. Patrick Warner, of Irvine, who had married a daughter of Guthrie.

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