William Guthrie - The Puritan's Puritan


The Rev. Mr. Robert Traill was descended of an ancient family, that had been in possession of the estate of Blebo, in Fife, from the time of Walter Traill, archbishop of St. Andrews, 1385, who purchased it, and gave it to his nephew. Robert Traill, son of James Traill, and father of our author, was minister first of Ely, in the east of Fife, afterwards of the Grayfriars church in Edinburgh, and was much distinguished for his fidelity and zeal in discharging the duties of his function. He married Jean Annan, of the family of Auchterallan, by whom he had three sons and three daughters; William, who died minister of Borthwick; Robert, the author of the following sermons; James, lieutenant of the garrison in Stirling castle; Helen, married to Mr. Thomas Paterson, minister of Borthwick; Agnes, married to Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, Lord Advocate of Scotland, and Margaret, married to James Scot of Bristo, writer in Edinburgh. At the restoration, Mr. Traill, with other ministers, was prosecuted before the Scotch council, and, in consequence of their sentence, was imprisoned seven months in Edinburgh, and banished from the realm. His answers to his libel do him much honour, as a man and a Christian. From these, and some of his private letters still extant, he appears to have been a judicious and holy servant of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 He afterward returned to Scotland, and died during the time of the persecution; we have seen nothing of his in print, but a letter to his wife and children, from Holland. His son Robert, the subject of this Memoir, was born at Ely, May 1642. After the usual course of education at home, he was sent to the university of Edinburgh, where he recommended himself to the several professors, by his capacity and diligent application to his studies. Having determined to devote himself to the work of the ministry, he pursued the study of divinity with great ardour for several years. He was intimate with the Rev. William Guthrie of Finwick, and several others of the Presbyterian ministers; and was present when Mr. James Guthrie suffered death for his adherence to the peculiar principles of the Scottish church. His father being banished, had taken refuge in Holland; the family he left behind him were in great straits; in this situation our author had no settled residence. In 1666, he was obliged to lurk for some time, together with his mother and elder brother, because some copies of a book, entitled, An Apologetic Relation, &c. which the privy council had ordered to be publicly burnt, were found in Mrs. Traill’s house. At that time the Presbyterians in Scotland were treated with great severity, and the privy council, in the execution of cruel laws that had been enacted by the legislature, at the instigation of the bishops, was continually harassing them by their tyrannical edicts, enjoining conformity to the established prelatical church, under most unreasonable civil pains and penalties, and enforcing their arbitrary and intolerant decrees by the terror of military quarter and execution. These harsh and unjustifiable methods provoked many of that oppressed and unhappy people; and inflamed their spirits to that degree, that they took up arms, and advanced the length of Pentland-hills, near Edinburgh, where they were totally defeated and dispersed in an engagement with the king’s forces. Our author was suspected of being among those that were in arms; and a proclamation was issued by the council for apprehending him, which obliged him to retire to Holland, to his father, where he arrived in the beginning of the year 1667. Here he continued to study divinity, and assisted Nethenus, professor of divinity in the university of Utrecht, in the republication of Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism. In the preface to his edition of that book, Nethenus speaks of Mr. Robert Traill as a pious, prudent, learned, and industrious young man. Coming over to Britain in 1670, he was ordained to the ministry by some Presbyterian clergymen in London. Being in Edinburgh 1677, he preached privately. Here, in the month of July, he was apprehended and brought before the privy council. To them, he acknowledged he had kept house-conventicles; being interrogate, if he had preached at field-conventicles, he referred that to proof, and declined to answer, it being criminal by law; upon which he was ordered by the council to purge himself, by oath, of preaching or hearing at them. This he peremptorily refused, as what, in justice, he could not be obliged to do in his own cause. He owned he had conversed with Mr. John Welsh, on the English border. He was on these accounts sent to the Bass. Here he enjoyed the company of Messrs. Frazer of Brae, Peden, and others, confined for their attachment to the testimony of Jesus. From this prison he was relieved, by order of government, in the month of October the same year. Afterwards he returned to England, and preached in a meeting house at Cranbrook, a small town in Kent. From this he removed to London, where for many years he was pastor to a Scottish congregation, there he laboured faithfully and successfully, performing the duties of his ministry, both on Sabbaths and in a lecture on week days; he modestly details his experience in the following words:—I have no name to come to God in but Christ. My own name is abominable to myself, and deservedly hateful in heaven. No other name is given under heaven, but that of Jesus Christ, in which a sinner may safely approach unto God. Since the Father is well pleased with this name, and the Son commands me to ask in it, and the Holy Ghost hath brought this name to me, and made it as ointment poured forth, Song 1:3, and since its savour hath reached my soul, I will try to lift it up as incense to perfume the altar and throne above; since all that ever come in this name are made welcome, I will come also, having no plea but Christ’s name, no covering but his borrowed and gifted robe of righteousness. I need nothing, I will ask nothing, but what his blood hath bought (and all that, I will ask); I will expect answers of peace and acceptance only in that blessed beloved—beloved of the Father, both as his Son and our Saviour, and beloved of all that ever saw but a little of his grace and glory. In 1691, upon the republication of Dr. Crisp’s works, a flood of legal doctrine seemed to break in among the Dissenting ministers and others in London—a sort of medium between Calvinism and Arminianism was proposed, and the doctrines of grace, as explained by the Reformers, were branded as Antinomianism.2 In this controversy, Dr. Chauncy, Messrs. Thomas Cole, Nathaniel Mather, Thomas Goodwin, younger, and others, with much ability defended the doctrines of the Gospel; among these Mr. Traill appeared with much lustre, as a well informed and evangelical divine. In his sermons preached about that time, particularly on Galatians 2:21, he clearly illucidates the doctrines of grace; and in a letter to a country minister (afterwards published,) he plainly discovers his sentiments and spirit, and throws much light on the controverted subjects. The late celebrated Hervey says of this letter, “This is a judicious performance, it rightly divides the word of truth, and lays the line, with a masterly hand, between the presumptuous Legalist, and the licentious Antinomian.” This excellent man died May 1716, aged 74. During his life-time, he published a sermon in the morning exercise, on 1 Timothy 4:16, in answer to the question, By what Means may Ministers best win Souls to Christ, 1682; afterwards, Thirteen Sermons on the Throne of Grace, Hebrews 4:16; and Sixteen Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, John 17:24; after his death was published a volume, entitled, Stedfast Adherence to the Professions of our Faith, from Hebrews 10:23. This is prefaced and recommended by the Rev. Messrs. Tong, Nisbet, and Clarke, eminent ministers in London. In 1778 and 1779, was published another volume, transcribed from Mr. Traill’s MSS eleven of these are from 1 Peter 1:1-4 and six on Galatians 2:21. He also wrote a short account of the Rev. William Guthrie, author of a small but excellent tract, The Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ; and a recommendation of Marshall on Sanctification.

Home | Links | Literature | Biography | Photos.