During my research on Thomas Guthrie I have been reading old 'Free Church Magazines' from the Free Church College Library. The 1850 edition has an article on 'Dr Chalmers Territorial Church, West Port, Edinburgh, by Rev W Tasker'. Sometimes we think opposition to church planting or evangelism is a new thing! Perhaps not;
We remember of having the seventh successive door slapped in our face ere we had time to tell our message, and of then going to another tenement and entering house by house only to find men and women rolling on the floor of a desolate dwelling in indiscriminate drunkenness; whilst, mingling with their curses and their blasphemies, the heart piercing looks and cries of their infant children assailed us with irresistible appeals for bread to allay the cutting pangs of hunger. We have given them bread and seen, before our own eyes, the mother take it to the nearest dram shop and sell it for whisky. We have gone to the funeral of men and women of this class, and have found the whole of their friends drunk around the corpse, so as to be compelled to go ourselves to beg as many neighbours to come as would carry the body to the burying ground, that it might be any means laid in the drunkard's grave.
The issues confronting men like Dr Thomas Chalmers and Thomas Guthrie are not unlike many of the issues facing us today. Perhaps we could replace (or add) drugs to the problems we are particularly facing but the similarities are all around us. The Free Church, which grew out of the Disruption of 1843, had a huge impact on the spiritual, social and political life of Scotland in the 19th Century. Scotland in the 1840's was a country that was rapidly growing and industrialising. Cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow grew hugely as families moved to work in the new factories. Plagued with a variety of social ills including homelessness, drunkenness, crime, vagrancy, poverty and poor education, men like Guthrie and Chalmers created a holistic Christian vision to rescue thousands from a life of poverty and misery.
One of the best books on Free Church history in recent years has been Sandy Finlayson's Unity and Diversity published by Christian Focus Publications. The book is a series of biographical sketches on some of the founding fathers of the Free Church including Thomas Chalmers, Thomas Guthrie, James Begg, William Cunningham, Andrew Bonar, John Kennedy and John 'Rabbi' Duncan. These men, as well as being amongst the foremost preachers of their day, also included radical social reformers, outstanding academics and wonderful theologians.
If you know little or nothing about Free Church history I can't recommend Unity and Diversity highly enough. It is readable, informative and spurs the reader to a very different type of Christianity than the one we have today. It is a Christianity epitomised by Guthrie's statue in Princess Street Gardens. With a Bible in one hand and an arm round a little ragged child we see the two great priorities of the Church - truth and love. Guthrie represented an active Christianity not content to preach from an ivory tower but one which stooped down to the very lowest and neglected members of society and offered them the love and mercy of God in a very practical way.
A sample of the book (the chapter on Thomas Guthrie) can be viewed by following the link below.