Saturday, 5 October 2013

A Legacy of Mercy

Until last week it was nearly 3 months since I last did a blog post.  My interest in Thomas Guthrie hasn't waned but I have been really busy with work.  I hope to get down to serious writing over the winter.  However, I haven't been completely idle over the last few months;
  • I wrote a summary article on Thomas Guthrie in the June Banner of Truth.
  • Some of you will have seen the series entitled 'Ragged Theology' in the Free Church Record.  There will be articles in the (2013) September, October, November and a follow up in the December Record.  There has been a lot of good feedback and let's hope that it will lead to a greater interest in Guthrie as a preacher and his views of biblical community engagement.
  • I was delighted to be contacted by a publisher from America who wants to make 'The City its Sins and Sorrows' by Thomas Guthrie available as an e-book.  The publisher has asked me to write a preface which will be a huge privilege.  The book should be out by Christmas.  We have also had some discussions about 'Seed Time and Harvest - A Plea for Ragged Schools' and Thomas Guthrie's 'Autobiography and Memoirs'.  If this blog achieved little else than to get these books back in the public domain I would be a very happy man.
  • It was great to speak about Thomas Guthrie in Govan a few weeks ago. Norman and Alison Mackay asked me to speak to a delegation of Americans who were visiting Scotland.  It was very exciting to hear about Norman's vision for Govan and there were so many parallels with Guthrie's work in 19th century Edinburgh.  If we are to have any hope in Scotland we need to see more church planters like Norman.  I've blogged about it here.
  • I have met with a publisher who has shown an interest in seeing a modern biography of Guthrie published.  I feel that I have gathered a lot of material together and would love to get the time to pull together a short biography on Guthrie for a modern readership.  
  • I have made contact with one of Guthrie's relatives and hope to meet up over the next few months. 
Last week was a great week for Guthrie research.  I managed to get a day off and spend it in the Edinburgh University Library (Special Collections), the National Library and the National Archives.  For a Guthrie fan, it was very special to be able to hold and read the letters of such a huge figure in Scottish history.  By far the best collection of Guthrie's writings is in the National Library.  There are dozens of letters between Guthrie and the Duchess of Argyll.  Guthrie's handwriting is practically unintelligible (a bit like mine) so it was great to see the letters had been deciphered and typed out.  Perhaps the best resource in the National Library was to see a speech by Guthrie on Ragged Schools.

My last visit of the day was to the National Archives where I managed to look through the Kirk Session Minutes of Guthrie's first charge in Arbirlot, Angus.  He was minister in Arbirlot from 1830 - 1837. 

One of the things that struck me was that each month the minutes had lists of names with small amounts of money beside them.  On closer inspection it became clear that every month the Arbirlot Kirk Session were giving around 20 of the poorest people in the parish small amounts of money.  As we look back nearly 200 years we see that this church and these elders loved the poor and provided for them in a very practical way.  They didn't delegate compassion to some cranky committee.  Mercy was simply part of the churches DNA.  It wasn't something they just did at Harvest or Christmas.  It was planned, intentional and regular help for the poor.  It was also very relational mercy as Guthrie knew everyone in his parish of 1000 souls.  He knew the drinkers and criminals well and never sanctioned financial help (in Arbirlot or Edinburgh) that would fund greater vice.  This giving to the poor was, along with the savings bank and library that Guthrie set up, part of Guthrie's theology.  This theology saw truth and love as two sides of the gospel coin.  As with his Saviour, Guthrie saw his fundamental mission to 'preach glad tidings to the poor and bind up the broken hearted.'

Thomas Guthrie was a faithful, loving pastor who both in Arbirlot and Edinburgh was daily in and out of the homes of his parish.  Even during a cholera epidemic in 1832 and typhus fever in 1834 Guthrie faithfully visited his parish in a systematic way.  He embodied the concept of servant leadership and never used his great status to 'lord it over' his parishioners.  In talking about his library and bank in His Memoirs, Guthrie says; 'These and other labours which I undertook showed the people that I was seeking to live for them, not for myself - that I came not to lord it over God's heritage, not to be their master, but their minister, in the original sense of the word; and to the man who wants to establish himself in the heart of his people, wean them from vice and the world, turn them to virtue and Christ, I may venture to say, let him go and do likewise' Memoirs and Autobiography, 1896, page 114.  As Tim Keller says; 'a life poured out in doing justice and mercy for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith'.  Thomas Guthrie and his Kirk Session at Arbirlot leave a legacy of mercy for all of us to follow.

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