If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity;
but his blood will I require at thine hand.
—Ezekiel 33.8.

[The Life of James Guthrie, by John Howie.]
 
The Life of Mr. JAMES GUTHRIE.
taken from
Biographia Scoticana
by
John Howie
MR. JAMES GUTHRIE son to the laird of Guthrie (a very honourable and ancient family) having gone through his course of classical learning at the grammar school and college, taught philosophy in the university of St. Andrews, where for several years he gave abundant proof that he was an able scholar. His temper was very steady and composed; he could reason upon the most subtle points with great solidity, and when every one else was warm his temper was never ruffled. At any time when indecent heats or wranglings happened to fall in when reasoning, it was his ordinary custom to say, "Enough of this, let us go to some other subject; we are warm, and can dispute no longer with advantage." Perhaps he had the greatest mixture of fervent zeal and sweet calmness in his temper, of any man in his time. But being educated in opposition to presbyterian principles he was highly prelatical in his judgment when he came first to St. Andrews, but by conversing with worthy Mr. Rutherford and others, and especially through his joining the weekly society’s meetings there, for prayer and conference, he was effectually brought off from that way, and perhaps it was this that made the writer of the diurnal (who was no friend of his) say, "That if Mr. Guthrie had continued fixed to his first principles, he had been a star of the first magnitude in Scotland." Whenas he came to judge for himself, he happily departed from his first principles, and upon examination of that way wherein he was educated, he left it, and thereby became a star of the first magnitude indeed. It is said, that while he was regent in the college of St. Andrews, Mr. Sharp being then a promising young man there, he several times wrote this verse upon him,
If thou, Sharp, die the common death of men,
I’ll burn my bill, and throw away my pen.
Having passed his trials, anno 1638, he was settled minister at Lauder, where he remained for several years. Anno 1646, he was appointed one of those ministers who were to attend the king, while at Newcastle, and likewise he was one of those nominated in the commission for the {255} public affairs of the church, during the intervals betwixt the general assemblies. And in about three years after this, he was translated to Stirling, where he continued until the restoration, a most faithful watchman upon Zion’s walls, who ceased not day and night to declare the whole counsel of God to his people, shewing Israel their iniquities, and the house of Jacob their sins.

After he came to Stirling, he again not only evidenced a singular care over that people he had the charge of, but also was a great assistant in the affairs of the church, being a most zealous enemy to all error and profanity. And when that unhappy difference fell out with the public resolutioners, he was a most staunch protestor, opposing these resolutions unto the utmost of his power, insomuch as after the presbytery of Stirling had wrote a letter to the commission of the general assembly, shewing their dislike and dissatisfaction with the resolutioners, after they had been concluded upon at Perth, Dec. 14. 1650, Mr. Guthrie and his colleague Mr. Bennet went somewhat further, and openly preached against them, as a thing involving the land in conjunction with the malignant party, for which by a letter from the chancellor they were ordered to repair to Perth on Feb. 19th, 1651, to answer before the king1 and {256} the committee of estates for that letter and their doctrine; but upon the indisposition of one of them, they excused themselves by a letter, for their non-appearance that day, but promised to attend upon the end of the week. Accordingly on the 22d they appeared at Perth, where they gave in a protestation; signifying, that although they owned his majesty’s civil authority, yet was Mr. Guthrie challenged by the king and his council for a doctrinal thesis which he had maintained and spoken to in a sermon,—whereof they were incompetent judges in matters purely ecclesiastical, such as is the examination and censuring of doctrines,—he did decline them on that account.2

The matter being deferred for some days, till the king returned from Aberdeen, in the mean time the two ministers were confined to Perth and Dundee, whereupon they (Feb. 28.) presented another paper or protestation,3 which was much the same, though in stronger terms, and supported by many excellent arguments. After this the king and committee thought proper to dismiss them, and to proceed no farther in the affair at present, and yet Mr. Guthrie’s declining the king’s authority in matters ecclesiastical here, was made the principal article in his indictment some ten years after, to give way to a personal pique Middleton had against this good man, the occasion of which is as follows:

By improving an affront the king met with anno 1659, some malignants about him so prevailed to heighten his fears of the evil designs of those about him, that by a correspondence with the papists, malignants, and such as were disaffected to the covenants in the north, matters came in a little to such a pass, that a considerable number of noblemen, gentlemen, and others were to rise and form themselves into an army under Middleton’s command, and the king was to cast himself into their arms, &c. Accordingly the king with a few in his retinue, as if he were going a-hunting, left his best friends, crossed the Tay, and came to Agnus, where he was to have met with those people, but soon finding himself disappointed, he came back to the committee of estates, where indeed his greatest strength lay. In the meanwhile several who had been in the plot fearing punishment, got together under Middleton’s command. General Leslie marched towards them, and {257} the king wrote to them to lay down their arms. The committee sent an indemnity to such as should submit, and while the states were thus dealing with them, the commission of the assembly were not wanting to shew their zeal against such as ventured to disturb the public peace, and it is said that Mr. Guthrie here proposed summary excommunication, as a censure Middleton deserved, and as what he thought to be a suitable testimony from the church at this juncture. This highest sentence was carried in the commission by a plurality of votes, and Mr. Guthrie was appointed the next sabbath to pronounce the sentence. In the meantime the committee of estates (not without some debates) had agreed upon an indemnity to Middleton.—There was an express sent to Stirling with an account how things stood, and a letter desiring Mr. Guthrie to forbear the intimation of the commission’s sentence. But this letter coming to him just as he was going to the pulpit, he did not open it till the work was over, and though he had, it is a question if he would have delayed the commission’s sentence upon a private missive to himself. However the sentence was inflicted, and although the commission of the church, Jan. 3, 1651, (being their next meeting) did relax Middleton from that censure, (and laid it on a better man, col. Strachan4) yet it is believed Middleton never forgave or forgot what Mr. Guthrie did upon that day, as will afterward be made more fully to appear.

Mr. Guthrie about this time wrote several of the papers upon the protestors’ side, for which, and his faithfulness, he was one of these three who were deposed by the pretended assembly at St. Andrews 1657. Yea, such was the malice of these woeful resolutioners, that upon his refusal of one of that party, and accession to the call of Mr. Rule, to be his colleague at Stirling (upon the death of Mr. Bennet, anno 1656) they processed to stone this seer in Israel with stones, his testimony while alive so tormented the men who dwell upon the earth.

And as Mr. Guthrie did faithfully testify against the resolutioners and the malignant party, so he did equally oppose himself to the sectaries and to Cromwell’s usurpation; and although he went up to London, anno 1657, when the marquis of Argyle procured an equal hearing betwixt the {258} protestors and the resolutioners, yet he so boldly defended the king’s right in public debate with Hugh Peters, Oliver’s chaplain, and from the pulpit asserted the king’s title in the face of the English officers, as was surprising to all gainsayers. Yet for this and other hardships that he endured on this account, at this time, he was but sorrily rewarded, as by and by will come to be observed.

Very soon after the restoration, while Mr. Guthrie and some other of his faithful brethren (who assembled at Edinburgh) were drawing up a paper, Aug. 23d, in way of supplication to his majesty, they were all apprehended (except one who happily escaped) and imprisoned in the castle of Edinburgh, and from thence Mr. Guthrie was taken to Stirling castle (the author of the apologetical relation says to Dundee), where he continued till a little before his trial, which was upon the 20th of February, 1661. When he came to his trial, the chancellor told him, He was called before them to answer to the charge of high treason, (a copy of which charge he had received some weeks before) and the lord advocate proposed, his indictment should be read; which the house went into: The heads of which were:

  1. His contriving, consenting to, and exhibiting before the committee of estates, the paper called, The western remonstrance.
  2. His contriving, writing, and publishing that abominable pamphlet, called, the causes of the Lord’s wrath.
  3. His contriving, writing, and subscribing the paper called the humble petition5 of the twenty-third of August last.
  4. His convocating of the king’s lieges, &c.
  5. His declaring his majesty, by his appeals and protestations presented by him at Perth, incapable to be judge over him. And,
  6. Some treasonable expressions he was alleged to have uttered in a meeting in 1650 or 1651.
His indictment being read, he made an excellent speech before the parliament, (wherein he both defended himself, and that noble cause for which he suffered), which being too nervous to abridge, and too prolix to insert in this place: The reader will find it elsewhere.6

After he had delivered this speech, he was ordered to remove. He humbly craved, that some time might be given {259} him to consult with his lawyers. This was granted; and he was allowed till the 29th to give in his defence.—It is affirmed, upon very good authority, that when he met with his lawyers to form his defence, he very much surprized them by his exactness in our Scots laws, and suggested several things to be added that had escaped his advocate, which made Sir John Nisbet express himself to this purpose, "If it had been in the reasoning part, or in consequences from scripture and divinity, I would have wondered the less if he had given us some help, but even in the matter of our own profession, our statutes and acts of parliament, he pointed out several things that had escaped us." And likewise the day before his first appearance in parliament, it is said he sent a copy of the forementioned speech to Sir John and the rest of his lawyers of the reasoning and law part, and they could mend nothing therein.

The advocate’s considering his defence, and the giving of it in, took some weeks, until April the 11th, when the process against him was read in the house, upon which he made a speech affecting and close to the purpose; in which he concludes thus:

"My Lord, in the last place, I humbly beg, that having brought so pregnant and clear evidence from the word of God, so much divine reason and human laws, and so much of the common practice of kirk and kingdom in my defence; and being already cast out of my ministry, out of my dwelling and maintenance; myself and my family put to live on the charity of others; having now suffered eight months imprisonment, your Lordships, would put no other burden upon me. I shall conclude with the words of the prophet Jeremiah, Behold, I am in your hands, saith he, do to me what seemeth good to you: I know, for certain, that the Lord hath commanded me to speak all these things, and that if you put me to death, you shall bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon the inhabitants of this city."

"My Lords, my conscience I cannot submit; but this old crazy body and mortal flesh I do submit, to do with it whatever ye will, whether by death, or banishment, or imprisonment, or any thing else; only I beseech you to ponder well what profit there is in my blood: it is not the extinguishing of me or many others, that will extinguish the covenant and work of reformation since the year 1638. My blood, bondage, or banishment will contribute more for the propagation of these things, than my {260} life or liberty could do, though I should live many years, &c."

And though this speech had not that influence that might have been expected, yet it made such impression upon some of the members that they withdrew, declaring to one another, that they would have nothing to do with the blood of this righteous man. But his judges were determined to proceed, and accordingly his indictment was found relevant. Bp. Burnet [History of his own times, page 127,] says, "The earl of Tweeddale was the only man that moved against putting him to death; he said, Banishment had hitherto been the severest censure laid upon preachers for their opinions,—yet he was condemned to die." The day of his execution was not named till the 28th of May, when the parliament ordered him and William Govan to be hanged at the cross of Edinburgh, on the first of June, and Mr. Guthrie’s head to be fixed on the Nether-bow, his estate to be confiscated, and his arms torn: and the head of the other upon the Westport of Edinburgh.

And thus a sentence of death was passed upon Mr. Guthrie, for his accession to the causes of God’s wrath, his writing the petition last year, and the protestation above-mentioned; matters done a good many years ago, and every way agreeable and conform to the word of God, the principles and practice of this and other churches, and the laws of the kingdom. After he received his sentence, he accosted the parliament thus, "My lords, let never this sentence affect you more than it does me, and let never my blood be required of the king’s family."

Thus it was resolved that this excellent man should fall a sacrifice to private and personal pique, as the marquis’s was said to be to a more exalted revenge; and it is said, that the managers had no small debate what his sentence should be, for he was dealt with by some of them to retract what he had done and written, and join with the present measures, and he was even offered a bishopric. The other side were in no hazard in making the experiment, for they might be assured of his firmness in his principles. A bishopric was a very small temptation to him, and the commissioner improved his inflexibility to have his life taken away, to be a terror to others, that they might have the less opposition in establishing prelacy.

Betwixt Mr. Guthrie’s sentence and his execution, he was in perfect composure and serenity of spirit, and wrote a {261} great many excellent letters to his friends and acquaintances. In this interval, he uttered several prophetical expressions, which, together with the foresaid religious letters, could they now be recovered, might be of no small use in this apostate and backslidden age. June 1st, the day on which he was executed, upon some reports that he was to buy his life at the expense of retracting some of the things he had formerly said and done, he wrote and subscribed the following declaration.

"These are to declare that I do own the causes of God’s wrath, the supplication at Edinburgh August last, and the accession I had to the remonstrances. And if any do think, or have reported that I was willing to recede from these, they have wronged me, as never having any ground from me to think, or to report so. This I attest under my hand at Edinburgh, about eleven o’clock forenoon, before these witnesses."

Mr. Arthur Forbes,
Mr. John Guthrie,
Mr. Hugh Walker,
Mr. James Cowie.
That same day he dined with his friends with great cheerfulness. After dinner he called for a little cheese, which he had been dissuaded from taking for some time, as not good for the gravel, which he was troubled with, and said, I am now beyond the hazard of the gravel.——When he had been secret for sometime, he came forth with the utmost fortitude and composure, and was carried down under a guard from the tollbooth to the scaffold, which was erected at the cross. Here he was so far from shewing any fear, that he rather expressed a contempt at death, and spake an hour upon the ladder with the composure of one delivering a sermon. His last speech is in Naphtali, where among other things becoming a martyr, he saith, "One thing I warn you all of, That God is very wroth with Scotland, and threatens to depart, and remove his candlestick. The causes of his wrath are many, and would to God it were not one great cause, that causes of wrath are despised. Consider the case that is recorded, Jer. 36, and the consequences of it, and tremble and fear. I cannot but also say that there is a great addition of wrath by that deluge of profanity that overfloweth all the land, insofar that many have not only lost all use and exercise of religion, but even of morality. (2.) By that horrible treachery and perjury that is in the matters of the covenant and cause of God. Be ye astonished, O ye heavens, at this! &c. (3.) Horrible {262} ingratitude. The Lord, after ten years oppression, hath broken the yoke of strangers, from off our necks, but the fruits of our delivery, is to work wickedness and to strengthen our hands to do evil, by a most dreadful sacrificing to the creature. We have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of a corruptible man, in whom many have placed almost all their salvation. God is also wroth with this generation of carnal corrupt time-serving ministers. I know and do bear testimony, that in the church of Scotland there is a true and faithful ministry, and I pray you to honour these, for their works sake. I do bear my witness to the national covenant of Scotland, and solemn league and covenant betwixt the three kingdoms. These sacred solemn public oaths of God, I believe can be loosed or dispensed with by no person or party or power upon earth, but are still binding upon these kingdoms, and will be so forever hereafter, and are ratified and sealed by the conversion of many thousand souls, since our entering thereinto. I bear my testimony to the protestation against the controverted assemblies, and the public resolutions. I take God to record upon my soul, I would not exchange this scaffold with the palace or mitre of the greatest prelate in Britain. Blessed be God, who hath shewed mercy to me such a wretch, and has revealed his Son in me, and made me a minister of the everlasting gospel, and that he hath deigned, in the midst of much contradictions from Satan and the world, to seal my ministry upon the hearts of not a few of his people, and especially in the station wherein I was last, I mean the congregation and presbytery of Stirling. Jesus Christ is my light and my life, my righteousness, my strength and my salvation, and all my desire. Him! O him! I do with all the strength of my soul commend to you. Bless him, O my soul, from henceforth, even forever!" He concluded with the words of old Simeon, Now let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. He gave a copy of this his last speech and testimony, subscribed and sealed, to a friend to keep, which he was to deliver to his son, then a child, when he came to age. When on the scaffold he lifted the napkin off his face just before he was turned over and cried.

A few weeks after he was executed, and his head placed on the Neitherbow-port, Middleton’s coach coming down that way, several drops of blood fell from the head upon the coach, which all their art and diligence could not wipe {263} off, and when physicians were called, and desired to inquire, If any natural cause could be given for this, but they could give none. This odd incident being noised abroad, and all means tried, at length the leather was removed, and a new cover put on: But this was much sooner done, than the wiping off the guilt of this great and good man’s blood upon the shedders of it, and this poor nation.7

Thus fell the faithful Mr. James Guthrie, who was properly the first who suffered unto death in that period, for asserting the kingly prerogative of Jesus Christ in opposition to Erastian supremacy. He was a man honoured of God to be zealous and singularly faithful in carrying on the work of reformation, and had carried himself straight under all changes and revolutions, and because he had been such, he must live no longer. He did much for the interest of the king in Scotland, which the king no doubt was sensible of: When he got notice of his death, he said with some warmth, "And what have you done with Mr. Patrick Gillespie?" He was answered, that having so many friends in the house, his life could not be taken. Well, said the king, "If I had known you would have spared Mr. Gillespie, I would have spared Mr. Guthrie." And indeed he was not far out with it; for Mr. Guthrie was capable to have done him as much service. For he was one accomplished with almost every qualification natural or acquired, necessary to complete both a man and a Christian.

But it is a loss we are favoured with so few of the writings of this worthy. For beside those papers already mentioned, he wrote several others upon the protestors side, among which was also a paper wrote against the usurper Oliver Cromwell, for which he suffered some hardships during the time of that usurpation. His last sermon at Stirling preached from Matth. 14.22, was published in 1738, entitled a cry from the dead, &c.; with his ten considerations anent the decay of religion, first published by himself in 1660.; and an authentic paper wrote and subscribed by himself upon the occasion of his being stoned by the resolution party about 1656, for his accession to the call of Mr. Robert Rule to be his colleague, after the death of {264} Mr. Bennet. He also wrote a treatise on ruling elders and deacons, about the time he entered into the ministry, which is now affixed to the last edition of his cousin Mr. William Guthrie’s treatise of the trial of a saving interest in Christ.


Footnotes:

1. It surely was a piece of ill-advised conduct (as many of themselves afterward acknowledged), that ever they elected or admitted any of that family of Ahab, after the Almighty had so remarkably driven them forth of these kingdoms, unto the regal dignity, upon any terms whatsoever; particularly Charles II, after he had given such recent proofs of his dissimulation and disaffection unto the cause and people of God in these nations. After which they never had a day to prosper; for by contending against malignants, and yet at the same time vowing and praying for the head of malignants they not only had malignants and sectaries to fight with, but also made a desuetude unto their former attainments, and so came to contend with one another, until prelacy proved their utter ruin at last. It is objected that king Charles was a good-natured man, and that the extermination of our excellent constitution was from evil counsellors. It is but too true, that evil counsellors have many times proved the ruin of kingdoms and commonwealths, else the wise man would not have said, Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established, Prov. 25.5, But take the matter as it is, he was still the head of that constitution and (not to speak of his other immoralities), a most perfidious, treacherous, and wicked man, and could engage today and break tomorrow, and all to obtain an earthly crown. For a further illustration of this, see a letter shewing the defection of both addressers and protestors, &c.; Dr. Owen’s sermon before the protector in Scotland; the history of the Stuarts; and Bennet’s memorial of Britain’s deliverances, &c.

2. Apologetical relation, v. page 83.

3. See these protestations in Wodrow’s church-history, vol. 1, p. 38 & 39.

4. This unjust sentence was pronounced in the high church of Glasgow by Mr. John Carstairs, who prefaceth Mr. Durham’s posthumous works, some of which are supposed to be vitiated by him, especially his treatise on scandal.

5. See this paper called the humble petition in Crookshank’s history, vol. I, p. 64.

6. Wodrow’s history, vol. I, p. 61.

7. Mr. Alexander Hamilton, when a student at the college of Edinburgh, at the hazard of his life, took down Mr. Guthrie’s head and buried it, after it had stood a spectacle for twenty-seven years; and it is observable that the very same person afterward succeeded him at Stirling, where he was minister for twelve years.