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        The Christian's Great Interest

 

 


 

Preface

 

The Christian's Great Interest was fist published in 1668, and many editions have appeared since. As it is now almost unobtainable, it is reprinted by the Publications Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with the fervent hope that it will have a further wide circulation, and prove a continued blessing to many. Dr. Owen said, "I have written several folios, but there is more divinity in it (The Christian's Great Interest) than in them all." William Guthrie, of Fenwick, was a cousin of the eminent martyr, James Guthrie, who refused a bishopric and died on the scaffold at the Cross of Edinburgh in 1661. William desired to go to the execution of his valued cousin, but was prevented by friends who feared for his life. It was while a student under Samuel Rutherford, and through his instrumentality, that he received a calling to the ministry. He was accounted one of the greatest preachers of his day. His labours were abundantly blessed. He was banished from his church, amidst bitter persecution, and died a few years later in 1665, at the age of forty-five, sweetly assured of the crown that awaited him in glory.

 

W. Grant, Convener Halkirk, 1951 Caithness

 


 

 

To the Reader

 

Christian Reader,

 

While the generality of men, especially in these days, by their eager pursuit after low and base interests, have proclaimed, as upon the house tops, how much they have forgotten to make choice of that better part, which, if chosen, should never be taken from them; I have made an essay, such as it is, in the following Treatise, to take thee off from this unprofitable, though painful pursuit, by proposing the chiefest of interest, even the Christian's Great Interest, to be seriously pondered and constantly pursued by thee. Thou mayst think it strange to see anything in print from my pen, as it is indeed a surprise to myself; but necessity has made me, for this once, to offer so much violence to my own inclination, in regard that some, without my knowledge, have lately published some imperfect note of a few of my sermons, most confusedly cast together, prefixing withal this vain title, as displeasing to myself as the publishing of the thing, 'A Clear Attractive Warming Beam,' &c. Upon this occasion was I prevailed with to publish this late piece, wherein I have purposely used a homely and plain style, lest otherwise-- though, when I have stretched myself to the utmost, I am below the judicious and more understanding--I should be above the reach of the rude and ignorant, whose advantage I have mainly, if not only, consulted. I have, likewise, studied brevity in everything, so far as I conceived it to be consistent with plainness and perspicuity; knowing that the persons to whom I address myself herein, have neither much money to spend upon books, nor much time to spare in reading. If thou be a rigid critic, I know thou mayst meet with several things to carp at; yet assure thyself, that I had no design to offend thee, neither will thy simple approbation satisfy me. It is thy edification I intend, together with the incitements of some others, more expert and experienced in this excellent subject, to handle the same to greater length, which I have more briefly hinted at,-- who am thy servant in the work of the gospel, William Guthrie.

 

 

 

Memoir of the Author

 

William Guthrie, one of the holiest and ablest of the experimental divines of Scotland, was born at Pitforthy, the seat of his ancestors, in the shire of Angus, in the year 1620. The branch of the house of Guthrie from which he sprang was ancient and honourable; and its interest in the cause of truth and godliness was proved by the fact, that four of the children had early been devoted to the ministry of the gospel. The only one of these who did not obtain a fixed charge was Robert, who soon lost health and life by his abundant labours in the cause of Christ; Alexander was settled at Strickathrow, within his native shire, in 1645, and continued there till his death, in 1661; while John, the youngest of the family, became minister of Tarbolton, Ayrshire, from which he was ejected, for adherence to Presbyters, after the restoration of Charles II to the throne of Britain, and speedily sank under the hardships to which he was exposed, dying in the year 1669. The superior genius of William, the eldest of this excellent band of brothers, was displayed in his early and successful attention to learning; but he did not, till his entrance into college life, obtain that intimate and saving acquaintance with Divine truth which enabled him at once to stay his own soul upon God as the God of his salvation, and to prescribe most skilfully for the cases of spiritual disease that came under his notice. He felt himself greatly indebted for acquaintance with the way of holiness to the instructions of a near kinsman. This was Mr. James Guthrie, then holding one of the chairs in the New College of St. Andrews, and afterwards highly esteemed as the faithful minister of Stirling during the period of the Covenant; for his faithful adherence to which he obtained a martyr's crown. Samuel Rutherford, who became Professor of Divinity at St. Andrews in 1639, took the guidance of William Guthrie's theological studies, confirmed and cherished the principles of piety already implanted, and brought him, with his whole soul, to devote himself to the service of Christ. That he might not be entangles in the network of earthly concerns, he resigned his estate at Pitforthy to a younger brother, not engaged at that time in the prosecution of sacred studies. Thus trained in the schools of literature, and rendered familiar with religion both in theory and practice, William Guthrie was well fitted for usefulness as a preacher of the gospel; and received license, with the high approbation of the Presbytery, in August 1642. It was fully two years later that he obtained a church in the newly erected parish of Fenwick; and was ordained minister, in compliance with the harmonious call of the people, in November 1644. His success and popularity were soon found to be great; and extended far beyond the Ayrshire district in which his parish lays--to Clydesdale, Stirling , and the Lothians. Several calls were addressed to him, but ineffectually, to quit his beloved people, till, about a year after his settlement, and very soon after his marriage to an excellent lady of the noble family of London, he left them for a season, by appointment of the General Assembly, to attend the Scottish army as chaplain during the civil war that ended in the execution of Charles I, and the subjection of Scotland to the Protectorate of Cromwell. While the Protector's troops kept possession of Glasgow about that time, Mr. Guthrie's Christian heroism was called into exercise on a communion Sabbath in Mr. Andrew Gray's church. 'Several of the English officers had formed a design to put in execution the disorderly principle of a promiscuous admission to the Lord's table, by coming to it themselves without acquainting the minister, or being in a due manner found worthy of that privilege. Mr. Guthrie, to whose share it fell to dispense the sacrament at that table, spoke to them, when they were leaving their pews in order to make their attempt, with such gravity, resolution, and zeal, that they were quite confounded, and sat down again without occasioning any further disturbance.' The arrangements then made by the Church Courts regarding chaplains in the army, render it probable that he had been relieved by his brethren at several intervals, and thus enjoyed occasionally the endearments of his home, and opportunities of pastoral and public usefulness. He was providentially preserved throughout the war, and returned to his flock with increased ardour and devotion. They needed his care; for at the commencement of his ministry, profanation of the Sabbath, desertion of the house of God, neglect of family religion, and gross ignorance, with a train of attending evils, were prevalent among his parishioners. His talents, natural and acquired, were dexterously applied to check abounding iniquity. Let one instance suffice for illustration--that of a fowler in his parish engaging in his sport and deserting public worship on the Lord's day,--a practice in which he had long indulged. "Mr. Guthrie asked him what was the reason he had for so doing? He told him that the Sabbath-day was the most fortunate day in all the week. Mr. Guthrie asked him what he could make by that day's exercise? He replied that he could make half-a-crown. Mr. Guthrie told him if he would go to church on Sabbath, he would give him as much; and by that means got his promise; after sermon was over, Mr. Guthrie asked if he would come back the next Sabbath-day, and he would give him the same? which he did, and from that time afterwards never failed to keep the church. He afterwards became a member of his session.' The stated calls made by him at the houses of his people were very acceptable and profitable. The visitation of the sick and the dying, whom he never neglected; the instruction of the young in the doctrine that is accenting to godliness, and the ministrations of the pulpit, declared him a workman who needed not to be ashamed. As a consistent office-bearer, he duly attended to the government and discipline of the Church, in the session and superior judicatories. He seems to have been a member of the general Assembly of 1649, and stands in the lists of its Commission, along with such illustrious names as James Guthrie, the Marquis of Argyle, Dickson, Durham, and Samuel Rutherford. During the unhappy division of the Church of Scotland into the parties of Resolutioners and Protesters or Remonstrants, the two Guthries, Samuel Rutherford, and several of the most pious and zealous Presbyterians, adhered to the latter; and Baillie mentions in his Letters, that at the meeting of their western synod, in 1654, 'the Remonstrants chose Mr. William Guthrie for their Moderator.' His forbearance towards brethren taking the opposite side in that fatal schism has been acknowledged by his biographers; and his pastoral care was fully exercised. Ere long he published 'The Christian's Great Interest.' This work had gone through numerous editions, been translated into various languages, and continues to embalm his memory in the estimation of intelligent Christians of every name. The first edition of it appeared shortly before the restoration of Charles II. Not long after the commencement of the persecution, Mr Guthrie made one of his last efforts for the preservation of ecclesiastical freedom in the courts of the Church. This stand he took at a meeting of the Synod of Glasgow and Aye, in April 1661, when he framed an address, designed for presentation to Parliament had the troubles of the time permitted, which the Synod approved of, as 'contain faithful testimony of the purity of our reformation in worship, doctrine, discipline, and government, in terms equally remarkable for their prudence and their courage. Two months later his zeal for the same cause was manifested by his earnest desire to attend, on the scaffold, his illustrious kinsman, Mr. James Guthrie, who sealed his testimony with his blood, in June 1661, at the cross of Edinburgh. His deference to the warm entreaties of his session alone prevented him from engaging in so perilous a service. The respect which his affable deportment and able performance of pastoral duty gained for him from high and low, screened him from persecution, and he persevered in preaching to his flock the truth as it is in Jesus. His intellectual powers and Christian experience were conspicuous in his discourses, and many, we believe, were the imperishable seals of his ministry, for it is averred by one of his contemporaries, Mr. Matthew Crawford, minister at Eastwood, that 'he converted and confirmed many thousand souls, and was esteemed the greatest practical preacher in Scotland.' Another of them declares his diligence and success among the people of Fenwick to have been so great, that almost all of them '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.' His own words to the person who ejected him, thus humbly, yet boldly, ascribed his great success to God: 'I 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.' He was now called to experience those trials, which had been delayed longer in his case than in that of most of his faithful brethren, through the influence of the Earl of Glencairn, then Chancellor of Scotland, who both respected him as a man of worth, and recollected with gratitude Mr. Guthrie's kindness to him during an imprisonment to which the Earl had been subjected for his loyalty to the King during the sway of Cromwell. Sabbath, the 24th of July, was fixed as the day for enforcing the decree. The people of Fenwick, greatly grieved at the prospect of losing so faithful a minister, observed the Wednesday preceding as a day of humiliation and prayer. Mr. Guthrie found an appropriate text for the occasion in these words of Hosea 13: 9, 'O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself;' solemnly inculcated on his flock patience and perseverance in the way of holiness, and appointed an early meeting of the congregation for the following Sabbath. The light of that day of the Son of Man ushered in a sorrowful morning for the people who then met to listen for the last time to the welcome voice of their beloved pastor. His theme, most suitable for the day, was the latter clause of his Wednesday's text, "but in Me is thine help,' and at the close of his sermon every countenance was suffused with tears, while he directed his hearers to the '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.' Before nine o'clock the congregation had dispersed, sorrowing exceedingly that they should listen to his persuasive discourses no more. No sound occurred to disturb the quiet of the hallowed day, till the tramp of horses was heard in the distance, and the troop soon appeared headed by a rider in black, the curate of Calder, whom a fee of five pounds had induced to give formal notice of the sentence of suspension. He observed the ceremony of preaching the church vacant in presence of a congregation of soldiers and children. In the manse he was courteously received by Mr. Guthrie, who declared, in presence of the officers of the party, his reason for submission to the sentence as not arising from respect to the prelate's authority, which had no weight with him, adding, 'were it not for the reverence I owe to the civil magistrate, I would not cease from the exercise of my ministry for all that sentence.' The following passage formed part of his solemn reply to the Archbishop's message: 'I here declare, I think myself called by the Lord to the work of the ministry, and did forsake my nearest relations in the world, and give up myself to the service of the gospel in this place, having received a unanimous call from this parish, and being tried and ordained by the Presbyters; and I bless the Lord He has 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.' His bodily health, but indifferent before, suffered a severe shock on this occasion; he preached no more in the parish; and about two months after retired to his paternal estate at Pitforthy, now become his possession in consequence of the decease of a surviving brother. It was his but for a year of pain and sorrow, caused by a complication of diseases, and by the calamities that were befalling the Church and nation. He was attended during his last illness by visitors belonging to all parties, received kindly but faithfully the Episcopalian clergy who came to converse with him, and died full of faith in the glorious gospel he had preached, with the confident hope of complete redemption. His death occurred on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 10th of October 1665 . Two daughters of a family of six children survived him, one of whom became the wife of the Rev. Patrick Warner, of Irvine , and mother of Margaret Warner, who was afterwards married to the Rev. Robert Wodrow, of Eastwood, the faithful chronicler of the sufferings of the Church of Scotland. None of his sermons appear to have been published during his lifetime. As a specimen of the faithful and practical character of his preaching, we give an extract from a discourse long preserved among the Wodrow MSS., and recently printed, entitled, 'A Sermon on Sympathie.' The text is Matthew 15: 23, 'Send her away, for she cryeth after us.'--'Is it so that sympathy is so cold and weak among God's people at this time, when so much of it is called for? Then I would have yow drawing these three conclusions from it:--1. When any thing ails yow, pray much for yourself; I assure yow ye will get little help of others. 2. As yow would lippen little to other folk's prayers, so ye would make meikle use of Christ's intercession. These prayers are little worth that flow not from sympathy; and, 3. Reckon all your receipts to be free favour, and neither the return of your own or other folks' prayers. I do not forbid yow to pray yourself;-nor to seek the help of other folks' prayers, nor do I judge yow or them void of sympathy; but I would have yow lippening less to them, and making more use of Christ and His intercession.' His theological tutor and bosom friend, Samuel Rutherford, thus expresses his regard for Mr. Guthrie and his flock, during a season of public agitation:--'Dear Brother, help me, and get me the help of their prayers who are with you in whom is my delight.' The author of 'The Christian's Great Interest' was also very highly esteemed by another of his illustrious contemporaries, Dr. Owen, who, on one occasion, drawing a little gilded copy of Mr. Guthrie's treatise from his pocket, said to a minister of the Church of Scotland, 'That author I take to have been one of the greatest divines that ever wrote; it is my Vademecum, and I carry it and the Sedan New Testament, still about with me. I have written several folios, but there is more divinity in it than in them all.' Many years after the author's death, this work, with others of a similar nature, was instrumental in arousing to deeper concern for his soul's salvation, John Brown, then a shepherd boy in the neighbourhood of Abernethy, and afterwards highly distinguished as a minister of the gospel, and Professor of Divinity for nearly twenty years in one of the branches of the Secession Church. How more may be the cases in which it has been blessed to the conviction, conversion, and edification of those whom it might enable to teach others also, the great day alone shall declare. The following references to it, in the interesting Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, prove the high opinion he had formed of the genius it displays:--'Would you inquire for 'Guthrie's Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ?' It is a small duodecimo; and has been long the favourite author of our peasantry in Scotland. He wrote about a hundred and fifty years ago; and one admirable property of his work is, that while it guides it purifies. It males known all our defects, but ministers the highest comfort in the presence of a feeling of our defects. To find mercy we need only to feel misery. . . . I am on the eve of finishing Guthrie, which I think is the best book I ever read. I shall leave it as a present to the Anster folks, and pass from it to 'Brook on Religious Experience', . . . I should like to know how the little book I left was relished among you. I still think it the best composition I ever read relating to a subject in which we are all deeply interested, and about which it is my earnest prayer, that we may all be found on the right side of the question.' Having given the opinions of these eminent divines regarding the 'Christian's Great Interest', we presume not to attempt a delineation of the merits of its excellent Author. The wise and the good of his own day, as well as of subsequent times, have held him in grateful remembrance, and his works continue to praise him in the gates.

 

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