William Guthrie (1620-1665)
The author of the well- known work entitled The Christian’s Great Interest, was born at Pitforthy in Forfarshire, in the year 1620. His father was proprietor of that estate, and was a cadet of the family of that ilk. He had five sons, of whom it is remarkable that four devoted themselves to the ministry. Of these William was the eldest.
The rank and estate of Mr. Guthrie enabled him to educate his sons liberally for the profession which so many of them had chosen from their early years. William, with whom alone we are at present concerned, made while very young such advances in classical literature as to give high hopes of future eminence. His academical education was conducted at St. Andrews University under the immediate direction of his relation Mr. James Guthrie, afterwards the heroic martyr in the cause of civil and religious liberty, and subject of the preceding notice. We know that after completing the philosophical curriculum he took the degree of Master of Arts, and then devoted his attention to the study of divinity under Mr. Samuel Rutherford. At length he applied to the presbytery of St. Andrew’s for license, and having gone through the usual trials,” he obtained it in August, 1642. Soon afterwards he left St. Andrews.
Mr. Guthrie was now engaged by the Earl of Loudon as tutor to his son Lord Mauchlin. In that situation he remained till his ordination as first minister of Fenwick — a parish which had till that time formed part of that of Kilmarnock. Lord Boyd, the superior of the latter — a stanch royalist and a supporter of the association formed at Cumbernauld in favour of the king in 1641 — had also the patronage of Fenwick. This nobleman was most decidedly averse to Mr. Guthrie’s appointment — from what reasons does not appear, although we may be allowed to conjecture that it arose either from Mr. Guthrie’s decided principles, or from the steady attachment of the Loudon family to the Presbyterian interest. Mr. Guthrie was after some delay ordained minister of the parish on the 7th of November, 1644.
From this period to the Restoration few interesting events present themselves to the reader of Scottish history. We do not find any notice of Mr. Guthrie till the year 1661, when all the fabric which the Presbyterians had raised during the reign of Charles I. was destroyed at one blow. Of the exaggerated benefits anticipated from the restoration of his son every one who has lead our national history is aware. Charles II was permitted to return to the throne with no farther guarantee for the civil and religious liberties of his people than fine speeches or fair promises. It was not long before our Scottish ancestors discovered their mistake; but the fatal power, which recalls to the mind the ancient fable of the countryman and the serpent, was now fully armed, and was as uncompromising as inhuman in its exercise. In the dark and awful struggle which followed, Mr. Guthrie was not an idle spectator. He attended the meeting of the synod of Glasgow and Ayr, which was held at the former place in April, 1661, and framed an address to the parliament at once spirited and moderate. Unfortunately, when this address was brought forward for the approbation of the synod, the members were so much divided that one party declared their determination to dissent in the event of its being presented. In such circumstances it could only prove a disgraceful memorial of their distractions, and many, otherwise approving of its spirit and temper, voted against any further procedure. The “Glasgow Act,” by which all ministers who had been ordained after 1649, and did not receive collation from their bishop, were banished, soon followed; but it did not affect Mr. Guthrie.
Mr. Guthrie remained in the parish of Fenwick for a year, after this time without preaching. In the autumn of 1665 he went to Pitforthy, where his brother’s affairs required his presence. He had only been there a few days when a complaint which had preyed upon his constitution for many years, a threatening of stone, returned with great violence, accompanied by internal ulceration. After some days of extreme pain, in the intervals of which he often cheered his friends by his prospects of happiness in a sinless state, he died in the house of his brother-in-law, the Rev. Lewis Skinner, at Brechin, on the 10th of October, 1665.