Remembering the Reformation: James Guthrie

Over the past week, I have celebrated Reformation Day with a post about Reformation martyrs.  These profiles are based on information found in a classic book, Scots Worthies.  Here is the final post with the reminder, “You don’t have to be Reformed to appreciate the Reformation!”

James Guthrie began his adult life as a popular professor of philosophy at the University of St. Andrews. After spending much time in prayer and in consultation with Samuel Rutherford, he prepared to enter the ministry and was ordained in 1638. For the next twenty-three years he would serve faithfully in various positions.

In this politically volatile time, it was easy to run afoul of authority. Guthrie would anger the king and his council with his doctrine and preaching, and his desire for church discipline would anger one of the chief royal counselors. During the exile of King Charles, he would also anger Cromwell and the independents by maintaining the cause of the king.

Finally, in February of 1661, he was accused of treason. His sermons and writings were condemned of heresy, and, despite a spirited defense, he was condemned to be hanged. In answer to his judges, he concluded,

“My conscience I cannot submit, my lords; but this old crazy body and mortal flesh, I do submit, to do with what ye will, whether by death or by banishment, or imprisonment, or anything else, only I beseech you to ponder well what profit there is in my blood. It is not the execution 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 life or liberty could do, though I should live many years.”

On the day before his death, he found it necessary to sign an attestation that he had not recanted his writings. After settling his final affairs, he sat down to dinner with friends. He exhibited great cheerfulness during the meal. Though for health reasons he had long refrained from cheese (one of his favorite foods), he now ate some, remarking that he was beyond any danger from disease.

As he stood on the scaffold, he spoke his final testimony to the crowd. “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.”


His final words before death were, “Now let thy servant depart in peace, since mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”


From Scots Worthies

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