Image of Thomas Guthrie


Lifetime: 1803 - 1873 Passed: ≈ 151 years ago





Thomas Guthrie

Thomas Guthrie was a Scottish divine and philanthropist, born at Brechin in Angus (at that time also called Forfarshire). He was one of the most popular preachers of his day in Scotland, and was associated with many forms of philanthropy—especially temperance and Ragged Schools, of which he was a founder.

He was born on 12 July 1803 the son of David Guthrie, a banker, and later Provost of Brechin. Thomas grew to a height of six foot and three inches.

Guthrie studied at Edinburgh University for both surgery and anatomy (under Dr Robert Knox) but then concentrated on Theology. He was licensed to preach from 1825, but having established a reputation as an evangelical he had difficulty securing a parish and instead spent two years studying medicine and science in Paris.  Following his return from Paris and a period of varied employment, including as a bank manager, he was eventually offered the living of Arbirlot in Angus by the Hon William Maule in 1830. Guthrie served as Minister of Arbirlot for eight years. As well as his training for the Ministry, his medical knowledge and experience was called upon in particular during an outbreak of cholera in the parish. 

In 1837 Guthrie was called to the second charge of Old Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, alongside first charge minister Rev John Sym. Edinburgh Town Council discontinued the second charge at Old Greyfriars in October 1840 and instead created a new parish called St John's. A new church was built on Victoria Street to serve this role with Guthrie as its first minister.

Guthrie left the Church of Scotland in the Disruption of 1843 and many of his congregation followed him. They worshiped for 2 years in the Methodist Hall in Nicholson Square before moving into the purpose-built Free St John's, Johnston Terrace (now St Columba's Free Church) in 1845. Possessed of a commanding presence and voice, and a remarkably effective and picturesque style of oratory, he became perhaps the most popular preacher of his day in Scotland, and was associated with many forms of philanthropy, especially temperance and ragged schools, of which he was a founder. His hard work as a proponent and founder of Ragged Schools led him to be quoted by Samuel Smiles in his famous book Self Help.

He was one of the leaders of the Free Church of Scotland, and raised over £116,000 for the Manse Fund for its ministers. Guthrie expressed serious concern that the Manse Fund would stretch the generosity of Free Church people to the limit but he needn't have worried. After Guthrie had toured 13 Synods and 58 Presbyteries in less than a year, he was able to announce to the General Assembly of June 1846 that £116,370 had been raised. It is unlikely that anyone else could have achieved what he did in such a short space of time. His energy and oratory enabled the Manse Fund to smash its original target. Numerous ministers and their families owed a huge debt of gratitude to Guthrie for providing the resources to build manses so that the gospel could continue to prosper not just in the Highlands but across the whole of Scotland. Along with his Ragged Schools the Manse Fund was one of Guthrie's greatest legacies. With the one he showed mercy to helpless children and with the other he fought oppression by raising funds for manses.

Thomas Guthrie died at St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex in 1873 and was buried in The Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh. His grave is in a commanding position, terminating the main central avenue at its southern end. His will left his copy of the National Covenant to the Free Church.

His wife, Anne Burns (1810–1899), daughter of Rev James Burns of Brechin, is buried with him.

Books by Thomas Guthrie

A Plea for Ragged Schools; or, Prevention Better than Cure Cover image

A Plea for Ragged Schools; or, Prevention Better than Cure

Reference work
Young School Children Desert Education Kindness Christianity

The Reverend Thomas Guthrie was first introduced to the idea of ragged schools in 1841, while acting as the Parish Minister of St. John's Church in Edinburgh. On a visit to Portsmouth, he saw a picture of John Pounds and felt inspired and humbled by...

The Angels' Song Cover image

The Angels' Song

Divine Journey Church Spirituality Sermons

It is a spiritual and uplifting work that explores the idea of angels and their role in our lives. Written by the renowned Scottish pastor and philanthropist, this book delves into the realm of the divine and the impact of their presence on our lives...