A Late Starter

When Thomas Guthrie (1803 – 1873) eventually had to leave his congregation of St John’s, Edinburgh due to ill health in May 1864, it seemed that his ministry was at an end. In God’s providence, a new field opened up to him in the writing and editing of a weekly periodical the Sunday Magazine. With the exception of a Plea for Ragged Schools first published in 1847, Guthrie’s other publications, until 1864, were mainly published sermons; the Gospel in Ezekiel in 1855, The City its Sins and Sorrows in 1857, Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints in 1858 followed by The Way to Life and Speaking to the Heart. We might wonder what would have happened if Guthrie had been given such an opportunity earlier in his ministry. As Dr Tweedie said of Guthrie; ‘I wonder [if] Dr Guthrie did not discover his literary faculty twenty years before he did, if he had, his usefulness would have been trebled’ (quoted by Oliphant Smeaton in Thomas Guthrie, Famous Scots Series).

Many of Guthrie’s later books were first serialised in the Sunday Magazine which he co-edited with Dr Blaikie. Guthrie was involved in editing and writing the magazine from 1864 and was editing The Lepers Lesson 10 days before his death in February 1873. The magazine continued after his death and was published until 1905. It is incredible to think that even with a credible and widely read Christian magazine called Good Words (published by Dr Macleod) the Sunday Magazine still had a circulation in the early days of over 100,000! For my full blog on Guthrie’s work with the Sunday Magazine you can read it here.

Guthrie publishes ‘A Plea for Ragged Schools’

In 1847 Guthrie published ‘A Plea for Ragged Schools.’  Writing to a Mr Carment 18 months after he published his booklet Guthrie recounts some of his misgivings and anxiety around the publication;

I published my Plea with fear and trembling, and but that I was, with yourself, a very vehement advocate of Ragged Schools, I would never have ventured on such a walk.  If a man’s fire is kindled and passion up, he’ll run along the narrow ledge of a precipice, where, in his cooler, calmer moments, he would not venture to creep. 

Every great author has to start somewhere but Guthrie had no idea what was to come from this little publication.  Returning home after leaving his manuscript at the printers, Guthrie says; Well, what a fool I have made of myself!’ 

Dr Guthrie had no idea that his little publication was to become the start of a great movement that would impact the lives of thousands of children not just in the United Kingdom but right across the world.

Soon Guthrie’s mailbag was full with letters from far and near.  He says;

I was astonished at the result of my first Plea for Ragged Schools.  It fell as a spark amongst combustibles; it was like a shot fired from the Castle, and it brought me more volunteers to man my boat than she could well carry.

Guthrie’s little boat soon became a frigate loaded with Christians from every denomination.