Cloud of witnesses – James Guthrie


Proverbs 29:2

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.

Psalm 2

10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.


File:Execution of the Rev. James Guthrie, Edinburgh 1661.tiff

Charles was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. Coronation portrait by John Michael Wright, c. 1661“James Guthrie (1612? – 1 June 1661), was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who was exempted from the general pardon at the restoration of the monarchy and hanged in Edinburgh.”

James Guthrie (minister) – Wikipedia

Some church history is very new to me, such as the history of the Church in Scotland. Intense and complicated, its unfamiliar issues have challenged me to learn and grow. 

Raised and educated as an Anglican, under Samuel Rutherford’s influence James Guthrie became a non-conforming Presbyterian preacher of the Gospel in 1638, the year the National Covenant was signed. Guthrie is counted among the “Scots Worthies” and was dubbed the “short little man who could not bow” by Oliver Cromwell.

A central issue of his age, and a chief reason for his execution, was his rejection of the King as head of the Church and the King’s rule over it through “prelacy”, the rule of bishops. After Cromwell’s death, one year after the British monarchy was restored, King Charles II and his “Drunken Parliament” made an example of Guthrie by executing him. 


James Guthrie

[Covenanter, Scotland]

by Alexander Whyte

Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings

The circumstances under which his faith was tried

All the untold woes of that so woful time came of the sword of the civil power being still grafted on the crook of the Church; as also of the insane attempt of so many of our forefathers to solder the crown of Charles Stuart to the crown of Jesus Christ. How those two so fatal, and not even yet wholly remedied, mistakes, brought Argyll to the block and Guthrie to the ladder in one day in Edinburgh, we read in the instructive and inspiriting histories of that terrible time; and we have no better book on that time for the mass of readers than just honest John Howie’s Scots Worthies…

James Cowie, his precentor, and beadle, and body-servant, also saw his master suffer, and, like Bishop Burnet, he used to tell the impression that his old master’s last days made upon him. ‘When he had received sentence of death,’ Cowie told Wodrow’s informant, ‘he came forth with a kind of majesty, and his face seemed truly to shine.’ 

A characteristic of Guthrie and other faithful men of his time

There is one fine outstanding feature that has always characterised and distinguished the whole of the Rutherford circle in our eyes, and that is their deep, keen Pauline sense of sin. Without this, all their patriotism, all their true statesmanship, and even all their martyrdom for the sake of the truth, would have had, comparatively speaking, little or no interest for us. What think ye of sin? is the crucial question we put to any character, scriptural or ecclesiastical, who claims our time and our attention. If they are right about sin, they are all the more likely to be right about everything else; and if they are either wrong or only shallow about sin, their teaching and their experience on other matters are not likely to be of much value or much interest to us. 

Guthrie’s character was refined by his view of sin.

But in nothing was good James Guthrie’s tenderness to sin better seen than in the endless debates and dissensions of which that day was so full. So sensitive was he to the pride and the anger and the ill-will that all controversy kindles in our hearts that, as soon as he felt any unholy heat in his own heart, or saw it in the hearts of the men he debated with, he at once cut short the controversy with some such words as these: ‘We have said too much on this matter already; let us leave it till we love one another more.’


Scottish Covenanters – James Guthrie

EIP – European Institute of Protestant Studies (Ian Paisley)

Guthrie’s refusal to bow

One day a friend would have had him compromise a little. Said he, ‘Mr Guthrie, we have an old Scots proverb, “Jouk [duck] that the wave may gang oure ye! Will ye nae jouk a wee bit”‘ And gravely Guthrie replied, ‘There is nae jouking in the Cause of Christ!’ And so it was. That unbending, surefooted, non-ducking soldier of God held his head high until it was taken from him, and shamefully set aloft upon a pike above the thronging Netherbow Port of Edinburgh…

An undaunted fighter in a worthwhile cause, and a hater of everything lower than true godliness, such as he was soon, and always, in conflict with the loose-living King Charles Stuart and his like Committees. He utterly refused such a profane ruler any authority in the affairs of the Church. Although dismissed after one big trial, his refusal to allow the king any power over the conscience of a Christian was made much of against him in his last trials, ten years later…

He helped to write the searching pamphlet, The Causes of the Lord’s Wrath against Scotland, and this paper was the principal pretext for his condemnation and execution. It had the honour of being put on a par with Lex Rex by Samuel Rutherford, and copies of both books were publicly burned by the common hangman…

Every page of the proscribed books is for the Crown Rights of the Redeemer In His Church, the freedom of the conscience, and against the so-called Divine Right of Kings.

From his last words:

‘I take God to record upon my soul, I would not exchange this scaffold with the palace and mitre of the greatest prelate in Britain. Blessed be God who has shown mercy to me such a wretch, and has revealed His Son in me, and made me a minister of the everlasting Gospel, and that He hath deigned, in the midst of much contradiction from Satan, and the world, to seal my ministry upon the hearts of not a few of His people, and especially in the station where I was last, I mean the congregation and presbytery of Stirling. Jesus Christ is my Life and my Light, my Righteousness, my strength, and my Salvation and all my desire. Him! O Him, I do with all the strength of my soul commend to you. Bless Him, O my soul, from henceforth even forever. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.’ A copy of his last testimony was handed by him to a friend, for his son William when he should come to years. Then further up the ladder of death he went, exclaiming, ‘Art not Thou from everlasting, O Lord my God. I shall not die but live.’


James Guthrie – Wikipedia

Guthrie's place of execution, Mercat Cross on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, from, author - kim traynor

Guthrie’s place of execution, Mercat Cross on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, from, author – kim traynor



Biographia Scoticana (Scots Worthies) by John Howie

The Men of the Blue Banner
(The Scottish Covenanters)
by W.J. Seaton 1968


Cloud of witnesses – A champion of Biblical Church government who was imprisoned, banished, and died in exile


Andrew Melville

(born August 1, 1545, Baldovie, Angus, Scotland—died 1622, Sedan, France)

The reason for his banishment is clear from how he dealt with his king, that is, he did not please men but God. 


James VI
The commission of the general assembly was now sitting, and understanding how matters were going on at the convention, they sent some of their members, among whom Mr. Melvil [Melville] was one, to expostulate with the king (James VI of Scotland, James I of England). When they came, he received them in his closet. Mr. James Melvil being first in the commission, told the king his errand, upon which he appeared angry, and charged them with sedition, &c. Mr. James being a man of cool passion and genteel behaviour, began to answer the king with great reverence and respect; but Mr. Andrew, interrupting him, said,

“This is not a time to flatter, but to speak plainly, for our commission is from the living God, to whom the king is subject;” and then approaching the king, said, “Sire, we will always humbly reverence your majesty in public, but having opportunity of being with your majesty in private, we must discharge our duty or else be enemies to Christ: and now, Sire, I must tell you, that there are two kingdoms, the kingdom of Christ, which is the church, whose subject K. James VI. is, and of whose kingdom he is not a head, nor a lord, but a member, and they, whom Christ hath called, and commanded to watch over his church, and govern his spiritual kingdom, have sufficient authority and power from him so to do, which no Christian king nor prince should controul or discharge, but assist and support, otherwise they are not faithful subjects to Christ; and, Sire, when you was in your swaddling clothes, Christ reigned freely in this land; in spight of all his enemies, his officers and ministers were conveened for ruling his church, which was ever for your welfare, &c. Will you now challenge Christ’s servants, your best and most faithful subjects, for conveening together, and for the care they have of their duty to Christ and you, &c. the wisdom of your council is, that you may be served with all sorts of men, that you may come to your purpose, and because the ministers and protestants of Scotland are strong, they must be weakened and brought low, by stirring up a party against them, but, Sire, this is not the wisdom of God, and his curse must light upon it, whereas, in cleaving to God, his servants shall be your true friends, and he shall compel the rest to serve you.” 

There is little difficulty to conjecture how this discourse was relished by the king; however, he kept his temper, and promised fair things to them for the present, but it was the word of him whose standard maxim was, _Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare_, “He who knows not how to dissemble, knows not how to reign:” In this sentiment, unworthy of the meanest among men, he gloried, and made it his constant rule of conduct; for in the assembly at Dundee _anno_ 1598, Mr. Melvil being there, he discharged him from the assembly, and would not suffer business to go on till he was removed.


John Howie

Biographia Scoticana (Scots Worthies)
A Brief Historical Account of the Lives, Characters, and Memorable Transactions of the Most Eminent Scots Worthies


Short bios

Andrew Melville
Who should run the church and how?

Andrew Melville, Scottish clergymen and scholar