At the close of his defense to the Scottish Parliament, James Guthrie said, "...My conscience I cannot submit to you. But this old crazy body and mortal flesh I do submit, to do with it whatsoever you will, whether by death, or banishment, or imprisonment, or anything else; only I beg you to ponder well what profit there is in my blood. It is not by killing me or many others that you will kill the Covenant or the work of the Reformation..." [language modernized]
However, his enemies were determined to execute him. On May 28, 1661, the order went forth: James Guthrie was "to be hanged at the cross of Edinburgh, on the first of June, and Mr. Guthrie's head to be fixed on the Nether-bow, his estate to be confiscated, and his [coat of] arms torn..." The Scottish Presbyterian minister was to be executed for publishing a work which declared God's wrath was coming upon Scotland for, among other things, setting up the King of England as head of the church. Only Christ could fill that role.
James was well-born and well-educated. At school, he met the godly and profound pastor named Samuel Rutherford, attended non-conformist prayer meetings, and was converted to Christ. After that, he became a zealous preacher of the gospel, but at the same time the kind of steady man who cannot be drawn into hot arguments.
Although he led a busy life as pastor and writer, he always made time for Christ. It was the same on the day of his execution. He got up at four in the morning so that he could meditate and pray. When his children visited him for the last time, he assured them that he died for a worthy cause.
James went to the scaffold on this day, June 1, 1661. There he preached his last sermon. "... I do believe that Jesus Christ came into the World to save sinners of whom I am the chief, through faith in his righteousness and blood, have I obtained mercy, and in him and through him alone have I the hope of a blessed conquest and victory over sin and Satan, and hell and death, and that I shall attain unto the Resurrection of the just and be made a partaker of eternal life; I know whom I have believed, and he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." He urged his listeners to seek Christ's free grace.
The dying man gave a copy of this last speech to a friend to keep, asking him to pass it on to his little boy when he was old enough to understand what it meant. Then the napkin was put over his face and shortly afterward, James swung into space. Just as ordered, his head was placed on a pike over the gate. There the skull bore its testimony for 27 years, until a daring student risked his life to climb up, take it down, and bury it.
- Guthrie, James. "The True and Perfect Speech of Mr. James Guthrey, Late Minister of Sterling as it was delivered by himself immediately before his execution, on June 1, 1661 at Edinbrough."
- Howie, John. "Life of James Guthrie." Biographia Scoticana. http://www.truecovenanter.com/ bio/howie_bios_guthrie_james.html
- "James Guthrie." http://www.freechurch.org/fair/fair1.htm
- Smellie, Alexander. Men of the Covenant. Revell, 1903.
- Whyte, Alexander. "James Guthrie." Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings. http://www.puritansermons.com/ruth/rwhyte16.htm
Last updated July, 2007