Reformer Thomas Guthrie

May 03, 2010
Reformer Thomas Guthrie

He was the only father I ever had." The boy was talking of Thomas Guthrie, a man who cared deeply for children.

Thomas Guthrie was born in Brechin, Scotland on this day, July 12, 1803. He was just twelve when he entered the University of Edinburgh. For ten years he studied a wide range of subjects, including medicine and science. After leaving school, he became a pastor.

At his first church, in Arbirlot, he not only taught the gospel, but doctored the sick and helped his people establish a savings institution.

When Guthrie transferred to Edinburgh, he was shocked at the bad behavior of the children. The population of the towns had shot far ahead of the "means of education and religious instruction." Too often, the state-paid ministers were more interested in gambling, drinking and plays than in caring for souls. "There needs no other evidence of the fact that a lack of real faith exists among some who claim to be religious, than the cold, callous, and heartless indifference with which many bear the sins and look upon the sorrows of their fellow-creatures. They could not do so if they were baptized into the nature as well as the name of Jesus Christ," wrote Thomas indignantly. [Some of the quotes in this story have been modernized.]

He made a tour of his district and reported appalling conditions. "I wandered...whole days without ever seeing a Bible, or indeed any book at all. I often stood in rooms bare of any furniture; where father, mother, and half a dozen children had neither bed nor bedding, unless a heap of straw and dirty rags huddled in a corner could be called so. I have heard the wail of children crying for bread, and their mother had none to give them..."

"I have known a father turn his step-daughter to the street at night--bidding the sobbing girl who bloomed into womanhood, earn her bread there as others were doing. I have bent over the foul pallet of a dying lad to hear him whisper how his father and mother --who were sitting half drunk by the fireside--had pulled the blankets off his body to sell them for drink. I have seen children whitened like plants growing in a cellar...when they cry they are not kissed but beaten...I don't recollect of ever seeing a mother in these wretched dwellings bouncing her infant, or of hearing the little creature crow or laugh as he leapt with joy. There, infants have no toys; and mothers smiles are rare as sunshine."

Thomas Guthrie opened "ragged schools" and fed the children who attended. He had a hand in every good work, fighting alcoholism, improving housing, calling for better work laws. He was one of the preachers who joined in creating the Free Church. Its pastors became directly dependent upon their people rather than living off the state as civil servants. When many were thrown out of their parsonages and suffered severely, Thomas raised over £100,000 (over $1,000,000 in today's money) in less than a year to build parsonages for them.

In addition to his social work, he preached faithfully. Hundreds of lives were salvaged through the efforts of the godly man who was born this day.


  1. Guthrie, Thomas. Out of Harness.
  2. "Guthrie, Thomas." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.

Last updated June, 2007


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