For as long as the Gospel’s been preached, it’s always been accompanied by a concern for the education of the poor. It’s heartening to see Christians take a renewed interest in this kind of Gospel-powered social action once again. Just yesterday the Gospel Coalition published an article by J D Grear on Why our church adopted a school. I don’t know if there is Christian motivation behind this young teacher’s school for black boys, but it’s a great example of what Christians could also be doing to transform the futures, and even the eternities, of the most needy in our society.
My friend Andrew Murray (not a relation, though I wouldn’t mind he if was), has been practically involved in social work and Christian social action for many years in some of the toughest communities in Scotland. He’s just started Ragged Theology, a blog dedicated to the inspirational life of Thomas Guthrie, the “Apostle” of the ragged school movement in the 1800′s. You can read Andrew’s brief bio of Guthrie here. He writes:
While Dr Guthrie was one of the finest preachers of the Free Church in the 19th Century, his greatest legacy was surely as a social reformer. This is summed up on his statue in Edinburgh which declares ‘a friend of the poor and the oppressed’. Even in his first rural parish in Angus Guthrie was a great friend of the poor. He established a savings bank and library; ‘The success of the bank and the library I attribute very much to this, that I myself managed them. They were of great service by bringing me into familiar and frequent and kindly contact with my people’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 113). Guthrie believed that the minister should live and work amongst the people. Writing while still in Arbirlot he said to a Mr Dunlop; ‘I have discovered from my own experience that the further the people are removed from the manse, the less influence has the minister over them: and if a man won’t live among the scum of the Cowgate [central Edinburgh] I would at once say to him ‘You can’t be my minister’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 309).
I think you’ll be moved by Andrew’s account of how Guthrie inspired a society-transforming, prison-emptying movement of “ragged schools.” He concludes:
Guthrie was an outstanding preacher, a faithful pastor, a winsome evangelist and one of Scotland’s finest social reformers. Guthrie’s legacy lives on in the provision that there is both in terms of welfare and education for rich and poor alike…He died in the early hours of Monday 24th February 1873 with his faithful Highland nurse and his family at his bedside. It is said that with the exception of Dr Thomas Chalmers and Sir James Simpson, Edinburgh had not seen a funeral like it in a generation. It was reported that 230 children from the original ragged school attended his funeral and sang a hymn at the grave. One little girl was overheard saying ‘He was all the father I ever knew.’
Amongst Guthrie’s last words he was overheard to say ‘a brand plucked from the burning!’ His legacy was that through his vision and love for his Saviour, the Ragged School movement was established which in turn plucked thousands of little brands from a life of poverty and crime, and brought them to know the ultimate friend of sinners.
From history to vision
But Andrew’s not just a historian, he’s also a visionary. He’s trying to live out Guthrie’s vision in his own day and place. Guthrie on early intervention is a wonderful speech he gave to a group of Aberdeen businessmen last week on how they could help translate Guthrie’s model and principles into today’s culture and society.
You can read more about Andrew’s “Wilberforce-type” work at Bethany Christian Trust here or view the video below: