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.’ If hot-blooded Samuel Rutherford had sat more at James Guthrie’s feet in the matter of managing a controversy, his name would have been almost too high and too spotless for this present life. Samuel Rutherford’s one vice, temper, was one of James Guthrie’s chief virtues.
We have only two, or at most three, of the many letters that must have passed between Rutherford and Guthrie preserved to us. And, as is usual with Rutherford when he writes to any member of his innermost circle, he writes to Guthrie so as still more completely to win his heart. And in nothing does dear Rutherford win all our hearts more than in his deep humility, and quick, keen sense of his own inability and utter unworthiness. ‘I am at a low ebb,’ he writes to Guthrie from the Jerusalem Chamber, ’yea, as low as any gracious soul can possibly be. Shall I ever see even the borders of the good land above?’ I read that fine letter again last Sabbath afternoon in my room at hospitable Helenslee, overlooking the lower reaches of the Clyde, and as I read this passage, I recollected the opportune sea-view commanded by my window. I had only to rise and look out to see an excellent illustration of my much-exercised author; for the forenoon tide had just retreated to the sea, and the broad bed of the river was left by the retreated tide less a river than a shallow, clammy channel. Shoals of black mud ran out from our shore, meeting and mingling with shoals of black mud from the opposite shore. There was scarce clean water enough to float the multitude of buoys that dipped and dragged in their bed of mire. That any ship, to call a ship, could ever work its way up that sweltering sewer seemed an utter impossibility. There was Rutherford’s low ebb, then, under my very eyes. There was low water indeed. And the low water seemed to laugh the waiting seamen’s hopes to scorn. But next morning my heart rose high as I looked out at my window and saw all the richly-laden vessels lighting their fires and spreading their sails, and setting their faces to the replenished river. And I thought of Samuel Rutherford’s ship, far past all her ebbing tides now, and for ever anchored in her haven above.