Eli Guthrie

1801 - 1837

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


THE fountain of divine grace which was unsealed in the great revival of 1800 sent forth a thousand streams in every direction, all over the land. Abundant evidences of their fertilizing power can be found in almost very religious community in the Mississippi Valley. Traces of their influence, more or less distinct, can be seen in the more remote portions of our Christian country. Those beneficent influences are especially discernible--are exhibited with a more striking emphasis--in the family circles of those who were brought under its power. The conversion of the father and mother of a young a rising family, under the inspiration of those eminent days, will bring home to the dullest perception the immediate fruits of that great work. A notable instance of this kind is furnished in the family history of the subject of this biography.

The parents of Mr. Guthrie were converted to Christ in the midst of that great awakening. The spirit of the occasion was deeply impressed upon the minds of both parents. The scope and grandeur of the work was a source of profound thanksgiving and gratefulness to the pair all the days of their lives. The atmosphere which they first breathed after their spiritual birth was far more exhilarating and life-giving than has been vouchsafed to man since that day. There was then seen a majesty and power in stately steppings of the Almighty that has not since been visible to mortal sight. When God so exhibits his power as to awake from the slumber of ages a whole continent of people, it carries with it an awe and solemnity that men will never forget. Hence the conclusion that persons receiving their spiritual birth under such striking circumstances, will not only carry the impressions of the day all through their lives, but will impart them to their families and friends.

I have heard the question often asked, why the ministers of that day preached with so much more force and power than they do at the present. May we not find a satisfactory answer in the foregoing statements? Men who passed through the fires of the great revival could scarcely fail to impart warmth and vitality to the people who came under their ministry. The qualifications for the pulpit which those circumstances would impart were something of kin to that of the teachings of the Saviour himself. The transcendent beauty and power of his own salvation was exhibited by all his works, and finally in his death, while on earth; and that same beauty and power was marvelously shown by the Holy Spirit on the great occasions referred to. The experiences of those days made a history for Christianity that will live to the end of all days.

The office of the ministry is one of great honor and responsibility. It requires a certain adaptability of temperament and talent to fill it well. This peculiar fitness for the office sometimes runs in families. I have often seen this proclivity for a given calling illustrated in families, in relation to other pursuits. I call to mind now one family connection, in which there were upward of twenty lawyers, two physicians, and one preacher. But for one family to furnish four good preachers to the same denomination is an extraordinary fact. The family of Mr. Guthrie is entitled to this distinction. Guthrie is a good name for a preacher. The name has been rendered illustrious in other countries by men of eminent learning and piety. I love to record the fact that four of the same name and family have contributed valuable history to the Church and the general cause of Christianity.

Rev. Robert Guthrie was the father of Eli. In the admirable history of the father, by Dr. Beard, we have a beautiful picture of the domestic relations of this family. A large number of brawny, stalwart boys, sitting meekly at the feet of the aged patriarch for instruction and counsel, is a feature in family history not often met with nowadays.

As already intimated, the father and mother were among the early fruits of the great revival. With a heart all aglow with zeal and love, lit from the fires of the new awakening, it is not remarkable that he became a powerful preacher, and that he imbued his sons with a like spirit, and imparted to them corresponding qualifications for the great work of the ministry.

Eli Guthrie was born February 6, 1801, in Sumner county, Tennessee, near the old Ridge Camp-ground--a place that has become historical in the annals of the revival and of the Church. He became an experimental Christian at an early age--probably when about sixteen years old. He connected himself with the Nashville Presbytery in 1823, and in two and four years respectively thereafter was licensed and ordained.

Mr. Guthrie had to pass through the same ordeal as all his young contemporaries of that day. It was made his duty to ride the circuit and preach constantly, and still to prosecute his literary and scientific studies, in view of his preparation for ordination. The young preacher of that period was made of sterner stuff than at the present. If many of our candidates of the present time were required to obtain their qualifications and perform the work of the circuit at the same time, what a host of pigmies would the Church enjoy! I love to contemplate a strong manly character, standing in all the glory of a splendid manhood, and fighting like a hero for his own elevation and fitness for his office, and battling like a soldier for the cause of his Divine Master. There is promise in such a man. He will make history for himself and for the Church, and he will make a history that will be written in the eternal archives of the Church triumphant. There is no one other thing which I desire so ardently as to see a great army of strong men--men of force and power--to engage in the grand calling of the gospel ministry. We have very many such, thank God! but the demands of the world and the Church call for thousands of others.

I have before me the written testimony of one of Mr. Guthrie's early friends and companions in the ministry. Rev. W. Eatherly says that "Mr. Guthrie's labors in the early days of his ministry were performed in Middle Tennessee, where he became an excellent and useful preacher. His style of preaching was plain, argumentative, and impressive. He was earnest and humble in his general demeanor, and yet kind, cheerful, and agreeable in his manners. He became very popular among the masses, and was consequently extensively useful in his ministerial work. To sum up my opinion of him in a few words, I considered him one of the soundest theologians and one of the most useful preachers in that part of the country, and it was with profound regret we parted when we moved to Missouri." This is honorable testimony from one who knew him well, and loved him for his Christian virtues and manly worth. It is also in evidence that as a Presbyter he was always at his post, ready to answer to the roll-call, and participated largely in the duties of the Church judicatures. He was one of the members from Nashville Presbytery to the first General Assembly of the Church, in 1829.

Another writer, referring to the period of his ministry before leaving the State of Tennessee, says that "he was a true Cumberland of the old stamp--a plain man, devout, and full of brotherly love." We have other testimony, and it is all to the same purport.

In March, 1830, Mr. Guthrie was married to Miss Eliza Caldwell, of Dickson county, Tennessee. It is said of this lady, that she was a woman of fine intelligence and most exemplary piety, admirably adapted to the delicate and responsible duties of a minister's wife. Three promising children were born to them, all of whom, with the mother, have followed the father up to his heavenly home. One of them, a son, was a boy of unusual promise. He died in Lexington, Missouri, while a student at college. I remember him well, and recollect the profound regret that all his young acquaintances felt at his untimely death. He had a quick, bright intellect, that would have flashed out brilliantly if he had lived to maturity.

Mr. Guthrie's ministerial career in Missouri covered a period of about seven years. The testimony is very full to the point that he labored successfully and efficiently the most of that time. He commenced his work in this State late in the year 1830, in the county of Chariton, where he first settled. As the young and feeble Churches in this country, at that day, could afford him very trifling support for his ministerial services, he was compelled to rely mainly on his own strong and willing hands for the means of support to his family. There were no negative points in his character. Whatever he undertook he performed with sound judgment and manly strength. He was an excellent business man; could intelligently adapt means to a given end; could calculate with reasonable accuracy the results of his business transactions. With his wonderful physical force and development, and with the cunning of skillful hands, he could perform any amount of labor, and accomplish his work with the neatness and accuracy of the born mechanic. Thus his worldly circumstances soon became comfortable, and even independent. It is probably true, from the evidence before us, that at different periods of his life in this State he became somewhat unduly absorbed in his worldly affairs. He lamented his shortcomings in this direction, and would occasionally arouse himself and cast off the thraldom of the world, and reconsecrate himself to his high calling. His ministerial labors were somewhat promiscuous, as were those of most of our early preachers. But few congregations could engage even a small definite portion of the preacher's time, and hence those who did put in their whole time to the service of the Church were in the habit of preaching wherever the wants of the people required it. They went forth and scattered the seed broadcast, and looked to God to fructify it and mature the fruit. The labors thus performed were of infinite value to the people at large, but the particular Church which was represented shared but slightly of the benefits of such work.

After a few years' residence at his first home in Chariton county, Mr. Guthrie settled on a valuable property on the Missouri River, in Carroll county, not very remote from his former home. During his residence in this county he became widely known, not only as a reputable preacher, but as an upright and useful citizen. His influence among the people was widely extended, and he became the friend of the many leading public characters of the country. His intercourse among his neighbors was exceedingly affable and kind. Unaffected sincerity of heart and purpose were such conspicuous elements of his character, that he commanded the confidence of the whole community.

In his family and domestic relations, he is represented to have been very cordial and unrestrained--played and romped with his children as would a boy of their own age.

But it is as a preacher that Mr. Guthrie presents us with the most attractive qualities. Upon this point we have before us the written testimony of Rev. Henry Epler, who knew him long and well, and who loved and admired him much.

Mr. Epler thus describes his manner and method in the pulpit: "His first appearance in the pulpit was not very impressive--a little awkward in his manner, and slow in enunciating the point of his discourse; but as he advanced in his subject he would exhibit more interest--his delivery would become smooth and easy, his eyes would sparkle, and his face light up, his manner become graceful, and his gestures natural and significant; and upon many occasions he would throw into his sermons so much force and power as would amaze and astonish his audience. His method of treating his subject was consecutive and systematic. A natural relation, and a beautiful harmony of one topic to the other, and of all to the main thought, pervaded his arrangement of subjects for pulpit discussion. His thoughts were vigorous, his arguments logical and manly, and his illustrations plain and forcible. Sometimes his appeals were uttered with singular power, and would produce a very marked effect upon the audience. Taking him altogether, he was one of the foremost of our Western preachers."

One or two very remarkable incidents in his pulpit performances come to us well authenticated.

The Synod met in 1834, at the old Brick Church, near Lexington, in La Fayette county. Many of the ministers present were comparative strangers in that section of the country. On Sabbath, Mr. Finis Ewing, who was pastor of the Church, and the elders of the congregation consulted together as to who should fill the pulpit for that day. Mr. Ewing insisted that Mr. Guthrie should be one of the preachers. An excellent old elder, who had been making his observations on the preachers during the Synod, was opposed to Mr. Guthrie filling the pulpit at that important hour. He was finally reconciled by the selection of another preacher to follow Mr. Guthrie, who had the reputation of being very eloquent, and very able. At eleven o'clock Mr. Guthrie commenced the services. The old elder was not able to hold up his head on account of his mortification at the unpromising appearance of the preacher, and at the certainty (to his mind) of an ignominious failure in the sermon. Mr. Guthrie was, of course, not aware of the distress of some of his audience--he proceeded with his discourse; and before he was half through, the elder was upon his feet, looking with rapt attention upon the wonderful preacher; and before the sermon was concluded, the whole congregation were upon their feet, and perfectly carried away with his stirring eloquence.

It is the testimony, that it was no unusual occurrence for the congregation to be drawn to their feet by his personal magnetism and the force of his eloquence while delivering his sermons. It is a wonderful gift to be able to lift a great congregation from their seats, and carry their imaginations away up to the third heavens. The power that can accomplish such results must be deep down in a great, broad, honest heart, and, upon the occasion of its exercise, must be full of the love of God and of love for our fallen race.

Unfortunately for the Church, such preachers are of rare occurrence. Now and then, God, in his infinite goodness, permits such men to become the messengers of his great salvation. I believe it is the privilege of the Church to have great and eloquent preachers, to have men of abounding gifts, to represent Christ in treaty with our fellow-men; to have men in the pulpit who will command the influence which others seek to win. I like strength in the pulpit as in every thing. Educated dullness and inexcusable ignorance are alike to be deprecated in the pulpit.

In 1837 the Missouri Synod met in the city of Booneville. On some day during the session Mr. Guthrie preached, and several of the ministers who were then present remember well the character of that sermon. He intimated very plainly that he had followed too far the worldly pursuits in which he was engaged, and that God would hold him to account for his delinquencies. He said he felt alarmed, and greatly feared that his Heavenly Master would command him to a speedy reckoning for his guilt. He became profoundly excited, and seemed determined to answer to the calls of his divine mission with more fidelity for the future. His exhortations to the unconverted were of wonderful power and force. The whole Synod was moved by the unusual manifestation. But God mercifully granted him seals to his ministry on this almost the last effort of his life in the cause of his Master. It was altogether a very remarkable exhibition. The old and the young were alike aroused and excited. The preachers as well as the people felt the force of his profound humiliation, and were dazzled with the splendor of this his last supreme effort to vindicate the cause of his Master.

Mr. Guthrie died on the 19th of December, 1837, near his home in Carroll county, under very painful and distressing circumstances; and yet these circumstances bring out in vivid colors one of the most beautiful traits of his excellent character.

Those who have ever looked upon the turbulent waters of the Missouri River, can appreciate the peril upon which Mr. Guthrie ventured in a grand effort to save from a terrible death two of his fellow-men. Under the most favorable condition, the current of that river is angry and violent; but when the whole surface of the river is covered with thick, heavy sections of floating ice, it is terrible to behold. It is then, indeed, the "mad river." It was when the river was in this condition that two men attempted to cross over to the opposite side from where Mr. Guthrie lived, in a small boat. They were unable to cross over or to return from whence they started. They floated down the angry current, hemmed in and blocked up by the great masses of ice, and were finally lodged upon a sunken tree, in the midst of the current. Their cries for help rang out over the crashing, surging ice and water, and reached the ears of Mr. Guthrie, then in a gay romp with his own children.

His great heart responded in a moment to the call. Two other men volunteered to go with Mr. Guthrie in a boat to the rescue. By superhuman efforts they were able to drive their little craft through the grinding masses of ice, and reached the place where the objects of their pursuit were lodged upon the upturned roots of the fallen tree. A line was thrown to the men, and in their eagerness to make sure their means of escape, they checked the boat too quickly, and she capsized, and her brave passengers were buried beneath the seething flood. Mr. Guthrie and one of his heroic companions were drowned, and the two men on the fallen tree froze upon their resting-place, and fell into the water.

What a remorseless thing is death! Four human beings, in this peaceful little community on the banks of the great river, were called at once to cross that other river, dark and cold, from the banks of which they awoke to the awful realities of the world beyond. If no Christ were on the thither bank to meet them, then indeed was their lot a terrible one. But the great Friend of the humble Christian never abandons him in the hour of peril, and in that supreme moment of men's greatest need.

Mr. Guthrie's body found burial beneath the sands of the "mad river." The waters which gather up their floods from the snows upon the great mountains, two thousand miles away, will roll their turbid current over his last resting-place from century to century. Year by year they will heap up the drifting sands over his unknown grave, and conceal it forever from mortal sight. But the omniscient eye of God will never lose sight of the sacred spot, and the dust of his saints can be gathered from beneath the turbid waters of the Missouri as readily as if they rested under monuments of marble. That resurrection of the body which Mr. Guthrie so often preached in his lifetime will be realized in his own person when God shall gather his jewels to himself. It is one of the priceless consolations of the Christian's hope that wherever, or under whatsoever terrible circumstances, he may be called upon to die, his ever-present Saviour will be there to throw around him the strong arms of deliverance, and to overshadow him with his loving mercy. The place of his burial will be recorded in the high courts of heaven, and the clarion-note of the archangel's trump will be heard over the sacred spot in the last great day.

It may be readily seen from the foregoing brief sketch of the character of Mr. Guthrie, that he was a great undeveloped genius; that his powers had been but partially aroused; that his massive intellect gave only occasional exhibitions of its force and strength; that the smoldering fires of his soul flashed out to the surface only at rare intervals, and that the magnetism of his nature was only seen when all the forces of his mind were fully employed. What a loss to the Church and to the world, that a long, careful mental training, and an unremitted consecration to the cause of God, had not been the lot of Eli Guthrie! A man who was on many occasions able to produce such marvelous effects upon the minds of his hearers as he was, should have been kept under a constant flow of that divine inspiration which lifted him up to and upon such a grand pyramid of power.

But his lot was such as we have found it, and it was such as will leave an abiding regret that it was not what it might have been. It is only at long intervals that God bestows a great intellect upon any of his creatures. Yet, although Mr. Guthrie did not attain to that great height which his splendid natural endowments would have enabled him to reach, he nevertheless accomplished a good work in his day. Very many evidences of that work are still to be seen in three or four counties in Central Missouri, wherein was the field of his labor. In the meridian of his life, and in the strength of a well-developed manhood, he was stricken from his feet and consigned to the remorseless grave. The providence which called him hence is incomprehensible to us. Many days and much usefulness seemed to lie before him. A loving wife and promising children could not detain him. The thousand calls of the Church for the work of her ministers, and the multiplied thousands of sinners who are crowding the road to death, could not interpose for a moment of his life. Perhaps his mantle has fallen somewhere, and perhaps God in his mercy may yet raise up many others even greater than he, and send them out into a wicked world for the salvation of men.

The reflections which we may properly make on the character which has been so briefly sketched are indicated in the last two preceding paragraphs. We may say, in addition, that the Christian character of the deceased is mainly attributable to the excellent training under which the earlier years of his life were spent. The value to the children of godly parents and pious example can never be fully estimated.

The type of his piety, and indeed of his general Christian character, was molded by the presiding public sentiment which sprang out of the revival of that period. Hence we find him honest, earnest, zealous, and for the most part devoted to his work. He was also a type of his period in mental and physical organization and development.

I have read with great interest a series of articles published in our religious weeklies, entitled "The Fathers," speaking chiefly of their personal appearance and endowments. The men of that day were rarely endowed in both mind and body. In many cases they had powers of herculean proportions and strength, capable of performing with impunity to their health an amount of physical and mental labor that would cause the men of this day to stand aghast at its magnitude. These men, and among them the subject of this notice, were admirably adapted to their times and circumstances. With clear, comprehensive intellects, and deeply read in the Scriptures--with hearts full of love to God, and all aglow with zeal for his cause--they entered upon the work of their great calling, and executed achievements therein which entitled them to be ranked among the heroes of their age. It was a grand work which they performed. It was a small army, not of heroes only, but one in which each man was a general--a whole column of high officers doing the work of the common soldier; and the victories which they achieved, and the general good which they accomplished, will never be fully written by mortal historian. But it has all been graven with diamonds upon parchments which never decay, and in lines that will never fade; and they are all laid away in the eternal archives of that court of final resort which is being held on high for the judgment of the nations. When the long docket which shall comprehend the names of the sons and daughters of the great revival shall be called, what a brief trial and glorious sentence shall be heard--"Well done, good and faithful servant!"

[Source: Historical Memoirs: Containing A Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, In the Country West of the Mississippi River. By Judge R. C. Ewing. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 256-273.]

Candidate - Nashville Presbytery

Licentiate - Nashville Presbytery

Ordained - Nashville Presbytery

Cumberland Synod - November 20-21, 1827 - Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky
Member absent from Nashville Presbytery - Rev. Eli Guthrie, once
[Source: Minutes of Cumberland Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, November 20, 1827]

Cumberland Synod - October 21, 1828 - Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee
Member present from Nashville Presbytery - Rev. Eli Guthrie
[Source: Minutes of Cumberland Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 21, 1828]

Rev. Eli Guthrie - Nashville Presbytery
Commissioner to General Assembly - May 19, 1829 - Princeton, Caldwell County, Kentucky
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1829]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie
Rev. Eli Guthrie was chosen moderator
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, April 1832]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie
Opened by a sermon delivered by the Rev. Eli Guthrie from 2nd King, 7-9.
Rev. Eli Guthrie was chosen clerk.
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 1832]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, March 1833]

Member absent - Rev. Eli Guthrie
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, September 1833]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie
Rev. J.B. Morrow commissioner to the last General Assembly, and Eli Guthrie, his alternate, rendered their excuses for not attending said Assembly, which were sustained.
On motion, Resolved, that Rev. Messrs J.B. Morrow, Eli Guthrie and Mr. James Nevins be apponted a committee to examine into the state of religion in the bounds of this Presbytery, and report the same.
Ordered that Eli Guthrie spend three fourths of his time, and Sachel Woods one fourth of his time, on the Calaway district, between this and our next Presbytery.
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, August 1834]

Member absent - Eli Guthrie - from McGee Presbytery
[Source: Minutes of Washington Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 1834]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie
On inquiry it appeared that Eli Guthrie, Robert Mansfield and Samuel C. Davis who were ordered to spend each a part of their time as missionaries in the bounds of this Presbytery, had not fully complied, but their excuses were sustained.
Eli Guthrie, Sam'l C. Davis, Sam'l G. Briggs and Robert C. Mansfield rendered their excuses for not attending last Synod, which were sustained.
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, April 1835]

Member absent - Rev. Eli Guthrie
[Source: Minutes of the McGee Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, September 1835]

Member absent - Eli Guthrie - from McGee Presbytery
[Source: Minutes of Missouri Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 1835]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie - of Barnett Presbytery
[Source: Minutes of Missouri Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 1836]

Member present - Rev. Eli Guthrie - of Barnett Presbytery
Rev. Eli Guthrie was chosen moderator
[Source: Minutes of Missouri Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 1837]

Whereas, the great head of the church, since the last session of this synod, has removed one of her members (Viz.) Brother Ely Guthrie; from his labors on earth, to join the chruch triumphant;--Therefore Resolved unamimously: That this Synod view with deep humility, the loss which she has sustained in this affliction of Providence; and pray that God may sanctify it to the good of all its members--Resolved further, that the members of this Synod, deeply sympathise with the bereaved widow, and orphan children, of our beloved brother.--Resolved farther;--That a copy of the above resolution be sent to his widow and orphans.
[Source: Minutes of Missouri Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, October 1838]

Guthrie Family Information

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