James Guthrie was nicknamed “Sickerfoot,” a Scottish term meaning “Surefooted.” He was unflappable and self-possessed, having a knack for stilling arguments and calming crises. He taught philosophy at the University of St. Andrews for years before becoming a preacher of the gospel in the Scottish town of Stirling.

On February 19, 1651 Guthrie was accused of disloyalty, for he had preached that Christ, not the Scottish king, should rule the church. Guthrie answered the accusation, saying that while he respected the monarch’s civil authority, he didn’t believe the king should control church affairs. In time an indictment was issued charging that Guthrie “did contrive, complot, counsel, consult, draw up, frame, invent, spread abroad or disperse — speak, preach, declaim or utter — divers and sundry vile seditions tending to the vilifying of His Majesty.”

Guthrie was sentenced to be hanged. On the morning of his execution, June 1, 1661, he rose about four in the morning for worship. When asked how he was, Guthrie replied “Very well. This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

His five-year-old son was brought to him. Taking the boy on his knee, he said, “William, the day will come when they will cast up to you that your father was hanged. But be not thou ashamed, lad. It is in a good cause.”

Guthrie soon mounted the scaffold and preached for an hour to the assembled multitude. Then he was hanged, after which his head was hacked off and affixed on Netherbow Port. In coming months little William, sneaking away to steal glances at his father’s decaying head, would run home crying, “I’ve seen my father’s head! I’ve seen my father’s head!” Its impact wasn’t lost, for William learned to lean on Christ, to spend time alone in prayer, and to excel in school. He might have become a powerful minister but for an early death from illness.

Meanwhile Guthrie’s bleached skull looked down on the throngs of Netherbow Port for 27 years until a brave student climbed up, removed it, and buried it with reverence.

This day belongs to the Lord!
Let’s celebrate and be glad today.
We’ll ask the Lord to save us!
We’ll sincerely ask the Lord to let us win.
God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
(Psalm 118:24-26a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 19.

(About picture in header: 1593 built Flodden-Wall, remnants of the old wall surrounded Grayfriars neighborhood at the top of the Venel (here on left side), which is merely a stair-case uphill’s with a view across to the Edinburgh castle. Location on the map: 55.9462, -3.1969 . Photographed by Ike Harel (ikeharel).)

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