William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

A Brief Life and Times of Samuel Rutherford

by William Carson

Before and During his Exile

Rutherford was born about the year 1600 near Nisbet, Scotland. Little is known
of his early life. In 1627 he earned a M.A. from Edinburgh College, where he was
appointed Professor of Humanity. He became pastor of the church in Anwoth in

Anwoth was a rural parish, and the people were scattered in farms over the
hills. He had a true pastor's heart, and he was ceaseless in his labours for his
flock. We are told that men said of Rutherford, "He was always praying, always
preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and
studying." Of course it helps when you get up at 3:00 every morning!
His first years in Anwoth, though, were touched with sadness. His wife was ill
for a year and a month, before she died in their new home. Two children also
died during this period. Nevertheless God used this time of suffering to prepare
Rutherford to be God's comforter of suffering people.

Rutherford's preaching was unparalleled. While he was not a good speaker, his
preaching drew great attention. An English merchant said of him, "I came to
Irvine, and heard a well-favoured, proper old man (Dickson) with a long beard,
and that man showed me all my heart. Then I went to St. Andrews, where I heard a
sweet, majestic-looking man (Blair), and he showed me the majesty of God. After
him I heard a little, fair man (Rutherford), and he showed me the loveliness of

In 1636 Rutherford published a book defending the doctrines of grace (Calvinism)
against Armininism. This put him in conflict with the Church authorities, which
were dominated by the English Episcopacy. He was called before the High Court,
deprived of his ministerial office, and exiled to Aberdeen.
This exile was a sore trial for the beloved pastor. He felt that being separated
from his congregation was unbearable. However, because of his exile, we now have
many of the letters he wrote to his flock, and so the evil of his banishment has
been turned into a great blessing for the church worldwide.

After His Exile

In 1638 the struggles between Parliament and King in England, and
Presbyterianism vs. Episcopacy in Scotland culminated in momentous events for
Rutherford. In the confusion of the times, he simply slipped out of Aberdeen and
returned to his beloved Anwoth. But it was not for long. The Kirk (Church of
Scotland) held a General Assembly that year, restoring full Presbyterianism to
the land. In addition, they appointed Rutherford a Professor of Theology of St.
Andrews, although he negotiated to be allowed to preach at least once a week.
The Westminster Assembly began their famous meetings in 1643, and Rutherford was
one of the five Scottish commissioners invited to attend the proceedings.
Although the Scots were not allowed to vote, they had an influence far exceeding
their number. Rutherford is thought to have been a major influence on the
Shorter Catechism.

During this period in England, Rutherford wrote his best-known work, "Lex Rex,"
or "The Law, the King." This book argued for limited government, and limitations
on the current idea of the Divine Right of Kings.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, it was clear that the author of "Lex
Rex" would could expect trouble. When the summons came in 1661, charging him
with treason, and demanding his appearance on a certain day, Rutherford refused
to go. From his deathbed, he answered, "I must answer my first summons; and
before your day arrives, I will be where few kings and great folks come." He
died on 30th March 1661.


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