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Samuel Rutherford


(1600-1661)

He was one of the most influential Scottish Presbyterians in the
Westminster Assembly.


Biographical Sketch (by John Howie from his "Scots Worthies"):
Samuel Rutherford, a gentleman by extraction, having spent some time
at the grammar school, went to the University of Edinburgh, where he
was so much admired for his pregnancy of parts, and deservedly
looked upon as one from whom some great things might be expected,
that in a short time, though then but very young, he was made
Professor of Philosophy in that University.

Some time after this he was called to be minister at Anwoth, in the
shire of Galloway, unto which charge he entered by means of the then
Viscount Kenmuir, without any acknowledgment or engagement to the
bishops. There he labored with great diligence and success, both
night and day, rising usually by three o'clock in the morning,
spending the whole time in reading, praying, writing, catechizing,
visiting, and other duties belonging to the ministerial profession
and employment.

Here he wrote his Exercitationes de Gratia, for which he was
summoned, as early as June 1630, before the High Commission Court at
Edinburgh; but the weather was so tempestuous as to obstruct the
passage of the Archbishop of St Andrews hither, and Mr. Colvil, one
of the judges, having befriended him, the diet was deserted. About
the same time, his first wife died, after a sore sickness of
thirteen months; and he himself was so ill of a tertian fever for
thirteen weeks, that he could not preach on the Sabbath-day without
great difficulty.

Again, in April 1634, he was threatened with another prosecution at
the instance of the bishop of Galloway, before the High Commission
Court; and neither were these threatenings all the reasons Mr
Rutherford had to lay his account with suffering; for as the Lord
would not hide from his faithful servant Abraham the things he was
about to do, neither would he conceal from this son of Abraham what
his purposes were concerning him. In a letter to the provost's wife
of Kirkcudbright, dated April 20, 1633, he says, that upon the 17th
and 18th of August, he got a full answer of his Lord to be a graced
minister, and a chosen arrow hid in his quiver. Accordingly, the
thing he looked for came upon him; for he was again summoned before
the High Commission Court for his non-conformity, his preaching
against the five articles of Perth, and the forementioned book of
Exercitationes Apologeticae pro Divina Gratia, which book they
alleged did reflect upon the Church of Scotland. But "the truth
was," says a late historian, "the argument of that book did cut the
sinews of Arminianism, and galled the Episcopal clergy to the very
quick; and so Bishop Sydserff could endure him no longer." When he
came before the Commission Court, he altogether declined it as a
lawful judicatory, and would not give the chancellor (being a
clergyman) and the bishops their titles, by lording of them. Some
had the courage to befriend him, particularly the Lord Lorne,
afterwards the famous Marquis of Argyle, who did as much for him as
was within his power to do; but the Bishop of Galloway, threatening
that if he got not his will of him, he would write to the King, it
was carried against him; and upon the 27th of July 1636, he was
discharged from exercising any part of his ministry within the
kingdom of Scotland, under pain of rebellion; and ordered within six
months to confine himself within the city of Aberdeen, during the
King's pleasure; which sentence he obeyed, and forthwith went toward
the place of his confinement.

From Aberdeen he wrote many of his famous letters, from which it is
evident that the consolation of the Holy Spirit did greatly abound
with him in his sufferings. Yea, in one of these letters, he
expresses it in the strongest terms, when he says, "I never knew
before, that His love was in such a measure. If He leave me, He
leaves me in pain, and sick of love; and yet my sickness is my life
and health. I have a fire within me; I defy all the devils in hell,
and all the prelates in Scotland, to cast water on it." Here he
remained upwards of a year and a-half, by which time he made the
doctors of Aberdeen know, that the Puritans, as they called them,
were clergymen as well as they. But upon notice that the Privy
Council had received a declinature against the High Commission Court
in the year 1638, he adventured to return to his flock at Anwoth,
where he again took great pains, both in public and private, amongst
the people who from all quarters resorted to his ministry, so that
the whole country side might be accounted as his particular flock;
and (it being then in the dawning of the Reformation) men found no
small benefit by the Gospel; that part of the ancient prophecy being
farther accomplished, "For in the wilderness shall the waters break
out, and streams in the desert" (Isa. xxxv. 6).

He was before that Venerable Assembly held at Glasgow in 1638, and
gave an account of all these his former proceedings, with respect to
his confinement, and the causes thereof. By them he was appointed to
be professor of divinity at St Andrews, and colleague in the
ministry with the worthy Mr Blair, who was translated thither about
the same time. And here God did again so second this his eminent and
faithful servant, that by his indefatigable pains both in teaching
in the schools and preaching in the congregation, St Andrews, the
seat of the archbishop, and the nursery of all superstition, error,
and profaneness, soon became forthwith a Lebanon, out of which were
taken cedars for building the house of the Lord, almost throughout
the whole land. Many of those who received the spiritual life by his
ministry he guided to heaven before himself, and many others did
walk in that light after him.

As Samuel Rutherford was mighty in the public parts of religion, so
he was a great practiser and encourager of the private duties
thereof. Thus, in the year 1640, when a charge was foisted in before
the General Assembly, at the instance of Mr Henry Guthrie, minister
at Stirling, afterwards Bishop of Dunkeld, against private society
meetings, which were then abounding in the land, on which ensued
much reasoning; the one side yielded that a paper before drawn up by
Mr Henderson should be agreed unto, concerning the order to be kept
in these meetings; but Guthrie and his adherents opposing this, Mr
Rutherford, who was never much disposed to speak in judicatories,
threw in this syllogism, "What the Scriptures do warrant, no
Assembly may discharge; but private meetings for religious
exercises, the Scriptures do warrant," "Then they that feared the
Lord spake often one to another" (Mal. iii. 16). "Confess your
faults one to another, and pray one for another" (James v. 16). And
although the Earl of Seaforth there present, and those of Guthrie's
faction, upbraided the good man for this, yet it had influence upon
the majority of the members; so all that the opposite party got
done, was an act anent the ordering of family worship.

Samuel Rutherford was also one of the Scots commissioner."appointed
in 1643 to the Westminster Assembly, and was very much beloved there
for unparalleled faithfulness and zeal in going about his Master's
business. It was during this time that he published Lex Rex, and
several other learned pieces, against the Erastians, Anabaptists,
Independents, and other sectaries, that began to prevail and
increase at the time; and none ever had the courage to take up the
gauntlet of defiance thrown down by this champion.

It is reported, that when King Charles saw Lex Rex, he said, it
would scarcely ever get an answer; nor did it ever get any, except
what the parliament in 1661 gave it, when they caused it to be
burned at the cross of Edinburgh, by the hands of the hangman.
When the principal business of the Westminster Assembly was pretty
well settled, Samuel Rutherford, in October 24, 1647, moved, that it
might be recorded in the scribe's book, that the Assembly had
enjoyed the assistance of the commissioners of the Church of
Scotland, all the time they had been debating and perfecting these
four things mentioned in the solemn league, viz., their composing a
Directory for Worship, a uniform Confession of Faith, a Form of
Church Government and Discipline, and the Public Catechism; which
was done in about a week after he and the rest returned home.
Upon the death of the learned Dematius, in 1651, the magistrates of
Utrecht in Holland, being abundantly satisfied as to the learning,
piety, and true zeal of the great Mr. Rutherford, invited him to the
divinity-chair there; but he could not be persuaded. His reasons
(elsewhere, when dissuading another gentleman from going abroad)
seem to be expressed in these words: "Let me entreat you to be far
from the thoughts of leaving this land. I see it, and find it, that
the Lord hath covered the whole land with a cloud in his anger; but
though I have been tempted to the like, I had rather be in Scotland
beside angry Jesus Christ, knowing He mindeth no evil to us, than in
any Eden or garden on the earth." From this it is evident, that he
chose rather to suffer affliction in his own native country, than to
leave his charge and flock in time of danger. He continued with them
till the day of his death, in the free and faithful discharge of his duty.

When the unhappy difference fell out between those called the
Resolutioners and the Protesters, in 1650 and 1651, he espoused the
protesters' quarrel, and gave faithful warning against the public
resolutions; and likewise during the time of Cromwell's usurpation,
he contended against all the prevailing sectaries that were then
ushered in by virtue of his toleration. And such was his unwearied
assiduity and diligence, that he seemed to pray constantly, to
preach constantly, to catechise constantly, and to visit the sick,
exhorting them from house to house; to teach as much in the schools,
and spend as much time with the students and young men in fitting
them for the ministry, as if he had been sequestered from all the
world besides; and yet withal to write as much as if he had been
constantly shut up in his study.

But no sooner did the restoration of Charles II. take place than the
face of affairs began to change; and after his fore-mentioned book
Lex Rex was burnt at the cross of Edinburgh, and at the gates of the
new college of St Andrews, where he was professor of divinity, the
parliament, in 1651, were to have an indictment laid before them
against him; and such was their humanity, when everybody knew he was
a-dying, that they summoned him to appear before them at Edinburgh,
to answer to a charge of high treason! But he had a higher tribunal
to appear before, where his judge was his friend. He was dead before
the time came, being taken away from the evil to come.

It is commonly said that, when the summons came, he spoke out of his
bed and said, "Tell them I have got a summons already before a
superior Judge and judicatory, and I behove to answer my first
summons, and ere your day come I will be where few kings and great
folks come." When they returned and told he was a-dying, the
parliament was put to a vote, whether or not to let him die in the
college. It was carried, "put him out," only a few dissenting. My
Lord Burleigh said, "Ye have voted that honest man out of the
college, but ye cannot vote him out of heaven." Some said, He would
never win there, hell was too good for him. Burleigh said, "I wish I
were as sure of heaven as he is, I would think myself happy to get a
grip of his sleeve to haul me in."

When on his deathbed, he lamented much that he was withheld
from bearing witness to the work of Reformation since the year 1638;
and upon the 28th of February, he gave a large and faithful
testimony against the sinful courses of that time; which testimony
he subscribed twelve days before his death; being full of joy and
peace in believing.

During the time of his last sickness, he uttered many savoury
speeches, and often broke out in a kind of sacred rapture, exalting
and commending the Lord Jesus, especially when his end drew near. He
often called his blessed Master his kingly King. Some days before
his death, he said, "I shall shineI shall see Him as He is-I shall
see Him reign, and all his fair company with Him; and I shall have
my large share. Mine eyes shall see my Redeemer: these very eyes of
mine, and none other for me. This may seem a wide word; but it is no
fancy or delusion; it is true. Let my Lord's name be exalted; and,
if He will, let my name be grinded to pieces, that He may be all in
all. If He should slay me ten thousand times, I will trust." He
often repeated Jer. xv. 16. "Thy words were found, and I did eat
them."

When exhorting one to diligence, he said, "It is no easy thing to be
a Christian. For me, I have got the victory, and Christ is holding
out both His arms to embrace me." At another time, to some friends
present, he said, "At the beginning of my sufferings I had mine own
fears, like other sinful men, lest I should faint, and not be
carried creditably through, and I laid this before the Lord; and as
sure as ever He spoke to me in His word, as sure as His Spirit
witnesseth to my heart, He hath accepted my sufferings. He said to
me, Fear not, the outgate shall not be simply matter of prayer, but
matter of praise. I said to the Lord, if He should slay me five
thousand times five thousand, I would trust in Him; and I speak it
with much trembling, fearing I should not make my part good; but as
really as ever He spoke to me by His Spirit, He witnessed to my
heart, that His grace should be sufficient." The Thursday night
before his death, being much grieved with the state of the land, he
had this expression, "Horror had taken hold on me." And afterwards,
falling on his own condition, he said, "I renounce all that ever He
made me will and do, as defiled and imperfect, as coming from me; I
betake myself to Christ for sanctification, as well as
justification; repeating these words (I Cor. i. 30) "He is made of
God to me wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption
adding, "I close with it, let Him be so: He is my all In all."

March 17. Three gentlewomen came to see him; and after exhorting
them to read the Word, and be much in prayer, and much in communion
with God, he said, "My honourable Master and lovely Lord, my great
royal King, hath not a match in heaven or in earth. I have my own
guilt, even like other sinful men; but He hath pardoned, loved,
washed, and given me joy unspeakable and full of glory. I repent not
that ever I owned His cause. These whom ye call protesters are the
witnesses of Jesus Christ. I hope never to depart from that cause,
nor side with those who have burnt the "Causes of God's Wrath." They
have broken their covenant oftener than once or twice, but I believe
the Lord will build Zion, and repair the waste places of Jacob. Oh!
to obtain mercy to wrestle with God for their salvation. As for this
presbytery, it hath stood in opposition to me these years past. I
have my record in heaven. I had no particular end in view, but was
seeking the honour of God, the thriving of the Gospel in this place,
and the good of the new college; that society which I have left upon
the Lord. What personal wrongs they have done me, and what grief
they have occasioned to me, I heartily forgive them, and desire
mercy to wrestle with God for mercy to them. and for the salvation
of them all."

The same day James M'Gill, John Wardlaw, William Vilant, and
Alexander Wedderburne, all members of the same presbytery with him,
coming to visit him, he made them welcome, and said, "My Lord and
Master is the chief of ten thousand, none is comparable to Him in
heaven or earth. Dear brethren, do all for Him; pray for Christ,
preach for Christ, feed the flock committed to your charge for
Christ, do all for Christ; beware of men-pleasingthere is too much
of it amongst us. The new college hath broken my heart; I can say
nothing of it; I have left it upon the Lord of the house; and it
bath been, and still is, my desire that He may dwell in this
society, and that the youth may be fed with sound knowledge." After
this he said, "Dear brethren, it may seem presumptuous in me, a
particular man, to send a commission to a presbytery;"and Mr.
M'Gill, replying, that it was no presumption, he continued," Dear
brethren, take a commission from me, a dying man, to them to appear,
for God and His cause, and adhere to the doctrine of the covenant,
and have a care of the flock committed to their charge. Let them
feed the flock out of love, preach for God, visit and catechize for
God, and do all for God; beware of men-pleasingthe chief Shepherd
will appear shortly. . . . I have been a sinful man, and have had
mine own failings; but my Lord hath pardoned me and accepted my
labors. I adhere to the Cause and Covenant, and resolve never to
depart from the protestation against the controverted Assemblies. I
am the man I was. I am still for keeping the government of the Kirk
of Scotland entire, and would not for a thousand worlds have had the
least hand in the burning of the 'Causes of God's Wrath.' Oh! for
grace to wrestle with God for their salvation."

Mr. Vilant having prayed at his desire, as they took their leave he
renewed his charge to them to feed the flock out of love. The next
morning, as he recovered out of a fainting, in which they who looked
on expected his dissolution, he said, "I feel, I feel, I believe, I
joy and rejoice, I feed on manna" Mr. Blair, whose praise is in the
Churches, being present, when he took a little wine in a spoon to
refresh himself, being then very weak, said to him, "Ye feed on
dainties in heaven, and think nothing of our cordials on earth." He
answered, "They are all but dung; but they are Christ's creatures,
and, out of obedience to His command, I take them. Mine eyes shall
see my Redeemer; I know He shall stand the last day upon the earth,
and I shall be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air, and I
shall ever be with Him; and what would you have more? there is an
end." And stretching out his hands, he said again, "there is an
end." And a little after, he said, "I have been a single man, but I
stand at the best pass that ever a man did; Christ is mine, and I am
His;" and spoke much of the white stone and new name. Mr. Blair, who
loved with all his heart to hear Christ commended, said to him
again" What think ye now of Christ?" To which he answered, "I shall
live and adore Him. Glory! glory to my Creator and my Redeemer for
ever! Glory shines in Immanuel's land." In the afternoon of that
day, he said, "Oh! that all my brethren in the land may know what a
Master I have served, and what peace I have this day. I shall sleep
in Christ, and when I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.
This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the vail;
and I shall go away in a sleep by five of the clock in the morning;"
which exactly fell out. Though he was very weak, he had often this
expression, "Oh! for arms to embrace Him! Oh! for a well-tuned harp!"

He exhorted Dr. Colvil, a man who complied with prelacy afterwards,
to adhere to the government of the Church of Scotland, and to the
doctrine of the Covenant; and to have a care to feed the youth with
sound knowledge. And the Doctor being the professor of the new
college, he told him that he heartily forgave all the wrongs he had
done him. He spake likewise to Mr. Honeyman, afterwards Bishop
Honeyman, who came to see him, saying, "Tell the presbytery to
answer for God, and His cause and covenant. the case is desperate;
let them be in their duty." Then directing his speech to Dr. Colvil
and Mr. Honeyman, he said, "Stick to it. You may think it an easy
thing in me, a dying man, that I am now going out of the reach of
all that men can do; but He, before whom I stand, knows I dare
advise no colleague or brother to do what I would not cordially do
myself upon all hazard; and as for the 'Causes of God's Wrath,' that
men have now condemned, tell Mr James Wood, from me, that I had
rather lay down my head on a scaffold, and have it chopped off many
times, were it possible, before I had passed from them." And then to
Mr. Honeyman he said, "Tell Mr. Wood, I heartily forgive him all the
wrongs he hath done me; and desire him, from me, to declare himself
the man that he is still for the government of the Church of Scotland."

Afterwards, when some spoke to him of his former painfulness and
faithfulness in the ministry, he said, "I disclaim all that; the
port that I would be at is redemption and forgiveness through His
blood; 'Thou shalt show me the path of life, in Thy sight is fulness
of joy:' there is nothing now betwixt me and the resurrection, but
"to-day thou shalt be with Me in paradise."' Mr. Blair saying,
"Shall I praise the Lord for all the mercies He has done and is to
do for you?" He answered, "Oh ! for a well-tuned harp." To his child
he said, "I have again left you upon the Lord; it may be you will
tell this to others, that 'the lines are fallen to me in pleasant
places; I have got a goodly heritage.' I bless the Lord that He gave
me counsel."

Thus, by five o'clock in the morning, as he himself foretold, it was
said unto him, "Come up hither;" and he gave up the ghost, and the
renowned eagle took its flight unto the mountains of spices.

Thus died the famous Samuel Rutherford, who may justly be accounted
among the sufferers of that time; for surely he was a martyr, both
in his own design and resolution, and by the design and
determination of men. Few men ever ran so long a race without
cessation; so constantly, so unweariedly, and so unblameably. Two
things rarely to be found in one man, were eminent in him, viz., a
quick invention and sound judgment; and these accompanied with a
homely but clear expression, and graceful elocution; so that such as
knew him best, were in a strait whether to admire him most for his
penetrating wit, and sublime genius in the schools, and peculiar
exactness in disputes and matters of controversy, or for his
familiar condescension in the pulpit, where he was one of the most
moving and affectionate preachers in his time, or perhaps in any age
of the Church. To sum up all in a word, he seems to have been one of
the most resplendent lights that ever arose in this horizon.

In all his writings he breathes the true spirit of religion; but in
his every way admirable Letters, he seems to have outdone himself,
as well as everybody else. These, although jested on by the profane
wits of this age, because of some homely and familiar expressions in
them, it must be owned by all who have any relish for true piety,
contain sublime flights of devotion, and must ravish and edify every
sober, serious, and understanding reader.

Among the posthumous Works of the laborious Mr Rutherford, are, his
Letters; the Trial and Triumph of Faith; Christ's Dying and Drawing
of Sinners; a discourse on Prayer; a discourse on the Covenant; on
Liberty of Conscience; a Survey of Spiritual Antichrist; a Survey of
Antinomianism; Antichrist Stormed; and several other controversial
pieces, such as Lex Rex; the Due Right of Church Government; the
Divine Right of Church Government; a Peaceable Plea for Presbytery;
as also his Summary of Church Discipline, and a treatise on the
Divine Influence of the Spirit. There are also many of his sermons
in print, some of which were preached before both Houses of
Parliament, 1644 and 1645. He wrote also upon Providence; but this
being in Latin, is only in the hands of a few, as are also the
greater part of his other works, being so seldom republished. There
is also a volume of Sermons, Sacramental Discourses, etc.

An Epitaph on His Grave-Stone
What tongue, what pen, or skill of men
Can famous Rutherford commend!
His learning justly rais'd his fame
True goodness did adorn his name.
He did converse with things above,
Acquainted with Immanuel's love.
Most orthodox he was and sound,
And many errors did confound.
For Zion's King, and Zion's cause,
And Scotland's covenanted laws,
Most constantly he did contend,
Until his time was at an end.
At last he won to full fruition
Of that which he had seen in vision.

Samuel Rutherford says:

Thank God for any good thing that thou hast, and that thou art kept
in a good estate. They never kent [knew] Christ's help well who put
man in such a tutor's hand as free-will, to be kept by it; who say
that Christ has conquershed [acquired] salvation to all, and when He
has conquershed [acquired] it, He puts it in the hand of free-will
to be disposed of as it pleases, to keep or not to keep it. This is
to make Christ a fool merchant, and not to take accompt [account]
whether it be misspent or not; but Christ is not so. He knows what
shall become of all whom He has bought. You know it is evermore the
happiness of the weaker to depend upon the stronger. So it is the
happiness of the poor soul to depend upon Christ and upon free
grace. The happiness of the ship stands in that to have a good
pilot; the happiness of the lost weak sheep depends on a good
shepherd to seek it in again, and to keep it from the enemies
thereof; the happiness of the weak, witless orphans depends in a
good, wise tutor. Even so the happiness of lost and tint [perishing]
souls depend on this, to lippen [trust] to Christ and His strength
for their salvation, and not to such a changing tutor as their
free-will is.

Christian Directions
by Samuel Rutherford

1. That hours of the day, less or more time, for the Word and
prayer, be given to God; not sparing the twelfth hour, or mid-day,
howbeit it should then be the shorter time.

2. In the midst of worldly employments, there should be some
thoughts of sin, death, judgment, and eternity, with at least a word
or two of ejaculatory prayer to God.

3. To beware of wandering of heart in private prayer.

4. Not to grudge if ye come from prayer without sense of joy.
Downcasting, sense of guiltiness, and hunger, are often best for us.

5. That the Lord's Day, from morning to night, be spent always
either in private or public worship.

6. That words be observed, wandering and idle thoughts be avoided,
sudden anger and desire of revenge, even of such as persecute the
truth, be guarded against; for we often mix our zeal with our
wild-fire.

7. That known, discovered, and revealed sins, that are against the
conscience, be avoided, as most dangerous preparatives to hardness
of heart.

8. That in dealing with men, faith and truth in covenants and
trafficking be regarded, that we deal with all men in sincerity;
that conscience be made of idle and lying words; and that our
carriage be such, as that they who see it may speak honourably of
our sweet Master and profession.

 

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