William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Home
Biographies
 
Back
 
Samuel Rutherford


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 laboured 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,
catechising, 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
catechise 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 labours. 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.




 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Discovery of the Americas