Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford
Born Born circa 1600
Nisbet, Roxburghshire
Died Died 30 March 1661

Mr. Samuel Rutherford a gentleman by extraction, having spent sometime 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.

Sometime 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 of 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, &c. for which he was summoned (as early as June 1630) before the high commission court, but the weather was so tempestuous as to obstruct the passage of the arch-bishop 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 being so ill of a tertian fever for thirteen weeks, that then 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, and 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; for 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 1.” 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 apologetica pro divina gratia, which book they alledged did reflect upon the church of Scotland, but the truth was, says a late historian 2, The argument of that book did cut the sinews of Arminianism, and galled the Episcopal clergy to the very quick, and so bishop Sydresert could endure him no longer. When he came before the commission court he altogether declined them as a lawful judicatory, and would not give the chancellor (being a clergyman) and the bishops their titles by lording of them, yet some had the courage to befriend him, particularly, the lord Lorn (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 to exercise 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, &c. 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 in a declinature against the high commission court in the year 1638, he adventured to return back again to his flock at Anwoth, where he again took great pains, both in public and private, amongst that people, who from all quarters resorted to his ministry, so that the whole country side might account themselves as his particular flock, and it being then in the dawning of the reformation, found no small benefit by the gospel, that part of the ancient prophecy being farther accomplished, for in the wilderness shall 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 hither 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 arch-bishop (and by that means 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 through the whole land, many of whom he guided to heaven before himself (who received the spiritual life by his ministry), and many others did walk in that light after him.

And as he 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 (afterward bishop of Dunkeld), against private society meetings (which were then abounding in the land), on which ensued much reasoning, the one side yielding that a paper before drawn up by Mr. Henderson should be agreed unto concerning the order to be kept in these meetings, &c. 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, Mal. v. 16. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, &c. James v. 16. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, &c. These things could not be done in public meetings, &c.” And although the earl of Seaforth there present, and those of Guthrie’s faction upbraided this good man for this, yet it had influence upon the majority of the members, so that all the opposite party got done, was an act anent the ordering of family-worship.

He was also one of the Scots commissioners appointed anno 1643, to the Westminster assembly, and was very much beloved there for his 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 that time, and none ever had the courage to take up the gauntlet of defiance thrown down by this champion 3.

When the principal business of this assembly was pretty well settled, Mr. Rutherford, on 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, an 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 anno 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 intreat 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. 4” From which 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 protesters and the public resolutioners, anno 1650, and 1651, he espoused the protestors quarrel, and gave faithful warning against these public resolutions, and likewise during the time of Cromwel’s usurpation he contended against all the prevailing sectaries that then ushered in with the sectaries by virtue of his toleration 5. 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 sequestrate 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 forementioned 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 1661, were to have an indictment laid before them against him, and such was their humanity (when every body knew he was a-dying) that they caused summon him to appear before them at Edinburgh, to answer to a charge of high treason 6: But he had a higher tribunal to appear before, where his judge was his friend, and was dead before that time came, being taken away from the evil to come.

When on his death-bed, he lamented much that he was with-held 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 7 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 shine, I 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, &c.

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 public, he had this expression, “Horror hath 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, “He is made of God to me wisdom, righteousness, &c.”—adding, “I close with it, let him be so, he is my all in all.”

March 17th, 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 nor 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 protestors, are the witnesses of Jesus Christ. I hope never to depart from that cause nor side with those that 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 Messrs. James M’Gil, 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-pleasing, there is too much of it amongst us. The new college hath broke my heart, I can say nothing of it, I have left it upon the Lord of the house, and it hath been and still is my desire that he may dwell in this society, and that the youth may he 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, 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-pleasing, the chief shepherd will appear shortly, &c. I have been a sinful man, and have had mine own failings, but my Lord hath pardoned and accepted my labours. I adhere to the cause and covenant, and resolve never to depart from the protestation 8 against the controverted assemblies. I am the man I was. I am still for keeping the government of the kirk of Scotland intire, 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 their 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, he took a little wine in a spoon to refresh himself, being then very weak, he 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 be ever 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 Emmanuel’s land.” In the afternoon of that day he said, “Oh! that all my brethren in the public 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 afterward) 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 him all the wrongs he had done him. He spake likewise to Mr. Honeyman (afterward bishop Honeyman) who came to see him, saying, “Tell the presbytery to answer for God and his cause and covenant, saying, The case is desperate, let them be in their duty.”——Then directing his speech to Mr. 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 has 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 shew 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 9 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.

In the foresaid manner died the famous Mr. 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 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 be 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 out-done himself, as well as every body else, which, 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, that they contain such sublime flights of devotion that they must at once 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, &c.; and a discourse on prayer; all in octavo. A discourse on the covenant; on liberty of conscience; a survey of spiritual antichrist; a survey of antinomianism; antichrist stormed; and several other controverted pieces, such as lex rex, the due right of church-government; the divine right of church-government; and a peaceable plea for presbytery; are for the most part in quarto, as also his summary of church discipline, and a treatise on the divine influence of the Spirit. There are also a variety of his sermons in print, some of which were preached before both houses of parliament annis 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, &c. which I have been desired to publish.

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 Emmanuel’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 wan to full fruition
Of that which he had seen in vision.

October 9th, 1735. W. W.

  1. See his letters, part iii. letter 27.
  2. See Stevenson’s history, vol. 1. page 149. Rowe’s history, page 295.
  3. 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 to be burnt at the cross of Edinburgh, by the hands of the hangman.
  4. See his letter to Col. Gib, Ker, part II. letter 59.
  5. Betwixt this toleration and that of the duke of York there was this difference; in this all sects and religions were tolerated, except popery and prelacy; but in that of York these two were only tolerated, and all others except those who professed true presbyterian covenanted principles; and as for Queen Ann’s toleration, it was nothing else than a reduplication upon this to restore their beloved {illegible} prelacy again.
  6. It is commonly said, that when the summons came he spoke out of his bed and said, Tell them I have got summons already before a superior judge and judicatory, and I behove to answer my last 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 put to a vote, Whether or not to let him die in the college. It 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 hawl me in. See Walker’s Rem. page 171.
  7. See this testimony and some of his last words published in 1711.
  8. This appears to be these papers bearing the name of representations, propositions, protestations, &c. given in by him, and Messrs. Cant and Livingston to the ministers and elders met at Edinburgh, July 24th 1652.
  9. It appears that he married a second wife by whom he had only one child alive. See his letters part III. letter 55.
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