Samuel Rutherford: 1600 - 1661
"Welcome, welcome, cross of Christ, if Christ be with it. An afflicted life looks very like the way that leads to the kingdom." —Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
Samuel Rutherford is known both for his courageous struggle to maintain scriptural truths recovered during the Reformation in Scotland and for his descriptions of the beauties of a Christ-filled life. He was educated in Edinburgh, and was converted to Christ around age 23. His greatest joy was of preaching Christ.
Rutherford signed the National Covenant in 1638 along with other Scottish Covenanters who opposed Anglican dictates over worship. He published Lex Rex: the Law, the King, which refuted the divine right of kings. After King Charles II was crowned in 1661, Rutherford was summoned to Parliament to hang for high treason. Unable to travel, he calmly sent a reply "that he had got another summons before a superior Judge and judicatory;" saying, "I behoove to answer my first summons; and, ere your day arrive, I will be where few kings and great folks come."
On March 20, 1661, Rutherford met Christ at five in the morning, proclaiming "Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel's land!"
"If Christ’s love (that fountain of delight) were laid as open to me as I would wish, oh, how I would drink, and drink abundantly!” (p. 249, para. 1, line 1-3)
Rutherford had a pure, personal, and affectionate relationship with his Lord. In his own words, which often reflect Solomon’s poetry in the Song of Songs, "Christ’s kisses are made sweeter to my soul than ever they were. I would not change my Master with all the kings of clay upon the earth. Oh! my Well-beloved is altogether lovely and loving.” (p. 172, Para. 5, line 2-5)
"…my Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with His joys, my losses with His own presence.” (p. 185, para.1, line 4-6)
"…He Himself visiteth my soul with feasts of spiritual comforts. Oh, how sweet a Master is Christ!”(p. 201, para. 2, line 8-10)
"There is nothing that will make you a Christian indeed, but a taste of the sweetness of Christ. ‘Come and see,’ will speak best to your soul.” (p. 239, para. 2, line 5-7)
"But oh, He is more than my narrow praises! O time, time, flee swiftly, that our communion with Jesus may be perfected!” (p. 243, para. 1, line 13-15)
"…ye shall by little and little smell the sweetness of Christ, till at length your soul be over head and ears in Christ’s sweetness. Then shall ye be taken up to the top of the mountain with the Lord, to know the ravishments of spiritual love, and the glory and excellency of a seen, revealed, felt, and embraced Christ…” (p. 279, para. 2, line 3-8)
"I would esteem myself blessed if I could make an open proclamation, and gather all the world…to flock round about Christ, and to stand looking, wondering, admiring, and adoring His beauty and sweetness. For His fire is hotter than any other fire, His love sweeter than common love, His beauty surpasseth all other beauty…Oh, if ye would fall in love with Him, how blessed were I! how glad would my soul be to help you to love Him!” (p. 306, para. 1, line 1-11) Reading these and other lines in his many letters, we can begin to realize the depth of meaning underneath the lovely poetry. After Rutherford’s poetic opening, he continues: "Whose living streams I’ve tasted, which save from grief and strife.”
Rutherford has much to say in his letters of God’s salvation from so many causes of grief and strife. "Oh, that I were free of that idol which they call myself…Oh, but we have much need to be ransomed and redeemed by Christ from that master-tyrant, that cruel and lawless lord, ourself.” (p. 258, para. 3, line 1-2, 7-9)
"Oh, blessed are they who can deny themselves and put Christ in the room of themselves! Oh, would to the Lord that I had not a myself, but Christ; not a my lust, but Christ; nor a my ease, but Christ; nor a my honor, but Christ! O sweet word! ‘I live no more, but Christ liveth in me!’ (see Gal 2:20)” (p. 277, para. 2, line 19-23)
"Oh, if Christ, Christ had the full place and room of myself, that all my aims, purposes, thoughts, and desires would coast and land upon Christ and not upon myself!” (p. 377, para. 2, line 14-17) What an enjoyment of Christ, a deep, sweet well of life. And its living streams ever save from so many griefs and strife!
Eventually, the fountain widens to an ocean fullness, expanded by God’s mercy and all sufficient in grace to all who freely drink. We must ask why is God’s mercy so extensive and His grace so inexhaustible? Rutherford’s hundreds of letters to others contain this personal realization. He strongly believed God poured out His mercy and grace to thoroughly transfer us out of the life of sin under oppression of the world. He writes: "Let me then speak to you in His words: ‘Be of good courage,’ saith the Captain of our salvation, ‘for I have overcome the world.’…Happy are you, if, when the world trampleth upon you in your credit and good name, yet you are the Lord’s gold, stamped with the King of heaven’s image, and sealed by the Spirit unto the day of your redemption.” (p. 108, para. 2, line 9-12)
"Oh, if my soul might but lie within the smell of His love, suppose I could get no more but the smell of it! … Christ, Christ, nothing but Christ, can cool our love’s burning languor. O thirsty love! wilt thou set Christ, the well of life, to thy head, and drink thy fill? …Oh, if we were clasped in other’s arms!”(p. 147, para. 1, line 20-24)
He thoroughly exposes the world and sin, and their eventual outcomes: "The serving of the world and sin hath but a base reward and smoke instead of pleasures…Go where you will, your soul shall not sleep soundly but in Christ’s bosom.” (p. 194, para., 1, line 8-9 etc.)
"If ye love Him better than the world, and would quit all the world for Him, then that saith the work is sound. Oh, if ye saw the beauty of Jesus, and smelled the fragrance of His love, you would run through fire and water to be at Him!” (p. 199, para. 1, line 4-8)
"And I write to thee, poor mourning and broken-hearted believer, be thou who thou wilt, of the free salvation, Christ’s sweet balm for thy wounds, O poor, humble believer! Christ’s kisses for thy watery cheeks! Christ’s blood of atonement for thy guilty soul! Christ’s heaven for thy poor soul, though once banished out of paradise!” (p. 250, para. 3, lines 2-6)
"And now for myself, I find it the most sweet and heavenly life to take up house and dwelling at Christ’s fireside, and set down my tent upon Christ, that Foundation-stone, who is sure and faithful ground and hard under foot. Oh, if I could win to it, proclaim myself not the world’s debtor, nor a lover obliged to it, and that I mind not to hire or bud this world’s love any longer…” (p. 369, para 4, line 1-6) He goes on: "…draw by the lap of time’s curtain, and to look in through the window to great and endless eternity, and consider if a worldly price (suppose this little round clay globe of this ashy and dirty earth, the dying idol of the fools of this world, were all your own) can be given for one smile of Christ’s Godlike and soul-ravishing countenance…Fear not worms of clay; the moth shall eat them as a garment.” (p. 140, para. 2, line 6-11, lines 24-25)
"Oh, how heavenly a thing it is to be dead, and dumb, and deaf to this world’s sweet music! …I scarcely now either hear or see what it is that this world offereth me…for alas! we but chase feathers flying in the air, and tire our own spirits for the froth and over-gilded clay of a dying life. One sight of what my Lord hath let me see within this short time is worth a world of worlds.” (p. 160, para. 2, line 2-4, 9-10, 12-15)
"I have some experience to write of this to you. My witness is in heaven that I would not exchange my chains and bonds for Christ, and my size, for ten worlds’ glory…We build castles in the air, and night-dreams are our daily idols that we doat on. Salvation, salvation is our only necessary thing. Sir, call home your thoughts to this work, to inquire for your Well-beloved.” (p. 202, para. 13, line 1-3, 9-13)
God's Providence in History: Scottish National Covenant
The Scottish Covenanters signed the National Covenant in February 1638 to uphold the teachings and practices of the Reformation. Why would some be so impassioned to sign the covenant even with their own blood, adding "until death" to their signatures? Why would they refuse to recant and consequently suffer persecutions-including the cruelest maiming, forehead branding, torture, lifelong imprisonment, and even martyrdom?
England's Political Ambitions
Leading up to the National Covenant, Charles I, the King of England and Scotland, instituted severe dictates forcing the people of Scotland to strictly comply with the Prayer Book, rituals, and ecclesiastical system of the Church of England. The king conspired to gain control by requiring all ministers to implement these dictates and by replacing the noncompliant shepherds with his loyal appointees.
Underlying this conflict were England's political ambitions for control over the Scottish people and their government. But for these faithful Scottish Covenanters, it was not just a political battle. They were resisting what they were convinced was apostasy in order to maintain the hard-won advances of the Reformation.
His Letters Live On
Samuel Rutherford is known both for his courageous struggle to maintain scriptural truths recovered during the Reformation in Scotland and for his descriptions of the beauties of a Christ-filled life. His letters reveal a Christ Whose worth is beyond words: "But oh, He is more than my narrow praises! O time, time, flee swiftly, that our communion with Jesus may be perfected!"
Woven into Poetry
Almost two centuries later, Anne Ross Cousin was deeply affected by her study of these overcoming believers, but she was particularly moved by Samuel Rutherford's letters. She penned her original poem of nineteen verses, weaving together selected phrases from thirty-six of his letters.
In 1600, Samuel Rutherford was born to a respectable farming family in Nisbet Parish, Scotland. At age seventeen, he entered the college at Edinburgh, where "his talents and his industry … carried him to the top of his classes, and all his days he could write in Latin better than either in Scotch or English.” Due to his academic success, Rutherford was appointed Professor of Humanity at the young age of twenty-three.
A Saving Eye
Around the same time, he was converted to Christ, later confessing, "Oh but Christ hath a saving eye! … When He first looked on me, I was saved; it cost Him but a look to make hell quit of me!” It was love at first sight, and Rutherford’s life was forever changed.
A Life of Service
Shepherding His Flock: Yearning Most Tenderly
Rutherford went on to complete his studies in theology, and thereafter was appointed to the tiny backwoods hamlet called Anwoth, where he shepherded the flock "scattered over a hilly district” for nine years:
See him passing along yonder field and climbing that hill on his way to some cottage.… He has time to visit, for he rises at three in the morning, and at that early hour meets his God in prayer and meditation, and has space for study besides.… Men said of him, "He is always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechizing, always writing and studying.” He was known to fall asleep at night talking of Christ and even to speak of Him during his sleep. Indeed, he himself speaks of his dreams being of Christ.
Each Christian in Anwoth Parish was the object of Rutherford’s care, but "over the unsaved he yearned most tenderly.” He implored, "Oh, if ye would fall in love with Him, how blessed were I! How glad would my soul be to help you to love Him!”
Christ, Nothing but Christ
Rutherford longed to help each soul drink from the deep, sweet well of the Savior. "Christ, nothing but Christ, can cool our love’s burning languor.” He prayed earnestly to be able to distribute "the great Loaf, Christ, to the children of His family.”
Rutherford further spoke to his flock of the deepening relationship of Christ with His beloved Bride. He desired that each "poor vile sinner” would be brought into the Lord’s "house of wine.” He told them, "Know, therefore, … our Lord Jesus cometh to woo a bride.” He exhorted, "Be content … every day to be adding … to your wedding garment, that ye may be at last decored and trimmed as a bride for Christ, … beautified in the hidden man of the heart.”
Welcome, Cross of Christ: Rutherford’s Sufferings Described—Andrew Bonar:
Rutherford’s joy at shepherding in Anwoth was mingled with suffering, including the deaths of his two children in infancy. During his labors there, "the sore illness of his wife was a bitter grief to him. Her distress was very severe. He writes of it: ‘She is sore tormented night and day.—My life is bitter unto me.—She sleeps none, and cries as a woman travailing in birth; my life was never so wearisome.’ She continued in this state for no less than a year and a month, ere she died.” (Andrew Bonar, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, p. 20)
Just before his wife’s death in 1630, Rutherford himself was very sick, as Bonar states, ”His labors were interrupted by a fever which laid him aside for thirteen weeks. Even when well recovered he could for a long time preach only on the Sabbath: visiting and catechizing were at a stand. … He writes in the midst of it, ‘Welcome, welcome, cross of Christ, if Christ be with it.’ ‘An afflicted life looks very like the way that leads to the kingdom.’” (Bonar, p. 23)
A Shepherd’s Heart Imparted
"And some years thereafter, when his mother (who came from Nisbet and resided with him six years after his first wife’s death) was in a dangerous illness, he touchingly informs one of his correspondents, to whom he writes from Anwoth, ‘My mother is weak, and I think shall leave me alone; but I am not alone, because Christ’s Father is with me.’” (Bonar, p. 20)
"Such was the discipline by which he was trained for the duties of a pastor, and by which a shepherd’s heart of true sympathy was imparted to him.” (Bonar,p. 22)
In Defense of Grace
In 1636, Rutherford published a treatise in defense of grace that revealed his nonconformity to the religious authorities of the time. For this stance, the High Court removed him from Anwoth and sent him to Aberdeen to suffer town arrest.
"My Dumb Sabbaths”
Furthermore, he was forbidden to preach in the pulpit: "Next to Christ, I had but one joy, the apple of the eye of my delights, to preach Christ, my Lord; and they have violently plucked that away from me.” He mourned, "My dumb Sabbaths burden my heart and make it bleed.” "The banished minister,” as he was known in the town, was openly shunned on the streets—the authorities giving him the coldest reception of all.
Yet, many townspeople secretly sought his counsel. He admitted, "I find folks here kind to me, but in the night and under their breath.” He continued to share Christ with his frequent visitors, which further angered town authorities.
The True Source of Grief—the Self
While he suffered outwardly from banishment to Aberdeen, Rutherford realized the true source of grief and strife resides within man. He wrote, "Oh, that I were free of that idol which they call myself.… Oh, but we have much need to be ransomed and redeemed by Christ from that master-tyrant, that cruel and lawless lord, ourself.”
A Worldly Price for Christ’s Smile
Furthermore, he exposed the foolish and false enticements that the world feeds upon:
Draw by the lap of time’s curtain, and … look in through the window to great and endless eternity, and consider if a worldly price (suppose this little round clay globe of this ashy and dirty earth, the dying idol of the fools of this world, were all your own) can be given for one smile of Christ’s God like and soul-ravishing countenance.
God’s Sovereign Arrangement
Though deeply afflicted by separation from his flock, Rutherford submitted to God’s sovereign arrangement. In fact, these trials yielded a fragrance of resurrection wafting from the hundreds of letters he wrote to his loved ones back home: "His fair face, His lovely and kindly kisses, have made me, a poor prisoner, see that there is more to be had of Christ in this life than I believed! … But yet I know it is more: it is the kingdom of God within us.”
His correspondents began sharing his exhorting and encouraging letters with one another, leading to a compilation in book form that preserved Rutherford’s letters through the centuries as a lasting memorial of the loveliness of Christ, Who was his "King of grace.”
A Wider Influence
Due to the imposition of Anglican liturgy in worship, a Scottish uprising occurred that culminated in the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. Because of this political and religious turn of events, Rutherford was given back the care of his beloved flock in Anwoth.
Teaching and Preaching
However, his godly influence was needed at St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland. Though saddened to leave Anwoth just a year after returning, he accepted his appointment as professor with the stipulation that he should not be subjected to another "dumb Sabbath.”
Thus, he was able to preach his beloved Christ in local parishes every weekend, in addition to fervently laboring at the university for more than twenty years. He influenced many college students, who were known for their profane conversation and error in doctrine.
Westminster Assembly Appointment
Rutherford was sent as one of four Scottish representatives to the historic Westminster Assembly in London, where they labored to define and uphold the fundamental beliefs and practices of the Reformation in Britain.
During those four years away from the college, he endured ill health and suffered the loss of six children from his second marriage. Nevertheless, he affirmed, "My Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with His joys, my losses with His own presence.”
Peace Amidst Persecution
In 1661, the tides of government changed yet again, and Charles II was crowned. Many of the Scottish Covenanters became martyrs under the ensuing wave of persecution. Rutherford was no exception.
Even then it was said of him, "His talents, his industry, his scholarship, his preaching power, his pastoral solicitude and his saintly character all combined to make Rutherford a marked man both to the friends and to the enemies of the truth.”
Summoned by the Earthly King
As Rutherford lay on his deathbed, a summons came from Edinburgh: He was commanded to appear before the next Parliament to stand trial for high treason against the newly restored monarchy of King Charles II. The charge was Rutherford’s disputing the divine right of kings, as maintained in his book Lex Rex: The Law, the King.
Because of its arguments for freedom, Lex Rex was found intolerable and burned, first by the hangman in Edinburgh, and later under the very windows of its author’s college in St. Andrews, Scotland. If Rutherford would not give a bold recantation of his position, he would be executed.
Summoned by the Eternal King
Unable to travel, Rutherford calmly sent a reply "that he had got another summons before a superior Judge and judicatory;” saying, "I behoove to answer my first summons; and, ere your day arrive, I will be where few kings and great folks come.”
Upon hearing that Rutherford was dying, Parliament voted to expel him so "that he should not be allowed to die in the college.” One lawmaker, Lord Burleigh, retorted, "Ye have voted that honest man out of his college, but ye cannot vote him out of heaven.”
Beholding the Face of Christ
Before the next Parliament could pronounce a judgment of death for his position in Lex Rex, Samuel Rutherford was beholding the face of the Lord Jesus in righteousness. He, like the psalmist in the midst of his enemies, was satisfied to awake in His likeness.
Rutherford was called home to the Lord in March of 1661 at the age of sixty-one. He was survived by his second wife, Jean, and their daughter, Agnes. Both children from his first marriage and six from his second pre-deceased him.
Come in to Christ
Throughout his yielded life, Rutherford had proclaimed of the Lord, "He Himself visiteth my soul with feasts of spiritual comforts. Oh, how sweet a Master is Christ!” Rutherford had learned contentment in Christ. No gathering storm clouds could diminish his inner joy, his enjoyment of "that deep, sweet well of life.” In a letter, he asserted:The serving of the world and sin hath but a base reward and smoke instead of pleasures.… Go where you will, your soul shall not sleep soundly but in Christ’s bosom.
Rutherford received his sufferings without bitterness. He viewed his trials as opportunities to discover more divine treasures. Rutherford urged,Be humbled; walk softly. Down, down, for God’s sake.… Stoop, stoop! it is a low entry to go in.… Come in, come in to Christ, and see what ye want, and find it in Him.
"O Christ, He Is the Fountain” expresses God’s plan for the glorious relationship between Christ and His corporate Bride for eternity. Because of Christ’s great love and longing for His Bride, He is perfecting her to be His loving counterpart. Samuel Rutherford yearned earnestly for his Beloved’s return and "the dawning of the marriage-day!” With sweet anticipation, he exclaimed, "Oh, if He would fold the heavens together like an old cloak, and shovel time and days out of the way, and make ready in haste the Lamb’s Wife for her Husband!” All through his lifetime, he gave the Lamb all the glory, for he had only one prayerful desire:God send me no more, for my part of paradise, but Christ.
A Final Thought…
A Fountain Freely Flows
Where can we find a cool, refreshing drink of water to quench the dry, parching thirst that comes from roaming the dirty roads of this world? Can an eternal source of satisfaction for our longings be found anywhere? Yes, in fact, such a fountain freely flows in Christ Himself to all who would drink Him! When we drink Him as the living stream, we receive a refreshing supply that cannot compare to any earthly enjoyment.
His Grace is All-Sufficient
Every positive attribute we need for the Christian life has its source in God and cannot naturally issue from ourselves. But we can rejoice! For He has willingly extended His mercy—expanding even "to an ocean fulness”—and we find His grace is all-sufficient. As we drink that water of life, we are satisfied and enabled to live Christ, thus expressing the divine attributes of God Himself.
"O Christ, He Is the Fountain”
In this poem, Anne Ross Cousin portrays the deep significance of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Jesus is the One with "piercéd hands” Who has purchased us with His precious blood—all to bring each of us as a "poor vile sinner” into "His house of wine!”
What a transformation has been wrought in us and for us. The vile sinner has become His Bride! Now we "stand upon His merit,” are "hidden in His presence,” and are "held by His own hand.” As His Bride, we delight in gazing on our dear Bridegroom’s face. He has become our King of grace for eternity.