Biographical Introduction

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Samuel Rutherford may be regarded as Preacher, Controversialist, or Letter-writer. As the Preacher, he was homely, pithy, moving, and affectionate, appealing almost exclusively to the congregations of his day. As the Controversialist, he was the profound scholar, presenting his ecclesiastical convictions with all the religious fervor of his fiery nature; and as such he was, in a large degree, the servant of a party. As the Letter-writer, he was the heavenly-minded saint, appealing to the affections of God’s people for all time.
Rutherford was born about the year 1600, in a village of Roxburghshire. Of his conversion no details have been recorded, save only, that he himself tells us, “Like a fool as I was, I suffered my sun to be high in the heavens, and near afternoon, before ever I took the gate.” Probably it was about 1625, at the close of his brilliant college career, that he took the strait gate and the narrow way which leadeth unto life.
In 1627 he was settled at “fair Anwoth by the Solway,” a land of secluded valleys and wooded hills. For nine years he ministered, as Preacher and Pastor, to a scattered and rural flock. His habit was to rise at three in the morning and commence his day alone with God in prayer and meditation. It was said of him, “He is always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechizing, always writing and studying.” He is described by his contemporaries as a man who, whether walking or preaching, held “aye his face upward,” as if he already saw the King in His beauty, and beheld the Land that is very far off. Little wonder that a hearer testified of his preaching, “He showed me the loveliness of Christ.”
Such ministry, richly blessed to large congregations, could hardly escape the opposition of the Devil. In 1636 the storm burst. Rutherford’s persistent refusal to conform to Episcopacy, and the publication of his work against Arminianism, made him highly obnoxious to the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the day. He was summoned before a High Commission Court at Wigtown, presided over by Sydserff, the intolerant Bishop of Galloway, and later before the Court at Edinburgh. By these Courts he was deposed from his ministerial office, forbidden to preach in any part of Scotland, and banished to Aberdeen to remain within the precincts of the city during the King’s pleasure.
The opposition had apparently succeeded. In reality the devil had outwitted himself. True, the preaching of Christ, to limited congregations, was for the moment silenced, but only to give place to a ministry of Christ, that has been for the blessing and comfort of the generation of God’s people for all the succeeding years. At first his “silent Sabbaths” weighed heavily upon his spirit. But the gloom passed, and so feasted was he with the love of Christ that he can write, “My prison is a palace to me, and Christ’s banqueting house.”
Of his three hundred and sixty-two letters that have been preserved, two hundred and nineteen were written during the seventeen months he was confined in “Christ’s prison palace” of Aberdeen.
In 1638, taking advantage of the national rising against Episcopacy, Rutherford left his place of exile. For a short time he returned to his beloved Anwoth. In 1639 he reluctantly accepted the position of Professor of Divinity in the New College at St. Andrews University― should be allowed to continue his preaching.
From November, 1643, until November, 1647, we find Rutherford residing in London, in attendance upon the Westminster Assembly, as one of the representatives of the Church of Scotland.
Returning to St. Andrews, he was appointed Principal of the New College, and, four years later, Rector of the University. During the years that followed, while zealously performing his official duties, he never ceased to engage in the work he had most at heart―the preaching of Christ. But they were years of stress and conflict. The clouds of religious persecution were again gathering over the land. Soon after the restoration of the dissolute Charles II the persecution began.
James Guthrie, on his way to the martyr’s crown, was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, together with other protesting ministers. One so prominent as Rutherford was not likely to escape. His work “Lex Rex” was highly obnoxious to Charles and his arbitrary government. It was condemned as a seditious and treasonable book, and publicly burned by the hangman at the cross of Edinburgh, and later under the windows of Rutherford’s College at St. Andrews. Rutherford, himself, was deposed from all his offices, and summoned to appear before the next Parliament to answer to the charge of treason.
But the summons came too late. For Rutherford the sands of time were sinking. The messengers found him already on his deathbed. He calmly sent back the message, “I have got a summons already before a superior Judge and judicatory, and I behoove to answer my first summons, and ere your day arrive I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”
With incredible meanness the enraged Parliament voted that he should not be permitted to die in the College. Lord Burleigh raised a protest: “Ye have voted,” said he, “that honest man out of his college, but ye cannot vote him out of heaven.”
His preaching finished, and weary of conflict, the dying man turned with longing heart to “Immanuel’s high and blessed land” where, as he says, “no wind bloweth but the breathings of the Holy Ghost, no seas nor floods but the pure water of life, that proceedeth from under the throne and from the Lamb! no planting but the Tree of Life that yieldeth twelve manner of fruits every month.” When asked, “What think ye now of Christ?” he replied, “I shall live and adore Him. Glory, glory to my Creator and Redeemer forever. Glory shineth in Immanuel’s land.” To some brother ministers he said, “My Lord is the chief of ten thousands of thousands. None is comparable to Him, in heaven or on 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. The Chief Shepherd will shortly appear.” To one who spoke in praise of his ministry he said, “I disclaim all. The port I would be in at is redemption and forgiveness of sins through His blood.”
On the last day of his life, March 28, 1661, he said, “This night shall close the door and put my anchor within the veil, and I shall go away in a sleep by five o’clock in the morning.” And so it came to pass. At the dawn of the day he answered to the summons from on high, and passed into the presence of his Lord,
Where glory―glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
Hamilton Smith