Samuel R

Samuel Rutherford


THE more prominent features of a man’s public life are generally characterised by the spirit of the times in which he lived. If the period has been peaceful and undisturbed by party controversy and the disputes of opposing factions, then all flows smoothly and quietly on; the minds of the people repose unharassed and unexcited by public contentions and quarrels; there is opportunity for the cultivation of the useful arts; a taste is displayed in the pursuit of learning and literature, and improvements and discoveries, in every branch of science and art, advance with rapid strides. Such a state of things men of civilized nations in general desire. Yet a period like this, when there has been “peace in the land,” looked back upon from a succeeding age, or read as a chapter of history, appears tame and monotonous. There is nothing to arouse the attention or awaken the feelings, when the only record we have of a man is, that he lived, died, and was buried. But it is otherwise when the times have been the scene of anarchy, civil war, or persecution. Then the calmness and repose of the community is broken up; men are excited and roused by the spirit-stirring events that are passing around them; each must take their side; — it is then that their characters are drawn out and shown in a true light: the weak; the timid and undecided, keep the back ground, while men of courage and daring stand forward in bold relief.

There has been in the history of mankind, in all ages, two great contending principles at issue — the contest of error against truth, and the struggle of truth with error. On the one side — error, with the violence of oppression, doing all that persecution can accomplish, in endeavouring to exterminate virtue from the moral universe; and on the other — truth, with noble courage and exalted firmness, maintaining the purity of her principles in opposition to ignorance and persecution. For upwards of four thousand years she has grappled with superstition, idolatry, and bigotry, and, with moral weapons, she has vindicated the justice of her principles, which her enemies have found easier to answer with the sword than by argument. In every age error has had the majority, for truth has had few followers; but, in the end, she has been triumphant even at the stake, or on the scaffold. Yet the faggot will burn with a fiercer flame, and the guillotine will be deeper dyed with the martyr’s blood than it has ever yet been, ere the world assent to the truth of her doctrines. On looking back, and reviewing the civil and religious history of our own land, we observe the mighty contest between Popery and the Reformed Doctrine — we see the fearful conflict of right and wrong — and we see truth, with a gigantic effort, burst the tetters which had so long held the people in mental bondage and ignorance. Again, we observe the struggles between Presbytery and Episcopacy, during most of the latter half of the seventeenth century; one party urged on by a spine of opposition and bigotry, to trample on the religious rights and privileges of the people, and doing all in their power to bring them again under the iron sway of the Church of Rome; the other, with moral courage and firmness, standing boldly forward, in the front of persecution, tyranny, and oppression, tor the cause and promotion of true religion; ana from the martyrdom of Hamilton, Scotland’s first martyr, many a noble spirit has been immolated and set free, for the cause, and at the shrine of Truth; —

“Yet few remember them.
They lived unknown
Till persecution dragg’d them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven.”

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD was born in the parish of Nisbet, in Roxburghshire, in the year 1600. Of the sphere in life occupied by his parents, we have no means of correctly ascertaining. He is mentioned by Reid “to have been born of respectable parents,”* and Wodrow states that he came of “mean, but honest parents.” It is probable, however, that his father was engaged in agricultural pursuits; at all events, he must have held a respectable rank in society, as he otherwise could not have given his son so superior an education. At an early period of his life he discovered a precocious talent, and his parents consequently destined him for the ministry.

In 1617 he was sent to Edinburgh, and entered the University as a student, where he appears to have excelled in the studies in which he was engaged, for, in four years, he took his degree of Master of Arts; and in 1623, after a severe contest with three competitors, he was elected one of the Regents of the College. The acquirements he displayed at this early period were justly appreciated by his contemporaries. We are told that “the whole Regents, out of their particular knowledge of Mr Samuel Rutherford, demonstrated to them [the Judges] his eminent abilities of mind and virtuous dispositions, wherewith the Judges, being satisfied, declared him successor in the Professor of Humanity.”† He, however, only acted in the capacity of Regent about two years, and, on leaving his charge, he devoted himself to the study of Theology, under Mr Andrew Ramsay.

The Church of Scotland was at this period almost entirely under the jurisdiction of Episcopal bishops. The establishment of Episcopacy had been gradually going on since the accession of James to the throne of England, who lent all his aid and authority to the furtherance of that end. The Presbyterians who would not conform to the discipline of church government which had been obtruded upon them, were cruelly oppressed. Many were imprisoned, and their goods confiscated; others were banished from their native land ; and not a few were dragged to the scaffold or the stake. At the death of King James, in 1625, his son Charles succeeded to the throne, and the people hoped that their grievances would now be listened to, and their wrongs redressed; but they were disappointed. “The father’s madness,” says Stevenson, “laid the foundation for his successor’s woes, and the son exactly followed the father’s steps.”‡ James held the principles of a royal prerogative, and required absolute and implicit obedience in too strict a manner. These he instilled into the mind of his son, and was, unhappily, too successful; for, on Charles’ succession, he carried out the same principles to a most intolerant degree, which was the cause of so much anarchy and confusion in the nation, and entailed upon himself those misfortunes which rendered his reign so unhappy, and his end so miserable.

In 1627, Rutherford was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel, and through the influence of John Gordon of Kenmure, (afterwards Viscount Kenmure,) appointed to a church in the parish of Anwoth, in Kirkcudbright. There is sufficient authority to show that he was not inducted by Episcopal ordination. Being firmly attached to the Presbyterian form of Government from his youth, he manifested great dislike to Prelacy, and could never be induced to stoop to the authority of the bishops, which, at that time, was a very difficult matter to evade. We are told by Stevenson, that “until the beginning of the year 1628, some few preachers, by influence, were suffered to enter the ministry without conformity, and in this number we suppose Mr Rutherford may be reckoned, because he was ordained before the doors came to be more closely shut upon honest preachers.” Other authorities might be quoted to the same effect. Here he discharged the duties of his sacred calling with great diligence; and, no doubt, with success. He was accustomed to rise so early as three o’clock in the morning and devoted his whole time to the spiritual wants of his flock and his own private religious duties. His labours were not confined to his own parishioners, many persons resorted to him from surrounding parishes. “He was,” says Livingston, “a great strengthener of all the Christians in that country, who had been the fruits of the ministry of Mr John Welsh, the time he had been at Kirkcudbright.”

In 1630, Rutherford experienced a severe affliction by the death of his wife, after a painful and protracted illness of thirteen months, scarcely five years after their marriage. Her death seems to have been the source of much sorrow to him, as he frequently takes notice of it in his letters with much feeling, long after his painful bereavement. To add to his distress, he was himself afflicted with a fever, which lasted upwards of three months, by which he was so much reduced, that it was long ere he was able tor perform his sacred duties.

John Gordon, Viscount Kenmure, who had long been the friend and patron of Rutherford, for whom he entertained the greatest respect and esteem, was in August 1634, seized with a disease which caused his death on September following, to the deep sorrow of Rutherford, who was with him at his last moments. Kenmure was a nobleman of an amiable and pious disposition; and, as may be supposed, experienced much pleasure in his intercourse with Rutherford. To Lady Kenmure, Rutherford wrote many of his famous “Letters.”

About this time, the doctrines of Arminius began to spread to an alarming extant amongst the Episcopalians, His tenets were espoused by Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and also by many of the Scottish prelates, headed by Maxwell, Bishop of Ross, as those only who held the same principles had any chance of preferment in the Church. Rutherford viewed the promulgation of these dangerous tenets with great anxiety, and did all in his power to controvert and oppose them. In 1636, appeared his learned treatise, entitled, “Exercitationes Apologeticæ pro Divina Gratia, which was dedicated to Viscount Kenmure, but was not published till eighteen months after his death. This work gave great offence to the government: he was in consequence summoned to appear before a High Commission Court, which had been constituted by Thomas Sydserff, Bishop of Galloway, a man of Arminian principles, which met at Wigton in June (1636), and there deprived of his office. Sydserff, who had imbibed an inveterate Hatred against him, was not satisfied with this, but had him again summoned before the High Commission Court at Edinburgh, which met in July following, and he was there accused “of non-conformity, for preaching against the Perth Articles, and for writing a book, entitled, Exercitationes Apologiticæ pro Divina Gratia, which they alleged did reflect upon the Church of Scotland ; but the truth was, the arguments in that book did cut the sinews of Arminianism, and galled the Episcopal clergy to the quick, and therefore Bishop Lydserff could no longer abide him.” Here many other false, frivolous, and extravagant charges were brought against him, but being firm in his innocence, he repelled them all. Lord Lorn (brother to Lady Kenmure), and many others, endeavoured to befriend him; but such was the malevolence of Sydserff, that he swore an oath, if they did not agree to his wishes, he would write to the king. After three days’ trial, sentence was passed upon him, that he be deprived of his pastoral office, and discharged from preaching in any part of Scotland, under pain of rebellion, and to be confined before the 20th of August 1636, within the town of Aberdeen during the king’s pleasure. This sentence he obeyed, but severe and unjust as it was, it did not discourage him, for in one of his letters, he says, “I go to my king’s palace at Aberdeen; tongue, pen, nor wit, cannot express my joy.”

During his confinement in Aberdeen, he wrote many of his well-known “Letters,” which have been so popular. Indeed, there are few cottage libraries in Scotland in which they do not find a place among the scanty but select collection. Episcopacy and Arminianism at this time held the sole sway in Aberdeen, and it was with no gracious feeling that the learned doctors beheld the arrival of Rutherford. They had all imbibed the principles of their great patron, Laud, and manifested great hostility to Presbyterianism, which was the principal cause of his being sent to that town. He met at first with a cold reception, and his opponents did all in their power to operate on the minds of the people against him.

He says himself; that “the people thought him a strange man, and his cause not good.” His innocency, however, and the truth of his cause, began at last to be known, and his popularity was spreading daily; — which so much alarmed the doctors, that they wished he might be banished from the kingdom. They entered into several disputations with him, but he appears to have proved himself a match tor them. “I am here troubled,” says he, “with the disputes of the great doctors, (especially with Dr Barron, on ceremonial and Arminian controversies — for all are corrupt here,) but, I thank God, with no detriment to the truth, or discredit to my profession.”

About this period, great confusion and commotion reigned in Scotland. It had long been the wish of King Charles to introduce the Church of England Service-book and Canons into the worship of the Presbyterians of Scotland. He accordingly, in April 1636, with ill-judged policy, commenced arrangements for its accomplishment, and gave commands to Archbishop Laud, Bishops Juxon and Wren, to compile a liturgy for the special use of the Church of Scotland. Consequently, one was soon framed, which was nearly similar to that used in the Church of England, excepting a few alterations; and, wherever these occurred, the language was almost synonimous with the Roman Missal. In 1637, a proclamation was issued, commanding the people’s strict observance of this new form of worship, and a day was accordingly fixed tor its introduction into Edinburgh, — on which it was presumed that compliance would follow throughout all the land. The feelings of the people, as may be supposed, were roused to a high pitch; — they stood boldly forward in opposition to such a tyrannical encroachment on their religious liberty, and manifested such a firm and determined spirit of resistance, that Charles soon began to see, when too late, that he had drawn the reins too tight. They would accept of no measure short of an entirely free and unfettered Presbyterian form of worship, and a chain of events followed which led to a renewal of the National Covenant and the abolition of Episcopacy.

During these tumults, Rutherford ventured to leave the place of his confinement in Aberdeen, and returned to his parishioners in Anwoth about February 1638, after an absence of more than eighteen months. They did not, however, long enjoy his ministrations, as we find him, in the same year, actively engaged in Glasgow in forwarding the great covenanted work of reformation. Rutherford was deputed one of the commissioners from the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright to the famous General Assembly of 1638, which was convened at Glasgow on the 21st of November. He was called upon to give an account of the accusations which had been preferred against him by the high commission court. After deliberation, a sentence was passed in his favour, and he, along with some others who were in the same circumstances, were recognised as members of the Assembly, Soon after this, an application was made to the Assembly’s commission to have him transferred to Glasgow, and another by the University of St. Andrews, that he might be elected professor of divinity in the New College there. The commission appointed him to the professorship in St. Andrews, as his learning and talents fully qualified him for that important situation. He manifested, however, great reluctance to leave Anwoth, and pleaded, in a petition, his “bodily weakness and mental incapacity.” There were several other petitions presented from the county of Galloway against his leaving Anwoth, but to no effect; the Court sustained his appointment. In October 1639, he removed to the scene of his future labours, and was appointed colleague to Mr Robert Blair, one of the ministers of St. Andrews.

Rutherford was nominated one of the commissioners to the General Assembly of divines held at Westminster in 1643. His colleagues were — Alexander Henderson, Robert Baillie, George Giilespie, and Robert Douglas, ministers, — the Earl of Cassilis, Lord Maitland, (afterwards Duke of Lauderdale,) and Sir Archibald Johnston, of Warriston, elders. He took a prominent part in ail the discussions in that famous council, and published several works of a controversial and practical nature. About this time, he wrote his celebrated work entitled Lex Rex, in answer to a treatise by John Maxwell, the excommunicated Bishop of Ross, entitled “Sacro-Sancta Regum Majestas,” or the sacred and royal prerogative of Christian kings, wherein soveraigntie is, by Holy Scripture, reverend antiquitie, and sound reason asserted,” 4to., Oxford, 1644. This work endeavours to prove, that the royal prerogative of kingly authority is derived alone from God; and it demands an absolute and passive obedience of the subject to the will of the sovereign. The arguments in Lex Rex completely refute all the wild and absurd notions which Maxwell’s wort contains, although some of the sentiments would be thought rather democratical in modern times. The author displays an intimate knowledge of the classics and the writings of the ancient fathers and schoolmen. The work caused great sensation on its appearance. Bishop Guthrie mentions, that every member of the assembly “had in his hand that book lately published by Mr Samuel Rutherford, which was so idolized, that whereas Buchanan’s treatise (de jure Regni apud Scotos) was looked upon as an oracle, this coming forth. it was slighted as not anti-monarchical enough, and Rutherford’s Lex Rex only thought authentic.”

Rutherford, who was anxious to return to Scotland, on account of bad health, had made an application to the Assembly for permission to leave; but it was not granted till their business was finished, as his services were very valuable to them; and it was not till 1647 that he was permitted to revisit his native land. On his return to Scotland, he resumed his labours in St. Andrews, and was in December of the same year appointed Principal of the New College, in room of Dr Howie, who had resigned on account of old age. In 1651 he was elected Rector of the University, and was now placed in situations of the highest eminence to which a clergyman of the Church of Scotland can be raised. The fame of Rutherford as a scholar and divine, had now spread both at home and abroad. In the Assembly of 1649, a motion was made, that he would be removed to Edinburgh as Professor of Divinity in the University; and about the same time he received a special invitation to occupy the chair of Divinity and Hebrew in the University of Harderwyck ; and also another from the University of Utrecht, both of which he respectfully declined. He had too much regard for the interests of the Church of Scotland to leave the kingdom, considering the critical position in which it was at that time placed.

During the period which followed the death of Charles I. to the restoration, Rutherford took an active part in the struggles of the church in asserting her rights. Cromwell had in the meantime usurped the throne, and independency held the sway in England. On the death of Cromwell in 1658, measures were taken for the restoration of Charles II. to the throne. The Scottish Parliament met in 1651, when the national covenant was recalled — Presbyterianism abolished — and all the decrees of Parliament since 1638, which sanctioned the Presbyterian system, were rescinded. The rights of the people were thus torn from them — their liberties trampled upon — and the whole period which followed, till the martyrdom of Renwick in 1688, was a scene of intolerant persecution and bloodshed. Rutherford, as may be supposed, did not escape persecution in such a state of things. His work, Lex Rex-, was considered by the government as “inveighing against monarchie and laying ground for rebellion;” and ordered to be burned by the hand of the common hangman at Edinburgh. It met with similar treatment at St Andrews, and also at London; and a proclamation was issued, that every person in possession of a copy, who did not deliver it up to the king’s solicitor, should be treated as an enemy to the government. Rutherford himself was deprived of his offices both in the University and the Church, and his stipend confiscated; he was ordered to confine himself within his own house, and was summoned to appear before the Parliament at Edinburgh, to answer a charge of high treason. It may be easily imagined what his fate would have been had he lived to obey the mandate; but ere the time arrived he was summoned to a far higher than an earthly tribunal. Not having a strong constitution, and being possessed of an active mind, he had evidently overworked himself in the share he took in the struggles and controversies of the time. Although not an old man, his health had been gradually declining for several years. His approaching dissolution he viewed with Christian calmness and fortitude. A few weeks before his death, he gave ample evidence of his faith and hope in the Gospel, by the Testimony which he left behind him.** On his death-bed he was cheered by the consolations of several Christian friends, and on the 20th of March 1661, in the sixty-first year of his age, he breathed his last, in the full assurance and hope of eternal life. His last words were, “Glory, glory, dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.”

On April 28th, 1842, the foundation-stone of a colossal monument, called the “Rutherford Monument,” was laid to his memory; it is erected on the farm of Boreland, in the parish of Anwoth, about half-a-mile from where he used to preach. The monument is of granite; height, from the surface to the apex, sixty feet; square of the pedestal, seven feet, with three rows of steps.

Of the character of Rutherford — as to his talents and piety, nothing need be here said. All who know his writings, will be at a loss whether most to admire his learning and depth of reasoning; or his Christian graces. We give the following list of his works, which is appended to a memoir*** by a talented gentleman of this city; a work compiled with great research and discrimination, and which will amply repay a perusal by all who feel an interest in the remembrance of an individual so distinguished for learning; uprightness, and piety, as was SAMUEL RUTHERFORD. — Exercitationes Apologeticæ pro Divina Gratia: Amst, 12 mo., 1636. A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbyterie in Scotland: Lond., 4to., 1642. A Sermon preached to the Honourable House of Commons, January 31, 1643, Daniel vi. 26: Lond., 4to., 1644. A Sermon preached before the Honourable House of Lords, the 25th day of June 1645. Luke vii. 22-25. Mark iv. 38-40. Matt. viii. 26: Lond., 4to., 1645. Lex, Rex; or the Law and the Prince; a discourse for the just prerogative of king and people: Lond., 4to., 1644. The Due Right of Presbyteries, or a Peaceable Plea for the government of the Church of Scotland; Lond., 4to., 1644. The Tryal and Triumph of Faith: Lond., 4to., 1645. The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication: Lond., 4to., 1646. Christ Dying and Drawing to Himself: Lond., 4to., 1647. A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist, opening the secrets of Familisme and Antinomianisme: Lond., 1648. A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience: Lond., 4to, 1649. The Last and Heavenly Speeches, and Glorious Departure of John Gordoun, Viscount Kenmuir: Edin., 4to., 1649. Disputatio Scholastica de Divina Providentia: Edin., 4to, 1651. The Covenant of Life opened: Edin., 4to., 1655. A Survey of the Survey of that Summe of Church Discipline penned by Mr Thomas Hooker: Lond., 4to., 1658. Influences of the Life of Grace: Lond., 4to., 1659. Joshua Redivivus, or Mr Rutherford’s Letters, in three parts: 12mo., 1664. Examen Arminianismi conscriptum et discipulis dictatum a doctissimo clarissimoque viro, D. Samuele Rhetorjorte, SS. Theol. in Academia Scottae Sanctandreana Doctore et Professore: Ultraj., 12mo., 1668,

The Rutherford Index

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