Samuel Rutherford of Fair Anworth
When all is said and done, when life has ended and we are all gathered into the presence of our blessed Saviour, what will really matter? I mean, really, truly matter.
by David Cassells
Although the life of Samuel Rutherford is immensely stimulating and highly rewarding to study, neither the space nor nature of this article will allow any real examination of either the Scots preacher or his ministry. Two complementary, though entirely diverse, pieces of literature have helped perpetuate an interest in the ‘little fair man’ right up to the present day.
1. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Banner of Truth) is the fruit of a most cruel and agonising banishment for the cause of Christ; deprived, as he was for a time, of his pulpit and liberty to preach. Yet the letters contain some of the sweetest and most effective sources of comfort for any reader. It is one of those ‘sell-your-shirt-and-buy-it’ books. Every pastor and missionary should read it. Indeed so should every Christian.
2. The other piece of informative penmanship is even more readily accessible in the English language, at least some of it. It is incorporated into most Christian hymnbooks – ‘The sands of time are sinking’. Starting life as a poem, it became a tract and was then later trimmed to a varying selection of the original nineteen verses as a hymn. Anne Ross Cousin (1824-1906), a doctor’s daughter with literary gifts, and wife of a Free Church of Scotland minister, wrote the poem which comprises some adapted sayings found in about thirty-six of Samuel Rutherford’s immortal ‘Letters’. But, above all, it is a worthy testimony to a faithful minister’s fixation with ‘Immanuel’s Land.’
Two contrasting elements in the tale of Samuel Rutherford have provided the motivation for this article.
1. The first is the impressive ability of Rutherford himself. In his Joshua Redivivus, Alexander Whyte paid this tribute: "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. His talents and his industry while he was yet a student in Edinburgh had carried him to the top of his classes, and all his days he could write in Latin better than either in Scotch or English." His sheer intellect and academic prowess, elevated by fearless determination and crowned with spiritual integrity, made this man a veritable giant.
2. The second, however, supplies the backdrop against which the first must be seen. It is the location of the bulk of his ministry, Anwoth. To say that Anwoth is small is to grossly understate the reality. What remains of the church building would indicate that the rural parish provided the most inconsequent of congregations. Yet it was here, in this tiny backwoods hamlet, that mighty Rutherford laboured and strained and toiled. Why? Because he had the gift of a godly perspective. Ann Cousin captured it beautifully in one of the, understandably, unsung stanzas of her poem:
Fair Anworth, by the Solway
To me thou still art dear,
E’en from the verge of heaven,
I drop for thee a tear.
Oh! If one from Anworth
Meet me at God’s right hand,
My Heaven will be two Heavens,
In Immanuel’s land.
Rutherford was able to view earthly things as though he was already in Immanuel’s land. When all is said and done, when life has ended and we are all gathered into the presence of our blessed Saviour, what will really matter? I mean, really, truly matter. Samuel Rutherford’s was a tearful, agonising ministry that longed for the glory of the Lord in the salvation of the lost, so that just one convert would make all the difference. What a legacy! May God help us to replace ‘fair Anworth by the Solway’, with the arena of our own Christian service, and then ask, what on earth could make my Heaven two Heavens?
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