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Samuel Rutherford And His Letters

Category Articles
Date June 27, 2006

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford have again been reprinted in hardback and published by The Banner of Truth Trust.

In former years some have contended that Rutherford’s Letters are the nearest thing to inspiration outside Scripture. It is a delight, therefore, to find that there has been a call for yet a further republication of this excellent book.

This is the classic edition as edited by Andrew Bonar in the last century. There is an interesting sketch of Samuel Rutherford’s life with black and white illustrations of the scenes connected with his ministry. Altogether there are 345 letters, introduced by notes on the person to whom Rutherford is writing, and a brief summary of the subject matter of each letter. At the end there is an index of persons and places referred to and an index of subjects dealt with, and a glossary of old Scottish words which are now obsolete.

Altogether this is a lovely production. We are reminded of the story of the man who left a scented petal in one of his books, and when, some time later, he took it up, every page was sweetly perfumed. We can say that of Rutherford’s Letters: every page is sweetly perfumed with the Saviour, whose name is “as ointment poured forth.”

The book is enriched by the inclusion of the well-loved poem by Mrs. Ann Ross Cousins, “The sands of time are sinking,” with its refrain, “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.” This is based on Rutherford’s last words and some of the expressions in his letters.

An English traveller to Scotland in the seventeenth century gave his impressions of three godly ministers he heard. Of Samuel Rutherford he wrote: “I heard a little fair man, and he showed me the loveliness of Christ.” This would make a good sub-title for The Letters of Samuel Rutherford – “The Loveliness of Christ.” We hope the blessing of the Lord will rest on the republication of this Christian classic.

(From the sketch of his life by Andrew Bonar)
When Charles II was fully restored, and had begun to adopt arbitrary measures, Rutherford’s work, Lex Rex, was taken notice of by the Government; for, reasonable as are its principles in defence of the liberty of subjects, its spirit of freedom was intolerable to rulers who were, step by step, advancing to acts of cruelty and death. Indeed, it was so hateful to them that they burnt it in 1661, first at Edinburgh, by the hands of the hangman, and then some days after, by the hands of the infamous Sharpe [Bishop of St. Andrews], under the windows of its author’s College in St. Andrews. He was next deposed from all his offices and, last of all, was summoned to answer at next Parliament a charge of high treason. But the citation came too late. He was already on his deathbed, and on hearing of it, calmly remarked that he had got another summons before a superior Judge and judicatory, and sent the message, “I behove to answer my first summons; and, ere your day arrive, I will be where few kings and great folks come.”

We have no account of the nature of his last sickness, except that it was a lingering disease. He had a daughter who died a few weeks before himself. All that is told us of his deathbed is characteristic of the man. At one time he spoke much of “the white stone” and “the new name.” When he was on the threshold of glory, ready to receive the immortal crown, he said, “Now my tabernacle is weak, and I would think it a more glorious way of going home to lay down my life for the cause at the Cross of Edinburgh or St. Andrews; but I submit to my Master’s will.”

Some days before his death, after a fainting fit, he said, “Now I feel, I believe, I enjoy, I rejoice.” And turning to Mr. Blair [Robert Blair, minister], “I feed on manna: I have angels’ food. My eyes shall see my Redeemer. I know that He shall stand on earth at the latter day, and I shall be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air.” When asked, “What think ye now of Christ?” he replied, “I shall live and adore Him. Glory, glory to my Creator and Redeemer for ever. Glory shineth in Immanuel’s land.” The same afternoon he said, “I shall sleep in Christ; and when I awake, I shall be satisfied with His likeness. O for arms to embrace Him!” Then he cried aloud, “O for a well-tuned harp!” This last expression he used more than once, as if already stretching out his hand to get his golden harp, and join the redeemed in their new song. He also said on another occasion, “I hear Him saying to me, ‘Come up hither’.”

His little daughter Agnes (the only survivor of six children), eleven years of age, stood by his bedside. He looked on her, and said, “I have left her upon the Lord.” Well might the man say so, who could so fully testify of his portion in the Lord as a goodly heritage.

To four of his brethren who came to see him, he said, “My Lord and Master is Chief of ten thousands of thousands. None is comparable to Him in heaven or in earth. Dear brethren, do all for Him. Pray for Christ. Preach for Christ. Do all for Christ; beware of men-pleasing. The Chief Shepherd will shortly appear.”

He often called Christ his “kingly King.” While he spoke even rapturously, “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” – he at the same time would protest, “I renounce all that ever He made me will or do as defiled or imperfect as coming from myself I betake myself to Christ for sanctification as well as justification.” Repeating 1 Cor. 1:30, he said, “I close with it! Let Him be so. He is my All and all.” “If He should slay me ten thousand times I will trust.” He spoke as if he knew the hour of his departure; not perhaps as Paul (2 Tim. 4. 6) or Peter (2 Pet. 1. 14), yet still in a manner that seems to indicate that the Lord draws very near His servants in that hour, and gives glimpses of what He is doing.

On the last day of his life, in the afternoon he said, “This night will close the door, and fasten my anchor within the veil, and I shall go away in a sleep by five o’clock in the morning.” And so it was. He entered Immanuel’s land at that very hour, and is now (as himself would have said) “sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty,” till the Lord come.

We may add his latest words. “There is nothing now between me and the resurrection but ‘This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” He interrupted one speaking in praise of his painfulness [steadfast labour] in the ministry, “I disclaim all. The port I would be in at is redemption and forgiveness of sin through His blood.” Two of his biographers record that his last words were, “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!” as if he had caught a glimpse of its mountain-tops.

Here is a letter by Samuel Rutherford to the Lady Busbie [probably the mother-in-law of Rutherford’s close friend, Robert Blair, the minister].

Mistress, Although not acquaint, yet because we are Father’s children, I thought good to write unto you. Howbeit my first discourse and communing with you of Christ be in paper, yet I have cause, since I came hither, to have no paper thoughts of Him. For in my sad days He is become the flower of my joys, and I but lie here living upon His love, but cannot get so much of it as fain I would have; not because Christ’s love is lordly, and looketh too high, but because I have a narrow vessel to receive His love, and I look too low.

But I give, under my own hand-write, to you a testimonial of Christ and His cross, that they are a sweet couple, and that Christ hath never yet been set in His own due chair of honour amongst us all. O I know not where to set Him! O for a high seat to that royal princely One! O that my poor, withered soul had once a running-over flood of that love to put sap into my dry root, and that that flood would spring out to the tongue and pen, to utter great things, to the high and due commendation of such a fair One!

O holy, holy, holy One! Alas, there are too many dumb tongues in the world, and dry hearts, seeing there is employment in Christ for them all, and ten thousand worlds of men and angels more, to set on high and exalt the greatest Prince of the kings of the earth! Woe is me that bits of living clay dare come out to rush hardheads with Him;* and that my unkind mother, this harlot-kirk, hath given her sweet half-marrow such a meeting. For this land hath given up with Christ, and the Lord is cutting Scotland in two halves, and sending the worst half, the harlot-sister, over to Rome’s brothel-house, to get her fill of Egypt’s love. I would my sufferings (nay, suppose I were burnt quick to ashes) might buy an agreement betwixt His fairest and sweetest love, and His gaddy (Jer. 2. 36) lewd wife. Fain would I give Christ His welcome-home to Scotland again, if He would return.

This is a black day, a day of clouds and darkness; for the roof-tree of the fair temple of my Lord Jesus is fallen, and Christ’s back is towards Scotland. O thrice blessed are they who would hold Christ with their tears and prayers! I know ye will help to deal with Him; for He shall return again to this land. The next day shall be Christ’s, and there shall be a fair green young garden for Christ in this land, and God’s summer-dew shall lie on it all the night, and we shall sing again our new marriage-song to our Bridegroom, concerning His vineyard. But who knoweth whether we shall live and see it?

I hear the Lord hath taken pains to afflict and dress you, as a fruitful vine for Himself. Grow and be green, and cast out your branches, and bring forth fruit. Fat and green and fruitful may ye be in the true and sappy root. Grace, grace, free grace be your portion. Remember my bonds with prayers and praises.

Yours, in his sweet Lord Jesus,

Aberdeen, 1637Samuel Rutherford

*Perhaps referring to Job 15. 26, though some have referred to a game wherein “Hardheads”, a small Scotch coin, was used. In his “Christ Dying and Drawing”, he writes, “Is it wisdom to knock hard-heads with God?” So in sermon on Zech. 13. 7, 8. (Bonar’s footnote)

Ben Ramsbottom, Editor Gospel Standard July 2006 with permission.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford (ISBN 085151 3883) retails for $39.00 (US), £18.50 (UK and ROW) and can be purchased from the Banner of Truth book catalogue

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