Posted by: Jim Bell | March 23, 2011

Samuel Rutherford, minister at Anwoth

The following extract on the life of Rutherford is taken from the introduction to a collection of his letters published in 1850.

THE writer of these letters was born about 1600, in the south of Scotland. He was educated at Edinburgh, where he received the degree of Master of Arts in 1621, and where soon after he was appointed Professor of Humanity. Leaving this office in 1625, he was settled in the ministry the same year at Anwoth, in Kirkcudbrightshire. Men said of him here, “he is always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechizing, always writing and studying.” The fame of his labors was spread far and wide. “There is a tradition that Archbishop Usher, passing through Galway (Galloway), turned aside on a Saturday to enjoy the congenial society of Rutherford. He came, however, in disguise, and being welcomed as a guest, took his place with the rest of the family when they were catechized, as was usual that evening. The stranger was asked, How many commandments are there? His reply was, eleven. The pastor corrected him; but the stranger maintained his position, quoting our Lord’s words, ‘a new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another.’ They retired to rest, all interested in the stranger. Sabbath morning dawned, Rutherford arose and repaired for meditation to a walk that bordered on a thicket but was startled by hearing the voice of prayer,—prayer too, from the heart and in behalf of the souls of the people that day to assemble. It was no other than the holy Archbishop Usher; and soon they came to an explanation, for Rutherford had begun to suspect he had ‘entertained angels unawares.’ With great mutual love they conversed together, and, at the request of Rutherford, the Archbishop went up to the pulpit, conducted the usual service of the Presbyterian pastor, and preached on the New Commandment.”

Rutherford was a man of learning. In 1636, he published an elaborate treatise on Grace, against the Arminians, in Latin. Its title was “Exercitationes de Gratia.” It was received with great favor at Amsterdam, and the author was invited to occupy the chair of Professor of Divinity at Utrecht. In the same year, he was called before the High Commission Court, because of non-conformity to the acts of Episcopacy, and because of his works against the Arminians. He was deprived of his ministerial office and banished to Aberdeen. This town was at that time the strong-hold of Episcopacy and Arminianism, and in it the state of religion was very low. The clergy and doctors took the opportunity of Rutherford’s arrival to commence a series of attacks on the doctrines he held. But in disputation he foiled them and when many began to feel drawn to his earnest dealing in private exhortations, there was a proposal made to remove him from the town. He was confined in Aberdeen about two years, and nearly two-thirds of the letters in this collection were written during this period. In 1638, affairs took a new turn in Scotland, and he was released. Although desirous to return to his parish at Anwoth, he was constrained by the united opinion of his brethren to remove to the Professor’s Chair in St. Andrews—which he did in 1639, having made a stipulation that he might be permitted to preach every Sabbath in his new sphere. The University under his care greatly flourished, so that it was said, “it became a Lebanon out of which were taken cedars for building the house of God throughout the land.” In 1643, he was sent as one of the Commissioners from Scotland to the Westminster Assembly of Divines, where he continued for four years. On his return he resumed his labors at St. Andrews with all his former zeal. In 1660, his work, entitled, “Lex Rex,” was taken notice of by government—it was burnt, first at Edinburgh by the hands of the hangman, and then some days after by the hands of the infamous Sharpe, under the windows of the author’s college at St . Andrews. He was deposed from all his offices and summoned to answer at next parliament on a charge of high treason. But it was too late—he was on his death-bed; he returned for answer, that he behooved to answer his first summons, and that ere their day arrived, he should be where few kings and great folks come. He died, March 20, 1661.

New Englander and Yale Review


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