7 Types of People Who Prize Rutherford’s Letters

7 Types of People Who Prize Rutherford’s Letters

7 Types of People Who Prize Rutherford’s Letters
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
28 Feb, 2018

Why are some people so enraptured by Samuel Rutherford’s Letters? It is said of Robert Murray M’Cheyne that “the Letters of Samuel Rutherford were often in his hand”. C.H. Spurgeon said they were “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men”. Richard Baxter said that apart from the Bible “such a book as Mr. Rutherford’s Letters the world never saw the like”.  There are spiritual riches in them that only seem to increase in value. But what are they?

 The first editor of the Letters, Robert McWard says that they contain “many volumes wrapped up together in a few words”. They are like “a great soul shut up in a little body”. Much of the true substance of “real religion” is “enclosed in every line”. He drew attention to the highs and lows of spiritual experience that they contain. They witness to times of either the felt presence of Christ or the felt absence.  

The later editor, Andrew Bonar says that these letters will always be precious to:

 

1. All Who Mourn Over Sin

All who are sensible [conscious] of their own, and the Church’s decay and corruptions. The wound and the cure are therein so fully opened out: self is exposed, especially spiritual self. He will tell you, “There is as much need to watch over grace, as to watch over sin.” He will show you God in Christ, to fill up the place usurped by self. The subtleties of sin, idols, snares, temptations, self-deceptions, are dragged into view from time to time. And what is better still, the cords of Christ are twined round the roots of these bitter plants, that they may be plucked up.

Nor is it otherwise in regard to corruption in public, and in the Church. We do not mean merely the open corruption of error, but also the secret “grey hairs” of decay. Hear him cry, “There is universal deadness on all that fear God. O where are the sometime quickening breathings and influences from heaven that have refreshed His hidden ones!” And then he laments, in the name of the saints, “We are half satisfied with our witheredness; nor have we as much of his strain who doth eight times breathe out that suit [request] (Psalm 119), Quicken me!” “We live far from the well, and complain but dryly of our dryness.”

 

2. All Who Delight in Christ’s Righteousness

All who delight in the Surety’s imputed righteousness. If thoroughly aware of the body of sin in ourselves we cannot but feel that we need a person in our stead — the person of the God-man in the room of our guilty person. “To us a Son is given;” not salvation only, but a Saviour. “He gave Himself for us”.

These letters are ever leading us to the Surety and His righteousness. The eye never gets time to rest long on anything apart from Him and His righteousness. We are shown the deluge-waters undried up, in order to lead us into the ark again: “I had fainted, had not want and penury chased me to the storehouse of all.”

 

3. All Who Rejoice in the Gospel of Free Grace

Lord Kenmure having said to him, “Sin causeth me to be jealous of His love to such a man as I have been,” he replied, “Be jealous of yourself, my Lord, but not of Jesus Christ,” In his Trial and Triumph of Faith he remarks, “As holy walking is a duty coming from us, it is no ground of true peace. Believers often seek in themselves what they should seek in Christ.” It is to the like effect he says in one of his letters, “Your heart is not the compass that Christ saileth by,” — turning away his friend from looking inward, to look upon the heart of Jesus. And this is his meaning, when he thus lays the whole burden of salvation on the Lord, and leaves nothing for us but acceptance, “Take ease to thyself, and let Him bear all”. Then, pointing us to the risen Saviour as our pledge of complete redemption, “Faith may dance, because Christ singeth;” “Faith apprehendeth pardon but never payeth a penny for it.”

On his death-bed he said to his friends, “I disclaim all that ever God made me will or do, and I look upon it as defiled and imperfect.” And so in his Letters he will admit of no addition, or intermixture of other things, ”The Gospel is like a small hair that hath no breadth, and will not cleave in two.” He exhorts to Assurance as being the way to be humbled very low before God: “Complaining is but a humble backbiting and traducing of Christ’s new work in the soul.” “Make meikle [much] of assurance, for it
keepeth your anchor fixed.” He warns us, in his Trial and Triumph of Faith not to be too desirous of keen awakenings to chase us to Christ. Let Christ tutor me as he thinketh good. He has seven eyes; I have but one, and that too dim.” In a similar strain he writes:

“The law shall never be my doomster, by Christ’s grace; I shall find a sure enough doom in the Gospel to humble and cast me down. There cannot be a more humble soul than a believer. It is no pride in a drowning man to catch hold of a rock“.

How much truth there is here! Naaman never was humble in any degree, until he felt himself completely healed of his scaly leprosy; but truly he was humbled and humble then. And what one word is there that suggests so many humbling thoughts as that word “grace“.

 

4. All Who Seek to Grow in Holiness

The Holy Spirit delights to show us the glorious Godhead, in the face of Jesus. And this is a very frequent theme in these Letters. “Take Christ for sanctification, as well as justification,” is often his theme. And in him we see a man who seems to have fought for holiness as unceasingly and as eagerly as other men seek for pardon and peace. In him “Holiness to the Lord” seems written on every affection of the heart, and on every fresh-springing thought.

Fellowship with the living God is a distinguishing feature in the holiness given by the Holy Spirit; we get “access by one Spirit to the Father through Him.” Rutherford could sometimes say, ”I have been so near Him that I have said, ‘I take instruments [legal testimony] that this is the Lord.'” And he could from experience declare, “I dare avouch, the saints know not the length and largeness of the sweet Earnest, and of the sweet green sheaves before the harvest, that might be had on this side of the water, if we should take more pains [effort]”.”I am every way in your case, as hard-hearted and dead as any man, but yet I speak to Christ through my sleep.” All this is from the pen of a man who was a metaphysician, a controversialist, a leader in the church, and learned in ancient and scholastic lore. Why are there not such gracious, as well as great men now?

 

5. All Afflicted Ones

Here he had the very “tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to him that was weary.” And with what tender sympathy does he speak, leading the mourner so gently to the heart of Jesus! He knew the heart of a stranger, for he had been a stranger. “Let no man after me slander Christ for His cross.” Yes, says he, His most loved are often His most tried: “The lintel-stone and pillars of His New Jerusalem suSer more knocks of God’s hammer and tools than the common side- wall stones.” Even as to reproach and calumny, he declares,” I love Christ’s worst reproaches.”

It was to Hugh M’Kail, uncle of the youthful martyr, that he penned the words, “Some have written me that I am possibly too joyful of the cross; but my joy overleapeth the cross — it is bounded and terminated on Christ.” And there it was he found a well of comfort never dry.

 

6. All Who Love the Person of Christ

We have too often been satisfied with speculative truth and abstract doctrine. On the one hand, the orthodox have too often rested in the statements of our Catechisms and Confessions; and, on the other, the “Election-doubters” (as Bunyan would have called them) have pressed their favourite dogma, that Christ died for all men, as if mere assent to a proposition could save the soul. Rutherford places the truth before us in a more accurate, and also more savoury way, full of life and warmth. The Person of Him who gave Himself for His church is held up in all its attractiveness. With him, it is ever the Person as much as the work done ; or rather, never the one apart from the other. like Paul, he would fain know Him, as well as the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

Once, when Lord Kenmure asked him, “What will Christ be like when He cometh?” his reply was, “All lovely“. And this is everywhere the favourite theme with him. At times he tells of His love. “His love surroundeth and surchargeth me.” “If His love was not in heaven, I should be unwilling to go thither.” Often he checks his pen to tell of Christ Himself,  “Welcome, welcome, sweet, sweet cross of Christ;” — then correcting his language, “Welcome, fair, lovely, royal King, with Thine own cross”  ” if I could doat as much upon Himself as I do upon His love.” “I fear I make more of His love than of Himself“. How startling yet how true, is this remark, “I see that in communion with Christ we may make more gods than one,” — meaning that we may be tempted to make the enjoyment itself our god. It was his habitual aim to pass through privileges, joys, even fellowship, to God Himself: “I have casten this work upon Christ, to get me Himself“. “I would be farther in upon Christ than at His joys; in, where love and mercy lodgeth, beside His heart.” “He who sitteth on the throne is His lone [alone] a sufficient heaven.” “Sure I am He is the far best half of heaven.”

In a word, such was his soul’s view of the living Person, that he writes, “Holiness is not Christ, nor the blossoms and flowers of the tree of life, nor the tree itself.” “He had found out the true fountain-head, and would direct all Zion’s travellers thither. And let a man try this; let the Holy Spirit lead a man to this Person; — and surely his experience will be, “None ever came up dry from David’s well.”

 

7. All who love the Hope of Christ’s Appearing

The more we love the Person of Christ, the more ought we to love hat blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God our Saviour; and the more we cherish both feelings, the holier shall we become. Rutherford abounds in aspirations for that day; he is one who “looks for and hastens unto the coming of the day of God!” While in exile at Aberdeen in 1637, he writes, “O when will we meet! O how long is it to the dawning of the marriage day! sweet Jesus, take wide steps! my Lord, come over mountains at one stride! O my Beloved, flee as a roe or young hart upon the mountains of separation.”

Now and then he utters the expression of an intense desire for the restoration of Israel to their Lord, and the fulness of the Gentiles; but far oftener his desires go forth to his Lord Himself. “O fairest among the sons of men, why stayest Thou so long away? heavens, move fast! O time, run, run, and hasten the marriage day!” To Lady Kenmure his words are, “The Lord hath told you what you should be doing till He come. ‘Wait and hasten’, saith Peter, ‘for the coming of the Lord.’ Sigh and long for the dawning of that morning, and the breaking of that day, of the coming of the Son of Man, when the shadows shall flee away. Wait with the wearied night-watch for the breaking of the eastern sky.” Those saints who feel most keenly the world’s enmity, and the Church’s imperfection, are those who will most fervently love their Lord’s appearing. It was thus with Daniel on the banks of Ulai, and with John in Patmos; and Samuel Rutherford’s most intense aspirations for that day are breathed out in Aberdeen.

His description of himself on one occasion is, “A man often borne down and hungry, and waiting for the marriage supper of the Lamb.” He is now gone to the “mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense;” and there he no doubt still wonders at the unopened, unsearchable treasures of Christ. But O for his insatiable desires Christward! for ten such men in Scotland to stand in the gap! — men who all day long find nothing but Christ to rest in, whose very sleep is a pursuing after Christ in dreams, and who intensely desire to “awake with His likeness.”

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

"Every day we may see some new thing in Christ" (Samuel Rutherford).

It has been frequently observed that there are 365 Letters by Samuel Rutherford. That makes it possible to read one each day of the year. This book provides brief thoughts for each day of the year, selected from the "most remarkable series of devotional letters that the literature of the Reformed Church can show" (Principal John Macleod).

Here is spiritual counsel and insight to give you renewed strength for each day. Each day presents a distinct opportunity to glorify God since "as many suns as God maketh to rise upon you, ye have as many new lives" (Samuel Rutherford).

This book, Daily Thoughts from Samuel Rutherford, is highly recommended.

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New Year Revolutions

New Year Revolutions

New Year Revolutions
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
1 Jan, 2016

New Year’s resolutions tend to be drowned in motivational and self-centred hype. Perhaps it’s no surprise that many quickly disappear without trace. No doubt we all need to change, but the change we really need is a revolution. We need our attitudes and perspectives turned upside down. That is where reformation begins.

1. Christ’s Way, Not Ours

Samuel Rutherford wrote two letters on the 1 January 1637. He lamented the prevailing spirit of comfortable apathy. Everyone wanted “moderation in God’s way”. Being strict or extreme was the worst fault. They didn’t want God to demand too much from them in terms of how they lived and how they served God.  He spoke of how rare “the power of godliness” was in the land. It was a cheap form of Christianity. But heart-work is hard work and so it is neglected.

a bed watered with tears, a throat dry with praying, eyes as a fountain of tears for the sins of the land, are rare to be found among us.

Life and religion was both easy and self-centred. So it is today. What prevails is what fits best with own preferences and assumptions. Rutherford says: “how soon are we pleased with our own shadow in a glass [mirror]!”

Time, custom, and a good opinion of ourselves, our good meaning, and our lazy desires, our fair shows, and the world’s glistering lustres, and these broad passments and buskings [expensive decoration and attire] of religion, that bear bulk [carry weight] in the kirk [church], is that wherewith most satisfy themselves.

Few wish to offend. They like the status quo. They need approval from others and popularity. Rather than what pleases the flesh we need to seek the right way from God in Scripture. “It were good to be beginning in sad earnest to find out God, and to seek the right tread of Christ [the right path from Christ]”.

Rutherford was hardly to know that by the summer of that year revolutionary events would begin to unfold.  Events that would release him from his enforced banishment in Aberdeen and bring about the Second Reformation in Scotland.  The nation would be turned upside down. Truly, we do not know what a year may bring forth. As Rutherford expressed to Hugh Kennedy on that New Year’s day, Christ “can, in a month, make up a year’s losses”.

To Hugh Kennedy, he also expressed his contentment despite the trials he was experiencing. “I am every way in good case [condition], both in soul and body; all honour and glory be to my Lord. I want nothing but a further revelation of the beauty of the unknown Son of God”.

 

2. Christ’s Will, Not Ours

Rutherford had struggled with submitting to Christ’s will. Through his trials he had to learn how to abandon his own ideas of how his Lord should act. “I, like a fool, once summoned [as in a court summons] Christ for unkindness, and complained of His fickleness and inconstancy, because He would have no more of my service nor preaching, and had cast me out of the inheritance of the Lord”.

At first, he had been ready to challenge Christ’s Providence in removing him from his congregation and pulpit. He loved preaching Jesus Christ. Could it be right, good and wise? It turned all his expectations and hopes upside down. This seemed to render him useless at a time when the Church seemed to need its defenders most. Why did Christ’s will not recognise this? So he was contradicting Christ because “His whole providence was not yea and nay to my yea and nay”. It didn’t rubber stamp his own expectations. This is quite often why we take difficulties and changes in our lives so hard. We had a different plan and the Saviour has cut right across it.

Yet he learned to submit to Christ’s will. His Master could have responded in chastisement to these “weak apprehensions of His goodness”. But Christ was patient with him. He considered what his weak servant had a “desire to be, and not to what I am”. Instead of chastisement, Rutherford found that his experience of Christ’s love entered far greater depths.

He hath paid me my hundred-fold in this life, and one to the hundred. This prison is my banqueting-house; I am handled as softly and delicately as a dawted [fondled] child.

He had learned to judge things other than they appeared. Previously, he had “believed Christ’s outward look better [more] than His faithful promise”. “I hope to over-hope and over-believe my troubles. I have cause now to trust Christ’s promise more than His gloom [frown]”.

 

3. Christ’s Purpose, Not Ours

He had been grieved at the events that banished him far from his sphere of usefulness. He couldn’t see a purpose in the afflictions that Christ was laying on him. Yet he came to understand that there was a purpose why he must pass through the fire of affliction. Christ was purifying him. He “will see to His own gold, and save that from being consumed with the fire”.

Oh, what owe I to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus! who hath now let me see how good the wheat of Christ is, that goeth through His mill, and His oven, to be made bread for His own table. Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy. I now see that godliness is more than the outside, and this world’s passments and their buskings [expensive decoration and attire].

Grace is shown to be genuine when it is tried. There is a purpose of spiritual fruitfulness in such trials. Though it was painful to have the barren ground ploughed up, it would result in a spiritual harvest.

Why should I start at the plough of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know that He is no idle Husbandman [farmer], He purposeth a crop. O that this white, withered lea-ground [untilled ground] were made fertile to bear a crop for Him, by whom it is so painfully dressed [painstakingly tended to]; and that this fallow-ground were broken up!

Christ owed him nothing. But neither had he lost anything by this experience. It was not the punishment that his enemies intended after all.

How blind are my adversaries, who sent me to a banqueting-house, to a house of wine, to the lovely feasts of my lovely Lord Jesus, and not to a prison, or place of exile!

4. Christ’s Glory, Not Ours

Christ’s glory was greater by this affliction, while Rutherford was humbled. He wanted to praise and glorify the grace and love of Christ. To Robert Gordon he says: “I charge you before God, that ye speak to others, and invite them to help me to praise!” He was in debt to Christ. It was a debt of glory and praise so great he could not estimate it.

Oh, my debt of praise, how weighty it is, and how far run up! O that others would lend me to pay, and learn me to praise! Oh, I am a drowned dyvour [debtor submerged in debts]! Lord Jesus, take my thoughts for payments.

5. Christ’s People, Not Ourselves

It must be clear to us that Rutherford was exiled for a purpose. He was to enter into a writing ministry there. Just as the Lord had a purpose in putting the Apostle Paul into a prison from which many letters were sent. Most of the letters we have from Rutherford’s pen were written during his time in Aberdeen.

Others were on his mind and heart. He wrote to strengthen them with the strength he himself had received. He sought to encourage them with fresh views of Christ and His love, to know that it was worth suffering. These and other spiritual influences encouraged many ministers and nobles to stand fast and embrace the Second Reformation. Certainly, Robert Gordon of Knockbrex would later be very useful, steadfast and active in Christ’s cause.

There was real affection towards the people of God. “Dear brother, ye are in my heart, to live and to die with you”. Rutherford realised the value of the prayers of Christ’s people. “Visit me with a letter. Pray for me”, he says to Robert Gordon. To Kennedy he writes, “Remember my love to your wife. Grace, grace be with you; and God, who heareth prayer, visit you, and let it be unto you according to the prayers of Your own brother, and Christ’s prisoner”.

He could not stop thinking about Christ’s people. How were some of them faring, he wondered. He mentions one individual. “Write to me your mind anent [about] Y. C.: I cannot forget him; I know not what God hath to do with him”. His prayerful thoughts and longings also went out to his flock at Anwoth. How were they “served in preaching”? Was there “a minister as yet thrust in upon them”? “I desire greatly to know, and…much fear”.

 

Conclusion

Rutherford was a moving preacher and writer of deep Christian experience. He is both exuberant and sublime in his commendation of communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet uniquely homely in the powerful imagery also flow from his pen. Only the Bible exceeds his letters in spirituality. This was the opinion of both C H Spurgeon and Richard Baxter. There are 365 of Rutherford’s letters available and, of course, this means that you could read one of his letters every day. Starting today, in fact. There is an online edition which has each day of the year against each letter. Here are some spiritual priorities for the coming year. 

Although written more than 380 years ago, we can glean some spiritual priorities from these two letters for the coming year. If we embraced them fully…they would turn our lives upside down.

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