Rev Samuel Rutherford.

 Born in 1600 in the Border village of Nisbet, Samuel Rutherford’s father was a fairly prosperous farmer who was able to give his three sons, Samuel, George and James, good educations.  Samuel Rutherford was one of the great thinkers of the Reformation and the Covenanting movement.  He was also a gifted orator and preacher as well as a prolific writer with some sixteen books published, twelve in London.  He left to posterity many examples of his sermons which had been assiduously copied over the years.  The most famous of his works is probably “Lex Rex - the Law and the Prince:  A Disputation for the Just Prerogative of King and People” which got him into serious trouble.  He was also a great letter writer and has left a rich heritage from his days in exile in Aberdeen.  Faith Cook in her book Samuel Rutherford and His Friends  so aptly describes that he was a “faithful counsellor and masterly physician of the soul.”

 Samuel very nearly did not make adulthood as one day playing with other children he fell down a well; when his parents arrived they found him wet and cold but alive, sat on a hillock He explained that “A bonnie white Man drew me forth and set me down.”  He did not enter the church until he was a grown man having first been to Edinburgh university in 1617 and graduating with a Master of Arts degree in 1621, then staying as Professor of Latin.  He married young but his two children died in infancy and his wife, Eupham, also died about 1631 after a long illness..

 He became minister of Anwoth in Dumfries and Galloway in 1627 at the invitation of Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar, later to become Lord Kilmure.  He was minister here until 1636 but in only nine years he garnered a reputation for his caring approach and God fearing sermons.  A contemporary, the Rev James Urquhart of Kinloss is quoted as saying “Many times I thought he would have flown out of the pulpit when he came to speak of Jesus Christ.”  The historian Robert Wodrow in his  The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland describes Rutherford as “one of the most moving and affectionate preachers in his time or perhaps in any age of the Church.”

In his manse, the Bush o ‘Bield’, Rutherford rose at 3 am each morning to pray and study.  Perpetually busy, he was always committed to some deed or duty, praying, visiting the sick, teaching in school, writing treatises, reading and studying.  He was said to have a “strange utterance” a shrill voice, but nevertheless a compelling delivery that made his audience listen.  In Anwoth the sermons he gave were published under the titles The Trial and Triumph of Faith, and Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself.

 Several versions of a tale are told how the Archbishop Ussher, Primate of Ireland, resolved to go to England by way of Scotland so that he might listen to Rutherford preach.  Arriving in Anwoth there was no place to stay and he sought shelter at Rutherford’s house where he was taken in.  Neither Rutherford or his wife recognised their visitor nor assumed anything from his name.  The following day, the Sabbath, the Archbishop rose early and walked in the fields nearby and came to a place which Rutherford himself used as a place of quiet and contemplation.  It was here that Rutherford came upon the Primate at prayer and then realised who he was.  Confirming the identity the pair then agreed to listen to each other preach that day - Rutherford in the morning and the Primate in the afternoon, each to the other’s great satisfaction.

 Trouble on the horizon came in the shape of Thomas Sydserff, Bishop of Galloway who came from the northern diocese of Brechin; he disliked Rutherford and took exception to a book he had published that had been highly critical of Archbishop Laud, King Charles I’s right hand man.  Rutherford was first summoned before an ecclesiastical court in Wigtown then tried in Edinburgh.  The sycophantic Bishop managed to have him deposed on the 27th August 1636, forbidden to preach, and exiled to Aberdeen.  Although far from his ministry and friends he nevertheless kept himself busy writing letters and sent some 220 in the twenty two months he was in exile.

In 1639 his connection with Anwoth was finally broken when the General Assembly expressed their wish that he should take the post of Professor of Divinity at St Mary`s College.  Although much against his wishes he went to St Andrews on condition that he could share the preaching with Rev Robert Blair.  He was later made Principal of the New College and Rector of the University where he became the doyen of Scottish thinkers and teachers.  Twice Edinburgh tried to entice him to their university and also twice the city of Utrecht asked him to take their chair of theology.  Rutherford’s response was typical of the man

 “I had rather be in Scotland with an angry Jesus Christ than in any Eden or garden in the earth.” 

In 1640, some five months after taking up his post Rutherford married Jean McMath.

 Between 1643 and 1647 Rutherford was mainly in London working in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster, as one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Assembly of Divines.  Here he argued the case for church freedom, having an input to the emerging Westminster  Confession of Faith, the Directory and Catechisms, and producing more treatises.  Typical of the man was his zeal and drive being one of the most active of the 151 members and one of the final committee of four appointed to complete the Shorter Catechism in October 1647.  It was while he was in London that his two children died.

 Lex Rex, published in 1644, aimed to show that constitutional government in which the rights of the people and  their rulers are both observed, is the best for all parties.  Today we take this as self evident, a truism.  But in the 17th century the power and influence of the book is seen in the effect it produced on the enemies of civil and religious liberty.  The 44 chapters or questions asked by Rutherford about the relationship of the Kirk and the Crown, such as that limitless sovereignty was the right of God alone.  The book itself it has been said is the constitutional inheritance of all countries in modern times, giving the axioms:

“ The law is not the king’`s own but is given to him in trust. Power is a birthright of the people borowed from them; they may let it out for their good, and resume it when a man is drunk with it; A limited and mixed monarchy hath glory, order, unity from a monarch; from the government of the most and wisest hath safety of counsel, stability, strength; from the influence of the Commons it hath liberty. priveleges, promptitude of obedience. “

It is of interest that William Lauder, minister at Forgandenny in 1567, had in the previous year published a tract " Tractate concerning the Office and Dewtie  of Kyngis; Spiritual Pastouris, and Temporal Jugis (in verse) (1556).

 The thrust of these axioms will be recognised as appearing again and again in the declarations by Presbyterians in the emerging democracies such as the Hanover Resolves in Pennsylvania (4 June 1774); the Mecklenburg Declaration in North Carolina (31 May 1775) and in the Declaration of Independence itself.

The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 saw more oppression as he took his revenge on Scotland and its church.  In September 1660 the Committee of Estates (the ruling body in Scotland) issued a proclamation declaring Lex Rex  to be full of “seditious and treasonable matter” and ordered that all copies of the book which could be found were to be burned at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh and at the gates of New College in St Andrews.  This was done in Edinburgh by the public hangman on 16 October 1660.

 The Drunken Parliament, as it was called, led by the Earl of Middleton, was determined to have the leaders of the Covenanting movement condemned to death - the main targets being the Marquis of Argyll, Rev James Guthrie of Stirling, Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston - draughtsman of the National Covenant of 1638, and Samuel Rutherford.

 For  Rutherford  the  spite  and  revenge  began  by depriving him  of  his  University post  as  Principal  and  his  stipend was confiscated. He  was  also  confined  to  his  house  and  ordered  to  appear  before  the  next  parliament  to  answer  a  charge  of  treason.  It is said that on receiving the summons he retorted:

Tell them I have a summons already before a superior Judge and judicatory, and I behove to answer my first summons, and ere your day come I will be where few kings and great folks come."

 However, he  was  not  to  answer  the  charge, as  his  longtime  illness  caught  up  with  him  and  he  died 29 March  1661  surrounded  by  his  closest  friends  and  at his bedside his  11  year  old  daughter, Agnes, the  sole  surviving  child  of  the  seven  born to his  second marriage. Had  he  not  died  then  it  is  certain  that  he  would  have  shortly  followed  the  Marquis  of  Argyle  and  the Rev  James  Guthrie  to  the  scaffold.

 He  is  buried  in  St  Andrews where  his  tombstone  reads: 


S       R

Here lyes the Reverend Mr Samuell

Rutherfoord  Professor of Divinity in

the University of St Andreus  who  died

March the 20  1661.

What tongu what Pen or Skill of Men

Can Famous Rutherfoord  Commend

His Learning justly  raised his Fame

True GODliness  Adorn`d  His Name

He did converse  with  things  Above

Acquainted  with  Emmanuel`s  Love

Most orthodox He was And sound

And Many Errors did  confound

For Zions King and Zions  cause

And Scotlands  covenanted  LAWS

Most constantly he did contend

Until His Time was At An End

Than he wan to the Full Fruition

Of  That which He  Had seen  in  vision.

 Time was At An End

Than he wan to the Full Fruition

Of That which He Had seen in vision.

 There is quite a bit written about Rutherford some of which is clearly by catholic apologists displaying their bigotry. When his response to the summons was received by the Privy Council they voted to put him out of college, rather than let him die peaceably in his rooms. Lord Burleigh is quoted as saying "Ye have voted that honest man out of the college, but ye cannot vote him out of heaven". This drew a comment that hell was too good for him. Burleigh responded  " I wish I were as sure of heaven as he is, I would think myself happy to get a grip of his sleeve to haul me in."

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