Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Eleventh Commandment

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13.34)

Here are two accounts of a story which has legendary status in the lives of two great divines: Samuel Rutherford and James Ussher.

Andrew Thomson, Samuel Rutherford (1884), pp. 31-33:

An incident is recorded as having taken place at a somewhat earlier period in his pastorate, the truth of which has been questioned by some, but which is at least not so very improbable as they have represented it, and which is so beautiful in itself, as to make us wish that it were true.

The story, as it has been narrated by different writers, varies in some of its details, but it is substantially the same in all. We are told that the devout and learned Archbishop Usher was on his way from England to his diocese in Armagh, and that passing near Anwoth on a Saturday afternoon, anxious to listen to the preaching of one of whose piety and eloquence he had heard much, he assumed the disguise of a wayfaring man, or mendicant, and turning aside to Anwoth manse, asked lodging for the night. According to the custom and law of the good pastor's house, not to be "forgetful to entertain strangers," he was readily received. It was the practice of Mrs. Rutherford, while her husband was engaged in finishing his preparations for the coming Lord's Day, to gather together her servants and the "strangers within her gate," for the purpose of catechizing them on some religious subject; and on this occasion the stranger in lowly garb readily joined the little circle of catechumens. Probably for the purpose of testing the knowledge of the wayfarer, Mrs. Rutherford asked him how many commandments there were? To which he answered, " Eleven." Regarding this as evidence of unusual ignorance, she expressed to her husband, at a later period in the evening, her fears that the stranger was very ill-instructed in religion, and mentioned as evidence of the fact that he did not even know the number of the commandments.

Rising early on the Sabbath morning, and retiring for prolonged devotion to his sanctuary not far off among the trees, Rutherford was astonished to find that there was one there already engaged in solitary worship. It was the stranger who had been welcomed the night before to his hospitality. Listening, he was struck with the evidence which his words afforded of the religious knowledge and the depth of devotion of the suppliant; and as soon as the prayer was ended he accosted him, and told him that he was certain that he was not the mendicant that he appeared to be. Disguise was no longer necessary or possible, and Usher, not unwillingly, revealed himself.

The scene ended in Rutherford's urging him to preach for him, to which Usher assented, not averse to conform for the day to the simpler forms of Presbyterian worship. He read out as
his text those words of the Master: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another." This explained all. "There," whispered Rutherford to his wife, "is the eleventh commandment."

Those who have denied the reality of this beautiful incident should remember that Archbishop Usher was pre-eminently a lover of all good men, that he never sympathized with that ecclesiastical assumption and exclusiveness which did so much to produce and embitter the controversies of the age, and that he was even the author of a scheme of comprehension by which he hoped that Episcopalians and Presbyterians would one day be included in one common pale. Let the further fact be added that the military road by which Usher must have passed from England to Portpatrick, on his way to Ireland, passed by the gate of the Anwoth manse, and that, within the memory of old men, the daily post to Ireland passed by the same gate; and when facts like these are remembered, is not the unlikelihood greatly diminished? What a Sabbath evening must that have been which was spent by the two men of God! The points of ecclesiastical difference were no doubt, for the time, forgotten, in their conscious unity, produced by their common faith, and hope, and life. They ascended together in thought from the valley of conflict to the "delectable mountains," and obtained blessed glimpses and foretastes of the land of love.

Charles Buck, Anecdotes, Religious, Moral and Entertaining (1841), pp. 54-56:

The eminent Archbishop Usher, being once on a visit in Scotland, heard a great deal of the piety and devotion of the famous Mr. Samuel Rutherford, who, he understood, spent whole nights in prayer, especially before the Sabbath. The bishop wished much to witness such extraordinary down-pouring of the Spirit; but was utterly at a loss how to accomplish his design. At length it came into his mind to dress himself like a pauper; and on a Saturday evening, when it was turning dark, he called at Mr. Rutherford's house, and asked if he could get quarters for a night, since he could go to no other house at so late an hour for that purpose. Mr. Rutherford consented to give the poor man a bed for the night, and desired him to sit down in the kitchen, which he did cheerfully. Mrs. Rutherford, according to custom on Saturday evening, that her servants might be prepared for the Sabbath, called them together and examined them. In the course of examination that evening, she asked the stranger how. many commandments there were? To which he answered eleven. Upon receiving this answer, she replied, 'What a shame it is for you! a man with gray hairs, living in a Christian country, not to know how many commandments there are! There is not a child of six years old in this parish hut could answer this question properly.' She troubled the poor man no more, thinking him so very ignorant! but lamented his condition to her servants; and after giving him some supper, desired a servant to show him up stairs to a bed in a garret. This was the very situation in which he desired to he placed, that he might hear Mr. Rutherford at his secret devotion. However, he was disappointed; for that night that good man went to bed, but did not fall asleep for some hours. The stranger did not go to bed, but sat listening, always hoping to hear Mr. Rutherford at prayer; and at length concluding that all the family were asleep, the bishop thought if he had been disappointed of hearing another offering up his desire to God at the throne of grace, he would embrace the opportunity himself, and poured out his heart to God with so much liberty and enlargement, that Mr. Rutherford, immediately below, overheard; and getting up put on his clothes. Should this have awakened Mrs. Rutherford, she could have suspected nothing of his design, seeing he rose commonly every day at three o'clock in the morning; and if she could have heard one at prayer afterwards, she would naturally have concluded it was her husband. Mr. Rutherford went up stairs, and stood waiting at the garret door till the bishop concluded his devotion; upon which he knocked gently at the door, and the other opened it with surprise, thinking none were witness to his devotion. Mr. Rutherford took him by the hand, saying, 'Sir, I am persuaded you can be none other than Archbishop Usher; and you must certainly preach for me to-day, being now Sabbath morning.' The bishop confessed who he was; and after telling Mr. Rutherford what induced him to take such a step, said he would preach for him, on condition that he would not discover who he was. Happy union of souls, although of different persuasions! yet not marvellous; God makes but two distinctions among mankind, the righteous and the wicked.

Mr. Rutherford furnished the bishop with a suit of his own clothes, and early in the morning he went out to the fields; the other followed him, and brought him in as a strange minister passing by, who had promised to preach for him. Mrs. Rutherford found that the poor man had gone away before any of the family were out of bed. After domestic worship and breakfast, the family went to the kirk, and the bishop had for his text, (John xiii. 34,) 'A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another;' a suitable subject for the occasion. In the course of his sermon, he observed that this might be reckoned the eleventh commandment: upon which Mrs. Rutherford said to herself, 'That is the answer the poor man gave me last night;' and looking up to the pulpit, said, 'It cannot be possible that this is he!' After public worship, the strange minister and Mr. Rutherford spent the evening in mutual satisfaction; and early on Monday morning the former went away in the dress he came in, and was not discovered.

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