Monday, March 28, 2011

350th Anniversary of Rutherford Translation

Today marks the 350th anniversary of Samuel Rutherford's greatest translation. We are, of course, still waiting for the full and complete translation of his great treastise on Providence, Disputatio Scholastica de Divina Providentia (1649), and his systematic theology, Examen Arminianismi (1668), but it was on March 29, 1661, that the great Scottish Covenanter minister left this world and was translated to the next.

We do well to remember his life and legacy. There have been many biographical sketches written of him, including this recent article by Guy Richard which touches on a chapter in Rutherford's life which reveals his human frailty, a scandal which demonstrates the depth of God's amazing grace. I recommend visiting this website devoted to his life and works for a helpful introduction. It is my aim in this post only to highlight select aspects of the "little, fair man," who showed us "the loveliness of Christ."
  • A Scottish Covenanter and commissioner to the Westminster Assembly, he was not ashamed to be known as a Puritan. Letters (1894 ed.), p. 512:
I assure you, howbeit we be nicknamed Puritans, that all the powers of the world shall not prevail against us.
  • He authored, according to Guy Richard, "13 major theological treatises in his lifetime, amounting to just over 7,000 pages of text, not to mention other works, including sermons, letters, an in-depth catechism (totaling 562 questions and answers--over five times the number in the Westminster Shorter Catechism), and a variety of political writings, all of which add nearly 3,000 pages to the total [as well as] a commentary on Isaiah, which has tragically been lost, and several unpublished manuscripts and sermons."
  • His Lex, Rex (1644) helped to solidify the theological groundwork for both the English Puritan Revolution and the American Presbyterian Revolution. He wrote:
I lay down this maxim of divinity: Tyranny being a work of Satan, is not from God, because sin, either habitual or actual, is not from God: the power that is, must be from God; the magistrate, as magistrate, is good in nature of office, and the intrinsic end of his office, (Rom. xiii. 4) for he is the minister of God for thy good; and, therefore, a power ethical, politic, or moral, to oppress, is not from God, and is not a power, but a licentious deviation of a power; and is no more from God, but from sinful nature and the old serpent, than a license to sin.
  • His Letters are considered to be among the greatest classics of Christian devotional literature. Charles Spurgeon wrote, "When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men" (The Sword and Trowel, 189).
  • He authored the wise maxim, "Duties are ours, events are God's." Letters, CXVII (1637), p. 238:
Providence hath a thousand keys, to open a thousand sundry doors for the deliverance of His own, when it is even come to a conclamatum est ["all is over"]. Let us be faithful, and care for our own part, which is to do and suffer for Him, and lay Christ's part on Himself, and leave it there. Duties are ours, events are the Lord's.
  • There are no known contemporary portraits of Rutherford. Andrew Bonar writes:
If ever there was any portrait of him, it is not now known. The portraits sometimes given of him are all imaginary. We are most familiar with the likeness of his soul.
  • On his death-bed, Rutherford uttered the immortal dying words, "Glory, glory, dwelleth in Immanuel's Land." These words were also uttered a century later by Thomas Halyburton, the great Scottish Reformed minister, on his own death-bed. Halyburton's request to be buried next to Rutherford was honored, as evidenced by this picture of their tombstones side-by-side here. Rutherford's dying words also inspired an hymn (The Sands of Time Are Sinking) and a poem (Immanuel's Land) by Annie Ross Cousin:
The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for — the fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.
  • The following tribute is written on his grave.
An Epitaph on His Grave-Stone
What tongue, what pen, or skill of men
Can famous Rutherford commend!
His learning justly rais'd his fame
True goodness did adorn his name.
He did converse with things above,
Acquainted with Immanuel's love.
Most orthodox he was and sound,
And many errors did confound.
For Zion's King, and Zion's cause,
And Scotland's covenanted laws,
Most constantly he did contend,
Until his time was at an end.
At last he won to full fruition
Of that which he had seen in vision.
  • Viewed by those around him as one of the most humble saints of his or any other age, Rutherford described himself thus: "I am made of extremes" (Letters, CLXVIII (1637), p. 315). Alexander Whyte, Samuel Rutherford and Some of His Correspondents, p. 16-18:
And yet again, what others thought of him, and how they treated him, compared with what he knew himself to be, caused Rutherford many a bitter reflection. Every letter he got consulting him and appealing to him as if he had been God's living oracle made him lie down in the very dust with shame and self-abhorrence. Writing on one occasion to Robert Blair he told him that his letter consulting him about some matter of Christian experience had been like a blow in the face to him; it affects me much, said Rutherford, that a man like you should have any such opinion of me. And, apologising for his delay in replying to a letter of Lady Boyd's, he says that he is put out of all love of writing letters because his correspondents think things about him that he himself knows are not true. 'My white side comes out on paper— but at home there is much black work. All the challenges that come to me are true.' There was no man then alive on the earth so much looked up to and consulted in the deepest matters of the soul, in the secrets of the Lord with the soul, as Rutherford was, and his letters bear evidence on every page that there was no man who had a more loathsome and a more hateful experience of his own heart, not even Taylor, not even Owen, not even Bunyan, not even Baxter. What a day of extremest men that was, and what an inheritance we extreme men have had left us, in their inward, extreme, and heavenly books!

Once more, hear him on the tides of feeling that continually rose and fell within his heart. Writing from Aberdeen to Lady Boyd, he says: 'I have not now, of a long time, found such high spring-tides as formerly. The sea is out, and I cannot buy a wind and cause it to flow again; only I wait on the shore till the Lord sends a full sea.... But even to dream of Him is sweet.' And then, just over the leaf, to Marion M'Naught: 'I am well: honour to God.... He hath broken in upon a poor prisoner's soul like the swelling of Jordan. I am bank and brim full: a great high spring-tide of the consolations of Christ hath overwhelmed me'.. But sweet as it is to read his rapturous expressions when the tide is full, I feel it far more helpful to hear how he still looks and waits for the return of the tide when the tide is low, and when the shore is full, as all left shores are apt to be, of weeds and mire, and all corrupt and unclean things. Rutherford is never more helpful to his correspondents than when they consult him about their ebb tides, and find that he himself either has been, or still is, in the same experience.

But why do we disinter such texts as this out of such an author as Samuel Rutherford? Why do we tell to all the world that such an eminent saint was full of such sad extremes? Well, we surely do so out of obedience to the divine command to comfort God's people; for, next to their having no such extremes in themselves, their next best comfort is to be told that great and eminent saints of God have had the very same besetting sins and staggering extremes as they still have. If the like of Samuel Rutherford was vexed and weakened with such intellectual contradictions and spiritual extremes in his mind, in his heart and in his history, then may we not hope that some such saintliness, if not some such service as his, may be permitted to us also?

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