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.”
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
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
manse, the Bush o ‘Bield’, Rutherford rose
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.
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
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.
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
rather be in Scotland with an angry Jesus Christ than in
any Eden or garden in the earth.”
some five months after taking up his post Rutherford
married Jean McMath.
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.
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
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 ”
Office and Dewtie of
Spiritual Pastouris, and
(in verse) (1556).
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.
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
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.
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:
Here lyes the Reverend Mr Samuell
Rutherfoord Professor of Divinity in
the University of St Andreus who
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
Acquainted with Emmanuel`s
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
was At An End
Than he wan
to the Full Fruition
which He Had seen in vision.
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.”