Rutherford, Samuel


b Nisbet, nr Jedburgh, SE Scotland (Border), c1600, d Scotland 1661. Edinburgh Univ 1617–1621; he was indebted to the Presbyterian minister at Crailing who was deposed in 1617 for attacking royal interference with the church. While serving as the university’s Regent of Humanity he fathered a child out of wedlock, and being dismissed for immorality; he was penitent but offered himself next for pastoral ministry. As minister at Anwoth in Galloway he won a reputation as a tireless pastor, rising at 3.0 and active in preaching, teaching, visiting, and radical political campaigning. With equal zeal he attacked both Arminianism and corruption in the church, and justified separatist ‘conventicles’. As a result he was again dismissed, and while under house arrest and/or prison in Aberdeen in 1637–38 wrote hundreds of letters to all kinds of recipients throughout Scotland, many of which were preserved, subsequently printed and reached Christian classic status (further reprinted in 1984). In 1638 the signing of the National Covenant enabled him to Anwoth, and a year later to become Prof of New College, St Andrews, where he set about overturning the Episcopalian system. From 1643 to 1647 he was in London as a Scots representative at the Westminster Assembly of divines, and in 1644 wrote Lex, Rex (Law, King), justifying armed resistance to Charles I. His hope of advancing English Presbyterianism was frustrated by divisions and hyper-separatists in the capital, but he wrote further polemics against Independency, Erastianism (state control of the church) and New England Congregationalism in N America. He strongly urged the justice of Protestant coercion of recalcitrant rebels. Back in Scotland, by now pessimistic about England but a revered figure at home, he chose to remain at St Andrews to advance the ongoing Scots Reformation. After the execution of Charles I, the next Charles was obliged to hear an impassioned address by Rutherford on the duty of kings, on his visit to Scotland in 1650. The defeat of the Covenanters by Cromwell at Dunbar that year provoked new church divisions in which Rutherford’s stricter policy lost him friends. In 1660 he suffered another dismissal and house arrest; charged with treason, he avoided appearing before Parliament only by serious illness and death, in 1661. At least 80 edns of his letters have appeared, highly regarded by Baxter and Spurgeon (both qv) among others. Many of his sermons were also published, and Lex, Rex, burned in 1660, came to be seen as a politically liberal manifesto defending civil disobedience in a godly cause, and praised by Francis Schaeffer in 1981. Rutherford House was established in 1983 to promote Reformed theology worldwide from its Scottish base. His name features in hymn-books through the use made of his work by Ann Cousin, qv; recent studies include Faith Cook’s Samuel Rutherford and his Friends. No.909.

Hymns and songs by Rutherford, Samuel

Number Hymn Name
909 The sands of time are sinking