Sunday, November 30, 2014

Samuel Rutherford: Lover of Christ

Samuel Rutherford: Bitesize BiographySamuel Rutherford: Bitesize Biography by Richard M Hannula
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came to know Samuel Rutherford from the lovely little collection of extracts of his letters called The Loveliness of Christ. When given the opportunity to review this biography and learn about the man who wrote those letters, I jumped at it.

In keeping with the series, Hannula recounts the key events of Rutherford’s life with brevity. He sketches in the historical background, including the Reformation brought to Scotland through John Knox, and growing tensions between king and Kirk. Rutherford was academically gifted, and it was at university that he experienced conversion. And what shines out most from his life also dominates this book: love for Christ. Hannula knows well how best to capture the life of an effusive communicator of Christ’s love—let the dead speak! This little biography is filled with delicious quotes that touch the heart almost 400 years after they were first written.

“Since He looked upon me,” Rutherford could write of his conversion, "my heart is not my own; He hath run away to heaven with it” (22). Of his call to minister at Anwoth: “The great master-gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, planted me here, where, by His grace, in this part of His vineyard I grow” (44). Rutherford experienced much suffering. His wife died in her early twenties, and eight of his nine children perished in childhood. “When I am in the cellar of affliction I look for the Lord’s choicest wines” (47).

He became known for his preaching, even though he didn’t look or sound the part. “He was short, slight and preached in a high pitched voice—some described it as ‘shrill’. But he vividly set Christ before his congregation, helping them to see Jesus Christ preaching, healing, bearing his cross, reigning in heaven and interceding for them” (32).

The heart of most of his sermons was “the cross of Jesus Christ and the glories of the Saviour” (32). “One man said that when Rutherford preached about Christ, it looked like he would fly out of the pulpit for joy” (33). “Every day,” he testified, "we may see some new thing in Christ; His love has neither brim nor bottom” (34).

In order to keep this review brief like the book itself, I will close with two things I appreciated about it. First, Hannula gives a balanced treatment of Rutherford’s life that includes his shortcomings. It is reassuring to discover that even the godliest saints had to battle pride all their life (but unsettling to realize they had a lot more reason for it!). "‘You must in all things aim at God’s honour;’ he counselled a friend, ‘you must eat, drink, sleep, buy, sell, sit, stand, speak, pray, read, and hear the Word, with a heart-purpose that God may be honoured." (106). Additionally, he “was naturally hot and fiery” (114)!

Second, I enjoyed the soft spot Rutherford has in his heart for youth. “There is not such a glassy, icy, slippery piece of way between you and heaven as youth” (37). "'O what a sweet couple, what a glorious yoke are youth and grace, Christ and a young man!’ he said.” "‘I entreat you now, in the morning of your life,’ Rutherford once counselled a young man, ‘to seek the Lord and His face. Beware of the folly of dangerous youth — a perilous time for your soul.’"

His legacy today lies not in his books, but in his writings not intended for the public—his letters (135). He had opposed their publication because he didn’t want people to think higher of him than they ought (136). Spurgeon called them “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men” (137).

Which warrants one more quote: "‘Believe Christ’s love more than your own feelings,’ he advised a parishioner. ‘Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does.’” (54).

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