Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rutherford, Samuel

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RUTHERFORD, SAMUEL (1600?–1661), principal of St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, was born about 1600 in the parish of Nisbet, now part of Crailing, Roxburghshire. His secretary says that ‘he was a gentleman by extraction,’ and he used the arms of the Rutherford family. He had two brothers, one an officer in the Dutch army, the other, schoolmaster of Kirkcudbright. It is believed that he received his early education at Jedburgh. He entered the university of Edinburgh in 1617, graduated in 1621, and in 1623 was appointed regent of humanity, having been recommended by the professors for ‘his eminent abilities of mind and virtuous disposition.’ The records of the town council of Edinburgh under 3 Feb. 1626 contain the following: ‘Forasmuch as it being declared by the principal of the college that Mr. Samuel Rutherford, regent of humanity, has fallen in fornication with Eupham Hamilton, and has committed a great scandal in the college and … has since demitted his charge therein, therefore elects and nominates … commissioners … with power … to insist for depriving of the said Mr. Samuel, and being deprived for filling of the said place with a sufficient person.’ Rutherford married the said Eupham, and his whole subsequent life was a reparation for the wrong he had done. According to his own statement, he had ‘suffered the sun to be high in heaven’ before he became seriously religious. After this change he began to study theology under Andrew Ramsay, and in 1627 Gordon of Kenmure chose him for the pastorate of Anwoth in Galloway. He was no doubt ordained by Lamb, bishop of that diocese, who lived chiefly in Edinburgh or Leith, and was very tolerant towards those of his clergy who did not observe the five articles of Perth. Rutherford's secretary says that he entered ‘without giving any engagement to the bishop,’ which probably means that he took only the oath of obedience to the bishop prescribed by law in 1612, and not the later engagements imposed by the bishops on their own authority.

At Anwoth he rose at 3 A.M., spent the forenoon in devotion and study, and the afternoon in visiting the sick and in catechising his flock. Multitudes flocked to his church, and he became the spiritual director of the principal families in that part of Galloway. In 1630 he was summoned by ‘a profligate parishioner’ before the high commission at Edinburgh for nonconformity to the Perth articles, but the proceedings were stopped as the primate was unavoidably absent, and one of the judges befriended him. In 1636 he published ‘Exercitationes Apologeticæ pro Divina Gratia,’ a treatise against Arminianism, which attracted much attention. There is a tradition (which has a certain probability in its favour) that Archbishop Ussher paid him a visit in disguise at Anwoth, but was discovered and officiated for him on the following Sunday. Thomas Sydserf [q. v.], appointed bishop of Galloway in 1634, had frequent interviews with Rutherford to induce him to conform, but without effect. Upon the appearance of the ‘Exercitationes’ Sydserf took proceedings against him, and, after a preliminary trial at Wigton, summoned him before the high commission at Edinburgh in July 1636, when he was forbidden to exercise his ministry, and was ordered to reside at Aberdeen during the king's pleasure. Baillie, in his ‘Letters,’ gives in detail the causes of his being silenced. Great efforts were made by Argyll and other notables and by his own flock to have the sentence modified, but to no purpose, and in August 1636, ‘convoyed’ by a number of Anwoth friends, he proceeded to Aberdeen. Rutherford gloried in his trials, but it was a great privation not to be allowed to preach. ‘I had but one eye,’ he says, ‘one joy, one delight, ever to preach Christ.’ In exile he carried on his theological studies, and engaged in controversy with the Aberdeen doctors. ‘Dr. Barron’ (professor of divinity), he says, ‘often disputed with me, especially about Arminian controversies and for the ceremonies. Three yokings laid him by … now he hath appointed a dispute before witnesses.’ He wrote numerous letters, chiefly to his Galloway friends. After eighteen months of exile he took advantage of the covenanting revolution to return to Anwoth. He was a member of the Glasgow Assembly of 1638, and by the commission of that assembly was appointed professor of divinity at St. Mary's College, St. Andrews. He was reluctant to accept the post, and petitions against his removal were sent in, one from his parishioners, another from Galloway generally. In the end he consented, but on condition that he should be allowed to act as colleague to Robert Blair [q. v.], one of the ministers of the city.

He was a member of the covenanting assemblies in following years, and took an important part in their deliberations, though ‘he was never disposed to say much in judicatories.’ One of the burning questions at that time was the action of some Scots, with Brownist leanings, who had returned from Ireland and troubled the church by holding private religious meetings, and by opposing the reading of prayers, the singing of the Gloria, the use of the Lord's Prayer, and ministers kneeling for private devotion on entering the pulpit. Rutherford befriended them to some extent on account of their zeal. In 1642 he published his ‘Plea for Presbytery,’ a defence of that system against independency.

In 1643 he was appointed one of the commissioners of the church of Scotland to the Westminster Assembly. He went to London in November of that year, and remained there for the next four years. He preached several times before parliament, and published his sermons. He also published, in 1644, ‘Lex Rex,’ a political treatise; in 1644, ‘Due Right of Presbyteries;’ in 1645, ‘Trial and Triumph of Faith;’ in 1646, ‘Divine Right of Church Government,’ and in 1647 ‘Christ dying and drawing Sinners to Himself.’ For his attacks on independency, Milton named him in the sonnet on ‘The new Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament.’ Rutherford took a prominent part in the Westminster Assembly, and was much respected for his talents and learning. In November 1647, before leaving the assembly, he and the other Scots commissioners were thanked for their services.

Rutherford then resumed his duties at St. Andrews, and was soon afterwards made principal of St. Mary's. In 1648 he published ‘A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist,’ a treatise against sectaries and enthusiasts; ‘A Free Disputation against pretended Liberty of Conscience,’ which Bishop Heber characterised as ‘perhaps the most elaborate defence of persecution which has ever appeared in a protestant country;’ and ‘The Last and Heavenly Speeches of Lord Kenmure.’ In this year Rutherford was offered a divinity professorship at Harderwyck in Holland, in 1649 a similar appointment in Edinburgh, and in 1651 he was twice elected to a theological chair at Utrecht, but all these he declined. In 1651 he was appointed rector of the university of St. Andrews, and in that year he published a treatise in Latin, ‘De Divina Providentia.’

On returning from London, Rutherford found his countrymen divided into moderate and rigid covenanters, and he took part with the latter in opposing the ‘engagement’ and in overturning the government. After the death of Charles I there was a coalition of parties, and Charles II was proclaimed king. On 4 July 1650 Charles visited St. Andrews, and Rutherford made a Latin speech before him ‘running much on the duty of kings.’ He afterwards joined with the western remonstrants who condemned the treaty with the king as sinful, and opposed the resolution to relax the laws against the engagers so as to enable them to take part in the defence of the country against Cromwell. Rutherford was the only member of the presbytery of St. Andrews who adhered to their protest. When the assembly met at St. Andrews in July 1651, a protestation against its lawfulness was given in by him and twenty-two others, and thus began the schism which mainly brought about the restoration of episcopacy ten years later.

The last decade of Rutherford's life was spent in fighting out this quarrel. A section of the protesters went over to Cromwell and sectarianism, but he testified against those ‘who sinfully complied with the usurpers,’ against the encroachments of the English on the courts of the church, ‘against their usurpation, covenant-breaking, toleration of all religion and corrupt sectarian ways.’ On the other hand he was at war with those of his own house; his colleagues in the college were all against him, and one of them, ‘weary of his place exceedingly’ because of ‘his daily contentions’ with the principal, removed to another college. He preached and prayed against the resolutioners, and would not take part with Blair in the holy communion, which because of strife was not celebrated at St. Andrews for six years. In 1655 Rutherford published ‘The Covenant of Life opened,’ and in 1658 ‘A Survey of the Survey of Church Discipline,’ by Mr. Thomas Hooker, New England. In the preface to this work he attacks the resolutioners, and says of his own party ‘we go under the name of protesters, troubled on every side, in the streets, pulpits, in divers synods and presbyteries, more than under prelacy.’ The last work he gave to the press was a practical treatise free from controversy, ‘Influences of the Life of Grace,’ 1659.

After the Restoration the committee of estates ordered Rutherford's ‘Lex Rex’ to be burnt at the crosses of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, deprived him of his offices, and summoned him to appear before parliament on a charge of treason; but he was in his last illness, and unable to obey the citation. In February 1661 he emitted ‘a testimony to the covenanting work of reformation,’ and in March following he died, in raptures, testifying at intervals in favour of the ‘protesters,’ but forgiving his enemies. His last words were ‘Glory, Glory dwelleth in Emmanuel's land.’ He was buried in St. Andrews. In 1842 a fine monument was erected to his memory on a conspicuous site in ‘Sweet Anwoth by the Solway.’ Rutherford was much annoyed when he heard that collections of his letters were being made, and copies circulated. They were published by Mr. Ward, his secretary, in 1664, were translated into Dutch in 1674, and have since appeared with additions and expurgations in many English editions. His favourite topic in these letters is the union of Christ and his people as illustrated by courtship and marriage, and the language is sometimes coarse and indelicate. He left in manuscript ‘Examen Arminianismi,’ which was published at Utrecht in 1668, also a catechism printed in Mitchell's ‘Collection of Catechisms.’ He was best known during life by his books against Arminianism, and his reputation since has rested chiefly on his letters. He was a ‘little fair man,’ and is said to have been ‘naturally of a hot and fiery temper.’ He was certainly one of the most perfervid of Scotsmen, but seems to have had little of that humour which was seldom wanting in the grimmest of his contemporaries. ‘In the pulpit he had’ (says a friend) ‘a strange utterance, a kind of skreigh that I never heard the like. Many a time I thought he would have flown out of the pulpit when he came to speak of Jesus Christ.’ His abilities were of a high order, but as a church leader by his narrowness he helped to degrade and destroy presbyterianism which he loved so well, and in controversy he was too often bitter and scurrilous (see e.g. his Preface to Lex Rex). With all his faults, his honesty, his steadfast zeal, and his freedom from personal ambition give him some claim to the title that has been given him of the ‘saint of the covenant.’

In 1630 his first wife died. In 1640 he married Jean M'Math, who, with a daughter Agnes, survived him. All his children by the first marriage, and six of the second, predeceased him. Agnes married W. Chiesly, W.S., and left issue.

[Lamont's Diary; Baillie's Letters; Blair's Autobiogr. (Wod. Soc.); Crawford's Hist. of Univ. of Edin.; Life by Murray; Records of the Kirk; Bonar's edition of Rutherford's Letters.]

G. W. S.