Samuel Rutherford Steers Scotland

Saintly Samuel Rutherford died, on March 30, 1661.  I know that Protestants do not usually use the word “Saint” for special folk, but if there is one who deserves it more than most others, let me suggest the godly Samuel Rutherford.

Spurgeon spoke of Rutherford’s letters as “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in the writings of mere men” (Holy Men of God, by E. Cumming, page 69).

Born in Scotland in 1600, Rutherford was converted some 26 years later – and became a minister of the Gospel. He was a brilliant scholar such that people expected him to excel. Following his studies at the University of Edinburgh he, as a young man, was then made Professor of Philosophy there. He then took the post of minister at Anwoth in Galloway and was a most diligent man. He rose often at 3am then spent his time thoroughly, “reading, praying, writing, catechising, visiting, and other duties belonging to the ministerial profession and employment”.

In June 1630 – and again in 1636 – he was tried by an ecclesiastical court for erroneous doctrine and irregularity of church practice, based around his book, Exercitationes de Gratia.  His first wife died at about this time and in banishment at Aberdeen he wrote the letters that have become a blessing to so many. Rutherford also contracted tertian fever and was so ill for thirteen weeks that he could barely have the strength to preach.

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Rutherford returned to his congregation at Anwoth and was made Professor of Divinity at St Andrews.

The complexities of the history of the church at this time need not concern us here. Rutherford’s stand against Arminianism ired some. He was charged with non-conformity. His stand for the right for families to establish private worship in their homes also received opposition. He opposed the Anabaptists and other sects in his book, Lex Rex. He participated in the Westminster Assembly, from which came the Westminster Confession.

He opposed the flourishing independent groups of worship which sprang up under Oliver Cromwell, but when Charles II gained the throne Rutherford was accused of high treason and his book, Lex Rex was burned as a public condemnation. However Rutherford did not get to face his kingly accusers.

Suffice to say, the saintly Samuel Rutherford entered into rest on 30 March, 1661.

So it was that Rutherford presided over the Lord’s work in a very troubled Scotland, refusing to take appointments abroad because he felt it his duty to endure on behalf of the Lord. History records that his faithful spirit did prevail, against the host of opponents and challenges.

His letters are still in print – “I am pained, pained with the love of Christ,” he writes.  “He hath made me sick and wounded me.  Hunger for Christ outrunneth faith … Oh, if they knew His kindness to my soul …”  (Life and Letters of Samuel Rutherford, by A. Bowen, page 22).

The hymn, The Sands of Time are Sinking, by Mrs Cousins, is based on some of the best and sweetest parts of Rutherford’s letters.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

John Owen Pens Puritan Prose

This is the day that … John Owen died in 1683, at the age of 67.

He has been called “the Calvin of England” and “the theologian of the Puritan movement”.

James Packer writes, “In an age of giants, he overtopped them all” (Quest for Godliness, page 191).

His writings, “weighty with learning”, fill some 28 large volumes. Many of these have been reprinted in our day by the Banner of Truth.

Born in Oxfordshire in 1616 (the exact date is unknown) where his father was a Church of England clergyman, young Owen entered Oxford University at the age of 12 and graduated with B.A. and M.A. degrees seven years later, on 27 April, 1635.

Ordained by the Church of England, but not converted, it was some years before he came to know the Saviour. He attended a Presbyterian Church to hear a famous preacher of the day, Edmund Calmany, only to discover a substitute preacher was in the pulpit. Nevertheless, the sermon based on Matthew 8:26 found its mark. Conviction of sin threw him into such turmoil that for three months he could scarcely utter a coherent word on anything; but slowly he learned to trust Christ, and so found peace. He married Mary Rooke – had 11 children – left Anglicanism to join the Congregational Church, and in the 1640’s found himself “reluctantly” a chaplain in Oliver Cromwell’s army (History of Preaching, by E. Dargan, Volume 2, page 178). He buried seven of his children before losing his wife as well.

With the advent of King Charles II to the throne, Owen found himself ejected from his position as Dean of Christ Church (for not being an Anglican!).

One year after his wife died he married a wealthy widow (21 June, 1677), which enabled him “to keep a carriage and a villa” (Puritan Profiles, by W. Barker, page 299).

In the closing six years of his life he devoted himself to writing. His massive commentary on Hebrews is “a work of gigantic strength as well as gigantic size”, wrote Dr Chalmers (quoted by Spurgeon, Commenting on the Commentaries, page 188).

And his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ sets forth the “classic Calvinistic statement of the atonement”, that Christ died only to save the elect (Puritan Profiles, page 297).

John Owen, like many other famous non-conformists, is buried in Bunhill Fields, East London … in “unconsecrated ground”, because he was not a member of the Church of England.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

William Penn and Pennsylvania

This is the day that … William Penn died in 1718, at the age of 74.

His father was an Admiral in the British Navy, Admiral Sir William Penn, and so young William enjoyed “the favour of the king … he was admired at court, handsome in person, graceful in manners … expectant heir of a title of nobility …”

And all this he gave up for a life of ridicule and scorn. He was even expelled from Christ Church, Oxford (1661) because he held views no longer in keeping with that of the state church. William Penn had become a disciple of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (the Quakers).

Four times he found himself thrown into prison because of his non-conformist (i.e., not belonging to the Church of England) views. He courted trouble not only by street preaching and by means of the printed word (over 100 tracts and booklets came from his pen), but also by the distinctive Quaker attire, and his refusal to remove his hat to anyone – even King Charles!

Eventually Penn and a group of fellow Quakers migrated to America and a 45,000 acre tract of land was granted him by the king. It was called ‘Pennsylvania’, named after William’s father. Young William had inherited great wealth from his father, including a debt owed by King Charles II, which was paid by the grant of land in the New World.

In Pennsylvania the Quakers and Red Indians intermingled without problems for 70 years. “Whilst English and European settlers in neighbouring areas were constantly at war with the Indians, Penn and his company made friends and lived in perfect harmony …” (English Sects, by A. Reynolds, page 159). This achievement was due to Penn’s “Great Treaty” with the Delaware tribe.

It should be pointed out that the Quakers rejected the sacraments and placed more emphasis upon ‘the Light within’ than the Holy Scriptures. (See the post on George Fox on July 19)

Politically, it could well be argued that William Penn’s religious convictions were a primal component of the principles on which the nation of America was to be built.

Further information on William Penn can be found at: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/PENN/pnintro.html

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

John Howe – Puritan Preacher

This is the day that … John Howe was born in Leicestershire, England, in 1630.

His father was a Church of England clergyman who was later ejected from his parish because of his non-conformity.  He had “espoused the cause of the Puritans” and thereby the wrath of Archbishop Laud.

Young John was but 5 years of age at this time.

Returning to England some years later, John Howe was seen by Oliver Cromwell, who was impressed by “his fine appearance”.  The Protector invited Howe to preach the following Sunday. Howe “pleads one excuse after another not to do so”, but finally “much against his private preferences” became one of the chaplains to the Cromwellian army (Schaff Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 1027).

We read that he was “a ready off-hand preacher” who never used notes,  despite the fact that he was “famous for the unusual length of his sermons and prayers” (Dictionary of Literary Biography, page 340).   An example of this is given by Edward Calamy, his biographer:  On fast-days he would begin the service at 9.00 a.m., pray for a quarter of an hour, read and expound a chapter for three-quarters of an hour, pray for about an hour, preach for another hour, and then pray for half an hour.  Then, whilst the people sang for fifteen minutes, he would “take some refreshments” before returning to the pulpit.  He would pray for an hour, preach for an hour and conclude the service around 4.00 p.m., with a final prayer “of about a half an hour or more” (History of Preaching, by E. Dargan, page 147).

A member of his flock is reported to have commented that Mr Howe “is a dear good man but he spends so much time in laying the cloth that I lose my appetite for the dinner” (page 180).

After King Charles II came to the throne, Howe “wandered from place to place, preaching in secret,” and devoting himself to writing.  The Living Temple is probably his best-known work.

Robert Hall speaks of him as “the greatest of the Puritan Divines”, although he admits that his sentences are often “long and cumbersome” (page 181).

John Howe died on 2 April, 1705.