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 Milton Applies His Talents to His Faith

John Milton died on November 8, 1674. He is described as “the greatest poet of Christian themes England has produced”.

Born to a family of means in London on 9 December, 1608, his Christian convictions were most probably invoked through his mother, Sarah, who is described as a very religious person. His genius for poetry revealed itself at an early age. His paraphrase of Psalm 136 was written when he was 15 years of age …
Let us with a gladsome mind
praise the Lord for He is kind …

Originally it had 24 stanzas.

Milton considered himself destined for ministry, and was first taught languages by his father, then was schooled at St Paul’s School and Christ’s College Cambridge. After a year at Cambridge he was suspended for a fist fight with his tutor. Milton held his beliefs firmly. He was not particularly liked by the other students. At Cambridge he composed “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” on Christmas Day 1629.

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After graduation he spent time at home, engaged in literature, and then went to the Continent where he met many notables, including Galileo (then under house arrest by the church), the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Barberini and Calvinist theologian Giovanni Diodati.

Milton returned to London and was then caught up in the English Civil War. He became secretary to Oliver Cromwell writing political treatises to counter critical works originating on the Continent. He also wrote several prose works from a Puritan perspective including pamphlets against the episcopy.

At the age of 44 he became totally blind – but continued to write political treatises.

Then – in later life – he turned back to poetry.

His epic work, Paradise Lost, in which he “sought to justify the ways of God to man” was published in ten volumes in 1667. The copyright was sold for 5 pounds Sterling at a time when Milton’s finances had taken a turn for the worse.

Milton’s blindness made huge demands on his creativity. He would compose verses at night and commit them to memory, then dictate them to his daughters or other assistants in the morning.

Many of Milton’s religious views were at variance to Puritan theology, including his disbelief in the divine birth.

His domestic life was sad. His first wife, 17 year old Mary Powell, who married him when he was twice her age, left him after “a few weeks” then returned two years later (1645) and bore him three daughters.

After her death he re-married (1656), but his second wife died two years later.

At the age of 58 he married again to a much younger woman, despite the opposition of his daughters, and this third wife seemed to bring him peace in his last eight years.

His last manuscript, A Treatise of Christian Doctrine, in Latin, was not found until about 150 years after his death. It reveals Arian views – and a willingness to tolerate polygamy … (Chambers Biographical Dictionary).

Paradise Lost is controversial in its Christian message, subtly presenting Satan as the real hero of the poem. Romantic poet William Blake stated that Milton is “a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

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. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Thomas Goodwin the Famous Nonconfomist

This is the day that … Thomas Goodwin was born in Norfolk, England, in 1600.

Converted at the age of 20, when God spoke to his heart through a sermon based on Ezekiel 16:6, Thomas Goodwin went on to become a Church of England clergyman, until he clashed with the bishop!

He was told not to preach upon controversial subjects!

And a few years later – in 1633 – when he met non-conformist leader John Cotton, the die was cast.  Thomas Goodwin resigned from the Church of England and became a Congregationalist.

He pastored a London chapel, married Elizabeth Prescott, spent a year in ministry in Holland, then back to London.

During the Civil War he was a Chaplain to Oliver Cromwell (and later was at Cromwell’s deathbed);  he was the non-conformists’ leader at the Westminster assembly where he spoke 357 times during the five and a half years it was in session.  On 15 October, 1644, he was even called to order for speaking too long!

And he kept minutes of the meetings – 14 massive volumes.

His published writings cover 12 volumes (Banner of Truth) – for example, there are 36 sermons just on the first chapter of Ephesians.

During his lectures at Oxford his students called him “Dr Ninecaps”, possibly because of the “two double skull caps” he often wore (Puritan Profiles, by W. Barker, page 75).

Alexander Whyte speaks of him as “the greatest pulpit master of Pauline exegesis that has ever lived” (Thirteen Appreciations, page 158).

But some fellow Puritans – like John Owen – criticised Goodwin’s distinctive teachings on assurance.

Thomas Goodwin died on 23 February, 1680, and was buried in Bunhill Fields unconsecrated ground (since he was not allowed burial in the regular cemetery due to his non-conformist beliefs).

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. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before. 

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.

Benjamin Keach Compelled to Preach

This is the day that … Benjamin Keach died in 1704.

He had been born in North Buckinghamshire, England, on February 29, 1640, in the days when England was about to be plunged into civil war…

Although brought up in the state church, he was baptised again at the age of 15 and joined a Baptist church … walking seven miles each Lord’s Day to join with the congregation in a neighbouring village.

At 18 he was ‘set aside for the work of the ministry’, the church having recognised his God-given gift in that area.

Two years later he married Jane Grove. And he began to preach …

But by now Oliver Cromwell was dead and Charles II was insisting that all church services conform to those of the Church of England.

Keach refused to do so … but continued his ministry. And as a result he was arrested and put in the pillory at Aylesbury. “Good people”, he said to the assembled crowd, “I am not ashamed to stand here this day, with this paper on my head. My Lord Jesus was not ashamed to suffer on the cross of me …”

Many a time he suffered similar indignities – ‘often seized, sometimes whilst preaching, committed to prison, sometimes bound, sometimes released on bail, and sometimes his life was threatened…’

In 1664 – at the age of 24 – we find him in Southwark, pastoring a Particular Baptist Church.

He had begun his days as a General Baptist (Arminian in theology), but now was Particular Baptist (ie, Calvinistic).

His first wife died at the age of 30, and Keach remarried in 1672.

He wrote 60 books and was “to the forefront in introducing congregational hymn singing into the Baptist church”.

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.