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Letter to the Parishioners of Anwoth

 


Written by Samuel Rutherford while in prison

Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600-1661) was the faithful pastor of Anwoth who suffered greatly during the ďKilling TimeĒ in Scotland, being persecuted and imprisoned for his adherence to the doctrine of his dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A Presbyterian who refused to countenance Prelacy (Episcopalianism), his preaching exalted Christ alone as Lord and King. Mr Rutherford was Professor of Divinity at St Andrews and one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.


 

Protestation of care for their souls and for the glory of God

Delights in his ministry and in his Lord

Warnings against errors of the day

Words to the backslider

Intense admiration for Christ

A loud call to all

 

Aberdeen, 13 July 1637

 

Dearly beloved and longed-for in the Lord, my crown and my joy in the day of Christ:

 

Grace be to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I long exceedingly to know if the oft-spoken-of match betwixt you and Christ holdeth, and if you follow on to know the Lord. My day-thoughts and my night-thoughts are of you. While you sleep I am afraid of your souls, that they be off the Rock. Next to my Lord Jesus and this fallen kirk [church], you have the greatest share of my sorrow and also of my joy. You are the matter of tears, care, fear, and daily prayers of an oppressed prisoner of Christ. As I am in bonds for my high and lofty One, my royal and princely Master, my Lord Jesus, so I am in bonds for you. For I should have slept in my warm nest, and kept the fat world in my arms, and the cords of my tabernacle should have been fastened more strongly; I might have sung an evangel of ease to my soul and you for a time, with my brethren, the sons of my mother, that were angry at me and have thrust me out of the vineyard; if I would have been broken, and drawn on to mire you, the Lordís flock, and to cause you to eat pastures trodden upon with menís feet, and to drink foul and muddy waters. But truly the Almighty was a terror to me, and His fear made me afraid. O my Lord, judge if my ministry be not dear to me, but not so dear by many degrees as Christ my Lord!

 

God knoweth the sad and heavy Sabbaths I have had, since I laid down at my Masterís feet my two shepherdís staves. I have been often saying, as it is written, ĎMy enemies chased me sore like a bird, without cause: they have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon meí [Lam 3. 52, 53]. For, next to Christ, I had but one joy, the apple of the eye of my delights, to preach Christ my Lord; and they have violently plucked that away from me. It was to me like the poor manís one eye; and they have put out that eye, and quenched my light in the inheritance of the Lord. But my eye is toward the Lord. I know that I shall see the salvation of God and that my hope shall not always be forgotten. And my sorrow shall want nothing to complete it, and to make me say, ĎWhat availeth it me to live?í, if you follow the voice of a stranger, of one that cometh into the sheep-fold, not by Christ the door, but climbeth up another way.

 

If the man build his hay and stubble upon the golden foundation, Christ Jesus (already laid among you), and you follow him, I assure you, the manís work shall burn and never bide Godís fire; and you and he both shall be in danger of everlasting burning except ye repent. Oh, if any pain, any sorrow, any loss that I can suffer for Christ and for you were laid in pledge to buy Christís love to you! and that I could lay my dearest joys, next to Christ my Lord, in the gap betwixt you and eternal destruction! O if I had paper as broad as heaven and earth, and ink as the sea and all the rivers and fountains of the earth, and were able to write the love, the worth, the excellency, the sweetness and due praises of our dearest and fairest Well-beloved! and then if you could read and understand it! What could I want, if my ministry among you should make a marriage between the little bride in those bounds and the Bridegroom! O how rich a prisoner were I, if I could obtain of my Lord (before whom I stand for you) the salvation of you all! O what a prey had I gotten, to have you catched in Christís net! O then, I had cast out my Lordís lines and his net with a rich gain! Oh then, well-wared[1] pained breast and sore back and crazed body, in speaking early and late to you!

 

My witness is above; your heaven would be two heavens to me, and the salvation of you all as two salvations to me. I would subscribe a suspension,[2] and a fristing[3] of my heaven for many hundred years (according to Godís good pleasure) if ye were sure in the upper lodging, in our Fatherís house, before me. I take to witness heaven and earth against you, I take instruments[4] in the hands of that sun and daylight that beheld us, and in the hands of the timber and walls of that kirk, if I drew not up a fair contract of marriage betwixt you and Christ, if I went not with offers betwixt the Bridegroom and you; and your conscience did bear you witness, your mouths confessed, that there were many fair trysts and meetings drawn on betwixt Christ and you at communion feasts and other occasions. There were bracelets, jewels, rings and love-letters sent to you by the Bridegroom. It was told you what a fair dowry you should have, and what a house your Husband and you should dwell in, and what was the Bridegroomís excellency, sweetness, might, power, the eternity and glory of his kingdom, the exceeding deepness of his love, who sought his black wife through pain, fires, shame, death and the grave, and swimmed the salt sea for her, undergoing the curse of the law, and then[5] was made a curse for you. And you then consented and said, ĎEven so I take himí.

 

I counsel you to beware of the new and strange leaven of menís inventions beside and against the Word of God, contrary to the oath of this Kirk, now coming among you. I instructed you of the superstition and idolatry in kneeling in the instant of receiving the Lordís Supper, and of crossing[6] in baptism, and of the observing of menís days, without any warrant of Christ our perfect Lawgiver. Countenance not the surplice, the attire of the mass-priest, the garment of Baalís priests. The abominable bowing to altars of tree (wood) is coming upon you. Hate and keep yourselves from idols. Forbear in any case to hear the reading of the new fatherless[7] Service-Book,[8] full of gross heresies, popish and superstitious errors, without any warrant of Christ, tending to the overthrow of preaching. You owe no obedience to the bastard canons; they are unlawful, blasphemous, and superstitious. All the ceremonies that lie in Antichristís foul womb, the wares of that great mother of fornications, the Kirk of Rome, are to be refused. You see whither they lead you. Continue still in the doctrine which you have received. You heard of me the whole counsel of God. Sew no clouts upon Christís robe. Take Christ, in His rags and losses, and as persecuted by men, and be content to sigh and pant up the mountain, with Christís cross on your back. Let me be reputed a false prophet (and your conscience once said the contrary) if your Lord Jesus will not stand by you and maintain you, and maintain your cause against your enemies.

 

I have heard, and my soul is grieved for it, that since my departure from you, many among you are turned back from the good old way, to the dogís vomit again. Let me speak to these men. It was not without Godís special direction that the first sentence that ever my mouth uttered to you was that: ĎAnd Jesus said, For judgement I am come into this world, that they which see might not see; and that they which see might be made blindí [John 9. 39]. Is it possible that my first meeting and yours may be when we shall both stand before the dreadful Judge of the world; and in the name and authority of the Son of God, my great King and Master, I write, by these presents, summonses to those men. I arrest their souls and bodies to the day of our compearance.[9] Their eternal damnation standeth subscribed, and sealed in heaven, by the hand-writing of the great Judge of quick and dead; and I am ready to stand up, as a preaching witness against such to their face, on that day, and to say ĎAmení to their condemnation, except they repent. The vengeance of the Gospel is heavier than the vengeance of the Law. The Mediatorís malediction and vengeance is twice vengeance, and that vengeance is the due portion of such men. And there I leave them as bond men, aye and until they repent and amend.

 

Ye were witnesses how the Lordís day was spent while I was among you. O sacrilegious robber of Godís day, what wilt thou answer the Almighty when he seeketh so many Sabbaths back again from thee? What will the curser, swearer and blasphemer do when his tongue shall be roasted in that broad and burning lake of fire and brimstone? And what will the drunkard do when tongue, lungs and liver, bones and all shall boil and shall fry in a torturing fire? He shall be far from his barrels of strong drink then; and there is not a cold well of water for him in hell. What shall be the case of the wretch, the covetous man, the oppressor, the deceiver, the earth-worm, who can never get his wombful of clay [Ps 17. 14], when, in the day of Christ, gold and silver must lie burnt in ashes, and he must compear[9] and answer his Judge, and quit his clayey and noughty[10] heaven!

 

Woe, woe, for evermore, be to the time-turning atheist, who hath one god and one religion for summer, and another god and another religion for winter, and the day of fanning, when Christ fanneth all that is in his barn-floor; who hath a conscience for every fair and market, and the soul of him runneth upon these oiled wheels, time, custom, the world, and command of men. O, if the careless atheist, and sleeping man, who edgeth by all with, ĎGod forgive our pastors if they lead us wrong, we must do as they commandí, and layeth down his head upon timeís bosom, and giveth his conscience to a deputy, and sleepeth so, till the smoke of hell-fire fly up in his throat, and cause him to start out of his doleful bed! O if such a man would awake! Many woes are for the over-guilded and gold-plastered hypocrite. A heavy doom is for the liar and white-tongued flatterer; and the flying book of Godís fearful vengeance, twenty cubits long and ten cubits broad, that goeth out from the face of God, shall enter into the house, and in upon the soul of him that stealeth and sweareth falsely by Godís name [Zech 5. 2, 3].

 

I denounce eternal burning, hotter than Sodomís flames, upon the men that boil in filthy lusts of fornication, adultery, incest, and the like wickedness. No room, no, not a foot-breadth, for such vile dogs within the clean Jerusalem. Many of you put off all with this, ĎGod forgive us, we know no betterí. I renew my old answer: the Judge is coming in flaming fire, with all his mighty angels to render vengeance to all those who know not God, and believe not [2 Thess I. 8]. I have often told you that security will slay you. All men say they have faith: as many men and women now, as many saints in heaven. And all believe (say you), so that every foul dog is clean enough, and good enough, for the clean and new Jerusalem above. Every man hath conversion and the new birth; but it is not leal[11] come. They had never a sick night for sin; conversion came to them in a night-dream. In a word, hell will be empty at the day of judgement, and heaven pang[12] full! Alas! it is neither easy nor ordinary to believe and to be saved. Many must stand, in the end, at heavenís gates [Luke 13. 25]. When they go to take out their faith, they take out a fair nothing, or (as ye use to speak) a blafume.[13] O lamentable disappointment! I pray you, I charge you in the name of Christ, make fast work of Christ and salvation.

 

I know there are some believers among you, and I write to you, O poor broken-hearted believers. All the comforts of Christ in the Old and New Testaments are yours. O what a Father and Husband you have! O, if I had pen and ink, and engine[14] to write of him! Let heaven and earth be consolidated into massy and pure gold, it will not weigh the thousandth part of Christís love to a soul, even to me a poor prisoner. O that is a massy and marvelous love! Men and angels! unite your force and strength in one, you shall not heave nor poise it off the ground. Ten thousand worlds, as many worlds as angels can number, and then as a new world of angels can multiply, would not all be the balk[15] of a balance to weigh Christís excellency, sweetness and love. Put ten earths into one, and let a rose grow greater than ten whole earths, or whole worlds, O what beauty would be in it, and what a smell it would cast! But a blast of the breath of that fairest Rose in all Godís paradise, even of Christ Jesus our Lord, one look of that fairest face would be indefinitely in beauty and smell above all imaginable and created glory!

 

I wonder that men can bide off[16] Christ. I would esteem myself blessed if I could make an open proclamation, and gather all the world that are living upon the earth, Jew and Gentile, and all that shall be born till the blowing of the last trump, to flock round about Christ, and to stand looking, wondering, admiring, and adoring his beauty and sweetness. For his fire is hotter than any other fire, his love sweeter than common love, his beauty surpasseth all other beauty. When I am heavy and sad, one of his love-looks would do me meikle [many] worldsí good. O if you would fall in love with him, how blessed were I! How glad would my soul be to help you to love him! But amongst us all, we could not love him enough. He is the Son of the Fatherís love, and Godís delight. The Fatherís love lieth all upon him. O if all mankind would fetch all their love and lay it upon him! Invite him, and take him home to your houses, in the exercise of prayer morning and evening, as I often desired you; especially now, let him not want lodging in your houses, nor lie in the fields when he is shut out of pulpits and kirks. If you will be content to take heaven by violence and the wind on your face for Christ and his cross, I am here one who hath some trial for Christís cross, and I can say, that Christ was ever kind to me, but he overcometh himself (if I may speak so) in kindness while I suffer for him. I give you my word for it, Christís cross is not so evil as they call it; it is sweet, light, and comfortable. I would not want the visitations of love, and the very breathings of Christís mouth when he kisseth, and my Lordís delightsome smiles and love-embracements under my sufferings for him, for a mountain of gold, or for all the honours, court, and grandeur of velvet kirkmen. Christ hath the yolk and heart of my love. ĎI am my Belovedís and my Well-beloved is mineí.

 

O that you were hand-fasted to Christ! O my dearly-beloved in the Lord, I would I could change my voice, and had a tongue tuned by the hands of my Lord, and had the art of speaking of Christ, that I might point out to you the worth and highness and greatness and excellency of that fairest and renowned Bridegroom! I beseech you by the mercies of the Lord, by the sighs, tears, and heartís-blood of our Lord Jesus, by the salvation of your poor and precious souls, set up the mountain, that you and I may meet before the Lambís throne amongst the congregation of the first-born. The Lord grant that that may be the trysting-place! that you and I may put up our hands together, and pluck and eat the apples off the tree of life, and that we may feast together and drink together of that pure river of the water of life that cometh out from the throne of God and of the Lamb!

 

O how little is your hand-breadth and span-length of days here! Your inch of time is less that when you and I parted. Eternity, eternity is coming, posting on with wings; then shall every manís blacks and whites be brought to light. O how low will your thoughts be of this fair-skinned but heart-rotten apple, the vain, vain, feckless[10] world, when the worms shall make them houses in your eye-holes, and shall eat off the flesh from the balls of your cheeks, and shall make that body a number of dry bones! Think not that the common gate[17] of serving God, as neighbours and others do, will bring you to heaven. Few, few are saved. The devilís court is thick and many. He hath the greatest number of mankind for his vassals. I know this world is a forest of thorns in your way to heaven;  but you must go through it. Acquaint yourselves with the Lord; hold fast Christ; hear his voice only. Bless his name; sanctify and keep holy his day; keep the new commandment, ĎLove one anotherí; let the Holy Spirit dwell in your bodies; and be clean and holy.

 

Love not the world; lie not; love and follow the truth. Learn to know God. Keep in mind what I taught you, for God will seek an account of it when I am far from you. Abstain from all evil and all appearance of evil. Follow good carefully, and seek peace and follow after it. Honour your king and pray for him. Remember me to God in your prayers; I cannot forget you.

 

I told you often while I was with you, and now I write it again; heavy, sad and sore is that stroke of the Lordís wrath that is coming upon Scotland. Woe, woe, woe to this harlot-land! for they shall take the cup of Godís wrath from his hands, and drink and fall and spue and not rise again. In, in, in with speed to your stronghold, you prisoners of hope, and hide you there till the anger of the Lord pass! Follow not the pastors of this land, for the sun is gone down upon them. As the Lord liveth, they lead you from Christ, and from the good old way. Yet the Lord will keep the holy city, and make this withered Kirk to bud again like a rose and a field blessed of the Lord.

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. The prayers and blessings of a prisoner in Christ, in bonds for him, and for you, be with you all. Amen.

 

Your lawful and loving pastor,

 

S.R. 

 


[1] Deserved.

[2] An act in law postponing the carrying out of a decision.

[3] To postpone possession.

[4] Documents, furnishing proof.  

[5] Thus.

[6] Making the sign of the cross.

[7] Without the authorís name.

[8] It was the reading of ĎLaudís Liturgyí in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, that caused Jenny Geddes the herb-stall woman to throw her stool at the Deanís head. The attempt to foist Episcopacy on Scotland led to the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 and to the two Bishopsí wars 1639-40.

[9] Appearance in court.

[10] Worthless.

[11] Honest, genuine.

[12] Crammed.

[13] A sham, an air-bubble.

[14] Ability.

[15] Beam.

[16] Abide (stay) away from.

[17] Way, manner.


Reference

ďLetters of Samuel Rutherford,Ē published by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996. pp 109-118.