About the series:
Richard Hannula’s book on Samuel Rutherford is part of EP Books’ series called Bitesize Biographies. What I appreciate about this series is how the authors try to give the reader a true taste of the featured man or woman’s personality. In a short amount of space, we get to know the hero/ine of faith without the excessive gilding or glossing over often found in historical accounts. Hannula has accomplished this kind of snapshot for Samuel Rutherford.
About the book:
Samuel Rutherford was a man deeply in love with his Lord and King, Jesus Christ. He became well known for his personal love for his flock through his letters to them during his absences, and through his letters to suffering church leaders throughout decades of conflict and persecution. He lived in an era when the Protestant Reformation was establishing a foothold in Britain. Under the influence of John Knox, the Scottish Reformation broke the hold of the Papacy in 1560 AD. They were still struggling with the royal heads of Scotland and England nearly a century later. Rutherford was swept up in the ensuing conflicts most of his adult life when he would rather quietly tend his congregation where God placed him. His involvement with church and governmental affairs was reluctant.
One term a reader should become acquainted with when reading this book is presbyterianism. This is a branch of Reformed Protestantism which traces its origins back to the British Isles. Rather than a set of religious beliefs, the term refers to a type of church government. The policy setting, ruling body is comprised of representative assemblies of elders, called presbyteries. Members and ministers all have equal representation. Many Reformed churches are governed this way, but when the word presbyterian is capitalized, it usually refers to those churches from Reformation era Scotland, England and Ireland. Included in this time frame is King James VI, his son King Charles I, and his son, King Charles II and the civil war era. In Samuel Rutherford’s adult years, he became entangled in the affairs of the Scottish Kirk and the monarchies.
The 138-page biography has an introduction which conveys a short background history of Rutherford’s involvement in the civil war era and how he became so well known. Chapter one tells us about his childhood and school years up to the time he earned his Master’s Degree in Humanities. At the same time, more of the history of Scotland’s struggle beginning with King James VI (in Scotland; in England he was King James I) is explained. One important fact to note is that Scotland’s Reformation period developed earlier and independently from England’s churches. Scotland was able to establish early on that no king or queen would rule in the church since Jesus Christ is King of His own body of believers. In England, changes in the church’s time of reformation was forced to filter through the monarchy and its bishops.
In the second chapter, the author reveals Rutherford’s heart of service in his country parish in Anwoth. He loved his people and they loved him in return. While living in this hill country, he still kept track of the Kirk’s march toward reform and political happenings by corresponding with his friends and colleagues. He found time to write a couple of books–his contribution in the conflicts. By Chapter Three he had been banished to the city of Aberdeen, 200 miles to the north, because of some of these writings. He never held back from speaking his mind clearly. While he was not placed in confinement in the city, he was not allowed to leave or preach without permission from its appointed bishop. We learn Rutherford’s character when under disapproval and unable to teach and preach, he began to rain down blessings on his friends, fellow preachers and teachers, and educational colleagues through copious amounts of letters of encouragement.
The rest of the nine chapters nearly read like an adventure novel. The Scottish people suffered while Charles I and Charles II foisted on them their will for church practices. The Scots pushed back to block their efforts, back and forth. During one of these attempts to thwart the King, Rutherford managed to sneak out of Aberdeen and return to his pastorate in Anwoth. He wasn’t there for long before the Reformed leaders assigned him to teach at St. Andrew’s University, where he’d have the opportunity to teach the next generation of pastors. He continued to write letters and books along with his teaching responsibilities. Altogether, he wrote two dozen books, but he was known for his letters. At the end of his life, a friend gathered up as many as he could find–over 400 of them–written over a period of about 35 years of ministry during some of Scotland’s most tumultuous years.
After reading this book, I found it quite obvious why the US constitution, the Bill of Rights and other documents were written the way they were. I have an even greater appreciation of the system of checks and balances in this country–the executive, legislative and the judicial branches of government. Just by knowing about the conflict occurring in the short span of years this book refers to, Rutherford’s life becomes a dramatic object lesson testifying to the wisdom of our forefathers. My prayer is that many young people will read this book and grow to appreciate the events leading up to the United States’ fight for independence from England’s Charles III.
My second impression from reading this book is amazement at how many heroes of the faith God raised up during the sixty-year time frame of Rutherford’s life. It seems to me the greater the persecution against the Reformers, the greater number of leaders stepped forward to point people back to God’s Word. Have you ever wondered how you would handle persecution whether physically, professionally or socially? Reading between the lines in this book, we may guess– judging by whatever motivates us. The story of John Gordon’s defection and later confession to Samuel Rutherford on his death bed was a powerful example how many of us could falter from a stand we previously believed we were firmly grounded upon, especially when presented with the one incentive that could turn us.
The third thing I appreciate about this book is how well the author wove the political strife with Samuel Rutherford’s personal story through the use of quotes from his many books, letters, diaries, documents and sermons. These excerpts reveal to the reader a clear picture of his feelings, impressions, attitudes, personality, devotion to Christ, and misgivings. He faltered and suffered from doubts. He never claimed to be perfect. He experienced mood shifts from elation to discouragement to depression. He didn’t deny his faults, he learned from them. He used his honest feelings to develop greater empathy for others. This humble attitude endeared him to many people, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, well known or obscure.
A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) and EP Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”