TEVIOTDALE. - EARLY DAYS.
FEW persons will deny that Samuel Rutherfords name
is pre-eminently one of those which are "worth remembering." It lives not only
in local traditions, but in the civil and ecclesiastical history of his country
at one of its most eveatful periods ; it shines in Scotlands list of
great preachers, apostolic pastors, and good confessors, and is treasured among
the rich stores of our religious literature. It is embalmed in our Christian
biography. No Popes decree was needed for his canonization; the Christian
heart of many a land has long since done this. "They crowned him long ago." In
some of our remotest colonies, where Scottish house holds sprung from old
Puritan roots abound, it is no in frequent practice to designate one of their
sons by his saintly name. Half a century after his death, the famous Halyburton
left it behind him as his dying wish, that his dust might be buried beside that
of Rutherford, there to wait till the resurrections dawn. And down
through more than two centuries, the thoughts of good men, as his image has
risen before them, have done with him what the old Masters did with their
portraits of the early saints, as they looked from their canvas "with their
calm, sweet faces," when they surrounded them with an aureola of holy light.
His life has, of course, been frequently written, and sometimes well written, but it is needful that the story should at times be re-told, were it for no other ends than anew to enforce its lessons, and to restore freshness to its colours.
Some time in the year 1600, Samuel Rutherford was born in the parish of Nisbet, afterwards annexed to Crailing, in the district of Teviotdale, and county of Roxburgh, about four miles from the beautiful border town of Jedburgh. He long after wrote of it as "the place to which he owed his first breathing," and declared it to be "his souls desire that it might blossom as the rose." His father appears to have been a respectable farmer in moderate circumstances, able to give to Samuel and two other sons such an education as the little district capital afforded. The school-house was in a part of the old abbey of Jedburgh, which on this account was known as "the Latiners alley." In the same school the eminent Sir David Brewster got the rudiments of his education two centuries afterwards.
The great and statesmanlike scheme of national education which had been devised by Knox, and which Coleridge, with wise appreciation, has declared would have been worthy of Lycurgus, had only in part as yet been set up; but good schools, often presided over by a superior class of teachers, already existed in most of the burghs of Scotland; and we may therefore suppose that the boy, remaining under the parents roof, would daily walk into the grammar school in the Latiners alley. The quick discernment of the master soon discovered in the Crailing farmers son the signs of remarkable natural abilities, and year after year confirmed him in his belief that he was dealing with a mind of no common order. On hinting this to his parents, who had, probably begun to make the discovery for themselves, and become convinced that they were not mistaking mere mental precocity for power, they determined, at some sacrifice, like so many of their class at that time and, indeed, ever since, to give their son the benefit of a liberal education. The issue of it all was his entrance as a student at the University of Edinburgh in 1617.
The University was still young and struggling with difficulties, arising especially from inadequate funds; and its system of education, though marked by some strong points, was not without serious imperfections, which could only be compensated by the rigour of its discipline and the enthusiasm and ability of its teachers. Instead of its professors, or regents, being restricted to one branch of instruction, each professor (with the exception, it is understood, of the Professor of Latin), had a certain number of youths assigned to his special care, and he was required to instruct them in all the branches of knowledge necessary to qualify for graduation. These included the classics, philosophy, and physics, and the student usually remained under the same professor during his four years curriculum of study. One is apt to think that, in almost every instance, such an arrangement must have entailed the consequence that more than one of the prescribed subjects would be imperfectly taught, and that the thoughtful, and sometimes omnivorous, student would frequently be sent away hungering, without any means of satisfying his mental appetite. But the length of the annual sessions extending over a period of ten months - the number of hours, not fewer than eight, in which the student was in the presence of his professor, either listening to his prelections in Latin, or engaged in disputations with his fellow-students, all of them also conducted in the same language - the searching examination to which the student was subjected on the lessons of the previous year before he was permitted to enter on a new session, and, not least, the ample opportunity which was given to the professor of grappling with each individual mind among his scholars, and largely conjoining mental discipline with the communication of knowledge, made the system more effective than more abundant resources would have done, when less energetically and earnestly wrought.
We have no detailed or definite information respecting Rutherfords student life. But we know that at the close of his fourth session he graduated Master of Arts; and that only two years afterwards, after a competitive examination in which he contested the honour with scholars who greatly exceeded him in years, and by whom it would have been no disgrace to have been defeated, at the recommendation of the entire body of regents bearing testimony to "his eminent ability of mind and virtuous disposition," "Maister Samuel Rutherford " was appointed Professor of the Latin language and literature in the university. This places beyond doubt the fact of his diligence during the priceless years of his student-life, and proves that the home estimate that had been formed of his gifts by the Jedburgh schoolmaster had not been exaggerated.
After he had discharged the work of his Latin professorship for about two years, Rutherford entered on the married state, and some indiscretion or irregularity connected with the formation of this union appears to have produced so much irritation and unpleasantness between himself and his colleagues, that from a sense of discomfort, or wounded feeling, or self-displeasure, he demitted his charge. That the offence, whatever it was, could not have been one of much gravity, or fitted to leave a permanent stain upon his character, seems beyond doubt, both from the testimony of continued confidence with which his demission was received, and yet more from the fact that, in the future conflicts of parties in which he afterwards intermingled, when scandals are so often raised from their graves to do the work of faction, no reference appears to have ever been made to this, by his most relentless adversaries.
There must, however, have been bitter hours associated with this passage in Rutherfords life; and it is far from unlikely that these may have led him into trains of thought and self-reflection which ended in his coming under the supreme power of the religion of Christ. There had, no doubt, been many seasons of conviction and partial and temporary impressions of religion before this time; but, from repeated statements in his letters at a later period, we are led to suppose that it could scarcely have been earlier than this that he passed into the "Valley of Decision." We find him, more than once, when exhorting young men to consecrate to God the morning of their days, lamenting that he had delayed this momentous step until it was "high noon." "Like a fool," says he, "as I was, I suffered my sun to be high in the heaven and near afternoon, before ever I took the gate by the end." And there are other passages in which he writes in even more sorrowful and self-accusing terms. But we should injuriously misapprehend the import of such language, when used of themselves by men like Rutherford, did we imagine them to make confession of having lived a life of profligate indulgence in "sins of the flesh" at any period previous to their conversion. This was long the popular belief in reference to Bunyan, although there are passages in his autobiography, written with all a pure womans delicate choice of words, which contradict the calumny against the "wondrous dreamer." And the imagination would be as groundless, were it to be entertained against Rutherford. When we hear a regenerate man, in the presence of the infinitely holy One, confessing the sins of his youth in words of deep and contrite abasement, we must think of the standard by which he is meanwhile comparing himself, and not so misread his language as to find in it an acknowledgment that he had passed into the kingdom of God through the mire and filth of previous years of sensual living.
Rutherford, in common with Bunyan, could praise the restraining grace which had kept him from this, and saved him from those terrible memories which are too apt to arise in the souls of those who have so fallen, not only as accusing spectres, but as foul tempters to evil. But there are many things in his subsequent course which favour the impression that his repentance had been singularly thorough, and his consecration unqualified - a whole burnt offering which his glowing love laid on the Divine altar, and that he could have said in the words of the great Penitent, with a consciousness which is not doubtful, but certain and plenary "0 Lord! I love Thee. Thou hast transfixed my heart with the arrow of Thy Word, and I have loved Thee"
In this temper of mind, Rutherford soon afterwards entered on the study of theology with his face steadfastly and willingly set to the office of the Christian ministry. As he was now dealing with congenial themes, which had become to him the matter of supreme interest, we may imagine the zest and relish with which he pursued his sacred studies; and his future and early eminence as a Christian polemic and his mastery of the Divine Word show how richly he had profited from his willing toils. We always succeed best when the heart goes along with the hand and the head. Moreover, care was taken that the aspirants to the Christian pastorate should not only be trained in the science of theology, but directed in the skilful interpretation of the Word of God, and that their religious life and habits should be quite as assiduously St. Augustine. watched over as their instruction in sacred knowledge. This last-named part of the mental and moral regimen, while specially directed to the candidates for the ministry, was extended to all the students, and one record which we introduce, gives us an interesting glimpse of the Edinburgh University life of those times.
On every Wednesday, at three oclock, the Principal delivered a lecture on some theological subject to the whole of the students assembled in the public hail. On Sunday morning, at seven ocldck, they read the Scriptures in their several class-rooms before their regents, and afterwards, in company with them, went to church, from which they returned to college, and had to give an analysis of the sermon they had heard, and the portion of Scripture they had perused in the morning. When, in 1627, Rutherford had finished his curriculum of theological studies, the religious and ecclesiastical condition of Scotland was greatly discouraging and saddening to a mind with his convictions and preferences. There had been a marked and growing departure from the reformed system which the genius and piety of Knox in the former century had set up. The innovations which had been begun by James I. had been continued and increased, in the face of his most solemn engagements to the contrary, by his son Charles I., or, as was quaintly said in those days, "the needle which the father had introduced, was used by the son to draw in the thread."
Many of the doctrines of the Reformation were frowned upon and denounced by men in power; and those who continued faithfully to preach them were cast into the cold shade of neglect. One ceremony after another, which the people regarded as either unauthorized or forbidden by Scripture, and many of which had a suspicious look Romeward, was insinuated into public worship by the kings authority, and by unscrupulous men who were ready to do his bidding. The General Assembly of the Church was prohibited from meeting, except by royal permission; and when it dared to meet on its own right, its decisions were declared to be null and void. The various districts of Scotland were placed under prelates, the nominees of Charles, who superseded the power of the presbyteries, and had the power of appointing and ordaining ministers to benefices, and of regulating emoluments. But those would strangely misjudge the facts and fail to appreciate their deep significance, who should suppose that it was a mere controversy about opposing forms of Church government that was now agitating and dividing Scotland. It was to a great extent a life conflict travailing with great issues, between living religion and formalism, between royal prerogative and the spiritual independence of the Church of Christ. While these changes upon the worship and polity of the Scottish Church, and checks upon the freedom of her ecclesiastical action, were for a time endured by the Scottish people, by the great majority of the nation they were never accepted. Its heart ever rose against them.
And all over the land, there were pious ministers and others who either openly protested against the tyranny, or silently refused to comply with the obnoxious innovations. In no part of the kingdom was the opposition more general or calmly resolute, than in the towns and rural districts of Kirkcudbrightshire, and it was in one of its parishes that Rutherford found a congenial sphere for the exercise of his eminent gifts. Under the advice of Gordon of Kenmure, who was afterwards ennobled as Viscount Kenmure, whose holy life and fearless avowal of his convictions made him respected even by his adversaries, and who had heard much of Rutherfords rare gifts and ardent piety, the inhabitants of the rural parish of Anwoth invited him to become their spiritual teacher; and, by the influence of the same nobleman, the Bishop of Galloway was induced to waive his prerogative, and to yield a tacit consent to his receiving ordination by the "laying on" of presbyterial hands. What a ministry of power and blessing did that act initiate! What a centre of influence in the cause of pure and earliest religion, and of "the crown rights of Christ," did that little Galloway hamlet, in its "calm retreat and silent shade," become when Rutherford and his young wife entered the old manse, circled and shaded with its holly trees. Rutherford and Anwoth! For more than two hundred years the name of the saintly man has made the place sacred. The man and the place are intertwined in the thoughts of the Church, just as we associate Boston with Ettrick, and Baxter with Kidderminster, and Philip Henry with Broad - Oak, and Leighton with Dunblane, and Doddridge with Northampton, and Newton and Cowper with Olney, and St. Columba with Iona.
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