ANWOTH. - THE GOOD PASTOR.
STANDING in the centre of the little town of Gatehouse and
looking northward, you see rising before you at no great distance a succession
of mountains of moderate height, of varied shape, and green to the summit.
These are separated from each other by grassy glens, which are watered by
mountain streams, some of which on rainy days, like the impetuous Skyrburn,
assume, in a few hours, the dimensions of a river. Those pastoral hills and
valleys form the greater part of the parish of Anwoth - the southern and less
mountainous portion of which is bounded by the beautiful Water of Fleet, which,
soon after passing through Gatehouse, empties itself into Wigtown Bay.
Skirting round the base of the nearest eminence, for about a mile, you come suddenly upon the venerable ruins of the church in which Samuel Rutherford began his remarkable ministry some time in 1627. The old sanctuary, standing in a natural basin, is surrounded by trees, and overlooked by little wooded hills not far off. And while it is now roofless, its walls and belfry remain in good preservation, and are richly mantled, within and without, with ivy, - the fern, the wild strawberry, and the wallflower peeping out at intervals and helping to cover and beautify the desolation. Outside and around is the ancient parish churchyard, in which many generations sleep, and which treasures the dust of many a martyr, whereon is laid the never-failing tombstone from whose rugged lines there often gleams a thought of quaint and holy beauty.
"Homely phrases, but each letter,
Full of hope and yet of heart -break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the here and the hereafter."
When we visited the hallowed spot there was a sabbatic
silence about it, only broken at intervals by a song-bird in the ash or the
pine tree overhead.
As one stands inside the ivy-clad ruin, it is not difficult even now to fill in the main features of the picture, as they must have presented themselves to a worshipper two centuries and a half ago - the door by which Rutherford entered, the oaken pulpit with the spacious oval window behind it, shedding in streams of light upon his Bible ; the spot in front of the pulpit where the pastor used to stand on high sacramental occasions surrounded by his elders, with the communion table before him covered with "fine linen, clean and white," to dispense to his flock the symbols and pledges of redeeming love; the galleries at either extremity of the house, which were occupied by the titled families and principal proprietors of Anwoth, such as the Lennoxes of Call, and the Gordons of Cardoness and Rusco; and lining every other part of the sacred edifice, the densely packed seats of the farmers and peasants, who sat listening for hours to Rutherfords melting eloquence, and were often raised above themselves by the almost seraphic strains of his adoration and prayer.
Of Rutherford's manse of Bush-o-bield. not even a stone remains. But there are those still living who remember its site and its ruins. It was an old house even in his days, built in baronial style, having belonged to an Anwoth family of rank, and containing more space than the simple pastor needed. It stood on a gentle eminence, with a garden behind producing sufficient vegetables for culinary purposes, and abounding in the rose, the honeysuckle, the balm, and other flowers in which our forefathers delighted. The Anwoth people of the last generation used to tell of gigantic hollies which lined the front of the house, while a green field gradually sloped down to the level, along which a tiny burn found its way to the Fleet not far off. The church was so near that when the pastor heard the first sound of the bell from its little belfry, he had ample time to don his Geneva gown, and, passing calmly through an intervening copse, to be in his place at the appointed time, to read out the first words of praise.
Various circumstances were favourable to the young pastor, when he entered on his untried ministry at Anwoth. His predecessor in that district, though far inferior to him in natural gifts, had been a man of kindred spirit, and had "prepared his way." The influencc of John Welsh, the son-in-law of Knox, who had been minister of Kirkcudbright, only seven miles distant, twenty-five years before, had been very powerful on the side of the reformed faith and of godly living, in all that region; and memories of the man and his work still lingered like a sweet perfume, especially among the older people. And there were other faithful ministers scattered here and there over Galloway and South Ayrshire, who were in unison with Rutherford in his theological and ecclesiastical principles, and who held up high the banner of the Reformation with no faint heart or feeble hand. It is also a noteworthy circumstance that the higher families in Anwoth and, the surrounding parishes were in general distinguished for their religious decision and godliness. There was more than "one who wore a coronet - and prayed." These occupying common ground with him greatly encouraged and supported him in his ministry, some of them, at a later period of the conflict which was then waging, suffering long imprisonments and even death for their principles.
In addition to all this, up to the time of Rutherford's coming, the people of Anwoth had only been favoured with the public ordinances of religion once in every alternate week. 'Our souls,' they had often complained, 'were under that miserable extreme famine of the word, that we had onlie the puir help of ane sermon everie second Sabbath.' And now that they had obtained the exclusive ministrations of a pastor of their own hearts' choice, there were many who felt that they could not receive enough out of his well-stored treasury. The hungry soul relishes the abundant meal.
We see no reason to question the unanimous testimony of his own and the following age in reference to the high excellence and the great effect of Rutherford's preaching. He was remembered as a 'little fair man.' And while his contemporaries describe his elocution as somewhat defective, and his voice as tending at times to an unnatural shrillness, Wodrow speaks of him as 'one of the most moving and affectionate preachers in his time, or perhaps in any age of the Church.' His sermons were usually radiant with Christ, as incarnate, suffering, dying, risen, glorified, and reigning, and in all his various saving relations to His people. It is matter of tradition that much of his conversation glowed with this ever-welcome theme, that he sometimes fell asleep with the name of Jesus upon his lips, and that the subject often shed a heavenly light over his dreams. And when, in his pulpit, the unsearchable love of Christ in one of its many phases was the matter of his discourse, especially at the holy festival of a communion season, which drew the inhabitants of whole parishes to Anwoth, his animation not unfrequently grew to rapture, and it seemed as if he might almost have said of himself, 'Whether in the body, or out of the body I cannot tell.'
But his power to arrest and enchain attention was not confined to those high themes of Christian doctrine, or to dealing with some of the aspects of religious experience. Though tenderness was one of his most characteristic qualities, we confess to our having been struck with his power in handling practical subjects, in denouncing the prevalent vices of the age, and in tracing the more subtle sins to their hiding-place. We might refer, for instance, to his sermon on 'The Christian Race,' which, though posthumous in its publication, and mainly gathered from notes that had been taken and treasured by eager listeners, and though showing here and there a jagged and unfinished sentence, yet in its sudden home-thrusts, its picturesque flashes, its homely allusion to the living world around him, its short proverbial sayings, which, when once heard, could never be forgotten, and its perilous hardihood of reproof reminds us not a little of the style of Latimer. No doubt, there is an excess of technical language, and an elaboration and minuteness of subdivision, so common to the age, in many of Rutherford's sermons, which are apt to offend and even to repel some modem readers. But still the vessel is of gold, although we may not always like the chasing.
And if we are to estimate his power as a preacher, we must not merely judge of him as we sit and calmly read one of his sermons in our library, or at our fireside, but we must connect with this the living man as he spoke, and the ethereal countenance that illuminated the words, weighing well the remark that had long before been made of Bishop Andrewes, that 'those who stole his sermons could never steal his preaching, which in its way was inimitable.' There was an evident delight to Rutherford in the work of his pulpit; for constitutional, as well as higher and stronger reasons, it was his element; he rejoiced in preaching as the lark or the nightingale may be supposed to delight in its song.
But it was something far more than mere learning of natural eloquence, that helped to make Samuel Rutherford's ministry what it was. The record of his devotional habits is profoundly interesting. He was accustomed to rise every morning at three o'clock, and the whole of the earlier hours of the day were spent by him in prayer, meditation, and study. And he came forth from his chamber, strong with a strength which was derived from heaven. He was one of those who believed that as the eagle cannot soar upon a single wing, so the ministry is unprofitable and joyless which stints devotion, and fails to keep up a constant intercourse with God. To secure for himself a more complete retirement and a greater security against interruption, there was a hallowed spot about mid-way between his manse and his church, to which it was his frequent practice to retire for prolonged devout thought and prayer, and which is well known to this hour as 'Rutherford's Walk.' Christian biography tells us of other eminent men of God who wrought and suffered nobly in their day, who loved such natural sanctuaries, as Jeremy Taylor's at Golden Grove in Wales, and holy Leighton's along the banks of the Allan and beneath the willows at Dunblane. The trees are now young which surround the place where our Anwoth pastor walked and mused. But it is easy to imagine tall and aged trees inclosing the spot in his days, their branches meeting overhead, with rays of sunlight piercing through the shady foliage, and forming a natural sanctuary, like that where Jacob wrestled of old with the angel by the margin of the little brook. It did not need the ladder with its bright angels to make the place where he spent long hours with God, become to Rutherford 'the gate of heaven.'
There are hints in his letters which assure us that his Anwoth parish was many a time, in that calm retreat, the burden of his prayers. 'There I wrestled with the angel and prevailed. Woods, trees, meadows, and hills are my witnesses that I drew on a fair meeting betwixt Christ and Anwoth.' The latter portion of each day was devoted by our young minister to the miscellaneous duties of an earnest pastorate, - such as the visitation of the sick, the sorrowful, and the dying, catechizing, and the encouragement in godly living of the families of his congregation. He never dreamed that his work was done, when he had preached to as many as chose to gather around him at the sound - of his church bell on 'the first day of the week.' He was sensitively alive to his position as one of Christ's under- shepherds, appointed to take the oversight of souls. He therefore endeavoured to know each individual member of his flock by personal intercourse, and so to place himself in sympathy with each, that if any were afflicted, he was afflicted; and if any rejoiced, he rejoiced also. By this means he was the better qualified to adapt his instructions to the spiritual condition of his people, and the way to their hearts became less difficult when every one of his parishioners was brought to regard him as a friend. And as his parish was extensive and mountainous, thinly peopled, and without a single village in it, we may imagine the devoted man wending his way among the ferns and the heather, far up on the hills amid the haunts of the curlew and the plover, crossing swollen streams and dangerous mountain torrents, that he might carry Divine consolation to some new-made widow, and heaven's light to the lonely 'shieling' of one who was ready to die.
Few things have more impressed us in the repeated perusal of his letters, than the evidence which they afford of the intimate acquaintance which he sought to acquire with the spiritual condition of each household and individual in his charge, and the anxiety with which he followed up this spiritual diagnosis, by reproof or warning, or encouragement, as the case might be. - Indeed, as we have thought of his prolonged devotion in the closet, of his fervour in the pulpit, and his unflagging diligence in the details of his pastoral care, we have seemed to ourselves, to see realized in his one example, the 'Reformed Pastor' of Baxter, and the 'Country Parson' of George Herbert. Those rural walks of Rutherford, favourably influenced his ministry in another form. The natural pictures and domestic customs which daily caught his notice reflected themselves, in a hundred ways, in his sermons, and yet - more, perhaps, in those extraordinary letters which succeeding generations have not allowed to let die. One is often startled by the fine analogies drawn from the outer world, by which the earthly was made to minister to the heavenly, and the holy ingenuity by which everything was made to yield its tribute to the pulpit. On the same principle, men have noticed the frequent occurrence of military metaphors in those works of Jeremy Taylor which were written by him when he was chaplain to the royal army.
The rapid flow of the Solway tides, the man who had been walking and wandering in the mist suddenly passing into sunshine, the use of the winter frost in destroying weeds, the language of bargain-making, the local customs at fairs and markets, the current local proverbs, not to speak of the beautiful things of the earth and the glories of the sky - all are used to supply something of the substance and colouring to our preacher's lessons.
'Love had he found in huts where poor men lie:
His daily teachers had been, woods and rills;
The silence that is in the starry sky
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.'
It is remarkable that even after the attendance on his
ministry had become large, Rutherford continued, for a time, very slow to
believe that his labours were crowned with the highest form of success in the
conversion of men. We find him, a good while after his settlement in Anwoth,
complaining of this, and longing to witness a Divine seal of his apostleship.
One fact which may help to account for his unduly desponding impressions is
that in general, when extensive religious good is about to descend on a
district, the blessing first shows itself in the quickened religious life of
those who are already the happy subjects of Divine grace, and that it is only
after the living have been revived, that the dead are raised. This is the
common order of the Divine procedure. Beyond this, it is not unlikely that part
of the explanation, in the case of our anxious minister, was to be found in the
characteristic shrinking of the natives of the northern part of our island, and
not least in young converts, from speaking to others of their experience in the
new life. They are unwilling, at first, to tell their love except to the object
of it. Gradually, however, unmistakable tokens appeared which made visible the
seal of heaven upon his work, and assured him, by indications as certain as
when the sprouting buds and the return of the song-birds tell of the advent of
spring, that his labour had not been in vain. The interest spread and deepened.
From many a parish far remote from Anwoth, that was without a faithful
ministry, multitudes flocked to Rutherford hungering for the manna of heavenly
truth. Wherever he went to preach, he had a similar experience. The words of
his earliest biographer scarcely exceed the fact, when he declares that 'the
whole country were indeed to him, and accounted by themselves, as his
One outstanding feature in his Anwoth experiences was the great benefit that attended his ministry in the families of the nobility and gentry of the district, whose castles and mansions became nurseries of piety, and abounded in young disciples. Livingstone expressly mentions that the shower of blessing at length descended upon many of the poor and ignorant of the people whom he brought to the knowledge and practice of religion. But while the parish as a whole became a 'Hephzibah,' there were some among his parishioners whose fickleness and inconstancy grieved him much, and whom he compared to ice which, when melted, is easily frozen again; and there were a few who continued openly to resist and defy his every effort to bring them into subjection to the gentle yoke of Christ.
Such open resistance, he met with equally open rebuke. On a certain Sabbath, after public worship, when he was on his way across a mountain to visit at a death-bed, coming suddenly upon some young men who were profaning the Sabbath, he stood still and rebuked them with a terrible solemnity that suspended their sports for the day, after the manner of one of the ancient prophets, calling upon three stones half embedded in the earth that were near at hand, to bear witness to his rebuke and warning. Two of these stones remain, and are known to this day as 'Rutherford's witnesses.'
It will not surprise any one who has been accustomed to study the ways of Divine Providence, that an instrument whom God was employing for such eminent uses, should again and again have been tempered in the fires of affliction, or, to use Rutherfords own words, that the thorn should often be made to intertwine with the rose. This 'Tentatio,' or chastisement of trial, was Luther's third necessary thing for the education of a minister of Christ. Before he reached the fifth year of his pastorate, a quartan fever had laid him prostrate for thirteen weeks, leaving him in such a condition of debility that even his loved work was, for a time, a burden to him. Soon after this, his wife, of whom little is known, but of whom he speaks in his letters as 'the desire of his eyes,' was taken from him, after a protracted illness in which her mind as well as her body appears to have suffered, and under these 'wrestlings of God' his 'soul was filled with gall and wormwood.' The children of their marriage had predeceased the young mother, and the same day that wrote him widowed, saw him childless.
Then his aged and widowed mother, who had come from her home in Roxburghshire to be with him in her own loneliness and in his bereavement, soon after sunk into such infirmity and helplessness as to become the occasion of constant anxiety and distress. But when his darkness seemed at the greatest, the only daughter of the Provost of Kirkcudbright, a young lady growing into womanhood, was cheerfully yielded up, and sent to minister to him, and like a sunbeam in the house, to light up his desolate home by her cheerful piety; while all through his long season of sorrow, when God's billows were rolling over him, with some brief intervals of depression, his strong faith held up his head above the waters.
An incident is recorded as having taken place at a somewhat earlier period in his pastorate, the truth of which has been questioned by some, but which is at least not so very improbable as they have represented it, and which is so beautiful in itself, as to make us wish that it were true. The story, as it has been narrated by different writers, varies in some of its details, but it is substantially the same in all. We are told that the devout and learned Archbishop Usher was on his way from England to his diocese in Armagh, and that passing near Anwoth on a Saturday afternoon, anxious to listen to the preaching of one Of whose piety and eloquence he had heard much, he assumed the disguise of a wayfaring man, or mendicant, and turning aside to Anwoth manse, asked lodging for the night. According to the custom and law of the good pastor's house, not to be 'forgetful to entertain strangers,' he was readily received. It was the practice of Mrs. Rutherford, while her husband was engaged in finishing his preparations for the coming Lord's Day, to gather together her servants and the 'strangers within her gate,' for the purpose of catechizing them on some religious subject; and on this occasion the stranger in lowly garb readily joined the little circle of catechumens. Probably for the purpose of testing the knowledge of the wayfarer, Mrs. Rutherford asked him how many commandments there were? To which he answered, 'Eleven.' Regarding this as evidence of unusual ignorance, she expressed to her husband, at a later period in the evening, her fears that the stranger was very ill-instructed in religion, and mentioned as evidence of the fact that he did not even know the number of the commandments. Rising early on the Sabbath morning, and retiring for prolonged devotion to his sanctuary not far off among the trees, Rutherford was astonished to find that there was one there already engaged in solitary worship. It was the stranger who had been welcomed the night before to his hospitality. Listening, he was struck with the evidence which his words afforded of the religious knowledge and the depth of devotion of the suppliant; and as soon as the prayer was ended he accosted him, and told him that he was certain that he was not the mendicant that he appeared to be. Disguise was no longer necessary or possible, and Usher, not unwillingly, revealed himself. The scene ended in Rutherford's urging him to preach for him, to which Usher assented, not averse to conform for the day to the simpler forms of Presbyterian worship. He read out as his text those words of the Master : 'A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.' This explained all. 'There,' whispered Rutherford to his wife, 'is the eleventh commandment.'
Those who have denied the reality of this beautiful incident should remember that Archbishop Usher was pre-eminently a lover of all good men, that he never sympathized with that ecclesiastical assumption and exclusiveness which did so much to produce and embitter the controversies of the age, and that he was even the author of a scheme of comprehension by which he hoped that Episcopalians and Presbyterians would one day be included in one common pale. Let the further fact be added that the military road by which Usher must have passed from England to Portpatrick, on his way to Ireland, passed by the gate of the Anwoth manse, and that, within the memory of old men, the daily post to Ireland passed by the same gate; and when facts like these are remembered, is not the unlikelihood greatly diminished? What a Sabbath evening must that have been which was spent by the two men of God! The points of ecclesiastical difference were no doubt, for the time, forgotten, in their conscious unity, produced by their common faith, and hope, and life. They ascended together in thought from the valley of conflict to the 'delectable mountains,' and obtained blessed glimpses and foretastes of the land of love.
Rutherford must now be supposed to have been nine years in Anwoth in the exercise of a ministry of prayer and power,' which had raised higher the standard of religious life, not only in his mountain parish, but more or less over the whole of Galloway. But ecclesiastical matters in Scotland had, meanwhile, been tending to the worse, especially in the form of innovations, both in doctrine and worship, and in a growing intolerance towards those who had the conscience and the courage to set their face steadfastly against them. It was almost certain that the Anwoth pastor, who had been unflinching and prominent in this resistance, would, sooner or later, be made to feel the iron hand of prelatic tyranny laid upon him. He had done not a little to provoke this treatment, though not to justify it. All along he had maintained a correspondence with ministers in Edinburgh who were opposed to the introduction of changes in the manner of Divine worship, that were the mere traditions of men, and who condemned divergence from the true doctrine of the Reformed Church. He had joined them in their public testimonies against these evils, and had done his utmost to foster the same spirit in others, especially in the two provinces of which Anwoth was the centre.
To all this he had added another occasion of offence which, in the estimate of some, was the most difficult of any to forgive. In the midst of his absorbing pastoral duties, he had found time to write and publish a learned work against the peculiar tenets of Arminius, which awakened much attention and discussion both at home and in Holland. The effect was to produce great indignation among the bishops, and not a few of the inferior clergy in both parts of the island, with 'Exercitationes Apologetic de pro Divina Gratia.' many of whom those tenets had become fashionable. And their displeasure was aggravated by the fact that Rutherford had dealt many hard words and, as some thought, harder arguments against Dr. Jackson, the learned Bishop of Peterborough, who had deserted to Arminianism, and was at that time basking in the sunshine of royal favour.
Much of this would probably have been borne with by the bishops of earlier years, who were forbearing and moderate in their treatment of men who, like Rutherford, had never promised unqualified subjection to episcopal authority. But the younger occupants of vacant sees were, in general, high-handed and intolerant, and had determined not only to prevent the entrance of men of Rutherford's stamp into vacant parishes, but to strain every effort, as opportunity offered, to extrude those who refused to bend to their wishes. And, as, in later years, every bishop had received power to institute a High Commission Court in his diocese, composed of himself and a few clergymen and laymen, whom he had the exclusive right to nominate, and as this court had power to imprison all within their jurisdiction who resisted their authority, it is easy to see what a terrible instrument of oppression and wrong this put into the hands of unscrupulous ecclesiastics.
Of this class was Sydserf, a man not without some arid learning, but constitutionally arrogant and overbearing, who looked with an evil eye upon those who, like Rutherford, feared their consciences more than the threats of men. He had recently been transferred from the see of Brechin to that of Galloway, and he had not long been seated on his new episcopal throne, when this holy minister, who had done so much to turn his own and neighbouring parishes into a 'garden of the Lord,' was summoned to appear on a charge of nonconformity before the High Commission Court, across the neighbouring bay, at Wigtown, and was summarily deprived of his ministerial office. Not satisfied with this unrighteous deprivation, and desiring to have his sentence not merely confirmed, but made more sweeping and severe, Sydserf next summoned him to appear before the central High Commission Court at Edinburgh, charging him, not only with nonconformity, but with treason, and what Rutherford regarded as the offence which had done much to intensify the enmity of the bishop and others against him - his having written a book against the Arminians. Three wearisome days were spent in his trial. Hour after hour he was teased with questions which had no connection with the charges against him, but by which they hoped to draw out answers that would entangle him in his speech. But the unworthy device failed in its aim, for he 'answered them not a word.' When he had spoken his defence, it became evident that some of the commissioners had been moved by his statements, and were disposed to acquit him. The young Lord of Lorne, that future Marquis of Argyle, who, many years after, was to be doubly ennobled by martyrdom, was present, and took part in his vindication, exposing the utterly frivolous and unfounded nature of the charges on which it was sought to condemn the man of God.
At the close of his speech, the scales seemed ready to turn on the side of justice; but his relentless accuser perceiving this, and knowing the timid and time-serving character of many of the judges, declared, with an oath, that, if they refused to decide according to his wish, he would lay the whole matter before the king. This argument prevailed, and the majority 'gave their vote against him.' Rutherford was deposed from his pastoral office, forbidden, under pain of rebellion, to officiate as a minister in any part of Scotland, required to be in Aberdeen before the 20th day of the following month (August, 1636), and to be confined there during the king's pleasure.
His first emotion on hearing the iniquitous sentence was one of holy joy that he was 'counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's name.' 'There is no quarrel,' said he, 'more honest or honourable than to suffer for truth. That honour my kind Lord hath now bestowed upon me, even to suffer for my royal and princely king, Jesus. I go to my king's palace at Aberdeen; tongue, pen, and wit cannot express my joy!'
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