ABERDEEN - "THE LORD'S PRISONER."
ON his way northward, Rutherford turned aside to visit
David Dickson, at Irvine, a
minister of congenial spirit and of high reputation for sacred learning and
piety like himself, whose name is known to this day over Scotland as the
reputed author of " 0 mother, dear, Jerusalem," a hymn containing some lines of
plaintive beauty, which even Bernard need not have disdained to own. What hours
must those have been in which the two saintly men strengthened each other's
faith and courage; and in their communion with their Lord and wrestling
supplication, their spirits rose above the earth, and they entered for a time
into the glory-cloud!
Rutherford reached Aberdeen at the appointed time, accompanied by a deputation of his good people, who had travelled with him all the long way from Anwoth, and who "all wept sore" at their severance from such a pastor "so holie, learned, and modest." This northern city was chosen as the place of his banishment, not only because of its great distance from his parish, but also because it was at that time the acknowledged stronghold of Arminian doctrine and Erastian polity, where, it was calculated, he would have few to sympathize with him, and would be likely to do the least harm. It was an atmosphere in which such an ecclesiastic as Laud would have delighted to breathe. All the ministers of the city were against him, as well as the professors of theology. He described his reception by the people as "at the best, a dry kindness." His heart was touched when be heard men speaking of him as he passed along the streets, as "the banished minister ;" but the pain which this produced was momentary, for we find him speaking in many of his letters of this very name as "his garland," and describing himself as "the Lord"s prisoner," as if he had received Christ"s patent of nobility by his exile.
Not long after his arrival in Aberdeen the doctors and divines, probably counting on an easy victory, challenged the solitary stranger to a dispute on the Arminian points and innovations in worship. But had they taken due measure of the man they had to deal with, whether in his learning or his dialectic skill, they would not have been so ready to call him into the lists, even though they knew that the stream of popular sympathy was flowing more strongly in their favour than in any other place in Scotland, north or south of the Don and the Dee. A Dr. Barron, who was the ablest among the disputants, was set forth as the Goliath of his party. There were three discussions; but in the third encounter their champion received so many hard rubs and falls that they gave the "banished minister" a wide berth ever afterwards.
To estimate the severity of his punishment, it must be noticed that his sentence not only included in it banishment during the king's pleasure from Anwoth and from that flock for which he had prayed and laboured during nine years of a most earnest and fruitful ministry, and which he had loved as his own soul; but that he was absolutely prohibited from preaching in Aberdeen or elsewhere on pain, if he transgressed, of being punished as a rebel. How like in spirit was all this to the Conventicle and Five Mile Acts under which his Puritan fellow-sufferers groaned! It was this latter ingredient especially, that made his cup so full and bitter, and even appeared to cloud his trial with mystery. He could almost have written of himself in the words of his great contemporary, as
"Fallen on evil days,
In darkness, and with dangers compassed round
Why should his lips have been permitted to be sealed from speaking on that subject of which his heart was so full, and of which men needed so much to hear? Why should his one gift be disowned of heaven and sent to be hidden in the earth? Questions like these arising in his mind, shaped themselves at times into rebellious thoughts against the Divine government which he found it diflicult to repress. At other times, his circumstances led him to great heart-searchings, in which he accused himself of having diminished in ardour during the later years of his Anwoth ministry, and, imagining this, perbaps, to be God's reason for his deprivation, he pleaded, much and long, for Divine forgiveness. How many a saint has travelled by such a path as this, through the darkness into light! At length, there came a spirit of unreserved submission, in which he was ready to wait God's time for explanation and deliverance, and then the storm became a calm, and his peace was great. With little change of phrase he could have adopted, in his waiting, solitary hours, the words of a greater sufferer
"A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air,
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there, -
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleaseth Thee.
Nought else have I to do
I sing the whole day long,
And He whom most I love to please
Doth listen to my song: He caught and bound my wand'ring wing,
But still He bends to hear me sing."
Still, this did not prevent him from many a longing and
loving thought about his "fair, fair Anwoth," as he was wont to speak of it.
The quiet sanctuary among the hills rose before his imagination, and night and
day he was present with his people in spirit. And when the Sabbath returned,
now a silent Sabbath to him, his inward ear seemed to hear the voice of psalms
as the now shepherdless flock lifted up their hearts in "grave, sweet, melody."
The true pastor"s heart reveals itself in many a.passage in his letters, which
must often have been bedewed with tears; reminding us of Howe"s weariness of
spirit and heart-exile amid the bustle and splendour of Cromwell"s court at
Whitehall, as he yearned for permission to return to congenial work in his
rural parish at Torrington. He thus writes in a letter to Baxter: "I have
devoted myself to serve God in the work of the ministry, and how can I want the
pleasure of hearing their cryings and complaints, who have come to me under
convictions, &c.? I shall beseech you to weigh my case again."
This is Rutherford's frequent testimony: "I am for the present thinking the sparrows and swallows that build their nests at Anwoth blessed birds." "Oh that Christ would come home to me and bring summer with Him; that I might preach His beauty and glory as once I did, before my clay-tent be removed to darkness; that my branches might be watered with the dew of God, and my joy in His work might grow green again, and bud, and send out a flower !" In another place he speaks more sadly of God, as "seeking to take down his sails, and to let his vessel lie on the coast, like an old broken ship that is no more for the sea." Again he complains, "I had but one eye, and they have put it out. My one joy, next to the flower of my joys, Christ, was to preach my sweetest, sweetest Master and the glory of His kingdom; and it seemed no cruelty to them to put out the poor man"s one eye." And here is the very intensity of longing, "Oh, if I might but speak to three or four herdboys of my worthy Master, I would be satisfied to be the meanest and most obscure of all the pastors in this land, and to live in any place, in any of Christ"s basest outhouses!"
But while "the banished minister" thus mourned over his enforced silence, he was the last man to allow his energies to rust and be consumed in unavailing regrets. In common with many others of the persecuted and silenced men of his times, he sought solace and usefulness in the preparation of books when the pulpit was closed against him. How many of the best books that enrich the theological and religious literature of our land were produced in troublous times, and, like Baxter"s "Saints' Rest," bear on them the marks of fire! It is understood that at this period Rutherford contemplated a work on Hosea, and that he actually made some progress in the preparation of a Commentary on Isaiah, though it never reached more than the dimensions of a fragment. One is apt to regret the fact that such a work by such a man remained unfinished, for there was much of the prophet"s sublimity and holy fire in Samuel Rutherford. There was even an Oriental tinge about his imagination which would have brought him into closer sympathy with that greatest of Hebrew prophets, whose hallowed lips were touched with heavenly fire. It has been the fate of more than one of those prophets of the olden time, the greater number of whom were poets, to have been interpreted by men who were of dry, prosaic minds; who were great in words, but who were wanting alike in that exalted devotion and creative fancy which were necessary to bring them into sympathy with the seer, and to penetrate into the inner soul of such men as Isaiah. A poet is needed fully to interpret a poet. Who would select a mere mathematician to write illustrative notes on Milton? or who would ask a person to produce a dissertation on the solar spectrum who was himself colour-blind?
And, though strictly forbidden to exercise his public ministry in this place of his exile, Rutherford was not excluded from the more quiet ministry of conversation, and of that personal influence which emanated from such a man, unconsciously but surely, as fragrance from a flower. After the lapse of many months, in which he had enough to do to overcome prejudice, he began to discover that the scattered seeds which had been sown by him in visits to families, and in incidental interviews by the wayside, had not all been lost. And when the good man thus "saw the grace of God, he was glad." He writes in one of his letters, "There are some blossomings of Christ's kingdom in this town, and the smoke is rising and the ministers are raging; but I like a rumbling and roaring devil best." He read in these "little brairdings of God's seed" some explanation of his banishment, and reward of his patient waiting. But when the fact came to be known by the ministers of the city and the dignitaries of the university, it filled them with new alarm. The efforts of one devoted earnest man fluttered the whole school of easy-going theologians, and kept them ill at ease. They "examined and threatened the people that haunted his company," and began to speak of procuring his banishment to Caithness, or to one of the Orkney Isles, or even outside the kingdom. Rutherford heard of all this, but he comforted himself with the thought that, wherever they might send him, they "could not banish him from his Master"s presence."
In the midst of all his labours and exercises, Rutherford"s chief thoughts continued to be given to his bereaved flock at Ariwoth. He felt himself to be still their shepherd. "Who was weak and he was not weak? Who was offended and he burned not?" Maintaining a steady correspondence with the elders and more intelligent members of his Church, he was kept acquainted with the incidents of his parish and the spiritual condition of his people, and was ever ready with words of comfort, or direction, or warning, or even of solemn rebuke, as the case might be. No tendency to defection or conformity to innovations and corruptions, in order, as he expressed it, "to keep a whole skin, or a peaceful tabernacle," could elude his sharp remonstrance. No sorrowing heart was without a leaf of consolation. Many of these letters were treasured in the midst of choicest jewels, in halls and castles; others were circulated in farm-house and cottage, until they became stained with thumb-marks and tears. And these letters solved the mystery of Rutherford's exile and enforced silence, at which even his strong faith had, for a time, stumbled; for in writing them, he was unconsciously doing a work not only for his little flock among the mountains of Galloway, but for the Church of Christ in his own and other lands, from which many a devout soul would receive impulse and quickening, and many a tried heart would drink consolation for centuries to come. It is probable that Paul only knew in part how much his imprisonment in Rome, by giving him occasion and opportunity to write some of his greatest epistles, instead of proving a hindrance, "turned out rather for the furtherance of the gospel," and made him the apostle of all time.
And when Bunyan, withdrawn from preaching to thirsting multitudes on the moors and commons of England, lay in his prison at .Bedford, dreaming, and recording his glorious dream, he little imagined that he was preparing a world's book, the charm and power of which would be owned alike by the peasant at his plough, and by the uncrowned kings of science, philosophy, and song. It was the same, in its degree, with Samuel Rutherford. His Master sent him into exile to write letters. They were not gathered and published until after he had ascended to Immanuel's land. It never entered into his heart to imagine that they were among the things which men would not willingly let die - a bundle of myrrh whose ointment and perfume would revive and gladden the heart of many generations that would arise and call their author blessed. But they were a part of God's plan of his life. It has been scarcely too strongly said, that "when Rutherford was banished to Aberdeen and forbidden to preach, his writing-desk was perhaps the most effective and widely resounding pulpit then in old Christendom."
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