Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Rutherford comforts a grieving mother (adapted into modern form)

Samuel Rutherford ( c. 1600 – 29 March 1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author, and one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.
  • Samuel Rutherford was from 1617 educated at Edinburgh University, where he became Professor of Lati) in 1623. In 1627 he was settled as minister of Anwoth in Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway, where it was said of him 'he was always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and studying. His first years in Anwoth, though, were touched with sadness. His wife was ill for a year and a month, before she died and two children also died during this period. In 1636 Rutherford published a book in Latin defending the doctrines of grace (Calvinism) against Armininiasm. This put him in conflict with the Church authorities, which were dominated by the English Episcopacy. He was called before the High Court, deprived of his ministerial office, and exiled to Aberdeen. where
     Samuel Rutherford
    Source: Wikipedia 
     'his writing desk' was said to be 'perhaps the most effective and widely resounding pulpit then in Christendom'.On the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in 1638, he escaped Aberdeen, Presbyterianism was re-established, was made Professor of Divinity at St. AndrewsAfter 5 months at St Andrews, having been a widower for nearly 10 years he remarried.  Rutherford in 1443 was chosen as one of the four main Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London taking part in formulating the Westminster Confession of Faith completed in 1647. While he was in London two infant children by his second wife died. She was to bear him five more four of whom predeceased Rutherford. So he was a man acquainted with grief and so well able to counsel the bereaved. It appears that the recipient of this letter from London, a mother of three sons,  was unknown to Rutherford but known to Blair his fellow minister who has pastored he son who died young. I was directed to this letter when reading Ian Hamilton's The Faith Shaped Life in family devotions. We found the language very dated hence my offering here. It is remarkable for the tender comfort given but also for the richness of his metaphors which he is not beyond the odd mixing.

    Letter 310 To Mrs Taylor on her son's death, her son being in Blair's congregation.

    Mrs Taytor - Grace, mercy and peace to you. Though I do not know you personally, hearing the concerned words of your elder son who is now also in London, and reckoning Jesus Christ to be your closest relative, I am bold in Christ to give you my poor thoughts about your son who recently fell asleep in the Lord, who has been under the ministry of the worthy servant of Christ, my fellow worker Mr Blair from whose ministry he reaped blessing. I know grace does not root out the emotions of a mother but puts them on the potter's wheel of Him who renews everything, that the emotions be refined*. So sorrow for a dead child is permitted but in proper limits.The Lord's redeemed do not have sovereign control over sorrow and other emotions to know Christ's goodness as they please. "For you are not your own but bought with a price;" and your sorrow is not your own. He has not redeemed you by halves: and you are therefore not to call Christ's cross no cross.He commands you to weep: and the Princely one who has taken a man's heart to heaven in order to be a compassionate High Priest, became your like and companion on earthly weeping for the dead (John 11:35). So you are to love that cross for it was once at Christ's shoulders before yours:so by what he did he has gilded over and covered the cross with the Mediator's lustre. The cup you drink was at the lip of sweet Jesus, and He drank from it; and so it a the smell of his breath and I think you love it no less for this sweetness.So drink and believe the resurrection of your son's body. If one ember of hell could fall off the exalted head, Jesus (Jesus the Prince of the kings of earth!) and burn me to ashes, knowing I am a partner with Christ, and a sharer with Him (though the most unworthy) , I think I would die a lovely death in the fire with Him. The worst things of Christ , even his cross, have much of heaven from Himself; and sodas your Christian sorrow , being like Christ's. If your sorrow was illegitimate and not from Christ's family for you are related to Him, like him in His death and sufferings) I would pity your condition; but the kind and compassionate Jesus, at every sigh you give for the loss of you now glorified child (for so it is fitting to believe he is) with human heart cries, "Half your sorrow is mine."
       I was not present at his death having been called out of Scotland; but if you believe those whom I believe ( and I dare not lie), he died in comfort.True he died before he could do much for Christ on earth, as I hope and heartily want your son Hugh ( who is very dear to me in Jesus Christ) will do. He has changed his place of service not his service or Master, and that should counter some sorrow. "No longer will there be anything accursedbut ethe throne of God and of the Lamb will be in itand his servants will worship him. " (Rev 22:3) What he could have done here below, he is now engaged in that same service above; and it is all one, it is the same service and the same Master, only in a different condition. And you shouldn't think of it as a bad bargain for your beloved son, where he has gold instead of copper and brass eternity instead of time.
       I believe Christ has taught you (for I believe what your son Hugh says of you) not to sorrow because of the death of your son. Yo will think, "He died too soon, he died too young, he died in the morning of his life." But God's sovereignty must silence these thoughts. I was like you; I had only two children, and both are dead since I came to England.The supreme and absolute maker of all things renders no accounts in these matters the good gardener may pluck his roses and gather in his lilies in mid-summer, and I dare say at the beginning of the first summer month: and he may transplant young trees from lower ground to higher, where they may get more sun, and better air at any time of year. hat does that matter to you or me. These plants are His own. The Creator of time and winds gave a mercy (if I may use that word) to nature , in landing the traveller safely. If you complain about a fair wind, a good tide and a quick landing ashore, in that land where all have everlasting joy upon their hearts, then you love the sea too much. He cannot be in heaven too early. His twelve hours were not short hours. And think, if you had been at his bed-side, and seen Christ coming to him, you wouldn't, couldn't have put off Christ's free love for your son who would want Christ no more. 
       Dying in another land where his mother could not close his eyes is no great trouble. Who closed Moses' eyes? Who put on his burial sheet? For all I know neither father, nor mother nor friend but God alone. And there is a suitable, fair and easy road between Scotland and heaven, as if he had died in the very bed where he was born. The whole earth is his Father's,; any corner of his Father's house is good enough to die in. 
       It may be your other living child(not Hugh) is more of a grief to you than the one you have lost. You are to be patient that in time God give him repentance. Christ possibly waited as long for you and me, certainly longer on me, and even if he were denied repentance, I could say something about that. But I hope for better of him.
       It seems Christ will have this world as your stepmother, I love you no less for it. It may be a proof that you are not a child of this lower house but a stranger in it. Christ sees it not good only, but only only good to be so led to heaven. And consider this a favour that he has given you free, free grace that is, unearned mercy,: you paid nothing for it. And who can put a price on anything from royal and princely Jesus Christ? God has given you to suffer the loss of possessions for Him. Consider this an act of free grace too. You are no loser for you have Him; and I am sure that if you esteem Christ, nothing could be bitter to you.
       Grace, grace be with you.
       Your brother and well-wisher' SR
    London 1645

    Letters of Samuel Rutherford, Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1891 p 620

     * Three metaphors mixed in one sentence.

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