Articles, Tracts and Letters

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Letter to Anworth

by Samuel Rutherford

This letter is dated Aberdeen, July 13, 1637, sent by the exiled Rutherford (1600-1661) to his flock at Anwoth. It reveals a spirit of fervent piety and earnest pastoral concern. Its solemn warnings are needed again today.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 20, October-December 2000.

D EARLY BELOVED AND LONGED-FOR IN THE LORD, my crown and joy in the day of Christ, – Grace be to you, and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

I long exceedingly to know if the oftspoken-of match betwixt you and Christ holdeth, and if ye follow on to know the Lord. My day-thoughts and my night-thoughts are of you: while ye sleep I am afraid of your souls, that they be off the rock. Next to my Lord Jesus and this fallen kirk, ye have the greatest share of my sorrow, and also of my joy; ye are the matter of the tears, care, fear, and daily prayers of an oppressed prisoner of Christ. As I am in bonds for my high and lofty One, my royal and princely Master, my Lord Jesus; so I am in bonds for you. For I should have slept in my warm nest, and kept the fat world in my arms, and the cords of my tabernacle should have been fastened more strongly; I might have sung an evangel of ease to my soul and you for a time, with my brethren, the sons of my mother, that were angry at me, and have thrust me out of the vineyard; if I would have been broken, and drawn on to mire you, the Lord's flock, and to cause you to eat pastures trodden upon with men's feet, and to drink foul and muddy waters. But truly the Almighty was a terror to me, and His fear made me afraid. O my Lord, judge if my ministry be not dear to me, but not so dear by many degrees as Christ my Lord! God knoweth the sad and heavy Sabbaths I have had, since I laid down at my Master's feet my two shepherd's staves. I have been often saying, as it is written, "My enemies chased me sore like a bird, without cause: they have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me" (Lam. 3:52,53). For, next to Christ, I had but one joy, the apple of my delights, to preach Christ my Lord; and they have violently plucked that away from me. It was to me like the poor man's one eye; and they have put out that eye, and quenched my light in the inheritance of the Lord. But my eye is toward the Lord: I know that I shall see the salvation of God, and that my hope shall not always be forgotten. And my sorrow shall want nothing to complete it, and to make me say,"What availeth it me to live?" if ye follow the voice of a stranger, of one that cometh into the sheep-fold not by Christ the door, but climbeth up another way. If the man build his hay and stubble upon the golden foundation, Christ Jesus (already laid among you), and ye follow him, I assure you, the men's work shall burn and never bide God's fire: and ye and he both shall be in danger of everlasting burning except ye repent. Oh, if any pain, any sorrow, any loss that I can suffer for Christ, and for you, were laid in pledge to buy Christ's love to you! and that I could lay my dearest joys, next to Christ my Lord, in the gap betwixt you and eternal destruction! O if I had paper as broad as heaven and earth, and ink as the sea and all the rivers and fountains of the earth, and were able to write the love, the worth, the excellency, the sweetness, and due praises of our dearest and fairest Wellbeloved! and then if ye could read and understand it! What could I want, if my ministry among you should make a marriage between the little bride in those bounds and the Bridegroom? Oh, how rich a prisoner were I, if I could obtain of my Lord (before whom I stand for you) the salvation of you all! Oh, what a prey had I gotten, to have you catched in Christ's net! Oh, then I had cast out my Lord's lines and His net with a rich gain! Oh then, wellwared pained breast, and sore back, and crazed body, in speaking early and late to you! My witness is above; your heaven would be two heavens to me, and the salvation of you all as two salvations to me. I would subscribe a suspension, and a fristing [postponement] of my heaven for many hundred years (according to God's good pleasure), if ye were sure in the upper lodging, in our Father's house, before me. I take to witness heaven and earth against you, I take instruments in the hands of that sun and daylight that beheld us, and in the hands of the timber and walls of that kirk, if I drew not up a fair contract of marriage betwixt you and Christ, if I went not with offers betwixt the Bridegroom and you, and your conscience did bear you witness, your mouths confessed, that there were many fair trysts and meetings drawn on betwixt Christ and you at communion feasts, and other occasions? There were bracelets, jewels, rings, and love-letters, sent to you by the Bridegroom. It was told you what a fair dowry ye should have, and what a house your Husband and ye should dwell in, and what was the Bridegroom's excellency, sweetness, might, power, the eternity and glory of His kingdom, the exceeding deepness of His love, who sought His black wife through pain, fires, shame, death, and the grave, and swimmed the salt sea for her, undergoing the curse of the law, and then [thus] was made a curse for you; and ye then consented, and said, "Even so I take Him." I counsel you to beware of the new and strange leaven of men's inventions, beside and against the word of God, contrary to the oath of this kirk, now coming among you. I instructed you of the superstition and idolatry in kneeling in the instant of receiving the Lord's Supper, and of crossing in baptism, and of the observing of men's days, without any warrant of Christ our perfect Law-giver. Countenance not the surplice, the attire of the masspriest, the garment of Baal's priests. The abominable bowing to altars of tree (wood) is coming upon you. Hate, and keep yourselves from idols. Forbear in any case to hear the reading of the new fatherless Service-Book, full of gross heresies, popish and superstitious errors, without any warrant of Christ, tending to the overthrow of preaching. You owe no obedience to the bastard canons; they are unlawful, blasphemous, and superstitious. All the ceremonies that lie in Antichrist's foul womb, the wares of that great mother of fornications, the kirk of Rome, are to be refused. Ye see wither they lead you. Continue still in the doctrine which ye have received. Ye heard of me the whole counsel of God. Sew no clouts upon Christ's robe. Take Christ, in His rags and losses, and as persecuted by men, and be content to sigh and pant up the mountain, with Christ's cross on your back. Let me be reputed a false prophet (and your conscience once said that contrary), if your Lord Jesus will not stand by you and maintain you, and maintain your cause against your enemies.

I have heard, and my soul is grieved for it, that since my departure from you, many among you are turned back from the good old way, to the dog's vomit again. Let me speak to those men. It was not without God's special direction, that the first sentence that ever my mouth uttered to you was that, "And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind" (John 9:39). It is possible that my first meeting and yours may be when we shall both stand before the dreadful Judge of the world; and in the name and authority of the Son of God, my great King and Master, I write, by these presents, summonses to those men. I arrest their souls and bodies to the day of our compearance [appearing in court after citation]. Their eternal damnation standeth subscribed, and sealed in heaven, by the hand-writing of the great Judge of quick and dead; and I am ready to stand up, as a preaching witness against such to their face, on that day, and to say "Amen" to their condemnation, except they repent. The vengeance of the Gospel is heavier than the vengeance of the Law; the Mediator's malediction and vengeance is twice vengeance; and that vengeance is the due portion of such men. And there I leave them as bond men, aye and whill [until] they repent and amend.

Ye were witnesses how the Lord's day was spent while I was among you. O sacrilegious robber of God's day, what wilt thou answer the Almighty when He seeketh so many Sabbaths back again from thee? What will the curser, swearer, and blasphemer do, when his tongue, lungs, and liver, bones, and all, shall boil and shall fry in a torturing fire? He shall be far from his barrels of strong drink then; and there is not a cold well of water for him in hell. What shall be the case of the wretch, the covetous man, the oppressor, the deceiver, the earthworm, who can never get his wombful of clay (Psa. 17:14), when, in the day of Christ, gold and silver must life burnt in ashes, and he must compear and answer his Judge, and quit his clayey and noughty heaven? Wo, wo, for evermore, be to the time-turning atheist, who hath one god and one religion for summer, and another god and another religion for winter, and the day of fanning, when Christ fanneth all that is in His barn-floor: who hath a conscience for every fair and market, and the soul of him runneth upon these oiled wheels, time, custom, the world, and command of men. Oh, if the careless atheist, and sleeping man, who edgeth by all with, "God forgive our pastors if they lead us wrong, we must do as they command," and layeth down his head upon time's bosom, and giveth his conscience to a deputy, and sleepeth so, whill [until] the smoke of hell-fire fly up in his throat, and cause him to start out of his doleful bed! Oh, if such a man would awake! Many woes are for the over-gilded and gold-plastered hypocrite. A heavy doom is for the liar and white-tongued flatterer; and the flying book of God's fearful vengeance, twenty cubits long, and ten cubits broad, that goeth out from the face of God, shall enter into the house, and in upon the soul of him that stealeth, and sweareth falsely by God's name (Zech. 5:2,3). I denounce eternal burning, hotter than Sodom's flames, upon the men that boil in filthy lusts of fornication, adultery, incest, and the like wickedness. No room, no, not a foot-breadth, for such vile dogs within the clean Jerusalem. Many of you put off all with this, "God forgive us, we know no better." I renew my old answer: the Judge is coming in flaming fire, with all His mighty angels, to render vengeance to all those that know not God, and believe not (2 Thess. 1:8). I have often told you that security will slay you. All men say they have faith: as many men and women now, as many saints in heaven. And all believe (say ye); so that every foul dog is clean enough, and good enough, for the clean and new Jerusalem above. Every man hath conversion and the new birth; but it is not leal [genuinely] come. They had never a sick night for sin; conversion came to them in a night-dream. In a word, hell will be empty at the day of judgment, and heaven pang full! Alas! it is neither easy nor ordinary to believe and to be saved. Many must stand, in the end, at heaven's gates (Luke 13:25). When they go to take out their faith, they take out fair nothing, or (as ye use to speak) a blaflum [a mere sham, bubble]. Oh, lamentable disappointment! I pray you, I charge you in the name of Christ, make fast work of Christ and salvation.

I know there are some believers among you, and I write to you, O poor broken-hearted believers: all the comforts of Christ in the Old and New Testament are yours. Oh, what a Father and Husband ye have! Oh, if I had pen and ink, and ingine [ability] to write of Him! Let heaven and earth be consolidated into massy and pure gold, it will not weigh the thousandth part of Christ's love to a soul, even to me a poor prisoner. Oh, that is a massy and marvellous love! Men and angels! unite your force and strength in one, ye shall not heave nor poise it off the ground. Ten thousand worlds, as many worlds as angels can number, and then as a new world of angels can multiply, would not all be the balk of a balance to weigh Christ's excellency, sweetness, and love. Put ten earths into one, and let a rose grow greater then ten whole earths, or whole worlds, oh, what beauty would be in it, and what a smell would it cast! But a blast of the breath of that fairest Rose in all God's paradise, even of Christ Jesus our Lord, one look of that fairest face, would be infinitely in beauty, and smell, above all imaginable and created glory. I wonder that men dow [can] bide off Christ. I would esteem myself blessed, if I could make an open proclamation, and gather all the world, that are living upon the earth, Jew and Gentile, and all that shall be born till the blowing of the last trumpet, to flock round about Christ, and to stand looking, wondering, admiring, and adoring His beauty and sweetness. For His fire is hotter than any other fire, His love sweeter than common love, His beauty surpasseth all other beauty. When I am heavy and sad, one of His love-looks would do me meikle [much] worlds' good. Oh if ye would fall in love with Him, how blessed were I! how glad would my soul be to help you to love Him! But amongst us all, we could not love Him enough. He is the Son of the Father's love, and God's delight; the Father's love lieth all upon Him. Oh, if all mankind would fetch all their love and lay it upon Him! Invite Him, and take Him home to your houses, in the exercise of prayer morning and evening, as I often desired you; especially now, let Him not want lodging in your houses, nor lie in the fields, when He is shut out of pulpits and kirks. If ye will be content to take heaven by violence and the wind on your face for Christ and His cross, I am here one who hath some trial of Christ's cross, and I can say, that Christ was ever kind to me, but He overcometh Himself (if I may speak so) in kindness while I suffer for Him. I give you my word for it, Christ's cross is not so evil as they call it; it is sweet, light, and comfortable. I would not want the visitations of love, and the very breathings of Christ's mouth when He kisseth, and my Lord's delightsome smiles and loveembracements under my sufferings for Him, for a mountain of gold, or for all the honours, court, and grandeur of velvet kirkmen [High Churchmen]. Christ hath the yoke and heart of my love. "I am my Beloved's, and my Wellbeloved is mine."

Oh that ye were all hand-fasted to Christ! O my dearly-beloved in the Lord, I would I could change my voice, and had a tongue tuned by the hands of my Lord, and had the art of speaking of Christ, that I might point out to you the worth, and highness, and greatness, and excellency of that fairest and renowned Bridegroom! I beseech you by the mercies of the Lord, by the sighs, tears, and heart's-blood of our Lord Jesus, by the salvation of your poor and precious souls, set up the mountain, that ye and I may meet before the Lamb's throne amongst the congregation of the first-born. Lord grant that that may be the trystingplace! that ye and I may put up our hands together, and pluck and eat the apples off the tree of life, and that we may feast together, and drink together of that pure river of the water of life, that cometh out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Oh, how little is your hand-breadth and span-length of days here! Your inch of time is less than when ye and I parted. Eternity, eternity is coming, posting on with wings; then shall every man's blacks and whites be brought to light. Oh, how low will your thoughts be of this fair-skinned but heart-rotten apple, the vain, vain, feckless world, when the worms shall make them houses in your eye-holes, and shall eat off the flesh from the balls of your cheeks, and shall make that body a number of dry bones! Think not that the common gate of serving God, as neighbours and others do, will bring you to heaven. Few, few are saved. The devil's court is thick and many; he hath the greatest number of mankind for his vassals. I know this world is a forest of thorns in your way to heaven; but you must go through it. Acquaint yourselves with the Lord: hold fast Christ; hear His voice only. Bless His name; sanctify and keep holy His day; keep the new commandment, "Love one another;" let the Holy Spirit dwell in your bodies; and be clean and holy. Love not the world: lie not, love and follow truth: learn to know God. Keep in mind what I taught you; for God will seek an account of it, when I am far from you. Abstain from all evil, and all appearance of evil: follow good carefully, and seek peace and follow after it: honour your king, and pray for him. Remember me to God in your prayers; I dow [can] not forget you. I told you often while I was with you, and now I write it again, heavy, sad, and sore is that stroke of the Lord's wrath that is coming upon Scotland. Wo, wo, wo to this harlot-land! for they shall take the cup of God's wrath from His hands, and drink, and spue, and fall, and not rise again. In, in, in with speed to your stronghold, ye prisoners of hope, and hide you there whill [until] the anger of the Lord pass! Follow not the pastors of this land, for the sun is gone down upon them. As the Lord liveth, they lead you from Christ, and from the good old way. Yet the Lord will keep the holy city, and make this withered kirk to bud again like a rose, and a field blessed of the Lord.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. The prayers and blessings of a prisoner of Christ, in bonds for Him, and for you, be with you all. Amen.

– Your lawful and loving pastor, S.R.