2. Fair Anwoth by the Solway - 1627-1636
Rev Neil M Ross
Not long after Rutherford was licensed to preach the gospel, he was ordained
as the minister of the rural parish of Anwoth in Galloway. As Andrew Thomson
comments, "What a ministry of power and blessing did that act initiate! What
a centre of influence in the cause of pure and earnest religion, and of the crown
rights of Christ, did that little Galloway hamlet become!" His settlement there
was at the initiative of Sir John Gordon of Kenmure (afterwards Viscount Kenmure).
Through his advice, the people of Anwoth invited Samuel Rutherford to become
their spiritual teacher, and the Bishop of Galloway, Lamb to name, was induced
to consent tacitly to the laying of presbyterial hands upon Rutherford. So Rutherford,
now 27, and his young wife Eupham entered Bushy Beild, the Anwoth manse which
had formerly been a manor house.
Some visitors to the ivy-clad ruins of Rutherford's church in Anwoth are surprised
by two things: the smallness of the building and the isolation of the beautiful
spot. They wonder at the greatest preacher in Scotland in his day labouring
for nine years in an obscure part of the country, among a people sparsely scattered
over a wide area. But a bond had been forged between the soul of Samuel Rutherford
and his Anwoth flock that remained intact to the end of his days - a fact that
is beautifully brought out by Mrs Cousin's verse, based on Rutherford's own
Fair Anwoth by the Solway,
To me thou still art dear.
Ev'n from the verge of heaven
I drop for thee a tear.
O, if one soul from Anwoth
Meet me at God's right hand,
My heaven will be two heavens
In Immanuel's land.
In the past, Anwoth had benefited indirectly from the ministry of the renowned
John Welsh, son-in-law of John Knox, who laboured in neighbouring Kirkcudbright
with apostolic zeal until 1600. Another famous minister of the time, John Livingstone,
remarked that those Christians in the area who had been the fruits of Welsh's
ministry found Rutherford to be "a great strengthener of them all". Their high
estimate of Rutherford's preaching is shown by the fact that most of his published
sermons, carefully taken down by appreciative hearers, were preached in and
around Anwoth during his nine years there.
He was not long settled in Anwoth when he experienced sorrow upon sorrow in
his family. Both his children died in infancy. His wife Eupham became seriously
ill. "My wife's disease increaseth daily, to her great torment and pain night
and day," he wrote to a friend. "She has not been in God's house since our
communion, neither out of her bed. . . . She sleeps none, but cries as a woman
travailing in birth." She died in 1630 after suffering greatly for more than
a year. With humble submission to the divine will he wrote to a friend, "The
Lord hath done it; blessed be His name". Five years later, his mother, who
was living with him, passed away. He himself fell ill with a recurring fever
and was forced to curtail his work greatly for three or four months. No doubt,
his painful experiences and deep sorrows enabled him to enter, with the tenderest
sympathy, into the griefs and sorrows of his friends and flock - as indeed
his letters show.
Year after year, he spent and was spent for Christ among the people he faithfully
pastored, as he prayed and preached, studied and wrote, visited and catechised. "My
soul was taken up," he wrote, "when others were sleeping, how to have Christ
betrothed with a bride in that part of the land." To another he said, "There
I wrestled with the angel and prevailed. Wood, trees, meadows and hills are
my witnesses that I drew on a fair match between Christ and Anwoth." "While
he was at Anwoth," says John Livingstone, "he was the instrument of much good
among a poor, ignorant people, many of whom he brought to a knowledge and practice
of religion." Robert MacWard, his close friend, stated that he laboured night
and day, and that the people of the whole region around Anwoth were to him
his particular flock, and they regarded themselves as such. When there was
a proposal in 1631 to have him translated to another parish, he wrote to Marion
M'Naught, "The great Master Gardener, in a wonderful providence, with His own
hand planted me here, and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard
think fit to transplant me."
In the same year as his wife died he was summoned to appear before the Court
of High Commission in Edinburgh for nonconformity to the Perth Articles, but
for various reasons the case did not proceed. J G Vos explains in his book The
Scottish Covenanters: "In 1609 two Courts of High Commission were
erected, one in Glasgow and the other in St Andrews. The purpose of these courts
was to enable the Bishops to enforce the powers which had been placed in their
hands. Later the two courts were combined into a single tribunal with both
civil and ecclesiastical powers. This court was not authorised by any Act of
Parliament, but only by the royal prerogative. No appeal could be taken from
its decision. This move of King James was a piece of high-handed tyranny over
the liberties, estates and even the consciences of his subjects."
The Perth Articles, to which Rutherford refused to conform, were devised by
King James VI to impose Episcopalian worship ceremonies on the Scottish Church.
They authorised kneeling at the Lord's Supper, the observance of private communion
and baptism, confirmation by bishops, and the celebration of holy days such
as Christmas and Easter.
The fact that Rutherford refused to conform to these Articles is confirmed,
for example, by one of his pastoral letters written later from Aberdeen, in
which he says, "Remember that I forewarned you . . . that ye should forbear
the receiving of the Lord's Supper except according to the form that I delivered
it to you, according to the example of Christ our Lord, that is, that ye should
sit as banqueters at one table with our King and eat and drink and divide the
elements one to another. . . And that crossing [making the sign of the cross]
in baptism was unlawful, and against Christ's ordinance. And that no day besides
the Sabbath (which is of His own appointment) should be kept holy, and sanctified
with preaching and the public worship of God, for the memory of Christ's birth,
death, resurrection and ascension, seeing such days so observed are unlawful
will-worship, and not warranted in Christ's Word."
Charles I, who succeeded to the thrones of England and Scotland in 1625, pursued
his father's anti-Presbyterian policy with renewed vigour, spurred on by Archbishop
Laud. It was inevitable that faithful Samuel Rutherford would sooner or later
become the object of his persecuting zeal.
When Thomas Sydserff, a proud and intolerant man, succeeded Lamb as Bishop
of Galloway in 1634, he zealously set about enforcing conformity to the Episcopal
ceremonies. "I expect", wrote Rutherford to Lady Kenmure, "our new prelate
shall try my sitting; I hang by a thread, but it is (if I may speak so) of
Christ's spinning." Not surprisingly, Rutherford was brought before the Court
of High Commission in Edinburgh. "The most part of the bishops," he wrote to
Marion M'Naught, "when I came in, looked more astonished than I, and heard
me with silence." He was under trial for three days on a charge of non-conformity,
but other matters were also taken up by the Court. "The Chancellor and the
rest tempted me with questions," he wrote, "nothing belonging to my summons,
which I wholly declined, notwithstanding of his threats. My newly printed book
against Arminians was one challenge; not Lording the prelates [that is, not
addressing them as 'My Lord'] was another." Some of the bishops in fact spoke
in support of him, and he had a good friend on the High Commission in the person
of young Lord Lorne (later the renowned Marquis of Argyle). "He hath done as
much as was within the compass of his power", said Rutherford. "God gave me
favour in his eyes."
The "newly printed book" to which Rutherford refers was his learned work, Exercitationes
Apologeticae Pro Divina Gratia (A Defence of Divine Grace). James Clark,
in The Life and Works of Samuel Rutherford, sums up the treatise: "In
the first part, Samuel Rutherford discourses upon the divine decrees, how
they are from eternity and immutable, absolute and unconditional, and refutes
the Arminian error that God's decrees depend upon His foreknowledge of events
occurring in time. In the second part, he shows the sovereignty of the divine
will, how God's good pleasure cannot be frustrated and that God does not
permit anything which He does not will. In this section he annihilates the
heretical writings of Dr Thomas Jackson, Dean of Peterborough, whom Rutherford
describes as 'a wicked Arminian'. In the third part, he proves from Scripture
the omnipotence of the divine will over man's will and that God's grace is
saving and irresistible."
The Commission alleged that the work reflected upon the Church of Scotland,
but "the truth was," says John Howie in his Scots Worthies, "the argument
of that book did cut the sinews of Arminianism, and galled the Episcopal clergy
to the very quick; and so Bishop Sydserff could endure him no longer".
Although Rutherford had a measure of sympathy from some members of the High
Commission, the bishop's will prevailed. On 27 July 1636, sentence was finally
pronounced on the Lord's faithful servant: he was forbidden to exercise any
part of his ministry within Scotland and ordered to confine himself within
the city of Aberdeen, during the King's pleasure.
1. The first part of this paper, presented at the 2001
Theological Conference, followed Rutherford's young days from his birth at
Nisbet, in the Scottish Borders, to his time as a divinity student in Edinburgh.
This article is part 2 of a series
Other articles in this series: [part
3] [part 4] [part