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While the name of Samuel Rutherford is not well known by many in our day, those who do know of this choice servant of Christ typically associate him with his wonderful letters or the hymn, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” The letters of Rutherford in particular continue to refresh and strengthen Christians with new glimpses of Christ’s beauty and a contagious passion for His Name. They are full of longing for Christ, practical wisdom, and humility of spirit. Rutherford’s letters are perhaps his greatest legacy and gift to Christ’s Church.
Richard Hannula’s “Bitesize Biography” of Samuel Rutherford relates the story of the man behind the letters. The greatest strength of this clear and concise telling of Rutherford’s life is that Hannula allows his subject to do much of the speaking, drawing quotes from Rutherford’s letters, diaries, sermons, and other works. This is particularly appropriate for a biography of Rutherford, whose words are so-often saturated with his love for his Savior and Christ’s Church (Kirk), and have such power to inspire and edify.
In Samuel Rutherford, we are given enough of the historical context to appreciate the pivotal role Rutherford played in the Scottish Reformation, without being overburdened with detail. We learn of Rutherford’s conversion (“My heart is not my own; [Christ] hath run away to heaven with it.”), his appointment as Professor of Humanities at the University of Edinburgh , and the allegations that removed him from that office. Hannula helps us to experience the sweetness of Rutherford’s years as pastor in Anwoth, and what it was like to sit under his preaching. (“He was short, slight and preached in a high pitch voice – some describe it as ‘shrill’. But he vividly set Christ before his congregation…”) Using short excerpts from Rutherford’s sermons, we are drawn into the heart of this pastor for the people under his care, and hear his exhortations for the people to know the loveliness of Christ.
Similarly, we learn more of the heart of this man as we hear brief excerpts from his letters during his time of exile in Aberdeen. We feel his suffering as he longs to return to the people he so dearly loves, and yet also his resolve to bear the cross Christ has for him. “They are not worthy of Jesus who will not take a blow for their Master’s sake.” Hannula continues to walk us through Rutherford’s joyful reunion with the church in Anwoth, his appointment to St. Andrews, and his involvement in the Westminster Assembly. These chapters reveal how influential Rutherford became, and cause us to reflect on how a man who garnered such notoriety and respect could remain as humble before God and men as his writings from these periods show him to have been.
The final chapters of Samuel Rutherford go further to indicate how important this man was in the purposes of Christ for Scotland. As Rutherford strove and flourished in his work, so did true Christianity in Scotland. As Rutherford’s health weakened and he neared his life’s end, Scotland’s Christian commitments began to fade as well. We are encouraged to read of Rutherford’s dying days, however, because of his love and longings for the Lord Jesus. In the last chapter, Hannula serves us by giving us an assessment of Rutherford’s legacy, and leaves us wanting to read more of Rutherford’s writings. Most of all, this book helps us to long for the kind of deep love for Christ that characterized this Rutherford’s life.