Saturday, 21 December 2013

Samuel Rutherford, the preacher

From The Scottish Pulpit by W. M. Taylor, writing about Samuel Rutherford

In the writings of his contemporaries, and those who immediately followed them, we get some interesting glimpses of the preacher and his manner. Thus Patrick Simpson says, ‘He had two quick eyes, and when he walked it was observed that he held aye his face upward and heavenward. He had a strange utterance in the pulpit; a kind of shriech (shriek or scream) that I never heard the like of. Many times I thought he would have flown out of the pulpit when he came to speak of Jesus Christ, and he never was in his right element but when he was commending him.’

An English merchant, during the Protectorate, describing some of his experiences in what was probably a business tour through Scotland, said, ‘I went to St. Andrews, where I heard a sweet, majestic-looking man (Blair), and he showed me the majesty of God; after him I heard a little fair man (Rutherfurd), and he showed me the loveliness of Christ; I then went to Irvine, where I heard a well-formed, proper old man, with a long beard (Dickson), and that man showed me all my own heart.’ That was a very remarkable and a most accurate discrimination; so accurate that, as Wodrow says, ‘the whole General Assembly could not have given a better character of the three men.’

The ideal preacher, no doubt, should combine the three in himself; yet we may not refuse the palm to him who dwelt upon the loveliness of Christ, for that in the end will lead to the discovery of the other two. Now that was Rutherfurd’s distinctive excellence in the pulpit. He might and did deal with other themes, but these he only possessed; this one, on the contrary, possessed him, and whenever he entered upon it he was carried away with it.

We read that, ‘One day when preaching in Edinburgh, after dwelling for some time on the differences of the day, he broke out with “Woe is unto us for these sad divisions that make us lose the fair scent of the Rose of Sharon”; and then he went on commending Christ, going over all his precious styles and titles about a quarter of an hour,’ upon which one of his hearers said in a loud whisper, ‘Ay, now you are right; hold you there.’

Grosart says of his practical discourses that their one merit is ‘that they are full of the exceeding great and precious promises and truths of the Gospel’, and that ‘they hold forth with wistful and passionate entreaty a crucified Saviour as the one centre for weary souls in their unrest, and the one hope for the world.’

But, after all, is not that the ‘one thing needful’ in all preaching? And it is for that especially that I would hold him up for an inspiration to you. Like him, preach the living, personal Christ, once crucified, but now risen and reigning as the Saviour and Sovereign of men. Unfold His loveliness. Proclaim His merits. Hold up Himself. Let the truth which you declare be the truth as it is in Him. Let the faith to which you urge be faith in Him. Let the loyalty which you enforce be loyalty to Him. Let the heaven which you hold before your hearers be to be with Him, and to be like Him. ‘Hold you there,’ and let your words be such as love to Him shall inspire, then you shall not lack hearers, and shall not need to lament the absence of results.

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