Cloud of Witnesses

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Samuel Rutherford

This eminent Christian and divine, so well known to the religious world by his 'Letters,' was educated at Edinburgh and very early was elected professor of philosophy in that university. He was afterwards called to be minister of Anwoth in Galloway, and became no less distinguished by the conscientious performance of his private duties, than by the troubles he experienced on account of his nonconformity. These he detailed to the memorable assembly of 1638, and in consideration of his high merits, was forthwith appointed to the divinity chair in the new college of St. Andrews. He was also selected in 1643, as one of the commissioners to the assembly at Westminster. It was about this period he published the famous treatise, entitled Lex Rex, for which, in the year 1661, it was proposed to indict him, when he was happily removed from the threatened evils into a better world. Together with his last words,  his testimony to the work of reformation, since 1638, which was signed by him only twelve days before his death is also included.

During the time of his last sickness, he uttered many savoury speeches, and often broke out in a kind of sacred rapture, exalting and commending the Lord Jesus. Especially when his end drew near, he often called Him his ' blessed Master,' his ' kingly King.' Some days before his death, he said, ' I shall shine; I shall see Him as He is; I shall see Him reign, and all His fair company with Him, and I shall have my large share. Mine eyes shall see my Redeemer; these very eyes of mine, and none other for me. This may seem a wide word: but it is no fancy or delusion: it is true. Let my Lord's name be exalted, and if He will, let my name be grinded to pieces, that He may be all in all. if He should slay me ten thousand times, I will trust in Him. He often repeated Jeremiah 15:16. ' Thy words were found of me and I did eat them.'

When exhorting one to diligence, he said, ' It is no easy thing to be a Christian. for me, I have got the victory, and Christ is holding out both His arms to embrace me.' At another time, to some friends present, he said, ' At the beginning of my sufferings, I had mine own fears, like other sinful men, lest I should faint, and not be carried creditably through, and I laid this before the Lord, and as sure as ever He spoke to me in His word, as sure as His Spirit witnessed to my heart, He hath accepted my sufferings. He said to me, Fear not, the outcome shall not be simply matter of prayer, but matter of praise. I said to the Lord, If He should slay me five thousand times five thousand, I would trust in Him: and I speak with much trembling, fearing I should not make my part good ; but as really as ever He spoke to me by His Spirit, He witnessed to my heart, that His grace should be sufficient.' The Thursday night before his death, being much grieved with the state of the public, he had this expression, ' Horror hath taken hold of me.' And afterwards, falling on his own condition, he said, ' I renounce all that ever He made me will and do, as defiled and imperfect, as coming from me; I betake myself to Christ for sanctification as well as justification :- Repeating these words, ' He is made of God to me wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption:' - adding, I close with it, let Him be so, He is my all in all.

March 17th, three women came to see him, and after exhorting them to read the word, to be much in prayer, and much in communion with God, he said, ' My honourable Master and lovely Lord, my great Royal King, hath not a match in heaven nor in earth. I have my own guilt, like other sinful men; but He hath pardoned, loved, washed, and given me joy unspeakable and full of glory. I repent not that ever I owned His cause. These, whom ye call protesters, are the witnesses of Jesus Christ. I hope never to depart from that cause, nor side with those that have burnt the ' Causes of God's Wrath.' They have broken their covenant oftener than once or twice; but I believe the Lord will build Zion, and repair the waste places of Jacob. Oh! to obtain mercy to wrestle with God for their eternal salvation. As for this Presbytery, it hath stood in opposition to me these years past. I have my record in heaven, I had no particular end in view, but was seeking the honour of God, the thriving of the gospel in this place, and the good of the new college, that society which I have left upon the Lord. What personal wrongs they have done me, and what grief they have occasioned to me, I heartily forgive them, and desire mercy to wrestle with God for mercy to them, and for the salvation of them all.'

The same day, Messrs. James McGill, John Wardlaw, William Vilant, and Alexander Wedderburn, all members of the same Presbytery coming to visit him, he made them welcome, and said, ' My Lord and Master is the chief of ten thousand; none is comparable to Him in heaven or earth. Dear brethren, do all for Him; preach for Christ, pray for Christ, feed the flock committed to your charge for Christ: do all for Christ: beware of men pleasing; there is too much of it amongst us. The new college hath broke my heart, I can say nothing of it; I have left it upon the Lord of the house, and it hath been, and still is my desire, that He may dwell in this society, and that the youth may be fed with sound knowledge.' After this, he said, ' Dear brethren, it may seem presumptuous in me, a particular man, to send a commission to a Presbytery;'  and Mr McGill replying, it was no presumption,  he continued, ' Dear brethren, take a commission from me, a dying man, to them to appear for God and His cause, and adhere to the doctrine of the covenant, and have a care of the flock committed to their charge; let them feed the flock out of love, preach for God, visit and catechise for God, and do all for God: beware of men pleasing, the chief Shepherd will appear shortly. I have been a sinful man, and have had mine own failings; but my Lord hath pardoned and accepted my labours. I adhere to the cause and covenant; and resolve never to depart from the protestations against the controverted assemblies. I am the man I was. I am still for keeping the government of the Kirk of Scotland entire, and would not, for a thousand worlds, have had the least hand in the burning of the ' Causes of God's Wrath.'  Oh! for grace to wrestle with God for their salvation.'

Mr Vilant having prayed at his desire, as they took their leave, he renewed his charge to them, to feed the flock out of love. The next morning, as he recovered out of a fainting, in which they who looked on, expected his dissolution, he said, ' I feel , I feel, I believe, I joy and rejoice, I feed on manna.'  Mr Blair (whose praise is in the churches) being present, when he took a little wine in a spoon to refresh himself, being then very weak said to him, ' Ye feed on dainties in heaven, and think nothing of our cordials on earth.' He answered, ' They are all but dung; but they are Christ's creatures, and out of obedience to His command, I take them. Mine eyes shall see my Redeemer, I know He shall stand at the last day upon the earth, and I shall be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air, and I shall be ever with Him; and what would you have more? There is an end.' And stretching out his hands, he said again, ' There is an end.' And a little after, he said, ' I have been a sinful man, but I stand at the best pass that ever a man did: Christ is mine and I am His.' And spoke much of the white stone and new name.

Mr Blair ( who loved with all his heart to hear Christ commended) said to him again, ' What think ye now of Christ?' To which he answered, ' I shall live and adore Him. Glory, glory to my creator and my Redeemer for ever! Glory shines in Emmanuel's land.'

In the afternoon of that day he said, ' Oh! that all my brethren in the public may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day. I shall sleep in Christ, and when I awake, I shall be satisfied with His likeness. This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil, and I shall go away in a sleep by five of the clock in the morning;' which exactly fell out. Though he was very weak, he had often this expression, ' Oh! for arms to embrace Him! Oh! for a well tuned harp!'

He exhorted Dr Colvil ( a man who complied with prelacy afterward) to adhere to the government of the church of Scotland, and to the doctrine of the covenant, and to have a care to feed the youth with sound knowledge. And the doctor being a professor of the new college, he told him, that he heartily forgave him all the wrongs he had done him. He spoke likewise to Mr Honeyman (afterwards bishop Honeyman), who came to see him, saying, ' Tell the Presbytery to answer for God, and His cause and covenant,' saying, ' The case is desperate, let them be in their duty.'

Then directing his speech to Mr Colvil and Mr Honeyman, he said, ' Stick to it. You may think it an easy thing in me, a dying man, that I am now going out of the reach of all that men can do; but He, before whom I stand, knows, that I dare advise no colleague or brother to do what I would not cordially do myself, upon all hazard; and as for the 'Causes of God's Wrath,' that men have now condemned, tell Mr James Wood from me, that I had rather lay down my head on a scaffold, and desire him from me, to declare himself the man that he is still, for the government of the church of Scotland.'

Afterwards, when some spoke to him of his former painfulness and faithfulness in the ministry, he said, ' I disclaim all that: the port that I would be at, is redemption and forgiveness through His blood, ' Thou shalt shew me the path of life, in Thy sight is fulness of joy:' there is nothing now between me and the resurrection, but ' Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.' Mr Blair saying,  ' shall I praise the Lord for all the mercies He has done and is to do for you?' He answered, ' Oh! for a well tuned harp.' To his child, he said, ' I have again left you upon the Lord: it may be, you will tell this to others, that ' the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places, I have got a goodly heritage,' I bless the Lord that He gave me counsel.'

Thus by five o'clock in the morning (as he himself foretold), it was said unto him, ' Come up hither,' and he gave up the ghost, - the renowned eagle took its flight unto the mountain of spices!

His Testimony

'Though the Lord needeth not a testimony from such a wretched man as I, and if all the world should be silent, the very stones would cry, it is more than debt, that I should confess Christ before men and angels. It would satisfy me not a little, that the throne of the Lord Jesus were exalted above the clouds, the heaven of heavens, and on ascribed to Him: that, by His grace, I might put my seal, such as it is, unto that song, even the new song of these, who with a loud voice sing, ' Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, upon the earth.' And blessed were I, could I lay to, my ear of faith, and say, amen, to the Psalm ' of the many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and elders, whose number is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying, with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing; and if I heard ' every creature, which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth; and such as are in the sea; and all that are in them ( as John heard them ), saying, blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.'

I mean not any such visible reign as the Millenarians fancy. I believe ( Lord help my unbelief ) the doctrine of the holy prophets and the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, contained in the books of the Old and New Testament, to be the undoubted truth of God, and a perfect rule of faith, and the only way of salvation. And I do acknowledge the sum of the Christian religion, exhibited in the confessions and catechisms of the reformed protestant churches; and in the national covenant, divers times sworn by the king's majesty, the state and church of Scotland, and sealed by the testimony and subscriptions of the nobles, barons, gentlemen, citizens, ministers, and professors of all ranks: as also in the solemn league and covenant, in the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland. And I do judge, and in conscience believe, that no power on earth can absolve and liberate the people of God from the bonds and sacred ties of the oath of God. I am persuaded, that Asa acted correctly, in making a law, that the people should stand to the covenant, and in receiving into the covenant such as were not of his kingdom, 2 Chron 30: 6,10. And so did also Hezekiah, in sending a proclamation through all the tribes, from Dan to Beersheba that they should come and keep the passover unto the Lord at Jerusalem, 2 Chron 30:6,7, though their own princes did not come along with them: yea, and it is nature's law, warranted by the word, that nations should encourage, and stir up one another, to seek the true God. It is also prophesied, that divers nations should excite one another this way. ' Many people shall go. and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. and He will teach us of His ways.' ' And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem; and to pray before the Lord.

There is also a clear prophecy to be accomplished under the New testament, ' that Israel and Judah shall go together and seek the Lord. Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.' It is also foretold, that different nations shall confederate with the Lord, and with one another. ' In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come to Egypt. and the Egyptian to Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve the Assyrians. In that day, shall Israel be the third with Egypt, and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the Lord of hosts shall bless saying, Blessed be Egypt, my people, and Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel, mine inheritance.'

'The church of Scotland had once much of the presence of Christ, as to the power and purity of doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, as many we read of, since the Lord took His ancient people to be His covenanted church. The Lord stirred up our nobles to attempt a reformation in the last age, through many difficulties, and against much opposition, from those in supreme authority: He made bare His holy arm; and carried on the work gloriously, like Himself; His right hand getting Him the victory, until the idolatry of Rome, and her cursed mass were dashed. A hopeful reformation was in some measure settled, and a sound confession of faith was agreed upon by the lords of the congregation. The people of God, according to the laudable custom of other ancient churches, the protestants in France and Holland, and the renowned princes of Germany, did carry on the work, in an innocent self- destructive war, which the Lord did abundantly bless. When our land and church were thus contending for that begun reformation, these in authority did still oppose the work. And there were not wanting men from among ourselves, men or prelatical spirits, who, with some other timeserving courtiers, did not a little undermine the building. And we doting too much upon sound parliaments, and lawfully constitute general assemblies, fell from our first love, to self-seeking, secret banding, and little fearing the oath of God.

' Afterwards, our work in public was too much in sequestration of estates, fining and imprisoning, more than in a compassionate mournfulness of spirit toward those whom we saw to oppose the work. In our assemblies, we were more bent to set up a state of opposite to a state; more upon forms, citations, leading of witnesses, suspensions from benefices, than spiritually to persuade, and work upon the conscience, with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. The glory and royalty of our princely Redeemer and King was trampled on, as any might have seen in or assemblies. What way the army, and the sword, and the countenance of nobles and officers seemed to sway, been more days of humiliation in assemblies, synods, presbyteries, congregations, families, and far less adjourned commissions, new peremptory summonses, and new drawn up processes. And if meekness and gentleness of our Master had got so much place in our hearts, that we might have waited on gainsayers and parties contrary minded; we might have driven gently as our Master Christ, who loves not to overdrive, but carries the lambs in His bosom.

' If the word of truth in the old and New Testament be a sufficient rule, holding forth what is a Christian army, whether offensive or defensive; whether clean or sinfully mixed, then must we leave the question between our public brethren and us to be determined by that rule: but if there be no such rule in the word, then the confederacies and associations of the people of God with the idolatrous, apostate Israelites, with the Egyptians and Assyrians, as that of Jehoshaphat with Ahab, and these of Israel and Judah with Egypt and Assyria should not be condemned ; but they are often reproved and condemned in scripture. To deny the scripture to be sufficient rule in this case, were to accuse it of being imperfect and defective; a high and unjust reflection on the holy word of God! Beyond all question, the written word doth teach, what is a right constituted house, and what not; what is a clean camp, and what is unclean. We are not for an army of saints, and free of all mixture of ill affected men: but it seems an high prevarication for churchmen to counsel and teach, that the weight and trust of the affairs of Christ, and His kingdom, should be laid upon the whole party of such as have been enemies to our cause; contrary to the word of God, and the declarations, remonstrations, solemn warnings, and serious exhortations of His church, whose public protestations the Lord did admirably bless, to the encouragement of the godly, and the terror of all those who opposed the work.

'Since we are very shortly to appear before the dreadful Master and sovereign, we cannot pass from our protestation, trusting we are therein accepted of Him; though we should lie under the imputation of dividing spirits, and non peace keeping men. We acknowledge all due obedience, in the Lord, to the king's majesty: but we disown that ecclesiastic supremacy, in and over the church, which some ascribe to him; that power of commanding external worship not appointed in the word; and laying bonds upon the consciences of men, where Christ has made them free. We disown antichristian prelacy, bowing at the name of Jesus, saints' days, canonizing of the dead, and other such corrupt inventions of men, and look on them as the highway to popery. Alas! Now there is no need of a spirit of prophesy to declare what shall be the woeful condition of a land that hath broken covenant, first practically, and then legally, with the Lord our God: and what shall be the day of the silent and dumb watchmen of Scotland? Where will we leave our glory? What if Christ departs out of our land? We verily judge, they are most loyal to the king's majesty, who desire the dross may be separated from the silver, and the throne established in righteousness and judgement. We are not (our witness is in heaven) against his majesty's title by birth to the kingdom, and the right of the royal family: but that the controversy of wrath against the royal family may be removed; that the huge guilt of the throne may be mourned for before the Lord; and that his majesty may stand constantly, all the days of his life, to the covenant of God, by oath, seal, and subscription, known to the world; that so peace and the blessings of heaven may follow his government; that the Lord may be his rock and shield; that the just may flourish in his time; that men fearing God, hating covetousness, and of known integrity and godliness, may be judges and rulers under his majesty - and they are not really loyal and faithful to the supreme magistrate, who wish not such qualifications in him.

We are not, in this particular, contending that a prince, who is not a convert or a sound believer, falls from his royal dominion; the scriptures of God warrant us to pray for and obey; in the Lord, princes and supreme magistrates, that are otherwise wicked; and to render all due obedience to them. Our souls should be afflicted before the Lord, for the burning of the 'Causes of God's Wrath.' A sad practice, too like the burning of the roll by Jehudi. In these controversies, we should take special heed to this, that Christ is a free, independent Sovereign, King, and Lawgiver. The Father hath appointed Him His own King in mount Zion; and He cannot endure, that the powers of the world should encroach upon His royal prerogatives, and prescribe laws to Him: this presumption is not far from that of citizens that hated Him.

' He shall not rule over us;' and from the intolerable pride of those who are for breaking asunder the bands of the Lord, and His anointed, and for casting away their cords from them, especially seeing the man Christ would not take the office of a judge upon Him, and discharged His disciples, to exercise a civil lordship over their brethren. True it is, the godly magistrate may command the ministers of the gospel to do their duty, but not under the pain of ecclesiastic censure, as if it were proper for him to call and recall, depose and suspend from the holy ministry. The lordly spiritual government in and over the church, is given unto Christ, and none else: He is the sole ecclesiastic lawgiver. It is proper to Him to smite with the rod of His mouth; nor is there any other shoulder, in heaven or on earth, that is able to bear the government. As this hath been the great controversy between our Lord Jesus and the powers of the world from the beginning, so it has ruined all that coped with him. Christ has proved a rock of offence to them; they have been dashed to pieces by the stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands. And the other powers that enter the lists with him shall be broken; and on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind them to powder. As the blessed prophets and apostles of our Lord contended not a little with the rulers of the earth, that Christ should be the head corner stone; that Christ is the only Head of the church, is as sure, as that He died; was buried, and rose again.

It is a most victorious and prevailing truth, not only preached and attested by the ambassadors of the Lord of hosts, but confirmed by blood, martyrdom, and suffering. Many precious saints have thought it their honour and dignity, to suffer shame and reproach for the name of Jesus; and it is beyond doubt, that passive suffering for the precious name of Christ comes nearest to that noble sampler, wherein Christ, though a Son, learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Now blessed is the soul, who loves not his life to death, for on such rests the Spirit of glory and of God. We cannot but say, it is a sad time to our land at present, it is a day of darkness, and rebuke, and blasphemy. The Lord hath covered Himself with a cloud in His anger, we looked for peace, but behold evil: our souls rejoiced, when his majesty did swear the covenant of God, and put thereto his seal and subscription; and therefore confirmed it by his royal promise. So that the subjects' hearts blessed the Lord, and rested upon the healing word of a prince. But now alas! the contrary is enacted by law, the carved work is broken down, ordinances are defaced, and we are brought into the former bondage and chaos of prelatical confusions. The royal prerogative of Christ is pulled from His head, and, after all the days of sorrow we have seen, we have just cause to fear we shall be made to read and eat that book, wherein mourning and lamentation, and woe. Yet we are to believe Christ will not so depart from the land, but a remnant shall be saved; and He shall reign a victorious conquering King to the ends of the earth. O that there were nations, kindreds, tongues, and all the people of Christ's habitable world, encompassing His throne with cries and tears for the spirit of supplication, to be poured down upon the inhabitants of Judah for that effect.