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A Review of Samuel Rutherford: A New Biography of the Man and His Ministry

States Constitution and, prior to that, the Declaration of Independence.

  • Byron Snapp,
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Few today realize the influence of Samuel Rutherford on those who penned the United States Constitution and, prior to that, the Declaration of Independence. Rutherford ’s volume Lex Rex impacted leaders like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin.

In this volume the author focuses on Rutherford ’s life as well as on the ecclesiastical and political culture into which Rutherford was born at the beginning of the 17 th century.

After his graduation from Edinburgh University , Rutherford became a professor of humanity. Two years later he resigned from this position due to undisclosed family issues.

In God’s providence Rutherford turned his attention to the study of theology and was licensed as a preacher in l627. God had granted him pastoral gifts, which he daily exercised in his Anwoth pastorate. Rutherford showed great love for his people in his letters, his compilation of a catechism, his compassionate counseling, and his overall sensitive shepherding of the flock.

His advocacy for Presbyterianism led to imprisonment in Edinburgh for over a year. Due to his manifold talents, Rutherford was appointed to the Chair of Theology at St. Mary’s College. This was but a prelude to his serving among the Scottish representatives to the Westminster Assembly. The Assembly was composed of members of varying views. Even the Presbyterians were divided. Rutherford ’s spirituality and reasoning ability caused opponents to consider his arguments. His pastor’s heart evidenced respect for those with whom he disagreed.

Before, during, and after the Assembly, the church scene was such that Rutherford had to defend what, to him, were clear scriptural positions. He sought to faithfully uphold Calvinism and oppose arminianism. He spoke against the king being the source of law and against the church being under the state’s authority. Living in the days of Charles I and public resistance to the king, Rutherford had to decide when armed resistance by the populace was proper. He also had strong views on the role of the church in regard to civil government.

The author looks at Rutherford ’s life under several headings—the Pastor, the Prisoner, the Apologist, and the Protester. In the concluding chapter of this book the author examines the individual and his views. He points out that Rutherford was a man of extremes, but also a man of many talents. Historians and theologians may never be able to provide conclusive reasons why this Presbyterian made some of his decisions. However, the author does a fine job of developing the complex context of the times in which Rutherford lived.

Rutherford remains important for our day. He provides the link from the early Scottish Reformation to the Covenanters. His writing was influential as the American civil government was being formulated. His letters and sermons minister to the hearts of many today.

This volume is a good place for those unacquainted with Rutherford and his times to begin their study. The explanatory footnotes are helpful. The author also provides an explanatory bibliography of Rutherford ’s works that precedes his general bibliography.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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