November 28, 2014

Review: Samuel Rutherford (Bitesize Biographies)

I first became interested in the Bitesize Biographies series when a friend, John Crotts, released his book on John Newton. When I was offered a copy of Richard M. Hannula's Samuel Rutherford: Bitesize Biography, I felt it would fill in some gaps of my knowledge of the Scottish Reformation.

This book did inform me, but it also inspired me.

As a young man, Rutherford's intelligence and studiousness set him apart. He was also a man of passion and energy. He first invested these qualities in others by teaching at the University of Edinburgh, but it wasn't long before he accepted a pastorate, tackling these duties with his usual vigor. I loved reading of Rutherford's tireless immersion into the lives of his people, learning how best to preach to them, talk with them, walk with them. This sincere affection was returned by his congregants. The mutual bond was so great that when Rutherford's growing reputation brought invitations to preach all over Scotland, he chose to stay home and shepherd his flock.

His passion overflowed in his preaching; it was evident that he wanted his listeners to know Christ as he knew him. "Every day, we may see some new thing in Christ; His love has neither brim nor bottom."

At one point in the book, Hannula tells us that, "Rutherford used extravagant language and large numbers to try to convey the magnitude of Christ and the glories of heaven: 'Therefore come near and take a view of that transparent beauty that is in Christ which would busy the love of 10,000 millions of worlds.'"

"You shall see that one look of Christ's sweet and lovely eye, one kiss of His fairest face is worth 10,000 worlds of such rotten stuff as the foolish sons of men set their hearts upon."

(I must confess, somehow these quotes led me to singing this song throughout the day.)

This passion and energy later pulled Rutherford into controversy, as he stood on principle against monarchs and archbishops to maintain the purity of the church. At one point, realizing he would soon be tried for non-conformity, he wrote a friend, "I hang by a thread, but it is of Christ's spinning."

He faced many years of suffering and persecution, yet sought to serve as he could. And even with all of his passion, he knew the pitfalls of relying on feelings: "Believe Christ's love more than your own feelings. Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does." He further said, "Your heart is not the compass that Christ sails by."

As others lauded him, he refused to bask in their admiration. His focus was the reputation of Christ and His church, not of Samuel Rutherford. I believe this humility tempered his passion so that he was able to stand firm during trials and persecution.

The counsel he gave others was surely counsel he took for himself: "Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace. It is glory in its infancy. Who knows the truth of grace without a trial? And how soon would faith freeze without a cross?" Even as he faced the loss of those he loved (whether by their deaths or his own exile), he was able to console others in their own suffering.

And as he lived, he died. As he once encouraged a friend -- "Die with all thoughts of Christ" -- so he himself passed from this world. Not a perfect man, but a man aimed at the glory of Christ.

Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links.