Samuel Rutherford, Master of Metaphor



When I am in the cellar of affliction,
I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.

~ Samuel Rutherford

The popular quote above isn’t found in this edition of Letters of Samuel Rutherford, but it illustrates Rutherford’s masterful use of metaphor.  This collection of 69 letters is a treasure-trove of wisdom and pastoral care.  Tender with the weak, bracing with the proud, honest about his own struggles, this man is remarkable.  (All emphases mine)

What does he say to a mother who has lost a child? 

~ Courage up your heart; when you tire, he will bear both you and your burden.


What does he write to a man in prison a week before he is to be hanged? 

~  Be not terrified; fret not…Cast the burden of wife and children on the Lord Christ; he careth for you and them.  Your blood is precious in his sight

How did he express his own distress of soul?

~  I did not dream of such shortness of breath, and fainting in the way toward our country…this is the thickest darkness…Dear brother, help me, and get me the help of their prayers who are with you.

How did he encourage a woman going through various trials?

~  Believe his love more than your feeling, for this world can take nothing from you that is truly yours, and death can do you no wrong.  Your rock doth not ebb and flow, but your sea.

See how he writes very frankly to a proud laird of a castle:

~  Dear Sir, I always saw nature mighty, lofty, heady and strong in you; and that it was more for you to be mortified and dead to the world than for another common man. You will take a low ebb, and a deep cut, and a long lance, to go to the bottom of your wounds in saving humiliation, to make you a won prey for Christ.  Be humbled; walk softly. Down, down, for God’s sake, my dear and worthy brother, with your topsail.  Stoop, stoop! it is a low entry to go in at heaven’s gate.

He models godliness for his parishioners:

~  I have learned some greater mortification, and not to mourn after or seek to suck the world’s dry breasts.

Two things helped me as I read through the letters.  Rutherford was born around 1600; that made it easy to ascertain his age by noting the date of the letter.  In the back there are brief notes about the recipients of Rutherford’s letters.  It’s worth it to flip back and learn more about the correspondent before reading the letter.

In short, this is a book worth reading, worth buying, worth giving, worth re-reading.  If you want a sample of letters, check here.

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3 thoughts on “Samuel Rutherford, Master of Metaphor

  1. What a neat link…for reading Rutherford’s letters, especially since I’m talking about letters this Friday 🙂
    Also, just like training our tastebuds, our eyesight, and any other sense, it is better to start when very young.  I didnt read enough of these guys growing up; and so, it’s taken a little more practice to appreciate their styles of writing.
    For example, when I first started reading Spurgeon, it just did not click.  When I came back to him a few years later, it was like magic.  His words spoke volumes.
    Thanks for highlighting Rutherford today.

  2. Thanks for a great recommendation.  I recently heard this quote by Rutherford, “Crosses, crosses, give me crosses.  I need to know Jesus more!” (I’m afraid that I’ve missed the beauty of the original there, but that is the main idea.)  Your blog encouraged me to read more Rutherford.

  3. Just a quick note to say I still peruse Mm as I have opportunity. Everything is really busy here and I’m really tired, but a week off after Easter will offer relief.  I recently found this little blurb about a book about Scotland that you might find interesting with the upcoming trip.  I wish I could stowaway with you!  Janie

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