Begin by Blowing Out All His Lamps

The Light in Rutherford's Prison

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Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish minister who was born about 1600. After teaching humanities at the University of Edinburgh for a season, he took a theology degree and became the pastor at Anworth in 1627. When the Episcopalians gained the power over the Scottish Church, Rutherford was imprisoned two years in Aberdeen for non-conformity. He survived to preach again and to serve on the Counsel that wrote the famous Westminster Confession.

In 1661 he was arraigned again and this time for high treason with the death penalty—all because of his Presbyterian persuasions. But the summons came too late. He received it with a diseased hand and undiminished faith: “Tell them,” he said, “that I have a summons already from a superior Judge and judicatory, and I behoove to answer my first summons; and, ere your day arrives, I will be where kings and great folks come.” (Quoted in Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant, London: Andrew Melrose, 1905, p. 50).

While Rutherford was in prison, he was not silent. About 220 letters are preserved from the two years in Aberdeen, and they are perhaps, of all his writings, the most enduring. The spirit of them is radiant with the glory and all-sufficiency of Christ. On his way to prison he had said, “I go to my King’s palace at Aberdeen; tongue, pen, and wit cannot express my joy” (Covenant, p.53). This joy overflowed. Taylor Innes said that Rutherford was “impatient of earth, intolerant of sin, rapt into the continual contemplation of one unseen Face, finding his … happiness in its returning smile” (Covenant, p. 50). His glory was his absorption in Christ. “He went to sleep with Christ as his pillow; he awoke in Christ” (p. 56).

There in prison he made a great discovery about the source of enduring happiness. He expressed it in these stunning words:

If God had told me some time ago that He was about to make me as happy as I could be in this world, and then had told me that He should begin by crippling me in all my limbs, and removing me from all my unusual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange mode of accomplishing His purpose. And yet, how is His wisdom manifest even in this! For if you should see a man shut up in a close room, idolizing a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps, and then throw open the shutters to let in the light of heaven. (Quotes in E.M. Bounds, Heaven: A Place, A City, A Home, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975, p.13.)

O how I pray that when God, in mercy, begins to blow out my lamps, I will not curse the wind.

Learning the source of joy with you,

Pastor John