For Those Interested in the Puritans and English History...


This article was published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, vol.2, no.2 (July 2010), 143-57. Used by permission.

A HALF REFORMATION: English Puritanism According to Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

Michael Brown, M.A., M.Div. Pastor, Christ United Reformed Church Santee, CA


            Ever since its emergence in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a post-Reformation movement to reform the Church of England, Puritanism has been a controversial subject. Indeed, the very terms Puritan and Puritanism often evoke images of rigid legalists in black stockings living with the “haunting fear,” as H.L. Mencken put it, “that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” According to historian C.V. Wedgwood, the term Puritan, originally, “had no definite and no official meaning: it was a term of abuse merely.”[1] Prominent figures such as William Shakespeare and King James I used the term pejoratively.[2] Carl Trueman points out that much of the secondary scholarship which grew up around the events of the seventeenth century portrayed Puritanism as “a mere embarrassment, a rather crude aberration of personal freedom and the wanton destruction of much beautiful ecclesiastical art.”[3] Even Protestant scholars in the twentieth century have demonized Puritanism. In his influential book, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, R.T. Kendall indicts Puritan theologians on charges of hijacking the warm and scriptural theology of John Calvin and other early Reformers with a cold scholasticism, Aristotelianism, and rationalism.[4]  

            On the other hand, some have regarded the Puritans as heroes, likening their spiritual stature to California’s giant Redwoods.[5] Through their production of sermons, catechisms, confessions of faith, and prolific theological treatises in response to the challenges of Arminianism, Socinianism, and a reinvigorated Roman Catholicism, a large number of the Puritans have been viewed by many scholars as the faithful and legitimate heirs of Calvin and the early Reformation.[6]

            With such opposing opinions, how should we then evaluate Puritanism as a movement? In brief, we should not do so simplistically. Puritanism is a broad and variegated movement from history that involves many complex theological, political, and cultural factors. Any serious evaluation of Puritanism should, therefore, involve a thorough study of the primary sources, without neglecting secondary source literature. This should include the personal correspondence of primary source authors, which provides us with a window into the era of Puritanism and facilitates our evaluation.

            The purpose of this essay is to consider the personal correspondence of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), a Scottish divine and member of the Westminster Assembly. It pursues the question of what Rutherford believed about Puritanism by examining his interactions with and evaluations of the movement. It argues that Rutherford gave a mixed evaluation of English Puritanism because, while he believed it to be a necessary and important movement in the reformation of Christ’s Church, he also believed it to be flawed and imperfect. In order to defend this thesis, this essay will look at Rutherford’s published letters during four periods of his life: the reign of Charles I up to Parliament’s calling of the Westminster Assembly (1625-43), the Assembly years (1643-49), the Interregnum (1649-60), and the Restoration (1660-61).[7]

The Reign of Charles I Up to the Westminster Assembly (1625-43)

            Born in 1600 in Nisbet, Roxburghshire, in the southeast of Scotland, Rutherford was educated first at Jedborough, and then at Edinburgh University. He graduated MA in 1621. In 1627, he was licensed as a preacher and accepted a call to be the minister of the tiny village of Anwoth, located in the southwest of his native country. It is from here that Rutherford’s oldest surviving letters appear, many of which reveal his firm allegiance to the Puritan movement.             In a letter dated June 26, 1630, the Presbyterian divine described the growing tensions between prelates and those called Puritans:

We are in great fears of a great and fearful trial to come upon the kirk of God; for these, who would build their houses and nests upon the ashes of mourning Jerusalem, have drawn our King upon hard and dangerous conclusions against such as are termed Puritans, for the rooting of them out. Our prelates (the Lord take the keys of His house from these bastard porters!) assure us that, for such as will not conform, there is nothing but imprisonment and deprivation.[8]

The Court of High Commission erected in 1610 vested the prelates with powers of imprisoning and depriving Nonconformists. Rutherford himself fell subject to their power when the Court summoned him to appear in Edinburgh for his refusal to conform to the Perth Articles.[9] These tensions led him to describe the persecution of Puritanism with the analogy of “the spouse of Jesus” being “in the fire.”[10]

            During these early years of his ministry, Rutherford kept a concerned eye on the developments in England, that “country where the Sun of righteousness, in the Gospel, shineth not so clearly as in [Scotland].”[11] In a letter dated June 2, 1631, he expressed his discomfort with news that “the worthiest men in England are banished, and silenced, about the number of sixteen or seventeen choice Gospel preachers.”[12] He lamented that in England the persecution had already begun, and anticipated that it would soon be in Scotland. “I have received a letter from Edinburgh, certainly informing me that the English service, and the organs, and King James’ Psalms, are to be imposed upon our kirk; and that the bishops are dealing for a General Assembly.”[13] Less than two years later, the proverbial handwriting on the wall became increasingly clear to Rutherford. In a letter dated April 1, 1633, Rutherford said, “I am afraid now (as many others are) that, at the sitting down of our Parliament, our Lord Jesus and His spouse shall be roughly handled.”[14]

            Later that year, Charles I appointed the infamous William Laud to the highest ecclesiastical position in England (save the crown itself), the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unlike his predecessor, Archbishop George Abbot, who was in power from 1611 to 1633, Laud showed little tolerance for anyone with Puritan or Calvinistic convictions. A committed Arminian and high-churchman, Laud reverted to a more anti-Puritan policy like that of Archbishops Richard Bancroft (1604-1611) and John Whitgift (1583-1604), albeit more aggressively. Rutherford likened Laud’s increased pressure upon Puritanism and the church in Scotland to Smyrna’s ten days of tribulation mentioned in Revelation 2.10. Writing to Alexander Gordon of Earlston, Rutherford said, “These rumbling wheels of Scotland’s ten days of tribulation are under His look who hath seven eyes…Be not cast down for what the servants of Antichrist cast in your teeth, that ye are a head to and favourer of the Puritans.”[15]

            Rutherford soon found himself in personal conflict with Laud’s enforced policies. Having published a Latin treatise against Arminianism and the Jesuits, Exercitationes Apologeticae pro Divina Gratia (1636), as well as circulating writings in defense of the conventicles, he came under heavy scrutiny. In 1636, the High Commission again summoned him to appear, this time for a three-day trial culminating in his prosecution. “My newly printed book against Arminianism was one challenge,” wrote Rutherford, “not lording the prelates was another.”[16] The Scottish divine was deprived of his ministerial office, forbidden to preach anywhere in Scotland, and confined within the town of Aberdeen, which at that time was a bastion of Arminianism and deeply committed to episcopacy.

            The majority of Rutherford’s surviving letters date from the period of his banishment to Aberdeen. Rutherford scholar John Coffey notes that 219 of Rutherford’s surviving letters are from this chapter in his life, “two-thirds of the total.”[17] While most of these letters describe his personal afflictions under trial and reveal his pastoral advice to members of his congregation in Anwoth, they also show Rutherford’s allegiance to the Puritan movement. Indeed, he was not ashamed of the otherwise sneering title of ‘Puritan.’ In a letter to Robert Lennox of Disdove dated September 13, 1637, he said, “I assure you, howbeit we be nicknamed Puritans, that all the powers of the world shall not prevail against us.”[18]

            These letters often had a political tone. Writing to the Earl of Cassillis, Rutherford suggested that action be taken against the prelates, whom he identified as Antichrist:

Wo, wo to us, for our day flieth away! What remaineth, but that Antichrist set down his tent in the midst of us…They stole the keys from Christ and His church, and came in life the thief and the robber, not by the door, Christ; and now their song is, ‘Authority, authority! obedience to church-governors!’ When such a bastard and lawless pretended step-dame, as our Prelacy, is gone and mad, it is your place, who are the nobles, to rise and bind them. At least, law should fetter such wild bulls as they are, who push all who oppose themselves to their domination. Alas! what have we lost, since prelates were made master-coiners, to change our gold into brass, and to mix the Lord’s wine with water! Blessed for ever shall ye be of the Lord, if ye help Christ against the mighty, and shall deliver the flock of God, scattered upon the mountains in the dark and cloudy day, out of the hands of these idol-shepherds. Fear not men who shall be moth-eaten clay, that shall be rolled up in a chest, and casten under the earth: let the Holy One of Israel be your fear, and be courageous for the Lord and His truth.[19]

In other letters, the exiled Calvinist encouraged Scottish nobles to do all in their power to purge the Prelacy, which he called the “filthy nest” of Antichrist:

I am bold (and plead pardon for it) to speak in paper by a line or two to your Lordship…to go on, as ye have worthily begun, in purging of the Lord’s house in this land, and plucking down the sticks of Antichrist’s filthy nest, this wretched Prelacy, and that black kingdom whose wicked aims have ever been, and still are, to make this fat world the only compass they would have Chrsit and religion to sail by, and to mount up the Man of Sin, their godfather the Pope of Rome, upon the highest stair of Christ’s throne, and to make a velvet church (in regard of Parliament grandeur and worldly pomp, whereof always their stinking breath smelleth).[20]

Living in a time in which the kingdoms of God and man were not easily distinguished, Rutherford spoke of Britain as though it were in a national covenant with God:

God and man cannot but commend you to beg justice from a just prince for oppressed Christ, and to plead that Christ, who is the King’s Lord, may be heard in a free court to speak for Himself, when the standing and established laws of our nation can strongly plead for Christ’s crown in the pulpits, and His chair as Lawgiver in the free government of His own house. But Christ will never be content and pleased with this land, neither shall His hot, fiery indignation be turned away, so long as the prelate (the man that law in Antichrist’s foul womb, and the Antichrist’s lord-bailiff) shall sit lord-carver in the courts of Jesus. The prelate is both the egg and the nest to cleck and bring forth Popery. Plead, therefore, in Christ’s behalf, for the plucking down of the nest, and the crushing of the egg; and let Christ’s kingly office suffer no more unworthy indignities.[21]

            Whatever he understood regarding the relationship of Christ’s kingship to British politics, Rutherford did not write in vain. In response to the king’s attempt to impose a new service book on the Scottish church, the political and religious leaders in Scotland led a movement that culminated in the signing of the National Covenant in February 1638 and a renewed commitment to defend the Reformed faith. Later that year, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in Glasgow and officially returned Presbyterianism to the land. Appointed professor of theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Andrews in 1639, Rutherford entered the era of high orthodoxy in a strategic position to further the cause of Puritanism.[22]

The Assembly Years (1643-49)[23] 

            Upon the alliance formed between Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters in 1643, Rutherford was sent to London as one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.[24] In a letter to a fellow Scottish minister, dated October 20, 1643, he said, “I am now called for to England; the government of the Lord’s house in England and Ireland is to be handled.”[25] He arrived on November 17, 1643 and stayed until November 1647, longer than the rest of the Scots.

     Rutherford’s letters from this time reveal his frustration with a divided Protestantism plagued with error:

There is nothing here but divisions in the Church and Assembly; for besides Brownists and Independents (who, of all that differ from us, come nearest to walkers with God), there are many other sects here, of Anabaptists, Libertines who are for all opinions in religion, fleshly and abominable Antinomians, and Seekers, who are for no church-ordinance, but expect apostles to come and reform churches; and a world of others, all against the government of presbyteries.[26]

He lamented the fact that, since the early Reformation, Protestantism had not been freed from this schism and heterodoxy. “Luther observed, when he studied to reform, that two-and-thirty sundry sects arose; of all which I have named a part, except those called Seekers, who were not then arisen. He said, God should crush them, and that they should rise again: both which we see accomplished.”[27] English Puritanism had not solved this problem. The city of London seemed, to Rutherford, to be infested with every sect under the sun. “Multitudes of Anabaptists, Antinomians, Familists, Separatists, are here. The best of the people are of the Independent way. As for myself, I know no more if there be a sound Christian (setting aside some, yea, not a few learned, some zealous and faithful ministers whom I have met with) at London (though I doubt not but there are many), than if I were in Spain.”[28]

            Some of these divisions were present on the floor of the Westminster Assembly. While the Assembly sought to unify Protestantism in Britain and codify Reformed Orthodoxy in confessional standards, its members were not all of Presbyterian persuasion. Rutherford spoke in his correspondence of the disputes and contention between the Presbyterians and Independents, even those Independents whom he personally admired. “It pleaseth God, that sometimes enemies hinder the building of the Lord’s house; but now friends, even gracious men (so I conceive of them), do not a little hinder the work. Thomas Goodwin, Jeremiah Burroughs, and some others, four or five, who are for the Independent way, stand in our way, and are mighty opposites to presbyterial government.” This led Rutherford to despair of Puritanism’s ability to reform Christ’s church in England, which he believed was still plagued with the “remnants of Babylon’s pollutions.” While the Scottish Commissioner persisted faithfully in his work at the Assembly, he was no supporter of Independency, and was concerned that many were satisfied with what he considered to be “a half reformation” in England. [29]

            Other letters from this period note the ongoing political and military turmoil of the times. Rutherford expressed grief over the state of Parliament, which was not entirely sympathetic to Presbyterianism. “The House of Peers are rotten men, and hate our Commissioners and our cause both. The life that is is in the House of Commons, and many of them also have their religion to choose.”[30] Yet, he conveyed cautioned joy in the fact that Parliament’s army was far stronger than that of King Charles.[31]

            Rutherford not only contributed substantially to the theological deliberations of the Assembly, but also to the Shorter Catechism and to the Directory for the Publick Worship of God. He also preached occasionally before the Long Parliament, and wrote several books, including Lex Rex (1644), which was an argument for limitations on the divine right of kings and a defense of armed resistance against Charles I. It has been said that “nearly every member of the Westminster Assembly owned a copy of Lex Rex.[32]

The Interregnum (1649-60)

            Despite the execution of King Charles I in 1649, the 1650s were not a peaceful period for Rutherford and his Scotland. In reaction to the Covenanters’ refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the English Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland and crushed the Scottish army at Dunbar on September 3, 1650. This, wrote the Presbyterian churchman in a letter two days later, was an “unjust cause.” Cromwell, according to Rutherford, was guilty of “trampling the worship of God,” “persecuting the people of God in England and Ireland,” and “the blood of the people of God in Scotland.” [33] The Church of Scotland was soon divided into two warring factions who disagreed with each other on how to respond to this blow. On the one hand were the Resolutioners, who supported the Public Resolutions of December 1650, which called for the Scottish coronation of Charles II and the return of the supporters of Charles I to office. On the other hand were the Protestors, such as Rutherford, who protested these resolutions. The subsequent strife separated Rutherford from some of his closest friends, including David Dickson, Robert Baillie, and Robert Blair.

            For the St. Andrew’s professor, it seemed that the chickens of the “half reformation” had come home to roost. He often applied dark, eschatological language to Cromwell’s England. In a letter dated November 23, 1650, he said, “Yet a little while, and behold He cometh, and walketh in the greatness of His strength, and His garments dyed with blood. Oh, for the sad and terrible day of the Lord upon England, their ships of Tarshish, their fenced cities, etc., because of a broken covenant!”[34] In another letter, Rutherford proclaimed, “Behold, it shall come down upon England, and on the residue of His enemies in Scotland. Wo is me for England! That land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness; that pleasant land shall be a wilderness, and the dust of their land pitch; a judgment upon their walled towns, their pleasant fields, their strong ships, etc., if they do not repent.”[35] While Puritanism had rid the English church of episcopacy, it failed to produce a stable and orthodox Protestantism. 

            Though these were dark days for Rutherford, he continued faithfully in his vocation as principal of St. Mary’s College and rector of St. Andrew’s University, and continued to “bless the Lord for His good hand, who declares that His sovereign presence is alike in England and all places.”[36]

            Upon Cromwell’s death in 1658, the Republic quickly declined. Cromwell’s son, Richard, assumed his father’s role as Lord Protector, but abdicated the following year due to his deficient abilities as a leader. Parliament assumed authority of the nation and its army, but, with no Lord Protector and in fear of anarchy and disorder, it became clear to many in England that restoring the monarchy would be the country’s safest course.

The Restoration (1660-61)

            Under the leadership of General Monck, the old Rump Parliament was dissolved and a new Parliament, made up largely of Royalists and moderate Puritans, was elected. They invited the exiled Charles II to return. The exiled monarch published the Declaration of Breda in which he declared “a liberty for tender consciences and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matters of religion which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom.”[37] On May 1, 1660, Parliament accepted this declaration. A few weeks later, on May 29, Charles II arrived in England as the nation’s restored king.

            Rutherford and his fellow Protestors were eventually proven correct in their assessment of Charles II. The restored king nullified the work of the Long Parliament by his Act of Rescissory of 1661, and soon began a violent persecution of Puritanism. Writing to James Guthrie, a minister at Stirling who, on June 1, 1661, was hanged at the cross of Edinburgh and whose head was subsequently cut off and fixed on the Nether Bow, Rutherford reminded his friend that persecution and martyrdom of the godly was an ordinary part of the Christian life, even if it came by the hand of an English monarch. With words reminiscent of Tertullian’s celebrated adage, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” the St. Andrew’s professor encouraged his pastor friend. “The Lord will make the innocency and Christian loyalty of His defamed and despised witnesses in this land to shine to after-generations.” [38] Indeed, under Charles II, Puritanism was defamed and despised. With the enforcement of the Clarendon Code, Puritanism was pushed out of the established church.[39] Ministers within the Church of England who sought a more thorough reformation of its practices, and who found themselves unable to accept what they regarded as Romanist characteristics of the Book of Common Prayer, were forced to make a hard decision: either conform and abandon their convictions about the church, or maintain their convictions and leave the church in protest and deprivation. Nearly two-thousand ministers chose the latter option and thus Puritanism was transformed into Non-conformity.

            Rutherford, however, did not live long enough to see all of the acts of the Clarendon Code enforced. He died in 1661. But his departure from this world did not come soon enough to provide him with an escape from all persecution. When the Monarchy was restored in 1660, Rutherford was a marked man, chiefly for his views published in his popular Lex Rex. This book was burned by the king’s orders, first at Edinburgh, and then, some days later, as Andrew Bonar put it, “under the windows of its author’s College in St. Andrew’s.”[40] He was deposed of all his offices, including his university chair, and deprived of his stipend. Moreover, the Committee of Estates summoned the professor to stand trial at Parliament on charges of high treason. Rutherford died, however, in March of 1661, before the tribunal was assembled.


            For Rutherford, English Puritanism was a good and necessary movement to reform Christ’s church, but it was also a flawed and imperfect movement that did not produce the intended results. Cromwell, with his army of “Malignants” and “Sectaries” had done more harm than good, as far as the Presbyterian divine was concerned. While England enjoyed a time of unprecedented toleration during the Interregnum years, Scotland was another story. For Rutherford, this was the tragic consequence of the “half reformation” with which he believed many in England were satisfied. In the end, the result, according to Rutherford, was the overthrow of the Reformation and the reintroduction of Popery in the three kingdoms (i.e. England, Scotland, and Ireland).[41] Nevertheless, he went to his grave with the confidence that the church is the possession of Christ, and that Christ is sovereign over all.

[1] C.V. Wedgwood, The King’s Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 95.

[2] See, for example, William Shakespeare’s derogatory treatment of the term in his 1602 play, Twelfth Night (New York: Bantam, 1988), 2.3.I39-52. Likewise, King James I, in a letter to his son Charles, explicitly called Puritans “pests of the Church” possessed by “a fanatic spirit.” See Anonymous, A Puritane Set Forth in His Lively Colours (London: n.p., 1642), 2-3. Both of these quotes are found in Kapic, Kelly M. and Gleason, Randall C. [eds.]. The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 15.

[3] Carl Trueman, “Puritan Theology as Historical Event: A Linguistic Approach to the Ecumenical Context,” in Reformation and Scholasticism, Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker [eds.] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 253.

[4] Kendall criticizes the syllogistic reasoning of Beza, Ursinus, and later English Calvinists up to and including the Westminster Assembly, claiming that it was introspective, speculative, and ultimately made faith an act of man, located in the human will. Through their affirmation of a limited atonement, they became “crypto-Arminian” in their theology and made it almost impossible for one to be assured of saving faith apart from laborious good works. All of this, says Kendall, was a qualitative departure from Calvin and the early Reformation. See R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 3-4, 8-9, 33-34, 40-41, 56-57, 63, 69-74, 125, 148, 150, 179-81, 205-11. For more on this “Calvin v. the Calvinists” thesis, see also James B. Torrance, “The Concept of Federal Theology,” in Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor, ed. William H. Neuser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), “Covenant or Contract,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23/1 (February 1970); Basil Hall, “Calvin Against the Calvinists,” in G. E. Duffield, ed., John Calvin.  Courtenay Studies in Reformation Theology (Appleford: Sutton Gourtenay Press, 1966); B.A. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969); Peter Toon, Puritans and Calvinism (Swengel: Reiner Publications, 1973).  

[5] See J.I. Packer’s introduction to his A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 11-16. See also William Barker, Puritan Profiles (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1999); Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006); Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Trust, 2004); Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason [eds.], The Devoted Life (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004); D.M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987); D.M. Lloyd-Jones and J.I. Packer [eds.], Puritan Papers, vols.1-5 (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2000-2005).

[6] Rising to defend post-Reformation scholasticism as the legitimate and faithful theological heirs of Calvin has been a growing number of historical theologians led primarily by Richard Muller. This school, sometimes dubbed the “Calvin and the Calvinists” school, has offered a positive reassessment of the internal developments of post-Reformation Reformed theology. See Richard Muller, “Calvin and the ‘Calvinists’: Assessing Continuities and Discontinuities Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy,” [parts one and two] Calvin Theological Journal, 30-31, 1995, 1996; Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, [four vols.] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003); After Calvin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Carl Trueman, The Claims of Truth (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998); John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007); Carl Trueman and R.S. Clark [eds.], Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999); R.S. Clark, Casper Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005); Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2008); “Christ and Covenant: Federal Theology in Orthodoxy,” Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy; Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982); Michael Horton’s Ph.D. dissertation for Oxford University, “Thomas Goodwin the Puritan Doctrine of Assurance: Continuity and Discontinuity in the Reformed Tradition;” Joel Beeke’s Ph.D. dissertation for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, “Personal Assurance of Faith: English Puritanism and the Dutch ‘Nadere Refomatie’ from Westminster to Alexander Comrie (1640-1760);” Lyle Bierma, German Calvinism in the Confessional Age (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996); “The Role of Covenant Theology in Early Reformed Orthodoxy,” Sixteenth Century Journal 21, 1990, 453-462.

[7] Rutherford’s letters were first published as Joshua Redivivus or Mr. Rutherfoord’s Letters in 1664, only three years after the Scotsman’s death. According to Robert McWard, the first editor of the letters, Rutherford never intended for them to be published. In fact, he “did violence to the desires of many in refusing to publish them.” The letters, nevertheless, saw publication and have since been in print in almost eighty editions in Britain and America, and translated into Gaelic, Dutch, German and French. See preface to Joshua Redivinus or Mr. Rutherfoord’s Letters (Rotterdam, 1664), as well as John Coffey’s chapter, “Letters by Samuel Rutherford” in Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason [eds.], The Devoted Life (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 92-93.

[8] Samuel Rutherford, Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1664), ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr.2006), Letter XI, 53. In this essay, all quotations from Rutherford’s letters are taken from the Banner of Truth 2006 edition. Both letter number and page number are cited.

[9] The Perth Articles were five articles adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1618 at the instigation of James I. The articles imposed on the Scottish church practices of the Church of England such as kneeling at the Lord’s Supper, episcopal confirmation, and keeping of feast days such as Christmas and Easter. In an effort to reform the Church of Scotland, the Glasgow Assembly of 1638 condemned the Perth Articles.

[10] Letters, XI, 53.

[11] Letters, V, 42. Rutherford made this reference about England in a letter to Lady Kenmure, dated Sep 14, 1629.

[12] Letters, XV, 60. In a subsequent letter, Rutherford mentioned his sorrow in regard to the imprisonment of Henry Burton, a divine of the Church of England, for his writing and preaching against the Arminians. See Letters, XVII, 64.

[13] Letters, XV, 60.

[14] Letters, XXVIII, 87.

[15] Letters, LIX, 134. This letter dates July 6, 1636. See also Letter XXXIV, 96, and Letter L, 121.

[16] Letters, LX, 135. “Lording” is a reference to calling the prelates “Lords.” At the beginning of the letter, Rutherford calls them “Christ’s forbidden lords.”

[17] Coffey, “Letters by Samuel Rutherford,” Ibid., 95. Coffey notes that Rutherford’s letters from this time “were copied and circulated among the godly.”

[18] Letters, CCLXII, 512.

[19] Letters, CCLXXVIII, 538-40. This letter dates from 1637.

[20] Letters, CCLXXXI, 543. This letter dates January 4, 1638, and was addressed to Earl Loudon, a Scottish noble who espoused the cause of the Second Reformation and took a leading role in the work of the Covenanters.

[21] Ibid., 544-45.

[22] Any evaluation of Puritanism should not only be set in its socio-historical context, but also in the context of what, in recent scholarship, has been called the era of Reformed Orthodoxy. According to Richard Muller, early orthodoxy runs from 1565 and the deaths of “many of the important second-generation codifiers of the Reformed faith (John Calvin, Wolfgang Musculus, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Andreas Hyperius)” to 1640 and the deaths of “the theologians who sat at Dort and perpetuated its carefully outlined confessionalism…among them, Antonius Walaeus, Johann Polyander, Sibrandus Lubbertus, Franciscus Gomarus, Johannes Maccovius, John Davenant – together with writers like William Ames and J.H. Alstead.” High orthodoxy followed, which ran from 1640 to 1725. The first phase, 1640-1685, is characterized by “internal or intraconfessional controversies, such as the broader Amyraldian controversy and the debate over Cocceian federal theology as well as the vast expansion of debate with the Socinians over the doctrine of the Trinity.” Says Muller, “In this phase of the high orthodox period are found such authors as Johannes Cocceius, Samuel Maresius, Andreas  Essenius, Gibertus Voetius, Friedrich Spanheim the elder, Marcus Friedrich Wendelin, Franz Burman, Francis Turretin, Edward Leigh, Matthew Poole, John Owen, and Stephan Charnock.” After 1685, “the tenor of orthodoxy changed, although the confessional boundaries continued to remain relatively in place…The changes that took place included an increased pressure on the precritical textual, exegetical, and hermeneutical model of orthodoxy, an alteration of the philosophical model used by theologians from the older Christian Aristotelian approach to either a variant of the newer rationalism or a virtually a-philosophical version of dogmatics. This is also the era of the beginning of internal divisions in the Reformed confessions over the issues raised by the piety of the Second Reformation or Nadere Reformatie and by the dispossessed status of Reformed Protestants in England and France. By 1725, a fairly uniform and unified confessional subscription had faded both in England and in Switzerland.” See Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, vol.1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 30-32.

[23] While the last numbered Plenary Session of the Westminster Assembly was on February 22, 1649, the Assembly continued until March 25, 1652 as a committee to examine candidates for the ministry.

[24] On August 18, 1643, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland appointed this committee, which, beside Rutherford, consisted of Robert Baillie, Robert Douglas, George Gillespie, and Alexander Henderson. These ministers were commissioned to consult with the one hundred and twenty-one English Puritan divines, as well as thirty laymen, ten from the House of Lords and twenty from the House of Commons.

[25] Letters, CCCVII, 615.

[26] Letters, CCCVIII, 616-17. This is Rutherford’s earliest surviving letter from his time at the Assembly.

[27] Ibid., 617.

[28] Letters, CCCIX, 619.

[29] Ibid., 618.

[30] Ibid., 619.

[31] “The sorrows of a travailing woman are come on the land. Our army is lying about York, and have blocked up them of Newcastle, and six thousand Papists and Malignants, with Mr. Thomas Syderf, and some Scottish prelates; and if God deliver them in their hands (considering how strong the Parliament’s armies are, how many victories God hath given them since they entered into covenant with Him, and how weak the King is), it may be thought the land is near a deliverance. But I rather desire it than believe it.” Ibid., 619.

[32] Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 731. The other books Rutherford completed during the Assembly years include The Due Right of Presbyteries (a defense of Presbyterianism against Independency), The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication (a defense of the session’s and presbytery’s obligation to regulate corporate worship and church government), Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist (a polemic against antinomianism and the various sects mentioned above), and The Trial and Triumph of Faith (a collection of sermons on Christ’s saving work). 

[33] Letters, CCCXXIX, 651. Rutherford wrote this letter to “the worthy and much honored Colonel Gilbert Ker.” He called the Independents “Sectaries.”

[34] Letters, CCCXXXI, 655.

[35] Letters, CCCXXXIII, 659-60.

[36] Letters, CCCXLIII, 678.

[37] As found in J.R.H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England (London: A & C Black, 1986), 249.

[38] Letters, CCCLXII, 702. Rutherford wrote this letter on February 15, 1661, only three and a half months before Guthrie’s death.

[39] The “Clarendon Code” was the name for a series of four legal statutes drafted by Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, and passed by an overwhelmingly Anglican Parliament. The first was the Corporation Act (1661), which excluded Non-Conformists from holding public office by requiring all municipal officials to be communicants in an Anglican church, subscribe a declaration that it was unlawful under any circumstances to take up arms against the king, and formally reject the Solemn League and Covenant. The second statute was the Act of Uniformity (1662), which required all ministers, under penalty of fines, imprisonment, and the forfeiture of their livings, to subscribe to everything in the Book of Common Prayer, renounce the Solemn League and Covenant, and be re-ordained if they had not received Episcopal ordination in the first place. All ministers were to fulfill these requirements by St. Bartholomew’s Day on August 24, 1662. The result was “The Great Ejection” with nearly 2000 ministers forced to resign their vocations and livings. The third statute was the Conventicle Act (1664), which made it illegal for five or more persons to gather at any religious assembly, conventicle, or meeting conducted in any other manner than what was prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. The final statute was the Five-Mile Act (1665), which forbade all ministers who had not taken the oaths in the Act of Uniformity to come within five miles of the corporate town or parish where they had previously served.

[40] Andrew Bonar, “Sketch of Samuel Rutherford” as found in Letters, 20.

[41] See letter CCCLXIII in Letter, 703-4. It should be understood that not all is gloomy in Rutherford’s published letters. The vast majority of his extant correspondence is of a pastoral nature, and exhibits the Scotsman’s deep piety, confidence in the gospel, and hope in the age to come.