Samuel Rutherford: “Glory, Glory Dwelleth in Immanuel’s Land!”

5 min

The hills of Scotland have afforded a lovely playground for many generations of young Scottish lads and lasses. In the midst of the heather growing on the wind-swept hills, the lowing of the Highland cattle, the bluebells dotting the land, and the craggy ruins of ancient castles inciting curiosity, all provide an enticement to exploration that is irresistible for a little boy.

In the early 1600s, a young Scottish lad named Samuel Rutherford was playing with his friends in the hills near his village of Nisbet. His father was a prominent farmer in the area, and life was happy for the youngster. The lad could not know the dark and difficult days that lay ahead for his native land, nor the role that God would give him in shaping not only the destiny of Scotland, but also of every God-fearing republic in the western world.

These thoughts were not in Samuel’s mind when he was playing in the hills. He had his playmates about him. Birds were wheeling and diving in the air. Flowers carpeted the hills, and the fragrance of the heather scented the air. But as the children played, disaster struck. An old well was left without a guard about it, and Samuel tumbled in. His terrified playmates were unable to rescue him, so they ran to the village to summon help. Samuel’s father and mother, informed of what had happened, came running to the spot.

To their surprise, when they arrived at the old well, they found their son sitting quietly on the top of the hill near the open well! He was dripping wet and very cold, but he was alive. His parents were baffled as to how he had been rescued. They asked their son how he had been able to accomplish such a physical feat as climbing out of the well without help.

The lad replied innocently, “A bonnie white man drew me forth and sat me down.” The parents listened in wonder to the little boy’s simple report. They recalled the Scripture in Psalm 91:10–11: “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” They also remembered the passage in the Book of Hebrews that spoke of “angels unawares” (13:2), who are sent forth as “ministering spirits” (1:13–14) for those who are heirs of salvation.

The perplexed yet grateful parents took their cold, wet little boy back to the village, all the while pondering the remarkable way his life had been spared by that “bonnie white man.” It surely would seem that God had sent His angel to spare their son for future service. Their son, Samuel, when he grew older, spent his life in service to the God Who had rescued him and to the people of Scotland.

As a young man, Samuel Rutherford studied at the University of Edinburgh. After completing his studies there, he became a pastor, serving the church at Anwoth for many years. Pastor Rutherford was a tender, loving undershepherd who poured out his heart for the souls of his congregation. Similar to how God had loved and spared him in his youth, so Pastor Rutherford would love others and spend his life serving God’s people. His first wife, Euphame, suffered a grievous, painful affliction that lasted thirteen months. Rutherford lost his wife when he was only thirty years old. He bore this affliction as coming from the hand of an ever-loving and gracious God.

During his ministry, Scotland was experiencing a time of great upheaval in her history. The Reformation had triumphed two generations earlier, but many vestiges of popery were left in the land. The kings of the Stuart monarchy embraced the fallacious and unbiblical notion that the king was above the law of the land and that the king’s will dictated matters of religion.

Rutherford served most of his life in his humble position as pastor at Anwoth, but he did not live his life entirely in obscurity. He was appointed as one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly and had the opportunity to give wise counsel and encouragement to his English brethren. He also had the opportunity on several occasions to preach before the assembled Parliament in London.

Samuel Rutherford became the champion of the belief that the king is not above the law of the land and, furthermore, that the king’s word can never usurp the authority of God’s Law. Although he wrote many articles, discussions, and letters throughout his lifetime, Rutherford’s most enduring work was perhaps his famous treatise, Lex Rex, which in Latin asserts, “The Law is King.” This was his argument that the Bible was the supreme law in any land, and all human laws must have their root in the Word of God.

Rutherford’s book brought him under the wrath of Charles II, following the restoration of the Stuart monarchs. Lex Rex was publicly burned, and Parliament demanded that the author of the detestable book come in person to answer charges of high treason. Rutherford never appeared in court; before his trial, the pastor received a more important summons from a higher court.

On March 20, 1661, Samuel Rutherford was escorted by a “bonnie white man” into the courts of Heaven and into the presence of his Redeemer. Known to history for his fiery resistance to tyranny, Rutherford was best known by his own generation as a man of tenderness and love—a man who, intensely aware of God’s love for him in delivering him in his youth, spent his life in loving service to others.

Unlike many Christians whose love grows cold over the years, Samuel Rutherford kept his “first love” to the very end. The letters of Samuel Rutherford, written to members of his congregation as well as to friends all over Scotland, have been collected and published. As a preacher, Rutherford became known for the way he proclaimed to men, women, boys, and girls across Scotland the “Loveliness of Christ,” which is now the title of a book of one collection of Rutherford’s writings.

Among his last words spoken at the time of his death, Samuel Rutherford said, “Oh, for a well-tuned harp!” He also exclaimed, “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!” A hymn based on the pastor’s dying words was written by an admirer of Samuel Rutherford. The hymn continues to inspire people not to allow their love for the Lord to grow dim with the passage of time, but rather to love Christ more and more as eternity dawns:

The sands of time are sinking,

The dawn of Heaven breaks;

The summer morn I’ve sighed for

– The fair, sweet morn awakes:

Dark, dark hath been the midnight,

But dayspring is at hand,

And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

With mercy and with judgment

My web of time He wove,

And aye the dews of sorrow

Were lustered with His love,

I’ll bless the hand that guided,

I’ll bless the hand that plann’d,

When throned where glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

Sources and Further Reference:

Rutherford, Samuel. Lex Rex. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982.
Howie, John. The Scots Worthies. Edinburgh, Scotland: Johnstone, Hunter, and Company, 1870.
Rutherford, Samuel. Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2006. (Note: This edition has an excellent biographical sketch of Rutherford, written by Andrew Bonar.)

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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