One of technology’s saddest effects is its contribution to the virtual disappearance of letter writing. Today’s correspondence (via email, text, or the like) tends to be an ephemeral exercise. Most of it floats around in the cloud, never to come back down again. When we die we won’t leave behind a stash of letters to edify the coming generations. Thus, we have to turn to the old saints.
And no letters are better to read than Samuel Rutherford’s.
Consider what others said about Rutherford’s work:
- “In Scottish homes for some two centuries the most widely read devotional classic, apart from the Bible, was Rutherford’s Letters.” — Stuart Louden
- “But for that book of letters, hold off the Bible, such a book the world never saw the like!” — Richard Baxter
- “These letters have been generally admired by all the children of God for the vein of piety, trust in God and holy zeal which runs through them.” — John Wesley
- “When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of men.” — C.H. Spurgeon
In Meet the Puritans Beeke and Gleason offer this overview:
Most of Rutherford’s letters (220 of 365) were written while he was in exile in Aberdeen. The letters beautifully harmonize Reformed doctrine and the spiritual experiences of the believer. Six topics dominate the letters: (1) Rutherford’s love to and desire for Christ (“I would desire no more for my heaven beneath the moon, while I am sighing in this house of clay, but daily renewed feasts of love with Christ,” he wrote); (2) his deep sense of the heinousness of sin (he spoke often of his own “abominable vileness”: “Only my loathsome wretchedness and my wants have qualified me for Christ!”); (3) his devoted concern for the cause of Christ (to David Dickson he wrote on May 1, 1637, “My sorrow is that I cannot get Christ lifted off the dust in Scotland, and set on high, above all the skies, and heaven of heavens”); (4) his profound sympathy for burdened and troubled souls (to one troubled saint, he wrote, “Our crosses are like puffs of wind to blow our ship home; they convey us to heaven’s gate, but they cannot follow it into heaven”); (5) his profound love for his flock (he wrote to Anwoth on July 13, 1632, “My witness is above; your heaven would be two heavens to me, and your salvation two salvations”); and (6) his ardent longings for heaven (“Oh, how long is it to the dawning of the marriage day! O sweet Jesus, take wide steps! O my Lord, come over the mountain at one stride”).
Where to Begin
If you can afford it, grab the full set of letters published by Banner of Truth. Another option is to grab the shorter volume Banner puts out, which is a selection of just under 200 pages.
Once you have the book in hand, set it on your nightstand. Read one or two letters a night before bed. You can also read the letters devotionally. After morning prayer and study of God’s word, read one letter a day. Andrew Bonar’s edition of The Letters contained 365 notes for this reason.
Rutherford can be bleak—he lived in tumultuous times. But the Sun of Righteousness swallows up the affliction and suffering. As Rutherford said, “Be greedy of grace.” I do believe these letters will cultivate such hunger.