Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: Bitesize Biography: Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford (Bitesize Biographies series) by Richard M. Hannula
EP Books (2014); 140 pp.
Cross Focused Reviews Blog Tour 

When my husband and I were newbie Presbyterians, we became acquainted with a haunting adaptation of the hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” and soon learned that its lyrics consisted of strung-together quotations from the letters of Samuel Rutherford. We did a little research on this seventeenth century Scottish pastor and came to love his passionate and pastoral style of writing. (Note the title of my blog, and the quote along the side!) We were also surprised to find that Rutherford wasn’t exactly a household name, even among lifelong Presbyterians.

This little book by PCA elder Richard Hannula tries to remedy that, and it does so admirably. Like the other books in the Bitesize Biographies series, it pretty much offers just that: a major figure from history in easy, accessible morsels. At the same time, though, it’s not insubstantial: the reader gets an excellent survey of Rutherford’s life from his rural ministry in Anwoth, to his exile for opposing episcopacy, to his contributions in the Westminster Assembly, and places all of it within the wider religious and political controversies of the day.

It’s not just Rutherford’s name that’s little known, however. There are stories from his era that many Christians will only tend to hear if they have a penchant for history—such as the stories of pastors who were maimed, exiled, and martyred for writing and preaching in favor of Presbyterian polity and practice; and the great love for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that both Rutherford and ordinary congregants wrote much about. These are not just “history,” but big pieces of a heritage that should still be formative today.

One of the best ways that Richard Hannula draws readers into that heritage is by packing the book with quotes from Rutherford, in hopes that they will be enticed to read the letters and sermons for themselves. He does this seamlessly and without distracting from the flow of the narrative. He also provides a list of Rutherford’s writings at the end of the book, as well as suggestions for those who are interested in doing more in-depth and scholarly reading about the man and his times.

In closing, here are a few of my favorites of those quotes. I hope that getting to know Samuel Rutherford will bless you as it has blessed my family.

“Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace. It is glory in its infancy. Who knows the truth of grace without a trial? And how soon would faith freeze without a cross!”

 “Know therefore that this is a race of God’s choosing and not of our own; and the ill roads, the deep waters, the sharp showers and the bitter violent winds that are in our face, are of God’s disposing. We will not get a better road than our Lord allows us. He has called us to suffering, and not a stone is in our way by chance.”

 “Believe Christ’s love more than your own feelings. Your Rock does not ebb and flow, though your sea does.”

The publisher provided me with a review copy of this book, and I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.