by Kingsley G. Rendell
Today’s post at Cup of Coffee Talk will be devoted to a short review of Samuel Rutherford: A New Biography of the Man and His Ministry by Kingsley G. Rendell. From the outset I want my readers to know that what follows are my thoughts on this particular book. This post will not be a biographical post on Samuel Rutherford. My aim is that after reading this post you will be able to make an informed decision on whether or not you invest your time into reading this book.
Book Structure and Overview
Do not pick this book up expecting it to be narrative biography that reads like a novel. This biography is pretty much just the facts from Rendell’s perspective. There is a ton of historical data in this book. To be quite frank, at times the historical data overshadows the information about Rutherford himself. In keeping with this structure the chapter divisions are broken up in a unique fashion. The chapters do not necessarily fall into chronological order, but rather each chapter covers a different aspect of Rutherford’s life. I will use the rest of the post to give you an idea of what each chapter looks like.
I. Student and Professor
In this chapter the readers has a lot of information to digest. Unfortunately quite a bit of it is not about Samuel Rutherford. There is so much peripheral information in this chapter that I found it tedious to even get to the information about Rutherford. However, the information given about Rutherford in this chapter is very interesting. What we find is that a major part of the foundation for Rutherford’s ministry was his love for academics, and excellent work both as a student and professor.
This chapter was by far the most captivating chapter in the entire book. This may have been because it was close to my heart, but I felt I understood more about Rutherford from this chapter than from any other chapter in the book. Let me give you several quotes to illustrate my point:
“…he rejoiced in preaching as the lark or nightingale may be supposed to delight in its song.”
“I had but one joy out of heaven next to Christ my Lord, and that was to preach Him.”
III. The Prisoner
This chapter covered Rutherford’s time of banishment. In this chapter, maybe out of necessity, the author provides a mountain of information about Rutherford’s opponents. This chapter would be very helpful to someone who already has knowledge of Rutherford’s life and banishment. The one thing that stood out to this reader was the pain Rutherford had not from being banished, but rather the pain of being away from his flock. This was a man who loved his people, and this chapter mad that clear.
IV. The Reformer
In this chapter, Rendell focuses his attention primarily on Rutherford’s advocacy for Presbyterian Church polity. I hate to beat a dead horse, however, there is a lot of peripheral information that is easy to get bogged down in. Once you make your way through this all of this information you will come away with a firm grasp of Rutherford’s unwavering convictions. I guess in this way the peripheral information serves its purpose.
V. The Apologist
For this chapter I will give you two quotes that I think sum up the entire chapter:
“[Rutherford] had the ability to systematise rather than expound theology. He left behind him a theology which endured for the two centuries which followed.” (pg. 77)
“In his doctrine of God Rutherford voiced the orthodoxy of his age. It was Calvinistic in thought, although it differed in emphasis from Calvin. Unlike Calvin his approach was speculative, rather than dogmatic.” (pg. 80)
VI. The Protestor
Quite frankly this chapter is the longest and dullest chapter in the entire book. The main concern of this chapter is Rutherford, and more prominently in the chapter, the politics of Rutherford’s day. This chapter was filled with the names, places, and events that affected Rutherford’s life. In that sense it is an important chapter. However, I would have enjoyed learning more about how Rutherford dealt with these people, places, and evens than to learn about the people, places, and events themselves.
VII. The Man of Extremes
This chapter serves as a fitting conclusion to the book. I will leave you with the final paragraph, which is also the inscription upon Rutherford’s gravestone:
For Zion’s King, and Zion’s cause
And Scotland’s covenant laws,
Most constantly he did commend
Until his time was at an end,
Then he won to the full fruition
Of that which he has seen in vision.