Rubbing Elbows with Saints Departed
Like many archivists, I entered the profession because I have a profound love of the past. More precisely, I became an archivist because I love to study the acts and movements of God in the past, and I am concerned about their being documented. God often uses people, churches, institutions, organizations, movements, and events to accomplish his purposes and to declare the gospel of his son, Jesus Christ. As an archivist, I get the priviledge of preserving and making available records that document God's acts and movements.
One of the advantages of working in a religious archives is that doing so allows you to rub elbows with saints (and sinners) who have gone on before you. For example, one of the earliest tasks that I had as an archives assistant was to help the archivist transcribe the correspondence between two of the founders of our institution, both of whom had served as Civil War chaplains. I was privy to their successes and failures, their piety and pettiness, and their faithful endurance as they pursued their life work. Towards the end of the work, I was transcribing through tears as I saw the undying devotion to Christ of the institution's first president as he labored through pain while his death was approaching. And although I know that history is in no sense authoritative, in this case, it was edifying.
I was reminded of all this during the course of this past week. Another birthday rolled around for me, and I was delighted when my pastor gave me a copy of the Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Many are familiar with Samuel Rutherford because he was the author of Lex, Rex. Rutherford was not only a political theorist, he was also a devoted minister of Jesus Christ.
I love rubbing elbows with Rutherford. I can remember first becoming acquainted with his God-honoring piety back in 1998 while I was attending North Greenville College. My current pastor was then just my buddy and classmate. I was over at his apartment, and he read some of Rutherford's letters to me. I was amazed at Rutherford's forthrightness and God-centeredness as he counseled others through his sometimes lengthy epistles. Take, for example, the following excerpt from Rutherford's July 27, 1628 letter to the Vicecountess of Kenmure:
Therefore, worthy lady, so count little of yourself, because of your own wretchedness and sinful drowsiness, that ye count not also little of God, in the course of his unchangeable mercy.
Think little of yourself so that you will not think little of God! In our present age of self indulgence, how many pastors are willing to say that to their members ?!?! Or consider this one, from the same letter.
Ye have now, Madam, a sickness before you; and also after that a death. Gather then now food for the journey. God give you eyes to see through sickness and death, and to see something beyond death. I doubt not but that, if hell were betwixt you and Christ, as a river which ye behoved to cross ere you could come at Him, but ye would willingly put in your foot, and make through to be at Him, upon hope that He would come in Himself, in the deepest of the river, and lend you His hand. Now, I believe your hell is dried up, and ye have only these two shallow brooks, sickness and death, to pass through; and ye have also a promise that Christ shall do more than meet you, even that He shall come Himself, and go with you foot for foot, yea and bear you in his arms.
While Rutherford would probably have been too verbiose for the blogosphere, his letters are worthy of careful contemplation. Rutherford's letters reflect the practical application of a God-centered Christianity, and I think Christians would do well to ponder the way Rutherford applies the Bible to every facet of life.
Of course, not everyone would agree with my assesment. The Wikipedia article on Rutherford currently says that his letters, "display a fervour of feeling and a rich imagery which, while highly relished by some, repel others." Well, I guess you can't please everyone. I am certain, however, that the letters will be relished by all those for whom God has "shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6)