My Dear Friends,
Reading the Letters of Samuel Rutherford is to enter a world where love to the Lord Jesus Christ is the absorbing preoccupation. Writing to a lady parishioner in 1637, he said, “Christ is a well of life; but who knoweth how deep it is to the bottom?...And oh, what a fair one, what an only one, what an excellent, lovely, ravishing one is Jesus.” Such language, and, vastly more importantly, such heart affection, appears remote, perhaps even embarrassing, to many Christians today. Neither our language about the Saviour, nor our discoursing on the Saviour, gives the impression that he is the love of our lives, the One we cherish and adore above life itself. Why are we such strangers to the unembarrassed ardour that so marked Rutherford’s (and multitudes of other Christians past and present), relationship with the Lord Jesus?
One answer that is sometimes given is that our temperaments are somewhat culturally conditioned and cannot be expected to be “fulsome” and “uninhibited”: we are English/Scottish after all! We don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves! Aside from the fact that Rutherford was as Scottish as you can get, this answer is a pathetic excuse. There is little doubt that the Lord has given his world a wonderful cultural and temperamental diversity. But according to our Lord Jesus, the extravagance of our love to him is not conditioned by the genetics of our temperament, nor by the geography of our nationhood, but by our grasp of his grace to us in the gospel!
In his Gospel, Luke recounts for us in the greatest detail, the anointing of the Lord Jesus by a “sinful woman” (7:36-50). As the woman lavishes her love on the Saviour, Simon, Jesus‘ host, says to himself, “If this man were a prophet he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner.” Jesus’ response takes us to the heart of the matter. As he concludes his searching exposure of Simon’s heart, he says, “therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Consider what our Lord is saying to us. The reason why the sinful woman lavished her affections so openly and extravagantly on the Lord was because she had a deep sense of the wonder of the forgiveness of sins. The reason we love our Saviour so haltingly and so mutedly, is, at heart, because we have lost the sense of the wonder and blessedness and glory of the forgiveness of our sins.
It is an evangelical commonplace that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from every sin.” We are able to talk about Christ and the gospel, and to my great shame, preach about them, and not be captivated by the sheer glory of the divine mercy. We sing about “Amazing Grace”, but if the truth be told, just what is so “amazing” to us about God’s forgiving grace in Christ? “He who has been forgiven little loves little.” It has nothing to do, at heart, with nationality or genetics; it has everything to do with grasping the glory of the cross and the wonder of being a forgiven sinner, a friend and child of the living, thrice holy, triune God.
How then can we begin to love him better? How can we love him more ardently, more extravagantly, less self-consciously? There are no slick formulae, no out-of-this-world-experiences to cultivate. Simply this: Consider Jesus! Contemplate Calvary! Make the time and take the time to meditate on God’s amazing grace to hell-deserving sinners.
There is no substitute for loving Christ. Let Rutherford have the last word: “Give Christ your virgin love: you cannot put your love and heart into a better hand. Oh! If ye knew him, and saw his beauty, your love, your liking, your heart, your desires would close with him and cleave to him....Oh Fair sun, and fair moon, and fair stars, and fair flowers, and fair roses, and fair lilies, and fair creatures, but O ten thousand times fairer Lord Jesus.”
If these quotes from Samuel Rutherford have given you a taste for his writings, the Banner of Truth Trust publishes a lovely edition of Rutherford’s Letters.
Yours as ever with my love in Christ.