My Dear Friends,
During Samuel Rutherford’s time in London, where he was a delegate from the Church of Scotland at the Westminster Assembly, two children from his second marriage died. He wrote sorrowfully of this to another bereaved parent: “I was in your condition; I had but two children, and both are dead since I came hither ... The good husbandman may pluck His roses, and gather in His lilies at mid-summer, and, for aught I dare say, in the beginning of the first summer month ...” (from London 1645 to a Mrs Taylor).
What is so striking about Rutherford’s letter is its humble submissiveness to God’s sore providence. To lose one child would be the sorest of trials, to lose two in quick succession must have been an unimaginable trial. Some will no doubt be thinking, “In those days death was a more everyday fact of life than it is today; it was not uncommon for children to die in infancy.” True. But do you think that a Christian father or mother could ever easily and painlessly lose even one of their children? However common or inevitable the death of a loved one is, their death pierces our heart. Love does not easily give up to death the one it loves. But Rutherford’s letter speaks to us of a man who, though his heart is aching, humbly submits to the wise, gracious and loving sovereignty of “the Good Husbandman.”
It is one of the most evident (and sweetest) marks of saving faith, that the Lord enables us to acquiesce humbly and not grudgingly in the face of dark and sore providences. To be able to say, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” is a mark of faith at its purest and highest. None of this is a mere matter of temperament. On the contrary, such humble, submissive faith, is the fruit of a heart that has begun to grasp the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The whole course of our Saviour’s life, was a course of humble submissive obedience to his Father’s will. Never once did our Lord Jesus murmur or complain as he endured reviling, rejection, slander and worse. Rather, “he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Our Saviour is the experiential model of humble submissive faith and it is God’s predestinating purpose to conform us to his Son’s likeness. That “likeness” is nowhere more beautifully and movingly etched for us than in Philippians 2:5ff. There we see the selfless humility of Jesus, who “made himself of no reputation” and humbled himself, becoming “obedient to death - even death on a cross.” As he walked, in faith, the pathway of unimaginable suffering, our Saviour never once complained, never once questioned the love of his Father. Even in the Garden, as the dawning reality of the cross began to pierce his soul, he prays, “Not my will, but your will be done.” The essence of faith is trust; and Jesus to the end trusted his Father.
It is union with this humbly submissive Jesus Christ that believers are brought into through the gospel. Those believers whose faith most glorifies God, are not those who fluently can talk about it, or insightfully write about it, or passionately preach about it, but those who humbly trust God when all around their soul is giving way. God’s ways are not our ways. He is God. His purposes towards his people are the product of his perfect wisdom, gracious sovereignty and electing love. Here we see through a glass darkly. Here, our fragile, earthen vessels are only too easily cracked by perplexity and pain. What will keep us from losing heart, and complaining bitterly, is the persuasion that “he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.”
The quiet dignity of a “bruised reed”, humbled under God’s almighty hand, is a beautiful sight to behold. It is a testimony to the grace and love of an unseen God. It tells the people of God that God can be trusted, even when all earthly hopes are dashed. Such grace truly is a “rare jewel” - it sparkles and gives lustre to every Christian profession it adorns.
Yours in union with our always gracious God,