Tag Archives: Samuel Rutherford

Worth losing?

Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is  more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…

(Philippians 3.7&8)

A picture of a cake.. which may seem odd given the text I have quoted above, but there is a connection! The cake was inspired by one made by a very good and generous friend when I last visited her, and so represents hospitality, love, years of friendship and support – as well as a celebration of our time together. Most of us have many such reasons for celebration – in our spouses and families, our health, our friends and the many good things which God lavishly bestows on us daily. It is always good to give thanks for such gifts, lest we begin to take them for granted and fail to appreciate them.

But if we are to follow the apostle Paul in the particular part of this letter to the young church in Philippi, he is arguing that all the good things he has received in his life are worth giving up without a second thought, if by that means he might grow in his union with his beloved Lord Jesus. This is a challenge which I think we spend our lives working out in practice, as we experience gains and losses, and watch others struggling to cope with their own griefs. It is one thing to say boldly, that ‘Christ is enough for me’, but quite another to put that into daily action, when facing the loss to death of a beloved husband or wife, or the brutal impact of disease or injury upon our own bodies and our capacity for independent living.

The great Scottish preacher and letter writer, Samuel Rutherford spent prolonged spells in exile from his parish, closely confined, unable to receive visitors and forbidden to preach. His writings from that time speak of his grief at these losses, but also breathe his sweet delight in the presence of his Saviour, and his satisfaction in considering the loveliness of Christ. Rutherford learnt to say with Paul that so long as he had Christ, he would be content.

Do I live in such a way that I am not looking to any human being for fulfillment of my deepest needs? Am I so aware that every day, every breath, is a gift from God, that I would be able to give up physical health and freedom if He required them of me? These are very hard questions, and I am glad that we are not allowed to see our future days, not to know what sacrifices we will be called to make until the time comes. It is not for me to worry about how I might cope if these things happened to me, but rather to focus here and now on living ever closer to my Lord, and trusting that he will be sufficient for me when the day comes. We are not called to deal in advance with such burdens, but to carry those of today with as much grace and cheerfulness as we can.

If I can learn to hold all my daily blessings on an open hand, as one offering them back to the giver, then I will not depend on them for my fulfillment and contentment. This certainly does not mean that I fail to appreciate these good things, that would be to waste the gifts of my loving Father! Rather it means that I must learn to look more and more through the gifts to the giver, to see that in them, I receive his love, perceive his greatness and the unfathomable beauty of his character.

God must become more and more the centre of my life. Jesus is the lover of my soul, my heavenly bridegroom, my redeemer and friend. All the human relationships which enrich my life are simply pale imitations of the richest relationship of all – between the church and her head, Christ, who loved her so much that he gave up his life for her.

I believe that when God calls me to let something precious go – as when my parents died some years ago – he is calling me into a closer relationship and satisfaction with himself. In God, I find the truest father and mother-love, meeting those deep needs which my human parents could never touch. I can give thanks for all they were and did, and rejoice that now they are with the Lord whom they loved. But I need not fret for myself, because my God knows and meets my longings to be loved as a child again.

He is so gracious, so gentle, so compassionate.. Let us cling ever closer to him, and be content with whatever is left to us so long as we have Christ as our own!

Love is…. You are!

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

(1John 4.9&10)

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me this week to do no more than write out the words of some of the many hymns and songs of praise which have been written over the centuries in an attempt to respond adequately to the love which is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. As I sit, I have line after line running through my head, tunes swelling up in adoration and worship of the God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who loves me. And perhaps that the best place to start. If I can discipline my thoughts long enough at the start of this new week to deliberately focus on the wonderful love poured out through Christ, then I will have the best possible attitude to whatever the week will bring.

What does this love look like? It is the relentless pursuit of the eternal good of the beloved – even us, even rebellious, stubborn and proud humanity! It is the willingness to pay the ultimate cost of redemption – of putting right that which was so badly damaged – and to fulfill justice by dealing with the need for sin to be punished. And not only are we put right, but we are adopted into the family of God, given a birthright, and a guarantee of eternal life.This love pours out daily in grace upon our lives; it is continually working to transform us so that sin loses every foothold, and we become truly the image of God, reflecting his character, and finding fulness of life and joy as we live in him.

The Scottish preacher Samuel Rutherford was a man utterly enchanted by his Lord and Saviour. Over and again in his writings, he exhorts his readers to look to Christ, finding there all and more than their heart’s desires. This little extract – although archaic in language – clearly expresses his frustration at his own inability to grasp the fullness of love offered in Jesus, and I am deeply comforted even as I identify with him. “Christ all the seasons of the year, is dropping sweetness; if I had vessels I might fill them but my old riven, holey, and running-out dish, even when I am at the well, can bring little away. Nothing but glory will make tight and fast our leaking and rifty vessels… How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand; as little do I take away of my great sea, my boundless and running-over Christ Jesus.” Praise God, there will be a day – in glory – when I will no longer feel that I catch but a glimpse, and remember but the tiniest fraction, of the wonderful love so freely given! Then I shall receive in full the answer to the wonderful prayer of Paul for the disciples in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3. 17-19)

This love waits patiently by my side as I dither and wander, as I doubt and rebel, drawing me back over and over in repentance and new dependence on God. This love is overflowing with kindness towards me – expressed  through other people, and through the gifts and signs that only I notice and appreciate as coming from my God. This love is never boastful, but always wooing, never forcing itself upon me. This love restrains anger, and has lost any record of my past failures. This love rejoices in every small indication of my true desire to serve and honour my Lord, and every little effort to be faithful and obedient – forgetting the frequent failures and unfulfilled promises. This love is constant in protecting me, faithful in believing that I will be transformed, relentless in seeking the best for me.

And the truth that I need to remember at all times about this love – the truth which sustains the thousands of our brothers and sisters across the world who are suffering for their faith – is that no one, and nothing, can ever take this love away from me! I am going to finish with words from Paul again – Romans 8 – as found in the Scottish Paraphrases, my heart language, where he celebrates and affirms this wonderful truth. May it bring you comfort, strength and joy this week!

The Saviour died, but rose again triumphant from the grave;

And pleads our cause at God’s right hand, omnipotent to save.

Who then can e’er divide us more from Jesus and his love,

Or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heav’n above?

Let troubles rise and terrors frown, and days of darkness fall; 

Through him all dangers we’ll defy, and  more than conquer all.

Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor time’s destroying sway,

Can e’er efface us from his heart, or make his love decay.

Each future period that will bless as it has bless’d the past;

He lov’d us from the first of time, He loves us to the last.

Fasting and Feasting

For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fulness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

(Colossians 2 v 9&10)

The first weeks of a new year are often associated with diets, new exercise regimes, and  rigorous attempts to cleanse our systems after a period of too much food and too little physical activity. There is an uncomfortable tightness about our clothes, and sluggishness about our energy levels, and we hope to deal with these by self-denial and the imposition of new disciplines… and that can be a very necessary thing to do!

But there is another, more significant aspect of our lives which need never diet, or deny itself the object it craves in order to flourish – our relationship with our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. The passage quoted above is delightful in its use of the word ‘fulness’, stressing one of the foundational beliefs of Christians, that Jesus was and is fully God, as well as fully man! It is easy to skim read a passage like this, and only vaguely to register the notion of Christ’s deity, without  benefitting from the treasure trove of truth which it represents. Yes, indeed, Christ is as completely God as the Father himself, but that is only one sense of ‘fulness’. There is also the sense of being filled to overflowing, packed with goodness – and Christ is filled with all the attributes of deity.

The bible narrative reveals a God who desires to be all in all to his people, that they might realise that only through intimate relationship with him can they find true satisfaction and fullest life. Our folly has lain in stubbornly refusing to believe that such a relationship can fill our needs, and trusting our own judgement and inclinations instead. The desperate state of our world today reveals only too clearly the results of such folly. But what if God were right? What if we can truly find in him all the things we need? The security, the sense of self-worth, of significance and adequacy which we crave and chase through endless mazes of material goods, human relationships and activities. Listen to the words of the ancient prophet, Isaiah

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

(Isaiah 55 v 1 & 2)

And then to these words from Jesus, as he addressed the sincere, seeking religious people of his own time;

‘For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread’. Then Jesus declared, ‘ I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’

(John 6 v 33-35)

The words in Colossians convey a stunning truth, if we will slow down reading long enough to recognise it.. When a believer confesses that Jesus is Lord, that their salvation depends entirely on Jesus, not themselves, they receive Christ himself – and all the glories of his divine character! When do I ever take enough time to really let this sink in and change how I live? Everything in the treasury of God is made over to us as believers, to equip, support, encourage and transform our lives, and enable us to fulfill our roles in God’s new creation. How often do we take that transaction seriously and claim those riches? We are summoned to a feast, and all too often make do with meagre rations!

This blog is part of my personal response to this question, an attempt to focus my thoughts for a sustained period of time and thereby to engrave another small aspect of the truth on my heart so that it might change my thinking and living. A recent gathering of friends saw us take time to meditate on the different titles and names given to Jesus in the bible – we found at least 35, and I am sure there are more – through which we began to catch a glimpse of the overwhelming adequacy of our Lord to satisfy our deepest longings and fill us with good things.

For myself, my experience has been that the more I feast on Christ, the more I hunger to receive and make my own. I close this week with the words of a great writer and preacher of the Scottish church from the 1600’s, Samuel Rutherford, whose language may sometimes seem archaic, but whose sentiments remain an inspiring expression of what it means to live for Christ alone.

Christ is as full as feast as ye can have to hunger.

I think I see more of Christ than I ever saw; and yet I see but little of what may be seen.

May God stir us up to desire ever deeper, fuller fellowship with Christ, as He has already provided all that is needed to satisfy that desire!