Samuel Rutherford was born in 1600 near Nisbet, Scotland. Though little is known of his early life, it is clear that he was raised in a pious home that put great emphasis on education. In 1627 he completed his academic work at the University of Edinburgh, where he was appointed Professor of Humanities. That same year he became the pastor of the little parish church in Anwoth.
Anwoth was a rural community, and the people were scattered in farms over the hills. Rutherford apparently had a true pastor's heart, and he was ceaseless in his labors for his flock. Men often said of him, "He was always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing, and always studying." Even so, his first years in Anwoth were marked by great sadness. His wife was ill for a year and a month, before she died in their new home. Two children also died shortly afterward. Nevertheless, his faith never wavered.
Though it was said that he was not a particularly good speaker, his preaching drew great attention. An English merchant said of him, "I came to Irvine, and heard a well-favored, proper old man with a long beard, and that man showed me all my heart. Then I went to St. Andrews, where I heard a sweet, majestic-looking man, and he showed me the majesty of God. After him I heard this little, fair man Rutherford, and he showed me the loveliness of Christ."
In 1636 Rutherford published a book defending the Reformed doctrines of grace against the legalistic strictures of Armininism. This put him in conflict with the Church authorities, which were dominated by the English Anglo-Catholic Episcopacy. He was called before the High Court, deprived of his ministerial office, and exiled to Aberdeen. While in exile he wrote a series of remarkable letters which were later collected into a classic volume by Andrew Bonar (a tiny sampling of that remarkable work has recently been republished in a beautiful pocket devotion by Banner of Truth as The Loveliness of Christ and it has become the volume I give away more than any other in my ministry).
On this day in 1638, the struggles between Parliament and King in England enabled Rutherford to slip out of Aberdeen and return to Anwoth—but he was not allowed to stay there as long as he might have wished. The Westminster Assembly began their famous meetings in 1643, and Rutherford was appointed to be one of the five Scottish commissioners invited to attend the proceedings. Although the Scots were not allowed to vote, they had an influence far exceeding their number. Rutherford is thought to have been a major influence on the Shorter Catechism.
It was during this period in England, that Rutherford wrote his best-known work, Lex Rex, which argued for limited government, and a refutation of the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, it was clear that the author of Lex Rex would could expect trouble. When the summons came in 1661, charging him with treason, and demanding his appearance on a certain day, Rutherford refused to go. From his deathbed, he answered, "I must answer my first summons; and before your day arrives, I will be where few kings and great folks come." He died a few days later.