Thoughts on Grace, Covenant Relationship, and the Nature of Sin, Including the Unpardonable Sin

 Written by Samuel Rutherford.
Edited for thought and sense by Michael Pursley.

caananite-woman“But he answered, and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to the dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. And Jesus answered, and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt: and her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”—MATTHEW 15:26-28.

“And when she came to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”—MARK 7:30.

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THE dispute between Christ and the woman goes on:

Christ brings a strong reason, (verse 26,) why he should not heal her daughter; because she, and all her nation, are not in a covenant with God, as are the Jews. But the church of God, are but dogs, and profane, and unworthy of Christ, which is the bread ordained for the children.

When Christ humbles, he may put us in remembrance of our nation, and national sins: “Look to the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged,” (Isa. 51:1). “I alone called Abraham, he was an idolater,” (Hos. 9:10). I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; they should have been wild grapes rotting in the wilderness, had I not put them in my basket. “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abomination,” (Ezek. 16:2). How? Make them know the stock they came of, ‘And say, Thus saith the Lord unto Jerusalem, thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite,’ (verse 3). When the Jew was to offer the first fruits to the Lord; “And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and went down to Egypt to sojourn there,” (Deut. 26:5). Thus, the forgetting what we are by nature, adds to our guiltiness: “And in all thine abominations, and thy whoredoms, thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou was naked and bare, and was polluted in thy blood,” (Ezek. 16:22). So the Ephesians must be told how unfit they were by nature for Christ, being the very workhouse and shop of the devil, in which he wrought, (Eph. 2:1-3).

National sins have influence in their guilt and contagion on believers:

(1.) When they mourn not for them (National sins): God’s displeasure should be our sorrow.

(2.) When they (Christians) stand not in the gap (give intercessory prayer) to turn away wrath, (Ezek. 22:30).

There were godly men that departed from ill (wrong), (Isa. 59), but God’s quarrel was, that there was no intercessor, (verse 15). Who sorrows for the blood of malignants and rebels?—for their oaths, mocking, scoffing, massing? The sins of the land, idolatry, superstitious days, vain ceremonies, etc., have influence on a believer’s conscience in his approach to God.

But we are here to consider, that Christ does two great and contrary works at once:

(1.) He humbles the believing woman, in reproaching her as a profane dog, unworthy of the children’s bread, that she will may be more broken for believing; And

(2.) He tries and tempts her, to see if she can, by reproaches, be taken off from Christ.

A broken will is a broken heart, for will is the iron sinew in the heart.

Many think, the troubled conscience should not be further humbled. They say, ‘There is nothing for such a soul, but the honey and sweetness of consolations in the gospel.’ Nay, but often that which troubles them, is subtle and invisible pride; he’ll not believe for want of self-worthiness:—‘Oh! I dare not rest on Christ, nor apply the promises, because of my sinful unworthiness.’ Now, if this be humility, it is the proudest humility in the world; for the soul thus troubled, saith, ‘I am not good enough, nor rich enough for Christ and his fine gold.’ But though thou should try to buy Christ, the Father will not sell him. Christ is disposed to a sinner as a free gift, not as a wage or a hire. There is a difference between down-casting and saving humiliation. Down-casting may exceed measure, in the too much apprehension of the law-curses, and may be conjoined with much pride and self-love: but right and saving humiliation conjoined with faith, cannot overpass bounds; it arises often from the sense of grace rather than from the law; God gives grace to the humble, and he gives humility to the gracious, under the sense of rich grace, (1 Tim. 1:15; Eph. 3:8; Titus 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:9). Nothing humbles us more than an opinion of the power and excellency of grace. Grace known and apprehended in its worth, layeth down proud nature on the earth. Christ’s grace, was Christ’s account book to Paul; “But by the grace of God I am that I am,” (1 Cor. 15:9,10).

And Christ, under the notion of tempting and trying, offers this thought to the woman: That she was too daring and bold, being a dog, to presume to ask for the children’s bread.

Hence have we to consider, how far the conscience of sin ought to stand in our way toward Christ:

(1.) Conscience of sin is to humble any; that seeks to turn to Christ. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” spoken by Christ brought Paul down off his high horse, and laid his soul in the dust. “Now we know, that what things whatsoever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom. 3:19.) It is a speech taken from a malefactor, arraigned and paneled upon his head. When the judge objects, ‘What say you? This and this treason is witnessed against you.’ Alas! the poor man stands speechless and dumb; his mouth is stopped, “That thou mayest remember thy old shame, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame.” (Ezek. 16:63.) Christ, then, hath the sinner’s neck under his axe. What justice and law may do, that Christ may do. The captive taken in war, may be killed by the laws of war, if he refuse to submit.

(2.) No sin is unpardonable treason, but the sin against the Holy Ghost, and final impenitence. The gospel is a treaty of peace between parties in war; none are excepted but these two.

(3.) But what then, if a soul come to this,—‘I have either sinned against the Holy Ghost, or certainly am on the borders of it, because Christ knocked long: and a year ago, or a long time from this, I remember of his farewell rap, when Christ knocking, took his last good night, with this word, ‘He that is filthy, let him be filthy still,’ and said, he would never come again. I grant an ill conscience can speak prophecy; (Exod. 10:28, 29). So Pharaoh did prophesy, and Cain also, (Gen. 4:13, 14). But [2.] I can yield, that there be some farewell knockings of Christ, after which, Christ is never seen or heard at the door of some men’s hearts. Paul speaketh so to the Jews, “But seeing you put the gospel from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46.) The like is Christ’s language to them: “Then said Jesus to them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins; whither I go, ye cannot come.” (John 8:21.)

I doubt if any can sin the sin against the Holy Ghost, and the sinner only, and no other complain of it; that sin breaketh out in prodigious acts of wickedness, as blood and persecution. Though if it were true, that you were upon the borders of hell, yet the gospel, though it except you from actual mercy, yet excepts you not from the duty of believing and coming to Christ; and though such think and imagine, that they believe Christ is able to save and redeem them, only they doubt of his will, yet the truth is, the doubt of unbelief is more of the power of mercy and infinite grace in Christ than of his will; and my reason is, “that whosoever believeth, hath set to his seal that God is true;” (John 3:33;) and “He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” (1 John 5:10.)

Now, it is not God’s testimony, nor any gospel truth, that such as sin against the Holy Ghost shall be pardoned.

Yet these that sin against the Holy Ghost are condemned for unbelief, as all other unbelievers are. (John 3:18, 36.) If he that sins against the Holy Ghost, could believe the power of infinite mercy, he should also believe the will and inclination of infinite mercy, for the power of mercy is the very power of a merciful will. I shall not then be afraid that that soul is lost, which hath high and capacious apprehensions of the worth, value, dignity, and power of that dear ransom, and of infinite mercy. It is faith to believe this gospel truth, which is, “That Christ is able to save to the utmost all that come to him.” (Heb. 7:25.) If I believe soundly what free grace can do, I believe soundly what free grace will do. It is true, Christ can save many, whom he never will save; but the faith of the power of mercy, and of his will to save, is of a far other consideration. It must then be the prevailing of a temptation, not to dare to come to Christ, because I am a dog, and unworthy,

(1.) Because sin is no porter to watch the door of Christ’s house of free grace: mercy keeps the keys. Sin may object my evil deserving, but it cannot object Christ’s rich deserving.

(2.) That which makes me unworthy, and graceless, and unfit to be saved, may make Christ worthy, and gracious to save; my sin may be the object of Christ’s rich grace. Though sin makes me unworthy of Christ, yet it makes me a fit passive object for the physician Christ to work on, and makes not Christ unworthy to save.

If I feel sin, it then saith…

…Thou art the very person by name that Christ seeketh. Therefore is the sense of sin required as a condition in all that come to Christ, whether it be before conversion, or after conversion, when acts of faith are renewed.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 30 March 1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author, and one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.

The young lad of five years old had been playing with some friends around a well when he tragically fell into it. The other children ran to his parents for help. They came, expecting him to be dead, but he was found cold and wet, sitting on a nearby   hill. Puzzled over his escape, they asked him how he climbed out of the deep well. He answered that “a bonny white Man drew me forth and set me down.” No other explanation was ever given as to who or what  this rescuer was, but his deliverance of young Samuel Rutherford preserved for time one of the stalwarts of the Reformed and Presbyterian faith in Scotland and England.

Samuel Rutherford was born in 1600 in the village of Nesbit, Scotland, to a prosperous farmer and his wife. Because of this background, Samuel was able to receive a good education, one which culminated at the University of Edinburgh, where he attended from 1617 to 1621. His prowess in Latin enabled him to immediately enter the teaching profession there at the University.

But it was as a pastor that he showed the spiritual gifts which would influence many a Covenanting heart to grow spiritually in the things of the Lord. Going to Anwoth in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 1627, he began to show his caring approach for the spiritual needs of the people. It was said by the members of his congregation that “he was always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and studying.” To do all this, Pastor Rutherford rose up each day at 3 a.m. to engage in prayer and meditation.

His marriage at a young age brought both happiness and sorrow. His wife was often sick, once for thirteen months. She did eventually die, but not before bearing Samuel two children, though both of them followed their mother to death’s dark door.   He would marry again a “delightful” wife, but the personal sorrows continued, with only one of seven children surviving into adulthood. God clearly allowed these personal sorrows so as to make him a comforter of suffering saints.

These were perilous times in Scotland. Preaching against the errors of Arminianism did not please the Anglican clergy. On July 27, 1636, Rutherford was barred from ministering to his parish upon the threat of rebellion if he continued. Exiled to Aberdeen, Scotland, and sorrowing over not just his loss of family, but also of God’s family, this was a difficult time indeed. But God often allows a hard experience so as to make one of his children a comforter to others in similar circumstances. It was at this time that Rutherford wrote numerous letters to other Christians, letters which helped them bear up through incredibly difficult times. These letters were eventually published by The Banner of Truth Trust. He was to stay in Aberdeen for 18 months.

In 1638, there occurred a reversal in the political situation, during which Presbyterianism was restored in Scotland.  Samuel Rutherford was appointed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to a Professorship at St. Andrews University. He went there with the condition that he be allowed to preach at least once a week. His heart was in the pastorate. Five  years later, he went to London, England to participate as a Commissioner in the Westminster Assembly, where, along with the other four Scottish commissioners, he influenced that august gathering in a great way, even though he could not vote. [the Scottish commissioners were all of non-voting status in the Assembly.]  It was said of his four years there in London, that he was especially well-remembered by all for his work on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Rutherford’s magnum opus was titled Lex Rex. In this work he dealt with the subject of government and so effectively argued for limited government, that it was judged to be a direct attack on the divine right of kings.  When King Charles II read this book, he ordered it to be burned and a charge of high treason to be laid against Samuel Rutherford. Though summoned to appear before the king, Rutherford was at that time confined to bed with illness. He  turned down the summons, saying “I  must answer my first summons; and before your day arrives, I will be where few kings and great folks come.”  Samuel Rutherford died March 20:1661.

Rutherford was educated at Jedburgh Grammar School and Edinburgh University, where he became Regent of Humanity (Professor of Latin) in 1623. In 1627 he was settled as minister of Anwoth in Kirkcudbrightshire,Galloway, where it was said of him ‘he was always praying, always,preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and studying’, and from where he was banished to Aberdeen for nonconformity, ‘being very powerful on the side of the Reformed faith and of God living’, there in Aberdeen, ‘his writing desk’, was said to be, ‘perhaps the most effective and widely resounding pulpit then in Christendom’. His patron in Galloway was John Gordon, 1st Viscount of Kenmure. On the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in 1638 he was made Professor of Divinity at St. Andrews.

Rutherford was chosen as one of the four main Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London taking part in in formulating the Westminster Confession of Faith completed in 1647, and after his return to Scotland he became Rector of St. Mary’s College at St. Andrews in 1651. Rutherford was a staunch Protester during the controversy in the Scottish Presbyterian church between the Resolutioners and Protesters in the 1650s, and at the Restoration of Charles II his Lex Rex was burnt by the hand of the common hangman, and the “Drunken Parliament” deprived him of all his offices and voted that he not be permitted to die in the college.

His epitaph on his tombstone concluded ‘Acquainted with Immanuel’s song’. 

Rutherford’s has been described as ‘Prince of Letter writers’ and C. H. Spurgeon described in an 1891 review of Rutherford’s (posthumously published Letters (1664) ‘when we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men’.  Andrew Thomson, a Scottish minister, in a 19th-century biography observed ‘the letters flash upon the reader with original thoughts and abound in lofty feeling clothed in the radiant garb of imagination in which there is everything of poetry but the form. Individual sentences that supplied the germ-thought of some of the most beautiful spiritual in modern poetry’ continuing ‘a bundle of myrrh whose ointment and perfume would revive and gladden the hearts of many generations, each letter full of hope and yet of heartbreak, full of tender pathos of the here and the hereafter.’  Rutherford was also known for other spiritual and devotional works, such as Christ Dying and drawing Sinners to Himself, “The Trial and Triumph of Faith”.