by Samuel Rutherford
Introduced & Translated by Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman
For the first time, here is over a hundred pages translated into English from Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism in Latin
The closest thing that Samuel Rutherford wrote to a systematic theology was his Examination of Arminianism in Latin. The work’s chief purpose though, was quite narrow: to simply refute the errors of Arminianism. How do these two things coincide? Arminians erred on nearly every subject of theology; therefore Rutherford took advantage of the opportunity to survey the whole theological spectrum. This is the chief value of the Examination: Rutherford here delves into theological points addressed nowhere else in his writings.
The Examination has remained locked up in Latin for nearly four hundred years. The value of here seeing the tables of contents translated into English for the first time, lies in, first, uncovering the scope and contents of the work; and second, in making the work more navigable so that persons might more easily translate further intriguing sections from it. We hope that in encouraging further translations of Rutherford , and possibly someday the whole of the Examination, that this gift to Rev. Robert D. McCurley will be invaluable.
The theological lectures that compose the Examination likely stem from the very inception of the Second Reformation in Scotland (1638), even from Rutherford ’s appointment as professor of divinity at St. Andrews in 1639. It is likely that these lectures were delivered up until Rutherford ’s departure into England for the Westminster Assembly in 1643 when the threat of Arminianism appeared to loom large over England and Scotland . The Examination, though one of Rutherford ’s earliest works, was not published till after his death by his close disciple and friend, Robert MacWard, and the Dutch, reformed theological professor Matthias Nethenus.
In perusing the translation below, one ought not to get hung up on the scholastic form that the Examination takes: though unfamiliar to us, it was intended to be helpful rather than distracting. Rutherford ’s method through the entire book was to take up a series of precise questions on each theological topic, and answer them in a systematic way. The questions themselves are of immense importance as they boil down the controverted issues between the different theological camps to one proposition, affirmed by one side and self-admittedly denied by the other. As Rutherford was for the most part strikingly unoriginal (this writer would claim) in the content of most all of his theology, and as he saw himself as nearly always representatively upholding and defending the long established, reformed-catholic consensus of the post-Reformation era about these points, so the very questions and answers that Rutherford poses are immensely valuable in bringing to light the exact detailed theological points that Reformed Orthodoxy held to and affirmed in her classical era from a better day.
In every section of the work, Rutherford first states the theological question and concisely answers it affirmatively or negatively. Sometimes these questions are previously prefaced with the introduction of a Scripture text which may give rise to the question or may help in part to answer it. Next the question and its parts are clarified and contextualized (defining the ‘state of the question’) so that the issued answer hits its target, being rightly qualified. Rutherford then gives a numbered list of Scriptural and theological reasons for the reformed position. Rutherford ’s discussion is sometimes concise, only giving a handful or less of such reasons. Why would he be content with this? Rutherford lived in an era that emphasized truth and theological objectivity. If the few arguments given are valid, establishing the truth of the position and overturning the contrary, nothing more need be said. However, not uncommonly, Rutherford gives a thorough treatment of the topic with a dozen or more reasons, twenty being about the most. Hence the Examination is virtually a book-long collection of mini, theological disputations. This method facilitated clarity and depth into the minutia of our Lord’s revealed theology that cannot be found in the modern generas of theology today.
The chief value of the Examination, though, does not lie in its historical import or its scholastic form, but rather in that its deep, Scriptural and timeless teaching about our eternal God is priceless. As the reformed divines of the sixteen hundreds seemed to have treated every conceivable theological topic in vastly greater depth and Scriptural detail than any other era of Church history, it is hoped that a reviving of such an older treasure as this will help to greatly inform our relative, theological ignorance.
The translation philosophy here used is that of formal equivalence. The infrequent times that a “literal” translation of the Latin diction has been departed from has only been where the English language has demanded it. In smoothing out the English, accuracy is almost always lost; on the contrary, we have thought faithfulness to be of greater value and have sought to preserve something of Rutherford ’s clear, succinct and precise Latin style.
For the sake of comprehensiveness, the two sections of the Examination translated by Rev. McCurley have been included below. The work here cannot repay the debt of grace this writer owes to his greatly esteemed pastor. With much affection these two mites are dedicated to him whose love and zeal for the God and Christ of Samuel Rutherford bears much fruit.
“But the Plant of Renown, the Man whose name is the Branch,
will bud forth again and blossom as the rose,
and there shall be fair white flourishes again,
with most pleasant fruits, upon that tree of life.
A fair season may He have! Grace, grace be upon that blessed and beautiful tree!
under whose shadow we shall sit and His fruit shall be sweet to our taste.”
Letter 50, Letters
Table of Contents
Brief Table of Contents
1 - Of the Sacred Scriptures and the Content [Materia] of Them
2 - Of God
3 - Of Election, Rom. 9:11
4 - Of Reprobation
5 - Of the State of the First Man, Eph. 4:24
6 - Of Original Sin, Rom. 5:12
7 - Of the State of Fallen Man, Rom. 8:7
8 - Of the State of Grace, 1 Tim. 2:3-4
9 - Of Universal Redemption, Jn. 10:11
10 - Of the Covenant of Grace, Heb. 8:8
11 - Of the Mode of Conversion, Eph. 1:19-19
12 - Of the Justification of the Sinner, Rom. 3:28
13 - Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Jn. 10:28
14 - Of the Certainty of Salvation, Rom. 8:35
15 - Of the Church and its Marks, Mt. 18:17
16 – Of Ministers of the Word, * Rom. 10:15
17 – Of Synods, Acts 15:6
18 – Of the Sacraments and Ecclesiastical Discipline
19 – Of the Magistrate, Rom. 13:4
20 – Of the Soul and the Resurrection of the Body, Acts 7:59