We tend to consider writings to be deeply spiritual if they’re written in stilted syntax with archaic vocabulary. This is superstition.

What is deep about Puritans isn’t their stilted syntax and archaic vocabulary, but the fierceness of their seizure of God. They remind us of Jesus’ words in connection with John the Baptist, “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).

If the violence of Puritan spirituality and devotion is characteristic of the Puritans, its absence is characteristic of our generation, including the timidity of our pastoral care.

By way of contrast, consider the letter below from Puritan pastor, Samuel Rutherford, to a sister in Christ who had recently lost one of her children, was in the bondage of spiritual depression, and suffering illness. Rutherford’s words are helpful, both for the Viscountess but also us in our ministry to those who go beyond the godly work of grieving, falling prey to bitterness, victimhood, and stewing in their misery.

While I was a child, my parents lost three children to death: one to leukemia, one to cystic fibrosis, and one to hemophilia. Rutherford’s letter reminds me much of my father’s preachings and writings on death. No sentimental parading of one’s pain, but manly declarations of faith.

It was terribly difficult for him and mother. We all knew it, but we heard both of them testify they were never as certain of God’s love for them as when they walked away from the fresh grave of one of their children.

They also reminded parents our children are on loan from God, and He has every right to call in His loan any time He wants.

If you haven’t read Dad’s (I think) finest book, View from a Hearse, get a copy.

Here then is Samuel Rutherford’s pastoral care for Lady Jane Campbeli:

The historical background to the letter

LADY JANE CAMPBELI, Viscountess of Kenmure, was the third daughter of Archibald Campbell, seventh Earl of Argyle, and sister to the Marquis of Argyle who was beheaded in 1661.

She was a woman distinguished in her day for the depth of her piety, and her warm attachment to the Presbyterian interest in Scotland. Nor was she less distinguished for generosity and munificence, than for piety. Her bounty was in a particular manner extended to those whom suffering for conscience sake had reduced to poverty or exile.

In the year 1628 she was married to Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar, afterwards Viscount Kenmure and Lord Gordon of Lochinvar, which is not far from Carsphairn. This union did not last many years. In 1634 she became a widow, his Lordship having died at Kenmure Castle, on the 12th of September that year, in the 35th year of his age. But her sorrow on this occasion was alleviated by the Christian resignation and faith which he was enabled to exercise under his last illness. To this noble man she had two daughters, who died in infancy, one about the beginning of the year 1629, and the other in 1634, as may be gathered from allusions to these bereavements, contained in two consolatory letters written to her by Rutherford in these years. She had also, by the same marriage, a son, John, second Viscount of Kenmure, who, however, died under age and unmarried, in August 1649.

This event forms the subject of a letter written to her by Rutherford the 1st of October that year. She married a second husband, on the 21st of September 1640, the Hon. Sir Henry Montgomery of Giffen, second son of Alexander, fifth Earl of Eglinton; but this marriage was without issue. Sir Henry’s religious views were congenial to her own; and he is described as an “active and faithful friend of the Lord’s kirk.”

She was soon left a widow a second time, in which state she lived till a very venerable age, having survived the Restoration a number of years, as appears from the fact that Livingstone, at the time of his death (which took place at Rotterdam in 1672), speaks of her as the oldest acquaintance he then had alive in Scotland.

She was a regular correspondent of Rutherford, the last of whose letters to her is dated July the 24th, 1661, after the execution of her brother above mentioned. Nor after Mr. Rutherford’s death was she unmindful of his widow. “Madam,” says Mr. M’Ward, in a letter to her, “Mrs. Rutherford gives me often an account of the singular testimony which she met with of your Ladyship’s affection to her and her daughter.”

The Letter:

To a Christian Gentlewoman on the death of her daughter

MISTRESS,—My love in Christ remembered to you. I was indeed sorrowful at my departure from you, especially since ye were in such heaviness after your daughter’s death. Yet I do persuade myself, ye know that the weightiest end of the cross of Christ that is laid upon you lieth upon your strong Saviour; for Isaiah saith, “In all your afflictions He is afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). O blessed Second who suffereth with you! and glad may your soul be even to walk in the fiery furnace with one like unto the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God. Courage! up your heart! When ye do tire, He will bear both you and your burden (Ps. 55:22).

Yet a little while and ye shall see the salvation of God. Remember of what age your daughter was, and that just so long was your lease of her. If she was eighteen, nineteen, or twenty years old, I know not; but sure I am, seeing her term was come, and your lease run out, ye can no more justly quarrel your great Superior for taking His own at His just term day, than a poor farmer can complain that his master taketh a portion of his own land to himself when his lease is expired.

Good mistress, if ye would not be content that Christ would hold from you the heavenly inheritance which is made yours by His death, shall not that same Christ think hardly of you if ye refuse to give Him your daughter willingly, who is a part of His inheritance and conquest? I pray the Lord to give you all your own, and to grace you with patience to give God His also. He is an ill debtor who payeth that which he hath borrowed with a grudge.
Indeed, that long loan of such a good daughter, an heir of grace, a member of Christ (as I believe), deserveth more thanks at your Creditor’s hands, than that ye should gloom and murmur when He craveth but His own.

I believe you would judge them to be but thankless neighbours who would pay you a sum of money after this manner. But what? Do you think her lost, when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend’s house. Is she lost to you who is found to Christ? If she were with a dear friend, although you should never see her again, your care for her would be but small. Oh, now, is she not with a dear Friend? and gone higher, upon a certain hope that ye shall, in the Resurrection, see her again, when (be ye sure) she shall neither be hectic nor consumed in body? You would be sorry either to be, or to be esteemed, an atheist; and yet, not I, but the Apostle, thinketh those to be hopeless atheists who mourn excessively for the dead (Thess. 4:13).

But this is not a challenge on my part. I do speak this only fearing your weakness; for your daughter was a part of yourself; and, therefore, nature in you, being as it were cut and halved, will indeed be grieved. But ye have to rejoice, that when a part of you is on earth, a great part of you is glorified in heaven. Follow her, but envy her not; for indeed it is self-love in us that maketh us mourn for them that die in the Lord. Why? Because for them we cannot mourn, since they are never happy till they be dead; therefore we mourn for our own private respect.

Take heed, then, that in showing your affection in mourning for your daughter, ye be not, out of self- affection, mourning for yourself. Consider what the Lord is doing in it. Your daughter is plucked out of the fire, and she resteth from her labours; and your Lord, in that, is trying you, and casting you in the fire. Go through all fires to your rest; and now remember that the eye of God is upon the bush burning and not consumed; and He is gladly content that such a weak woman as you should send Satan away, frustrate of his design. Now honour God, and shame the strong roaring lion, when ye seem weakest. Should such an one as ye faint in the day of adversity? Call to mind the days of old. The Lord yet liveth. Trust in Him, although He should slay you. Faith is exceeding charitable, and believeth no evil of God.

Now is the Lord laying, in the one scale of the balance, your making conscience of submission to His gracious will, and in the other, your affection and love to your daughter. Which of the two will ye then choose to satisfy? Be wise, then; and as I trust ye love Christ better than a sinful woman, pass by your daughter, and kiss the Lord’s rod.

Men do lop the branches off their trees round about, to the end they may grow up high and tall. The Lord hath this way lopped your branch in taking from you many children, to the end you should grow upward, like one of the Lord’s cedars, setting your heart above, where Christ is, at the right hand of the Father. What is next, but that your Lord cut down the stock after He hath cut the branches?

Prepare yourself; you are nearer your daughter this day than you were yesterday. While ye prodigally spend time in mourning for her, ye are speedily posting after her. Run your race with patience. Let God have His own; and ask of Him, instead of your daughter which He hath taken from you, the daughter of faith, which is patience; and in patience possess your soul. Lift up your head: ye do not know how near your redemption doth draw, Thus recommending you to the Lord, who is able to establish you, I rest, your loving and affectionate friend in the Lord Jesus,

S. R.
ANWOTH, April 23, 1628.

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