Samuel Rutherford on Gospel Faith.
By Dr. Richard Bacon
Copyright 2000 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

The following quotations are taken from: Samuel Rutherfurd (or Rutherford) The Covenant of Life Opened: or a Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, etc. (Edinburgh: Andro Anderson, 1655) 9-13.

[From the introduction to v.9 #10-12: This current issue deals with the question, somewhat controversial in our day, of how and why we preach the gospel to "every creature under heaven." Does God have a longing for the reprobate to repent? Does God have a saving, but conditional, love for all persons without exception? Is the Covenant of Grace conditional and for all who will, of their own volition, participate in it, or is it unconditional and for the elect alone?]

In his The Covenant of Life Opened, Samuel Rutherfurd (or Rutherford as it is sometimes spelled) was dealing specifically with the question of whether the unbelieving elect were under a law-curse. By unbelieving elect, he referred to those whom God ordained to believe, but at a time subsequent in their lives.

As he dealt with the objections of different groups, one objection was from the group who asserted that faith is accepted by God as a condition for the satisfaction of Christ’s death. Rutherfurd opined: [1]

“This comes too near the opinion of these who make faith a cause of satisfaction for sin, as they must teach, who hold that Christ payed a ransome, on the crosse, for the sins of all and every one. For that which added, maketh satisfaction to be counted and formally reckoned as satisfaction, in order to the expiation of the man’s sins, so that by no justice he can suffer for them, and which being removed, maketh the payed satisfaction and ransome, though never taken back again by the payer, no more a satisfaction for that man, nor for Devils; Is too near to the nature and to being a part of the satisfaction. If one pay a summe that fully exhausts the debt of such a broken man, upon condition the broken man say Amen to the paying thereof, otherwise it shall not be payed, he must take up the summe again, if the broken man refuse to say Amen to it, for if he take it not up again, but it be payed and fully satisfie for, and exhaust the debt, the man’s debt is payed, and the Creditor in justice cannot exact one farthing from the broken man.

“Now nothing given to the Justice of God by way of satisfaction for the sins of unbeleevers, was ever repeated or taken back again by Christ. Nay but, say they, the ransome was not payed at all for Judas, but only upon condition that he beleeve: but he never beleeved, and therefore it was never payed for Judas. Answ. This is that we say, that Christ gave no reall ransome at all, for the sins of Judas by way of satisfaction. But they say that there is as well a ransome payed for all the sins of Judas (finall unbeleef excepted) to free him, in justice from eternall stroaks, as for all the sins of Peter to free him, only it is not accepted of by the Creditor, because Judas, by faith, assented not unto the bargain: But assenting or not assenting, accepting or not accepting, that are posterior to the payment, are nothing up or down to the compleatnesse and perfection of the satisfaction made for the exhausting of Justice, for Justice receives not two satisfactions or ransomes for Judas, one upon the Crosse from Christ, another in Hell, from Judas, yea and it must follow, that reall payment was made to Justice for all the sins of Judas, upon the Crosse, and that he suffers for none of them, in Hell, but only for finall unbeleef, which is no sin against the Covenant of Works and the Justice thereof, but only and formally against the Covenant of Grace, so that as yet satisfying of Divine Justice for sins, must be halfed and parted between Christ and Judas, which the Scripture teaches not.

“Also the Father either accepts the ransome of Christ, because it is intrinsecally, and of it self sufficiently satisfactory: or because Judas does beleeve it is so; The latter cannot be said, for beleeving adds nothing to the intrinsecall sufficiency of the satisfaction, as not believing diminishes nothing from the sufficiency thereof; Yea and so the Father’s formall reason of accepting the satisfaction of Christ, must be terminated upon our poor act of believing, whereas the formal ground of the acceptation thereof is the intrinsicall excellency and worth of the sacrifice, being an offering of a sweet smelling savour to God, (Eph. 5.2). And because he offered the ransome of the blood of God-man, of the Prince of life, Act. 20:28. 1 Cor. 2.8. and offered himself to God, Eph. 5:25,26, Heb. 9.14, Mat. 20.28. 1 Tim. 2.6. Rev. 1.5, nor is there any sufficiency in his death from the worth of beleeving. And the reason why he accepts it for Peter, not for another, is the election of grace.

“...Nor is it imaginable to say that any act of obedience or beleeving, can perfect the satisfaction of Christ, and make it sufficient, yea, or causatively make it ours. For God, by no necessity of Justice, but of his own free pleasure, requireth faith as a condition of our actuall reconciliation; for beside, that he might have required any other act of obedience, as love, he might have accepted the Ransome without inquiring any act of obedience, on our part, as the Lord bestowed a calme Sea and deliverance from shipwrack, upon the Idolatrous Sea-men, upon the very act of casting Jonah in the Sea, without the intervention of any saving faith on their part; As a gracious Prince may send a parrdon to free a condemned Malefactor from death, and may command that it be valid in law for him, without the man’s knowledge, and far more without his acceptance thereof, on his knees, especially since by a special paction between the Father and the Son, he restored abundantly more Glory to God by suffering for all, for whom he died, then they took from God by their sins, and that restitution was made to Justice without the interveening of any act of the creature’s obedience.

“...For how is it reall, and not rather scenicall and formall, which may and should be null and in vain, if the creature make it not reall, by beleeving. And especially, if God out of his grace which is absolutely free, work in us the condition of beleeving. Can God give his Son as a Ransome for us, upon condition that we beleeve, if he himself absolutely work the condition in us? They will not admit this.”

Interestingly, Rutherfurd went on in the next chapter to claim that heathen had no more universal (common) grace than the devils themselves. Rutherfurd, making the Westminster distinction between covenant of works and grace, maintained that the reprobate who have the gospel preached to them have it preached as living under a covenant of works, which they are required by God to fulfil, but haven’t the strength to do.

He went on, “The heathen cannot be said to have any inward calling to Grace and Glory, because there be some remnants of the Image of God left in them, which no more can be called universall Grace, then the same sparkles that are left in Devils can be called Gospel Grace because they believe, There is one God and confesse the Son of God, Jam. 2.19. Luk. 4.34. Mark 1.34. Reason may seeme to say that all should have a share of Gospel-Grace, but it may be replyed to reason, why should it seeme to be a part of the goodnesse and bounty of God to will and desire all and every one to be saved, and not to institute such a dispensation as all and every one should actually be saved?”

See, how Rutherfurd here places the charge of “rationalism” against the opposing party. It is not those who believe free grace who are rationalists, as is often charged, but those who attempt to claim that God really desires the salvation of those for whom he made no provision. W

[1] All quotations from Rutherfurd followed his spelling and punctuation (even when seemingly inconsistent — he lived before Noah Webster got all that straightened out).