A Puritan Parable

Archbishop Ussher had long wished for the opportunity to meet with Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish Presbyterian preacher. He reckoned that the Scot would not entertain him because he was an Episcopalian Bishop. Therefore while travelling from Ireland through south west Scotland, en route to London, he called at the Manse in Anwoth disguised as a beggar. Mrs Rutherford took the stranger in. That evening when conducting family worship she was amazed that the beggar thought there were eleven commandments. Speaking to her husband, after he returned home, she expressed her sadness that the beggar was such a heathen. Rutherford smiled and went to talk to the beggar and discovered him to be the Irish Archbishop and that the Eleventh Commandment was in fact the words of our Lord:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

A beautiful story; if only it were true? Unfortunately there is no historic record in the life of either of the two great men to corroborate the alleged incident.

If the story is not true, where did it originate and what was it’s purpose? Some believe that it was a 17th Century Puritan Parable. Protestants were divided and often there was little love between the various groups. James Ussher was one example of a 17th Century Puritan who had a capacity to reach out and he was not on his own. Crawford Cribben in his work on this period makes this telling comment:

If all the Episcopalians had been like Archbishop Ussher, all the Presbyterians like Mr Stephen Marshall, and all the Independents like Jeremiah Burroughs, the breaches of the church would soon have been healed”

The fact that Samuel Rutherford was included in the “parable” indicates that he too was noted for his grace.

Don’t we all need the story of the eleventh commandment?


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