Thomas Goodwin, that perfect prince of pulpit exegetes, lays down this canon, and continually himself acts upon it, that ’the context of a scripture is half its interpretation; . . . if a man would open a place of scripture, he should do it rationally; he should go and consider the words before and the words after.’ Now, let us apply this rule to the interpretation of this text out of Rutherford, and look at the context, before and after, out of which it is taken.
Remembering his covenant with young Gillespie in the woods of Kenmure, Rutherford wrote of himself to his friend, and said:—’At my first entry on my banishment here my apprehensions worked despairingly upon my cross.’ By that he means, and Gillespie would quite well understand his meaning, that his banishment from his work threw him in upon his conscience, and that his conscience whispered to him that he had been banished from his work because of his sins. God is angry with you, his conscience said; He does not love you, He has not forgiven you. But his sanctified good sense, his deep knowledge of God’s word, and of God’s ways with His people, came to his rescue, and he went on to say to Gillespie that our apprehensions are not canonical. No, he says, our apprehensions tell lies of God and of His grace. So they do in our case also. When any trouble falls upon us, for any reason,—and there are many reasons other than His anger why God sends trouble upon us,—conscience is up immediately with her interpretation and explanation of our troubles. This is your wages now, conscience says. God has been slow to wrath, but His patience is exhausted now. As Rutherford says in another letter, our tearful eyes look asquint at Christ and He appears to be angry, when all the time He pities and loves us. Is there any man here to-night whose apprehensions are working upon his cross? Is there any man of God here who has lost hold of God in the thick darkness, and who fears that his cross has come to him because God is angry with him? Let him hear and imitate what Rutherford says when in the same distress: ‘I will lay inhibitions on my apprehensions,’ he says; ’I will not let my unbelieving thoughts slander Christ. Let them say to me “there is no hope,” yet I will die saying, It is not so; I shall yet see the salvation of God. I will die if it must be so, under water, but I will die gripping at Christ. Let me go to hell, I will go to hell believing in and loving Christ.’ Rutherford’s worst apprehensions, his best-grounded apprehensions, could not survive an assault of faith like that. Imitate him, and improve upon him, and say, that with a thousand times worse apprehensions than ever Rutherford could have, yet, like him, you will make your bed in hell, loving, and adoring, and justifying Jesus Christ. And, if you do that, hell will have none of you; all hell will cast you out, and all heaven will rise up and carry you in.