In July 1628, Samuel Rutherford wrote to Lady Kenmure (who outlive Rutherford, and be one of his longest standing friends. Their last correspondence being 1661, the year of his death) on the occasion of an illness. He writes to her to live with Christian resignation to God’s will. Rutherford well lays out the two strands of Christian resignation. We resign ourselves to God’s will (1) because he loves us and (2) because we love him. It is submission bound up with and flowing from love. It is submission founded upon and flowing through the cross of Christ.
First, we must submit because The Lord acts in love toward us.
The Christian must submit her will to the greater will of Christ. Note how he presents the command. One could baldy state, we must submit to God’s will, because is simply stronger than us; thus, resisting such will would be madness — like trying to resist the sun from rising. Epictetus speaks of this a matter of freedom, the world may be able to compel my body, but it cannot compel my thoughts and affections.
Rutherford stands the resignation on a different ground. Christian submission must be grounded in the greater wisdom and power of God (who can resist him?), and upon our freedom to respond (else, why would he counsel her as to how to respond?) — but (and this is the key difference), upon love: The Lord loves us and acts in wisdom, power and love toward us:
It is then best for us, in the obedience of faith, and in an holy submission, to give that to God which the law of His almighty and just power will have of us. Therefore, Madam, your Lord willeth you, in all states of life, to say, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven:” and herein shall ye have comfort, that He, who seeth perfectly through all your evils, and knoweth the frame and constitution of your nature, and what is most healthful for your soul, holdeth every cup of affliction to your head, with His own gracious hand. Never believe that your tender-hearted Saviour, who knoweth the strength of your stomach, will mix that cup with one drachm-weight of poison. Drink then with the patience of the saints, and the God of patience bless your physic.
Love lies at the very heart of what God is:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12.
The Trinity of God is boudn together in love. The redemption of human beings takes place by means of this Trinitarian love. Redemption does not release us from guilt and leave us alone, rather the love of God is worked out in and through us. We take on the stamp of God’s love. That love is not a love which merely prizes that which pleases us. Rather it is a love which prizes God and flows in action toward those who do not “deserve” that love.
If this is the end sought by God is God’s love working through our hearts and lives, then the trials God sets upon us must be to fit us for such love. Therefore, knowing that God does love us, we know that God does not mix “poison” into our trials but fits them for our stomach.
The Christian must resign herself to trial, for trials come from God who has already demonstrated love by sending the Son. Such a God would not keep from us any “good”. Therefore, the trial must be “good”:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:28-39
Second, Christian must submit, must be resigned to trials out of love for Christ.
Christian submit to trials as such lie between us and Christ — much as one submits to travel with eye to come home. Who would ever willing pay to locked in a metal box in a small unpleasant seat suspended thousdands of feet above the ground, all the while in danger of death — and paying a great sum of money for the privileged — were it not that the airplane will land in a place one desires?
Ye have now, Madam, a sickness before you; and also after that a death. Gather then now food for the journey. God give you eyes to see through sickness and death, and to see something beyond death. I doubt not but that, if hell were betwixt you and Christ, as a river which ye behoved to cross ere you could come at Him, but ye would willingly put in your foot, and make through to be at Him, upon hope that He would come in Himself, in the deepest of the river, and lend you His hand. Now, I believe your hell is dried up, and ye have only these two shallow brooks, sickness and death, to pass through; and ye have also a promise that Christ shall do more than meet you, even that He shall come Himself, and go with you foot for foot, yea and bear you in His arms. O then! O then! for the joy that is set before you; for the love of the Man (who is also “God over all, blessed for ever”), that is standing upon the shore to welcome you, run your race with patience. The Lord go with you.