THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT
The eminent Archbishop Ussher being once on a ‘visit to Scotland, heard a great deal of the famous Mr Samuel Rutherford, who, he understood, spent whole nights in prayer especially before the Sabbath. The archbishop wished much to witness such extraordinary down-pouring of the Spirit, but was utterly at a loss how to accomplish his design. At length it came into his mind to dress himself up like a pauper; and, on a Saturday evening, when it was turning dark, he called at Mr Rutherford’s house and asked if he could get quarters for the night, since he could go to no other house at so late an hour for that purpose. Mr Rutherford consented to give the poor man a bed for the night, and desired him to sit down in the kitchen, which he did cheerfully. Mrs Rutherford, according to custom on Saturday evenings, that her servants might be prepared for the Sabbath, called them together and examined them. In the course of examination that evening, she asked the stranger how many commandments there were; to which he answered, ‘Eleven’. Upon receiving this reply, she answered, ‘What a shame it is for you, a man with grey hairs, living in a Christian country, not to know how many commandments there are! There is not a child of six years old in this parish but could answer that question properly.’ She troubled the poor man no more, thinking him so very ignorant, but lamented his condition to her servants; and after giving him some supper, desired a servant to show him upstairs to bed in a garret.
This was the very situation in which the visitor wished to be placed, that he might hear Mr Rutherford at his devotions. However, he was disappointed, for that night the good man went to his bed, but did not sleep for some hours. Ussher did not go to bed, but sat listening, hoping to hear Rutherford at prayer. At length, concluding that all the family were asleep, Ussher thought that if he had been disappointed of hearing another offer up his desires to God at the throne of grace, he would embrace the opportunity himself. So he poured out his heart to God with so much liberty and
enlargement, that Rutherford, immediately below, heard him; and, getting up, put on his clothes. Should this have awakened Mrs Rutherford, she could have suspected nothing of his design, seeing he rose commonly every day at three o’clock in the morning; and if she could have heard one at prayer afterwards, she would naturally conclude it was her husband.
Rutherford went upstairs and stood at the garret door till the visitor had concluded, upon which he knocked gently at the door, and the other opened it with surprise, not thinking that any were witness to his devotions. Rutherford took the visitor by the hand saying, “Sir, I am persuaded you can be none other than Archbishop Ussher, and you must certainly preach for me today”, being now the Sabbath morning. The visitor confessed who he was, and, after telling Rutherford what had induced him to take such a step, said he would preach for him on condition that he would not disclose who he was. Happy union of souls, though of different persuasions! Yet not marvellous, for God makes but two distinctions among mankind, the righteous and the wicked.
Rutherford furnished the archbishop with a suit of his own clothes, and, early in the morning, he went out into the fields. Rutherford followed him, and brought him in as a strange minister passing by, who had promised to preach for him. Mrs Rutherford had found that the poor man had gone away before they were up. After domestic worship and breakfast, the family went to the kirk, and the archbishop had for his text John 13. 34: “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another”, as a suitable subject for the occasion. In his sermon he observed that this might be reckoned the eleventh commandment; upon which Mrs Rutherford said to herself, “This is the answer the poor man gave me last night”, and, looking up at the pulpit, said to herself, “Is it possible that this is him?” After public worship the strange minister and Samuel Rutherford spent the evening in mutual communion together; and early on Monday morning the former went away in the dress he came in, and was not identified.