Conversations with a Dying Man
Printed by Reformation Press -
This short well produced book, is a reprint of ‘The last and heavenly speeches, and glorious departure, of John Gordon, Viscount Kenmure’. It was first published anonymously in 1649, but as the foreword explains there are strong evidences that the author was Samuel Rutherford.
Rutherford is well known for his Letters, The Trial and Triumph of Faith, The Loveliness
of Christ and to a lesser degree, Lex Rex. He was born in 1600 and it seems he was
converted in his mid-
Gordon was a strong supporter of the Stuart Monarchy and in 1633, he was made Viscount of Kenmure and Lord of Lochinvar. Gordon’s mother was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Gowrie, who had been involved in the Ruthven Raid, as a result Gowrie been beheaded and his lands forfeit. Gordon was ambitious to become the new Earl of Gowrie and failed to oppose Charles in his desire to subvert the Church of Scotland from Presbyterianism. However, he also had George Gillespie as his domestic chaplain. It was at this point, in Anwoth that the events in this book occur as Rutherford visited Kenmure Castle, and found John Gordon in poor health. He would die two weeks later on 12th September 1634.
Gordon’s wife, Lady Kenmure, was a daughter of the 7th Earl of Argyll and her brother Archibald (1st Marquis of Argyll) was beheaded in 1661 (at the Stuart restoration) for his adherence to Presbyterian Principles and the Solemn League and Covenant. She would remarry after the death of John Gordon, but sadly this second husband also died. While, she didn’t enjoy good health, she outlived Rutherford and was still alive in 1672.
In 1636, Rutherford was exiled from Anwoth to Aberdeen, and wrote many of his letters, some to Lady Kenmure. After the 1638 Covenanter’s Revolution, Rutherford returned to Anwoth, yet the Glasgow Assembly would then move him to become Professor of Divinity at St Andrews. By 1643, Rutherford was one of the Scottish Commissioners at the Westminster Assembly. By 1647, he had returned to St Andrews, where by 1651 he was made Rector of the University. At the restoration of the Stuart Monarchy in 1661, Rutherford was deprived of his office and summoned to Parliament on the charge of treason. He was terminally ill and died before he could be tried.
The book begins in August 1634, when John Gordon speaks with Rutherford about his fear of approaching death. The chapter details the conversations between Gordon, Rutherford and Lady Kenmure as they point his to Jesus. The second chapter is much shorter and outlines a second conversation between Rutherford and Gordon, as Rutherford urges the necessity of humiliation over sin and Gordon with tears wishes God to make it so. The third chapter, has a further conversation about the anguish rising from impenitence, where the dying Gordon says, with his eyes towards heaven, ‘Lord, how can I run? Lord draw me, and I shall run’. The fourth conversation, in the fourth chapter, has Gordon asking Rutherford to go and pray for him about his desire to seek Christ and make a covenant with him. The fifth chapter, outlines their next conversation where John Gordon had clearly had hope of a physical recovery and had shown a reduced care over the state of his soul. However, during this conversation he is brought once more to seek the kindness of Christ. In Chapter 6, Gordon seeks to be at peace with his fellow men and encourage them to follow after holiness. In the seventh chapter, we see Gordon and Rutherford speaking about death, judgement and the safety of the love of Christ. In the eighth chapter, Gordon calls for Lady Kenmure and near kinsman and pushes them to be regular hearers of the Word, to read the Scriptures and then speaks forthrightly to a range of others about their needs and the danger of temptations. He speaks to George Gillespie and seeks his forgiveness for his lack of diligence and of the pain of his ingratitude towards his loving Saviour.
The last, and ninth chapter, outlines his final conversation with Rutherford, when he is aware he is dying and says, ‘this night must I sup with Jesus Christ in paradise’ and it outlines their conversation as he dies in peace.
In the midst of this global pandemic, we are surrounded by a world that is in fear of catching a disease and the closeness of death. Yet, death has always been close to each of us and Christ gives us hope and confidence in the face of it. I remember a conversation with the late Rev. Angus Smith when he reflected his sadness at the way that modern medicine often meant that the godly slipped into eternity in a haze of drugs. He spoke to me of a time, when the godly would often go into eternity in a blaze of glory and how this would be faith strengthening and affirming. This book shows something of what that good minister was trying to convey and it is something is worthy of the attention of all of us.