Samuel Rutherford was born in the village of Nisbet, Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. Rutherford was educated at Jedburgh Grammar School and Edinburgh University, where he became Regent of Humanity (Professor of Latin) in 1623. In 1627 he was settled as minister of Anwoth in Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway, from where he was banished to Aberdeen for nonconformity. His patron in Galloway was John Gordon, 1st Viscount of Kenmure.
He was one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London, and after his return to Scotland he became Rector of St. Mary's College at St. Andrews in 1651. Rutherford was a staunch Protester during the controversy in the Scottish Presbyterian church between the Resolutioners and Protesters in the 1650s, and at the Restoration of Charles II his Lex Rex was burnt by the hand of the common hangman, and the "Drunken Parliament" deprived him of all his offices and voted that he not be permitted to die in the college.
Rutherford's political book Lex, Rex was written in response to John Maxwell's "Sacro-Sanctum Regus Majestas" and presented a theory of limited government and constitutionalism. After the Restoration, the authorities burned Lex, Rex and cited Rutherford for high treason, but his death intervened before the charge could be tried.
Rutherford was vehemently opposed to liberty of conscience and his A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience raised the ire of John Milton, who named Rutherford in his sonnet on the forcers of conscience in the Long Parliament. Rutherford also was a strong supporter of the divine right of Presbyterianism (the idea that the Presbyterian form of church government is mandated in the Bible). Rutherford was involved in written controversies over church government with the New England Independents (or Congregationalists). His "A Peaceable Plea for Paul's Presbytery in Scotland" (1642) was followed by his Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication" (1648) and "A Survey of 'A Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline' penned by Thomas Hooker (1655), with not only Hooker, but John Cotton and Richard Mather also writing books against Rutherford's view of church government.
Rutherford was also known for his spiritual and devotional works, such as Christ Dying and drawing Sinners to Himself, "The Trial and Triumph of Faith" and his posthumously published Letters (1664). Concerning his Letters, Charles Spurgeon wrote: "When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men".
See also 
- Andrew Bonar who edited Rutherford's Letters for publication in 1863
- George Gillespie
- Alexander Henderson
- Robert Baillie
- Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil-liberties organization named for Rutherford and inspired by a misunderstanding of "Lex, Rex", and totally opposed to Rutherford's posistions as set out in The Due Right of Presbyteries' and A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience.'
- Cook, Faith (ed), Grace in Winter: Rutherford in Verse, (1996), ISBN 0-85151-555-X
- Coffey, John, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford, (1997), ISBN 0-521-58172-9
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
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- "Rutherford, Samuel". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- A short biography and selected writings
- Lex, Rex in its entirety (HTML)
- Selected writings
- A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience by Rutherford
- Samuel Rutherford by Alexander Whyte at Project Gutenberg
- Christ Above All, a collection of works by and about Rutherford and other Second Reformation leaders
- Lex, Rex, in its entirety (free PDF download)
- Letters of Samuel Rutherford, 1891 edition, in its entirety (free PDF download)
- The Last and Heavenly Speeches, and Glorious Departure of John Viscount Kenmure (generally attributed to Rutherford), in its entirety (free PDF download)