The following story about a famous meeting between James Usher (1581-1656) and Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600-1661) comes from Dr. William M. Taylor’s book of lectures entitled The Scottish Pulpit from the Reformation to the Present Day, published in 1887 by Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square in New York City. It can be found in an extended note on pages 109 and 110. The book is available for free download on archive.com here. The excerpt below is unaltered, except for paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.
The best version which I have seen of this traditional story, differing in one or two details from that given by Dean Stanley, but agreeing in every particular with that which I heard often from my father’s lips in the home of my boyhood, is that given by Andrew Thomson, D.D., in his delightful little volume on Rutherford, which is one of the series “Men Worth Remembering.” It is to the following effect:
The devout and learned Archbishop Usher was on his way from England to his diocese of Armagh, and passing near Anwoth on a Saturday afternoon, anxious to listen to the preaching of one of whose piety and eloquence he had heard much, he assumed the disguise of a wayfaring man, or mendicant, and turning aside to Anwoth Manse, asked lodging for the night.
According to the custom and law of the good pastor’s house, not to be ‘forgetful to entertain strangers,’ he was readily received. It was the practice of Mrs. Rutherford, while her husband was engaged in finishing his preparations for the coming Lord’s Day, to gather together her servants and the ‘strangers within her gate,’ for the purpose of catechizing them on some religious subject; and on this occasion the stranger in lowly garb readily joined the little circle of catechumens.
Probably for the purpose of testing the knowledge of the wayfarer, Mrs. Rutherford asked him how many commandments there were? To which he answered, ‘Eleven.’ Regarding this as evidence of unusual ignorance, she expressed to her husband, at a later period in the evening, her fears that the stranger was very ill-instructed in religion, and mentioned as evidence of the fact that he did not even know the number of the commandments.
Rising early on the Sabbath morning, and retiring for prolonged devotion to his sanctuary not far off among the trees, Rutherford was astonished to find that there was one there already engaged in solitary worship. It was the stranger who had been welcomed the night before to his hospitality. Listening, he was struck with the evidence which his words afforded of the religious knowledge and the depth of devotion of the suppliant; and as soon as the prayer was ended he accosted him, and told him that he was certain that he was not the mendicant that he appeared to be.
Disguise was no longer necessary or possible, and Usher, not unwillingly, revealed himself. the scene ended in Rutherford’s urging him to preach for him, to which Usher assented, not averse to conform for the day to the simpler forms of Presbyterian worship.
He read out as his text those words of the Master: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.’ This explained all. ‘There,’ whispered Rutherford to his wife, ‘is the eleventh commandment.’
Editor’s Note: for additional versions of this same story, visit the Virginia Huguenot blog here: http://virginiahuguenot.blogspot.com/2009/11/eleventh-commandment_12.html