The Undercover Archbishop

Posted on 07th July 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History


Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)

There is a nice story told of Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656) who led the Church in Ireland. Having heard good things of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), and being in Scotland near Rutherford’s parish, the Archbishop decided to visit him. He wanted to get a real impression of the man, though, so he dressed himself as a vagrant and knocked on the door of Rutherford’s house. Samuel was out, but his wife welcomed the disguised Archbishop and so he joined the family for their evening devotions.

Mrs Rutherford was teaching the household, and asked Ussher: “how many commandments are there?”. “Eleven” he replied, to which she responded: “What a shame it is for you, a man with grey hairs, in a Christian country, not to know how many commandments there are! There is not a child of six years old in the parish but could answer this question properly.”

The next day Samuel Rutherford went for his normal Sunday morning walk, and heard the sound of prayer coming from a nearby bush. On investigation - and quizzing the vagrant he found - he realised he had come face to face with the Archbishop. He urged him to preach to his congregation that day, and was delighted when Ussher agreed. There was a condition, though. Rutherford must not reveal the Archbishop’s identity. Mrs Rutherford simply thought the beggar had gone on his way.

Now dressed in Rutherford’s clothes, Ussher was introduced as the visiting preacher and took as his text John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” As he warmed to his theme he said that this might in fact be seen as the eleventh commandment. Mrs Rutherford thought: “That is the answer the poor man gave me last night. It cannot be possible that this is he!”

But 'he' it was!

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