Much of what I have read of the Puritans has been of real spiritual benefit to me (though I confess to sticking with those Puritan writers who put the cookies on the lower shelf). They often say profoundly helpful things in memorable ways. For example, Samuel Rutherford, the great Scottish preacher said, “When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for God’s choicest wines.” That’s a good one. And so, when we are in a trouble, it is a good thing to remember: look for God’s blessings in the affliction.
But sometimes we can elevate these great quotes from the Puritans to the level of “super-law” in our minds. We get hit hard with an affliction, and try as we might, we can’t find the wine. All we are doing is fumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch. And so we begin to think that we are pretty pitiful Christians if we can’t do better than this. We conclude that we are being punished for our lack of faith if we are not laying hold of the vintage wine. And this can lead to introspection and self-condemnation which are the last things needed in the midst of a hard providence.
Yes, the Bible tells us we should rejoice always, that we should count it all joy when we meet various trials. And of course, this is right and true. But rejoicing doesn’t always involve balloons and confetti and popping the champagne. Rejoicing in the Lord in the midst of suffering means thanking God for all things, even when it is hard things. Rejoicing may mean singing a song when we don’t necessarily feel like it, reciting a psalm, counting our blessings, giving thanks, remembering God’s promises, waiting for God’s deliverance, or doing our duties as we wait for healing and help.
So as we read the Puritans, and other writers like them, we ought to keep from laying heavy burdens on our consciences that God did not mean for us to bear.In other words, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find the wine bottles in the basement. Don’t assume that you are a lousy Christian if you are feeling weary, lonely, or sad. These feelings are not sinful in themselves. We are to steward these feelings by the grace of God, make the most of our afflictions, and turn a profit on them by faith. But one of the things that will hinder that process is imposing a false standard on ourselves and then grieving over our inability to attain to it.