“Build Not Your Nest Here”
Christian, the compass of suffering points true north to God’s eternal dwelling place. Therefore, “build not your nest here,” but seek and “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).19 Your Lord will graciously sustain and bear you through your pain and suffering in this life, and in his timing, usher you into his presence, where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4).
The English Puritans and their Scottish counterparts, the Covenanters, experienced intense suffering. Along with their contemporaries, they faced the normal hardships of the seventeenth-century world: plagues, illnesses, and the deaths of infants, children, and women in childbirth. In addition to these, however, many of the Puritans endured deep and persistent persecution.
The Stuart monarchs (1603–1685) — James I, Charles I, and Charles II — viewed the Puritans as threats to and seditious rebels of the English Commonwealth due to their refusal to conform to the Church of England and their attempts to bring “further reformation” to the Church. As a result, the magistrates fined, dismembered, and incarcerated Puritans for not adhering to the Book of Common Prayer and the various ceremonies of the Church of England. In spite of the cruel, abusive mistreatment that they received at the hand of their tormentors, these Puritans demonstrated courageous resolve and Christian perseverance as they remained steadfast in their devotion to their Lord Jesus Christ.
Though our own hardships may not be the same, we can learn and apply three valuable lessons about suffering from the Puritans’ thoroughly biblical reflections on the trials they endured. Applying these lessons to our own circumstances helps us to recognize them as purifying fires meant to prove the genuineness of our faith and increase our affection for Christ.
A More Precious Christ
The Puritans teach us, first, that suffering can be a catalyst to understanding and experiencing the inestimable value of Christ, which in turn leads to an active, perpetual treasuring of Christ above all else. In the midst of his suffering, the Covenanter Samuel Rutherford was able to see and embrace Christ as his “Pearl.” Christ was so precious to him that he refused to “exchange the joy of my bonds and imprisonment for Christ with all the joy of this dirty and foul-skinned world.”1
For the Puritans, suffering was a purifying agent to “aggravate sinne” so that “sinne bee the sowrest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.”2 Richard Sibbes asserts that suffering yields a “bruising” that enables a Christian to “prize Christ above all.”3 When all is prosperous, it is more difficult to see the treasure that Christ is, but when trials come, “nothing comforts [the soul] like the riches of Christ. . . . Nothing makes a Christian sing care away, like the riches of Christ.”4 Even as suffering batters the body or the mind of Christ’s disciple, the soul can become more enamored with the beauty of Christ.
Second, the Puritans reinforce the truth that God is the divine Author over suffering. Nothing in this life, including suffering, eludes the sovereign will of God. Therefore, Christians are to “question not but there is a favourable design in [suffering] towards you.”5 God uses suffering for his divine purposes, which include the good and growth of his children, thus displaying at one and the same time his sovereignty and covenant love. In the Lord’s sovereign hands, suffering becomes a divine, gracious means of sanctification, by which “God is but killing your lusts.”6
God’s love permeates the suffering of his elect. Every trial that his elect encounter discloses the warmth, sweetness, and affection of the Father. He does not intend to hurt or destroy.