Affliction According to the Puritans

The Puritans have much to teach us about suffering and affliction:

As is known, suffering will make us better or bitter. How we respond to hardships, trials and afflictions makes all the difference in the world. And the Christian has a way of looking at these things that differs from others. And as I have written before, some of the best writings on sufferings and how to deal with them are by the Puritans. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/06/14/why-wont-christians-talk-about-this/

They wrote often about afflictions and trials, and their biblical, theological and devotional writings on the subject are a deep fountain and a terrific treasure trove. We have much to learn from the Puritans, and their ability to trust and worship God in the midst of great sufferings can teach and encourage us all.

Several major emphases of the Puritans can be mentioned here when it comes to suffering and affliction. One of course is their belief that God is allowing and even behind what we go through, and he remains sovereign throughout. God is not absent from us in our sufferings, nor is he surprised by them. He is with us in the midst of them, as he was with Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace.

Also, the Puritans often spoke about hardships and affliction in terms of their pedagogical, or educational value. That is, God uses such things to teach us and to mould us. And this fits in with what my prayer so often is: ‘Lord, help me to learn what you want me to learn, and help me to become what you want me to become.’

Here then are a number of short quotes from a number of Puritans, arranged alphabetically by author. Sadly I here do not list the books or sermons they first appeared in. I have gathered them from two sources: either books penned by the Puritans, or collections of quotes and devotionals by the Puritans.

As to the latter, see this recent piece for 15 of the best of these works: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/06/28/inspiring-puritan-devotional-writings/

Of those, the ones I most utilised were the volumes by Horn, Rushing, Smith and Thomas. Enjoy and be blessed by these 45 or so quotes by nearly 20 great Puritans:

Thomas Boston (1676-1732)

“Affliction does not rise out of the dust or come to men by chance; but it is the Lord who sends it, and we should own and reverence His hand in it!”

“We often find that our greatest cross occurs in the place where we expected the greatest comfort.”

William Bridge (1600-1670)

“Affliction is God’s soap.”

“The least sin is worse than the greatest affliction.”

“Now all the afflictions of the saints are but their medicine, prescribed and given them by the hand of their Father.”

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680)

“Afflictions are but as a dark entry into our Father’s house; they are but as a dirty lane to a royal palace.”

“As our greatest good comes through the sufferings of Christ, so God’s greatest glory that he hath from his saints comes through their sufferings.”

“Afflictions are but our Father’s goldsmiths who are working to add pearls to our crowns.”

John Bunyan (1628–1688)

If we can but comprehend the depth of Christ’s love, we are more able to explain God’s providences and see how God is working through them.”

“In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of God’s love.”

I know that sufferings are not excellent in themselves, nor are they to be desired for any profit that they can yield, but God uses them as a teacher to make known the riches of his goodness that are seldom known by other means unto the sons of men.”

Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1646)

Name any affliction that is upon thee, there is a sea of mercy to swallow it up.”

All men are afraid of afflictions and troubled at affliction, but where’s the man or woman that fears sin and flies from it as from a serpent, and is troubled at sin more than any affliction?”

Thomas Case (1598–1682)

We discover more of God through afflictions than by many sermons. In the word we hear of God, but in afflictions we see God.”

Affliction is God’s forge wherein He softens the iron heart.”

Sufferings have obtained an ill name in the world, but God’s rod and love may stand together. God teaches his people in afflictions.”

It is a great mistake and folly of men that they make more haste to get their afflictions removed than sanctified. Learning our lesson is the shortest way to deliverance. That is God’s method.”

Stephen Charnock (1628–1680)

“We often learn more of God under the rod that strikes us, than under the staff that comforts us.”

“This God works by afflictions, whereby he makes us exercise ourselves more in repentance; weans us from the flesh, that would alienate us from God; cleave faster to Christ by faith, who is the spring of holiness; more earnestly thirst to draw of the fountain, and pursue those things that are heavenly.”

John Flavel (1628–1691)

God’s mercies over his people are exceedingly great and tender. He does not delight in afflicting and grieving them. He delays as long as the honour of his name and the safety of his people will permit.”

Affliction is a furnace to separate the dross from the pure gold.”

As Paul had many clear premonitions and fore-notices of the sufferings that should befall him at Jerusalem, that he might not be surprised by them when they came; so it is usual with God (though not in such an immediate and extraordinary manner) to admonish the world, and especially his own people, of great trials and sufferings beforehand.”

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William Gurnall (1616-1679)

God does allow His children to walk through many different trials and temptations: ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous’ (Psa. 34:19). But Scripture is a garden which grows a comforting promise for every sorrow. A wise Christian gathers one of every kind and writes them down as a doctor keeps records of tried and proven prescriptions for diseases.”

“Christian, has not God taught you, by his word and Spirit, how to read the short-hand of his providence? Do you not know that the saints’ afflictions stand for blessings?”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

What good have I gotten to my soul by my afflictions? What inward gain by outward losses? Has my heart been more humbled and weaned from the world?

Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677)

The afflictions of the saints are not judgments, but corrections or trials; they are God’s discipline to mortify sin or His means to discover grace and to prove our faith, love, patience, sincerity, and constancy.”

Poisonous ingredients in a medicine, take them singly, and they are destructive; but as they are tempered with other things by the hands of a skilful physician, they prove wholesome and useful. So all things that befall us, are tempered and ordered by God for good.”

John Owen (1616–1683)

Through afflictions God draws forth all the graces of the Holy Spirit unto a constant, diligent, and vigorous exercise, to cleanse the soul from the pollution of sin.”

Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our sufferings, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

Losses and disgraces are the wheels of Christ’s triumphant chariot.”

O, what I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus!”

When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.”

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

Afflictions make a divorce between the soul and sin.”

“What unthankfulness is it to forget our consolations, and to look only upon matters of grievance—to think so much upon two or three crosses as to forget a hundred blessings.”

The winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.”

George Swinnock (1627-1673)

God and adversity will be good company.”

God’s rod, like Jonathan’s, is dipped in honey.”

John Trapp (1601-1669)

Troubles are free schoolmasters.”

He that rides to be crowned will not think much of a rainy day.”

Ralph Venning (1621-1674)

God loves His people when He strikes them as well as when He strokes them.”

Many encouragements are given us to suffer but none to sin.”

Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686)

Jonah was sent into the whale’s belly to make his sermon for Nineveh.”

When God lays men upon their backs, then they look up to heaven.”

“God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more distinctly on us.”

“Troubles befall us for our profit. Afflictions teach us. The school of the cross is a school of light. It shows us more of our own hearts.”

[1484 words]

5 Replies to “Affliction According to the Puritans”

  1. Thanks for this article Bill. These quotes have greatly encouraged me. I lament that there is little space for lamenting in today’s churches.. I remember your great article “3 Cheers for Lament” which i have read a number of times. I feel so alone in the church sometimes. At a pentecostal church in Adelaide a few months ago I asked the pastor whilst leaving why there is not any real space for lamenting… But he pointed to someone having tears while being prayed for at the front earlier (as if that was all that lamenting was about) He either didn’t get what I meant or didn’t want to. I suspect the latter as his church is primarily focused on healings, miracles, and happy clappy smiley faces every week. He seems to think I just want to be melancholic and morbid. I admit I’m not the most happy extroverted guy but I do experience joy too. I just am a more reflective, deep thinker and don’t believe joy is the same as always appearing ‘up’. It would be good to have more space for lamenting when christians gather…a communal time of lamenting I think would be very powerful (such as saying out loud some of the parts of Psalms where lamenting is spoken). Ironically if we had more space for that I would actually feel happier there.

  2. Wow Bill, what a voluminous manifesto on suffering. Providentially I love the Puritans, Dad was a huge fan too and inculcated their ideas into my upbringing!!
    I have a predilection for Boston ( I was between both bombs on Patriots day 2013) and love: “We often find that our greatest cross occurs in the place where we expected the greatest comfort.” I feel I will be drawing on the strength of this work regularly in the future and will be recommending it to all and sundry. Thank you so much. May God bless you and keep you in the palm of his hand. ??

  3. I am afflicted but it is God’s will so I am fine with it. I seem to have some afflictions in common with my nation drifting to the left, sometimes violently, the inability to stand light (for me it overwhelms my eyes and causes migraines), preferring darkness (for me this tamps down the pain and can get me back to normal for a while), and a wound that just won’t heal.

    Long term I have had afflictions that were only properly understood in my 30’s as to why I had them. They right when they say God works in mysterious ways!

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