on Where Grace Grows Best

I see grace grows best in winter. –Samuel Rutherford

  1. In the natural world, winter is not the best season for growth and survival. Most plants do not survive the winter. Amongst animals, some hibernate and others migrate all in an effort to avoid the ruthless cold of winter. It was not without reason the Lord admonished the Jews of His day – “And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter”. [Mk 13;18] For “He casteth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before His cold”? [Psa 147:17].

    In the Spiritual realm too, winter is not the most desirable season. Many enlightened theologians have had much to say concerning the state of the soul in winter. But most of them have viewed it as an unfortunate state for the soul to be in – No spiritual verdure, no leaf nor bud nor blossom nor fruit, but all motionless, and dead, and ghastly and forbidding!

    But others like Samuel Rutherford have seen ‘spiritual winter’ as not only good but also needful for the soul’s growth in grace!

    “I see that grace growth best in winter”! Brother Rutherford did not pen these lines from the comfort of his living room or utter them from behind a church pulpit; but rather from his silent prison in Aberdeen. Rutherford had had but a short and unsettled summer at Anwoth. His wife and his two children had been taken from him there and now that which he loved more than wife or child had been taken from him too —his pulpit and pastoral work for Jesus Christ. He felt his banishment all the more keenly that he was the first of the evangelical ministers of Scotland to be so silenced.

    Alexander Whyte, commenting on Samuel Rutherford’s words above wrote –

    “Not only does true grace grow best in winter, but winter is the BEST season for planting grace. At the same time, good and necessary as all such wintry experiences are, their good results on us do not last forever. In too many cases they do not last long. It is rather a start in grace we take at such seasons than a steady and deep growth in it. The growth in grace that comes to us in connection with some sore affliction is apt to be violent and spasmodic; it comes and it goes with the affliction; it is not slow, constant, steady, sure, as all true and natural growth is. If one might say so, an unbroken winter in the soul, a continual inward winter, is needed to keep up a steady, deep and fruitful growth in grace.

    Now, is there anything in the spiritual husbandry of God that can be called such a winter of the soul? I think there is. The winter of our outward life—trials, crosses, sickness and death are all the wages of sin; and it is among these things that grace first strikes its roots. And what is the continual presence of sin in the soul but the true winter of the soul, amid which the grace that is planted in an outbreak of winter ever after strikes deeper root and grows? Once let a man be awakened of God to his own great sinfulness; and that not to its fruits in outward sorrow, but to its malignant roots that are twisted round and round and through and through his heart, and that man has thenceforth such a winter within him as shall secure to him a lifelong growth in the most inward grace. Once let a poor wretch awake to the unbroken winter of his own sinfulness, a sinfulness that is with him when he lies down and when he rises up, when he is abroad among men and when he is at home with himself alone: an incessant, increasing, agonizing, overwhelming sense of sin,—and how that most miserable of men will grow in grace, and how he will drink in all the means of grace! How he will hear the word of grace preached, mixing it no longer with fault-finding, as he used to do, but with repentance and faith under any and every ministry. How he will examine himself every day; or, rather, how every day will examine, accuse, expose and condemn him; and how meekly he will accept the exposures and the condemnations! That man will not need you to preach to him about the sanctifying of the Sabbath, or about waiting on this and that means of grace. He will grow with or without the means of grace, but he will be of all men the most diligent in his devotion to them. He will almost get beyond the Word and within the Sacrament, so close up will his corruptions drive him to Christ and to God. Till, having provided for that man so much grace and so much growth in grace, God will soon have to give him glory, if only to satisfy him and pacify him and lift him out of the winter of his discontent. And then, Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw herself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.’

    The Banner of Truth edition of Samuel Rutherford’s Letters has this foreword –
    ‘What a wealth of spiritual ravishment we have here! Rutherford is beyond all praise of men. Like a strong-winged eagle he soars into the highest heaven and with unblenched eye he looks into the mystery of love divine. There is, to us, something mysterious, awe-creating and superhuman about Rutherford’s letters. One page of Rutherford is worth a thousand tomes of the Downgrade frothiness.’ (Amen!)

    “When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men’. [C.H. SPURGEON, The Sword and Trowel, 189]

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