Those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere are used to the winter months: December, January and February. For many, this means cold temperatures, snow, and inclement weather that can make life challenging.
Yet even if we do not experience the brutal winters that some do, we can resonate with “winter” as a metaphor. It stands for what can be the coldness of life, its bleakness, the rough times we face when resources feel scarce, difficulties abound, and even for those periods when we may experience the absence of the presence of God. “Winter” is not a favorite season.
But there is a word to help us through our “winters,” even our “winter of discontent.” It comes from the seventeenth-century Scottish theologian, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661). Rutherford was a commissioner to the Westminster Assembly but at the Restoration of King Charles II, his major book, Lex Rex was burned by the hand of the common hangman and he was deprived of his offices as Professor of Divinity at St. Mary’s College of St. Andrews University. It was voted that he not to be able to die within the college. Rutherford knew something about “winter.”
But a couple comments by Samuel Rutherford help us as we experience “winter” in our lives.
In a letter to the Lady Culross on December 30, 1636, Rutherford wrote: “I see grace growth best in winter.” Similarly, in a sermon, Rutherford proclaimed: “Faith is a grace for winter, to give God leisure to bring summer in his own season.”
“Grace grows best in winter.” “Winter” is the time of our greatest need. So “winter” is when God’s grace meets us most where we are; and gives us most, what we need. We need God’s free grace to help us, lift us, to sustain us. It is the only thing on which we can depend. It is exactly what we need. Our trust is in the grace of God to see us through. We are reminded of Paul’s words recounting God’s word after he sought relief about the “thorn…in the flesh” that was given him. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). When we are at our weakest, God’s grace is the strongest. This is the sufficiency we need. As Paul learned , “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Winter is the time of our weakness. So this is the time when “grace grows best.” Grace grows best because our need is the strongest. Our need is the strongest and we are at our weakest. But God’s grace brings us through. God’s grace grows in the winter of our lives and is the focus of our trust. Though it may be imperceptible to us—how is God’s grace “growing?”—we can believe God’s grace is growing and our lives are secure in this trust.
In his sermon, Rutherford said, “faith is a grace for winter, to give God leisure to bring summer in his own season.” Here the Scots theologian introduces the dimensions of faith and providence. Faith is the element that is God’s grace to us, to see us through the long, bleak winter. By faith, we experience God’s grace as God is at work. The work of God may seem long and immensely slow. Rutherford’s point, in his comment on faith, is that “to wait in patience for God all the day long, is an argument of great faith.” He cites Isaiah 28:16: “He that believeth shall not make haste” (KJV). For, “continued waiting on God, [is seen] to be of kin to believing; and the longer the thread of hope be, though it were seventy years long, (as Hab., ii, 1, 2,) or though it were as long as a cable going between the earth and the heaven, "up within the veil," (Heb., vi, 19,) the stronger the faith must be.” The people of Israel, Rutherford points out, had the seventy years of exile, forty years in the wilderness, and four-hundred years in Egypt (Acts 7:6). It seemed like God was in no hurry to deliver the people, God was not “making haste.” The people were in a pose of “continued waiting on God.” But they kept believing. “Faith is a grace for winter.” The “winters” for the Israelites were long—very long. Ours may seem long as well. But we need to keep the faith, to “wait in patience for God all the day long”—all the many days (and years), long.
"Faith is a grace for winter, to give God leisure to bring summer in his own season.” After winter, comes the summer. No matter how long the winter may be. This, we believe. God’s providence is at work: in our faith, in our waiting, in our many prayers for God to deliver us through the bleakness and cold winter. God’s purposes are at work—unknown to us. But God’s purposes are to “bring summer,” at the time God chooses. We are not exempt from our sufferings and difficulties. But our faith is sustained through them all. Our faith is in God’s providential purposes—God’s grace for us. God’s purposes will come, and are in the process of coming, even as we wait in faith. This is how God works in the world; and with God’s people. God gives us the grace and the faith to believe, to trust, and to wait with patience. “Grace growth best in winter.”
 Samuel Rutherford, Joshua Redivivus, or Three-hundred and fifty-two religious letters, 11th ed. (Glasgow: William Bell, 1796), Letter #167, p. 255.
 Samuel Rutherford, The Trials and Triumph of Faith (Edinburgh: Printed for the Assembly’s Committee, 1845), Sermon XXIII, p. 323.
 Rutherford, Sermon XXIII, 322-323.