I tend to think this is an unfair charge in light of the fact that the Puritans simply tended to be very aware of their own sin and of the necessity of overcoming it in order to enjoy God fully. It is not that they based their standing with God on their personal progress in the war against sin. It is, rather, that they so deeply longed for joy in God that they wanted desperately to cast aside anything that hindered that pursuit.
That being said, for those who remain convinced that there is an excessive emphasis on sin and God’s wrath in Puritan literature, John Owen’s Communion with the Triune God is an excellent rebuttal. I’ve been reading it on our vacation, and my heart was overwhelmed by the chapter I read today, wherein Owen goes to lengths to convince the believer of God’s deep love for him, and the urgent necessity of experiencing God’s love in all the ways God means for us to experience it, over against a tendency many have to think only of God’s displeasure in them because of their sin.
I think it was so compelling for me because I do tend to carry a deep sense of guilt with me because I am not as holy and pure as I would like to be, and as I think God deserves from his sons. Consequentially, as I read Owen I spent the morning pondering God’s unspeakable love for me and felt engulfed by it.
“This is the great discovery of the gospel: for whereas the Father, as the fountain of the Deity, is not known any other way but as full of wrath, anger, and indignation against sin…here [in the gospel] he is now revealed particularly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the peculiar work of the gospel” (107).
“This is the will of God, that he may always be [seen] as benign, kind, tender, loving, and unchangeable [in these things]; and that peculiarly as the Father, as the great fountain and spring of all gracious communications and fruits of love. This is that which Christ came to reveal—God as Father; that name which he declares to those who are given him out of the world. And this is that which he effectually leads us to by himself, as he is the only way of going to God as Father—that is, as love—and by doing so, gives us the rest which he promises, for the love of the Father is the only rest of the soul” (112).
“How few of the saints are [experientially] acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love!” (123).
“Let, then, this be the saints’ first notion of the Father—as one full of eternal, free love toward them: let their hearts and thoughts be filled with breaking through all discouragements that lie in their way” (124).
“[God’s love is] eternal. It was fixed on us before the foundation of the world. Before we were, or had done the least good, then were his thoughts upon us. Then was his delight in us. Then did the Son rejoice in the thoughts of fulfilling his Father’s delight in him. …It was from eternity that he laid in his own [heart] a design for our happiness. The very thought of this is enough to make all that is within us…leap for joy. A sense of it cannot but prostrate our souls to the lowest abasement of a humble, holy reverence, and make us rejoice before him with trembling” (124-5).