John Newton's Letters
Two letters to a friend
August 17, 1776.
My dear friend,
It is indeed natural to us to wish and to plan; and it is merciful in the Lord to disappoint our plans, and to frustrate our wishes. For we cannot be safe, much less happy—but in proportion as we are weaned from our own wills, and made simply desirous of being directed by his guidance. This truth (when we are enlightened by his Word) is sufficiently familiar to the judgment—but we seldom learn to reduce it into practice, without being trained awhile in the school of disappointment. The schemes we form, look so plausible and convenient, that when they are broken we are ready to say, 'What a pity!' We try again, and with no better success. We are grieved, and perhaps angry, and plan out another, and so on. At length, in a course of time, experience and observation begin to convince us—that we are not more able than we are worthy—to choose aright for ourselves.
Then the Lord's invitation to cast our cares upon him; and his promise to take care of us, then appear valuable. And when we are done with our own planning—his plan in our favor gradually opens, and he does more and better for us than we could either ask or think. I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine, of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied, that, had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin; or, at least, it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me. We judge of things by their present appearances—but the Lord sees them in their consequences. If we could do so likewise, we would be perfectly of his mind—but as we cannot, it is an unspeakable mercy that he will manage for us, whether we are pleased with his management or not. It is spoken of as one of his heaviest judgments, when he gives any person or people up to the way of their own hearts, and to walk after their own counsels.
We may indeed admire his patience towards us. If we were blind, and reduced to need a person to lead us—and yet would dispute with him, and direct him at every step—we would probably soon weary him, and provoke him to leave us to find the way by ourselves! But our gracious Lord is long-suffering and full of compassion. He bears with our frowardness—yet he will take methods both to shame and to humble us, and to bring us to a confession that he is wiser than we. The great and unexpected benefit he intends us, by all the discipline we meet with, is to tread down our wills, and bring them into subjection to his. So far as we attain to this, we are out of the reach of disappointment. For when the will of God can please us—we shall be pleased every day, and from morning to night; I mean, with respect to his dealings with us. O the happiness of such a life! I have an idea of it; I hope I am aiming at it—but surely I have not attained it.
SELF is active in my heart, if it does not absolutely reign there. I profess to believe that one thing is needful and sufficient; and yet my thoughts are prone to wander after a hundred more. If it is true, that the light of his countenance is better than life, why am I solicitous about anything else? If he is all-sufficient, and gives me liberty to call him mine, why do I go a begging to creatures for help? If he is about my path and bed; if the smallest, as well as the greatest, events in which I am concerned are under his immediate direction; if the very hairs of my head are numbered; then my care (any farther than a care to walk in the paths of his precepts, and to follow the openings of his providence) must be useless and needless, yes indeed sinful and heathenish, burdensome to myself, and dishonorable to my profession. Let us cast down the load we are unable to carry; and if the Lord be our Shepherd, refer all, and trust all to him. Let us endeavor to live to him and for him today, and be glad that tomorrow, with all that is behind it, is in his hands.
"Godliness with contentment is great gain!" 1 Timothy 6:6. It befits every Christian to say—It is not necessary for me to be rich—or what the world accounts wise. It is not necessary for me to be healthy—or admired by my fellow-worms. It is not necessary for me to pass through life in a state of prosperity and outward comfort. These things may be, or they may not be—as the Lord in His wisdom shall appoint them for me.
But it is necessary for me to be humble and spiritual, to seek communion with God, to adorn my profession of the Gospel, and to yield submissively to His disposal, in whatever way, whether of service or suffering—that He shall be pleased to call me to glorify Him in this world. It is not necessary for me to live long—but highly expedient that while I do live—I should live unto Him! Here then, I would bound my desires; and here, having His Word both for my rule, I am secured from asking amiss. Let me have His presence, wisdom to know my calling, and opportunities and faithfulness to improve them; and as to the rest, Lord, help me to sincerely pray, Whatever You will, whenever You will, and however You will. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want!" Philippians 4:11-12
"Get up, go away! For this is not your resting place—because it is defiled, it is ruined, beyond all remedy!" Micah 2:10
My dear friend,
What a poor, uncertain and dying world is this! What a wilderness in itself! Without the saving knowledge of Jesus—how dark, how desolate it is! It does not appear to us thus, before we were saved—because we were then in a state of enchantment, the magical lantern blinding us with a splendid delusion!
It is a great mercy to be undeceived in time; and though our mirthful dreams are at an end, and we awake to everything that is disgustful and dismaying—yet we see a highway through the wilderness, and a powerful and infallible Guide at hand to conduct us through it! And we can discern, beyond the limits of the wilderness—a better land, where we shall be at rest and at home!
What will the difficulties we met along the way—then signify? The remembrance of them will only remain to heighten our sense of the love, care, and power of our Savior and Leader! O how shall we then admire, adore, and praise Him—when He condescends to unfold to us—the beauty, propriety, and harmony of the whole train of His providential dealings with us—and give us a clear retrospect of all the way, and all the turns of our earthly pilgrimage!
In the mean while, the best method of adorning our profession, and of enjoying peace in our souls—is simply to trust Him, and absolutely to commit ourselves and our all to His wise and loving management. By casting our burdens upon Him—our hearts become light and cheerful. We are then freed from a thousand anxieties and worries—which are wearisome to our minds, and which are needless for us—yes, even useless!
But though it may be easy to speak of this confident trust in our Father's care, and it appears to our judgment perfectly right and reasonable—the actual attainment this confident trust, is a great but rare thing! And especially so as to trust the Lord not by fits and starts, surrendering one day and retracting the next—but to abide by our surrender, and live habitually trusting Him, through all the changes and vicissitudes we meet with—knowing that His love, purpose, and promise—are wise, good, and unchangeable!
Perhaps none of us are freed from some occasional fainting times. But the trusting of the Lord in good measure at all times, and living quietly under the shadow of His wing—is what His promise warrants us to expect by a gradual increase—if we seek it by diligent prayer. May it be your experience and mine!