John Newton's Letters

The Lord only afflicts for our good

December 21, 1776.
My dear Friend,

Your letter brought me tidings of joy, and then furnished me with materials for a bonfire upon the occasion. It was an act of passive obedience to burn it—but I did obey. I congratulate you upon the happy outcome to which the Lord has brought your affairs. I see that his good Spirit and good providence have been and are with you. I doubt not but your union with Miss **** will be a mutual blessing, and on your part heightened by being connected with such a family. I could enlarge upon this head, if my letter likewise was to be burnt as soon as you have read it. I look upon the friendship the Lord has given me there, as one of my prime privileges; and I hope I shall always be thankful that it proved a means of introducing you into it.

I congratulate you likewise upon your accession to ******, not because it is a good living, in a genteel neighborhood, and a fine country; but because I believe the Lord sends you there for fulfilling the desires he has given you of being useful to souls. Church advancement in any other view, is dreadful! I would as soon congratulate a man upon seeing a millstone tied about his neck, to sink him into the depths of the sea, as upon his obtaining what is called a good living, except I thought him determined to spend and be spent in the cause of the Gospel. A parish is an solemn millstone indeed, to those who see nothing valuable in the flock but the fleece!

But the Lord has impressed your heart with a sense of the glory and importance of his truth, and the worth of souls; and animated your zeal by the most powerful motive—the knowledge of his constraining love. Your case is extraordinary. Perhaps, when you review in your mind the circle of your former mirthful acquaintances, you may say, with Job's servant, "I alone have escaped alive!" The rest are either removed into their eternal state, or are still hurrying down the stream of dissipation, and living without God in the world. Yet there was a time when there seemed no more probability on your side—than on theirs; that you should obtain mercy, and be called to the honor of preaching the glorious Gospel.

You are setting out with every possible advantage in early life, with a cheerful flow of health, and affluent circumstances; and now, to crown all, the Lord gives you the very choice of your heart in a partner; one who, besides deserving and meeting your affection, will, I am persuaded, be a real help-meet to you in your spiritual walk. How much is here to be thankful for!

I trust the Lord has given you, and will maintain in you, a right spirit; so as not to rest in his gifts—but to hold them in connection with the love and favor of the Giver. It is a low time with us, when the greatest assemblage of earthly blessings can seem to satisfy us without a real communion with him. His grace is sufficient for you—but undoubtedly such a scene of prosperity as seems to lie before you, is full of snares—and calls for a double effort of watchfulness and prayer. Your situation will fix many eyes upon you, and Satan will doubtless watch you, and examine every corner of the hedge around you—to see if he can find a gap by which to enter. We have but few rich Gospel ministers; but it is too evident that Satan has found the way to damp the zeal and hurt the spirits of some of those few, who for a time acted nobly, and seemed to walk out of the reach of the allurements of the world.

I am not jealous of you; I feel a comfortable persuasion, that the Lord has taken a fast hold of your heart—and given you a fast hold of his Almighty arm! Yet I believe you will not be displeased with me for dropping a hint of this kind, and at this time.

You have heard of the trial with which the Lord has been pleased to visit us; it still continues, though considerably alleviated. It is tempered with many mercies, and I hope he disposes us in a measure, to submission. I trust it will be for good. My dear friend, you are coming into my school, where you will learn, as occasions offer, to feel more for the afflictions of others. But be not discouraged; the Lord only afflicts for our good. It is necessary that our sharpest trials should sometimes spring from our dearest comforts, else we would be in danger of setting up our rest here. In such a world, and with such hearts as we have—we shall often need something to prevent our cleaving to the dust, to quicken us to prayer, and to make us feel that our dependence for one hour's peace is upon the Lord alone.

I am ready to think I have known as much of the good and happiness which this world can afford, as most people who live in it. I never saw the person with whom I wished to exchange places. And for many years past I have thought my trials have been light and few, compared with what many, or most, of the Lord's people have endured. And yet, though in the main possessed of my own wishes, when I look back upon the twenty-seven years past, I am ready to style them, with Jacob, "few and evil;" and to give the sum-total of their contents in Solomon's words, "all is vanity." If I take these years to pieces, I see a great part of them was filled up with sins, sorrows, and inquietudes. The pleasures, too, are gone, and have no more real existence than the baseless fabric of a dream!

The shadows of the evening will soon begin to come over us; and if our lives are prolonged, a thousand pains and infirmities, from which the Lord has in a remarkable measure exempted us hitherto—will probably overtake us; and at last we must feel the parting pang. Sin has so envenomed the soil of this earth, that the amaranth will not grow upon it. But we are hastening to a better world, and bright unclouded skies, where our sun will go down no more—and all tears shall be wiped from our eyes!