John Newton's Letters

The furnace of affliction

September 27, 1777.
My dear Friend,
I could not, at such a time as this, refrain from writing; and glad would I be, if the Lord may help me to drop a suitable word, and accompany it with a blessing to you in the reading.

I am glad to be assured (though I expected no less) that your sick wife happily feels herself safe in the Lord's hand, and under the care of the good Shepherd and Savior, to whom she has often committed herself; and finds him faithful to his promise, giving her strength in her soul according to her day, and enabling her quietly to submit to his holy, wise, and gracious will. And it is my prayer, that he may strengthen you likewise, and reveal his own all-sufficiency so clearly and powerfully to your heart, that you may not be afraid of any event--but cheerfully rely upon him, to be all that to you, in every circumstance and change, which his promise warrants you to expect.

I am willing to hope, that this is but a short season of concern, appointed for the exercise of your faith and patience, and to give you, in his good time, a signal proof of his power and goodness in answering prayer. He sometimes brings us into such a situation, when creature help is utterly unavailing, that we may afterwards be more clearly sensible of his interposition. Then we experimentally learn the vanity of all things here below, and are brought to a more immediate and absolute dependence upon himself. We have need of having these lessons frequently inculcated upon us; but when his end is answered, how often, after he has caused grief, does he show his great compassion, and save us from our fears by an outstretched arm, and with such a seasonable and almost unexpected relief, as constrains us to cry out, "What has God wrought!" and "Who is a God like unto you!" Such, I hope, will be the issue of your present trial, and that He who gave her to you at first, will restore her to you again.

You are in the furnace of affliction; but the Lord is sitting by it as a refiner of silver, to moderate the fire, and manage the process, so that you shall lose nothing but dross, and be brought forth as refined gold, to praise his name. Apparent difficulties, however great, are nothing to him. If He speaks--it is done; for to God the Lord belong the issues of life and death. Should his pleasure be otherwise, and should he call your dear partner to a state of glory before you--still I know he is able to support you. What he does, however painful to the flesh, must be right, because He does it. Having bought us with his blood, and saved our souls from hell, he has every kind of right to dispose of us and ours--as he pleases. And this we are sure of, he will not lay so much upon us--as he freely endured for us; and he can make us amends for all we suffer, and for all we lose--by the light of his countenance. A few years will set all to rights; and those who love him and are beloved by him, though they may suffer as others, shall not sorrow as others; for the Lord will be with them here--and he will soon have them with him! There, all tears shall be wiped from their eyes!

Perhaps I know as well how to calculate the pain of such a separation, as anyone who has not actually experienced it. Many a time the desire of my eyes has been threatened, many a time my heart has been brought low; but from what I have known at such seasons, I have reason to hope, that, had it been his pleasure to bring upon me the thing that I feared, his everlasting arm would have upheld me from sinking under the stroke. As ministers, we are called to comfort the Lord's afflicted people, and to tell them the knowledge of his love is a cordial able to keep the soul alive under the sharpest trials. We must not wonder that he sometimes puts us in a way of showing that we do not deal in unfelt truths--but that we find ourselves that solid consolation in the Gospel, which we encourage others to expect from it. You have now such an occasion of glorifying the Lord; I pray he may enable you to improve it, and that all around you may see that he is with you, and that his good Word is the support and anchor of your soul. Then I am sure, if it upon the whole it is best for you--that he will give you the desire of your heart, and you shall yet live to praise him together.