Wise Counsel (Part 1)
Although he’s better known for writing Amazing Grace, John Newton was also a faithful pastor who excelled at another kind of writing. Newton wrote countless numbers of letters, some to members of his congregation, some to friends, some to the newspapers as editorials, and some to other pastors. Newton’s letters to one pastor in particular, John Ryland Jr., have been gathered and organized in a book called Wise Counsel. This fascinating and helpful work functions as a mix between history, biography, and devotional reading. For the next few weeks, I’d like to share excerpts from “Letter Five,” a letter designed to encourage a discouraged Ryland.
“Thus much considering you as a minister. But we may extend the subject so as to make it applicable to believers in general. I would observe, therefore, that it is a sign of a sad declension, if one, who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, should be capable of being fully satisfied with anything short of the light of his countenance, which is better than life. A resting in notions of Gospel truth, or in the recollection of past comforts, without a continual thirst for fresh communications from the fountain of life, is, I am afraid, the canker which eats away the beauty and fruitfulness of many professors in the present day; and which, if it does not prove them to be absolutely dead, is at least a sufficient evidence that they are lamentably sick.
But if we are conscious of the desire. If we seek it carefully in the use of all appointed means. If we willingly allow ourselves in nothing which has a known tendency to grieve the Spirit of God, and to damp our sense of divine things. Then, if the Lord is pleased to keep us short of those comforts which he has taught us to prize, and, instead of lively sensations of joy and praise, we feel a languor and deadness of spirit, provided we do indeed feel it, and are humbled for it, we have no need to give way to despondency or excessive sorrow.
Still the foundation of our hope, and the ground of our abiding joys, is the same. And the heart may be as really alive to God, and grace as truly in exercise, when we walk in comparative darkness and see little light, as when the frame of our spirits is more comfortable. Neither the reality nor the measure of grace can be properly estimated by the degree of our sensible comforts.”