I’ve been reading a book called Wise Counsel that is a collection of letters written by John Newton to a much younger pastor named John Ryland Jr. I do believe that God has providentially placed this book in my hands specifically during these days of the infancy of Cornerstone Church. Sometimes it is as if Newton is writing directly to me.
It is not surprising that in a collection of letters between two pastors the subject of trials would come up again and again. In Letter Thirty-five Newton writes to Ryland to comfort him in the midst of some difficulties that have arisen due to the financial difficulties of his father. I am deeply encouraged by the theology of trials that comes through in Newton’s response.
“Trials, my dear friend, of one kind or other, to prove, exercise and manifest our faith, patience and grace, are as necessary to us as weights are to a clock; if they were not we would not have them. For the Lord does not grieve us for His own pleasure but for our profit.” This perspective on trials is almost unheard of today that the Lord would actually bring trials to our lives for our own good. Our perspective on trials is to avoid them or escape them a fast as possible. Rarely do we consider that the trial may be for our profit.
Newton explains that he can think of many loved ones who, once firm in the gospel have fallen away. He wishes that perhaps they had grappled more with trials and difficulties that might have forced them to hold more firmly to Christ. He says that he has come to see his own afflictions as desirable and merciful because they keep him humble and watchful. Some of his trials have felt sharp upon his flesh and yet he says, “Perhaps I should have been ruined without them.”
How few today think like this? When is the last time I stopped and thought of a trial as God’s mercy to me lest I fell without it? And yet this is entirely consistent with the teaching of the scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Why? Because you know that “the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Our Father in Heaven loves us and brings trials to us for our good! Because of the trials we cling to Him more firmly. These trials make us complete lacking in nothing. In the absence of trials we are more prone to trust in ourselves and this is not for our good.
Yet, in the midst of trials God is never distant. Newton continues, “In the mean time He knows our frame, remembers that we are but dust (Ps. 103:14), and has promised to lay no more upon us, than He will enable us to bear (I Cor. 10:13). He will either diminish the burden when to heavy or increase our strength to support it which amounts to the same thing. Let us therefore praise Him for all that is past and trust him for all that is to come.”