Lately, I’ve been enjoying reading someone else’s mail. ”Letters of John Newton” is a gathering of many personal letters from the famous British pastor from the 18th century (best known as the author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace” and spiritual guide to William Wilberforce).
Newton seemed to know that his letters would one day be used of God to encourage others far beyond the original recipients as he dutifully collected his writings. C.H. Spurgeon said of Newton’s letter-writing ability: “In few writers are Christian doctrine, experience and practice more happily balanced than in the author of these letters, and few write with more simplicity, piety and force.”
This particular letter, written by John to a fellow pastor, the Rev. Mr. Whitford, struck me as both timely and full of grace.
Are the quarrels made up? Tell those who know what communion with Jesus is worth, that they will never be able to maintain it, if they give way to the workings of pride, jealousy and anger. This will provoke the Lord to leave them dry, to command the clouds of his grace that they rain no rain upon them. These things are sure signs of a low frame, and a sure way to keep it so. Could they be prevailed upon, from a sense of the pardoning love of God to their own souls, to forgive each other as the Lord forgives us, freely, fully, without condition and without reserve, they would find this like breaking down a stone wall, which has hitherto shut up their prayers from the Lord’s ears, and shut out his blessing from filling their hearts. Tell them I hope to hear that all animosities, little and big, are buried by mutual consent in the Redeemer’s grave. Alas! The people of God have enemies enough: why, then, will they weaken their own hands? Why will they help their enemies to pull down the Lord’s work? Why will they grieve those who wish them well, cause the weak to stumble, the wicked to rejoice, and bring a reproach upon their holy profession? Indeed this is no light matter: I wish it may not lead them to something worse: I wish they may be wise in time, lest Satan gain further advantage over them, and draw them to something that shall make them (as David did) roar under the pains of broken bones. But I must break off.
May God give you wisdom, faithfulness, and patience; take care that you do not catch an angry spirit yourself, while you aim to suppress it in others: this will spoil all, and you will exhort, advise, and weep in vain. May you rather be an example and pattern to the flock; and in this view, be not surprised if you yourself meet some hard usage; rather rejoice, that you will thereby have an opportunity to exemplify your own rules, and to convince your people, that what you recommend to them you do not speak by rote, but from the experience of your heart.
Therefore, do not be discouraged: usefulness and trials, comforts and crosses, strength and exercise go together. But remember He has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” When you get to heaven, you will not complain of the way by which the Lord brought you. Farewell, pray for us. Yours, etc.
I love John’s simple and direct application of Scripture. In this case, his wit and insight into how we must avoid a quarrelsome spirit is profound. These are true and faithful words for us at any time, but particularly during times of unrest in the Body.