John Newton was an English slave trader in the 1700’s. He came to know Christ and pastored two churches, in addition to writing the famous and popular hymn, “Amazing Grace.” He wrote many letters to friends, missionaries, and parishioners; the following is a brief excerpt of one such letter, January 12, 1763, concerning suffering and “walking through the wilderness.” I pray it speaks to you in your current season of suffering.
I make no doubt but you have at times had pleasing reflections upon that promise made to the Israelites, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Deuteronomy 8:2
They were then in the wilderness, surrounded with difficulties, which were greatly aggravated by their own distrust and perverseness. They had experienced a variety of bitter dispensations, the design of which they could not as yet understand. They frequently lost sight of God’s gracious purposes in their favor, and were much discouraged by reason of the difficulty of the way. To compose and animate their minds, Moses here suggests to them, that there was a future happy time drawing near, when their journey and warfare would be finished; that they would soon be put in possession of the promised land, and have rest from all their fears and troubles; and then it would give them pleasure to look back upon what they now found so uneasy to bear: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”
But the importance and comfort of these words is still greater, if we consider them in a spiritual sense — as addressed to all who are passing through the wilderness of this world, to the heavenly Canaan; who by faith in the promises and power of God are seeking eternal rest in that kingdom which cannot be shaken. The hope of that glorious inheritance inspires us with some degree of courage and zeal to press forward — to where Jesus has already entered as our forerunner; and when our eye is fixed upon Him, we are more than conquerors over all that would withstand our progress.
But we have not yet attained it — and we still feel the infirmities of a fallen nature. Through the remains of ignorance and unbelief, we often mistake the Lord’s dealings with us, and are ready to complain — when, if we knew all, we would rather rejoice. But to us likewise there is a time coming, when our warfare shall be accomplished, our views enlarged, and our light increased. Then, with what transports of adoration and love, shall we look back upon the way by which the Lord has led us!
We shall then see and acknowledge, that mercy and goodness directed every step. We shall then see that what our ignorance once called adversities and evils — were in reality blessings which we could not have done well without. We shall then see that nothing befell us without a cause. We shall see that no trouble came upon us sooner, or pressed us more heavily, or continued longer — than our case required. In a word, we shall see that our many afflictions were each in their place, among the means employed by divine grace and infallible wisdom, to bring us to the possession of that exceeding and eternal weight of glory, which the Lord has prepared for His redeemed people.
A fuller version of the letter can be found at https://www.monergism.com/blog/passing-through-wilderness-world and is available in a free ebook at https://www.monergism.com/letters-john-newton-ebook.Follow us on social media!