Have you ever considered the good that comes from the afflictions you’ve endured?
In the midst of suffering, hardship, and trials, many believers cling to the promise found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But what is that “good” Paul refers to? It’s tempting to think of that “good” in terms of physical, earthly good—a good we can point to and touch. For example, we may look at a lost job as the doorway to a better job. Or we might think of a broken friendship as an opportunity for a new and even better friendship.
While there are times in our life when we look back on a trial and see how God used it to pave the way for something better in the here and now, there are other good things that result from our afflictions. And they aren’t tangible or material things. They aren’t things we can see with the naked eye or touch with our hands. They are internal and spiritual, and therefore they have eternal significance.
The eighteenth-century pastor John Newton, best known for writing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” wrote about the spiritual good that comes from our afflictions in some of his letters to the people he pastored.
John Newton’s Pastoral Letters
John Newton was born in England in 1725. He started out his career in the British navy and then became a captain of slave ships. Like many sailors in his day, he experienced a shipwreck where he nearly lost his life. In 1748, he was on the ship Greyhound when a terrible storm arose at sea. He was fast asleep when water burst through the wall of his cabin and woke him up. He and the other sailors spent all night trying to keep the boat from sinking. During this event, he prayed, “Lord, have mercy!”
After this event, Newton began studying the Bible. He then learned the biblical languages and became a lay preacher. He grew convicted of his part in the slave trade and became an abolitionist. Eventually, he became an Anglican priest, serving as rector at St. Mary Woolnoth in London until his death.
Newton is best known for his influence in the life of abolitionist William Wilberforce and for his hymns, including “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.” During his tenure as pastor, he also wrote a number of letters. These letters were not unlike the blogs of today; congregants passed them around and shared them with one another. In many of these letters, Newton provided pastoral wisdom and counsel to the suffering. In one letter to a congregant, Newton wrote: “Though afflictions in themselves are not joyous, but grievous, yet in due season they yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness. Various and blessed are the fruits they produce.”