Wise Counsel, published by Banner of Truth, is a collection of letters written by John Newton to John Ryland Jr. Ryland met Newton when he was 15 and Newton was 43. It was a mentoring relationship that would enrich Ryland’s own pastoral ministry in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. On this occasion, Ryland was disappointed in the delay of finding a wife and establishing a family. He was on his third prospect and things were moving slowly. Newton responds here to his complaint.
Poor dear Lad,
I must refer the long delay, and every other possible grievance, to the scriptures of truth. If we were not creatures we might have a right to choose, if we were not sinners we might perhaps venture to complain of sufferings. If the Lord were not wise he might mistake our case; if He were not good he might deal hardly with us. If this life were our all, delays and crossings for one, two or three years would be of great importance. But reverse all these suppositions, say that we are creatures, sinful pardoned creatures, bought with the blood of Jesus, that our Saviour is our shepherd, that He is inﬁnitely wise and good in himself, and has engaged his wisdom and goodness in our behalf; that He suffered for us, and calls us by grace that we may sufler for him (Acts 9:16); say further that every event we are concerned in is under his immediate direction, and all to work for good, that what we call heavy is light and the long and tedious but momentary, as to our true existence and when compared with the weight of glory, and the length of eternity to which they lead. Let all these truths be planted like so many cannon in your defence and see whether self will and unbelief will dare to look them in the face.
When Demosthenes’ was asked, ‘What is the first, second, and third qualiﬁcation of an Orator?’, he is reported to have given the same answer to each, ‘Action’. I may say the same of submission to the will of God in a Christian; it is the chief ornament of his profession, and it includes the whole of it. It is the fairest fruit, and the surest criterion of true faith. In how many books and sermons is faith so conﬁned to the business of acceptance with God, as if it had little else to do. But surely faith owns his hand, trusts his management, and yields to his . disposal.
If the Lord had called us to dungeons or flames for his sake, we know we ought not to refuse, and we hope his grace would have been with us according to our day. But we are not appointed to these hard services. He gives us health, liberty and many comforts, especially the comfort and honour of preaching his gospel. But in a few things he crosses or delays our inclinations, telling us at the same time that it is for our beneﬁt, that we shall find his season the best, and that he will withhold nothing that is truly good. He gives us so to speak 96 or 97 blessings in hand, 3 or 4 he bids us wait for, but because we have not the whole hundred and all at once, we forget the value of the rest, we grieve and despond; the sun shines upon us in vain. Alas, what wayward, perverse, unreasonable children are we.
John Ryland Jr.
We talk of a cross but we would have a cross of our own choosing. So a child would consent to take physic* that is if he might choose something not disagreeable to his palate, and be allowed to call it physic, he would take it and say, ‘Now am not I a good boy to take physic so readily?’ But it happens that most of the medicines both for bodily and spiritual maladies are bitter.
After all I trust the Lord will support and carry you through all. These things will humble your spirit, and give a mellowness to your preaching. It is in this way of service, that the Lord bestows the tongue of the learned to speak a word in season to weary souls. The Lord be with you. Cheer up, and all shall be well.
(*Physic – Medicine)