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Tony Reinke, author of the forthcoming Newton on the Christian Life, recently spoke at Crossway’s chapel and shared a lightly revised letter from John Newton (1725-1807), “A Letter to a Friend in Trouble” (Works of John Newton 6:377-80). He gave me permission to share it here. We don’t have the originating letter, but it was from a correspondent who was friends with a woman struggling with extended periods of depression. This friend wrote to Newton to ask if he might write her some gospel encouragement.

My dear Madam, . . .

They who would always rejoice [in trials], must derive their joy from a source which is invariably the same; in other words, from Jesus. Oh, that name! What a person, what an office, what a love, what a life, what a death, does it recall to our minds!

Come, madam, let us leave our troubles to themselves for a while, and let us walk to Golgotha, and there take a view of his. We stop, as we are going, at Gethsemane, for it is not a step out of the road. There he lies, bleeding, though not wounded; or, if wounded, it is by an invisible, an almighty hand. Now I begin to see what sin has done. Now let me bring my sorrows, and compare, measure, and weigh them, against the sorrows of my Saviour! Foolish attempt; to weigh a [grain of dust] against a mountain! . . .

We are still more confirmed at our next station.

Now we are at the foot of the cross.

Behold the Man! Attend to his groans; contemplate his wounds. Now, let us sit down ere a while and weep for our crosses, if we can. For our crosses! Nay, rather let us weep for our sins, which brought the Son of God into such distress. Agreed. I feel that we, not He, deserved to be crucified, and to be utterly forsaken. But this is not all: his death not only shows our [sin], but seals our pardon.

For a fuller proof, let us take another station.

Now we are at his tomb. But the stone is rolled away. He is not here; he is risen. The debt is paid, and the surety discharged. . . . Where then is He? Look up! Methinks the clouds part, and glory breaks through — Behold a throne! What a transition! He, who hung upon the cross, is seated upon the throne! Hark, he speaks! May every word sink deep into your heart and mine! He says, “I know your sorrows, yes, I appoint them; they are tokens of my love; it is thus I call you to the honor of following me. See a place prepared for you near to myself! Fear none of these things: be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

It is enough, Lord.

Now then let us compute, let us calculate again. These scales are the balances of the sanctuary. Let us put in our trials and griefs on one side. What an alteration! I thought them lately very heavy: now I find them light, the scale hardly turns with them. But how shall we manage to put in the weight on the other side? It is heavy indeed: an exceeding, an eternal weight of glory. It is beyond my grasp and power. No matter. Comparison is needless. I see, with the glance of an eye, there is no proportion. I am content. I am satisfied. I am ashamed. Have I been so long mourning, and is this all the causer? Well, if the flesh will grieve, it shall grieve by itself. The Spirit, the Lord enabling me, shall rejoice, yea, it does. From this moment I wipe away my tears, and forbid them to flow; or, if I must weep, they shall be tears of gratitude, love, and joy! The bitter is sweet; the medicine is food.

But the cloud closes: I can no longer see what I lately saw. However, I have seen it: I know it is there. He ever lives, full of compassion and care, to plead for me above, to manage for me below. He is mine, and I am his: therefore all is well.

I hope this little walk will do us both good. We have seen wonderful things today! Wonderful in themselves, and wonderful in their efficacy to compose our spirits, and to make us willing to suffer on.

Blessed be God for his unspeakable gift!

I am, Madam, your affectionate,

John Newton


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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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