It’s not a term one hears often in a world of texts and tweets, but letter-writing can play a significant role in the lives of new and mature believers.
Mature Christian epistolarians (letter-writers) are like an older brother or sister carefully taking you by the hand and walking with you on the Christian journey. They know the Lord; they know the Scriptures; they know the path. Through their correspondence, they share how the Word of God has been applied to their own situations, and thereby offer great help to you.
In this week’s episode, John and Matthew look to several older brothers, but a primary one is Samuel Rutherford. If you have been through the first Behold Your God study, you are familiar with Rutherford. (Rewatch week four of Rethinking God Biblically to refresh your memory.)
Rutherford was well-versed in suffering. He was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. He buried his mother, his wife, and all but one of his children. He loved pastoring his congregation, but even that was taken away from him.
Throughout Rutherford’s letters, especially those from his later life, he refused to disconnect his suffering from Christ. His reasoning is solid: If Christ in His innocence received many blows, how could the Christian be surprised to receive blows? We cannot seek the sheltered side of the hill when Christ is receiving the wind in His face.
Matthew reads an excerpt from Rutherford’s Letter 165:
If your Lord calls you to suffering, do not be dismayed, for He will provide a deeper portion of Christ in your suffering. The softest pillow will be placed on your head, though you must set your bare feet among thorns. Do not be afraid at suffering for Christ, for He has a sweet peace for a sufferer. For God has called you to Christ’s side. And if the wind is now in His face, you cannot expect to rest on the sheltered side of the hill. You cannot be above your Master who received many an innocent stroke. The greatest temptation out of hell is to live without trials. A pool of standing water will turn stagnant. You cannot sneak quietly into heaven without a cross. Crosses form us into His image. They cut away pieces of our corruption. Lord cut, carve, wound! Lord, do anything to perfect Your image in us and make us fit for glory! We need winnowing before we enter the Kingdom of God. Oh, what I owe to the file, hammer, and furnace. Why should I be surprised at the plow that makes such deep furrows in my soul? Whatever direction the wind blows, it will blow to the Lord. His hand will direct us safely to the heavenly shore to find the weight of eternal glory. As we look back to our pain and suffering, we shall see that suffering is not worthy to be compared to our first night’s welcome home in heaven. If we could smell of heaven, and our country above, our crosses would not bite us. Lay all your loads by faith on Christ. Ease yourself, and let Him bear all. He can. He does. And He will bear you. Whether God comes with a rod or a crown, He comes with Himself. “Have courage! I am your salvation.” Welcome, welcome Jesus.
It helped Rutherford, as it will be a help to us, to understand the role of suffering in our sanctification. It is often the “wintry blasts” that make us so keenly aware of our dependence on Christ. If life were easy, we would hold loosely to the hand of Jesus. In the midst of trials we cling to Him for dear life because we realize we must.
Apart from grace in our souls, we will not see our suffering in that light. Instead, we think “I would be a much better Christian if this problem weren’t constantly agitating my soul.” But, in God’s economy, the opposite is actually true.
God purposes our suffering. He never wastes it. He uses suffering as a plow to our souls. There is development, maturity, and richness that grows in the soul only through suffering. But this goes against the grain of our flesh. Misleading messages against suffering come from hireling preachers on the television who tell us that God only wants us to be healthy and wealthy. But even Christians who reject the demonic lies of the “prosperity Gospel” can miss the truth about suffering in more subtle ways.
We may live in an unchristian home. Our workplaces may be unchristian. We may wish God would remove us from places where we are subjected to foul language and crude comments. But where better to live out the light of the gospel? We support missionaries who work hard to gain access to places like that. Let us not squander the opportunities God wisely puts before us.
The idea that God has intentionally placed us in the midst of such ungodliness may be a shock. But be grateful that God never asks you where you would like to be plowed or what trials you would prefer. Trust His hand. Learn from your brother Rutherford. He never separated his sufferings from Christ. He emphasized that when Christ draws near to a soul, He may bring hardship and suffering with Him. And while we will not delight in the suffering, we can delight in Christ. If Christ is near us, plowing our soul, let us remember to cling tight and embrace both the plow and the hand that drives it.
During this week's Supporter Appreciation Episode, John and Matthew discuss William Cowper. Many know him for his timeless hymns. He was a man who knew the gospel well and could convey its truths through beautiful writing.
Few know Cowper also battled with depression. His pastor, John Newton, walked alongside him, even in his darkest days. We are privy to Cowper's battles, and the hope of the gospel through it all, in his letters.
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Some mentionable letter writers:
John Newton biographies:
On Controversy by Nathan Bingham