John Newton's Letters
Six letters to a pastor
August 1, 1774
My dear sir,
We were very glad to hear so favorable an account of your health—but your letter to Mr. ___ (we were with him when it came to hand) rather balked the hope we had entertained, that you would be well in a few days. Therefore we shall be glad to hear from you again, for we sincerely feel ourselves much interested in all that concerns you. However, I know that you are in safe and merciful hands, and that the Lord loves you better than we can do. Though we may mistake in estimating particulars, we are sure that the sum-total of all dispensations will be good. Health is good while the Lord preserves it—and sickness is still better when he appoints it. He is good when he grants our wishes and multiplies our comforts—and he is good when he sends us trials and crosses. We are short-sighted and cannot see how many and what important consequences depend upon every turn in life; but the whole chain of events are open to his view.
When we arrive in the land of glory, we shall have an affecting retrospect of the way by which the Lord our God led us through this wilderness. We shall then see that whenever we were in heaviness, there was a need-be for it. We shall then, I doubt not, remember, among our choicest blessings, those things which, while we were here, seemed the hardest to account for, and the hardest to bear. Perhaps we were sinking into a lukewarm formality, or spiritual pride was springing up, or Satan was spreading some dangerous snare for our feet. How seasonable and important at such a time, is the mercy which, under the disguise of an affliction, gives an alarm to the soul, quickens us to prayer, makes us feel our own emptiness, and preserves us from the enemy's net!
These reflections are applicable to all the Lord's people—but emphatically so to his ministers. We stand in the fore-front of the battle. The nature of our employment exposes us to peculiar dangers; more eyes are upon us; our deviations are more observed, and have worse effects, both with respect to the church and the world, than if we were in private life. By our own sufferings we learn likewise (the Lord sanctifying them to that end) to sympathize with the afflicted, and to comfort them from the experiences we have had of the Lord's goodness and faithfulness to ourselves. I trust you will be thankful for your late exercises, and that we, in due time, shall have to join you in thanking the Lord for restoring you to health and strength, and that you will come forth, under the fresh anointing of his Holy Spirit, to publish the glad tidings of salvation, and win many souls to the knowledge of Jesus.
I mentioned having been at Mr. ___ 's. We went on Tuesday morning, and did not return until Saturday evening. Had not the Sunday service called me home, I believe we would have stayed longer. It was a happy opportunity; I believe mutually so. We talked of you, and would have been glad to have had you with us. I have seldom been in a family where I thought myself more at home, or where I have been more satisfied that the blessing of the Lord dwelt. I returned in some measure thankful and refreshed. I have great reason to be thankful that my spirit is not confined within the paper walls of a denomination; for I have had frequent proof that the Spirit of the Lord will not be restrained within such narrow bounds. May my soul be ever free to unite with all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, without regarding those lesser differences which will soon be done away.
Your prayers and kind wishes for me and mine, I heartily thank you for, and hope we shall repay you (as we are enabled) in kind. Many here have, indeed, reason to speak well of the Lord. He has been very gracious to us. But, alas! most of us may complain of ourselves. But, unworthy as we are, he bears with us; he multiplies pardons, and keeps us upon the whole in a persuasion that his loving kindness is better than life. The workings of a corrupt nature, and the subtlety of our spiritual enemies, cause us much exercise; but we find one with us who is greater than our hearts, and greater than he who is in the world. When I look at some of my people, I am filled both with joy and shame; joy to see that the Lord has not allowed my labor among them to be in vain; shame to think that I have preached so much more effectually to them—than to my own heart. It is my mercy that I am not under the law—but under grace. Were it not for this thought, I would sink. But it is given me to know that Jesus is all—to those who are nothing. The promise whereon I trust, and the power of trusting in it, are both from him, and therefore I am encouraged to plead, "Remember your Word unto your servant, wherein you have caused me to hope." A sure promise, a complete atonement, a perfect righteousness, an Almighty Savior, who is able to save to the uttermost, and has said, "I will never cast out." These are the weapons with which I (alas, how feebly!) oppose the discouragements which arise from self and unbelief.
I am sincerely, dear sir, your affectionate and obliged.
October 6, 1774
My dear friend,
I have two letters to thank you for; and was thinking of answering the first, when the second came. The contents gave me pleasure. My poor prayers have been, and shall be, for you; and, that I might be with you in spirit as much as possible, I thought I would write to you on your wedding-day. May the good Lord say Amen to your engagements and desires, and give you, in each other, a help-meet, a counselor, a comforter; may he fill your hearts with his peace, give you a daily increase of happiness in your connection, that you may be,
Enamored more, as more remembrance swells
With many a proof of recollected love!
And while the Lord blesses your relation outwardly, in the midst of his best gifts, and the most endearing satisfaction that creatures can afford—may you both have grace to remember that you are not your own, that this is not your rest; that the time is short, and that the light of God's countenance is still, comparatively, "The one thing needful."
I have been interrupted since I began my letter, and I must leave it again soon to go to my children, for it is almost eleven. I may now salute you as one, and, from the time of my standing in wedded life, I shall take the liberty of assuming the professor's chair, and offering you a little lecture upon the subject. May the Lord prompt my heart and guide my pen.
With respect to this world, marriage is undoubtedly the most important concern in which we can engage. It has an influence upon every action and every hour of the future life. The success depends not upon physical appearances, for they are changeable; nor upon our present affections or purposes, for we are frail, inconstant creatures, and prone to be soon weary of the possession of our warmest wishes; but entirely upon the blessing of the Lord, without which no union can exist. We see too many instances of people who come together with all seeming advantages, and yet from unforeseen causes, the affection which promised to be permanent, gradually subsides into indifference, and perhaps terminates in disgust. We cannot but wonder at these failures, when we consider how seldom the Lord is duly acknowledged either in the choice, the pursuit, or the attainment of the object. It is your mercy that he taught you both to seek his direction, and to depend upon his providence, in bringing this weighty affair to an outcome; and therefore you may cheerfully expect repeated proofs that he did not bid you to seek his face in vain.
Since I began this paragraph I have been with my children, and the passage which came in course for my exposition to them, was Genesis 24. It was quite apropos to the case upon my mind. The historical part of the Old Testament, so far as it concerns nations, is undoubtedly put into our hands as a specimen of the Lord's government over all the nations of the earth—and the history of his care and providence over the personal and family concerns of his children from age to age. His interposition is not always so obvious to sense now, as it often was then; but it is as real and necessary in itself, and not less evident to faith when in exercise. He provided and prepared you for each other; he opened the way; he has brought you together, and now he will be with you to bless your union, to guide you with his eye, to be your Sun and your Shield. And yet there are so many evils in our hearts to be checked, and the comparative vanity and emptiness of all below the skies is a lesson so very needful to be learned, and so unattainable in any other way than by experience—that we must expect at times to find bitters mingled with our sweets, and some of our sharpest pains flowing from the same source with our most valued pleasures.
I am now far advanced in the twenty-fifth year of marriage; and, though I set out blindfold, and was so far infatuated by an idolatrous passion, that for a while I looked no higher for happiness than to a worm like myself; yet the Lord, whose dealings with me have always been singular, did not deal with me as I deserved. He sent, indeed, again and again, a worm to the root of my gourd, and many an anxious trembling hour have I suffered; but he pitied my weakness, gradually opened my eyes, and, while he in some measure weakened and mortified the idolatrous part of affection, he smiled upon that part of it which was lawful and subordinate, and caused it to flourish and strengthen from year to year.
When I look back upon my past life, and look around in the world, I mean especially as a husband, I cannot but say, my lot in life has been most happy. Few, I think, can have been more favored; and, to the best of my recollection, I never wished, for a single minute, it were possible to exchange situation with any person upon earth. And yet what is it I have known? When I recollect my wedding-day, the circumstances are so present with me, that it seems as if it were but yesterday, and all the interval but a dream. If I take that interval to pieces, I see, indeed, that goodness and mercy have followed us all our days; I see, as I have said, that we have had a larger share of such happiness as this world can afford—but at the same time mingled with so many trials, that, though the Lord mercifully parceled them out, and has brought me safely through them one after another—taken together, they have made very large abatements in the article of pleasure.
My dear friends, you will now acquire a new set of feelings. How sickness, or pain, or trouble affects you in your own persons, you know; but how you will be affected by them in the person of a husband or a wife, you have yet to learn. I wish you may know as little of it as is consistent with your best good; but, if the Lord loves you, and you love each other, now and then something of this sort will be needful. Yet be not afraid; he delights in the prosperity of his children, and will not causelessly afflict.
One trial of mine I wish you may be wholly freed from, the experience of a deceitful and desperately wicked heart, that you may never have to confess, as I do to you, that my perverseness and ingratitude have revealed themselves most frequently, and most flagrantly—by occasion of that very instance of his goodness, which in a temporal view I account the chief blessing of my life. This has been an abatement indeed. How often have I wondered that he has not punished me in kind, and taken away the desire of my eyes with a stroke.
One trial we have yet to come—the alternative of leaving or being left. The flesh shrinks at the thought of either; and since we know not how soon, or in what way, a separation may take place, there can be no abiding peace until we are enabled to commit ourselves, and all that we hold most dear—to the care and the disposal of our Lord. I have been long aiming at this; and it seems so right, so eligible in theory, that sometimes I think I have succeeded, that I have made an absolute surrender, and am well satisfied that he should do whatever he pleases—then what he pleases, must be the best—but, alas! the next alarm convinces me how weak I am, and how afraid and unwilling to trust him. Yet, surely, it is the desire of my soul to say, without reserve or exception, Not my will—but yours be done. So far as we can attain to this, we are happy.
I have left no room to answer your letters. I could have wished for a more favorable account of your health—but hope the Lord will gradually confirm it. He can, for he is power; He will, for he is love—if it be upon the whole best for you. I am glad to hear of Mr. ___ , and wish him much success, and commend my love to him. Mr. ___ , has lost his wife; I suppose he had her not much above a year. So frail are all things here below!
I am sincerely yours.
May 31, 1775
My dear sir,
Though we agreed to waive apologies, it would befit me to make a very humble one if I should long delay writing, now you have favored me with a second letter. I thank you for both; it gives us real pleasure to hear of your and your wife's welfare.
I rejoice that the Lord keeps your spirit alive in his work, and lets you see that your labor is not in vain. Oh, the honor, the blessedness, of being an instrument in his hands of feeding his gathered sheep and lambs, and bringing wanderers into his fold! That is a striking and beautiful thought of the apostle, "as poor—yet making many rich." When I feel my own poverty, my heart wandering, my head confused, graces languid, gifts apparently dormant; when I thus stand up with half a loaf, or less, before a multitude—and see the bread multiply in the breaking, and that, however it may be at the time with myself, as to my own feelings, the hungry, the thirsty, the mourners in Zion, are not wholly disappointed; when I find that some, in the depth of their outward afflictions, can rejoice in me, as the messenger by whom the Lord is pleased to send them a word in season, balm for their wounds, and cordials for their cases; then indeed I magnify my office.
Let who will, take the lead in the cabinets of princes; let those whom the Lord permits shine in the eyes of men, as statesmen, generals, or favorites; He has given me the desire of my heart, and I am more disposed to pity than to envy those whom the world admires. "This is what the Lord says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches—but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." Jeremiah 9:23-24
On the day when the Lord admitted me into the ministry, and I received ordination, I thought he had then ennobled me, and raised me to greater honor and preferment than any earthly king could have bestowed; and, blessed be his name, I think so still, and had rather be the pastor of this church, than in any situation the world can afford, if detached from the privilege of preaching the gospel. Yet I find the ministry a bitter sweet; the pleasure is tempered with many things that make a near and painful impression upon the spirit; but, upon the whole, it is given unto me (and I trust to you likewise) to rejoice in it.
The civility of your genteel neighbors is an agreeable circumstance, so far as it can be preserved without inconvenience. I am quite of your mind, that our high calling, as Christians, does not require us to be cynical, and that many professors, and perhaps preachers, bring needless trouble upon themselves, for lack of a gentle, loving spirit. The gospel teaches us to show benevolence and a humble posture to all. Yet there is an extreme upon the other hand, which is, upon the whole, even more dangerous. They are singularly favored, whom the Lord is pleased to guide and to keep in the golden balance. What we call a polite and cultivated behavior, is certainly no real bar to that faithfulness we owe to God or man; and, if maintained under a strict Scriptural restraint, may greatly soften prejudices, and conciliate the good-will even of unawakened hearers in a considerable degree. But, indeed, those who have it, have need of a double guard of watchfulness and prayer, for unless the eye is kept very single, and the heart dependent upon the Lord—we are more liable to be drawn into a compliance with the ways of the polite world, than likely to prevail on them to follow us, so far as we follow Christ.
I could name instances where it has appeared to me, that the probable good effects of a very faithful testimony in the pulpit, have (humanly speaking) been wholly defeated by too successful endeavors to be agreeable when outside of it. The world will often permit a minister to think, and perhaps to preach, as he pleases—provided he will come as near them as possible in a sociable conformity. I hope you will not be angry with me—but rather impute it to my cordial affection, if I feel some fears, lest the kindness of your neighbors should insensibly in some degree at least dampen your zeal and abate your influence. I trust my fears are groundless, and my admonitions quite unnecessary.
I see you possessed of all advantages, recommended by family, situation, education, and address, and encompassed, it seems, with people who are disposed to receive you favorably upon these accounts. I see you stand in a post of honor—and therefore I know Satan eyes you, and watches subtly for an advantage against you. Were he to raise a storm of persecution against you, and attack you openly, I would be in little pain for the event. For I believe the Lord has given you such a sense of the worth of the gospel, that you would not be threatened easily into a timid silence; and perhaps that natural warmth of temper which you speak of, might be of some advantage were the assault made on this side. This, perhaps, Satan knows; he knows how to suit his temptations, to our personal tempers and circumstances. And if, like Achilles, you have a vulnerable heel—the serpent will be sure to strike there!
I apprehend you are more in danger of suffering loss by the smiles, than by the frowns of men. Since I have seen some eminent ministers, whom I need not name to you, so sadly hurt, both in their experience and in their usefulness, (and many more in private life,) by worldly connections, I am ready perhaps to take the alarm, and to sound the alarm too soon. But I know that the heart is deceitful in all things, and I know that often the first steps by which we deviate from the path of duty, diverge so gently and imperceptibly from the right line—that we may have actually lost our way before we are sensible we have missed the road! After all, I hope this, my grave remonstrance, has sprung entirely from my own misapprehension of a few lines in your first letter, and will stand for nothing but to show that I love you, and that, professing myself a friend, I dare be faithful. if you think me faulty, of course you will not write until you have forgiven me, and therefore I hope you will forgive me soon, or my punishment will be heavy enough.
I hope often to think of your wife. May the Lord preserve her safely to and through the hour of trial, and make her a joyful mother. May you both rejoice hereafter in being parents to a vessel of mercy. Please to give our respects to her. You may assure her, I can hardly think of any person whose idea affects me with more esteem and regard than her's. We would have been glad to have seen you both here, had your journey taken place, and shall be so at any time. As to myself, I have no more expectation of seeing the Yorkshire hills—than the Alps! But I know that my inclination is not lacking.
The Lord has transplanted some more of my flowers, or rather his own—to flourish in a better climate; but he has likewise given us a few slips and seedlings to supply their place. The Word does not flourish here as I ought to wish it; but, through mercy, it is not wholly without effect. We are in good harmony; ordinances are prized, and a gospel lifestyle is maintained, by those who profess.
You ask how I am—but I know not what answer to give. My experience is made up of enigmas—but the sum and solution of all is, "That I am a vile creature—but I have a good Lord. He has chosen me; and through his rich grace—I have chosen Him. There is a union between Him and my soul, which shall never be broken, because he has undertaken for both parts—that He never will forsake me, and that I never shall forsake Him. Oh, I like those royal, sovereign words, "I will," and "you shall." How sweetly are they suited to the sense and long experience he has given me of my own weakness, and the power and subtlety of Satan. If my spiritual conflicts terminate in victory, it must be owing to His own arm, and for His own name's sake. For I in myself have neither strength nor plea. If I were not so poor, so sick, so foolish—the power, skill, riches, wisdom, and mercy of my Physician, Shepherd, and Savior—would not be so signally illustrated in my own case. Upon this account, instead of complaining, we may glory in our infirmities. Oh, it is pleasant to be deeply indebted to Him, to find Him, and own Him, all in all—
Our Husband, Shepherd, Brother, Friend,
Our Guide, and Guard, our Way, and End!
"Christ is all!" Colossians 3:11
"I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts—that they shall not depart from Me!" Jeremiah 32:40
I beg a frequent interest in your prayers, and remain, dear sir, your affectionate and obliged servant.
July 26, 1775
My dear sir,
I have been a little impatient until I could find a leisure hour to thank you for your very obliging answer to my last letter. I ventured a good deal upon my opinion of you, or I would not have written so freely; and I am not disappointed. You may be assured that I never heard a word concerning you but what was good; and I plead the manner of my writing as a proof that I saw nothing in you but what tended to endear you to me. Had I observed anything with my own eyes which I had disapproved, it is probable I would have been deterred by it from expressing that fidelity which you are so kind as to take in good part.
My suspicions did not arise from any fear of you, personally considered, so much as from the feelings of my own heart, and the sense I have of the weakness of human nature, and the subtlety of Satan in general. Nay, upon second thoughts, I believe that there was nothing in your letter from whence such suspicions could be fully and warrantably deduced. However, whether I would or not, my thoughts took such a turn, I seemed to be almost satisfied at first that they were groundless; yet I was determined to communicate them to you, for such reasons as these—
First, I was persuaded that, at any rate, it would do no harm to drop a word by way of putting you upon your guard, since I knew that you, as well as myself, were still within gun-shot of the enemy.
Secondly, I really expected that you would think favorably of my intention, and love me the better for it.
And of course I believed, thirdly, that the proof you would give me, under your own hand, of your humility and uprightness of spirit, in receiving my hint as I meant it, would heighten my regard for you, and thus our friendship would be mutually strengthened.
All has happened according to my wishes; and I ought to ask your pardon, when I confess that, in the interval between my letter and yours, I sometimes felt my heart go a little pit-a-pat, for fear that you would be displeased. I wronged you by entertaining the most distant apprehension of this kind. How sorry would I have been to have grieved you, or to have appeared to you in the disagreeable light of a busy-body, or a dictator! However, if I had not pretty well known my man, I ran a considerable risk. Indeed, my pen is apt to express the sentiments of my heart with little restraint, when I write to those whom I cordially love and esteem; but surely no one has less right than myself to set up for a censor. I have enough to watch over and bemoan at home; and any cautions or advises which I occasionally offer to my friends, would, as coming from me, be highly impertinent and presuming, did not the Word of God seem to bear me out in supposing that the hearts of others are in some degree like my own.
Much of what you say of yourself, I think I can adopt likewise. I hope I am pretty generally considered among my acquaintances as a lover of peace, and therefore I am amicably treated and borne with on all sides. But I am a sort of middle man, and consequently no great stress is laid upon me where the strengthening of a party, or the fighting for a sentiment, is the point in view. I am an avowed Calvinist. The points which are usually comprised in that term, seem to me so consonant to Scripture, reason, (when enlightened,) and experience—that I have not the shadow of a doubt about them. But I cannot dispute—and I dare not speculate. What is by some called high Calvinism, I dread. I feel much more union of spirit with some Arminians, than I could with some Calvinists. If I thought a certain person feared sin, loved the Word of God, and was seeking after Jesus, I would not walk the length of my study to proselyte him to the Calvinistic doctrines. Not because I think them mere opinions, or of little importance to a believer—I think the contrary; but because I believe these doctrines will do no one any good until he is taught them of God. I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principal cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the divine means of grace. For this reason, I suppose, though I never preach a sermon in which the tincture of Calvinism may not be easily discerned by a judicious hearer—yet I very seldom insist expressly upon those five points, unless they fairly and necessarily be in my way. I believe most people who are truly alive to God, sooner or later meet with some pinches in their experience which constrain them to flee to those doctrines of grace, for relief, which perhaps they had formerly dreaded, if not abhorred, because they knew not how to get over some harsh consequences they thought necessarily resulting from them, or because they were stumbled by the miscarriages of those who professed them. In this way I was made a Calvinist myself; and I am content to let the Lord take his own way, and his own time, with others.
I remember to have seen a letter from you to Mr. ___ —but I can recollect nothing in particular of the subject—but I suppose, if I had disliked it, or received any unfavorable impressions from it, some traces of it would have still remained in my memory. From what I have written above, and from the beginning of Omicron's ninth letter, (which was written in answer to one from Mr. ___ ,) I hope you will believe that I should be much more likely to blame his forwardness in giving the challenge, than your prudence in declining. I trust he means well; but, as you say, he is young, and I know not but the kind reception he met with in Yorkshire might send him home with a greater idea of his own importance than he carried with him from hence. I suppose it was just about that time, when his spirit was a little raised, that he wrote to you. Young men often make mistakes of this kind. The Lord's blessing upon years, experience, and inward exercises, cures them of it by degrees, or at least in a degree; for, alas, the root of SELF lies deep, and is not easily eradicated. "People will be lovers of self" 2 Timothy 3:2. "If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." Mark 8:34
We were very glad to hear that your wife is likely to do well after her delivery. I hope, that if the Lord spares the child to you—he will be numbered among the children of his grace. If God calls him home by a short life, he will escape a number of storms and troubles incident to human life. I know not how to regret the death of infants, especially under the dark apprehensions I have of the times. How do they appeal to you? The prevalence of sin, and the contempt of the gospel, in this long favored land, make me apprehensive that the present commotions are but the beginning of sorrows. Since we heard of the commencement of hostilities in America, we have had extraordinary prayer-meetings. It is held on Tuesday morning, weekly, at five o'clock, and is well attended. We are not politicians here; but we wish to be found among those described, Ezekiel. 9:4. We pray for the restoration of peace, and a blessing upon our public counsels.
I am your affectionate and obliged.
September 3, 1776
My dear sir,
The flowers which you sent have their value, they are very beautiful, and therefore pleasing; but they are very transitory, and therefore instructive. All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower; the flower is more conspicuous and beautiful than the grass—but likewise more precarious and liable to fade. Ministers, some of them at least, have a beauty beyond the grass, the bulk of their hearers. They are adorned with gifts and advantages of knowledge and expression which distinguish them for a time—but the flower fades.
How precarious are those distinctions for which some admire them, and for which they are in danger sometimes of admiring themselves! A fever, or a small change in the physical system, may deprive them of their abilities; and, while they remain, a thousand things may happen to prevent their exercise. Happy are those wise and faithful stewards, who know and approve their talents while afforded, who work while it is day—aware how soon, how suddenly, a night may overtake them. They may be hastily removed, cut down by the scythe of death; or, as the stalk remains after the flower is faded, they may outlive their usefulness.
However, the true servants of the Lord have something that will not decay. Grace is of an abiding nature, and will remain when the gifts of knowledge and elocution are withered. We know not what changes we may live to see; but God's love and promises, which are the pleasing subjects of our ministry, are unchangeable.
It gives me much pleasure that we are remembered by you and your friends for then, I hope, you pray for us. We are likewise mindful of you. Though absent in body, I am often present with you in spirit.
The ignorance of the people is indeed lamentable; we have affecting instances of it even here, where there has been no sound but the gospel heard, from the pulpits of either church or meeting, for many years. You ask what I think is the best method of removing it. I know no better, no other, than to go on praying, preaching and waiting. When we have toiled all night and have caught nothing, we have still encouragement to cast the net again. It must, it will be so, until the Lord opens the understanding—and then light shines out of darkness in a moment.
Should this ignorance be so far removed from the head, that people can form tolerable notions of the truths we preach—there is but little real advantage gained—unless the heart is changed by divine power! But the moment the heart is touched—they will begin to savingly comprehend.
A woman who had heard me for years, went home one day, and expressed a pleasing surprise that I had entirely changed my manner of preaching. "Until now," said she, "I have often listened with attention—but could never make out anything of your meaning; but this afternoon you preached so plainly, that I understood every word!" The Lord had opened her heart so suddenly, and yet so gently, that at first she thought the change was not in herself—but in me. It is well that he is pleased so to work, that we should have no pretense for taking any glory to ourselves. He lets us try and try again, to convince us that we can do nothing by ourselves. And then, often when we give up the case as desperate—he comes and does all!
Do not you feel something of 1 Samuel 4:13, in this dark day? "When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair beside the road watching, because he was anxious about the ark of God. When the man entered the city to give a report, the entire city cried out!"
I am not a politician, much less an American; but I fear the Lord has a controversy with us. I cannot but tremble at the consequences of our present disputes, and lest the disappointment our forces met with at Charlestown should be the prelude to some more important miscarriage. The plans of our operations may, for anything I know, be well laid, according to human wisdom, and our generals and admirals well qualified and supported to carry them into execution; but I am afraid the Lord Almighty is but little acknowledged or thought of in our councils, fleets, or armies. I see the nation in general hardened into that spirit of insensibility and blind security, which in all former ages and nations has been the token and forerunner of judgment; and therefore I lay but little stress upon the wisdom of the wise, or the prowess of the valiant. I think if our sins were not ripe for visitation, the Lord would have prevented things from coming to the present extremities. I would have better hope, if I saw his own people duly impressed with the present awful appearances; but, alas, I fear that too many of the wise virgins are slumbering, if not asleep, at such a time as this! May the Lord pour out upon us a spirit of humiliation and prayer, that we may prevail, if possible, for our country; or if wrath be decreed, and there be no remedy, we may have our hearts kept in peace, and find him a sure sanctuary for ourselves. Two texts seem especially suited for our meditation, Luke 21:34-36, Revelation 3:10.
I trust the Lord will reconcile you to his will, if he removes your sister. He is all-sufficient to make up every loss; and, indeed, it is wrong to grieve much for those who are called away from sin and sorrow, to perfect and endless happiness.
I have had a growth on my thigh sixteen years; it is now threatening to get bigger, and therefore I expect soon to go to London to have it eradicated. It is not painful, and the surgeon tells me the operation will be neither difficult nor dangerous; only I must keep to the house for some weeks, until the wound is healed.
I am sincerely yours.
My dear sir,
My wife returns you thanks for your present and your care. What avails it for a flower, or a man or woman, to bear a good name, if degenerated from the characteristic excellencies which the name imports. A tulip that has lost its colors; or a shriveled, deformed, irregular carnation, would not long preserve their places in your parterre; much less could you allow weeds to rear their tawdry heads among your choice flowers. But, alas! how is the Lord's garden, the professing church, overrun with weeds! Almost every lily grows among thorns or baleful plants, which convert all the nourishment they draw from the soil into poison. A time is coming when all that he has not planted shall be rooted up. May we, as under-gardeners, be furnished with grace, wisdom, and diligence to detect, and, as much as possible, to check every root of bitterness that would spring up, both in God's garden at large, and in our own hearts.
I am like your flowers, getting apace into an autumn state. May the Lord grant that I may find my declension of physical vigor, which I must soon expect to feel, balanced by a ripeness in judgment and experience. To be sure, I have had more proofs of an evil nature and deceitful heart, than I could possibly expect or conceive of twenty years ago. I believe likewise my understanding is more enlightened into the three great mysteries of the person, love, and life of Jesus. Yet I seem to groan under darkness, coldness, and confusion, as much as ever. I must go out of the world with the same language upon my lips which I used when I first ventured to a throne of grace, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, a poor worthless sinner!" My love is faint; my services feeble and defiled; my defects, mistakes, and omissions innumerable; my imaginations are as wild as the clouds in a storm—yes, too often as foul as a common sewer!
What can I set against this mournful confession? Only this—That Christ has died for me! I believe He is able to save to the uttermost! Upon His person, worth, and promise, rests all my hope; and this is a foundation able to bear the greatest weight.
I am your sincerely affectionate and obliged.