Letters of John Newton to William Bull, written from 1773 to 1805.
Mr. Bull became pastor of the Independent church at Newport Pagnell about the same time that Mr. Newton came to Olney. (The two places were but five miles apart.) The acquaintance between these friends did not commence until some time after this. No sooner, however, did they come really to know each other than this acquaintance speedily ripened into a very intimate, and, as it proved, a life-long friendship. In his Diary, at this time, Mr. Newton speaks again and again of the high esteem in which his friend was held. Thus he says: "I find few with whom I can converse with equal advantage, whose manner of thinking is so deep and solid." Again: "He has just called and spent an hour with me. I could sit silent half a day to listen to him, and am almost unwilling to speak a word for fear of preventing him." Once more: "I admire Mr. Bull; so humble, so spiritual, so judicious and so savory . . . I think he will be my most profitable companion in these parts."
The fellowship between Mr. Newton and Mr. Bull, as may be well supposed, was very frequent, so long as the former resided at Olney; and when he removed to London, there was abundant opportunity for its renewal, as Mr. Bull was in the habit, for many years, of preaching for several sabbaths at the Tabernacle and at Tottenham Court and Surrey Chapels. The flame of their affection burnt brightly to the last; for, as Mr. Newton writes in 1800, when to write had become a task, "If two needles are properly touched by a magnet, they will retain their sympathy for a long time. But if two hearts are truly united to the Heavenly Magnet, their mutual attraction will be permanent in time and to eternity. Blessed be the Lord for a good hope, that it is thus between you and me. I could not love you better if I saw or heard from you every day."
Mr. Bull was pastor of the church at Newport for fifty years; a church which he was enabled, by the blessing of God, to raise from a very low condition to a state of great prosperity. For a considerable portion of this time be also presided over a theological institution, in the formation of which Mr. Newton took a very active part, and the special design of which was to train suitable young men of evangelical sentiments for the Christian ministry, without regard to denominational distinctions.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Psalm 133:1
At present it is January with me both within and without. The outward sun shines and looks pleasant but his beams are faint, and too feeble to dissolve the frost.
So is it in my heart! I have many bright and pleasant beams of truth in my view but cold predominates in my frost-bound spirit, and they have but little power to warm me!
I could tell a stranger something about Jesus, which would perhaps astonish him. Such a glorious person, such wonderful love, such humiliation, such a death! And then, what He is now in Himself, and what He is to His people. What a Sun! what a Shield! what a Life! what a Friend!
My tongue can run on upon these subjects sometimes, and could my heart keep pace with it I would be the happiest fellow in the country!
Stupid creature! to know these things so well, and yet be no more affected with them!
Indeed, I have reason to be upon ill terms with myself. It is strange that pride should ever find anything in my experience to feed upon; but this completes my character for folly, vileness, and inconsistency that I am not only poor but proud! And though I am convinced I am a very wretch, as nothing before the Lord I am prone to go forth among my fellow-creatures as though I were wise and holy!
You wonder what I am doing and well you may. I am sure you would, if you lived with me. Too much of my time passes in busy idleness, too much in waking dreams. I aim at something but hindrances from within and without make it difficult for me to accomplish anything. I have written three or four pages since you was here, in the little book I showed you. It is to be but about the size of a shilling pamphlet; and if I go on as I have begun, it may be finished before Christmas! I dare not say I am absolutely idle, or that I willfully waste much of my time. I think I could complete my book in five or six days, if I had nothing else to do; but I have seldom one hour free from interruption. Letters come that must be answeredvisitants that must be receivedbusiness that must be attended to. I have a good many sheep and lambs to look after sick and afflicted souls dear to the Lord; and therefore whatever stands still these must not be neglected. Among these various avocations, night comes before I am ready for noon, and the week closes when, according to the state of my business, it should not be more than Tuesday! Oh precious irrecoverable time! Oh that I had more wisdom in redeeming and improving you! Pray for me, that the Lord may teach me to serve him better.
Mrs. Newton has been one week confined to her chamber through illness but is pretty well again. We abound in mercies and causes for gratitude; but what a shame and pity to make such poor returns to the Author of them! I long to come to Newport to see you but I believe I must wait for that pleasure until the days are a little longer. In the meantime you will be as welcome to us here, if you will trot over as a new guinea to a miser's pocket.
I am very affectionately yours,
January 27, 1778
To keep me at home four afternoons upon the tip-toe of expectation and not come near me at last. If you cannot send me a certificate, signed by the doctor and church-warden, specifying that you were too ill to travel, I have reason to be angry with you! But to show my forgiving spirit, if you will come over on Monday To dinner, I will give you something to eat, and your certificate of pardon.
I am to preach (if I can) three times on Fast-day but have at present fixed only upon one text, which, for a certain reason, I shall not mention to you at present. I send you, however, according to order, a text and a plan which I found among my old papers. I preached it about sixteen years ago to a congregation of about twelve, in my own house, sometime before I was brought into the public ministry. I have not time to read it over; but if it may put any hints in your way, it is at your service. I cannot send you my present thoughts upon another text, for a plain reason, namely, that I am not able yet to think for myself; and I must receive before I can communicate. It would be mocking you to offer you drink out of an empty vessel.
Since I have begun to write, I have thought perhaps one of my texts will be either Psalm 97:1, or Psalm 19:1. The whole system of my politics is summed up in that one sentence, "The Lord reigns!" I wish you would send me, by the bearer, some hints towards a sermon on it. It would be a good text if I knew how to manage it.
The times look awfully dark indeed; and as the clouds grow thicker, the stupidity of the nation seems proportionally to increase. If the Lord had not a remnant here, I would have very formidable apprehensions. But he loves his children; some are sighing and mourning before him, and I am sure he hears their sighs, and sees their tears. I trust there is mercy in store for us at the bottom; but I expect a shaking time before things get into a right channel, before we are humbled, and are taught to give him the glory.
The state of the nation, the state of the churches both are deplorable. Those who should be praying are disputing and fighting among themselves! Alas! how many professors are more concerned for the mistakes of government, or of the Americans, than for their own sins! When will these things end?
Love me, and pray for me, and come to see me for I cannot come to you. With my love and Mrs. Newton's to you and Mrs. Bull,
I remain, your obliged friend,
John Newton Olney, 24 Feb., 1778.
I am so monstrous busy, I have hardly time to tell you how sorry I am for my disappointment, and your illness, which was the cause of it. Indeed, I am as sorry for both, as a Calvinist ought to be. It was the time you and I appointed for meeting; had it been the Lord's time nothing could have prevented you. I wish he may give you permission to come next Monday, or any day after tomorrow which you please, only send word. What do you think of it? I have a double motive for wishing to see you now, because, besides having your company, it would be a proof that you were better.
Last Sunday afternoon we had a great personage with us at church. I endeavored to persuade all the congregation to kiss Him. But though I talked a whole hour about it, few would comply. Alas! it was because they did not know him; and though I told them who he was, they would not believe me.
When I found the morning coaches came in without you, I was not much disappointed. I know how difficult it is to get away from Northampton if you are seen in the street after breakfast. The horseleech has three daughters, saying, Give, give! The cry there is, Preach, preach. When you have told them all, you must tell them more, or tell it them over again. Whoever will find tongue they will engage to find ears. Yet I do not blame this importunity. I wish you were teased more with it in your own town; for though undoubtedly there are too many both at Northampton and here whose religion lies too much in hearing yet, in many, it proceeds from a love to the truth, and to the ministers who dispense it. And I generally observe that those who are not willing to hear a stranger (if his character is known) are indifferent enough about hearing their own minister.
I beg you to pray for me. I am a poor creature, full of needs. I seem to need the wisdom of Solomon, the meekness of Moses, and the zeal of Paul to enable me to make full proof of my ministry. But, alas! you may guess the rest.
Send me "The Way to Christ"! I am willing to be a debtor to the wise and unwise, to doctors and shoe-makers, if I can get a hint, or a Nota Bene from anyone, without respect to parties.
When a house is on fire, Churchmen and Dissenters, Methodists, Papists, Moravians, and Mystics are all welcome to bring water. At such times nobody asks, "Dear friend, what church do you worship at?" Or "What do you think of the five points?"
Love and thanks to Mrs. Bull, etc,
28th April, 1778.
My dear wife has been quite ill. Her head was ill when at your house but she can carry it off pretty well, if not quite bad, for her spirits are naturally very good, which is a great mercy. Sickness is a bitter pill to the flesh but good natural spirits sweeten the pill, if I may so say, and make it rather more palatable.
The Lord is good; he knows what we need, and when we need it; and then have it we must and shall whether it be sweet, bitter, or sour, for he will withhold no good thing from those who fear and love him. He weighs the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance; with equal accuracy he adjusts all that concerns us. Worms as we are, he is attentive to everything that relates to our peace and welfare, as though we, each of us singly, were the sole objects of his providential care. At the same time, he is providing for the lions and ravens, supporting all the ants and worms that creep upon the earth; at the same time he upholds and enlightens the inhabitants of the heavenly world. His eye and his heart are attentively fixed upon you and worthless me. Well may we say, "Who is a God like unto you!"
John Newton Olney 1st July, 1778.
July 7, 1778
My dear friend,
I don't know that I have anything to say worth the postage, though perhaps, had I seen you before you set off, something might have occurred which will not be found in my letter. Yet I write a line, because you bid me, and are now in a far foreign country. You will find Mr. **** a man to your toothbut he is in Mr. W****'s connection. So I remember Mr. Bede, after giving a high character of some contemporary, kicks his full pail of milk down, and reduces him almost to nothing, by adding in the close to this purpose; "But, unhappy manhe did not keep Easter our way!" I don't care a fig for all such religious connections! Therefore I venture to repeat it, that Mr. ****, though he often sees and hears Mr. W****, and I believe loves him well, is a good manand you will see the invisible mark upon his forehead, if you examine him with your spiritual spectacles.
I do pity you in London! I see you melted with heat, stifled with smoke, stunned with noise! Ah! what a change from the brooks, and bushes, and birds, and green fieldsto which you lately had access. Of old they used to retire into the deserts for contemplation and meditation. If I was to set myself a moderate penanceit might be to spend two weeks in London in the height of summer! But I forget myself. I hope the Lord is with youand then all places are alike. He makes the dungeon and the stocks comfortable, Acts 26. Yes, even a fiery furnace, and a lion's den! A child of God in Londonseems to be in all these trying situationsbut Jesus can preserve His own people. I honor the grace of God in those few (comparatively few, I fear,) who preserve their garments undefiled in that Sardis! The air is filled with infection; and it is by God's special power and miraculous preservation, that they enjoy spiritual healthwhen so many sicken and fall around them on the right hand and on the left. May the Lord preserve you from the various epidemic soul diseases which abound where you areand may He be your comfort and defense from day to day.
Last week we had a lion in town. I went to see him. He was wonderfully tame; as friendly with his keeper, as docile and obedient as a pet dog. Yet the man told me he had his surly fits, when they dared not touch him. No looking-glass could express my face more justlythan this lion did my heart. I could trace every featureas wild and fierce by nature; yes, much more sobut grace has in some measure tamed me. I know and love my Keeper, and sometimes watch his looks that I may learn his will. But, oh! I have my surly fits too! Seasons when I relapse into the savage again, as though I had forgotten all.
July 13, 1778
My dear friend,
As we are so soon to meet, as I have nothing very important to communicate, and many things occur which might demand my time; I have no other plea to offer, either to you or myself, for writing againbut because I love you.
I pity the minister with whom you talked this morning. But we must take men and things as we find themand when we fall in company with those from whom we can get little other good, it is likely we shall at least find occasion for the exercise of patience and charity towards them, and of thankfulness to him who has made us to differ. And these are good things, though perhaps the occasion may not be pleasant. Indeed, a Christian, if in a right spirit, is always in his Lord's school, and may either learn a new lesson, or how to practice an old oneby everything he sees or hears, provided he does not willfully tread upon forbidden ground. If he were constrained to spend a day with the poor creatures in Newgate prison, though he could not talk with them of what God has done for his soul, he might be more sensible of God's mercy, by the contrast he would observe around him. He might rejoice for himselfand mourn over themand thus perhaps get as much benefit as from the best sermon he ever heard!
It is necessary, all things taken together, to have interaction more or less, with narrow-minded people. If they are, notwithstanding their prejudices, civil to usthey have a right to some civility from us. We may love them, though we cannot admire them; and pick something good from them, notwithstanding we see so much to blame. It is perhaps the highest triumph we can obtain over bigotrywhen we are able to bear with bigots themselves. For they are a set of troublesome folks, whom Mr. Self is often very forward to exclude from the comprehensive love and tenderness which he professes to exercise towards those who differ from him.
I am glad your present home (a believer should be always at home) is pleasant; the rooms large and airy; your host and hostess kind and spiritual; and, upon the whole, all things as well as you could expect to find them, considering where you are. I do not wish you to live there, for my own sake as well as yoursbut if the Lord should so appoint itI believe he can make you easy there, and enable me to make a tolerable shift without you. Yet I certainly shall miss you; for I have no person in this neighborhood with whom my heart so thoroughly unites in spiritual things, though there are many whom I love.
Conversation with most Christians is something like going to court; where, except you are dressed exactly according to a prescribed standard, you will either not be admitted, or must expect to be gaudily stared at. But you and I can meet and converse without pretense, without fear of offending, or being accounted offenders, for a word out of place, and not exactly in the right mode.
I think my sentiments and experience are as orthodox and Calvinistic as need be; and yet I am a sort of speckled bird among my Calvinist brethren. I am a mighty good Churchmanbut pass among them as a secret Dissenter. On the other hand, the Dissenters (many of them I mean) think me defective, either in understanding or in conscience, for staying where in the church. Well! there is a middle party, called Methodistsbut neither do my dimensions exactly fit with them. I am somehow disqualified for claiming a full brotherhood with any party. But there are a few among all parties who bear with me and love meand with this I must be content at present. But so far as they love the Lord Jesus, I desire, and by his grace I determine (with or without their permission) to love them all. Church denomination walls, though stronger than the walls of Babylon, must come down in the general ruin, when the earth and all its works shall be burnt up, if no sooner!
My dear friend,
I thought that it pleased your very heart to see so much simplicity and spirituality in a lady of fortune. It is not wealth but the love of it, and the pride of it, which are hurtful to professors. I know several people of distinction, who are as eminent for humility and devotedness to God as for their rank in life. And, through mercy, I have no intimacy with any in a line of life above me, but what I think are such. It is the triumph of grace to make the rich humble, and the poor thankful.
Oh, the gospel is an admirable expedient, a cure-all, equally suited to every condition of life, a universal cordial, a sovereign antidote! Those who truly receive it, are qualified to live in every situation to which the Lord in his providence appoints them. Though the air is infected, and thousands fall around them they shall flourish, for the grace of their Lord is always sufficient for them, and the truths upon which they feed keep them from being either elated by prosperity, or depressed unduly by trials. Everywhere, and in all things, they are instructed. They hear the voice of their Beloved, are guided by his eye, animated by his example, and cheered by his presence!
I love you a little better than I did, because you know and love Dr. Conyers. I am not fond of making comparisons between ministers, and yet am almost constrained to set him at the head, as the first of "the first three" of our line. But I should not do so, upon the account of his gifts as a minister, if I did not know he is little in his own eyes. I estimate a minister's character from combining what he is in the pulpit with what he is when out of it; and they stand highest upon my scale, whose conduct is most expressive of the doctrines they preach.
If we cannot attain to "the first three," or to be ranked among "the thirty," still it is a mercy to be on the Lord's side, and to be honored with an employment in his family, though in a lower place, so we may but be enabled to say, "I do a little for him, and to feed a few of the weakest and poorest of his children, for his sake."
Especially ought I to think so, who was before a blasphemer and a reviler! That I, who once deliberately renounced him, despised his blood, and crucified him afresh, that I should be redeemed and saved from the wilds of Africa, and put in trust with the blessed gospel this was mercy indeed. I am ready to say
"The first archangel never saw
So much of grace before."
And yet I am not duly affected with it. Oh stupid, cold creature, to be no more humbled, no more thankful!
I am sincerely yours,
John Newton Olney, 18th July, 1778.
My dear friend,
I was glad to hear that you were again within a few miles of me; and I praise the Lord, who led you out and brought you home in safety, and preserved all in peace while you were abroad, so that you found nothing very painful to embitter your return. Many go abroad in healthbut return no more. The affectionate wife, the prattling children, listen for the well-known sound of papa's foot at the doorbut they listen in vain! A fall or a fever has intercepted him, and he is gonefar, far away. Some leave all well when they go from homebut how changed, how trying, the scene when they come back! In their absence, the Lord has taken away the desire of their eyes with a stroke! Or perhaps ruffians have plundered and murdered their family in the dead of the nightor a fire has devoured their habitation!
Ah! how large and various is the list of evils and calamities with which sin has filled the world! You and I have escape them. We stand, though in a field of battle, where thousands fall around usonly because the Lord is pleased to keep us. May He have the praiseand may we only live to love and serve him.
My wife has been very ill, and my heart often much pained while you have been absent. But the Lord has removed his handshe is much better, and I hope she will be seen in his house tomorrow. I have few trials in my own personbut when the Lord afflicts her, I feel it. It is a mercy that he has made us onebut it exposes us to many a pain, which we might have missed if we cared but little for each other. Alas! there is usually an ounce of the golden calf, of idolatry and dependence, in all the warm regard we bear to creatures! For this reason, our sharpest trials usually spring from our most valued comforts.
I cannot come to you; therefore you must come hither speedily. Be sure to bring Mr. B**** with you. I shall be very glad to see him, and I long to thank him for binding my book. It looks well on the outside, and I hope to find it sound and savory. I love the author, and that is a step towards liking the book. For where we lovewe are generally tender, and favorably take everything by the best handle, and are vastly full of candor. But if we are prejudiced against the author, the poor book is half condemned before we open it. It had need be written well; for it will be read with a suspicious eye, as if we wished to find treason in every page.
I am glad I profited you by calling myself a speckled bird. I can tell you, such a bird in this day, that wears the full color of no sect or party, is a rare breed; if not quite so scarce as the phoenixyet to be met with but here and there. It is impossible I should be all of one color, when I have been a debtor to all sorts; and, like the jay in the fable, have been indebted to most of the birds in the air for a feather or two. Church and Dissenter, Methodist and Moravian, may all perceive something in my coat taken from them. None of them are angry with me for borrowing from thembut then, why could I not be content with their color, without going among other flocks and coveys, to make myself such a motley figure? Let them be angry; if I have culled the best feathers from all, then surely I am finer than any!
I am sincerely yours,
Dear Mr. Bull,
When you are with the King, and are getting good for yourself, speak a word for me and mine. I have reason to think you see him oftener, and have nearer access to him than myself. Indeed, I am unworthy to look at him, or to speak to him at all much more that he should speak tenderly to me; yet I am not wholly without his notice: he supplies all my needs, and I live under his protection. My enemies see his Royal arms over my door, and dare not enter. Were I detached from him for a moment, in that moment they would make an end of me.
I am, as I ought to be, your affectionate and obliged,
My birthday, 4th August, 1778.
If the Lord affords health; if the weather be tolerable; if no unforeseen change takes place; if no company comes in upon me tonight, (which sometimes unexpectedly happens,) with these provisos, Mr. S **** and I have engaged to travel to **** on next Monday, and hope to be with you by or before eleven o'clock!
In such a precarious world, it is needful to form our plans at two days' distance, with precaution and exceptions, James 4:13. However, if it be the Lord's will to bring us together, and if the purposed interview is for his glory and our good, then I am sure nothing shall prevent it. And who in his right wits would wish either to visit or be visited upon any other terms? O! if we could but be pleased with his will, we might be pleased from morning to night, and every day in the year.
Pray for a blessing upon our coming together. It would be a pity to walk ten miles to pick straws, or to come with our empty vessels upon our heads, saying, "We have found no water!"
My dear friend,
I was unwilling not to leave a line to tell you that we sympathize with you and Mrs. Bull in your severe trial. (The death of an infant.) But, at the same time, I rejoice exceedingly in the Lord's goodness, enabling you to be resigned and satisfied with his will, despite all the feelings and pinchings of flesh and blood. Had the child lived, the warmest desires of a parent's heart for him could only have been, that he might at last have arrived to that rest and happiness, to which the Lord has now brought him by a shorter cut. Saving thereby him from many troubles, and you from some occasional heartaches, which must otherwise have been experienced. If you can now believe and say, "He does all things well" with what transport would you say it, if the whole plan of his wisdom and love was unfolded to your view? He will condescend to unfold it to you hereafter, and it will fill you with admiration. Your tender plant is now housed, out of the reach of storms. It is an affliction, to be cordially rejoiced in, when the Lord, who cares for us, intimates his will by the event.
What a blessing to be a Christian to have a hiding place and a resting place always at hand! To be assured that all things work for our good, and that our compassionate Shepherd has his eye always upon us, to support and to relieve us. The flesh will feel the sharp affliction but faith and prayer will lighten the burden, and heal the wound. Daily your sense of the Lord's goodness will increase, and the sense of pain will abate, so that you will have less sorrow, and more joy, from day to day.
The Lord favored us with a tolerable day yesterday, and I hope he was in the midst of us yet, upon the whole, we have but slack times. Oh for a revival, a day of Pentecost, a visible accomplishment of that gracious promise, Ezekiel 34:6! I trust my soul desires it; but, alas! my desires are faint and cold. My subjects yesterday were, forenoon, Psalm 142:1,2; afternoon, 1 Corinthians 10:12, a watch word. In the evening, a hymn about the sheep and the Shepherd, how he dwells among them, and they lie around in safety at his feet. They are surrounded by wolves, visible and invisible these growl and thirst for blood; but the Shepherd's eye controls them. He stands and feeds his sheep in the midst of their enemies, who grudge and snarl but cannot prevail against the sheep, helpless as they are, because the Lord is their Shepherd.
Pray for your poor friend and brother,
Olney, 7th Sept., 1778, Monday.
October 27, 1778
My dear friend,
I have been witness to a great and important revolution this morning, which took place while the greatest part of the world was asleep. Like many state-revolutions, its first beginnings were almost indiscerniblebut the progress, though gradual, was steadyand the event decisive. A while ago darkness reigned. Had a man from space then dropped, for the first time, into our worldhe might have thought himself banished into a hopeless dungeon. How could he expect light to rise out of such a dark state? And when he saw the first glimmering of dawn in the east, how could he promise himself that it was the forerunner of such a glorious sun as has since arisen! With what wonder would such a new-comer observe the bounds of his view enlarging, and the distinctness of objects increasing from one minute to another; and how well content would he be to part with the twinkling of the stars, when he had the broad day all around him in exchange! I cannot say this revolution is extraordinary, because it happens every morningbut surely it is astonishing, or rather it would be soif man was not astonishingly stupid!
We were once such strangers! Darkness, gross darkness, covered us. How confined were our views! And even the things which were within our reachwe could not distinguish. Little did we then think what a glorious day we were appointed to see; what an unbounded prospect would before long open before us! We knew not that there was a Sun of Righteousness, and that he would dawn, and rise, and shine upon our hearts. And as the idea of what we see nowwas then hidden from us, so at present we are almost equally at a loss how to form any conception of the stronger light and brighter prospects which we wait and hope for. Comparatively we are still in the darkat the most, we have but a dim twilight, and see nothing clearlybut it is the dawn of immortality, and a sure presage and earnest of glory.
Thus, at times, it seems a darkness that may be felt broods over your natural spiritsbut when the day-star rises upon your heart, you see and rejoice in his light. You have days as well as nights; and after a few more vicissitudes, you will take your flight to the regions of everlasting light, where your sun will go down no more. Happy you, and happy Iif I shall meet you there, as I trust I shall. How shall we love, and sing, and wonder, and praise the Savior's name!
Last Sunday a young man died here of extreme old age, at twenty-five. He labored hard to ruin a good constitution, and unhappily succeededyet amused himself with the hopes of recovery almost to the last. We have a sad multitude of such poor creatures in this place, who labor to stifle each other's convictions, and to ruin themselves and associates, soul and body!
How industriously is Satan served! I was formerly one of his most active under-tempters! Not content with running down the broad way which leads to destruction by myselfI was indefatigable in enticing others! And, had my influence been equal to my wishesI would have carried the whole human race to hell with me! And doubtless some have perished, to whose destruction I was greatly instrumental, by tempting them to sin, and by poisoning and hardening them with principles of infidelity. And yet I was spared! When I think of the most with whom I spent my ungodly days of ignorance, I am ready to say, "I alone have escaped alive!"
Surely I have not half the activity and zeal in the service of Him who snatched me as a brand out of the burningas I had in the service of His enemy! Then the whole stream of my endeavors and affections went one way; now my best desires are continually crossed, counteracted, and spoiled, by the sin which dwells in me! Then the tide of a corrupt nature bore me along; now I have to strive and swim against it.
The Lord has cut me short of opportunities, and placed me where I could do but little mischiefbut had my abilities and opportunities been equal to my heart desiresI would have been a monster of profaneness and profligacy! A common drunkard or profligate is a petty sinnercompared to what I once was. I had unabated ambition, and wanted to rank in wickedness among the foremost of the human race! "O to grace how great a debtordaily I'm constrained to be!" "By the grace of GodI am what I am!" 1 Corinthians 15:10
But I have rambled. I meant to tell you, that on Sunday afternoon I preached from "Why will you die?" Ezekiel 33:10-11. I endeavored to show poor sinners, that if they diedit was because they would; and if they wouldthey must. I was much affected for a time. I could hardly speak for weeping, and some wept with me. From some, alas! I can no more draw a tear or a serious thought, than from a millstone!
November 27, 1778
My dear friend,
You are a better expositor of Scripture than of my speechesif you really inferred from my last that I think you shall die soon. I cannot say positively you will not die soon, because life at all times is uncertain. However, according to the doctrine of probabilities, I think, and always thought, you bid fair enough to outlive me. The gloomy tinge of your weak spiritsled you to consider yourself much worse in point of health than you appear to me to be.
In the other point I dare be more positive, that, die when you willyou will die in the Lord. Of this I have not the least doubt; and I believe you doubt of it less, if possible, than I, except in those darker moments when the evil humor prevails.
I heartily sympathize with you in your illnessesbut I see you are in safe hands! The Lord loves youand He will take care of you. He who raises the deadcan revive your spirits when you are cast down. He who sets bounds to the sea, and says "Hitherto shall you come, and no further," can limit and moderate those illnesses which sometimes distresses you. He knows why He permits you to be thus exercised. I cannot assign the reasonsbut I am sure they are worthy of His wisdom and love, and that you will hereafter see and say, "He has done all things well!"
I do not like to puzzle myself with second causes, while the first cause is at hand, which sufficiently accounts for every phenomenon in a believer's experience. Your constitution, your situation, your temper, your distemper, all that is either comfortable or painful in your lotis of his appointment! The hairs of your head are all numbered. The same power which produced the planet Jupiteris necessary to the production of a single hair! Nor can one your hairs fall to the ground without His noticeany more than the stars can fall from their orbits! In providence, no less than in creationHe is the absolute Sovereign and Ruler.
Therefore fear notonly believe. Our sea may sometimes be stormybut we have an infallible Pilot, and shall infallibly gain our port!
My dear friend,
I have heard of Mr. Palmer's dismissal from this state of sin and pain. Though old people must die, the stroke will be felt by near friends whenever it comes. But the loss of those who die in the Lord should not be long or deeply mourned. They are gone a little before us and we hope to meet them soon again, and upon far better terms, when there will be no abatement of joy, and when joy shall have no end. I hope Jesus, the everlasting Father, who never dies, will comfort and bless his wife under all changes and events.
I hope your weak spirits, strengthened by the great and good Spirit of the Lord, have happily surmounted what you have lately had to go through, and that you rejoice to think that in less than a hundred years your turn will come to go and see your Beloved, and that in the mean time you will preach, and act, and speak for him as much as possible. When will you come and tell me something about him? Let me expect you on Friday, or any day but Wednesday, because I shall then be at Weston. My dear wife is tolerably well at present but sometimes complaining a little; I should say, ailing; for I hope she is sensible she has no reason to complain. I write in great haste. Adieu; may the Lord bless you.
I am yours entirely,
My dear friend,
Your letters are always welcome; the last doubly so, for being unexpected. If you never heard before, of a letter of yours being useful, I will tell you for once, that I get some pleasure and instruction whenever you write to me. And I see not but your call to letter-writing is as clear as mine, at least when you are able to put pen to paper.
I must say something to your queries about 2 Samuel 14. I do not approve of the scholastic distinctions about inspiration, which seem to have a tendency to explain away the authority and certainty of at least one half of the Bible. Though the penmen of Scripture were ever so well informed of some facts, they would, as you observe, need express, full, and infallible inspiration, to teach them which things the Lord would have selected and recorded for the use of the church, among many others which to themselves might appear equally important.
However, with respect to historical passages, I dare not pronounce positively that any of them are, even in the literal sense, unworthy of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the dignity of inspiration, Some, yes, many of them, have often appeared trivial to mebut I check the thought, and charge it to my own ignorance and temerity. It must have some importance, because I read it in God's book. On the other hand, though I will not deny that they may all have a spiritual and mystical sense, (for I am no more qualified to judge of the deep things of the Spirit, than to tell you what is passing this morning at the bottom of the sea,) yet if, with my present quota of light, I would undertake to expound many passages in a mystical senseI fear such a judge as you would think my interpretations fanciful and not well supported. I suppose I would have thought the Bible complete, though it had not informed me of the death of Rebekah's nurse, or where she was buried. But some tell me that Deborah is the law, and that by the oak I am to understand the cross of Christand I remember to have heard of a preacher who discovered a type of Christ crucified in Absalom hanging by the hair on another oak. I am quite a mole when compared with these eagle-eyed divines; and must often content myself with plodding upon the lower ground of accommodation and allusion; except when the New-Testament writers assure me what the mind of the Holy Spirit was, I can find the Gospel with more confidence in the history of Sarah and Hagar, than in that of Leah and Rachel; though, without Paul's help, I should have considered them both as family squabbles, recorded chiefly to illustrate the general truththat vanity and vexation of spirit are incident to the best men, in the most favored situations.
And I think there is no part of Old Testament history from which I could not (the Lord helping me) draw observations, that might be suitable to the pulpit, and profitable to his people. But then, with the Bible in my hands, I go upon sure grounds. I am certain of the facts I speak from, that they really did happen. I may likewise depend upon the springs and motives of actions, and not amuse myself and my hearers with speeches which were never spoken, and motives which were never thought of, until the historian rummaged his pericranium for something to embellish his work. I doubt not, but were you to consider Joab's courtly conduct only in a literal sense, how it tallied with David's desire, and how gravely and graciously he granted himself a favor, while he professed to oblige Joab; I say in this view, you would be able to illustrate many important scriptural doctrines, and to show that the passage is important to those who are engaged in studying the anatomy of the human heart.
I have said enough or too much. I could, after all, preach very willingly upon God's devising means to bring his banished home again, and take occasion to lisp my poor views of that mysterious and adorable contrivance, without taking upon me to say that either Joab or the woman of Tekoa thought of the gospel when they cooked up that affair between them, or that even it was the express design of the Holy Spirit, in the place. These points are always true, and always to be remembered, asserted, and repeated:
1st. That man, by the entrance of sin, is a banished creature, driven far away from God, from righteousness, from happiness.
2nd. That he must have remained in this state of banishment forever, if God had not devised to bring him home again.
3rd. That these means are worthy the Divine contriver, full of glory, holiness, wisdom, and efficacy.
4th. Man, who was far off, is by faith actually restored and brought near by Jesus Christ.
Had it not been for Joab's courtly conduct, we would not have been favored with this expression, so apt and suitable for the basis of a gospel sermon; nor could I have been gratified with your thoughts upon the subject, or have had the pleasure of presenting you with mine.
I am sorry for your bodily complaints but hope I may ascribe a part of them to low spirits; I am therefore unwilling to think you so bad as you think yourself. We are pretty well. Love to Mrs. Bull.
Believe me most sincerely yours,
I shall expect you with earnestness on Tuesday, and I hope the weather, and especially illness, will not prevent you; and I beg you not to listen too much to that lowness of spirits which would persuade you, I suppose, to confine yourself always at home; because I am satisfied, that when you can muster strength to withstand this depressing, discouraging solicitation, and force yourself to ride and chat with some friend, you take the best course for relief; and, among all the friends you may think of treating with your company on such occasions, be sure none will be more glad to receive you than your friend at the Olney Vicarage!
I think my feelings will warrant me to make that line my own. The Lord has been pleased to put some grains of sympathy into my constitution; and the difficult turns of life I have passed through, have not been unuseful to give me some apprehension what impression afflictions make upon other people. It is true, I have not been much exercised with nervous complaints myself but my situation here has afforded me a sort of second-hand experience of this kind, for I have lived almost fourteen years among a people dear to my heart, many of whom, to their other various trials, have that of a delicate and agitated nervous texture superadded, (owing in great measure, I suppose, to their sedentary and confined occupations,) which has given much scope to my observation and compassion.
I understand something of your complaint, and know how to pity you; but, since you say all is well, and shall be well since you are in the wise and merciful hands of One who prescribes for you with unerring wisdom, and has unspeakably more tenderness than can be found in all human hearts taken together I shall sorrow for you as though I sorrowed not; and I hope you will do the same for yourself. He weighs all your painful dispensations with consummate accuracy, and you shall not have a single grain of trouble more, not for a single moment longer than he will enable you to bear, and will sanctify to your good.
As to our death let it suffice us that it is precious in his sight. The how, the when, the where every circumstance, is already planned by infinite wisdom and love. Satan may suggest that the hour will be terrible; but Jesus promises to be with us to lead us through the dark valley; and when we come to the brink of the river, I trust we shall find the ark there before us, to keep the waters down.
I have been preaching from a text tonight which I recommend as a suitable cordial for you in your present situation, Isaiah 41:17, "When the poor and needy seek water," etc. May the Lord himself apply and fulfill it to your comfort. Meditate upon it until you come, and then tell me more of it than I have been able to speak about it, which you may easily do, for I have only skimmed upon the surface and edge of what has neither bottom nor bound.
I am running on as if you were on the other side of the Atlantic, or as though I had given up the hope of seeing you so soon as Tuesday. Come, if possible. I will endeavor to be alone, and will no more blab my expectation of your company, than I would if I had found a pot of honey, and was afraid of my neighbors breaking in upon me for a share.
Mrs. Newton joins in love, and will be glad to receive you, and will excuse you if you should feel but poorly. Our respects to Mrs. Bull. The rest when we meet. May the Lord come with you, then it will be a good visit.
I am affectionately and sincerely your friend, brother, and servant,
Olney, 18 Dec, 1778, nine in the evening.
My dear friend,
You say you hate controversy so do I; and therefore I beg nothing that passes between you and I, in our friendly researches after truth, may be included under so frightful a name. You and I may propose, debate, and sometimes differ but I think it unlikely that we should ever dispute.
I am glad your fever is gone. I hope that all dark, unpleasant thoughts will vanish like mists before the midsummer sun, and that you will have a cheerful Christmas, a comfortable close of the old year, and a happy entrance upon the new.
I have not yet time to think of Christmas texts for this year but I send you two old ones, if you can pick a hint or two it is well and I and my hints will be honored.
My dear wife was very ill, indeed, last Wednesday night. After suffering about eight hours, the Lord relieved her. It seemed to me as if it might have been fatal in a few more hours. What a mercy to have an infallible Physician always within call, always in the house! Oh! what a precious present help in trouble! Help us to praise him. She is tolerable but has not yet recovered the shock. She thanks you and Mrs. Bull for your love and returns it.
Adieu, in great haste but always your most affectionate,
Thank you for the savory dish which you sent me in your last post, I hashed it up my own way, and set it before my people on Christmas morning, and hope some of them fed heartily upon it. In the evening I preached from John 10:10.
What have you for New Year's day? I am not yet provided for the old folks in the forenoon. To the youth in the evening I think to preach from Jeremiah 3:19. Chiefly to resolve the difficulty which occurs among the children, considering them
1. as guilty
2. as obstinate.
Sovereign grace alone could surmount these difficulties. Grace has provided a Savior to take away the guilt, and the agency of the Holy Spirit to overcome the obstinacy, to give ground, liberty, and power to call God, Father: then all is easy. This is the principal thought I have in view. Pray for me, that I may open my mouth to speak boldly, plainly, affectionately, and successfully. We are tolerably well.
We wish you, and Mrs. Bull, a comfortable close of this year, and a happy entrance upon the next. And so with our joint love we bid you hearty farewell.
Yours in the best bonds,
My dear Mr. Bull,
My dear wife is ill again, a most violent pain in her head has lasted about thirty hours and, still continues. Pray for her; I wish you not to expect me either Tuesday or Wednesday. Mr. Scott and his wife are both very ill of a putrid fever. He caught it by attendance on the sick poor. A noble wound! Shall soldiers risk their lives, and stand as a mark for great guns, for sixpence a day, or for worldly honor? and is it not worth venturing something in imitation of Him who went about doing good, and when the good we aim at is for his sake? However, by his illness, and while it remains, I shall be confined at home that I may be within his call.
Love to Mrs. Bull. I am in great haste, and with great sincerity,
February 23, 1779
My dear friend,
On Saturday I heard you had been ill. Had the news reached me sooner, I would have sent you a letter sooner. I hope you will be able to inform me that you are now better, and that the Lord continues to do you good by every dispensation he allots you. Healing and wounding are equally from His handand are equally tokens of His love and care over us! "The Lord givesand the Lord takes away. Praise the name of the Lord!" Job 1:21.
I have but little affliction in my own personbut I have been oftened chastened of late by proxy. The Lord, for his people's sake, is still pleased to give me health and strength for public service. But, when I need the rod he lays it upon my dear wife! In this way I have felt muchwithout being disabled or laid aside. But he has heard prayer for her likewise, and for more than a two weeksshe has been comfortably well. I lay at least one half of her sickness to my own account. She suffers for me, and I through her. It is, indeed, touching me in a tender part. Perhaps if I could be more wise, watchful, and humbleit might contribute more to the re-establishment of her health, than all the medicine she takes!
The last of my sermons was a sort of historical discourse, from Deut. 32:15; in which, running over the leading national events from the time of Wycliffe, I endeavored to trace the steps and turns by which the Lord has made us a fat and thriving people; and in the event blessed us, beyond his favorite Jeshurun of old, with civil and religious liberty, peace, honor, and prosperity, and Gospel privileges. How fat we were when the war terminated in the year 1763, and how we have kicked and forsaken the Rock of our salvation of recent years! Then followed a sketch of our present state and spirit as a people, both in a religious and political view. I startled at the picture while I drew it, though it was a very inadequate representation. We seemed willing to afflict our souls for one day, Isaiah 58:5. But the next day things returned into their former channel. The sermon seemed presently forgotten, except by a few simple souls, who are despised and hated by the rest for their preciseness, because they think sin ought to be lamented every day in the year.
Who would envy Cassandra her gift of prophecy upon the terms she had itthat her declarations, however true, should meet with no belief or regard by here hearers? It is the lot of all Gospel ministers, with respect to the bulk of their hearers. But blessed be the grace which makes a few exceptions! Here and there, one will hear, believe, and be saved. Everyone of these converts is worth a world! Our success with a fewshould console us for all our trials.
Come and see us as soon as you can, only not tomorrow, for I am then to go to T****. My Lord, the Great Shepherd, has one sheep there, related to the fold under my care. I can seldom see her, and she is very ill. I expect she will be soon removed to the pasture above. Give our love to your dear wife.
August 19, 1779
My dear friend,
Among the rest of temporal mercies, I would be thankful for pen, ink, and paper, and the convenience of the postal system, by which means we can waft a thought to a friend when we cannot be with him. My will has been to see youbut you must accept the will for the deed. The Lord has not permitted me.
I have been troubled of late with the rheumatism in my left arm. Mine is a sinful, vile body, and it is a mercy that any part of it is free from pain. It is virtually the seat and subject of all diseasesbut the Lord holds them, like wild beasts in a chain, under a strong restraint. Was that restraint taken off, they would rush upon their prey from every quarter, and seize upon every limb, member, joint, and nerveat once. Yet, though I am a sinner, and though my whole body is so frail and exposed, I have enjoyed for a number of years, an almost perfect exemption both from pain and sickness. This is wonderful indeed, even in my own eyes.
But my soul is far from being in a healthy state. There I have labored, and still labor, under a complication of diseases; andbut for the care and skill of an infallible Physician, I must have died long ago. At this very moment my soul is feverish, dropsical, paralytic. I feel a loss of appetite, a disinclination both to food and to medicineso that I am alive by miracle. yet I trust I shall not diebut live, and declare the works of the Lord. When I faint he revives me again. I am sure he is able, and I trust he has promised to heal mebut how inveterate must my disease be, that is not yet subdued, even under his management!
Well, my friend, there is a land where the inhabitants shall no more say, "I am sick." Then my eyes will not be dim, nor my ear heavy, nor my heart hard! One sight of Jesus as he iswill strike all sin forever dead!
Blessed be his name for this glorious hope! May it cheer us under all our present uneasy feelings, and reconcile us to every cross. The way must be right, however rough, that leads to such a glorious end!
O for more of His gracious influence, which in a moment can make my wilderness-soul rejoice and blossom like the rose! I want something which neither critics nor commentators can help me to. The Scripture itself, whether I read it in Hebrew, Greek, French, or English, is a sealed book in all languages, unless the Spirit of the Lord is present to expound and apply it to my heart! Pray for me. No prayer seems more suitable to me than that of the Psalmist. "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise your name."
April 23, 1779
My dear friend,
May I not style myself a friend, when I remember you after the interval of several weeks since I saw you, and through a distance of sixty miles? But the truth is, you have been neither absent nor distant from my heart for even a day. Your idea has traveled with me; you are a kind of familiar, very often before the eye of my mind. This, I hope, may be admitted as a proof of friendship.
I know the Lord loves you, and you know it likewise. Every affliction affords you a fresh proof of it. How wise is his management in our trials! How wisely adjusted in season, weight, continuance, to answer his gracious purposes in sending them! How unspeakably better to be at his disposalthan at your own! So you say; so you think; so you find. You trust in him, and shall not be disappointed. Help me with your prayers, that I may trust him too, and be at length enabled to say without reserve, "What you will, when you will, how you will." I had rather speak these three sentences from my heart, in my mother-tongue, than be master of all the languages in Europe.
August 28, 1779
My dear friend,
I want to hear how you are. I hope your illness is not worse than when I saw you. I hope you are easier, and will soon find yourself able to move about again. I would be sorry, if, to the symptoms of the kidney stone, that you would have the gout in your right handfor then you will not be able to write to me.
We go on much as usual; sometimes very poorly, sometimes a little betterthe latter is the case today. My rheumatism continuesbut it is very moderate and tolerable. The Lord deals gently with us, and gives us many proofsthat he does not afflict willingly.
The days speed away apace! Each one bears away its own burden with itto return no more. Both pleasures and pains which are pastare gone forever. What is yet future will likewise be soon past. The final end will soon arrive! O to realize the thought, and to judge of things now in some measure suitable to the opinion we shall form of them, when we are about to leave them all! Many things which now either elate or depress uswill then appear to be trifles as light as air!
One thing is needfulto have our hearts united to the Lord in humble faith; to set him always before us; to rejoice in him as our Shepherd and our portion; to submit to all his appointments, not of necessity, because he is stronger than usbut with a cheerful acquiescence, because he is wise and good, and loves us better than we do ourselves; to feed upon his truth; to have our understandings, wills, affections, imaginations, memoryall filled and impressed with the great mysteries of redeeming love; to do all for him, to receive all from him, to find all in him. I have mentioned many thingsbut they are all comprised in one, a life of faith in the Son of God. We are empty vessels in ourselvesbut we cannot remain empty. Except Jesus dwells in our hearts, and fills them with his power and presence, they will be filled with folly, vanity, and vexation.
My dear friend,
I have been at the great house.* I could have wished for a more favorable account of your illness but you are in the Lord's hand in the hand of Him who loves you better than I do better than you can love yourself! He will therefore order all things concerning you, and give you strength according to your day. This great Physician can support and heal when other physicians are found to be of no value.
I am waiting with suspense for a further account of the war-fleets. If the news proves unfavorable, it will come soon enough to us all. Now perhaps is the crisis, or perhaps before now the blow is struck. My soul, wait only upon God he directs the storm, and he can hush it into a calm. He loves his people, and numbers the hairs of their head. Whatever may be his purpose towards the nation, he says to his own people it shall be well with them.
Here I was interrupted by a visit from Mrs. Foster; she has just left us, and I am just going to the great house and therefore cannot fill up my paper as usual. I wish the bearer may bring me a better account of you. May the Lord fill you with his peace. We join in love to you and Mrs. Bull. I am constrained to subscribe myself in haste,
Olney, 7 Sept. 1779.
* What is called the great house, was an ancient mansion, then unoccupied, and now pulled down, in which Mr. Newton rented a room, where meetings were held for prayer, and exposition of the word of God. In this room Mr. Bull sometimes preached for Mr. Newton. I have by me a list of names, in the hand-writing of Mr. Newton, of these letters, of the people who engaged in prayer; and it is interesting to observe among them the frequent recurrence of the name of the poet William Cowper, from the year when he came to reside at Olney, to the year 1773, when a dark cloud came over his mind, and peculiar views of himself unhappily prevented him from entering a place of worship to the end of his days. So strictly conscientious was this interesting man, that I have frequently seen him sit down at table when others have risen to implore a blessing, and take his knife and fork in hand, to signify, I presume, that he had no "right to pray." "Prove to me" (he writes) "that I have a right to pray, and I will pray without ceasing, even in the belly of this hell, compared with which Jonah's was a palace, a temple of the living God." Southey's "Cowper," vol. iv. p. 235.
My dear friend,
I wish you may be able to send us word by the bearer, that your illness is removed, or at least abated. If not, still I hope He favors you with soul peace and resignation to his will.
My race at the Olney church is nearly finished. I am about to form a connection for life with a church in Woolnoth, London. I hope you will not blame me; I think you would not if you knew all circumstances. However, my conscience, through mercy, is clear; and my path, in my own view, and in the judgment of several of my most spiritual friends, is plainly the path of duty. I hope and beg you will pray for me.
Indeed I am not elated at what the world calls preferment. London is the last situation I would have chosen for myself. The throng and hurry of the business world, and noise and party contentions of the religious world are very disagreeable to me. I love woods and fields, and streams and trees; to hear the birds sing, the sheep bleat. I love retreat and rural life, such as I have been happy here for more than fifteen years. I thank the Lord for his goodness to me here. Here I have rejoiced to live; here I have often wished and prayed that I might die. I am sure no outward change can make me happier but it does not befit a soldier, to choose his own post.
On Tuesday we purpose going to Northampton, and to return by Newport on Thursday, take a bit of dinner, and change a few expressions of love with you and Mrs. Bull, and home early in the afternoon, because I am to preach in the evening.
It is a weeping time with us at Olney my people feel each one for themselves; but I must and do feel for them all. But I trust the Lord will provide them a pastor after his own heart.
Adieu. Pray for us. May the Lord bless you, both you, and your children.
I am most affectionately yours,
Olney, 25 Sept. 1779.
My dear friend,
Do not say, do not think, that I have forgotten you. I have waited to tell you some news, until I can wait no longer. The Lord gave us a safe and comfortable journey, and my dear wife has been comfortably well since we came here. I delivered my presentation to the bishop's secretary on Friday last, and on Sunday I received notice that a caveat was lodged against my institution by some person or people who pretend to dispute Mr. Thornton's right of presenting. This counter-claim causes a delay or suspense but, it is thought, will soon appear to be groundless.
However, through mercy, your poor friend feels himself very easy about the event. The affair is where I would have it in the Lord's hand. If He fixes me here I humbly hope and believe he will support me, and it shall be for good. If He appoints otherwise, I trust it will be no grief of heart to me to return to Olney, where I shall be within five miles of dear Mr. Bull. I am, however, glad I accepted the offer, whatever the outcome may be.
Noisy London, and its unsettled, hurrying kind of life is not quite to my tooth! I believe if I settle in London, I shall entreat Him, in whose hands all my affairs, the greatest and the smallest, are, in his good providence to prepare me a habitation somewhere about the outskirts of the town, where I may enjoy some measure of privacy, fresh air, and see the green fields and trees at no great distance from me. This will be the more feasible, as the parsonage house is occupied by the post office, which seems to furnish me with a fair excuse for not residing in the parish.
Though many things will occasionally force themselves upon my thoughts, I trust, in answer to your prayers for me, the Lord will help me to remember that one thing is needful and, comparatively speaking, one only. It matters little whether I live and die in Olney or London in the city or the suburbs provided I am where He would have me be, favored with his light and grace and consolation and qualified, by his holy anointing to honor, love, and serve him, in whatever circumstances his wisdom may appoint.
Mr. Foster is now at Olney, and I have entered upon his services, which amount to eleven sermons in a two weeks. Upon my first coming there I preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:25, "Brethren, pray for us;" when, after giving them some account of the difficulties and trials attending the ministerial office in general, I endeavored to engage the prayers of many in my behalf, with respect to the new prospect before me. Surely I shall need a singular communication of divine wisdom, zeal, meekness, and fortitude, in a London situation.
Brother, pray for me, and may the Lord enable you to pray in faith. My weaknesses are many. I am but a child to go in and out before a great people, and to stand in a conspicuous and important post. But the Lord is a good and all-sufficient Master, and I would wrong his goodness and faithfulness were I to question his promise of strength according to my day. Should this relocation take place, I hope the outcome will show it is the Lord's doing. Had not the proposal come to me unexpected, unsolicited, I think I may honestly add, undesired and so circumstanced, that neither my own judgment, nor the advice of some of my most spiritual friends would permit me to decline it, without a fear of opposing His will I say, could I not view it in this light, I would be uneasy, and afraid of the experiment. But now I can trust that if God brings me hither his presence will be with me. My poor mistaken people, by their hasty refusal of Mr. Scott, have given me a pain which I did not expect. But I cannot help it. May the Lord overrule it for good, and provide better pastor for them than they can expect.
While we can meet daily at a throne of grace, and exchange a letter when we please let us not think ourselves far asunder. Your company has been pleasing and edifying to me, and I shall sensibly miss it. But our friendship will be inviolable. You have a near and warm place in my heart, and will retain it as long as life continues. I confidently expect the same on your part. I long to hear how you do shall be thankful to know you are getting better, and especially to be told that all your painful dispensations are evidently sanctified, and that you have that peace which can exist and flourish in affliction. My dear wife joins in love to you and Mrs. Bull, and your two young plants. May the Lord make them plants of renown; may they increase in wisdom as in years, and grow up to his praise and your comfort.
Adieu. Send me a letter soon. And believe me to be most affectionately your faithful friend and brother,
14th October, 1779.
October 26, 1779
(Mr. Newton refers to a severe trial through which Mr. Bull had passed three days before, in the sudden death of a dear child, five years old, after he had been bereaved of four other children, one only surviving.
The following is an extract from Mr. Bull's letter, dated Oct. 23, announcing this painful event:
Dear sir, pray for me. My bodily pain is great, the sorrow in my heart is real; but the love of the Lord is the same. Oh! how I rejoice in him this day, while I grieve in self. I seem to long to be where my dear Polly is; and, blessed be my God, I shall go there some day, perhaps soon. My dear lamb has revealed a peculiar sweetness of temper these three or four months, and a fondness for reading quite remarkable. For five or six weeks she had got up before me in the morning to read a Scripture chapter to me while I was dressing; and one day she cried very much because I got up before her. She gave me great delight by this practice, and it was her own. This is a pleasant tale to me, and you can excuse it. The lamb looks exceedingly beautiful now she is laid out; but, oh! my faith sees her spirit in the hands and heart of God my Savior, and that delights me. My dear wife is very poorly; and poor lonely Tommy is tolerable, and is kept for some future trial.
I wish that I may silently rejoice in my Savior for cutting off all sources of comfort, but himself. Indeed it does look as if he would have my whole heart, and would make everything else taste bitter that he may taste the sweeter. As lately as yesterday, my dear child read me Psalm 25 before I was up. Oh! how little did I think affliction and death were so near!)
My dear friend,
I feel for you a little in the same way as you feel for yourself. I bear a friendly sympathy in your late sharp and sudden trial. I mourn with that part of you which mournsbut at the same time I rejoice in the proof you have, and which you give, that the Lord is with you in truth. I rejoice on your account, to see you supported and comforted, and enabled to say, "He has done all things well!"
I rejoice on my own account. Such instances of his faithfulness and all-sufficiency are very encouraging. We must all expect times of trouble in our turns. We must all feel in our concernments, the vanity and uncertainty of creature comforts. What a mercy is it to know from our own past experience, and to have it confirmed to us by the experience of othersthat the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and that he knows those who trust in him.
All creatures are like candles; they waste awaywhile they afford us a little light, and we see them extinguished in their sockets one after another. But the light of the sun makes amends for them all. The Lord is so rich that he easily can, so good that he certainly willgive his children more than he ever will take away! When his gracious voice reaches the heart, "It is Ido not be afraid! Be stilland know that I am God!" when he gives us an impression of his wisdom, power, love, and carethen the storm which attempts to rise in our natural passions is hushed into a calm; the flesh continues to feelbut the spirit is made willing, and something more than submission takes placea sweet resignation and acquiescence, and even a joy that we have anything which we value, to surrender to his call.
Love and best wishes to you and Mrs. Bull from your most affectionate friend,
My dear friend,
How are you? and what are you about? I am afraid that either your spirits are grown weak, or your memory fails you a little. Pluck up your courage; then remember how much you are beloved by a local sojourner, and send Dr. Ford a letter, or at least a note; if it be but three lines, he will gladly pay three-pence for them to the post-man.
The church in Woolnoth and I are not yet married. I told you somebody forbade the plans, and the prohibition is not yet taken off. Nothing has been done, or attempted to be, within these two days; but I believe we shall soon hasten into the midst of things. The Lord still enables me to abide by the surrender I made of the affair into his hands, and I wait the event with a tranquility almost approaching to indifference. However, in my private judgment, it appears much more probable that the bar will be removed, and the match take place, than the contrary. But until it is determined, I wish to consider it as an uncertainty.
To wed the church in Woolnoth is in some respects pleasing; but then to be divorced from Olney will be in many respects painful. Again, to leave Olney will free me from many known and sharply felt inconveniences; but then, to live in London may expose me to other trials, which though at present unknown, may be equally sharp to my feelings. What a comfort this, that when "I am in a strait between two, and what to choose I know not," the Lord will mercifully condescend to choose for me! What a comfort that when we are quite dead as to consequences He has promised to see for us, with his infinite and unerring eye!
Tell Mrs. Bull we love you both, have felt for you both, and shall be glad to hear that you are both pretty well. The Lord loves you likewise and therefore he afflicts you. He has given you grace and therefore he appoints you trials, that the grace he has given may be preserved and manifested to his praise. He has made you a good soldier, and therefore he appoints you a post of honor. You are not merely to walk about in a soldier's coat, at a distance from the noise and danger of war, and to brandish your sword without any risk of meeting an enemy; but he sends you down to the field of battle. You feel as well as hear that our profession is a warfare; and you feel as well as hear, likewise that the Lord is with you, fights for you, and supports you with strength, and covers your head in the day of conflict.
Accept this love token, and pay me in kind. I have not time to enlarge. I wish you a good night and a good morrow. Tomorrow! It is the Lord's day. May we be in the Spirit. I think to be a hearer in the forenoon at the Brethren's Chapel to hear Mr. Latrobe, if he preaches. In the afternoon (if I do not alter my mind), I shall say something myself about a treasure and the earthen, worthless, brittle vessels the Lord is pleased to put it in, even into such a foul piece of clay as your very poor but very affectionate friend,
London, Nov. 20th, 1779.
My dear friend,
I must write a short letter today, for many of my friends will expect to hear the outcome of my long waiting in town. The Lord's hour came in due time, and yesterday the Bishop gave me the pastorate of St. Mary Woolnoth, and tomorrow I am to be inducted that is, put into possession of the key and the bell-rope, and thereby installed in all the rights, uses, and profits of the employment. So the curate of Olney is now transplanted and placed in the number of the London rectors. How little did I think of this when I was living, or rather starving when a slave in Africa!
"The sport of slaves,
Or, what's more wretched still, their pity."
But the Lord is Sovereign and Almighty. He chooses and does what is well-pleasing in his sight. Whom he will he slays; whom he will he keeps alive. What cause for praise, that it pleased him to extend his mercy to you and I.
Many wish me joy. You, I believe, will pray and wish for me that I may have much grace, and be favored with wisdom, fidelity, zeal, and meekness suited to the demands of my new and important situation. Through mercy, I feel little in this new situation to elate me. I hope I see the Lord's hand and call in it, and so far it pleases me. My concern at leaving many whom I love dearly at Olney, and my solicitude about them will in a good measure qualify things in the changes which otherwise are not disagreeable to flesh and blood. But I need not repeat this in a short letter, when I believe I have written to the same purpose already.
Thank you for your letter. Not having it with me, I cannot answer it particularly. In general I know you are afflicted and comforted; sick and well; sorrowful yet always rejoicing. This checker-work will last while life lasts but it will not last always. Deliverance is approaching, and in the meantime we know all things are dispensed to us by infinite wisdom in number, weight, and measure with a far greater accuracy than any doctor can adjust his medicines to the state and strength of his patients. My dear wife has a head-ache today but I hope she will be better. When I tell her that I have joined her love with mine to you and Mrs. Bull and Tommy, I am sure she will confirm it.
I hope to see Newport and Olney next week. I am in all places, and at all times, most affectionately yours,
Dec. 1, 1779.
My dear friend,
Many an eager look I darted through my study-window this morning, in hopes of seeing you and your grey horse. I need not tell you I was sorry to miss my expected pleasure; but I was more sorry to learn the cause of your not coming, though I suspected it before I received your note. I long with a great longing to have you here yet not so as to wish you should make the attempt at the price of pain and inconvenience to yourself. Supposing the Lord relieves you, and you are pretty well tomorrow, what do you think of coming and returning when you have quite enough of us for one time? If I should be weary of you first, I will tell you so.
Until then I have two thoughts to comfort me:
1st, that we love each other;
2nd, that though we do we are not necessary to each other, your Lord and mine is equally near to us both; and a visit from him is sufficient to comfort either of us, though we were in the solitary situation of Robinson Crusoe.
Indeed, supposing you really have the stone, and that your pains are sharp and frequent, I would rather encourage you to submit to the operation, than dissuade you from it. But I understood that since you had changed your medicine, you were, in general, free from pain. I would hope that He whom you serve, would support you under the operation, and bring you safely through it. If you judge it expedient, therefore, come to London, and consult an able surgeon; but by no means commit yourself to a country practitioner.
I hope soon to be in town. How glad shall I be to visit you in your confinement, daily, if possible; at least, often! You will ask counsel at the throne of grace, and then do as the Lord shall determine your mind. If it be his will, you need not regard the expense or consequences. The Lord will provide!
My dear wife sends love to you, and Mrs. Bull and Tommy. She is doing poorly; so that though we talk of a speedy removal, we as yet can make no preparations for it. I believe I must return to London without her; for I promised to be there before the 16th, and must keep my word if possible. The paper bids me leave off but I will not until I have once more assured you that I am very sincerely and affectionately yours,
Olney, Jan. 3, 1780
My dear friend,
I must send this messenger to inquire after your welfare, to inform you of my own, to thank you for all your love, and to charge you to believe that you have a warm place in my heart.
Through mercy, I am well and comfortable; feel a little left-handed and awkward for lack of my dear wife, as I usually do in her absence.
'Tis true, I have cause enough for grief and humiliation for what passes within my heart; but then I have a friend, a rich, compassionate, powerful, unchangeable Friend; and the thought of him who he is, where he is, what he has done, and what he is doing somehow composes my mind and maintains my peace. Could he be taken from me, or my expectations founded upon him fail I would instantly sink to the bottom of the bottomless pit of despair!
My entrance to St. Mary Woolnoth is hitherto as favorable as I could expect; indeed, more so. Some of my new parishioners are rather pleased, and some who do not quite relish what I say, seem to believe that at least I speak from my heart and mean well. In my next parcel to Mrs. Newton (tomorrow), I will endeavor to send you my first address to them. I sent one of them to every house. It was in general well received, though the printer made a mercenary blunder, by printing them for sale when I did not intend one should be sold, and fixing the price at sixpence for a single sheet, worth at the most but two-pence. We shall divide the spoil between us; he will get the money and I shall get the blame. It will furnish a handle to some for representing me as very ostentatious in publishing my first sermon, and very mercenary for fixing the price so high! What cannot be cured must be endured. The Lord knows my intention in printing it, and he is able to secure my character. I have endeavored to clear myself to a few, chiefly those in my own parish; but I cannot run about to tell everybody, nor is it needful. Mr. Self has been not a little mortified but I tell him to sit still, and leave his cause in the Lord's hands.
I know not when my dear wife will come up but I hope it will be in the Lord's best time. I would willingly hope to see her on Friday but I hardly expect it. I hope you have been, or will go to see her, if you are pretty well, and she stays after you receive this. If not, I wish you to treat her with a little letter by Friday's post. She desired me to ask you to write to her but I forgot it. She loves to see you, and to hear from you.
Write to me, and if you can tell me you are pretty well, and free from pain I shall rejoice; if you say you are coming to town, I shall rejoice more. I expect, however, you will inform me that the Lord stands by, and strengthens and comforts you; this will, or should rejoice me most of all.
My time is expended; I am going to the church prayer-meeting, if any people come frequently there is not one. I will try them a while, and if they do not attend, I shall give up the Friday prayer-meeting and preach a sermon on Wednesday. I shall do so by and by but not yet.
I must make no hasty innovations. You know that if a man has but a horse to break, he does not jump immediately upon his back, and make him feel the spur the first time he sees him. He begins softly, strokes him, feeds him, shows him the bridle before he attempts to put it on, and brings him forward by degrees. Poor sinners, and especially poor sinners that are rich are at least as intractable and wild as horses and mules and must be humored a little in matters where conscience is not directly concerned. I know that you will pray for me that the Lord may give me true wisdom and humble boldness.
"With hearty love to Mrs. Bull and little Tommy,
I remain, my dear friend,
Your most affectionate,
19th January, 1780.
My dear friend,
I once thought to defer writing a little longer, for the pleasure of telling you, that I sent you the very first letter I wrote in my new habitation; but then I must have waited another post, and possibly you are sufficiently angry with me already. If you have been in cheerful spirits, I knew your candor would prompt you to make large allowances for the unsettled state in which I have been; but if your thoughts have been of the gloomy cast, then my silence has appeared to you through an unfavorable medium, and bore, in your view, a strong resemblance to those frightful figures, apathy and ingratitude.
Prone as we are to indulge hard thoughts of the Lord we have no right to be offended if our fellow-worms, even our dear friends, think hard of us, and therefore I forgive you, unasked, and beforehand, all the peevish and ill-founded surmises which may at any time have found a place in your peri-cranium concerning me, as if I did not dearly love you, or greatly care for you, or set a high value upon your letter because I have not yet answered it.
Nay, I cannot answer it now, for I cannot find it! It is in some of my books, or boxes, or drawers, of which yesterday deprived me. For then, and about that time, some people came, and took all belongings, and lodged them in a house in Charles' Square; and there it seems I must go after them, if I intend to have any further use of them. At the same place and day there arrived a wagon from Olney (larger, I believe, than any of the wagons sent to Jacob from Egypt) accompanied with a cart, both full of my baggage. This is amazing, as several years ago, I could have carried all my belongings in my pocket, from Dan even to Beersheba! Those words, "With my staff I came over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands," suit me almost as well as they suited him who first spoke them. I wish I could use them with equal sensibility.
My relocation, indeed, should affect me with double thankfulness, if compared with his; for I had no angry Laban to harass my rear, nor threatening Esau, to dispute my passage, and terrify me in front. All has been made as easy as possible. Our new Bethel (for it is already consecrated to be God's house) bids fair to be a pleasant and convenient abode. Perhaps we shall sleep in it tonight. When I write next I hope to be able to tell you that your room is fitted up for your reception, and then you must come and take possession of it as soon as possible. I have lately seen somebody who lately saw you, and had the pleasure of hearing that you were pretty well.
I forwarded you yesterday, a letter from Mrs. Weber. In a former letter to Mr. Foster, she says, the gaiety and dissipation of Petersburg can hardly be conceived of, by those who are only acquainted with such a faint expression of them as can be observed in London. I hope the grace of our Lord will make her a very salamander, for it seems she is to live in the midst of the fire. I both fear and hope for her. I know that God is able to over-power all the glare of the world, by one glance of the light of his countenance; but how few are able to exist, much more to thrive and grow in such a worldly situation!
Through mercy I feel myself quite at home there; and though I consider the state of my auditory, and avoid as much as I can giving unnecessary disgust, I am enabled to speak very plainly to them. Some hear with patience, some I think with attention, some refuse to hear any more at present. Of these, a part go elsewhere, and a part nowhere but the Lord can bring them again. I hope my heart longs for their salvation but the means are my part, success is in the Lord's hands. I wish to be earnest but not anxious.
I shall hope to hear a good account of your health, as I trust we are united in the strongest bands. I often think of you. We join in hearty love to you, and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy. Pray for us; pray for Olney and Woolnoth. The Lord bless us all.
I am, your very affectionate, obliged brother, servant, and scholar,
My dear friend,
Come magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. Be it known to you and Mrs. Bull, that I am very well, though on Tuesday morning I had a fall, and dislocated my shoulder. It was soon reset, and since the operation I have my arm in a sling, and have kept house hitherto but hope to be at St. Mary Woolnoth's tomorrow.
Many leagues I have traveled by land and by water, many falls I have had, and many vain fears have I felt in apparent danger but at this one time of my receiving hurt, danger was quite out of sight and out of thought. I was standing at my own door, put my foot carelessly back against a stone, which tripped me up, and threw me over a short post. I rose instantly, had no other hurt, bruise, or strain, only the arm had slipped out of the socket. A surgeon was with me presently, and after being sometime pulled about by four men, the Lord mercifully recalled and guided the bone to its proper station, and I have felt no pain since but eat, sleep, and converse as usual. When you have thanked the Lord for his goodness to me, add your prayers, that this and every other dispensation may be sanctified to us.
Thanks are due likewise on my dear wife's account. I felt and feared more for her than for myself. She was much alarmed, especially as I was, while under the surgeon's hands, before she could see me or know what hurt I had received. You know what frightful pictures imagination can draw in an hour of suspense and how it stands aghast at its own portraits! But the Lord supported her, and she is now pretty well.
I do not mean to compliment you by calling myself your scholar. The Lord can teach by whom he pleases and I am sure none can teach me without him. Nay, I doubt not but he can teach even you, and even by me. His power makes all instruments much upon a par; and Balaam's donkey was as well qualified to reprove his master, as Moses himself could have been. However, this I know, that I am, or ought to be, thankful that my acquaintance with you was renewed, and for every opportunity of smoking a pipe with you since that time. Let the advantage and pleasure of friendship be ours, let the praise for every benefit received be wholly given to the Lord, for we can only be to each other what he is pleased to make us.
I can write no more at present but our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy, and request your prayers for me, and my dear, and my people.
I am most affectionately yours,
15 April, 1780.
My dear friend,
Either you or I are a little faulty. I hope it is you, and I chide you for it but very gently, for fear the chiding should properly belong to myself. However, I must and will chide you, for supposing (which I will not allow without proof) that you wrote last. You might have written again before this time. You have not such a multiplicity of subjects and objects to engross you as I am beset with.
The Bibles you received probably came from me; or rather from the Lord, through my hands. And, if he sent them, I trust you will find he sends a blessing with them. He will, likewise, direct you how to dispose of them.
The cure of my arm happily advanced without interruption, and it is now in a manner well; a little stiffness only remains, and it answers the purpose of a barometer, to give me notice of change of weather. Some tell me this will be an abiding infirmity, and I need not be sorry for a little occasional pain, if it should, at the same time, remind me of the Lord's goodness in preserving me from worse consequences. Mrs. Newton has comfortable health in her new situation. She sends her love with mine to Mrs. Bull and Tommy. I am sorry to say that we have not yet got our spare bed up but I hope before long to inform you it is ready for you. I write this to go by Mr. Wilkinson, who purposes seeing Olney with his bride on Thursday. He is settled within about a hundred yards of me, which is a very agreeable circumstance.
We go on quietly and comfortably here at Woolnoth. I feel myself at home here, and have lately set up my Sunday evening lecture. My stated service now is three weekly sermons, and one monthly. I believe my parishioners make the smallest part of my auditory but at this time of the year most of the principal folks are in the country. But I stand upon my post, and the Lord can persuade them to hear me whenever he pleases. In the mean time, the church is tolerably well filled without them.
I feel the loss of my retired rural walks at Olney but I hope I am where I ought to be; and He whom I serve can compensate all seeming inconveniences. I have less time and less opportunity for secret waiting upon Him than formerly but he is pleased to keep me in some measure alive. I would learn to count nothing as an interruption, because if I am broken in upon from morning until night when at home (as is frequently the case), I have reason to believe nobody comes to me but those whom God sends; and I wish to be in such a frame of spirit as to feel myself equally present with him, and engaged in his service, whether at home or abroad, alone or in company.
This is the true secret of piety not to wish that incidents and events were at our own disposal but to have wisdom to improve them as they arise; and, like the mariner, so to suit my sails, as to avail myself to the utmost of every wind that blows. Oh for more of that simplicity and singleness of intention, which, like the much talked of alchemist's stone, turns all to gold, and sanctifies and converts every action of common life, into a part of that pious service which we owe to Him who bought us with his blood!
Excepting the lack of woods, and streams, and walks, where I may hide myself from the noise and throng of men, my situation is very comfortable. A good convenient house, a tolerably open place, not much enveloped in the smoke of London. A walk of a mile or more to church is rather healthful than otherwise. I have exercise enough with an evil heart but the enemy is not permitted greatly to harass me. I have seen some tall cedars sadly shaken, and almost overturned, by the storms of temptation which frequently blow here; but, I, though a shrub am still sheltered and preserved.
The last of this month is fixed for the publication of the infidel book so much talked of. I feel a sort of trembling for its appearance. Much has been attempted to prevent its coming abroad but in vain. The world are expecting it with an air of triumph. Let us pity and pray for the author. He ran well in time past, though now, alas! hindered and turned aside. Let us fear and pray for ourselves. We are not so wise but we may be misled, nor so strong but we may be thrown down if left to ourselves. If the Lord maintains in us a humble, dependant spirit we shall cry to him to hold us up, and so we shall be safe but not otherwise. For my part, I dare not throw a stone at anyone but may well take occasion, from the fall of others to admire the grace which has hitherto preserved me from making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. I am shocked and wearied with what I hear from time to time of the advantages Satan gains over great professors.
Blessed be God, though your spirits are weak, and your health infirm you have not given occasion for the way of truth to be evil spoken of. Oh, it is better to be sick, or lame, or dead, or burned alive, than to be of the number of those through whom offences come. Pray for us, and be assured that whether I write or not, I always feel myself to be your obliged and affectionate friend and servant,
22nd May, 1780.
My dear friend,
Your kind, though brief inquiries, must be answered speedily, and, therefore, almost as briefly as you propose them. We have had a terrible storm but our infallible Pilot has supported and brought us, thus far, safely through. The winds and waves have likewise subsided at his mighty command; and now all is tolerably calm. We have a war-like sort of peace. The city is full of soldiers; but the discipline and decency of conduct they observe, is truly admirable, beyond what I could have conceived possible to be maintained by so large a body of men.
Charles Square was full of people on Monday the 5th but they behaved peaceably, made a few inquiries, and soon went away. We were apprehensive of their return, as there was a house in the square inhabited by a foreigner, and they were once afterwards at the corner of the next street. But He who has a hook and bridle in the mouths of those who think themselves their own masters was pleased to turn them another way. We were preserved safe, and only suffered by sympathy with others, from what we heard with our ears and saw with our eyes, together with apprehensions of still more dreadful consequences, if the Lord did not interpose.
The devastations on Tuesday and Wednesday nights were horrible. We could count from our back windows six or seven terrible fires each night, which, though at a distance, were very affecting. On Wednesday night and Thursday, the military arrived and saved the city, which otherwise I think would, before this time, have been in ashes, from end to end. So soon, so suddenly, can danger arise; so easily, so certainly, can the Lord set bounds to the wickedness of man, in the height of its rage, and say, "Hitherto shall you come, and no further."
I believe multitudes went to St. George's fields, in the simplicity of their hearts, not aware of the consequences, not aware that many, with very different views, would avail themselves of the occasion, and meet with them. So children sometimes play with gunpowder, and think themselves safe, until a spark sets all in a flame about their ears. The Lord permitted it, and he is wise and just and good, and knows how to bring good out of seeming evil. Mrs. Newton was marvelously supported while things were at the worst but the incessant dangers we were in, had some effect, and she began to droop, when the greatest danger was over. Through mercy, she is now revived, and pretty well again; as, likewise, Sally and Peggy, who, poor things! were little prepared for such awful scenes.
I preached on Wednesday, and had a tolerable auditory; but I cannot describe the consternation and anxiety which were marked on the countenance of almost every person I met in the streets that day. I hope never again to see so strong an exemplification of many descriptions in the prophecies of Jeremiah. All faces gathered blackness indeed. Through mercy, I did not fear much for myself but I felt for my little family, my neighbors, and especially for the public. The impression made upon my mind is not yet worn off, and, indeed, I ought not to wish I could quite forget it.
I preached on Sunday forenoon from Lamen. 3:22. "It is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed." In the evening, from Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God."
I hope your next letter will tell us that you are better. We are glad to hear Mrs. Bull and Tommy are well. We join in love to them and to you. Can you contrive to show this to Mr. Scott, for I have not time to write to him at present? Thank you for your prayers; I hope you will continue them. The Lord bless and keep you and yours.
Believe me to be your affectionate friend,
Charles Square, London, June, 1780.
My dear friend,
Your letter came last night, and while I was reading it, Mr. Self, who is sometimes a little cross, as well as sly, whispered in my ear, "You would not have heard from him now, if it had not been for the occasion mentioned in the letter." But I snubbed him, and let him know that I would not admit any insinuation against Mr. Bull that I would thank you for writing to me at all: I was determined not to stand upon punctilios.
I left your letter with Mr. Thornton, and having read it but once, my memory does not present any part of it that requires a particular answer. From the whole, I learn that you are better and worse as formerly; that if you are afflicted you find it good to be so; if you have a cross you are supported under it; and, if your cross is doubled your strength is proportionately increased. You are enabled to trust the Lord, and you find him faithful. You prefer his wish to your own, and experience proves that he chooses better for you than you could choose for yourself. Thus all is well.
I now invite you to London. The storm I hope is past the tumults over and gone. The executions which justice and a regard to the public tranquility demand, will soon be finished. Come, for the bed and parlor and all things are now ready. Come, and see our us in our house, which, by dint of a warm imagination, we make to resemble Olney as much as possible. It is the same within doors, for we are the same people. The same Sir and Madam to receive you. The back parlor looks into a garden; and there is a field with cows in it.
We sometimes meet people in the street, whose features remind us of some whom we know in the country; but such a resemblance of you will not suffice. I must have your original identical person therefore take a place, and come up as soon as possible; and may the Lord bless you upon the road, and come himself with you. Persuade Mrs. Bull to come likewise. I long for the time. How snugly shall we sit and smoke our pipes, while we settle the affairs of the state and of the churches!
Do you not rejoice in the prospect of peace and union with America again? How sudden how seasonable was the turn! how unexpected, at least by me! Indeed I am a shallow politician. But let the wise men say what they will, I say it was the Lord's doing, and we had but little reason to expect so favorable an outcome. It was the Lord but the praise is given by many to the instruments. Oh, wretched people! when afflicted we murmur; when relieved we boast. It is well there are a praying few among us, or we should be given up to ruin.
Could you send me three or four of my letters to you, (if you have not burnt them,) to stand among those which are now gone to the press? One of your youths might transcribe such extracts as you might think fit to mark off, free from such trifles as would be quite unfit for the public eye: none should be later than the close of last year, and they must come soon if at all. The Lord Jesus be with you, and with us all. Love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy. May he increase in grace and wisdom, as in years and stature. Adieu.
I am yours sincerely, affectionately, and obliged,
Charles Square, July, 1780.
My dear friend,
Being resolved to keep you in my debt, I write immediately to inform you that your acceptable letter, with the packet of my own letters, came safe to hand last night.
My dear wife has what I call a comfortable measure of health a few needful mementos of frailty yet permitting her to eat, sleep, and converse with friends. The Lord is very good, and I have still a favored lot. Peace in the heart, in the parlor, in the kitchen, and in the house of God. Our whole little household love you, and desire to be remembered to you and by you.
I find you have still pains and indispositions but as they are sanctified and sweetened, your case makes me both sorry and glad in the same breath. I am not so apprehensive of your constitution breaking up, as you seem to be; I hope you will live to a good old age, and your lips still feed many. If you are still doing quite poorly come and try the air of Charles Square. I think it would do you good, and that even the journey would be of service to you. I would talk to you, my dear wife would nurse you, and you shall have Orinoco as much as you please and as often.
However, I can venture to promise you that you shall live until your work is done, and I am pretty sure when the time of dismissal comes, you will rejoice in the summons. The Lord will smile upon you, and then you will smile upon death; for when death has lost his sting, he has an angel's face! We are going where we shall all know each other at first sight.
My dear wife sends her love to you, and Mrs. Bull and Tommy. "We beg many prayers.
I am yours most affectionately,
Charles Square, 19th July, 1780.
My dear friend,
I am just come from Clapham, and it is now past two o'clock. I ought to sit down, and smooth and sort my thoughts, which are usually tumbled about by a two or three days absence from home, so that my heart upon a return, is something like a country shop on the evening of a fair day, and needs a deal of setting right. But then your letter says to please write, and my heart feels as if I ought to answer you. And, therefore, I must let my shop still be disheveled, until I have chalked you out a short answer to your inquiries.
Though in haste to satisfy you, I am in no haste for rectifying the minister's mistake, in what he thought proper to assert. I remember when I would have flown like a lapwing from house to house, from town to town, to justify my own dear self's character. But of late I have in some measure learned, one may be tolerably at ease, though other people say more than they ought. And if conscience is on my side if the matter affirmed is not true I sit quiet, and do not think myself bound to make everybody as wise as myself.
We are pretty well, and join in love to you and Mrs. Bull and Tommy. Adieu, love us and pray for us.
I am, yours affectionately,
Charles Square, 12th August, 1780.
My dear friend,
If you will neither come nor write, you must please yourself, for I am sure you will not please me. Now that you are grown into a great letter writer, I must be shut out of your correspondence I suppose. Perhaps your spirits are sunk into your shoes again, and you think you are not able to write. Try, however, as soon as possible, for I want to hear about you. If not, this is the last threepence you will have to pay for letters from me for a good while to come.
Watchman, what of the night? I think it a long one, and I cannot yet see a streak of dawn. All parties are contriving to prolong a war which they are all weary of. Some attempt is on foot towards peace but I fear it will not succeed. Sin prevails, and requires a scourge, and therefore war continues, though the voice of personal interest no less than humanity, calls loudly for peace. When either we or our opponents seem to droop, some unexpected advantage revives hope again. When either they or we presume to boast, as though success were almost within reach, some disaster comes to damp the vain confidence, and to show that the battle is the Lord's. These changing events insensibly draw on both sides farther and farther into mischiefs, and make them more and more heedless of consequences. In the meanwhile, an increase of stupidity and hardness at home, keeps pace with the increase of danger from abroad. And though it is now evident to all here that London was within a few hours of being reduced to ashes, and its preservation was little less than miraculous; that alarming crisis is now almost forgotten, not only by profane but by professor and things go on much as they might do if there was no war, no danger, or if we had no signal mercies or deliverances to record. I must include myself in this censure.
The mischiefs and abominations attendant on a general election will now be superadded to our habitual course of national sin. Oh, what a train of riot, debauchery, and perjury, is upon the march to overspread the land! What an idea must an American savage form of Christians and Christianity if he were to visit us at such a time as this!
Well, we must sojourn a time in this Vanity Fair but, blessed be God, it is not our home. We are traveling to another country, and are taught another language, which the people of the fair do not understand. They stare at us as outlandish people, and are displeased because we will not adopt their maxims and customs. They are highly affronted if we presume to pity them. And much the same sort of treatment we might expect if we ventured to pity some people in Bedlam, and to say to their faces, Alas; poor men you are mad! No, though he mistakes his cell for a palace, his chains and straw for ensigns of royalty he would insist that he is in his sober senses, that you are the mad person, and for your pity he returns you pity mixed with scorn! Of course, we are glad to get away from such unreasonable people, and all they can say does but the more confirm us, that they are insane
To be shut up with the mad folks in Bedlam would be a great trial how is it we are no more affected with our situation in this great Bedlam, the world? There is hardly an instance of insanity within those dreary walls, which we may not find parallels to among our acquaintance who are permitted to walk at large. Their imaginations are so disordered, that they call evil good, and good evil; they are fond of their enemies, and startle at the sight of a true friend. They boast of liberty while they are tied and bound with the chain of sin. They delight in mischief, scattering firebrands and arrows, and say, Am not I in sport? Some are groaning under the weight of a straw; and others in rapturous admiration, viewing bubbles which successively disappear as fast as they can blow them up. Oh, it is a mad world indeed! The Lord quicken our longings for that land where all are in their right minds and where we, likewise, shall be quite in our senses. For, indeed, the insanity around us is epidemic, and there are few of the soberest but give proof enough they are not quite free from the general infection.
We both unite and send our love to you, Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, with one heart. I hope you continue to pray for us. The Lord keeps me alive. I wish I could say lively. But it is a miracle I am no worse, considering the hurry in which I live. The little leisure I have for retirement indisposes me for the improvement of that little.
Charles Square, 8 Sept. 1780.
My dear friend,
Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects! As I hope the fever has by this time left you I congratulate you on its coming, because I take it for granted, that it brought a blessing with it, and will leave a blessing behind it. I am glad, however, that the information of your being better came at the same time with the news of your having been ill; for though my judgment is well satisfied that the Lord does all things well yet I am capable of feeling no small anxiety when those whom I love are in jeopardy and affliction. May the Great Physician give a blessing to every means, give you health and ease, and reveal to you the abundance of peace and truth.
I hope this fever will not retard, much less prevent, the pleasure we propose in receiving you under our peaceable roof. What a mercy to have a peaceable roof to rest under! Preserved in outward peace by the kind, protecting, providential arm of the Lord, and favored with internal peace by the blessing of his good Spirit. This is our present mercy. He makes us of one mind in the house, he is about our bed and dwelling by night, and about our path by day. I am wonderfully favored with peace, likewise in the business of His house. I have as yet met with no incident to try either my faith or my patience as a minister but all hitherto wears an encouraging aspect.
Whatever the parishioners, or any of them, think, they give me no disturbance. I could wish, indeed, that I had more access to them, and that more came to hear. I was invited to dine with one of them yesterday. It was the first invitation I had received from any who were not professedly serious. They behaved well. I behaved poorly, for I could not at the first meeting introduce the best subject. This is often a hindrance to me; but the Lord can give me farther opportunity, and put a word in my mouth some time.
Ah! it is a shame to seem so earnest and pressing in the pulpit and then to be so cold and mealy-mouthed at table! But I have not the talent of happily introducing the most profitable topics where I am a stranger. Often when I am in company if what I have said were written down and brought to me afterwards how should I at least, how ought I to blush, if I were constrained to read it!
Our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy; bring him with you, by all means. The Lord bless and keep you all.
I am your affectionate friend,
25 Sept. 1780.
My dear friend,
Two letters for one how kind! I thank you. I would send you one every week if I had time. This you know, and therefore accept the will for the deed.
I have not yet fixed on my texts for Christmas day. The two candidates which at present seem disposed to offer, are Genesis 49:10-12, for the morning, and John 9:39, for the evening. If they shall resolve to stand, and no powerful competitor interpose, it is probable they may both carry the election, especially the latter. I preached on it one Christmas evening, and have the notes by me. If the Lord pleases to give me new thoughts to fill up this old plan, and breathe his good Spirit upon the whole, then I may bring forth things new and old to his praise.
"Jesus said, For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." John 9:39
Why did Christ come?
I. For judgment. Two senses of the word: purpose or appointment; and manifestation or trial, Luke 2:35. The gospel calculated to give sight to the blind, and to prove that they are stark blind who pretend to see without it, Luke 2:53, Matthew 11:25.
II. The blind see. The Spirit, by the gospel, makes the blind both see and feel their guilt and misery; then shows them pardon, life, and happiness in a Savior.
III. They who pretend they see are made blind. These are of two sorts.
1. Such as absolutely reject the truth because it does not suit what they call their reason. Many of the most important doctrines, the more they are examined by fallen proud reason will appear the more unreasonable. Instance in
First, The Deity of Jesus, will be absurd to those who feel not the need of an Almighty Savior. So that 1 Corinthians 12:3.
Second Justification by the righteousness of another will be thought absurd.
Third That God, in point of acceptance, pays no more regard to men's best actions than their sins, is deemed another absurdity.
Fourth Even to assert that he has a right to do what he will with his own, is accounted another hard and unreasonable point; though they claim such a right for themselves in their own concerns.
Thus the gospel reveals the thoughts of their hearts. Their boasted morality (if they have any) is found destitute of the love of God, and of truth. They profess to see but are quite dark, yes, the light that shines around them increases their darkness.
2. Such as receive the gospel in the notion, and value themselves upon it but are destitute of the power; none make a greater parade of seeing than these, none more fatally blinded. They smile at a self-righteousness founded upon works but are themselves in the very spirit of the Pharisee. An acknowledgment of the doctrines which they misunderstand and abuse, serves them for a righteousness; and, trusting to this, they despise all who are stricter than themselves, and dislike close and faithful preaching as they would poison. A minister may preach in general terms, and have their good word; but, if he deals faithfully and plainly with conscience if he bears testimony, not only against dead works but against dead faith, they will think they do God service by censuring and reviling him. Awful case! to be blinded by the very truths they profess and believe. Yet I fear it is too common.
We are past the solstice, and shall soon perceive the peep, at least the forerunners of spring. Come, May! come, June! that we may trot down to Olney, Weston, Newport, Bedford. Ah, wretched creature I am! Will I dare to wish the time away? Rather wish every minute was an hour, while you have so much to do, and can so poorly improve the little space allotted to do it in. Well, I wish to wait patiently. May I improve the interval!
But though we shall be happy together, we are not necessary to each other, and that's a mercy. The Lord is sufficient. I wish to leave it with him, where, or what, or how I am to be next June, or tomorrow. If he is mine all is well; and if his will is done all is right.
My dear wife is pretty well. The Lord seldom afflicts us all together but in our turns we are taught to feel for and help each other. Mr. Barton is her doctor, under the great Physician, who, I hope, condescends to take her case in hand. He wounds and he heals; he does both at the best time. Your cough, I hope, will be silenced and melted away before long, and you will join with all the spring birds in hymning the praises of the great Shepherd. Yes, let us love, and sing, and wonder, and go singing and wondering on through life, until we join the songs and admiration of the blessed before the throne.
Adieu, your very true friend,
December 24th, 1780.
My dear friend,
These are horrid times indeed! Worse and worse, and I fear they will be worse still. But we know who is at the helm. What a mercy to know this! Reynolds says somewhere, "Jesus will either be your pilot in the ship, or your plank in the sea." This is good news, and therefore we need not fear for ourselves; for should we see a general shipwreck we shall survive it, and get safe to land. While we cleave to such a plank we cannot sink.
But the connection and union is much nearer still. He is the Head we the members. Now a man cannot drown while his head is above water. The members of Christ are in floods and depths; waves and billows roll over them but the Head is on high, their life is hid and secure in him, and in good time the Lord will draw out the members after it.
If I were as I wish to be, I would not fear at all for myself. I would say, "My all is in the Lord's hands, and there I leave it. He undertakes to manage and care and I have only to sit still and admire his wisdom."
But I would wish to be much affected for others. Oh, the distresses and calamities which sin occasions! Sin has excited, and it still continues, the war. Ah, what a devouring sword! how many fatherless and widows has it made! how many has it plunged into eternity! What fruitful fields are drenched with blood, and become wildernesses! Sin raised the late terrible hurricanes. What a desolation! Yet we (as a people) are stupid and insensible still, and his hand is stretched out still.
There is a fast-day coming. I shall preach two sermons, if the Lord pleases, and think to print one of them. I thought to have printed a fast-day sermon at Olney, and I have it by me written at length. With some refurbishing and alterations it will do for the present time; and I think my situation here rather requires and calls upon me for a public testimony.
Let us hear from you very soon. Tell Mrs. Bull and Tommy, that we send our love and our prayers that the grace of a gracious Savior may fill all our hearts, Amen.
Jan. 20th, 1781.
My dear friend,
I do not envy you of your pleasure of reading one hundred and fifty pages of academics in Latin. It would have taken me a year, instead of a month, to wade through. I have lost my acumen for such 'learned disquisitions' and perhaps I am as well without it.
How many hundreds, yes thousands, of pages have I read of which there is now hardly any trace in my memory! I do not, however, account it all lost labor. Without doubt, many ideas which now occasionally offer themselves as my own have been borrowed from others, though I have ungratefully forgotten the very names of my benefactors! But at my time of life, I wish to be like Mary to sit at the feet of Jesus, and to make a transition from commentators to that Great Teacher, who alone can influence the heart!
While I was writing enter Dr. Barton. We never meet I believe but we talk more or less of our friend at Newport. He tells me that he has prescribed something to good effect, and that your pains have retreated before his medicines. If it is for your good I wish them never to return; but if the Lord makes them messengers of grace and blessing to you I dare not shut the door against them, were I able.
I heard on Tuesday that the Bishop of Lichfield was to preach the sermon to the Society for Propagating the Gospel. Yesterday I purposed to be there but when the hour came, I forgot it. Ah, such a head! The town rings of his sermon. Many dissenters I am told were there. He charmed away their prejudices, and sent them home full of commendations. His text was Hebrews 13:8. His sermon upon it admirable for sense, composition, and elocution, and the whole strain evangelical. I hear it is to be printed. His point was, as I am informed, to show that Jesus Christ is in all ages today, yesterday, and forever, the same. He displayed Jesus in his personal glories, in his work of redemption, in his government and law. What a foolish head was mine to forget the appointment!
I am glad my book of letters, Cardiphonia is at hand, to put you often in mind of me. You see me there in my best and in my worst. Or, rather, you see what I am and you may guess what I would be. It seems likely to sell and spread, which I shall be glad of, if the Lord is pleased to accompany them with his blessing. If my letters are owned to comfort the afflicted, to quicken the careless, to confirm the wavering I will rejoice. I prefer being useful to one soul to the applause of twenty nations and ages. The hour is coming when the united commendation of all mankind will be of no more value than the playful words of a few dirty boys in the street. I would, if possible, set no more value upon it now than I shall then; but there is much tinder in my heart; and vile, ignorant, and insufficient as I know myself to be, I can but just manage the compliments that have been hinted in my hearing. How foolish, as well as wicked, is this self-delight!
If a man commended a coin which I called mine it would not work much upon my pride, for I neither coined it, nor made the die; and if I am enabled either to write or to speak to the purpose, neither I, nor the sin which dwells in me, have any right to praise.
Company prevented finishing my letter before dinner, and now that I have dined I am stupid, and half asleep; which you would soon perceive, without my telling you, if I do not hasten to subscribe myself,
Feb. 17, 1781.
My dear friend,
Your letter has been with me about two weeks, and must be answered, let who will, wait. You threaten me and frighten me with your suspicions; though, when you apprehend that the glow of my friendship turns pale and languid, from a just consciousness of my own feelings, I attribute it rather to the illness in you, than to any change in myself, in hope to convince you, in defiance of all your surmises, that I love you dearly. I know your make, and therefore forgive you. For your other apprehensions and admonitions, I trust my heart thanks you.
My situation here in London is ensnaring, indeed. There is a littleness, a weakness, a wickedness in my mind which makes me liable to be carried away like a dead fish down the stream, by the things you mention. If I am kept holy it is surely by that Power which can preserve a spark alive in a tempest, or in the ocean. But, to the praise of His grace, I am not conscious of my spirit being greatly hurt hitherto.
Though the slavery I was reduced to in Africa made no profitable impression upon my mind at the time I hope the Lord has made the recollection of it useful to me since; and I may praise him that it is seldom, if ever, one whole day out of my thoughts. It occurs to me almost hourly, that the rector, the author, the hymn-maker, who is admitted to the notice of 'my lord this', and 'my lady that' was redeemed from abject slavery the lowest state of human wretchedness. If it is hinted to me that I have written or said something pretty or pertinent on pious subjects, I am reminded that the hand which wrote it, and the mouth which spoke it, were once employed by Satan that I was a most horrid blasphemer of the Savior, whom I now commend.
Nor is this all. The whole of my experience, since I began to know the Lord, has been graciously suited to keep me from forgetting myself altogether. Ah, what a series of inconsistency and perverseness am I conscious of! Can I be proud of pointing out rules to others which I so sadly deviate from myself? However, it is true, that notwithstanding all I have seen and known, and felt, and said, and done such a heart as mine would soon be proud if Almighty Power did not keep it down.
I have heard of a playwright who put copies of his comedy into the hands of four friends to revise. When he came to collect the copies afterwards, he found one scene struck out here and there by one, another by another, so that among them they had demolished the whole play.
The lot of my Cardiphonia seems the reverse of this. You speak favorably of all the letters but think those to the nobleman inferior to the rest. A gentleman of some eminence for name, taste, and literature, at Bristol, writes me his approbation of the whole but gives a peculiar preference to the nobleman's. Some of them, as you observed, are rather essays, because the subjects were given me, and I was desired to treat them something at large, and because such parts of those letters which had not a reference to the subject were excluded. There is, likewise, a sort of deference when a little man writes to a great man, which will not admit quite so much familiarity as between people on a par. Yet some of them, I think, are as much epistles as any in the volumes. However, it matters not whether they are essays, dissertations, sermons, or letters so that they may be useful. If you could tell me which letters the Lord is pleased to make most acceptable and serviceable to the readers, I would soon tell you which are the best letters in the volumes.
I allow that the address to Mr. ___ is vexatious to the curiosity of a reader. But you are sensible it would have been improper to print the names. Some of the people are unknown to you, and when that is the case, it seems indifferent whether they were written to John Nokes, or Thomas Styles; however, you shall have a key to the most. Some of them would not wish to be known, and I shall, therefore, leave them, as they are, to exercise your sagacity.
I have a fast-day sermon in the press, which you will see in good time. My dear wife is better and worse at present tolerably well. Betsy and I are quite well. We all love you, and unite in love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy. Believe me yours, not in a languid but in a glowing degree,
5th March, 1781.
My dear friend,
I am pleased that you approve my fast-day sermon; but I ought to be sorry such a picture of the state of the nation, (or rather a sketch, for it is no more,) is so palpably true, that you cannot charge me with over-exaggerating the features. I ought to be sorry, likewise, that I am so little affected myself with the subject. I am too little impressed either with the sight of abounding sin or the apprehension of approaching judgment. I live in the midst of a polluted people, and I am, alas! a sharer in the general pollution; yet do I not lay either the one or the other sufficiently to heart!
A voice at length is heard from the East Indies. The Lord has begun to plead with us there, and I shall not wonder if the cries of the oppressed at length prevail, for an extirpation out of that quarter of the globe. To an eye of sense, a cloud, portending an awful storm, appears over us but faith sees the hand that guides its motions, and relies on the promises by which wisdom and love have engaged to bring light out of the darkness. Let us believe, and we shall see the salvation of God.
There is a certain day, which, for reasons unknown to me, is the best and fittest in the whole year for me to go to visit you. But I am not almanac-maker sufficient to pick this day out from the rest, by my own skill. I know not whether it is in May, June, or September. But there is One who knows all things, who bids me trust to him, and he will direct my steps not by an audible voice from heaven but by the movements of his providence. Something shall still hinder and delay until the right time comes, and then all hindrances shall give way; and bolts and locks, though made of brass, shall fly open of their own accord, without any need of my contriving to pick them with false keys. There is a previous question, whether the Lord sees it proper I should go at all to Olney this year? Mr. Self eagerly says "Yes, I hope so." But Mr. Self can give no sufficient reason why he should not be mortified and disappointed, for he knows he deserves no better.
My love to Miss Myers, if still with you. May the Lord make and keep her peaceful, humble, spiritual, and give her large amends in grace and comfort for all that her profession has cost her.
I am glad to hear you continue tolerably well. I hope the barometer of your spirits is rather up than down, and that you will bestow a placid smile upon my letter when you read.
I have not yet seen Mr. Madan's pernicious book, nor am I eager for it. It would have been better for some people if they had never learned to read or write! Ah, what are talents if not consecrated to the Lord's service, and under the influence of his Spirit! They are but like a sword in the hands of a madman, with which he indiscriminately wounds his enemies, his friends, and himself.
You pity me; I almost pity myself. I could like a little more leisure; but if I am where I ought to be imagination could not place me better. Yesterday I wandered an hour in the most retired parts of Hyde Park, and I thought it pleasant. My dear wife's health is variable, like the weather which is saying, she is not very ill, or long ill at a time. The Lord is good. Love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy. Farewell. Pray for Hoxton.
21st April, 1781.
My dear friend,
We would be glad to have you with us but must be content with talking of you. I hope your Best Friend will be with us, and then we can make a good shift without this or the other particular person. I suppose the apostle John was secluded from his friends when at Patmos, and I suppose he hardly missed them. Creatures are candlelight comforts: when they are put out, or burn out, the sun can well supply the place of them all. You are often upon my mind; or, to say it better, you are always in my heart. This is a truth which does not at all depend upon my coming or my not coming to Newport to see you.
The above was written on Thursday; it is now Saturday morning. We are returning home, and shall have the pleasure of Mrs. Wilberforce and Dr. Conyer's company to dinner. I meant to fill my paper but the naughty pen will not write. I have had pleasant company, and some outwardly pleasant walks about the park and heath; but something has been lacking. My soul is too much like Gideon's fleece dry; though I can perceive the dew falling around me.
We join our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy, and to Miss Myers, if still with you. As I shall hardly have time to write more today, I subscribe myself now most affectionately yours,
Greenwich, 12th May, 1781.
When I returned on Saturday, Miss Myers called, and brought me a little strip of paper. She said she was feeling poorly; made but a short stay, and I have not seen her since. We were glad to hear that though you had been ill, you were then better.
I have reason to be thankful that Cardiphonia seems acceptable among the Lord's people. It has been much called for but I hear nothing of a new edition being wanted yet. Most of the letters are so desultory, that it would be difficult to find a title to each which would comprise the whole subject; but more of this when we meet. I shall sit in silence, to hear any remarks you make, in hopes of profiting by them.
We hope to travel to Bedford on Monday. My thoughts run much upon the interview with my old friends if the Lord preserves them and us with health and peace, and especially if he is pleased to meet us, and to cause our hearts to burn within us. Otherwise we shall only yawn, and trifle away our precious time. If a group of empty pots should meet together, with the charitable design of filling each other, they would all be disappointed; but place them by a fountain, or under a running pipe, there they might first receive, and then communicate. You will pray, therefore, for us first, that we may have a safe and prosperous journey to you; and secondly, that we may not come in vain, or alone.
Company is come, and dinner is coming, so no more at present, (but love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy.)
From your affectionate friend, and so forth,
May 26, 1781.
If I had your leisure, and you had my inclination, we would exchange letters more frequently. You seem determined not to write first, and I am hardly able to write at all. But, if the Lord is with you, and you are pretty well, why should you puzzle yourself about folks that are fifty miles distant?
The Lord is very gracious to us. My dear wife is still favored with very tolerable health. Preaching six or seven times per week agrees wondrously well with me, in this hot weather. I eat heartily, sleep soundly, and I believe continue to grow fat. I am often favored with liberty in public, which sometimes amazes me when I consider what I am conscious of in private.
My late visit to Bedford, Newport, and Olney, left a pleasant savor upon my mind; and the recollection of incidents which, by the Lord's blessing, may be profitable, remains upon my mind. I was glad to find and leave you so well, for you seemed to me better than at any time since I have known you. I hope you will continue mending, until you are as sound and hearty as an oak. I mean, if so much health may be good for you. But if illnesses, etc., are means by which the Lord designs good for your soul, then I must consent that you be afflicted. It is better to be sick or cast down, than to be proud or careless, or to do foolish things, to make the church weep, and the world laugh.
Public affairs look darker still, expectation is on tiptoe, waiting for hourly news from all parts abroad but foreboding that the news whenever it comes, or from whatever quarter, will be distressing. I am afraid what we next hear from America will not be pleasing. That unhappy country is still likely to be a scene of desolation. In the West Indies, Tobago is gone, and perhaps by this time some other of our islands. And the cry of oppression in the East Indies seems at length to have awakened judgment there. I think of the words, "In those days the Lord began to cut Israel short." He seems about to cut us short on all sides. Yet the spirit of our nation seems like the thoughtless mariner asleep on the top of the mast, heedless of the danger, which is increasing every day.
Yet still I hope there is mercy. The gospel spreads grace reigns the number of praying souls are upon the increase, and their prayers I trust will be heard. We are sure that the Lord reigns, that the storm is guided by the hands which were nailed to the cross, and that as he loves his own he will take care of them. But they who have not an ark to hide themselves in, will probably weep and wail before the indignation is past.
Blessed be God for the prospect of an eternal land of peace, where sin and every sorrow will be excluded. There we shall have a day without cloud and without night. The sun shall go down no more, the voice of war shall be heard no more. The inhabitants shall feel pain no more, shall weep no more, shall go out no more. Then, no more unsanctified desires and therefore no more unsatisfied desires. Oh what a state of love, life, and joy when we see Jesus as he is! and by beholding, are changed into his image, and made (according to the utmost capacity of our natures) perfectly like him.
Well it shall, it will come, it approaches nearer every hour!
My love to Mrs. Bull, Tommy, Mr. Fordham, not forgetting Mr. Goode, when you see him.
I am your sincere friend and brother, servant, and fellow pilgrim, etc.,
26th July, 1781.
My dear friend,
It is not for you and I who know that the Lord does all things, and believe that he does all things well it is not for us to shake our heads and say, Alas! alas! I wish it was otherwise. I trust he has adjusted the time of your coming to London to answer important purposes, and then I ought to be well pleased, though my own humor and feelings are crossed by it. We thank you for your kind intention of spending some of your first days with us, and glad we shall be to have you "from morn until noon, from noon until dewy eve."
Give our hearty love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy, and tell Mrs. Bull that so sure as you come in our way, we will do all in our power to take care of you, and make you easy.
I am affectionately yours,
September 1, 1781.
My dear friend,
Yes, dear Mrs. Barham is gone home. She lived honorably, and died peaceably. Were I to preach a funeral sermon, I would say but little about her; but I would make the people stare, if I could, by telling them what a wonderful Friend she had; one who paid all her debts, and who was so attentive to her, that his eye was never off her by night or day for a long number of years; one who, by looking at her, could sweeten her pains, renew her strength, and fill her with wisdom, grace, and peace. It was to his praise, and not to hers, that she filled up every character and relation of life with propriety, endured pain with cheerfulness, and gave an edifying and memorable example to all around her. It was this kind Friend who first introduced me to her, and I was honored with her friendship because she believed I loved her Friend. Well, she is gone, and I am a loser; but I do not wish her back again. She is gone to see her best Friend; and I hope, one day, to see her with him. If she could speak to us now, she would say, "Be not slothful but followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises!"
I love to see and notice God's providential hand in every circumstance of domestic life. Trivial as they may seem singly, they are often of great importance to us in their consequences; and therefore He, in whose sight all the nations of the earth are but as the drop of a bucket, condescends to direct them.
We are insensibly slipping into the winter season. By-and-bye, we expect frost, snowstorms, and rain; short, lowering days, and long, gloomy nights. A few weeks or months of these inclement changes will prepare us (if we live) to value and welcome the return of spring, which will soon pass away to make room for summer, autumn, and then winter again. Thus things go round and round but every season brings us a stage nearer to an eternal year of perpetual spring a day without night, where our sun shall be clouded or go down no more. Happy prospect! We shall not always be as we are now. We are now at school, learning to sing the song of redeeming love, and, before long, we shall be translated to sing it before the throne of God!
Your poor friend,
13 Oct. 1781.
I am not surprised that a little of the gloom of November should tinge your spirits; but I hope as the weather is bright again, your barometer will stand higher when you read my letter than when you wrote your own. However that be, I shall venture to address you with the Angel's salutation, "Hail, you that are highly favored! The Lord is with you." You live in a strong city, which has salvation itself for walls and bulwarks; your frequent changes are numbering off apace, and the last when it comes (I hope a good round number of years hence) will introduce you to a state of unchangeable and endless peace and joy! With such a home in view, the trials we may meet upon the road are of no great comparative importance. Let us not be weary in doing or suffering the Lord's will, for in due season we shall reap.
I have printed, very privately, a letter to my parishioners, and sent one under cover and seal to every housekeeper. I would have sent you one, if I had a frank. The next time you ride to Mr. Cowper's, you may see it. With our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy,
I remain most sincerely yours,
My dear Mr. Bull,
If I was strictly to do nothing by partiality, I would not answer your letters within six months, having some, and from people whom I love, lying by me, of a still longer date than that. But if I have a strong predilection in your favor, I cannot help it, and I hope it is not sinful to indulge it, so as to take you out of course.
The great State Ship seems to be getting apace into shoal water, and I fear will be aground soon. Things go on from bad to worse; and repentance seems as little thought of as ever. But though she should, (like Paul's ship), be broken all to pieces, the Lord's people on board her shall get safe to the heavenly shore. We need not, we ought not, to fear for ourselves; but who can help being affected with the case of the many, who have no ears to hear the Lord's voice, no eye to see his hand, in the awful calamities our sins have brought upon us! May I not rather say, Who is sufficiently affected? I am sure I am not.
Trade is much at a stand-still bankruptcies increase the distresses of the poor are likely to be great, especially if the new year should bring us, (as I expect,) a hard frost.
Oh, what a mischievous thing is sin! how does it fill the world with a variety of woe! But our Lord says to his people, Do not let your hearts be troubled. He will take care of us while here, and by and by we shall be removed to a better soil and a better climate, where we shall never be disturbed by the din of war.
The Lord reigns! He governs the world, and let men contrive and plot as they will, they are all instruments in his hand, and shall in the end bring nothing to pass but what is worthy of his wisdom and goodness to appoint or permit. Even the wrath of men shall praise him. And what man in his wrath or ambition would do if he could, if it be not a part of the Lord's wise plan shall fail and evaporate. Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and other boasters, who expected to carry everything before them according to their own wills had their bounds and commissions, beyond which they could not pass. When they attempted it, they quickly found a hook and bridle in their jaws, and were stopped, turned, and confounded.
It is just so in modern times: when mortals speak proudly, the Lord is above them. He takes the wise in their own craftiness. He blows upon their schemes, and they break like a bubble upon the waters. Let us rejoice that this God, who pours contempt upon princes, is our God. Whatever storms and floods arise, we are in the ark which is under the protection and the pilotage of Him that loved us, and gave himself for us.
My dear wife is sometimes poorly but, upon the whole, pretty well; we live in peace, and do tolerably well. Our little girl and myself are favored with good strong health. We all send our love to you, love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy. I hope you pray often, and earnestly, for us. You are seldom long out of my mind. In particular, it is usual with me to pay you a mental visit on a Saturday evening, when I suppose you are thinking about the business of the morrow.
My texts on Christmas-day were Hebrews 2:14, 15; and in the evening, John 9:39. I shall need two sermons for New-year's day but am not yet provided. The hour of prayer and supper is just at hand (nine o'clock), and therefore I must bid you a good night. The Lord bless you,,
28th Dec. 1781.
My dear Sir,
I found your letter last night after I came home, thank you for it.
This was my text on New Year's day, "Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone." Psalm 71:9
I am drawing nearer and nearer to the season which David either expected or felt. I observe that the aged believer has no additional claim upon the Lord, who might have rejected him when he first came, and now at last might justly cast him off, as to any plea he can offer for himself; for his services have been all defective or defiled, and he must confess himself unprofitable and unfaithful. But his plea, in the name of Jesus, is strong and sure.
Many reasons teach the aged believer the need of this prayer. As his graces are still imperfect, so his powers are feelingly upon the decline. It was but little he could do, at his best and now less and less.
He feels other props and comforts dropping off apace. When he was young he had warm spirits and pleasing prospects; but now what a change of the friends in which he once delighted! In some he has found inconstancy they have forsaken and forgotten him; and others have been successively taken away by death. They have fallen like the leaves in autumn and now he stands almost a naked trunk. If any yet remain, he is expecting to lose them likewise, except he himself is taken from them.
Old age abates, and gradually destroys, the relish of such earthly comforts as might be otherwise enjoyed. Pains, infirmities, loss of sleep and appetite, the failure of sight, hearing, and all the senses are harbingers, like Job's messengers, arriving in close succession to tell him that death is upon his progress, and not far distant!
If youth has no security against death then old age has no possibility of escaping the grim monster. But though friends fail, cisterns burst, gourds wither, strength declines, and death advances if God does not forsake me then all is well. "Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone." Psalm 71:9
This subject does not directly suit you at present; but if you live long enough, you will be old in time, and therefore I sent you a little sketch of my sermon.
I wish poor old England had a heart suited to this prayer. The nation has had a time of manhood, strength, and bloom. But it is now gray-headed, weak, and doting; and, alas! its grey hairs are not found in the ways of righteousness. Yet I have a good hope the Lord will not utterly cast off this sinful nation, so as to abandon it to the will of his enemies. He has a remnant, and a work among us, and I hope the word is, 'Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it.' We must be brought down, impoverished, and put to shame. His glory requires it; and if we love his name, we must not be greatly sorry for those dispensations which are necessary to convince the nation and the world that the Lord is God. The bulk of a people called Christian, do not know that the Lord is God; but it is a truth they must learn, whatever the acquisition may cost.
I wish I could feel as I ought for myself for the churches for the nation. I do not wonder that our plans have been wrong, and all our expectations defeated. But SIN is the cause. If we had not provoked the Lord, he would have presided in our councils; and so far as war had been necessary and right, he would have given our commanders wisdom, union, fidelity, and success. Still it shall be well with those who sigh and mourn before him, and whose eyes affect their hearts.
May the Lord make this new year a good and happy one to you and Mrs. Bull and Tommy. We join in love.
I am sincerely yours,
3 Jan 1782.
My dear Gentle Bull,
I Hope Tommy has lost his fever, and Mrs. Bull continues well. Love to both from both your poor friends here. Peggy was so well as to visit us on Saturday; but when I returned her visit on Monday, she was very doing poorly again.
All the illnesses in the city Hospital are but feeble types of the various symptoms of that worst of diseases, sin. The best earthly physicians are still men feeble emblems of Him who heals soul and body with a word. His name is Jesus. He comes to the poor as readily as to the rich; he takes no fees; and no case ever miscarried in his hand. To him I commend you, and all your soul illnesses.
I am your most affectionate
January 24, 1782.
My dear Sir,
They say the chameleon assumes a variety of colors, according to the color of different objects near him. Thus changeable are my feelings often when I am reading your letters. One paragraph makes me look bright, for you are pretty well, and in good spirits. Perhaps the very next is almost filled with the words pain, weakness, dejection, and the like; then my heart puts on a sable hue, and assimilates itself to your complaints. But, perhaps, before the letter closes, your complaints are forgotten, your spirits revive, and mine likewise, of course. Upon the whole, cheerfulness predominates with me, because I consider your comforts as real and abiding, and your complaints as rather imaginary and transitory.
We were glad to hear that you and Sir Thomas had a safe and good journey home, and that Mrs. Bull was in less pain than when you left her. My wishes for her are,
1st, that her affliction may be sanctified; and then,
2nd, that, if the Lord pleases, it may be relieved and removed.
He is the best physician; he can make the lame walk, and heal a wound, whether it be in the leg or in the heart; yes, he wounds only to heal, and afflicts us that he may thereby take occasion to comfort us. I trust she feels herself safe in his merciful hands, and believes that he will surely do her good. If we suffer, it shall neither be in vain, nor for a long time. Yet in a little while, and he will change these vile bodies, and fashion them according to the pattern of his own glorious body. What a thought is that! Could we have dared to hope for so much, if he had not promised it? No; it would have been presumption; but, now God has promised it, it were presumption to question his word.
It seemed high time for me to write and yet I find nothing at hand to fill up the paper. Shall I touch upon politics? We have revolutions and changes but the newspapers (my chief sources of intelligence) have told you all the Lord is doing, and will do something worthy of himself; this we may be sure of. As to the particulars, we must await the openings of his Providence; and, since we already know that the sum total will be all is right, we may wait with patience and confidence. At present, we seem to have some distant prospect, at least, of peace; a blessing which appears to me of such great importance, that I am not very solicitous as to the terms by which it may be attained. It seems, the outs are now to be the ins, and the ins the outs; and I suppose a new party will be attended with a new opposition; for these things, among us, seem to be as much of course, as that a shadow should be inseparable from the body.
In the meantime, my part, as a Christian, is to be quietly subject to "the powers that be;" for they are all (whether they intend it or not) busy in accomplishing the will of my Lord. In the great ship of the nation, I am only a passenger; the mariners will never consult me about the course they should steer, nor regard my advice if I should give it them unasked. If I have any office on board, it is, at most but that of a chaplain, who, though he has no hand in the navigation, is doubtless engaged, by both character and interest, to pray for a good voyage; and that He, who has the wind and weather at his disposal, may, in mercy, bring the poor tempest-tossed vessel safely through the storm.
"Certainly, man walks about like a mere shadow. Indeed, they frantically rush around in vain, gathering possessions without knowing who will get them!" Psalm 39:6
What a bustle are most men in, about the momentary concerns of the present life! They are like children playing blind-man's bluff! And while the blindfold hinders them from seeing that they are upon the edge of a precipice, in the midst of their eager play they slip, they fall in succession one after the other and they are inevitably, irrevocably gone!
But others crowd in to fill up their vacancies and the game still goes on!
With what a mixture of compassion and indignation, may we conceive the holy angels have, as they behold what is transacting upon the earth!
Forever adored, be the gracious Savior, who took the blindfold from our eyes, withdrew us from the dangerous brink to sit in peace and safety at his feet. "For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins!" Colossians 1:13-14. "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who do not believe!" 2 Corinthians 4:4
Now, if we are wise to know our privilege, all the commotions around us need not affect us any more (as to our own personal concernments) than the rattling of the storm against the wall, when we are sitting snug within doors by the fire-side. Yet it befits us to pity those who are found in the street exposed without shelter to the fury of the tempest.
Love from us both to Mrs. Bull and Mr. Tommy. Continue to pray for us, and may the Lord bless you and yours.
I am your affectionate friend,
23rd March, 1782.
My dear friend,
Thanks for your letter, and I will thank the Lord for putting out the St. Anthony's fire, for relieving Mrs. Bull, and for removing Tommy's fever. He is a tender plant; I can conceive something of your feelings when he is threatened. I hope he will be spared for your comfort, and am sure he will if it be upon the whole best; if otherwise, I doubt not but He who has supported you under former trials, would still give you proofs of his all-sufficiency, and enable you to acquiesce in the appointments of his wisdom.
Mr. Clayton lately called upon me, to tell me, that many people are seriously thinking of establishing a new academy for preparing young men for the ministry in which the greatest stress might be laid upon truth, life, spirituality; and the least stress possible upon modes, forms, and non-essentials that it must be at a moderate distance from London that, in fact, Newport was the place fixed upon, for the sake of one Mr. Bull, who lives there, and who it was hoped would accept the superintendency. He said some talked of a much larger sum but that he himself made no doubt but so far as 500 pounds per annum would be readily subscribed to promote so good a design.
He then said it was his request, and the desire of many of his friends, that I would draw up a plan for the forming such an academy, and likewise that I would write to you upon the subject.
The design met my hearty approbation, as it stood connected with Mr. Bull, who I said appeared to me the most proper person I could think of, to undertake it. As to my drawing up a plan, I half promised to write my thoughts of it that is, I mean to tell Mr. Clayton, by letter, how I would sketch out such an institution, if I lived in Utopia, and could have the management of things my own way. If they can pick any hints worthy of notice from such an attempt, they shall be welcome to them; but to draw a formal plan how an academy should be regulated in this enlightened age and country, and to hit such a medium as might unite and coalesce the respectable Dissenters and Methodists, who seem willing to promote this academy, might savor too much of presumption in one who was never either at university or academy himself but rather spent the time which other young men employ in study, in the wilds of Africa!
However, feeling myself rather awkward as to the service assigned me, I told Mr. Clayton I would wish to hear from you first, expecting that a sketch from you would, in a measure, illuminate me, and qualify me for the undertaking.
I wish, therefore, to know something of your mind and views, and the sooner the better. It is a service I have long wished to see you more fully engaged in, and am not willing to see that time which might be better employed, taken up in the instruction of young Christian pastors.
There is much thirst for the gospel in Lancashire: people willing to hear, and actually more congregations formed than preachers can be procured for. A Mr. Gardiner, from Lancaster, has been long in town. He seems a lively, understanding man. A part of his business is to procure preachers, if he can; but the situation is so distant, and the service not over pleasing to flesh and blood. Grace, humility, zeal, self-denial, and extempore speaking are requisites. He says there are now two congregations, in particular, that afford a good prospect: in the one if the minister can live upon 100 pounds per year; in the other if he can live by faith in the promises. He desired me to ask if your Mr. Fordham is ready to take the field; if he would like such a service; if you think it would suit him, etc. I must just add, Love, love, love, and wish you all a good night.
I am always and very much your
11th April, 1782.
Monsieur, dear friend,
My little portion of retired time is so much engrossed by the academy business, that I can hardly afford ten minutes to write a line by Mrs. Wilberforce. Yet I would wish you to know that I am not unmindful of you. My work grows upon my hands, and is likely to be a volume; and, after all, not what Mr. Clayton asked for an academy for England but for Utopia. But if the Lord enables me to drop some hints that may be useful to the design, I shall be thankful. Some people may perhaps think it a satire upon present academies but this was not my intention. I think one more writing forenoon may bring me to a conclusion; but then I must transcribe it. For though my first thoughts are usually my best, in the main yet it is so carelessly and badly written, with so many mistakes, so many words interlined, and scratched out, and put one for another that few people but myself can cleverly decipher it! I will go on, with my best speed: indeed, I must, for I cannot comfortably attend to anything else until it is finished.
I know that we love you, and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, and that I must hasten to subscribe myself,
2nd May, 1782.
My dear friend,
I finished the task Mr. Clayton assigned to me about ten days ago, and put it into his hands. I understand it has passed from him, and is passing into other hands. Your curiosity to see it, I am told, is upon tip-toe; but it must wait awhile. I suppose it will not return to me for some time.
I have had the pleasure of pleasing my employer, at least; and perhaps a few of every party may like it; but I expect many of all the parties concerned, will not much admire my plan. I have given my sentiments undisguised and at large, without much caring who is pleased or displeased; for as I live in Utopia, it is of no importance to me what the people who live at such a distance as London are pleased to think of me.
The most flattering sentiment I form of my performance is, that though I have filled seven sheets of post paper with very close writing, I have a good hope there will hardly be found a single period which will meet with your disapprobation. Your good opinion is of more consequence to me than that of others, because you are a nearer neighbor to me; for you live, or at least frequently reside, in Utopia as well as myself. Though you and I are both originals in our way we have our separate and distinct peculiarities, and, consequently, cannot be exactly alike. Yet it appears to me, that I have the honor to think more with you, upon the whole circle of our professional subjects, than with any minister I know; and accordingly, I expect that you will approve in a manner of the whole and every part of my plan; whereas I can hardly think of any other friend of mine who may not find something to object to here and there. But if I should be disappointed in this my optimistic expectation, and have not come so near your views as I think, you must let me down as softly as you can, for fear the mortification should hurt me, and I should feel too much when constrained to say, Ah my misery!
The scene of my play is laid in Utopia; the acts, or heads, are four:
I. The situation, why not too near the metropolis, nor too far from it but about a moderate day's journey of fifty or so miles.
II. The choice of the tutor. I will not tell you that it is your picture drawn from the life. It is sufficient if I have hit off a general idea of what you wish to be.
III. The choice of pupils. Why they must be serious, capable, and having desires already towards the ministry upon just and solid grounds.
IV. Their studies and line of conduct. What they are to learn and do; and what they are not to learn nor do. If this part should be thought a satire upon some academies, I can honestly say I did not intend it as such. I do not mean to meddle with anybody's affairs but my own, I set out with a simple desire of tracing the clue of truth wherever it might lead me.
It is an important subject, and I care not who knows my opinion of it, as I seemed providentially called to it. That a Dissenting minister should be sent by Dissenters to me for a plan of an academy seemed so extraordinary, that after a few fears lest my shoulders should be too weak for the burden, I complied with readiness, almost as if Gabriel had been sent to set me to work.
Tell Mrs. Bull and Tommy that we love them. My dear wife is at present but poorly. Miss Newton, as we sometimes call her, and her Papa are, through mercy, in full health.
Praise the Lord for his goodness to us, and pray him to sanctify our comparatively light crosses.
Believe me always and affectionately yours,
25th May, 1782.
My dear friend,
I set about the task Mr. Clayton gave me with good spirits, from a persuasion that though you and I might possibly differ about some subordinate parts of my plan, I would in some good degree meet your idea upon the whole, otherwise I would not have attempted it. I am glad of your approbation, because I hoped for it, and aimed at it. I believe as you say, that I think more nearly with you on the subject, than with any other person I am acquainted with.
Mr. Clayton and Mr. John Wilson my neighbor are now both out of town. The latter is expected home tomorrow. I understand the present tutors of the Evangelical Academy have proposed to resign their charge, and I believe some of the supporters of that institution thought of you as the properest person to undertake it. But my plan will not suit with their design, which seems to be chiefly to give a little assistance to people who have already begun to preach. But Mr. Wilson told me, that he did not doubt but there were people enough, both willing and able, to carry my scheme into execution; that is, to give a number of promising young men a regular education, and that there was not a doubt but you were the proper person to engage in it.
Here the matter must rest at present, until his return, and for a few weeks afterwards. If it should proceed, it will be perhaps desirable to print a few copies of the Utopian plan, not for publication but to distribute among friends, as it would take a long time to circulate a single manuscript. If it should be printed, you will of course have a copy among the first. If not, I will endeavor to send it you again, that you may get it transcribed, if you think it worth while. I have done my part, and you have done yours, by signifying your willingness to listen to the proposal, if it should be made to you. The rest is in the Lord's hands; if it is agreeable to his will, and a service which he will deign to smile upon, he will bring it forward. If not, we are but where we were, and I trust we do not wish to see anything brought forward but under his auspices and influence.
This will seem an awkward business all round to some people. What apology can Mr. Clayton make to many Dissenters for applying to a clergyman for a plan of an academy? And what can the poor cleric say to some people in his line, for chalking out the plan of a dissenting methodist academy? How will the staunch Tabernacle folks like my innuendos against some of their popular, loud, powerful preachers? I think this poor speckled bird will be pecked at by fowls of every wing. But it is well, that though he does not wish to offend any of them, he is mighty indifferent as to their censures. If we act with a single eye, and are desirous to serve and please the Lord we may be easy as to consequences. When the conscience is clear and the heart simple neither the applauses nor the anathemas of worms are worth two-pence per bushel.
Your letter is a curiosity in its kind, for you have not found room for a single line respecting either health or sickness. From which I am willing to infer, that you were not very ill, or in very great pain, when you wrote it; or you would not have omitted a subject so familiar to your pen. I was indisposed a few days but not confined or stopped in my public work.
I have some reason to think of the apostle's words, "As poor yet making many (at least some) rich." I seem to preach with liberty, and to be heard with acceptance and profit by the congregation. I cannot but hope the Lord enriches some of my hearers by my ministry but, at the same time, it is certain I feel very poor to myself. If they are feasted it is otherwise with me. Through mercy I have just bread enough to keep me alive and this is more than I deserve.
In the pulpit, and while the eyes of my fellow-creatures are upon me I seem to be in earnest, and talk big! Perhaps some who hear me think, 'You lead a happy life!' But if they knew how and what I am at home they would pity me. Ah, what a poor cold, confused, inconsistent creature! I am a poor servant, indeed! and my only comfort springs from thinking (which yet I do too seldom and faintly) what a wondrous Master I serve.
We join in hearty love to you, Mrs. Bull, and Tommy. I trust you believe me to be your very affectionate friend and servant,
My dear friend,
Mr. John Wilson is now returned. He is my intimate friend, warmly disposed to forward our Utopian plan, and for his character, connections, his ability, and generosity he is a proper person to move in it. Thus far we have made a good beginning. He is the only one with whom I have talked about it, except Mr. Clayton, who will not be at home until the end of next week. In the mean while, Mr. Wilson wishes the plan may be printed just as it is, not published; and I mean soon to send it to the press, and take off two hundred and fifty copies, to be distributed among those who may be expected will promote the design.
The only preliminary we have as yet settled, and which is the sine qua non of the whole business, is that Mr. Bull is to be the tutor.
But Mr. Wilson thinks we had better form the actual plan, before the affair is publicly talked of. He says, if otherwise, a number of people are called together to consult about it, each one will probably have some proposal or nostrum of his own; the aggregate of which may diverge so far from the original scheme as to overturn it, and render it unworthy either of your acceptance, or of our endeavor to promote it; whereas, if the plan is previously fixed, in such a manner that no just objections can lie against it it may go down the more glibly, and save abundance of labor.
The good opinion we have of you, makes us desirous that you should be under as little control as possible. The whole management will be left to yourself: yet this power must be delegated to you by some proper authority; and those who support you in it, will have a right to know how it is exercised, and likewise to be occasionally consulted.
A principal difficulty that occurs to us, is concerning the admission of students. We would not have any forced upon you, or to continue with you if you find that their temper, conduct, or lack of capacity or industry, should render them improper people. On the other hand, if the negative or the exclusion should rest wholly upon you, it will put you in an invidious situation. Those who are excluded will, of course, think themselves injured; and it is probable the fathers, mothers, brothers, and cousins, and so on, of such aggrieved people will rise up against you, as an austere and unreasonable man. We must have your thoughts upon the best method or medium for obviating this difficulty.
My plan, you will observe, proposes a certain annual stipend for the tutor, whether the pupils be more or fewer, with a reasonable allowance for the board of each beside. It takes for granted, that the laborer is worthy of his hire, on the one hand; and, on the other, that the tutor, for the sake of serving the Lord, and training up a number of youths for the ministry, who are to be supported by subscription that is, by charity will, by the proposals he makes, show an unselfishness worthy of the cause he serves, and of the character he bears in Utopia. You might probably make more money from half the number of students, if you confined yourself to the sons of gentlemen who can afford to pay handsomely. On this point, I must get you to speak for yourself, and propose your own terms as I believe your friends would rather you should mention what you think right, than undertake to judge for you.
I request you, therefore, according to the hints which I have dropped, to take a good pen, good black ink, then light your pipe, and write me such a letter, expressive of your views and wishes, as will be proper for me to show to any people whom it may concern. After all, both you and I may have our labor for our pains; but this I know, that if the thing is of the Lord it shall prosper. Some great affairs have grown from as small beginnings; and, at the worst, whether He is pleased to bring this about or not, when we mean simply and humbly to serve him, he will graciously accept of the intention.
I saw Mr. Monk at church today, and invited him to come to see me. There is, it seems, an honesty about him which I like. Poor, wise, foolish, evangelical, self-righteous people of Olney! Too many there seem more solicitous that the minister should preach the gospel, than to profit by the gospel themselves.
Our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy.
I am much and always yours,
3rd July, 1782.
I showed Mr. Wilson this letter. He approves all but what I say of him. He thinks you will overrate his consequence. His personal good-will and service you may depend upon but he says his influence is not worth mentioning.
I believe something will come of our Utopian plan, that a proposal will be made to you, such as I judge, from your letters, you will not refuse. But, as yet, things are in embryo, and not sufficiently ripe for particularizing. I was lately sent for unexpectedly by some gentlemen, with whom I had not exchanged a word upon the subject, excepting with Mr. Clayton, who was present; but the invitation did not come from him (he is but just returned from Scotland). There will be a second meeting in less than a two weeks, when I may perhaps be able to tell you more.
It seems generally agreed upon, that you are to be the man. As to Newport, the only objection (which yet may be overruled) is to the distance. Some think a subscription will languish if the academy is so far off, and especially that no committee will undertake to travel so far. For these reasons a situation within twenty miles of London would be preferable. I expect the question will be asked, "Can Mr. Bull be prevailed on to relocate to some place within these limits?" If you would put an answer into my mouth, you must write in the course of the week. You will ask the Lord, and he will tell you what to say. It should seem you could hardly go to a place where your ministry would be less regarded than where you are. But notwithstanding this, you will not go without his permission. If it is his will he will prepare both your mind and your way.
You know the Lord does all things right, and not a hair of his children's heads, falls to the ground without him. You know he can bring light out of darkness, and has wise reasons for all that he does, and for all he permits to be done. Dwell a minute upon these thoughts before you read further.
Now you are prepared, I proceed to tell you, that a friend of yours and mine was grievously hurt by an ox on Monday last. Mr. Sharp and two other surgeons attend him. They tell me there are no symptoms at present to forbid the hopes of a recovery, though they have not been without fear of a fracture in his skull. But from present favorable appearances, they hope it is not so. Our friend lives not far from Barbican, and his name is Barton.
I am with him every day. He is perfectly sensible, and spoke yesterday very comfortably. I shall see him again by and by. Mrs. Barton is very composed and comfortable.
A single ox, you see, can hurt the shell of a believer; but, blessed be God all the bulls of Bashan, if collected, cannot touch his kernel. He is safe, for his life is hid with Christ in God.
I know three Bulls at Newport, which I believe are all very harmless, and therefore I send my love, and Mrs. Newton's, to them.
21th July, 1782.
Monsieur Mon Cher Ami
Mr. Barton showed me your letter, and desired me to inform you, that though he does not think himself competent for writing yet he hopes he is in a fair way of doing well, and gets forward daily, though slowly. I can tell you that his situation has been highly precarious but the Lord watched over him. A small addition to the momentum with which the ox struck him, must have fractured his skull: as it was, it put his head so much out of sorts, that he was at first, for a time, senseless, then delirious for another period, and so confused and mazy for a long time, that he could hardly think at all; his eyes, likewise, were affected he could scarcely bear the light. But when your letter came he was able to read it. He is now cheerful, can smile, and smoke a pipe; has been abroad in a coach several times. I hope to see him about the streets, as usual, in a fortnight's time. But Mr. Sharp wishes him to come forward very gently. I believe, nay, I more than believe, the Lord has been with them both. Mrs. Barton has been wonderfully supported, so as to sit up with him (when needful) night after night. I visited them daily; she was always the same composed, resigned, and speaking only of the Lord's goodness. They send their love to you.
You will soon receive an official letter from the chairman of the Utopian Society, inviting you to London. I hope you will come up as soon as you can, and fix the time in your official answer. We had but one additional member last night but I think the Lord sent him a man of weight, both of character and fortune. He offered hearty concurrence and assistance, upon two conditions:
1. That the academy might not be fixed nearer than thirty miles to London (if fifty, he thought so much the better). That the number of students might be small, not exceeding twelve; and, to make short of it, he moved that it was desirable the proposed academy should be formed as near as may be upon the plan lately printed and signed Omicron this was carried.
2. That Mr. Bull be asked to undertake it. Two resolves to this purpose will be transmitted to you in form; the next meeting will depend upon your coming to meet with them. Now put yourself in the Lord's hand, and make no unnecessary delay to come over and help us.
My brother and sister are with us, and it is uncertain how long they will stay, therefore we cannot lodge you; but shall be glad of as much of your company as you can afford. Your city friends will be glad to take you in, and your business will now lie in the city.
I have not time for more at present but love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy from my dear wife, and from your affectionate
21 August. 1782.
Dear Professor Bull, Doctor of Utopia,
Mr. Vanity has been hinting to me your impatience and uneasiness; how you have been watching the post, and counting the days, and thinking it a vast while since you heard from me. But I say, how can vanity be so vain? However, though I ought to suppose you can make a good shift without me, I am not willing to be forgotten by you, and therefore I will just enclose you a line of thanks for your last post.
I hope all your complaints are subsided that you will not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord to the Utopians. I suppose Mr. Clayton told you how, and how far, we went on at the last meeting. It therefore had an auspicious beginning, the subscription was tolerable, considering the number present; and the mode of admitting students, etc., was settled in a way which I hoped would be satisfactory to you. Next Tuesday a little abridged account of the design is to be agreed upon, to be printed, as a sort of bill to put into the hands of inquirers, which will save the trouble of telling the same thing over and over. I was asked to draw up something, and I have it ready to lay before them. I have little doubt but the subscription will soon be sufficient for the support of the first four, if we knew where to find them.
I went last time to withdraw, now that I had seen the society formed, and the business actually on foot; but just before we broke up, a motion was made, and passed without a negative, that I be asked to attend the next meeting. I seem to be hooked in, and perhaps shall not be able to force myself out, without breaking through proprieties; if not, I shall stay and make myself as easy as I can. Some of the wags have called us the Utopian Society; and I believe we shall assume it as our own voluntary description, and wear the reproach (if it was so intended) as our honor. But indeed I cannot complain of reproaches or persecution in this business. Having had only civil things said to me about it hitherto. Even a friend of ours, not far from Tooke's Court, thanked me for the plan, which he said he much approved in the main. I did not expect he could approve that part which glances upon church order but he showed no disposition to dispute about it.
Mr. Webb, pastor of the Independent church, is gone fully ripe I doubt not, like a shock of corn in due season. I loved and respected him greatly, and thought him among the first, if not the very first, of his denomination. I speak not of him as a scholar or divine. He probably was not inferior to his brethren in these characters. I knew him chiefly as a Christian; as such I thought him eminent, solid, humble, spiritual, peaceful in himself, and of course a friend of peace. Grace reigned in his heart, and out of the abundance of his heart his mouth spoke. He seemed to have no leisure to speak much of other subjects, and there was a savor in all that he said. His manner of speaking showed that he knew himself. I knew no man who had less of what I call the don about him. He shone without affecting to blaze or sparkle; and while others considered him as a teacher he seemed to consider himself as a learner.
In his last illness he did not speak of any remarkable consolations but expressed an edifying, encouraging example of a calm, unshaken confidence in Jesus Christ crucified, as the sole and sufficient ground of his hope. I have lost for a season, a valuable friend but I hope by and by to see him again. Blessed are the dead who die thus in the Lord, they rest from their labors and conflicts, and are now before the throne.
We are much as usual; upon the whole pretty well; what we chiefly lack is more gratitude and sensibility to the Lord of our life. I trust, however, the desire of my heart is towards him. We join in love to you, Mrs. Bull, and Tommy. Pray for us, and believe me to be yours,
16 Nov., 1782.
On Monday, part of a pig-hog came to our door; and though it brought no recommendation, nor could speak a word for itself we, according to our accustomed kindness and hospitality to such strangers, gave it a friendly welcome. It was doubly welcome when the postman called afterwards, and informed us from whence it came. We thank Mrs. Bull for thinking of us, and you for seconding her motion.
My brother and sister have left us about two weeks ago. But just now we are under a cloud. Sally Johnson has been very ill. I hope she is better: in the medical phrase, out of danger. But we were apprehensive of losing her. She has had a violent pain in her breast, and we were much afraid an inflammation would take place. It is a disorder of which her mother, and several of her family, have died, which circumstance alarmed us rather the more. If the Lord should please to take her to himself we shall feel it. She has lived long with us, has been always affectionate and faithful, and for a number of years we have considered her rather as an intimate friend, or a relative, than as a servant. She is in the Lord's hands all whose appointments are right; and we hope he will enable us to think and say so under every change he may allot us; but I now seem to hope she will not die but live to declare his wonderful works. I hope before the time you have fixed, she will be restored.
We are kept in long suspense about the peace. I know we shall have one if the Lord sees fit to give it us; and at any rate, there is a peace passing understanding, of which the politicians cannot deprive us. I cannot but long that a stop may be put to the horrid effusion of blood, which sin has so long occasioned. However, it shall truly go well with those who fear the Lord. May he abundantly bless you, and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, and your house, and your congregation, and all your concerns. We unite in love to you all.
I am very much yours,
20th Dec., 1782.
My Dear friend,
We love your company, and shall not be weary; but I do not mean to chain you: you shall be quite at liberty to please yourself if you can, and I will do my best to please you likewise. It would be strange if the men of this world were to have no fling at Utopians. But you know the fable of the Dog and the Moon. Let them bark let us shine. Let them scold us, and let us pray for them. If we are in the Lord's way in the path of duty a bushel of our fellow-worm's opinions, either pro or con, can do us neither good nor harm.
I hope you will preach away all your cough and pain, and come to us robust and strong as an eagle. However, we shall expect you to complain a little of course, and you will allow us to smile at you a little as usual. We meet tonight to examine the merits of the first candidate for the academy. Mr. Odel's guinea will be welcome, and deserves thanks. Farewell! Love and a good journey to you all from
J. & M. NEWTON.
Rev. Professor and dear friend,
For once I consult your pocket and my own. It will cost you nothing to receive my congratulation for your escape out of the ditch, and your thanks to me, for it may return to me as cheap. Well, the Lord is to be owned and praised in all things. We live always upon the brink of innumerable dangers; for the most part they are invisible, and while we do not see them we talk of being in safety; but if one is permitted to appear then we account our preservation as marvelous. Whereas, the real wonder is, that we are preserved a single hour in any situation. I am glad the horse was not permitted to destroy the hopes of Utopia with one blow of his foot. I hope you are spared for some good purposes, and, among others, to prepare the ministers, who shall in due time prepare the sermons, by which the Lord will graciously prepare the hearts of many sinners to seek his face.
I hope soon to give you joy of a very promising pupil, recommended by Mr. Foster. I cannot doubt but he will please and encourage you as a first-fruit, if he is admitted. A meeting was called for his admission on Monday last but there were only Mr. Adams, Neale, and Plummer present; and no minister being there, the gentlemen chose to defer the determination until Monday next. I was at Clapham, and therefore not in fault; nor can I attend next Monday; but I have told Mr. Neale my full satisfaction in the candidate, who, I hope, will soon be under your orders.
I showed Mr. Neale your last letter, in which the rules are. He thinks with me, that they are all very proper and necessary, and, so far as we know, may be sufficient; but you must be the best judge of what is requisite to establish a good police in your republic. But a thousand rules will not secure cheerful and affectionate obedience from your subjects, unless you have the Lord's special blessing to conciliate their hearts, and to keep them steadfast in the pursuit of the grand design of the institution. The society seem, one and all, at present, disposed to treat you with the fullest confidence, and to second all your wishes; and if, when the subscribers increase, there should any people be added who are not equally liberal-minded, still the committee, I doubt not, will be cordially disposed to make your service as comfortable as possible.
People will find fault as they please, and it is a mercy to sit loose to their opinions, and let them talk on provided we can do it in a right spirit. I mean, from a humble consciousness that our views are upright before the Lord and that we are simply aiming to serve him. If he smiles it little signifies who is displeased. But we will pray for grace, that we may do nothing that can give just displeasure to anybody.
Our new institution promises well. We are now six members, and voted in a seventh last night. We begin with tea; then a short prayer introduces a conversation for about three hours upon a proposed subject, and we seldom flag. Mr. Bates usually sits silent the first half hour, and perhaps takes the second to himself in a continued discourse. The light he throws upon the subject, and the precision with which he treats it, are admirable; and so are his humility and sincerity. He is indeed a main pillar in the society, and I hope those meetings will prove a benefit to us all. I think they are the most interesting and instructive conversations I ever had a share in. Perhaps it may gratify your curiosity to be told the points we have hitherto discussed. Take them as follows:
1st Meeting. What is the proper idea of growth in grace; and what are the best evidences of such growth, both in ourselves and others? Proposed by J. N.
2nd Meeting, To what is owing the different reception of the gospel among professors, so that in some it thrives, and in others seems to produce no good fruit? Proposed by Mr. Foster.
3rd Meeting. Is the decalogue a compact summary of the law of God to man? Or, how far had it a peculiar respect to the state of the Israelites at that time? Proposed by J. N.
4th Meeting. How far is it the duty of a minister to accommodate himself to the weakness, the taste, or the prejudices of his hearers?
The subject for the next meeting is to be, What influence has natural temper and constitution upon religion?
Thus far for the history of our Royal Society, which, perhaps, deserves that name more than that which meets at Somerset House; as, with us, I trust the members are all of the royal family, and the King himself condescends to meet with us.
Considering my little leisure time, I have written a long letter; shall only add our joint love to you and yours, a request for your prayers, and an assurance that I am yours very affectionately,
Feb. 28, 1783.
My dear friend,
Your suspicions about what you term my long silence rather grieve me, especially as I know not how to remove their cause in future, for, as I am circumstanced, it is morally impossible for me to write as often as I would. I should hope our friendship is too strong to be affected by punctilios. If I was not to hear from you for a great while, though I should be deprived of a pleasure, I should impute the delay to a hundred causes to any cause, rather than indulge an apprehension that your regard was abated. Judge of me the same way, and be assured that I love you dearly, whether I can find time for writing or not. When I can, I am sure I always do myself a pleasure. At present, I do not think myself much to blame, for I believe it cannot be three weeks since I wrote last.
I suppose Mr. Neale has already informed you that Mr. Gardiner was unanimously accepted, and that the society only waits for a letter from him, in compliance with the rules, and do not wish to give him the trouble of a journey to London. Your recommendation of any person upon your personal knowledge, will, I believe, be always accepted; only, to save time, it should be accompanied with a letter from the candidate. Had Mr. Gardiner written when you did, the business would have been finished at once, and upon the spot. I hope you will, upon inquiry, find that he is able to support himself as to the incidental expenses of clothes and books, as that expense does not properly fall within the society's plan. But should it be otherwise, my good offices will not be lacking. I take it for granted, he will not wish to be dependent, if it can be avoided.
Mr. Armstrong will be ready for you in about two or three weeks. He could not quit his office until today. And then he will need a little time to settle his affairs. I trust he will prove a promising first fruit, and do not doubt of your loving him as soon as you see him. You will presently perceive that he is modest and spiritual; and I expect that, upon further acquaintance, you will find that he has a turn for study and improvement.
It is a time of feeling with us. My wife's sister is very ill and we have little room to hope for her recovery. She buried her husband last May, and her daughter, aged fourteen, in October. Her surviving child, a girl of twelve, is now with us a sweet, amiable creature; but it is probable she will not survive long, as she has symptoms of decline. She has been with us three weeks.
You know something of my dear wife's turn, and will judge that, with a sick sister at a distance, and a sick child before her eyes, she is tried. However, she is supported, and I trust she will be supported. The Lord is very gracious: we have found him so. He has already brought her through many of these family trials, and some of them have been very sharp. Having had such proof of his goodness in times past, why should we not say, "I will trust and not be afraid!" For he is the same; his arm is not shortened, nor his ear heavy, neither can his compassions fail.
Mr. Ribright languished until last Monday morning, and then died. I trust his end was safe, though his path was not comfortable. I attend his funeral this afternoon. Tomorrow evening I am to preach a sermon for him, from Psalm 46:10.
Now may the Lord bless you, and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, and all yours, and me and my dear wife, and all mine, and bring us at last to his eternal joy. In the mean time, as often as we are permitted to meet upon earth, may it be to our mutual comfort. We send love for love. I am yours indeed,
My dear Mr. Professor,
Mr. Armstrong breakfasted with me the other morning. I find he cannot be with you as soon as he proposed. He could not quit his place before yesterday; nor can he receive his pay, and complete his affairs at the office, until next Tuesday. On Wednesday he hopes to be at Newport. I feel a pleasure in anticipating the pleasure you will have in receiving him. I think he bids fair to be an honor and an encouragement to you.
We are to meet next Monday, when I doubt not the whole business will be settled. Your second edition of "house rules "will then be reviewed, and, I suppose, of course confirmed.
If I have any unanswered letter of yours, it is mislaid; but I rather think I wrote last. At any rate, I make no apology, because I am either so busy or so indolent that I know not when I can amend. But I can promise to love you, and think of you.
I continue to creep on. I preach to others with some marks of acceptance. I attempt to preach to my own heart likewise but it is very dull, and not easily impressed. It is a strange heart; it needs to be emptied and filled, to be broken and bound up, to be softened and consolidated, at the same time. And this I suppose is not peculiar to my heart only. Every heart that is spiritually alive, has its own complaints, and one great Lord attends to them all. He is not embarrassed by the variety of applications and cases: not one is overlooked, not one but is incessantly under his care and management; and though the cure is gradual, it is sure. None are refused who apply; none who are once received are given up as incurable. But yet, alas! my disorders prove very lingering, though under his hand. I know the cause: I too often trifle with him. I am not duly faithful to his prescriptions; I presume sometimes to prescribe for myself. How often have I thrown myself back by my own folly, when I seemed rather in a hopeful way! No physician but he could bear with such a patient! That I am no better I may thank myself! That I am not worse, that I am still alive, and that I am still encouraged to hope I shall not die but live is wholly due to his mercy and compassion.
I am sometimes almost weary and ashamed either to write or preach anymore, there is such a vast difference between what I am in myself, and the idea the Lord has given me of what a believing sinner ought to be.
Our conversations at the Castle and Falcon, which are still carried on once every two weeks, are suited to lead me deeper into the study of human nature and of my own, than is perhaps very common even among good people.
I find, upon consideration, that the appearances of grace are in general far beyond the reality; and that when proper abatements are made for constitution, association, imitation, situation, and other circumstantials what remains that is truly genuine and sterling, would be but like a few grains of gold extracted from a heap of ore and rubbish! Or rather we are a made metal, of a golden color, and some gold in the constitution but not much. With regard to what we call experience, the adage will hold, I am not what I appear to be.
I believe I told you my wife's sister in Scotland, is near her end very happy in the Lord, and rejoicing in the prospect before her. She was living when we heard last but there is no probability of her recovery. We are now set up with two children, having received her daughter as an additional trust. She is about a year younger than Betsy a pretty, amiable child. She brought the symptoms of tuberculosis with her but she is much better, and we entertain hopes of the Lord's sparing her. If he does I shall be glad, because I hope I did and do sincerely give her up to his will, though I love her dearly, as I think everybody must love her, who sees her.
I am now near the bottom of my paper, having just convenient room to send our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy, and then to tell you in three or four short lines, according to fashion, that I am, dear sir, with great respect,
Your affectionate, obliged, and obedient friend, servant, and brother,
25th April, 1783.
P.S. I have found your letter of the 9th, and am reminded to congratulate you on the chirping of your Oxford chicken. I hope, (as old Honest says,) he will prove a rooster of the right kind, and crow to some purpose.
Mr. Gardiner's letter was highly approved, and confirmed your recommendation and mine, which, however, would have been sufficient but that it was necessary to comply with the rule which requires a letter from the candidate. It only remains now for you and Mr. Gardiner to fix between yourselves the time of his coming to Newport. When he is with you, you will please to inform Mr. Neale.
Mr. Whitwell's letter was very orthodox but very short; if he writes again, he is wished to be more particular. He is thought to be a member of Mr. Saunders' church, at Bedworth, whose recommendation therefore will be necessary, and it should speak not only to his moral character but as to the probability of his ability and capacity for the ministry. He sometime since applied for admission at Homerton but was refused as being under age; their age, it seems, is eighteen if he is under seventeen, he is inadmissible with us.
Mr. Armstrong has resigned his place but no officer is appointed in his place. He expects one tomorrow but cannot therefore be with you tomorrow as he intended. And Thursday is a holiday. But you may depend on him as soon as possible. He is on tip-toes to see Newport.
Having two students in hand, the money will soon begin to be collected, and new subscriptions applied for. And thus the business into which we were providentially and unexpectedly led to engage, is at length coming to maturity. I trust the hand of the Lord is in it, and that his blessing will forward it. The character of the two first students appears to me a favorable omen. I do not expect any two can be proposed who will be more likely to do honor to the undertaking. I shall be often with you in spirit, rejoicing in beholding your order and proficiency.
What a comfort to think that as we are by office teachers so it is our privilege to be learners and pupils under the great Doctor and Head of the church, of whom it may well be said, "There is none teaches like him!" What a dunce would I have proved under any other instructor! Nay, with all the advantages I have, I am a poor creature still. How long in learning a single lesson from him! And then, how often and quickly do I forget, and have to learn it over again! Yet he bears with me, and I humbly trust he will make something of me at last.
I have only time and room to wish you good success in the name of the Lord, that his blessing may rest upon tutor and pupils; upon Mrs. Bull, and Tommy; your heart, your house, and congregation; upon all you preach to at Newport, Sherrington, Woburn, and everywhere else.
My dear wife is pretty well, her sister still on this side Jordan but in daily expectation of a passage over to Canaan's shore. Our new child has still the symptoms on her, so that, though she is in some respects better than when she came to us; her state is very precarious. Love us, and pray for us; adieu.
29 April, 1783.
My dear friend,
Until just now, I hoped the silence and the blame were all on your side; but how did my crest fall when, looking in the drawer among my unanswered letters I found one from you! And is it possible that I have not yet thanked you for it? (though dated the 3rd of May;) and is it possible I have not thanked you, both in my own name and Mrs. Newton's, for your kind remembrance of her? Should this be the case yet now I ask your pardon, and begin to amend the moment I am sensible of my fault, and hope you will forgive me.
A rumor has lately reached me, I know not how, that you either are, or have been, very ill; I hope it will prove but a rumor, and that a letter will speedily return, with an information either that you have been as well as usual, or, at least, that if you were ill, you are now better. If you suffer, I can feel for you, and pity you; but, at the same time, I must remember, that you are in good hands; that your afflictions are numbered, weighed, and measured with the most precise accuracy by Him who loves you better than I can do; and that they are all tokens of love, and appointed to work for your good, Such considerations, of course, must moderate my sorrow.
We are both much obliged to you for your letter to my dear wife. As little as she loves writing, I believe she would be bound to thank you herself, if she did not keep a secretary. Since I have had the honor of that office, she seldom writes. But we are especially bound to thank the Lord for so graciously supporting her under a trial, which, in its own nature, was very affecting, and which, when viewed at a distance, and as approaching, threatened as if it would be almost too heavy for her; but the Lord is all-sufficient. Long expectation of the event, in some measure, prepared her to receive the news. The known character of the deceased, her faith and hope in life and death, the consideration of where and with whom she now is, all these thoughts suggest relief. In a word, we see it is the Lord; and hope we can say, It is well.
Eliza, our new dear child, was likewise prepared for her part of the loss. She had been with us two months, long enough to be satisfied that we were disposed to do our utmost to supply the place of her parents. Perhaps I am but merely repeating what I have said before. Her illness continues but she is no way worse than when I wrote last; and we might perhaps indulge more hope of her recovery, were it not that her abiding symptoms are so exactly similar to those of her brother and sister, who died of the same disorder, and at nearly the same age. But the Lord will do that which is best.
I hope Utopia College is now opened, and that the Lord smiles upon the commencement. It will not be open long, as the vacation is at hand. About that time will be our quarterly meeting, which perhaps you may be present at, in your way to Tunbridge Wells, where I understand you are expected. At that meeting I suppose measures will be taken for making the academy more public, by printing the rules, and perhaps by reprinting and publishing the Utopian plan. There is but little increase of the subscriptions yet but I trust money will come in as fast as proper students offer. Is Mr. Gardiner yet with you? If he is, give my love to him, as well as to Mr. Armstrong, who, I hope, answers the character I gave of him.
I am glad you were so well pleased with your visit to Yardly. I hope Mr. Raban has been useful at that place upon the whole. I wish that in his attempts to water others, he may be also watered himself; and that the Lord may, for his reward, give him a heart and wisdom to promote the peace of Olney, and strengthen the hands of Mr. Scott. If Christ is preached successfully, I ought to rejoice, though I cannot approve of every step that has been taken.
We are still favored with many mercies. My dear wife is tolerably well. The church at Woolnoth, my other wife, seems pretty well likewise, and has a good deal of company on some days. I have many pleasant and kind connections; but I have a troublesome inmate, a lodger, who assumes, as if the house was his own, and is a perpetual incumbrance, and spoils all. He has long been noted for his evil ways but though generally known, is not easily avoided. He lodged with one Saul of Tarsus long before I was born, and made him groan and cry out lustily. Time was when I thought I would shut the door, to keep him out of my house but my precaution came too late he was already within and to turn him out by head and shoulders is beyond my power, nay I cannot interdict him from any one single apartment.
If I think of retiring into the closest corner he is there before me. We often meet and jostle, and snarl at each other but sometimes (would you believe it?) I lose all my suspicion, and am disposed to treat him as an intimate friend! This inconsistency of mine I believe greatly encourages him, for I truly believe he would be ashamed and afraid to be seen by me, if I always kept him at a proper distance. However, we both lay such a strong claim to the same dwelling, that I believe the only way of settling the dispute will be (which the Landlord Himself has spoken of) to pull down the house over our heads. There seems something disagreeable in this mode of proceeding but from what I have read in an old book, I form a hope that when things come to this crisis I shall escape, and my enemy will be crushed in the ruins.
Love to Mrs. Bull, and the little Bull, from my dear, and from your most affectionate, if not your most humble, friend,
Monsieur Mon Ami,
Our journey hence was very safe and pleasant, and we found all well. I continue taking medicine, have had no return of the fever, preached three times on Sunday, and my health, strength, and appetite, seem no worse than formerly. Blessed be the Lord my healer.
My dear wife likewise is charmingly well, able to come downstairs to breakfast every day, which she had seldom done for a twelvemonth before. Eliza is in good spirits. I hope the late jaunt has done us all good. It was indeed a very pleasant month to me, no part of it more so than the time I spent in Bedford, notwithstanding the fever, for it was a very pleasant fever.
I am getting into statu quo, and seem to feel the adage "Home is home." It is a great mercy to have a comfortable home, to which we can think with pleasure of retreating, while we meet with much kindness and many pretty things abroad. I was very comfortable at Olney and at Bedford, and the one day I was at Newport but Charles Square is more homish still. And then the church at Woolnoth, that is a pleasant home indeed. I feel myself there upon my own ground, and when I look round, I see my own family about me.
I hope the recollection of the late gentle visitation is, and will be, useful to me. The value of health and time, when improved for the Lord, the vanity of earthly things, their insufficiency to help and comfort us in an hour of trouble our absolute dependance upon God, and many other points which might be mentioned, were brought home to my mind in the fever. I was likewise favored with great peace and composure; I saw and felt that the foundation on which I had built was fully able to bear me. The gospel appeared to me to be indeed the wisdom and the power of God; and I was enabled, like a little child, to commit myself without anxiety or reserve, to Him who promised to care for me.
My dear friend, may the great and glorious name of Jesus, be deeply engraved on your heart and mine, and on the hearts of all dear to us. Whether we consider him as our Surety, our Advocate, or our Lord, how precious should he be! His favor is life, his service is perfect freedom. The knowledge of him is safety, wisdom, and happiness. A discovery of the glory of God in his person, fills the understanding with heavenly light, the affections with divine love, and unites the will to our proper good.
How many things utterly impossible to a man's natural strength, are feasible and easy by the right application of mechanical powers! Without them a stone of a few hundred pounds weight is immoveable but with them he can raise a stone of many tons to the height of St. Paul's. But there are no powers comparable to those which are furnished by the gospel machine, if I may so speak. Thus assisted, a weak worm can do, endure, and overcome all things. He can draw near to a holy God, sinner as he is, with confidence; no wonder then that he can face a frowning world without dismay, and smile at Satan's rage. He goes on from strength to strength, and sings the song of victory while on the field of battle. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!
I hope this will find you, and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, in good health. We unite in love to you all. I shall often be with you in spirit. Give my love to your pupils. May the Lord fill you with that meekness of wisdom which is from above, and make you a successful instrument in training and preparing them for his service.
Mrs. Gardiner has been much better but two or three days ago she had a relapse. They thought she would have died but she is reviving again. I am going to see her this morning; I suppose she can not be long for this world.
My time is now expired. The Lord bless you and yours. Pray for me and mine, and believe me to be always your affectionate,
11th Sept. 1783.
Dear and Reverend Bull,
Though I have not much to offer, I must write for three reasons. 1st. To thank you, (if I have not yet done it) for the gifts you sent by the Northampton coach. 2nd. To prevent your thinking in a low-spirited hour that I have forsaken or forgotten you. 3rd. To draw a letter from you.
A fourth student will be with you soon. He is gone into the country to kiss his father and mother, and then means to put his hand to the plough, and away to Newport. It is Mr. Armstrong's acquaintance in Paternoster Row.
I congratulate you upon having an opportunity of showing to others what a Christian, when misrepresented, ought to do not to hang down his head like a bulrush but rather to rejoice if the charge is false, and if it is for the Lord's sake, Matt, 5:11, 12. Not to wear out his shoes with running about to justify himself but simply and patiently to commit his cause to the Lord; who, if and when he sees good, will find a way to clear us, better than we can ourselves, Psalm 37:5, 6. Not to render railing for railing but contrariwise, blessing; being reviled, to bless; being defamed, to entreat, 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Corinthians 4:12, 13. Our rule in such cases is beautiful and plain. Happy are they who, knowing these things, can practice accordingly when occasions arise! We know who has suffered reproach before us, and for us, and who was called a Samaritan, a madman, a glutton, and a drunkard; and we know how he wept and prayed for those who knew not what they did leaving us an example that we should follow his steps.
I wish people could learn to keep their tongues quiet; but since they will talk, and show their displeasure, I hope it is a token for good to the Newport Academy; for I take, it for granted, that this undertaking has given rise to much of the stir that has been made about you. It is said you are a mystic but a cunning one; for that whenever I, or other of your friends, called upon you, your mystical books were presently hurried out of sight. This, so far as it related to myself, I could, and did, flatly contradict; and as to others, you might do it, and with propriety. If some good folks were to catch me reading Shakespear, I would rather hide the book than offend them; for they, being no judges of Shakespear, or of my motive for reading him, would be hurt if they saw a play-book in my hand. I would not wish them to think more favorably of play-books than they do, or to think unfavorably of me on Shakespear's account; for indeed I have not leisure to look in him sometimes for a year together.
If we declare war against bigotry, those who choose to defend it must, of course, oppose us. And of these, some may mean well. Early prejudices and long habits are not easily overcome. Systems and parties squeeze some people into a narrowness of thinking which they can never outgrow. If we have more liberty and comprehension of mind, we may be thankful but we have no right to be angry with them. We should remember, too, that there are extremes on both sides, and that we, as well as others, may verge too near the one, in endeavoring to avoid the other.
I believe our Eclectic Society has been increased since I mentioned it last, by the addition of two members whom we value greatly Mr. Clayton and Mr. Latrobe. Our number is now eight: we can admit but one more, and shall therefore endeavor to be very careful whom we choose. We think the Lord has favored us; we are all unanimous and pleased with each other. We are one as to essentials, and our smaller differences of sentiment are such as only conduce to give the conversation a more agreeable variety, and tend to illustrate our subjects to greater advantage. The spirit of the design is kept up, and every member seems to find it well worth his while to attend punctually. I hope I find some real advantage, and have reason to number it among my chief privileges. Help us with your prayers, that life and love, peace and truth may flourish among us.
Our domestic affairs are much as usual: some trials many comforts. Mrs. Newton is frequently ailing, which is but saying, in other words, she is frequently pretty well. Eliza is but so-so. I do not expect we shall have her very long, nor do I think she is in immediate danger, or much worse than when at Olney; but she certainly is not better.
We unite in love to you, Mrs. Bull, and Tommy. The Lord be with you all, and with us also. Give my love to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Armstrong, not forgetting Mr. Inglis, though I have not the pleasure of much personal acquaintance with him.
I am affectionately yours,
31st October, 1797
Mon Cher Ami,
I have had a cold and hoarseness have kept house pretty much, when necessity has not called me abroad; however, the Lord strengthened me; so that, last week (including the two Sundays), I preached ten times. I may speak well of Dr. Pulpit, and think that I may be said, not in the worst sense of the word, to live by my preaching. I am now nearly well. Three doses of Dr. Pulpit yesterday did me good, and almost removed my hoarseness.
Eliza is much as when you saw her, only that, within these few days, she has a cough. Miss Catlett is as hearty as a buck. Mrs. Newton has been kept within doors about a week by a cold, cough, and hoarseness; but I hope she does not get worse. The rest of our family are as usual.
I preached yesterday morning from Psalm 90:9. "We spend our years as a tale that is told." A dry, dull, worn-out tale it would be, if the Lord had not mercifully taught us to aim at his service, and given us a vista a prospect of life and immortality, through the dark shadows which surround us.
We join in love. It gives me pleasure to assure you that I am sincerely and warmly yours,
December 29th, 1783.
The papers told me that the Wellingborough train, which went down the day you did, was robbed. I infer from your letter, that either the report was not true, or that some other vehicle had the honor of conveying you to Newport. For I suppose, if you had fallen into the hands of the Moabites you would have mentioned it. It pleased me to hear that you had a good journey, found all pretty well at home, and that, though you yourself are but so-so, you were not very bad when your letter set off.
I find Mr. Sparks, who called upon me today, and who, I expect, will soon be with you, seems to have made up his mind already, and to have no other view but to the church. Perhaps you may have some who would rather receive the Lord's Supper with Mr. Scott, than as Dissenters; and as we all preach but one Lord, and mean one thing, I hope you will not only allow them to go but give them your frank approbation. If otherwise, I am afraid disagreeables might, in time, take place. I speak not from my attachment to church but from my love of liberty, my desire to see the academy flourish, and particularly from my great regard and affection for you, which induced me from the first to embark my reputation and interest in the same foundation with you.
The frost has been long and severe. This morning the Lord has bid the gentle south breath upon the ice and snow, and the waters begin to flow. How soft yet how powerful, is the influence of a general thaw! It operates equally and universally in every place, and does more in an hour than the united efforts of mankind could effect in an age. I consider it as a beautiful emblem of the effects of his Spirit upon the heart, upon many hearts at once. It silently but invisibly softens the strongest prejudices; makes the heart which before was as hard as the rock tender and yielding. It brings on a spring, and the desolate, dreary wilderness, becomes the garden of the Lord. Oh for such a thaw in my heart! For though I talk away in public, I know much of wintry and frosty seasons within me. I trust my leading aims and desires are right but all that is right is so faint, so cold, so debased by something inconsistent with it, so defective and so defiled that I would be at my wits' end, if my hope and dependence were not, in a good measure, brought to a point.
If I am saved, (I trust I shall) it will be freely and absolutely, in a way of sovereignty; notwithstanding a thousand things which would seem, humanly speaking, to make salvation next door to impossible. But when I am beaten from everything else, it still remains true that Christ has died, that he now lives and reigns, that "he is able to save to the UTTERMOST," and that he has said, "Him that comes unto Me I will NEVER cast out." Never and to the uttermost are great words, they have an extensive signification, and take in all varieties of cases, characters, and circumstances. Upon such unlimited sovereign promises, I cast my anchor, and they hold me otherwise I should be the sport of winds and waves.
Dr. Watts' motto shall be mine, it is big enough for him, me, you, and for thousands that approve it, "Jesus only!" In him I have an offering, an altar, a temple, a priest, a sun, a shield, a Savior, a shepherd, a hiding place, a resting place, food, medicine, riches, honor, wisdom, righteousness, holiness in short, everything. The paper could not contain an inventory of the blessings, and treasures the unsearchable, inexhaustible blessings and treasures which are hidden in him, and communicated by him to poor sinners who believe in his name. But though I am, I trust, an heir I am as yet a minor, and in my actual experience, am too often more like a servant than a son. But there is a time appointed of the Father. I hope one day to be of age, and to come to the full enjoyment of my boundless inheritance.
Mrs. Newton and Eliza are much as when you saw them. We send our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy, and mine, if you please, to the Utopians. Be assured that I love you dearly, and feel an interest in all that concerns you, and feel much pleasure in a persuasion that you are and will be thus minded towards your affectionate friend,
21 Feb. 1784.
My dear Monsieur Taureau,
You will observe that it is not so clear to me as it seems to you, that the Dissenters hold the right of private judgment. So far as my private judgment coincides with theirs, they will indeed allow I have a right to use it but few of them will allow me to go farther. They will rather think they have a right to judge for me, and to condemn me when I stop short of their standard. However, I love them if they love my Lord, and am glad to think we shall, before long, see eye to eye, and be all of one mind.
I think many circumstances that led to the institution of the Newport Academy sufficiently warrant my hope that the thing is of the Lord. If so, he will give his blessing to it; and if so, again, I need not wonder if it occasions some stir dislike and opposition. If there is good to be done at Newport, Satan will not stand and look on with the indifference of a mere spectator. He will do what he can to disturb the peace of the academy within doors, and to misrepresent it abroad. The tutor and the pupils, too, had need be angels, to keep quite out of his reach and influence; and as his own name is legion, so he has a legion of instruments, of various talents, in his service some to invent a falsehood; and some who would not go so far as to invent a falsehood, are yet very well pleased to circulate it, and if they can say, 'I was told so,' think they are quite safe and right. The skill of others lies in exaggerating; of others in coloring and misrepresenting which they do so cleverly, that though the substance of what they say is truth, it shall have all the effects of a lie! Others are masters in the way of surmise and insinuation. They will not say 'it is so' but 'I wish it may not prove so' which, with weak and credulous folks, answers the purpose no less than if they had proved it certainly was so. Again, others, when a word or an action is capable of two constructions have an admirable dexterity in taking it by the wrong handle!
No wonder if the continued efforts of so many arts and so much industry should make a great noise abroad, and be sensibly felt at home. But simplicity and integrity, under the Lord's blessing, though they may be sometimes jostled cannot be overthrown. If the Lord gives you grace and wisdom to do your part, you may depend on it he will do his, and fulfill that promise. "No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper."
Utopia is in the press, and will be published with a list of subscribers, the state and regulations of the academy, etc., next month. By that we hope the list will be something enlarged.
I have had a cold but it is quite gone. Mrs. Newton is pretty well, excepting now and then a headache. Eliza much as usual. We begin to think the winter long but we expect summer will come, because we have a promise, Genesis 8:22. Equally sure are the promises of his grace.
He will not fail, he cannot change. We must expect cloudy and wintry seasons but there are times when the believing soul hears, sees, and feels according to the beautiful description, Solomon's Song, chapter 2:10-13. I hope it will be spring with you when this letter arrives; if not, wait a little, and it will surely come.
Our love to Mrs. Bull, and the young Bull, who I hope thrives and grows in a good pasture. You may tell whom you please that I am always glad to avow myself your affectionate friend and servant,
April 3, 1784.
My dear friend,
This world is a state of trial and exercise. At present, such things are needful; but they will not be needful always. We are passing through conflict to triumphs; through sufferings to glory. Even at present, many things which worry us appear to our better judgment so trivial, that we are ashamed to find they can make such impression on our minds. How very trivial, then, will they be deemed when we shall be translated into the world of light! It is owing chiefly to imagination and self-will that they now owe their supposed importance. Before long, death shall be swallowed up of life, and the concerns of time will be lost in eternity as a pebble sunk in the depths of the ocean. The first moment of our joining in the songs and joys before the throne of God will make us abundant amends for all the difficulties we meet with in the wilderness! We shall not then say, as we often do now, when we have obtained what we earnestly desired, 'Is this all?' Fullness of joy and pleasure for evermore, with the entire exclusion of every evil, will be a mighty ALL indeed. We are now comparatively asleep; the greatest part of our life is spent in a succession of dreams, of which more are of the distressing, than of the amusing kind; but, before long, we shall awake, and be satisfied with his image. The tears will be wiped from our eyes, and we shall weep no more!
Eliza has been for some time under the care of Dr. Benamor, and we hope (though an alteration is hardly discernable) she is rather better than worse. Her spirits are rather better, and we think her looks are likewise. If the Lord be pleased to restore her, I trust it will be to our great comfort; if otherwise, I hope and believe her end will be peace. I think I have given her up to him, and shall be enabled to say, He does all things well. But it is certain I love her dearly, and her life, in my short-sighted view, appears very desirable; though, because I am short-sighted, I dare not positively ask it.
Our other child is at home from Highgate; has something of a cold at present; otherwise, she is very well, and the picture of health. My dear wife is in her usual so so way. We have many and great mercies, both as individuals and as a family; and a few of these mercies come in disguise under the appearance of trials.
We hope it is well with Mrs. Bull and Tommy, and that, notwithstanding all you have met with, you are still alive, and likely to live, and can smile and smoke your pipe as usual. I am your most observant, obedient, obliged
3rd June, 1784.
My dear Mr. Taureau,
Mr. ___ was a little reserved at first; but when, by degrees, we became acquainted, we were intimate indeed. I found the Lord had already taught him all I wished to teach him, if I were able. I had heard a bird sing, that he was a well-meaning, friendly man but as blind as a stone. It was, therefore, an agreeable surprise to find that the blind man could see as well as most of us. His views of the person and atonement of our Lord; his sense of himself as an unworthy sinner; his comfortable persuasion of acceptance in the Beloved; his hope of perseverance through grace; and the general tone of his whole conduct, gave me as full satisfaction as I have of most people whom I know that he is not only a real but an eminent Christian. It is true he does not deal much in shibboleths, and he likes the service of the established church, and attends his own parish, which I thought I would not find fault with, until I could point out where he might go to mend himself.
I judge him a humble, spiritual, benevolent man; and though not laced up in a system yet he is of a very thinking and judicious turn. He has studied Bishop Butler, which I mention as a specimen of his cast. However, he sees beyond Butler; and understands, embraces, and admires the gospel of salvation. He told me that he was sixty-five years of age that he has feared the Lord, and walked much in the way he does now, for many years; but could never make are acquaintance to whom he could freely open his mind before I came to him. So much for Mr. .
What with walking, talking, riding, and sailing O Time, how pleasantly and how swiftly do you pass! But now I must break off at once, for my time is elapsed; and I can only add that I am very well, my dear wife is pretty well, Eliza has been rather better, and farther, that we join in love to you, to Mrs. Bull, and to Tommy. I am yours indeed,
October 1, 1784.
I must decline all letter writing for a good while, except what is absolutely necessary. I have a writing project before me, purposing, if the Lord pleases, to treat you and the public with two volumes of sermons ("on the "Messiah"], which I suppose will, in quantity, be equal to Cardiphonia. Not one of these is yet written but all to be drawn from short notes, which I put down as I go on. To do a little daily in this business, which I mean to begin with about the New Year, I must do nothing else with my pen. My leisure time is so very scanty at present.
It is not worth inquiring when Mr. Cowper writes. If you send your letter to him, I shall have it when he writes, which is regularly once a two weeks; and if it stays with him a few days, it is no great matter, unless you write on business that requires an immediate answer; in which case, I will gladly pay the post. As to academy business, Mr. Neale is your man.
Thank you for your being glad that we had a safe and comfortable journey. I likewise am glad that yours was pleasant, and useful to yourself and others; and I hope since your return, you can say with me, "Abroad is pleasant; but home is home!"
We are disciples Jesus is our Master. The world we live in is His school, and every person and event is under His management, designed to forward us in the great lessons which He would have us learn such as . . .
a distrust of creatures, and
an absolute dependance upon Himself.
In this view,
afflictions are mercies,
losses are gains,
hindrances are helps,
and all things, even those which seem most contrary are working together for our good.
Creatures smile or frown, caress or disappoint us,
friends grow cool, and enemies become kind,
just as His wisdom sees most expedient to promote our spiritual progress.
Where we look for most blessing it often comes to little;
when we look for nothing we often obtain most benefit.
Our wisest plans and best endeavors at one time produce great troubles!
At another time, what we do at random, and what we account the most trifling incidents are productive of happy, lasting, and extensive consequences.
It is well for us if, by a long train of such changing, checkered experiences we at length attain to some proficiency, and can say with David, "My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him."
The heart possession of two maxims of Matthew Henry, is well worth all that the acquisition can cost us:
"Every creature is that to us which God makes it."
"We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God."
In this school I am placed and these lessons I am aiming to learn. But I am a poor scholar and indeed any master but He who condescends to be my teacher would turn me out as an incorrigible dunce!
Mrs. Newton has been unwell of cold but is, through mercy, a little better. I am well, all but a rheumatism, which has made a lodgment in my left arm, and possibly may take up its winter quarters there. The Lord might have quartered it in my head or my stomach but he is merciful to my weakness. I have not strength or patience to bear much violent pain, and therefore he is pleased to deal gently with me. We hope Eliza rather gains ground; upon the whole, we have great cause for thankfulness.
God still gives me liberty in the pulpit, which is the chief thing; and I believe no minister can be more comfortable and happy with his people than I am. Mr. Whitfield used to call his pulpit, his throne. When I am upon my throne, I can look down upon the poets, philosophers, artists, archbishops, cardinals, popes, and kings of the earth with pity. If they know not my Lord and Savior they are to be pitied indeed. I would not exchange the honor of proclaiming his glory and grace, and preaching his gospel to sinners a single day for a whole life of what they account the best and the greatest.
We join in love to you, to Mrs. Bull, and Tommy. Write if you please, and when you can; but whether you write or no, remember to pray for your truly affectionate friend and brother,
6th Dec, 1784.
Mon Cher Taureau,
I suppose Mr. Scott has before now told you that I sent the certificate for Busby's lecture, and that on the very same day the secretary de-camped, which has deranged their business for a time. However, Lord Dartmouth has told me, that the application is properly entered upon the books, and that there is no reason to doubt of Mr. Thomas Bull's having an appointment next year, if he should not have it this year.
And now permit me to thank you for the nice Irish leave you took of us. The next time I went to Mrs. Wilberforce's, I asked, "Is Mr. Bull at home?" Answer "Yes, sir; he is at home at Newport and has been there these past ten days." I was a little disconcerted at having discovered myself to be such a stranger to your motions; perhaps it hurt my Vanity, which may have been formerly tickled by those who took it for granted that I, to be sure, was a sort of privy Counselor with you. Otherwise it did not hurt me at all. My friendship does not stand upon punctilios, and therefore though I had your company (I mean by our two selves) but once during the three weeks you were in London, I natter myself that you love me no less than if you had called every day, and that you would probably have called oftener, had not your headquarters been in John-street. You see I give you fair credit, and make fair allowances.
You will please to accept this letter, even though it should be short, as a special favor. I cannot write much nor often, while I have the "Messiah sermons" in hand and this excuse for silence will last me I suppose during the present year. But I was willing to send you a line now, that if you hear from me but little in future, you impute it not to silence but necessity.
Your letter has slipped out of my reach just now; and the contents have slipped out of my memory, therefore though I acknowledge the receipt of it, I cannot properly answer it. I am glad you have a prospect of students, and wish we may have a prospect of money to support them. But I expect not to know much about the affairs of the academy, until Mr. Neale returns from Staffordshire, which I am told will be in about a two weeks.
Easter is a busy preaching time in our line. My texts on Good Friday were John 19:30; 1 Peter 3:18. I did not interrupt the course of the "Messiah sermons" on Sunday morning but instead of his resurrection, I preached upon the grand event consequent upon it, which is yet to take place, Rev. 11:15. Yesterday I put Mr. Johnson in my pulpit, (who I think gives us an earnest of a judicious good preacher); today I hope to see Mr. Foster in it; tomorrow and Friday I mount it again. Blessed be God, whatever else is dear in London the gospel is good, cheap, and in great plenty.
And now what can I say farther than what you know, and what we have said to each other over and over? The Lord is good! This truth, though often acknowledged, should, like his repeated mercies, be new to us every morning. Great, wise, holy, just, and gracious he hates and punishes the sin, he saves and loves the sinner. May we sit at the foot of the cross; and there learn what sin has done, what justice has done, what love has done, what the soul is worth, and what plenteous forgiveness flows from the fountain which was there and then opened, that we might wash and be clean, and drink and live!
I wish Mrs. Bull peace, patience, and healing. I wish Tommy to grow in grace, as I suppose he grows in Greek. I wish the students at Newport, humility, diligence, and proficiency. I wish their tutor much light, unction, and influence. I wish myself to be willing to be what, and where, and how the Lord would have me be to cast all my care simply upon him, and to be always satisfied in my mind that he assuredly cares for me.
I farther wish you to think often of me and mine, and to remember us in your prayers; and I wish you a good night, so no more at present but our joint love to you and yours, from your most obedient,
25th March, 1785.
My dear friend,
We agreed not to tease each other with letters, and I have kept my agreement pretty well. If I could write with both hands at once, you might hear of me oftener but my right hand is so engaged and engrossed, that I must be excused.
But it costs me no time to love you to love you and lift up my heart to the Lord to bless you, when you are upon my mind, is almost all that I can do for you. Only Sally is now going to Olney, I send this that you may think of me.
I have almost finished preaching the "Messiah sermons" only two or three sermons more. The writing goes on slowly but I have finished thirteen out of fifty.
My dear wife has been ill in great pain, confined to the house more than a month, and most of the time to her room. The Lord has relieved her, and last Sunday evening she was at church. Eliza keeps pretty much at a par but when the Lord sees it fitter for her to be better it shall be done. He speaks, and it is done.
We join in love to Mrs. B. and Mr. T. Remember mine to the young men who stand in your professorship's presence daily. May the Lord do you good, and do them good by you. My love to your son Thomas. I rejoice in the prospect of his preaching the gospel. Tell him from me what I trust he knows, and will know with an increasing evidence as he goes on that it is not worth while to preach, unless we preach Jesus and him crucified. Ah, his name is powerful and precious indeed!
May he be our theme in the pulpit and in the parlor, living and dying. Let the world take the rest.
Happy they who can say, His I am, and Him I serve. I commend you all to his blessing. Pray for us. I am yours indeed,
15th June, 1785.
My dear friend,
I thank you for your very kind letter, which, notwithstanding my eagerness to seize all the time I can for the "Messiah," must be answered.
(John Newton adopted his wife's niece, Eliza, after both of Eliza's parents died of tuberculosis. Eliza herself had the fatal disease, and lived with the Newtons for the last two years of her life.)
The death of our sweet Eliza was so comfortable, so glorious, that I thought it my duty to record it in writing; and my mind soon prompted me to print it, that I might the more easily inform my friends. At that time my heart was so soft, and my feelings so strong, that I could not trust myself to write a narrative for the public inspection. But when we are talking by the fire-side with an intimate friend in whom we can confide, we can indulge ourselves in a thousand little sensibilities, and, what other people would call, weaknesses, which we should not choose to utter, if we were to speak with an audible voice upon the Royal Exchange. Therefore I have written and printed only for my friends. Not one will be published or sold. A copy will come to you in due time. I wrote from my feelings, and almost dropped a tear for every word. But I would not have you think there was one sorrowful tear among them. That would have been foolish and ungrateful indeed. Blessed be the Lord, I can hardly name one of the many merciful dispensations with which he has favored me in the course of my life, which my heart is more satisfied with, or which calls more loudly upon my gratitude, than this last. A trial it doubtless was to part with such a child; but I have not been permitted for a moment to wish it had been otherwise.
Mrs. Newton is pretty well; you know she can feel, and will expect that she did upon the late occasion; but the Lord has mercifully supported her. We join in love to you and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy; and Betsey joins with us. We thank you for your sympathy and prayers. We buried dear Eliza last Wednesday evening; and I preached her funeral sermon on Sunday evening. The church was crammed. The text she chose for herself. Rev. 14:13. I was a good deal affected but was enabled to restrain my emotions so far, that I was composed and master of my thoughts, and revealed no more to the audience than was suited to impress them likewise. I think I was favored with liberty, and have reason to hope it was a blessing to all.
You will excuse me, if for once I send a shortish letter. I have much to attend to at present. Whether I write long or short, seldom or often I love you dearly, and mean more than many words could express, when I subscribe myself your affectionate and obliged friend,
19 October, 1785,
Mon Cher Taureau,
Your letter was very welcome, and I thank you for it. It is true, we are both traveling towards that land from which no traveler returns; but I am so many miles before you on the road, that it is probable that I may finish my journey first. Be that as it may, our times are in the Lord's hands. I trust we shall meet there at last. In the mean time, may we be enabled to live while we do live.
We are agents for the Lord in a foreign country, where we have properly no business of our own but are to manage for him. We are to do what we can today; for our recall will be soon, and may be sudden. Oh for grace to have all done! all ready! loins girded up, lamps burning! that, when he sends for us, we may be ready and glad to go home! Wonderful grace, that he encourages us to hope, that, unworthy as we are, he will condescend to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Is it possible?
His judgment is according to truth; yet my conscience tells me that I am, in a sense, an evil and slothful servant. But I am not under the law but under grace. He accepts the will for the deed. He has taught me to aim and to wish to serve him; and though my best is imperfect, defective, and defiled he pardons for his own sake. I must plead guilty in myself, and to rest all my eternal hopes upon the blood which is able to save the chief of sinners. "Who is a God like You who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the sea!" Micah 7:18-19. Lord, be it unto your servant according to your word!
Did you possess the gift of foresight, and think to save your credit upon easy terms, when you promised to lodge in Charles-square next time you came to town, if we could receive you? I no more thought of removing into the city, when I saw you last, than of going to Bengal; but sure enough, I have taken a house in Coleman Street Buildings. It will be mine soon. But, first, there is some painting to be done, and then we must wait awhile for the smell of the paint to go off a little. Second, there are reasons why we must go in as soon as we can. And from these premises, taken together, I am ready to infer or, at least, to fear that if you come up in the Easter week, you will find us either in the very hurry of relocating, or so entirely unsettled, that we shall not be able to take you in. If it should prove so, I shall be very sorry; but I must be patient, for I cannot help it. If we are in town, at your vacation, you will find a prophet's chamber; but it is possible, much about that time, we may be at Southampton, or somewhere else. We must then wait for the Christmas season, if we are all spared so long. I can only say, that whenever it suits you, and we are upon the spot you may be assured of a hearty welcome.
Coleman Street is about half way between London Wall and King's Arms Yard. It is an airy, lightsome situation (for the City); and No. 6, which we are going to, is a very good house. I was providentially led to this house, and have it remarkably cheap. It is nearer to all my connections by a mile, and within seven minutes' walk of my church. I trust you will pray that the Lord, who has shown so much of his goodness at Charles-square, will afford us his gracious presence in Coleman-street likewise; for without him a palace would be but a dungeon!
The "Messiah" is nearly printed off; I think it will be finished this week. But we must wait awhile for an index, without which I do not think a book complete. I suppose about the time you are published in London the "Messiah" will be published. Here, again, I entreat your prayers that the Lord may be pleased to breathe his blessing upon a service, which I trust he himself put into my heart. Indeed, if it had not been much impressed upon my mind, I would hardly have had firmness and perseverance to finish it, in the midst of the many engagements and avocations which call upon me daily. Considering that I have greatly lost my habit of rising early, I almost wonder that besides other writing, visiting, and being visited I should be able to write for the press, so much as will fill nearly a thousand octavo pages in print, in less than ten months!
If the Lord is pleased to make it useful, it would be foolishness in me to be much concerned what my fellow-worms may think of the performance. I expect to appear, as I am, a speckled bird, in the eyes of the religious world; and in some places I have expressed myself with a freedom, which will not be very pleasing to some of my superiors. I have not designed to give offence but some truths will offend some people. I hope sincerity has been my aim but I know my heart is deceitful. However, I would be very thankful that the Lord has enabled me to finish this work which I consider as my most important publication, and it will probably be my last, except a fugitive paper for a magazine or so. I certainly could not go to the press with a more noble subject. It will likewise have some novelty, and much variety, to recommend it.
I could easily get the letters I send you franked but I think until you inclose mine (as I have repeatedly desired you) under cover, to Samuel Thornton, Esq., I must make you pay postage, by way of fine. I much value your letters, and would not grudge postage, if necessary. But it is so very easy to inclose them to Mr. Thornton, that the money seems thrown away, and therefore I must tax your pocket that your pocket may refresh your memory. If you should receive this free it will positively be the last that will come so, unless you adopt my mode of conveyance.
P__ is a good man but young and warm; he knows little more of the world than if he had lived all his days in a secluded forest. Help him with your advice. I hear he intends setting up Wednesday and Friday prayers in Olney church. Poor man, he is little aware that such an attempt will be sufficient, in such a place as Olney, to set up his name as a heretic and a pharisee. If you can dissuade him from being over churchish, at least while he stays there, you will do him a kindness.
My letter is as long as yours but yours is worth half a dozen such. But you have what I can offer: when I can send you better, I will. My dear wife has been often ill of late but I praise the Lord she is pretty well now. Betsey is hearty. You have the love and good wishes of our whole family. Love to Mrs. Bull, and to Tommy the Grecian. Be assured that I am sincerely and always
Your affectionate friend and brother,
My dear friend,
I am very sorry about your accident but I am very thankful that you were not hurt. Such catastrophes, as this may properly be called, have often been attended with dislocated or broken bones, a fractured skull, or instant death so frail is man!
Often, when he thinks himself safe, and is dreaming of his own importance, as if he were a necessary part in the complicated movements of Divine Providence he falls like grass before the scythe! And not by the hands of a giant, or the fangs of a tiger but the smallest trifle is sufficient to destroy him!
For example how many loose stones do we see in the road; it seems no great matter where they lie. Yet any one of them, by changing the direction of a wheel is sufficient to confound all the plans of this mighty creature! One stone stumbles him down; he falls with his head upon another in that very moment all his future plans perish! But the Lord gave His angels charge over you; therefore you fell unhurt, and are still alive to praise and serve Him.
I see so much of the uncertainty of life, and how little I can either foresee or prevent what the next moment may bring forth that I would be a very great coward afraid not only of riding in a coach but of walking across a room if I was not in some degree enabled to confide in the Lord's protection! "Hold me up and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
I am at Southampton, or near it. I have been at Lymington and Portsmouth. I am going today to Salisbury; tomorrow to Bath; and shall be the next day at Bristol, if the Lord permits. In the course of next week, we hope to return to beloved home. We have had a merciful excursion hitherto. Health, safety, kind friends, good accommodation, pleasant rides and walks, Christian converse, opportunities of hearing and preaching the good gospel. Fresh air and salt water have agreed well with me. My dear wife has been tolerable; and Betsey, who was rather poorly before we set out, looks like a country girl again. But I am still a poor creature, and know not whether my causes for thankfulness or shame are most abundant. It is well that I am permitted to look to Him who lived and died for sinners.
I must defer the long letter you ask for, until another time. We are packing up, and must set out soon. Accept this as a token of love. Continue to pray for me. Love to Tommy, ditto to Mr. and Mrs. Storry, when you see them. I can feel for them in the death of another child. But he is well disposed of; and all things are right and good for those who love God. Adieu.
5th Sept., 1786,
Mon Cher Taureau,
You have set me a good example, and I am willing to follow it; therefore, though your letter has not been with me two hours, I begin an answer. I am glad to hear that all is well and peaceful with you, and it is so with us likewise such is the Lord's goodness to us. I sometimes express myself in Herbert's words:
"You, who have given so much to me,
Give one thing more a grateful heart."
I believe what you disapprove, about not applying passages in the Old Testament to the Messiah, without express authority from the New, is in the twenty-third sermon of the first volume; for, in the first sermon of the second to which you refer, I can find nothing like it. I have met with such trash from some who pretend to spiritualize, and obtruded with so much confidence, that I thought it right to enter my protest against the practice, especially as I think it obtains most among rash and injudicious preachers. And though sometimes wise and good men give a little into spiritualizing I think it is rather countenanced than justified by their example.
For instance, I remember to have heard one Mr. Bull preach a sermon, and a very good one, from Exodus 4:14; but though the sermon was a good one, I thought the points which he enlarged upon were no more deducible from that text, than from the first verse in Genesis. Mr. Bull, however, knew what he was about. But when such men as Mr. Page attempt to preach from Genesis 35:8, that Deborah is the law, the oak under which she was buried, the cross, etc., etc., they make wild work of the Scriptures!
I have allowed the propriety of style of preaching, by way of accommodation, and I think I have not said that we should apply no passages to Jesus unless quoted in so many words in the New Testament; but that when we propose our own sentiments, which are not so supported we should do it under great modesty, which, perhaps you will readily allow. After all, if, in this point, the observation that theologians differ, should apply to you and me I have still the comfort of thinking, that there are not many theologians who differ less, or in fewer particulars, than we do.
I like to have the proofs of the subject he plainly in the text; but if another preaches solid scriptural gospel truth from Higgaion, Selah, I am content. My censure is only intended against those who affect to please, and to show their superior sagacity by the singularity, quaintness, and novelty of their conceits and who think they can discover mysteries in a text, when, perhaps, they do not understand even the literal sense of it!
It would be better for one to run his head into a stone wall than to go to heathen without a real call from the Lord, and without receiving from him an apostolic spirit, the spirit of a missionary, enabling him to forsake all, to give up all, to venture all, to put himself into the Lord's hands without reserve, to sink or swim!
I am strongly inclined to hope Mr. Johnson is thus called, and will be thus qualified. He is humble and simple-hearted. I think he would not have thought of this service had it not been proposed to him; for some time he wished to decline it but he could not, he dared not. I believe he has now made up his mind, and several incidents have concurred to encourage him and me likewise in the hope that the thing is of the Lord.
Your appointment is to reside quietly at home, to preach, and to lecture your pupils. You are not cut out for a missionary; and nothing perhaps would have been done, either in the West India Islands, or in Greenland if the attachments and feelings of all men had been like yours and mine.
I must have my tea, my regular hours, and twenty little conveniences which I can have when my post is fixed. I would shrink at the thought of living upon seals and train oil for my nutriment. I have not zeal to sell myself to be a slave for the opportunity of preaching to the slaves; but the Lord inspired the Moravian missionaries with resolution to court hardships like these slaves, so that they might win souls, and he gave them success.
Oh, if Johnson is the man whom the Lord appoints to the honor of being the first to carry the glad tidings into the southern hemisphere he will be a great and honored man indeed. Let the world admire Columbus, Drake, and Cook. Johnson will in my view be unspeakably superior to them all. I do not think he has those popular talents which are so much run after among us; but I believe he has good plain sense, solidity, humility, and steadiness these are the truly great talents, these are indispensably necessary, and these only, where he is going. I believe with his simple views, the Lord will not permit him to mistake his will in an affair of such vast importance; and therefore, if he does go I shall hope for a happy outcome.
If I am not mistaken, sooner or later the gospel must be preached in the South Seas; if so, there must be a beginning. Perhaps this is the time. Perhaps this is the final cause of our attempting a settlement in New Holland. Often when politicians have one thing in view the Lord has another; and their plans succeed in order to the accomplishment of his.
I find that after all my supposed acquaintance with the human heart, there are windings and depths in it, of which I know no more than of the dark unfathomable caves of ocean! "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9. When I have puzzled and grieved sufficiently about things which I cannot account for nor remedy then I try to leave them with the Lord. He alone can make the crooked, straight. It is singular indeed and we may say of this event, as of all that went before it God moves in a mysterious way!
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm!
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will!
You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head!
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face!
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
My regard for Mr. Barham and his family will make me always glad to serve him. You must, however, excuse me from speaking positively about the Testimonium. When he brings it to me, signed by Mr. Rose, I shall be able to judge better; but I do not choose to bind myself by an absolute promise before I see him, and converse with him. You may be sure it would give me great pain to refuse him. But as to finding a third, it is quite out of my reach. I know no minister who has been acquainted with Mr. Barham these three years last past. I believe I have seen him but once or twice myself within that time. The testimonial will express that I truly think him a proper person for ministry. If I should really think so in my heart, I shall be glad to subscribe it with my hand.
With love to Mrs. Bull, Tommy, and the Utopians, I remain your affectionate brother and servant,
27th Oct., 1786.
Mon Cher Ami, Monsieur Taureau,
How many questions may a curious child ask which a wise man cannot answer to his satisfaction especially if the subject is above the child's capacity! Truly, we are children! We stand by the Lord, if I may so speak, while he is working; and at every turn are prone to discover our ignorance too often, I fear, our presumption by our inquiries, How is this? and Why is that?
Mr. Latrobe is dead! Surely not! Why, he was a great man a useful man. Oh! how he will be missed! Who can supply his place? We thought that, if he had been apparently drawing his last breath, the Lord would have restored such a man in answer to prayer. So mere children have talked; and I at one time talked thus childishly myself; at least, I thought so, if I kept my mouth shut.
But, perhaps, from what I have hinted, I can assign the cause of his death better than the surgeons who opened his body. When once we consider a man as great and useful, as one who cannot be spared, and whose loss cannot be easily replaced we may consider him as standing upon dangerous ground! Do we not provoke the Lord to jealousy, by holding an frail instrument so high? Do we not sometimes render it proper and fit for God to show us that he stands in no need of a sinful worm? If the Lord is pleased to raise up a servant, to honor him with an eminency of gifts, graces, and usefulness, and then take him suddenly away we are ready to say, 'What a dark Providence! How mysterious are His ways!' But where is the mystery of all this, if it is only to show us that he can carry on his work very well without him?
One such instance may do more to wean the rest of his servants from that idea of self-importance, to which we are all liable than a thousand sermons on the subject. And so far as it has this effect the death of a Latrobe may be more useful than his life.
Dear Mr. Unwin moved in a less extensive sphere yet the loss of him will likewise be felt in his connections. But the Lord can make up all. He was with me an hour that morning he set off with Mr. Thornton, and he told me that he had seen Mr. Latrobe more than once while he was confined at Teston, and seemed much impressed with what he had seen and heard. Little did he or I then think, that they would both die on the same day! May we be always ready! And let us remember in the midst of our preaching and teaching, that though the Lord is pleased to employ us for a while he can carry on his designs without our assistance.
Mrs. Unwin the widow, has been very low but is now better; I breakfasted with her at Clapham yesterday. She set off soon after to a friend's at Leytonstone, and will 'return to Stock in a few days. But how different will her house look now! Recently, it was her home; now, she must soon leave it. Recently, she could find her husband in the rooms or in the garden; but now, the place which knew him, knows him no more. But she has hope in the Lord; and he, I trust, will support her.
God is at all times and in all circumstances equally near to those who trust in him. But what avail to have a good house well furnished, large and pleasant gardens, etc., when one unexpected stroke can so suddenly throw a gloom upon the whole, and change our Eden into a wilderness. Having food and clothing, and moderate conveniences, let us be content, let us be thankful. Many have not so much. None can properly make use of more than what we have.
Mrs. Newton hopes your head is better, and your spirits pretty good. If not, send her word how you are, and how you feel, that she may sympathize with you.
Mr. R___. has indeed had some skeptical qualms about his situation in the church, and some thoughts of seceding or dissenting from us but I hope they are blown over. I shall be sorry if he scruples himself out of a sphere of usefulness. But I never heard that he wavered as to the doctrines of the gospel. I hope it is no more than what I have mentioned, misrepresented or misunderstood. But I cannot answer for him, nor even for myself unless I am upheld. We are all poor weathercocks if left to ourselves. I have always thought him an upright good man, though not the most judicious. My love and our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy.
Pray for us; and believe me to be your affectionate
22 Dec, 1786.
Be so good as to send the inclosed immediately by some careful hand at your market. Should it not be received tomorrow, several poor folks at Olney will miss their Christmas dinner.
My dear Taureau,
You have already heard from Mr. Neale, and are prepared to receive Robert Cottam, whom I introduce to you by this line. He is a pretty looking and pretty spoken lad. I hope you will like him, and that, by the Lord's blessing, you will have the honor of forming him to the good work of the ministry.
My dear wife has been quite ill; is still poorly; and I am not so well as usual. A cold, hoarseness, and a touch of the fever, made me feel the service of yesterday; but I got well through.
I hope this will find you an athletic in health and spirits; laboring mightily, cheerfully, and successfully for the Lord. Love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy.
Dear Mr. Taureau,
I am now monstrous busy; but my dear wife says, I must tell you that, because you said you liked hams, she sent you last week the only one she had in the house, per Newport wagon, carriage paid. She hopes it arrived safe, and will prove good.
It is pretty well with us at present very well indeed, considering we are sinners. We have a measure of health, at least, by intervals. We have food, clothing, and fire. We have hams for ourselves, and can spare one to send to Newport. We have the Bible, the Gospel, the throne of grace, the means of grace, the hope of glory. Ah! what cold language is it for such sinners, so favored, to say, "It is pretty well with us!" Whereas we ought to say, "His mercy is greater than the heavens!"
With our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy,
I remain your affectionate
My dear friend,
You have behaved like a mighty good Bull, as you are, in trotting over twice to Weston. I could not see you at Newport while you were in London, nor while I myself was at Northampton.
A great object with me was Creaton, where I preached twice on Wednesday. Surely the Lord dwells in that place. But who that judges by outward appearances, would look for Him in so small and obscure a village? Yet that little village is more truly glorious than all the Babylons and Romes that ever existed though a detail of the madness, tyranny, and profligacy of those cities engages the attention of the learned, and is dignified with the name of history.
I have had eight doses from Dr. Pulpit this week, and am to take the ninth this evening. They agree perfectly well with me, only that their operation, together with the warmth of the weather, have left me a little in the lazy way.
We intend visiting you and Mrs. Bull on Tuesday next. I shall be sorry to leave Mrs. Newton behind me, and therefore, if her headache, which cannot be foreseen until it comes, should disable her from waiting on you then, I shall defer it until Wednesday. But I hope the Lord will permit us to be with you on Tuesday, provided that day be convenient to you, and we mean to be at Newport about noon.
My dear friend,
Your kind letter must be answered, whoever else waits. I should have written more early in the week but for a strange notion which got into my head, that Mr. Thornton's intended journey into the north would bring you to London. I found out today, by my own sagacity, that it is not unlikely he may call and take you up in his way.
Our dear Betsey is, we hope, upon the recovery; but the transition from health to sickness is usually more rapid than the return from sickness to health. I think she gains strength, though slowly; she sleeps more, and better; and though the enemy still shoots his fiery darts at her, I think they neither fly so fast, nor wound so deeply, as they did. If the Lord is pleased to restore strength to her nerves, and to raise her spirits, which have been much depressed, I hope she will soon find herself upon peaceful ground, and that she will live to praise him. After what she has gone through, it seems almost miraculous that she is as well as she is; and perhaps the gradual and slow progress of her recovery may give a better hope that it will be complete and permanent, than if it had been more speedy.
Mrs. Newton has been much exercised; sometimes I have feared she would be overdone but the Lord has mercifully renewed her strength; and I do not know that her health, upon the whole, has been much worse, during the last trying month, than for any equal space of time since our return from Weston. But we are growing older, and may expect that as years increase infirmities will increase also. To those who are not cut off by a sudden stroke, or by some violent acute illness sooner or later, days will come which the flesh will account evil days, in which little comfort will be found but what the Lord is pleased to afford immediately from himself. We are in his hands and they are merciful hands.
Many a time he has known our souls in adversity; heard our prayers, and granted us relief from pain and sickness, from sorrow and perplexity. And though we are unworthy of his goodness, and have been unfaithful stewards of his manifold blessings yet his word still gives us encouragement to trust in him, and call upon him as long as we live. May his Holy Spirit give us liberty and humble confidence to improve the liberty his promise allows of casting all our cares upon him, with a persuasion that he cares for us. May his grace be sufficient for us, and our strength according to our day and then all shall be well. Time is short, and the sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed. A happy end will make amends for all the difficulties we can meet along the way. Oh that we could learn to live with the Lord by the day, and leave the unknown to tomorrow, and all its need, with him.
The trials of yesterday are gone to return no more. Those of tomorrow are not yet come. The Lord mercifully parcels out to us our lot of afflictions by minutes and moments that we might not be overburdened. But we, foolishly looking back to the past, and forward to the future load ourselves with an unnecessary and unprofitable weight! It is no wonder, therefore, that we are often weary!
The heaviest part of our trials is owing, not so much to the dispensations which cause them, as the self-will and unbelief of our hearts. And our relief depends more upon the cure of our wrong inward dispositions, than upon any change of our outward circumstances.
At my first setting out in life my wickedness and folly plunged me into a variety of wretchedness. But since the Lord was pleased to find and call me out of the waste howling wilderness my path has been comparatively smooth, and my lot has been a highly favored one. He led me about into various places and situations; in every place he did me good, and gave me favor among my fellow-creatures; and every change his Providence appointed me, was for the better, both as to personal comfort and to usefulness. Vile as my heart has been he has preserved my character, he has kept me from gross errors in judgment and from gross miscarriages in conduct. He has preserved to me my dear wife, and preserved our mutual affections unabated for near thirty years since he first joined our hands and hearts. At present I am happy in many kind friends, and endeared connections happy in the exercise of my ministry, among a numerous, affectionate, and attentive people, many of whom are of the first rank for real grace and practical godliness. As yet, my bow abides in strength, and he has not yet taken his holy word out of my lips.
Shall I not then praise him for all that is past? Ought I not to trust him for all that is to come? I have indeed occasionally had my trials, and some of them have been sharp; but their sharpness, as I have hinted, has been chiefly owing to my lack of faith and submission. I have reason to praise him for my trials, for, most probably, I would have been ruined without them.
I am not willing to close our correspondence as soon as you speak of. I shall hope to hear from you when you are in the north, and will endeavor to pay you in the same way. May the Lord, the good Shepherd, be sun and shield to you and to dear Mr. Thornton, throughout your journey, and bring you home full of grace and peace. Remember our love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy. I trust you continue to pray for your affectionate friends,
John and Mary Newton
16 Jan. 1789.
My dear friend,
I thank you again. The prayers, advice, and sympathy of Christian friends, compose a cordial very acceptable in an hour of trouble. Though our effectual help be in the Lord alone, such friends are not like Job's miserable comforters, they are his instruments to us for good. I thank him for them (for who would smile upon me unless he gave me favor in their sight), and I thank them for their kindness.
Our dear child Betsey has passed through so many changes, that I knew not what to say all last week, particularly on Saturday; we were hourly expecting her death. When I went to church on Sunday morning, I no more expected to find her alive at my return, than to find her well yet she is living still, and apparently not so likely to die soon, as she was for many days past. Neither do I see any favorable symptoms to warrant the expectation of recovery. But I have little to do with appearances and symptoms. She is in the hands of Him who loves her better than I can. He does all things in wisdom, mercy, and faithfulness. We are allowed to trust in God, who raises the dead. I cannot be sufficiently thankful, that she is freed from the dreadful assaults of the enemy. I have not asked for her life I dare not; but I have found liberty to pray that she might be in a measure composed, and she is as much so as can be expected, considering the nature of her malady, and her great weakness.
When you are inclined to trot over to Weston, you will take, perhaps, my letters with you, and then you will probably see one that I send today to Mrs. Unwin which may contain some particulars not to be found in yours.
I cannot say that I was sorry to hear of Mrs. Wilberforce's death, though I loved her, and believe she loved me, and though she will be missed by her family and dependents greatly. Yet she suffered so much, that I was rather glad than sorry to hear that she was entered into the rest and joy of her Lord. May the same grace enable us to persevere, and make us willing if such be our Lord's pleasure, to suffer afflictions for a while since they are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.
Through mercy I am enabled to go through my public services with liberty and comfort.
The doctor is just come down stairs, and says dear Betsey is certainly better at present.
With love to Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, and your family,
Your affectionate and obliged brother,
My dear Sir,
Whether you returned to Clapham with Mr. Thornton yesterday, or stopped at Newport as yet I know not. The latter is possible but in either case you will receive this, to congratulate you on the completion of your journey, to thank you for your letter from York, and to express my hope that you found Mrs. Bull, and all at home, well and in peace.
Dear Betsy is very much recovered. She has not fully regained her strength but her health is greatly restored, and her spirits are better. The Lord enabled her to go to church on Sunday, in the evening, and she has been there twice since. She has been several times abroad in a carriage, and walking in Draper's Garden near us. Tomorrow she goes, if the Lord pleases, to spend a few days with a friend at Stoke Newington, for a little change of air, and better opportunity of exercise.
When she first appeared at church I preached from Psalm 116:1, 2, as a thanksgiving sermon. I am persuaded that many of the congregation had prayed earnestly for her, and were glad to see her again. A revival from the state in which she lay for several days, seemed a kind of resurrection. Such proofs of His power and goodness in answer to prayer, justly demand returns of gratitude, love, and praise; and give us fresh encouragement to call upon him as long as we live.
I hope we shall not call upon him only when we are in trouble but keep closer to him, and more sensibly dependent upon him, if he sees fit to afford us an interval of ease and prosperity. And we may expect more changes; clouds will return, new troubles will arise but, blessed be his name, we know where to apply for help in every time of need. He who has delivered, and who does deliver, will support and deliver to the end.
Pray for me, my friend, that the late dispensation, which was not joyous but grievous, may be sanctified to myself and to my dear Mrs. Newton. Though the Lord mercifully upheld me in my public line, I was conscious of a languor in my private walk, and in the inward frame of my spirit before him, which must have stopped my mouth from complaining, had he sent a still more severe visitation to arouse me. It is a mercy not to be deserted and put to shame before the people. But the exercise of gifts and of grace are different and distinct things. Pray that I may not have suffered in vain but may have reason to say, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted."
Pray likewise for the dear child. She likewise is afraid lest she should lose the sense of what the Lord has shown her and done for her. Those jealous fears which arise from a sense of our own weakness, and the snares and dangers that surround us, and which urge us to cry to him, who alone is able to keep us from falling, "Hold me up and I shall be safe!" are rather to be encouraged than suppressed. In this sense it is said, "Happy is the man who fears always." But I have a well-grounded hope, that she has been drawn by his grace, truly to yield and entrust herself to him, and that he has taken such fast hold of her heart, that nothing shall be able to separate her from his love. He will permit neither force nor fraud, to pluck those out of his hands, whom he has once enabled simply and sincerely to commit their all to him.
Mrs. Newton continues much as usual. She had been confined from church some weeks before Betsey's illness, and has not been there yet. But she is not confined to her bed, nor often to her room. Last Thursday we entered the fortieth year of our joint reign. At our time of life it is less to be wondered that one of us should be ailing, than that either of us should be well. My health hitherto seems as firm as ever, and I feel little abatement of my powers either of body or mind, so far as concerns my ministry; which ought to be, and I hope is, the chief consideration which makes health or life valuable in my view.
But at the age of sixty-four I cannot expect to get on thus well, for a great while. But it does not matter, my times are in His hands who does all things well. Only may he enable me to live to him while I do live, and to serve him while I can do anything; and when he calls me or disables me to retire with a good grace and a good hope, rejoicing that I am no longer needed, and that he has other instruments coming forward to carry on his merciful designs, I hope with greater zeal and success than I knew in my best times.
Mr. Atkins, the blind man, desired me to speak to Mr. Thornton, on behalf of the youth (Cottam, I think, you call him), whom Mr. Neale sent to Newport. I thought I would but upon second thoughts, which are sometimes best, it seemed better to refer the business to you. I truly believe Atkins is a good and benevolent person. He respected this young man (who had lived some time with him) and wished to assist him in his views to the ministry. John Ryland, according to the known warmth of his spirit, pushed him on. "Never talk of prudence, trust in God, he will incline your friends to assist you in the necessary expense. Faith jumps over mountains or removes them, etc." Mr. Atkins hastily followed his advice, and he found friends to assist him at first but they have dropped, and they have left poor Atkins in a difficulty. He is unwilling to desert the young man, and unable to support him. If you think the young man deserving, and choose to mention him to Mr. Thornton, as he is under your care, I judge it will come with more propriety from you. Let me know your mind when you are at leisure.
We all join in love to you, Mrs. Bull, and Tommy.
I have not time to treat on the particulars of your letter.
My dear wife thanks you for your kind concern about her; and so do I. Though she has now and then, and here and there, a pain or illness she is, in the main, and upon the whole, tolerable; and, compared with what she was at this time last year, we have great cause for thankfulness.
I have already written more than the three lines you asked for; but when writing to you, would time permit, I would send three sheets. I will at least keep on until the barber or the breakfast stops me.
This is Mrs. Newton's birthday. For many years I used to keep the anniversary of her birth and my own, and of our marriage, as fast days. Not that I was sorry that we were born, or sorry that the Lord brought us together; but I observed it as a day of solemn prayer and praise. How very different must the history of my life have been, if she had not been sent into the world after me! Then, most probably, I should neither have known Guinea nor Woolnoth. She is evidently the human hinge on which my whole life has turned. She was the occasion, though not the cause, of that series of foolish conduct on my part, which plunged me into the misery of African bondage; and when I was there, I was so infatuated and degraded in my spirit so riveted to my chains, that I think nothing but the attachment I felt for her, which remained when every other moral or prudential sentiment was effaced from my mind, could have induced me to return.
You will find an abridgment of my life thus far in Deuteronomy 32:10-15, "In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape. Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior."
You may find another in Isaiah 42:16, "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them." I meet with several passages in the Psalms, likewise, which seem so suitable to my case, as if written on purpose, particularly in the 71st Psalm, which came in the course of my reading this morning. I have been a wonder to many and may well be a wonder to myself!
The 12th will be our wedding anniversary. Just forty years ago we joined hands, and entered together upon the world's wilderness. We knew not the right path across it but seemed disposed to take the first that offered. But we had not wandered far, before the Lord, whom we little thought of, was pleased to give us some sense of our need of a guide; and from that time, he has taken upon himself the care and cost of our journey. He himself has been our guard and guide, our sun and shield, our physician and provider, our Counselor and our comforter. Oh that we had more regarded his counsel, and more prized his comforts!
Very different has been the path by which he has led us, from that which we would have chosen, if permitted, for ourselves. Many situations we have been in, many changes we have seen; but having obtained help from God we continue to this day.
Again we are spared to set up a new Ebenezer. The greater part of our journey is accomplished: how much farther we have to go, He knows we know not. But I humbly hope he will still be our guide and guard, even unto death. The shadows of evening are lengthening upon us; the night comes; I hope it will be but a momentary night, ushering in an everlasting day.
Pray for us: I will try to pay you in kind. But I must break off. Mrs. Newton and Catty join with me in love to you, Mrs. Bull, and Tommy.
The Lord bless you and yours abundantly. Amen.
I am yours truly affectionate,
2nd Feb., 1790.
My dear Mr. Taureau,
How vain are all things here below! So we read, so we preach. Is it a wonder that we find it so? The Lord gives, or rather lends; when he recalls his own, shall we not say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord!"
Perhaps we both need a cordial. If writing should prove one to me, and reading what I write should comfort you, I shall be glad. Well then, to begin, if possible, at the right end, I will tell you though you know it, that the Lord reigns; and that this Lord is our Lord. He to whom we have been invited, and enabled to commit all our concerns has all power, and does what he pleases among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. Consequently he is both able to help us, and to shield us from harm.
Again, his goodness is equal to his power, and his goodness has extended unto us. Were we not cast upon him from the birth? Did he not care for us in infancy, childhood, and youth? He not only spared but preserved us, when we were sinning against him. Where would we have wandered if he had not stopped us, and led us into his own fold? From that time, what a good Shepherd he has been to us! Yes long before, for he laid down his life for his sheep. His blessing has signally been with you and me, in our personal, domestic, and public concerns. He has given us many comforts, and some usefulness. He has led us about, permitted us to speak of his name in many places, and honored us with the friendship of some of his most favored people.
Once more, his wisdom is perfect. He does all things well; in time, manner, and circumstance. He does not indeed always inform us of his reasons but we have good ground to be sure that they are always worthy of himself. If then he is wise, good, and almighty to wish the slightest alteration in his plan and management, must be equally presumptuous and foolish! Lord, help us to say, "May Your will be done!"
We ascribe the death of believers to falls or fevers, etc. These are but the second causes. You will find the true cause in John 17:24, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory!" When the hour comes that he will have them with him to behold his glory should we wish to delay them if we could? "But some of them have been so useful!" Surely they will not be useless where they are going; though we know not particularly the services appointed them there. I cannot doubt but they will be much more noble, extensive, and important than anything they could attempt while here.
Mr. Thornton has been long a burning and shining light; he is eclipsed by his present decline but death will not extinguish him. God will never lack instruments to promote his own cause, and to comfort his own people. I think it probable that no one man in Europe, in private life, will be so much missed at first; but I trust his place will be well supplied, even by those of his own family.
You know something of my peculiar obligations to him. I hope my respect and affection were in some degree proportionable. To him, under the Lord, I owe all my situation and comfort as a minister. It was a pleasure to me if I only saw him passing by. I believe I shall see his face no more here but hereafter. Oh what a hope! what a prospect!
Mrs. Newton has been at no time worse than yesterday. She has had a better night than I could have expected, only, as we have so many tokens of the Lord's compassion in this affliction. We are in his hands He knows what I feel, and what, with submission to his will, appears desirable to me; but he knows likewise, and has in some degree apprised me of my utter unfitness to choose for myself, Lord, I would, I do submit.
With our united love to Mrs. Bull and Tommy,
I remain, your very affectionate,
My Dear Brother Bull,
The pork came safe last week; thank you, for it. Mrs. Newton was pleased with your kindness, and ate two or three bites of it the two days following. It is the only meat she has eaten for some weeks, except a bite of pork yesterday, for a similar reason because Judith sent it. More pork is come from you today. I thank you for this likewise; and my dear wife has again talked of eating a bit, because it is yours.
She has outlived the doctor's expectation four or five days; but he thinks she can hardly hold out above a day more. She lies for the most part very quiet; sleeps a good deal; seldom has much pain; but the extreme weakness of her body seems to have given the enemy some advantage. Her mind is locked up, and there is no drawing one comfortable word from her concerning herself. But her patience under the Lord's hands has been wonderful; and she discovers no symptoms of terror, or great distress. If the Lord is pleased to smile upon her, that she may smile upon and in death, when it approaches, I hope I shall be thankful. I humbly ask this as what seems to me very desirable; and I rather hope it will be so; but I have no right nor reason to claim it.
I trust I have sufficient warrant to say, that she knows herself to be a sinner, and knows Jesus to be the Savior. I cannot doubt but she has many a time, in the course of this long trial, committed herself to him. During her confinement, she studied the Bible with such attention, that she has marked almost every important passage in it from Genesis to Revelation with a pencil. She has gone through Dr. Watts' Hymns and Psalms, and the Olney Hymns, in the same manner; so that very few are left unmarked, and frequently there is a cross annexed to every verse.
Our affliction, though heavy to the flesh, has been attended throughout with many merciful alleviations. And to this minute, though she is so extremely weak, her spirits are good.
Through the Lord's mercy, "my mind is calm and resigned. I have not one allowed wish to alter his appointment, were it possible. His choice and his hour must be the best. Instead of complaining that she is to be taken from me now what reason have I for admiration and praise, that she has been spared to me so long, when I have justly deserved to forfeit her every day of my life, since he first gave her, or, rather, lent her to me! How few in the married state live together upwards of forty years! Still fewer, who preserve their mutual affection unabated for so long a term! Had not his blessing cemented us, we might, yes, we would have been weary of each other long ago. I hope to say, He has done all things well. At my time of life, if I weep, it ought to be as though I wept not: the end of my own pilgrimage cannot be very distant. May we meet again then, in his presence to stand among the redeemed before the throne; and we shall be done with sickness, pain, sorrow, and sin, forever!
The Lord is very gracious to me. My health was never better. My feelings at times have been severely painful but they have not affected my appetite nor my sleep; nor, so far as I can judge for myself, been any hindrance to my public service. Yesterday was a day of trial but it was a day of liberty likewise. I think I have seldom had more liberty in the pulpit, especially in the forenoon, when I preached from 2 Corinthians 12:9.
The letters from Bath give but little hopes of Mr. Thornton's recovery; the physician says, It is possible. Lady Balgonie's account is rather more favorable than Mr. Henry's, though both written about the same time. I cannot say, that I expect to see him again in this world. There, my heart has another wound. My best friend and benefactor, to whom, under the Lord, I owe all that I have or am; but what is my private loss, compared with that of the public! But it is the Lord's doing. If it be his pleasure to have his servant with him where he is, to behold his glory we cannot detain him, nay, we ought not to desire it.
Now, I wish you a good night. I know not what the morrow may bring forth; I know not but the Lord knows.
Tuesday is come, it is much like Monday. She is still living. Both her body and mental state are much as yesterday. Her stay cannot be long; but I still pray, and hope, and trust that the Lord will break the force of the temptation, and bring her out of the pit, and put a new song in her mouth, before she goes. He can put it into her heart, whether I hear her sing it or not; but if he is pleased to show her a token for good, so that she can show it to us, I hope I shall not be unthankful. The treasures of both the Indies would be a trifle in my view, compared with the granting of this desire. She seems not to be so much harassed concerning her own interest in particular, as concerning the truths themselves, which she has formerly known and believed, and are the very foundations of hope. I am distressed but not forsaken. The Lord is here. His mercy is great, his power infinite. He can break her fetters by a word, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and give us the oil of joy for mourning. She would send her love, if she knew of my writing; I am sure she loves you.
Love to Mrs. Bull, Tommy, etc., from
26 October, 1790.
My dear friend,
I hope the receipt of this will not cause your spirits to droop, or your head to hang down, when I, who am most nearly interested, can begin with telling you, all is well. I am supported, I am comforted, I am satisfied. The Lord is good indeed! I can think without regret, of the day when the Lord first joined our hands, (excepting when I reflect on my folly and idolatry); and now I feel not much more regret, when I think of the day which separated us for a season. I trust we shall soon meet to part no more.
Perhaps the papers have already informed you of her release from her sufferings on Wednesday evening. For three days before, she gave little sign of life but by breathing. Her departure was so gentle, that she was gone before we were well aware, though we had our eyes fixed upon her. This event, when it took place, was not an addition to my trial, rather a great deliverance. It freed my heart from a thousand pains and anxieties, which I could not wholly avoid, when I thought of the trying situation in which she had long lain.
The dark cloud which hung over her was mercifully dispersed, above a month before her death. Though she had not spirits, or freedom to speak much to me, it was evident from that time, that the frame of her spirit was gracious. Her patience was most exemplary, not one complaining expression passed her lips. She was rather ingenious, when her sufferings were the greatest, to fix upon something for which she had cause to be thankful, that she was preserved from agonizing pain; that the Lord laid no more upon her than he enabled her to bear; and though she could not move her body, she still had the use of her hands. These she spoke of as great mercies. Her reluctance to dying was entirely removed. She spoke of it with great composure; and having mentioned some domestic affairs to me, and given some directions about her funeral, particularly desiring that Mr. Foster might bury her, she said, "Now I have done with this world," though she lived nearly a month afterwards.
I trust I am well warranted to consider her now as a happy spirit before the throne. It cannot be long at my years, before I shall be summoned to follow her! Had she gone to Newport one day, and had I gone after her the next day, and found her safe at your house, the separation of a single day would have been no great matter. A thousand years are as one day to the Lord, because he inhabits eternity, and, for a like reason, they should be so to us, since we are designed for an eternal state, and hastening to it.
But I trust what has taken place will not make me weary of living, until the Lord's hour shall arrive. His time is, and must be, the best. I am his, and not my own. My principal tie to the earth is broken but opportunities of preaching the gospel, of proclaiming the Savior's glory and grace, and being some way instrumental to the good of my fellow-creatures, ought to engage me as a stronger tie to be willing to live, while he has anything for me to do, or to bear for his sake though it could be to the age of Methuselah. The eternal rest that remains for the godly will make amends for all! And eternity, itself, will hardly afford us such opportunities as we enjoy now, of acting for God, and exercising those graces which were more eminently the mind that was in Christ Jesus, while he submitted to the evils of life, and endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, for our sakes.
Oh the promised Comforter! If his influence was so great as to make it expedient and desirable for the disciples to lose the personal presence of their Lord, because otherwise the Comforter would not come; how much more should we think it sufficient to make us amends for the removal of any mere creature, however dear! Can our attachment be stronger to our friends, than that of the disciples was to their dear Lord who conversed with them so kindly, was their teacher, friend, and provider? Yet, when they saw him ascend they departed rejoicing. If they could be happy and comfortable without him, cannot the same Comforter make us so, though we no longer see the wife, or child, or the friend whom we loved?
Yes, he is all-sufficient. It befits me to bear testimony to his goodness. Doubtless, I feel the wound still but it was made by a faithful friend, who will perfectly heal it, in his due time. And, in the mean time, I am not disqualified either for the duties of my ministry, or the comforts of society.
The Lord bless you, and Mrs. Bull, and Tommy, and all dear to you, your heart, your house, your church and congregation, and all your stated and occasional services. Amen. Dear Miss Catlett joins in love; the stroke made more impression upon her spirits, than upon mine; but through mercy she is pretty well again. All our family are well. We shall all be glad to see you when you come to town.
I am always, your affectionate brother,
18th Dec. 1790.
My dear friend,
I am much as when you saw me; through mercy, no worse; and I think not a whit better, if by better is meant being less sensible of my loss. In this sense, I hardly expect, nor do I indeed desire, to be better than I am. She is always present to my waking thoughts, and I cannot wish to forget her. Innumerable calls for thankfulness, and causes for humiliation, are connected with the remembrance of her for she was the Lord's chief earthly blessing to me; and, through the evil of my heart, proved the occasion of disclosing the strongest proofs of my ingratitude and depravity. How often has the gift hidden the Giver from my sight! How often has my excessive idolatrous affection been a snare to us both!
That she was spared to me so long, and that at last her removal should be made so tolerable to me, are striking instances of that goodness of the Lord to me, which has run like a thread through my life, and has made my history singular, if not unique in the annals of mankind.
Thoughts of her are always with me, as I have said, excepting when I am asleep, or perhaps some times when I am in the pulpit; yet I am by no means uncomfortable. My health and spirits are good: I eat and sleep well. I preach, write, and converse as usual. I hope in spirituals I have been rather a gainer by my loss than otherwise. I think, likewise, that in the time of my trial and since, there has been an additional blessing going forth in the public ordinances. The church is more thronged than formerly, and there seems an attention and earnestness in the hearers, which is very encouraging.
I thank you for wishing me fifteen years more, because I know you meant well. I can only say that I desire to leave my times and my all in my Lord's hands. His I am, and, I trust, him I desire to serve. I am a sentinel upon my post, which I would not wish to quit, until my Commander is pleased to relieve me. I have not lost my relish for the many comforts and mercies which are still afforded me; yet, methinks, I see nothing pertaining to this world worth living a single day for. I may say it to my shame, I seem dead to the world but, alas! not so much by the cross of Christ, as by the death of a wife! While she lived, and was in tolerable health, I was too much content with setting up my tabernacle here.
If I am not short of creature comforts, I am at the same time delivered from a thousand cares and anxieties, which so long as she had lived, would probably have cleaved to me, as close as my skin to my flesh.
It will, however, be well worth while to live while the Lord is pleased to enable me for the preaching of the gospel, and to own me in it. And should he see fit to lay me aside, I hope still to be willing to live my appointed time. May his grace make me so! If I could exercise submission, patience, and thankfulness I might be still useful, even if bedridden. I have no notion of a minister outliving his usefulness, provided he is preserved in a right spirit. Might not I sit quiet in a corner, and rejoice to see others coming forward to serve the Lord better than myself, when I could serve him no more? Might not I bear private testimony to his goodness, and his truth when I could no longer speak for him in public? I have observed sometimes that caprice, peevishness, jealousy, and other evils have stained the old age even of good men. My chief prayer now respecting myself is, that I may be preserved from indiscretion and folly; and that if it pleases the Lord, my evening of life may be consistent with my profession, and that I may set without a cloud.
When I think how signally he strengthened me of late, so as to preach when my dear wife lay dead, and to preach her funeral sermon, in answer to my prayers I feel encouraged to hope that he will hear me in these petitions also.
I trust he will likewise hear my heart-prayers for you, for Mrs. Bull, Tommy, your house, and your ministry. Then it will be well with you in all respects. Betsey is pretty well, and a great comfort to me. I am sure she means her love but is not at home to send it. I shall be very glad when you can contrive to smoke a pipe with your affectionate and obliged friend and brother,
30th March, 1791.
Mon Cher Taureau,
As to the Colchester business, it was settled when you were here. I was fully satisfied then, and therefore cannot be more so now. I sit down to write upon a more important subject. Mrs. Neale told me when I was there on Thursday evening, that Tommy was doing poorly. I entered plump into your feelings, and therefore now I must write. Whoever waits Mr. Bull must be served.
But what can I say to you? Were you a stranger to the strong topics of consolation, with which the good Word of God abounds I could soon fill my paper. I would tell you:
that all your concerns are in the hands of Him who is infinitely wise, good, and powerful;
that to him belong the issues from death;
that diseases come and go at his command;
that he does all things well;
that he can sweeten the most bitter medicines;
that his wisdom prescribes for our good;
that he is so near, so kind, so all-sufficient, as to enable us to rejoice under our heaviest trials;
that the time is short;
that the Lord will make amends for all, etc, etc.
But to write in this strain to you, would be, as they say, to carry coals to Newcastle. For all this, and more than I can tell you, you already know. Yet the Lord, who is the only Comforter, is often pleased to use us as His instruments to comfort one another. I may, if he pleases, drop some hint, which may touch your heart, not because it comes from me but from Him; and, therefore, I will write on.
One thing, indeed, you could only know from me but this likewise, I have told you before yet I will tell it you again. I have not only read these gracious promises, and believe them to be true but I have tried them, and found them to be true. I never was, strictly speaking, a father, though I think I have come tolerably near the feelings of one; but I have been a husband, and I think, in that relation, I have known all the tender feelings, both pleasing and painful, of which the human heart is susceptible. I have often thought that though I loved my friends well while living, and wished them to live as long as possible yet if the Lord saw fit to remove them, and I had hope that they died in the faith that I could pretty well make up my own loss, by considering to whom they were gone, and how they were employed, when I could see them no more. Thus the removal of Mrs. Barham, Mr. Thornton, and others, though dear to my heart, cost me little more than a sigh upon my own account. I thought, now they are safe and happy now neither sin, sorrow, nor Satan, can touch them. They are escaped from the turbulent, tempestuous sea of this world, and are entered into the haven of eternal rest! These, and such kind of considerations, perfectly reconciled me to part with them for a time, expecting, before very long, to receive them again forever.
But when my foreboding mind has anticipated the possibility of surviving my dear wife, the question: "How I could bear it? how I could ever expect to see another cheerful hour?" involved a difficulty which could only be solved by referring it to the mighty power of God of Him that raised the dead. I did indeed hope that he would grant me grace to be silently submissive to his will but that I would be able to watch hours by her bed-side for her last breath; that I would think, write, and speak of her with so much composure after she was gone; that I should sleep soundly in the room, in the very bed, where she suffered so much and so long; that I should still prefer my home to any other house, and still retain a relish for all my remaining comforts was more than I knew how to hope or to conceive.
At length, the trial which I most dreaded came upon me. Suspense was long; sensations were keen. My right hand was not chopped off at a stroke. It was sawn off by slow degrees; it was an operation of weeks and months; almost every following week more painful than the preceding. But did I sink? did I despond? did I refuse my food? did sleep forsake my eyes? was I so troubled in mind or weakened in body that I could not speak? Far, far from it. The Lord strengthened me and I was strong. No part of my public service was interrupted; and, perhaps, I never preached with more energy than at that period. It was the Lord's doing, and it was marvelous in my own eyes, and in the eyes of my friends. Indeed, some who knew me not, said it was overdone, and charged me with a lack of feeling. Indeed, I felt as much as I could well bear but not too much; and to this hour I only stand because I am divinely upheld. Were I left a little to myself, there is enough in my heart still to make me very wretched under a sense of my loss.
However, I hope and pray with respect to Tommy that his sickness may not be unto death but to the glory of God, and his and your future comfort. Give my love to him, and assure him that I shall be often with him in spirit. My love to Mrs. Bull; and I sympathize with her likewise in her part of this trial, and in all her trials, so far as I know them. My dear daughter Betsey joins me in love and best wishes. She knows that you thought of her, and prayed for her, when she was brought near unto death. When I think how near death she was I do not give up any case as desperate, while life remains. The Lord our God can do great things in answer to prayer; but we are sure he will do all things well, for those who love him. Put your trust in him, and you shall not be disappointed.
I heard with great pleasure that Mr. C.'s son is respited. How different is his trial from yours! The Lord has given you, or lent you a dutiful, hopeful, and affectionate son; and if it be most for his good and yours he shall be long continued to you.
Believe me to be your affectionate and obliged friend and brother,
My dear friend,
It is time to thank you for your pork, and especially for your letter; likewise, to answer your kind inquiries in the affirmative, by saying that, through the Lord's mercy, we are all favored with health and peace; and all join in love to you and yours.
Since the termination of my great trial, I have been remarkably favored indeed. I have hardly had any trial, either from within or without, the inward warfare excepted of the size of a button. My health, spirits, and my strength for public service, have suffered no considerable abatement, my table is well spread, my appetite good, and my sleep sound and refreshing.
But my clock, which struck sixty-six last August, reminds me that it will not always, nor probably long be thus with me. But it does not matter. Not only the precious promises but the long experience I have had of the Lord's mercy and goodness, encourage me to trust him for the uncertain remainder of my span; that as he has done me good all the way, led me about, and kept me as the pupil of his eye, so he will be with me to the end, even unto death.
Did he not redeem and deliver me from being a slave in Africa, take me up from the dunghill of sin and misery, put me among the princes, even his own children; tame the fierce tiger in my heart, and give me a name, a place, and service in his house? Has he not preserved me from gross errors, from gross misconduct, from the wiles and power of my enemy, though that devouring lion was always watchful, and often found me asleep? Has he not known my soul in adversity, and helped me when the help of creatures would have been utterly in vain? And does he not still invite me to cast my care upon him, and assure me that he cares for me?
I am little aware of what is yet in my heart; I know that after all this, I am still capable of distrust and repining. But he permits me to cry to him to hold me up; and as I know him to be a hearer of prayer, I trust I shall be kept in safety.
It is true, I still miss my right hand as sensibly as on the first day. But when it was taken from me, I was at once freed from a thousand anxieties, which otherwise would have pained me to this hour. I think, when she died the world died with her. May the Lord prevent it rising again in my heart!
Yes, we hope for a transition in due time, from a throne of grace, to stand upon a throne of glory; to see Him who sits upon it, the Lamb who was slain, who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood! Him, whom having not seen, we have obtained grace to love. Indeed, he is to be seen now but only with the eye of the mind. He is the sun of the soul and without him we should be like the earth if deprived of the light of the sun in the skies. There is a spiritual sunshine of which I can speak but faintly from experience; but I would be thankful for daylight, by which I can see my way, and get a glimpse of my journey's end. Hereafter there will be a morning without clouds a noon without night a long, an everlasting day. Eternal sunshine!
Mr. Adams has been apparently near death; but by blistering his legs, they have drawn off much water, and relieved him greatly. His appetite recovers, and he can now sleep four or five hours at a time, which he could not lately. The doctors think he may possibly live some time but they do not think he will ever be well. I saw him today. He is in a comfortable frame, willing either to live or die, as the Lord shall appoint.
Mr. S___ is in town; has been with me two or three times. I believe he is a good man, and I must love him. As he said nothing upon the subject of the letter which I showed you; neither did I. The best way of managing some things is to forget them. Let them die in silence. The fire in my study would have been out before now, if I had not stirred it up. I told you that what was said or written made no impression upon me, and you believed me. What need, then, of any further debate?
Sometimes when I read books or letters, I am almost ready to think the writers were angels; but I suppose, if I lived with them, I would find them flesh and blood, like myself. If I was more sensible of my own inconsistency I would less wonder at that which I observe in others. Wonderful is the patience of the Lord, who can bear with us all at once! We, alas! can hardly bear with each other one at a time.
When I was assured that Mr. Wilberforce would renew his motion in the House this session, I preached (as I did last year) about the slave trade. I considered it not in a political, but in a moral view, from Jeremiah 2:34. I think myself bound in conscience to bear my testimony at least, and to wash my hands from the guilt, which, if persisted in, now that things have been so thoroughly investigated and brought to light, will, I think, constitute a national sin of a scarlet and crimson dye. A motion since made in the Common Council for a petition to Parliament on the subject, has been negatived. If the business miscarries again, I shall fear not only for the poor slaves but for ourselves. For I think if men refuse to vindicate the oppressed the Lord will take their cause into his own hands. And the consequences may be dreadful both abroad and at home, whatever mischiefs may arise from hurricanes, insurrections, etc. etc., I shall attribute to this cause.
In the mean time, I would retreat under the thought that the Lord reigns. He has wise reasons, though often inscrutable to us both for what he appoints, and for what he permits! Hereafter we shall know more. In the mean time, may we be found among those who are secured by a mark, because they sigh and mourn for what they cannot prevent. Ezekiel 9:4-6.
With love to all your house, and to Mr. and Mrs. Greatheed, and my prayers that the Lord may bless you indeed, and give you peace always by all means.
I remain, your affectionate friend and brother,
24th March, 1792.
My dear Monsieur Taureau,
Mr. Bacon has found a student for you, his name is James Higgs. He has already been a preacher three years in the Tabernacle line. Mr. Bacon heard him occasionally during his residence at Hampstead, last summer, thought he had right views, a good spirit, and promising natural abilities. But he wishes for such improvement as he thinks your tuition might afford him. He is in some business but would prefer devoting himself entirely to the ministry, and with a view of some time undertaking a stated and pastoral charge.
He is already twenty-eight years of age. He breakfasted with me this morning. I seem to like him very much. His knowledge of Latin and Greek are equal; that is, he knows not a tittle of either neither did John Bunyan. I suppose it is too late to make him a nice classical scholar. But he may pick up with you many useful things in his mother tongue. He seems to be humble, modest, and sensible. And perhaps you may provide for the future service of souls, by helping him forward.
I told him I would write to you today, and that perhaps I might have an answer by Saturday. If you give him encouragement he will come down to Newport to see you, and to let you see him. For I advised it as best, that you should converse together, and know each other's minds, before anything was finally determined.
I have nothing to add to my former letter but more love and good wishes to you and yours, and to tell you we are still favored with health and peace.
The abolition business comes on next Monday. Help us with your prayers, that He who has all hearts in his hands may give a happy outcome. On one side humanity, conscience, and the sense of the nation, are engaged against personal interest and political influence on the other. But personal interest is blind, and mistakes its own cause. However, the battle is the Lord's. I preached on the subject on the evening of the 18th, from Jeremiah 2:34, and charged all who do not express their detestation of this slave traffic, now things are so thoroughly investigated, and notorious with blood-guiltiness. Lord, lay not the sin to our charge.
I am in mighty haste; but whether in haste or leisure, always your affectionate
My dear Sir And Brother,
I wished to wait upon you in the shape of a short letter (I have less time than ever for long ones) while Mr. and Mrs. Neale are with you, that I might meet you all together. If they stay their proposed time, I am not yet too late. I tried hard to smoke a pipe with you, when in town but you were not at leisure one time, and the next not at home. Had it been necessary, without doubt we should have met.
May we meet in glory! I trust we shall. He who has invited and inclined us to seek him, will not disappoint the hope he himself has raised, nor the taste to which only he could form such minds as ours. Such a state of happiness as the Word of God describes a state of wonder, love, and praise, surrounding and admiring Him who sits upon the throne would not have pleased me once. I would have preferred a pig-sty to it! Now I hope I can say, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" And you can say the same. Let us, then, rejoice, and lift up our heads. He has said, Surely I come quickly.
No one has more reason to be willing to live than I. I am still strengthened for the comfortable exercise of my ministry, am heard with acceptance, have many kind friends, abound in all temporal accommodations, and have a pleasant home. It is true she is gone; but it is true the Lord, who can do all things, enables me to go on tolerably well without her, and her death freed me from many anxieties and cares.
Yet were it not for his will, and what belongs to my profession and my ministry I think I would now feel but little attachment to this poor world. It is thought a great matter when the same play will fill the theater for thirty or forty nights running. The drama of human life, presented to my view, not for days but for months and years, affords so little variety, more than variety of woe and wickedness that I seem to have seen enough of it. But if the Lord is with me, I shall thankfully wait his appointed time. All is adjusted by infinite wisdom and love.
Do you ask how I am employed? I am making extracts from love letters not to a sweetheart but to a wife. I have quires of these by me, which I wrote when at sea, and at other intervals of absence from home. Perhaps I shall find enough to make a Cardiphonia volume, which may bear reading when I am gone hence. This job cannot be performed by a substitute: it will engross most of my little leisure from other business, and will, therefore, I hope, be accepted as a plea, if I should be tardy in correspondence.
This is a voluntary offering, for I do not owe you a letter, and yet I am a little mercenary, for I mean by it to draw a return letter from you.
Our love to your guests, to Mrs. Bull, Tommy, and all your family; not forgetting the silent young gentleman, with whom I was much pleased when I saw him at Newport. The Lord bless you all. Amen.
I am yours indeed,
Mon Tres Cher Monsieur Taureau,
Your very kind letter deserved a more early acknowledgment but I thought I would wait until I could tell you, as I do now, that my book is finished. I sent part of it to the press a two weeks ago, and have had two printed sheets to revise. I have since been writing a preface and an appendix. I put the last hand (as I hope) to the whole this morning, and the first letter I attempt, after feeling myself a little at liberty, is to you. I hope and desire your prayers, that the Lord may be pleased to breathe his blessing upon the publication. I am not a proper judge of a work in which I am so nearly concerned. In some respects, it will be new; in some parts it may be amusing: but, oh that it may be useful! I am to be pitied, if I have employed a chief part of the winter in picking straws.
It will appear in two volumes, about the size of Cardiphonia but not so much print. The type must be larger, the paper finer, and the page less crowded, to induce those who think themselves the better sort of folks (for whom I chiefly intend it) to read it. Many people judge of books as they do of men by their dress and appearance. My patience has usually been tried on former occasions, by delays of the printers, I am promised, however, that it shall come abroad before August; about which time, if all is well, and the Lord favors my design, I have thoughts of visiting Southampton.
This morning Mr. Cleaver called on me, to inform me that a minister or preacher in the Dissenting line is wanted, at or near Newport, in Essex, where he lives. He says that about £90 per annum is already subscribed by seven people, and more will probably be added, if they can meet a man of sound doctrine and sound life. He was advised to apply to me, that I might apply to you. I told him that I knew you had several olive plants in your nursery, which I hoped would prove fruitful. But whether any of them were fit for transplanting, or whether they would choose to grow in the Newport soil, I knew not; any more than what the soil of Newport is: but that I would mention it in a letter I had began to you. I have now fulfilled my promise.
Through mercy, I and my dear family are still preserved in health and peace; and I hope it is tolerably well with my family, or rather the Lord's, in Lombardstreet. I trust he sometimes visits us. I love my friends. I hope I love more than my known friends. But my chief willingness to live another day in such a world as this, is upon the account of these two families. I have now no other strong tie to this life. My presence is not so needful to any other friends (whom I hope one day to meet in a better place) as to these.
My times are in the Lord's hands. This is a comfortable thought. He appointed the time and manner of my coming into the world and he likewise appointed the time and manner of my leaving it. What I have known of his wisdom and goodness as to the former, warrants and requires me to commend the latter also to him. And I may be thankful that there is no need for wasting my time, by any cares or contrivances of my own. Yet when I began to write my sermons upon the "Messiah," I could not help feeling and expressing a desire that I might live to finish them. This desire, the Lord has granted. I felt and prayed to the like purpose while I was preparing, "The Letters to a Wife." I have been divinely indulged a second time. I hope I shall not always go on framing excuses for wishing to stay here. May the Lord make me always willing to stay my appointed time. But I long to feel a prevailing and abiding desire to depart and be with him, which is far better!
We return joint love to you and Mrs. Bull, and to Tommy, who, I think, is now big enough to be Mr. Thomas; or, Rev. Thomas is in my mouth. However, go by what name he may, I pray the Lord to bless him, and to make him a comfort and a blessing to you and to many.
I trust you will likewise continue to pray for us. This mutual prayer is one valuable branch of the communion of the saints. This clause, as it stands in our creed, is repeated daily by many who know no more of the meaning of it, than a goose does of algebra. Nor should we have been wiser than they, if the Lord had not condescended to be our teacher. May all the praise be ascribed to him, by you and by your very affectionate friend and brother,
23 April, 1793.
My dear Friend
I thank you for your kind letter, which I accept as a full compensation for any or all the censures I may meet from snarling critics. I cannot expect that any publication will be approved by those who have not feelings to qualify them for understanding it. But yours is not the only encouragement I have received.
I thank you likewise for your punctual remembrance of my memorable day. It did not return unnoticed, nor unfelt by me. Though, in this respect, every day since she left me has been nearly alike. Thoughts of her are constantly with me, as at first; but, through mercy, it gives me no pain. I am perfectly satisfied of the wisdom and goodness of the Lord in all his appointments, and particularly in that bereavement. I know that in very faithfulness, he has afflicted me. I hope it has been good for my soul. And perhaps, in some respects, my last three years have been the best and happiest of my life.
What I say to my people, is usually drawn more from my own experience, than from great books, (the great book of God alone excepted), and as the fifteenth of December fell this year on a Lord's-day, I preached from 1 Peter 1:24, 25. It was something to the purpose of my former funeral sermon, from Hab. 3:17, 18. How striking is the contrast between the transient state of grass and flowers, of fig trees and flocks and the abiding word of the Lord! How much is contained in scripture particles! An although, a but, or a nevertheless is often worth a world of help, in an hour of trouble. The longer I live, the more I pity those who, when deprived of their earthly comforts, can find no cheering resources in the sure Word of God. It is no wonder that so many defy the Lord, like Pharaoh, or that so many sink under their burden, and die of a broken heart. The natural outcome of heavy troubles is wild rage, dark despair, or despondency unless they are sanctified. But when the Lord employs them as a means of grace, though not joyous for the present but grievous, they afterwards yield the fruit of righteousness and peace.
My health and spirits are good, my needs well supplied, my friends kind, my powers for public service not yet sensibly impaired, my auditory at peace among themselves, affectionate to me, and I hope in the main, in a thriving state. The ordinances are, I trust, accompanied with an unction and though I see and feel enough to abase me in the dust before the Lord yet, through mercy, I have peace of conscience through the great Savior. What more do I desire? Blessed be God, I have not a wish but for more of his presence and image, for grace to serve him while I can, and that I may be found ready to meet his will in future life, and at the prospect of death. Tonight I am neither weary of life nor afraid to die. I cannot answer for tomorrow; in myself I am unstable as water, and changeable as a weathercock. But he permits me to live with him day by day, and to leave tomorrow to his care.
I hope January will bring you to town, and therefore I content myself with what, when writing to you, I deem a short letter. I am much engaged at present, and therefore I chiefly write to prevent you from thinking me negligent or ungrateful. Dear Miss Catlett is well, and joins me in love to Mrs. Bull, my reverend friend Tommy, and all in your house. May the presence of the Lord dwell in it, fill your heart, and crown your ministry with his blessing.
Let us work while it is day for the night comes. Let us watch while it is night for the morning is at hand, the day is about to dawn to which no night shall follow, and when our sun shall no more set. A few hills and dales more and we shall be at home! There the wicked shall cease from troubling, and there the weary shall be at rest!
I am truly and always your affectionate friend and brother,
10th Dec, 1793.
My dear friend,
I believe I thanked you for your last kind letter but I am not sure. I know I intended it. For fear of the worst, I write again.
It may be some time before my leg is quite well. But it is well enough for the present, as it does not interfere with necessary duty. I walked to church last Wednesday, and home again, and hope to do so again today. When the distance is greater, or the streets very dirty, I have a carriage in waiting.
If I wrote, I told you that my texts on the Fast-day, were Jonah 3:9 and Job 34:29. My forenoon sermon is gone to the press. On such occasions I choose to print not what I might have said but what I did say, and therefore I wrote it from beginning to end. I held it up boldly, and read it in the face of the congregation. I afterwards transcribed it, that it might be printed from a fair copy. This business superadded to the necessities of life, engrossed my whole leisure until it was printed.
My illness gained me little time, I had so many kind friends calling upon me from morning until night. But I remember when it was otherwise when I had not one friend in the world to interrupt me, or to look upon me. Who has given me all these friends?
Though, perhaps, many infidels have been converted, and many profligates reclaimed by the power of grace I have reason to think my case upon the whole, is a unique in the annals of the church, considering what I was and where I was when the Lord interposed to save me from the misery into which I had plunged myself, and from the destruction which I courted; and what he has done for me, and how he has borne with me since. He has made me a wonder to many. Why am I not more a wonder to myself? That 71st Psalm, now I am old, I call my own. It seems written purposely for me.
I have seen great and sore troubles; I have been brought up as from the depths of the earth; and I am permitted to hope, that now I am old and gray-headed, that He will not forsake me. He justly might forsake me at last, if his justice were not on the side of his mercy by the gospel for I have been vile and ungrateful through life. What I most value in this life will forsake me. My senses and faculties will fail. My friends are successively dropping off like leaves from the trees in autumn. Ah, when I stand like a naked trunk upon a hill, exposed, defenseless, to every storm; if the Lord was to forsake me likewise, what could I do? But he will not. He cannot disappoint the hope which only himself could raise in my heart, Psalm 119:49. And, through mercy, poor as I am, it is the leading desire of my soul, while I remain here in his strength to go forth, and make mention of his salvation and his righteousness from day to day.
Though I am comfortably accommodated on every side, and have not a single wish as to temporals, I see that to live in such a world as this, abstracted from a regard to his will and service would be a dull and tasteless affair for me. I thank him that I seem willing to wait my appointed time; but it is a pleasure to think I am not to remain here always, nor very long. The when and the where I desire to leave to him. My times are in his hands; and as he has graciously promised to care for me I have no need to care for myself.
But I must attend my church. I shall send you my Fast-Sermon, when published. My love to Mrs. Bull, the Rev. Thomas, and all your house. Miss Catlett, who is well, joins with me.
May the Lord bless you all. Poor dear Mr. Cowper. Let us pray for him! and pray for
Your affectionate and obliged,
5th March, 1794.
My dear friend,
When I read your complaints of a cough and hoarseness, etc., I pitied you a little, for though I believe you may be poorly, you have accustomed me to think that you are, at least, no worse than you describe yourself to be. I hope when the Lord shall be pleased to send the frost quite away, you will find relief. This severe weather must be trying to valetudinarians (editor's note: a valetudinarian is one who is overly concerned about his health).
I sympathized with you in the death of your student. (Mr. Thomas James, an amiable and promising young man, cut off, Feb. 3rd, 1795, at the age of twenty, while pursuing his ministerial studies.) But now that the Lord has declared his will by the event, I hope you will think it rather a subject for joy than sorrow, that your young plant is safely housed, where no storms or changes can affect him!
But when I came to your son's dangerous return from Bedford, and the many circumstances which concurred to heighten and lengthen your anxiety; I pitied you very much. A state of suspense in a point where the heart is much interested is very painful. I know, by repeated experience, how busy imagination is at such a time in contriving and foreboding the worst that can happen! I joined with you in praising the Lord for his preservation. I, likewise, join in your prayers, that a life so spared may be wholly devoted to the Lord, and prolonged for a blessing to many.
Though rubs and alarms of this kind are not joyous but grievous for the time yet afterwards sanctified reflection upon them may do us good. They quicken our attention to the hand and providence of God, and bring us to a closer dependance upon him. When the comfort we feared to lose, is returned to us again we feel it doubly; and we are likewise reminded of the precarious tenure by which we hold all earthly things! Blessed be the name of our Lord, it is not so with our spiritual concerns. Our best blessings are in safe and sure hands. Neither frosts, nor floods, nor flames, nor heights, nor depths can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Psalm 116:1, 2, there is a process described, which, perhaps, has been verified to you and to me more than once. "I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live."
Trouble excites prayer,
prayer brings deliverance,
deliverance produces praise,
and likewise teaches and encourages us where to go for help next time yes, as long as we live.
We do not come to the Lord upon a mere perhaps whether he will hear us or not, for he has heard us often. Nor can we, nor need we say, that if he will help us but this one time we will not trouble him again. We shall always need his assistance and he is always ready to afford it. While we live in this poor world, trials of one kind or another will come in quick succession; but as he has delivered, and does deliver we may humbly trust he will deliver to the end. His good promises, "My grace is sufficient for you," "As your day is so shall your strength be," are as a plank sufficient to bear us up in safety, in the deepest water.
Mr, Jones, who succeeded you at Surrey, fell in the street on Wednesday, and broke his thigh. And yet I am still upheld, and go out and come home in safety
Farewell for the present. May the Lord be with you, and all yours. We join in love. I am your affectionate and obliged friend and brother,
20th Feb., 1795.
My dear friend,
My ears have been failing for two or three years past but lately a cold in my head almost wholly sealed them up! For about two weeks, I could not hear a syllable of what passed in company. But the Lord has been pleased to relieve me, and my hearing, though still dull, is tolerable sufficient for all necessary purposes. So far as my deafness proceeds from increasing years it would be foolish to expect amendment. May I hear the voice of the good Shepherd speaking to my heart; then I may well submit to an abatement of creature converse!
I may be thankful that I am not mute. He still permits me to make mention of his name with acceptance to my hearers, and I hope with some accompanying impression of his influence. He might justly take the word of his truth utterly out of my mouth, and might have done it long ago; but he is patient and gracious. I trust he knows that the chief thing for which a continuance in this poor world appears to me desirable is that, while I can speak at all, I may speak of his glory and grace to my fellow sinners!
We are still comfortable at home. Dear Betsey is in good health; and my cold did not prevent me from preaching at Easter seven times in five successive days.
We are comfortable likewise at the church. Though I feel that my memory is decaying, often by the day it does not yet fail me in the pulpit. Perhaps I never had more liberty and command of thought than at present; and I trust the Lord favors us with his presence.
It is a part of my daily habit to look back to my slavery in Africa, and to retrace the path by which the Lord has led me, for about forty-seven years, since He called me from infidelity and madness! My astonishing unsought deliverance from the hopeless wickedness and misery into which I had plunged myself, taken in connection with what He has done for me since make me say, with peculiar emphasis, "Oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be!" "By the grace of God I am what I am!" 1 Corinthians 15:10
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home!
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine!
All in our house join in love to you, to Mrs. Bull, the Rev. Thomas, and all your family. May you and yours be as a garden watered by the Lord, always green and flourishing; and as a spring of water for communicating blessings to many.
I am your affectionate
22nd April, 1795.
My dear friend,
Your two guineas are included here. I seem satisfied in my mind, that you paid them to me when you were last in town; and unless you are more certain that you did not, than I can pretend to be that you did I cannot take them, lest I should cheat you by taking them twice! I cannot be quite positive but I think if I had not received them, they would sometimes have occurred to my mind as unpaid. When this comes to hand, you may take it for granted that I have paid the money to your account. So much for gold and silver.
You wonder I do not mention my dear departed wife when I write. Indeed it would be a gratification to me to make her the top of a paragraph in every letter I write to my friends who knew her, or to talk of her to them by the hour. My feelings on this head are little less lively and abiding now than they were, when I had lived but a week after her. But I cannot command my sensibility, unless I was conscious that my thoughts of the Savior were at least equally constant and equally warm. He is the best friend, he was the greatest Sufferer. And that I am capable of thinking more of her than of Him is certainly both an effect and a proof of my depravity.
On the other hand, I cannot wish to forget her quite yet, because there is no other earthly object in my memory so well suited to excite gratitude to the Lord, and that humiliation of heart which becomes a chief sinner.
I find it difficult to draw the line between too much and too little. Indeed, everything is difficult and impracticable to me if left to myself; but so far as the Lord is pleased to strengthen me, I can do and bear all things that occur in the path of duty.
However, it is still a truth, that, whether I show it or not, at all times and in all places (except now and then in the pulpit) I miss my right hand. The Lord made me willing to part with it. I feel not the remotest wish to have it (if possible) again but I still miss it. The idea of my dearest wife is seldom absent from my mind for five successive minutes. The time is short. I hope to meet her again to unspeakable advantage, and I am perfectly satisfied. I am rather pleased than otherwise that she is gone before me. For, as the aspect of the times is stormy, and I know not what the Lord may do with us, I find comfort in thinking that she is safely arrived in the haven of rest. As dear Mrs. Thornton observed to me upon the death of my dear Eliza, "I have now one care less upon earth and one more treasure in heaven."
As to my own continuance or removal from this poor earth, I have nothing to do with it. Through mercy, I have no more desire than I have right to choose. I shall live while infinite wisdom and goodness see fit; and when He appoints I shall depart. I hope both you and I are, in a measure, useful in our places but, certainly, neither of us are necessary. If I had never been born, or if I had perished in my sins God would not have lacked instruments to carry on his work. I know that dying times require dying strength; and I rely on his promise for it when needed. At present, while I am in health, the when, the how, and the where and the when of my death does not cost me a moment's anxiety! Only may he enable me to be faithful while I live and waiting and ready for my summons. I hope to die like the thief upon the cross. I have no hope, no comfort in myself! But he remembered me in my low estate, and I trust will remember me to the end.
I chiefly admire in Riccaltoun, his Essays on the Human Constitution, and his Commentary on Galatians 1. Indeed, I admire him throughout, as the most original thinker and writer that I have met with. Some of his sentiments are rather singular and new; but when I suspend my full assent, I am not able to refute his arguments. The account of him which I published in the magazine is likely to be useful to his son, who is a man of good character, with a large family, and much encumbered by engagements he entered into in behalf of his father. A friend, not far from St. Paul's, sent me £10 for him, and the Edinburgh ministers are talking of a subscription for him. My correspondent says, they wonder that a minister of the church of England should be his first advocate, and that they appreciate it.
Next to the hope of perfect happiness hereafter, the chief mercy in this life, seems to be honored with some usefulness here.
With love to Mrs. Bull, Thomas, and your nieces, from myself and Miss Catlett, and my prayers for your peace and comfort in all things, I remain your affectionate and obliged
My dear friend,
A pig came to our house on Monday; and, though he neither brought an introductory letter, nor could tell us who sent him we, being something in the habit of receiving strangers, bid him welcome. In return, he entertained us. Mr. Bacon and Mrs. Gardener were very agreeably at dinner. I can only thank you now for both pig and letter.
Though your spirits are weak, I am glad to find that your faith and resignation are strong. Yes, all will be well in the end; and all is well along the way, if we can but think so, and be satisfied that the infinite wisdom and love, to which we have committed ourselves, upon the warrant of his faithful promise, will assuredly take care of us, and lead us in the right path. We are not to expect that the Lord will miraculously interpose to change our constitutions, or to overrule the connections he has established between causes and effects; nor is it needful. If he is pleased to give strength according to the day, and to support us under our appointed trials it is upon the whole, better for us than if we were quite exempted from them, for
"Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer,
Trials lay us at his feet,
Lay us low and keep us there!"
I thank you for promising to remember me on my anniversary. My wife is still continually present to my mind, as at the first. Yet I hope I may say, to the praise of the Lord's goodness, the wound is healed. The remembrance of the event is not painful. And if sometimes a sigh escapes me, it proceeds from a certain tender feeling, which I am unable to describe but I cannot call it sorrow. I rather account the last five years since her death, taking all things together the happiest part of my life. The comforts arising from our union and affection, I still think were more valuable than any of the world's poor playthings. Yet I paid dearly for them in anxieties and inquietudes from which a single day was seldom free. And, too, too often the gift hid the Giver from my eyes! By her removal I was relieved at once from a thousand cares and snares which had beset and followed me through life. I am thankful that she was spared to me so long; for, though I have often thought that, if she had left me twenty or thirty years sooner, I would not have entered into a new connection, I might have thought otherwise if put to the trial; but, at the age of sixty-five, a second marriage would have been ridiculous, though my regard for her and her memory had been much less than it was. And though the loss could not be made up in kind, it is as well repaid as the nature of the case will admit. No widower can be more happy in domestic life, than I am. Such is the attention and kindness of my dear child and my affectionate servants, that nothing occurs at home to ruffle my thoughts the year round. My needs are all supplied. I am surrounded with friends. My ministry is comfortable to myself, acceptable, and I hope useful, to my hearers: in a word, I can think of nothing which I have not worth wishing for, if a wish could bring it. Surely, the Lord has dealt wonderfully and bountifully with me!
My health, likewise, is so remarkably confirmed, that I scarcely know but by the date of the year, that I grow older. I feel no inconvenience from the changes of wind or weather; and though I have taken no journey into the country this year, I am as well as usual. The air of Coleman-street agrees as well with me as the air of Hampshire. Thus my health continues; but it will not, it cannot be so always, nor, perhaps, long. But this is no concern of mine. My times are in His hands who has led me, and done me good thus far; and he helps me to trust the rest to him. I have only to pray, that while I do live I may live to him; and that when he shall call me hence I may be found waiting and willing, and that in the mean time, he may preserve me from staining the decline of my life, by any gross impropriety or folly. I still feel evil enough within me, to convince me that, unless he holds me up I cannot be safe no, not for an hour.
My dear Betsey joins me in love to you and yours. She likewise has been favored with health until lately. I hope she is mending, though slowly; she has been confined to the house seven weeks, cannot yet go to church, which I believe is a chief part of her trial, for the Lord has taught her to love to be where his people are met in his name. I trust her illness will be sanctified, and in his best time removed.
We hope one day soon, to be done with sin, sorrow, and pain, and to join with those who are singing before the throne the praises of Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. When we meet there, we shall part no more. Give our love to Mrs. Bull, the Reverend Thomas, and all friends, particularly to Mr. and Mrs. Greatheed. May grace, mercy, and peace be with you, and your affectionate and obliged
15 Dec. 1795.
My dear friend,
I may say, as Isaac, "I am old, and know not the time of my death!" Nor am I anxious to know it. My judgment accords with what you say of the grave; but I believe you can contemplate the subject with more sensible pleasure than I do. To me, at present, the passage seems dark; yet I am not startled, because I humbly hope that the Lord will be with me there, and then I am sure it will be broad light all around me. His people generally find it so, if their last illness leaves them in possession of their senses, and declare it to be so, if they can speak.
While the frail tabernacle is being taken down, a light of a different kind from what they experienced in health, seems to break in: they see invisibles, and hear unutterables, and breathe the air of the heavenly state, before they leave the body. What is death to a believer? Not that spectre and skeleton which a terrified imagination represents it. To a believer, death is a messenger to open the gate into eternal life! Or rather, it is the hour when the Savior, who is now preparing a place for his people, will come, according to his promise, to receive them to blessed himself!
Through mercy, I do not feel myself afraid or unwilling to die. But the prospect of death is at some distance; and I believe were death actually to stare me in the face this minute, I would tremble! Death is a great, unknown, untried transition. I often attempt to realize the moment after death; but my thoughts are overwhelmed. I can form no conception how I shall be, and what I shall meet when I cease to breathe, and while those around my bed, if I die in a bed, are saying, "He is gone!"
But though I am at a loss for particulars, I have a book which informs me of as much as is needful to know: that those who die in the Lord are gloriously blessed; that they shall be like him, and with him, forever; that all tears shall be wiped from their eyes, and they shall weep no more, for sin and sorrow shall not be able to follow them. I thank the Lord for this precious book, and for enabling me to believe what I read in it. Otherwise, how miserable must I be now, flesh and heart are upon the point of failing!
But I have not much time to run on. I wish you much of that holy unction, that oil of joy, which is the best cordial for low spirits, and wonderfully strengthens weak nerves.
Betsey's illness is not removed but it is so far relieved, that she was twice at church yesterday, after more than eight weeks of confinement to the house. This is a chequered life but the suspension of our common comforts is designed to make us more sensible of their value, and more thankful for them when restored. For unless we meet with some interruptions, we are too apt to look upon them as matters of course.
The Lord bless you all father, mother, son, nieces, tutors, and students, servants, and all. May your house be a church, and your heart a well-watered garden for yourself, and a spring of living water for your people. Amen.
I am always your affectionate and obliged,
My dear Brother Bull,
I am a little balked that the time of your coming to town and my leaving it so nearly coincided, that I could but just see you. But as I know the ways of man are not in himself, and believe both your movements and mine are under a wise and gracious guidance I hope it was all right. A baulk has done me good before now. If we live until the Christmas vacation, I hope to be made amends.
We spent ten weeks pleasantly abroad, and returned safely, and found all well at home, the 14th of September. We go on now in our old track; we had a nice time at Reading. I believe Mr. Eyre accepted the living of St. Giles' the very day I went there, and he was expected almost every day while I stayed but did not come until I had left it. The people were hungry, the Lord made me able and willing. The time was short, so we made the most of it. I never preached so often in an equal space; five times in the church; twice in Mr. Young's school; every morning at Mr. Rings, and every evening in a large room of one or other of our friends. I call it all preaching, for the rooms were crowded, and I spoke nearly as long and as loud, as if I had been in a church. I trust the Lord was with us, and I trust he will be with them. I have found good individuals in many places. But perhaps I have no where met with a body of professors so compact and united, so lively and yet so solid, judicious, and free from wild fire, as the bereaved people at Reading. The two dissenting ministers likewise, Mr. Douglas, and Mr. Holloway, are such as I have seldom seen. They were generally present with their wives at all our meetings, when not engaged themselves. I stayed with them a two weeks, and left them with regret.
Mr. Gunn fully supplied my place at St. Mary's; he is a nice curate. He pleases the people, and he pleases me. Though very popular, he is very humble, and remarkably punctual and attentive. The Lord has granted my desire. Expecting to be laid aside soon, or at least thinking it very probable at my time of life I have long wished and prayed for an assistant who might keep the people together and in peace, while the pulpit remains mine. I thought myself suited first with Buchanan but he soon went to India. Then Benamor seemed just the thing but in one month he was translated to nobler employment in a better world; but now I hope Mr. Gunn will answer my wishes. And though he seems more troublesome than any of us to the clergy in general, the Lord Bishop of London licensed him to my curacy without the slightest hesitation.
Indeed, I have reason to hope that the Lord favors us with his presence and blessing at St. Mary's. The church is often nearly full on a Wednesday, quite crowded on the Lord's-day, and we have a large and increasing number of inquiring young people. While we go on thus, though I have seen enough of the world for myself, and know that while I remain here I must groan under a body of sin I have great cause to be thankful that my life and health are prolonged. We may be glad to work while it is day, for the night comes. And I apprehend eternity itself, will not afford such an opportunity of preaching and exemplifying the gospel of the grace of God, to the glory of his name and the salvation of souls as we are favored with here. Every added day of life, if is improved is of great value, and an over-balance for all the trials we meet with in our earthly pilgrimage.
I told you I had a young man in view to send to Cambridge, and that I meant to send him to you for a time. His name is Morris; he was with us the last time you drank tea with us. And from what he then saw and heard, he longs to be with you. I hope you will be able to receive him on your foundation. At any rate, he must be in your house. I have no doubt of your liking him when he comes. I cannot see into the heart; but so far as I can judge from repeated conversations, I have no doubt of his being truly serious and gracious. He seems likewise to have strong natural abilities, and I believe would make a tolerable preacher at present.
Admiral Duncan and his brave tars have much praise for the late victory; and the gratitude of the nation at large is shown by celebrations, gluttony, drunkenness, and singing "Rule Britannia." Had the Dutch fleet been permitted to reach Brest, I think it probable that an invasion would have been attempted. I hope some people give the praise to the Lord Almighty, who disappoints the designs of our enemies, and does not yet take vengeance of such a nation as this. He has a remnant among us, and therefore He still seems to say, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it.
Company comes in one upon another: I can only add my love and dear Betsey's to you, Mrs. Bull, and my brother Thomas; and my prayers that the Lord bless tutor, students, family, church, and congregation, in body soul, and spirit. Pray for us.
I am your very affectionate friend, brother, and much obliged and obsequious servant,
28th Oct., 1797.
My dear Friend And Brother,
I am sensible that you have many infirmities: so it has been ever since I knew you yet you are still alive, and I think still likely to live a good while. It seems probable that I shall die before you but that will be as the Lord shall appoint. May it be our care and prayer to live to him while we do live, and leave the rest to him who does all things well.
I am certainly favored with a measure of health and strength, which is not common at my years. I never could preach with more ease and liberty than at present yet I feel I grow older; the shadows of the evening are advancing upon me. I willingly leave the how and the when and the where of my death, to the Lord. I would only pray (and I hope you will pray for me) that when the summons shall arrive, it shall find me ready, willing, and waiting.
Yesterday and today I have not been quite well. I thank the Lord I am better again. When he sees it needful he gives us some intimations of our frail state. Mine, indeed, have been few and slight. My judgment is satisfied, that when the Lord shall call me home it will be unspeakably better to depart and be with Jesus. I have no painful doubts about the event. Surely I know whom I have believed. Surely I have committed my soul, my all, to him. I do it daily and hourly. And I am sure that the good word on which he has caused me to hope shall stand firm when the frame of nature shall be dissolved. And yet, somehow, clouds and veils hang over the prospect. When I think of the moment after death, my mind is startled at the change that will take place, so new, so inconceivable. But the Lord has said, As your day is so shall your strength be, I humbly hope, therefore, I shall find a dying strength reserved for a dying hour.
He bids me cast this last care, as well as all my other cares, upon him, and he promises to care for me; therefore, I would say, Welcome, life, with all its trials! Welcome, death, with all its apparent gloom!
May the Lord support you under all your infirmities. In this uncertain state, we know not whether we shall meet upon earth; but I trust we shall soon meet where sin, sorrow, pain, and care, shall never intrude. Oh for the ear of faith, to listen to the songs of the harpers! As loud as from numbers without number sweet as from blessed voices!
My dear Miss Catlett joins in love and best wishes to you, Mrs. Bull, and Thomas; and always I am your very affectionate
8th Nov., 1797.
My dear Sir and Brother,
All is well, and I ask your pardon; I ought to have been more explicit. Is is true that I have liberty to appropriate a part of Mrs. Ekin's money to prepare a young man for the college, as well as to support him there. And I am ready to do so; only, as you desired me to procure a foundation student, if I could, I thought I might as well propose one of my own as a stranger, and the saving might enable me to send one more to the university. It will be time enough to talk of the foundation when there is a vacancy; nor shall I then wish for it, if it interferes with your intentions in favor of another. But if there should be a vacancy, and while you have no one in prospect whom you prefer, I shall be thankful for the help.
Mr. Morris had left London before your first letter came, and has not yet returned. I believe him to be a valuable and promising young man but I have only seen him a few times at breakfast. You will be a better judge than I when you have him under your roof. If he behaves well, you will encourage him now and then by a smile, or a kind word, by mentioning him as my friend. I do not mean to ask anything extraordinary out of the common line for him but only such little notices and attentions, as, though they cost nothing, are much prized by a generous and feeling spirit.
I thank the Lord I am as well as an old man can be. I think and I hope that the Lord bears testimony to the word of his grace at St. Mary's more than ever, which makes health doubly valuable. May he make me willing to resign it at a moment's warning; and to sit quiet in my chair or my bed, and rejoice that his work is prospering without me, and that others are serving him better when I can serve him no longer! A sentence in Dr. Cotton Mather's life struck me more than fifty years ago, and has been often upon my mind from that time "My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with but now I can part with that, and am content to be laid aside and forgotten, so that he may be glorified."
God would not have lacked instruments though I had left my bones in Africa, or had been food for the sharks! Oh for grace to retire at his bidding, like a thankful guest from a full table! I have had a long and highly favored day. But the night is surely coming; pray for me, that my decline of life may not be stained with foolishness, impatience, jealousy, or anything that might disparage my profession or ministry.
The dark prospect of the times affects me much, as it does you. And, like you, I have often questioned how shall I behave if such and such things should take place? This seemingly humble diffidence, I am afraid, implies a supposition that I can do pretty well at present, and while things remain no worse than they are. Whereas, I am satisfied in my better judgment, that the Almighty power which sustains the stars in their orbits is equally necessary to carry me with safety, honor, and comfort through the smoothest day of my life. Let it suffice that he knows where we are, and what we are and can increase our strength according to our days, to any assignable degree. We do not need shoes of iron and brass while we walk upon a soft carpet; but should the road become very rough and thorny, these shoes are always at hand and if we ask for them, we shall have them. Faithful is He that has promised, who also will do it.
Wednesday brought news of the death of my brother at Leith. Our branch of the noble family of Newtons will soon be extinct, for I am the only survivor. He was a sober, moral man, an excellent sea officer, and much respected and approved in his post. He was friendly to the gospel, and constantly attended it. I do not know how far he was wrought upon by it; but his deportment upon his dying bed gives us hope that the Lord prepared him for the change, though he said but little. His widow is a gracious woman, and I doubt not but He who ever lives will still be a husband to her. This is one attendant of old age to see our friends and relatives drop off before us, like leaves from the trees in autumn, until we are left naked trunks. But Jesus lives.
With more love from us to Mrs. Bull and Thomas, and our best wishes and prayers for you all, I still remain and hope always to be,
11th Nov. 1797.
My dear friend,
Though I have but little time for writing, I must thank you for your letter. I am very glad Mr. Morris pleases you. I had no doubt but you would think him a promising plant. He informed me himself of the advice you gave him. I am in hopes that my letter will confirm both, and make him willing to do nothing in the preaching way, without your express direction. I think you might exert your authority in this case, were it needful, without any fear of grieving the Holy Spirit; but I trust a little persuasion will suffice. He must not be a village preacher, if he means to go to Cambridge.
I preached yesterday from Hosea 11:8, 9. The church was very full, and I hope we had the Lord's presence. In the morning, my apprehensions how the day might close, were rather dark; as I know there is much discontent abroad, and many people busy in fomenting it, and making bad worse. I was afraid lest such a concourse of people might lead to some riotous proceedings; but through the goodness of Him who rules the winds and the seas, all went off very smoothly. I hope the Lord smiled upon the design.
I would relieve all your complaints, if I could. The Lord, who loves you much better than I do, easily could but he does not; accordingly, he sees it best for you to have them. Infirmities must ordinarily increase with increasing years. I seem, at present, to be an exception to the general rule; but my time cannot be very distant. Oh, to be able to say, from the heart, in the hour of trial,
"How weak this prison where I dwell,
How frail this tottering wall,
The breaches cheerfully foretell.
The house must shortly fall!"
The Lord, who can exempt us from troubles, can do much more; he can support and can comfort us under them. He could have prevented the three young Hebrews from being cast into the furnace, or kept Daniel out of the den; but his power and faithfulness were more signally displayed by suppressing the effect of the flames, and by shutting the mouths of the lions. Is he not all-sufficient? Has he not promised us strength according to our day? Let us boldly venture upon his word, which cannot fail.
20th Dec. 1797.
My dear friend,
I am sorry that you are weak and poorly; but knowing that you often touch the mournful string, I am willing to hope you are a little better than you think yourself.
If we take the report of sense the times are dark indeed. But what says faith? What would become of us if the Scriptures were not true? And if they are true, there must be such dark times, because they are foretold, and not one jot or tittle can fail. Perhaps dark times are the brightest; for they are usually seasons when the Lord's people are stirred up, and when many who would not hear him in prosperity, are glad to seek him. I think the gospel is spreading among us, and I hope the prayers of the true remnant will so far prevail, that our enemies will not be permitted to swallow us up. They are at war not with us only but with our God. He is taking his own wise measures, to plead his own cause, which ought to be the dearest concern of our hearts: surely we cannot wish him to lose it? Yes, the times are dark; for though his hand is lifted up, they will not see it. Dissipation and folly are as rampant as if the nation were in perfect peace and security. Can we assign any reason why such a nation as this, which has abused greater light and privilege than any in Europe, should be exempted from the general shaking?
Do not think that my faith is very strong. While I smoke my pipe peaceably, I can talk or write, according to what I read in the Bible; but were the French actually permitted to come, if I was left to myself, perhaps I might flee into the woods, or creep into a cupboard. However, I am aiming to rely upon Him, who has said, "As your day is so shall your strength be." The Lord is faithful, and if this promise is fulfilled, we shall do very well. Why should not we take joyfully the confiscation of our goods, and count it an honor to lay down our lives for his sake if called to it, as others have done before us? They were no better in themselves than we, nor had they a better gospel than ours. Is not He who supported them able to support us also? Their feet were as tender as ours; but when the way was very rough, he gave them shoes of iron and brass; and I trust there are more such shoes upon the shelf for our use likewise, if we should need them.
I cannot be poorer than I was when the Lord brought me from African Egypt, from being a slave of slaves. Nor can I be in more apparent danger than I have often been at sea in a storm; even the French are not more irresistible or more inexorable than the raging billows in a tempest. The Lord has delivered me from the paw of many a lion, and of many a bear; why then should I be afraid of this atheistic Philistine, who has defied not only the armies of the living God but the living God himself?
Indeed, I trust they will not be allowed to execute all their malicious rage and threatenings against us. But they will probably alarm us. And then, like Israel at the Red Sea, we shall cry to the Lord, and I hope like them we shall be heard and preserved. He could have easily prevented Pharaoh and his army from following them; but, had he done so, Israel would not have known that glorious display of his power and goodness on their behalf in dividing the waters and drowning their enemies.
All these things shall eventually promote the glory of his name, the good of his church, and the spread of the gospel. The French, like the Jews when they crucified the Messiah, will only execute what God has already appointed to be done. I wish to watch, and pray, and mourn for the abounding of sin, and the abounding woes with which sin has filled the world. Nor would I forget my own sins, which contribute to fill the national cup; for the rest, I know that He does and will do all things well. And when you and I shall meet on one of the green and flowery mounts, which Dr. Watts speaks of we shall see it more clearly. Until then may His peace rule in our hearts. Give our joint love to Mrs. Bull, brother Thomas, Mr. Morris, and to all your family. Pray for us. We shall be glad to see you in London. May the Lord be a sun and a shield to you and to us.
I am yours very affectionately and obliged,
26th April, 1798.
My dear Old friend,
Though the flame of our affection is not much supported by the fuel of frequent letters and converse, I trust it still burns brightly, for it is fed from a secret, invisible, and inexhaustible source. If two needles are properly touched by a magnet, they will retain their sympathy for a long time. But if two hearts are truly united to the Heavenly Magnet, their mutual attraction will be permanent in time and to eternity, Blessed be the Lord for a good hope that it is thus between you and me. I could not love you better if I saw you or heard from you every day.
Dear Miss Catlett, and I, and all the dear family we are with, consisting of about twenty people, are well. We lie down and rise up, go out and come in, in peace and safety. What a wonderful mercy, in such a world as this, when so many are suffering and falling around us, and we, though upon the same field of battle, remain unhurt!
The calendar tells me that if I live until next Monday, I shall enter my seventy-sixth year. I believe you will pray for me on that day. My eyes, ears, and legs likewise admonish me that I grow older. My writing days seem almost over, as I cannot see well to write; but I make an effort to send you one letter more, which may probably be the last you will receive.
I have requested your prayers; shall I tell you what to ask for? You need not pray for my sudden death, for I have as little reason as most people to be weary of life, and, through mercy, I feel at present quite willing to live my appointed time. Nor need you pray for my long continuance here, for I see little except my profession and ministry worth living for another day. But pray that I may be enabled to leave the time and manner of my death entirely in the Lord's hand. That if he sees fit to summon me suddenly, I may be willing to go without delay; and that if he is pleased to lay me aside, I may be as willing to retire and wait his time.
Pray likewise for me, that no gross imprudence or misconduct may stain the latter part of my life but that I may be enabled to exemplify in myself what I have labored to inculcate upon others from the pulpit. I have observed in some good men and good ministers, improprieties in their latter days, which I have been willing to ascribe rather to the infirmities of old age, than to a defect in real grace. I pray daily to be preserved from these, and I request your assistance. I have known good men, in advanced life, to be garrulous, peevish, dogmatic, self-important, with some symptoms of jealousy, and perhaps envy, toward those who are upon the increase while they feel themselves decreasing. Do, my friend, pray earnestly that it may not be so with me but that I may retire, if laid aside, like a thankful guest from a plentiful table, and may rejoice to see others coming forward to serve the Lord, (I hope better and more successfully,) when I can serve him no longer. May I never forget that the Lord brought me from Africa, where I was the slave the scorn, and the pity of black slaves what he has done for me since, and what a long and highly favored day I have had since he was pleased to put me into the ministry. Such likewise shall be my desire and prayer for you, if you should be spared to old age; for as yet I consider you rather as a youngish man.
I know, what as yet you know not, that the loss of a good wife, after a connection of many endeared years, can only be made up by the Lord himself. But when he removed mine, he left one in Miss Catlett, the best substitute the nature of the case would admit. Her tenderness and attention make my heart shrink sometimes, when I think what a trial she will have if it should be her lot to close my eyes. Do join me in prayer for her, that He to whom all things are easy, may give her strength according to her day.
Give our love to Mrs. Bull, brother Thomas, and all who are dear to you. Love to Miss Neale, Mrs. Tipgin, and more than I can name, who come often to visit. I shall expect to hear from you likewise.
The Lord bless you and yours, in body, soul, and spirit. Amen.
I am your affectionate and obliged
Aug. 1st, 1800.
My dear friend,
My head, hands, and heart have been so full, that I could not write when I wished. I can answer your kind inquiries about my dear Eliza in few words. Her present state is very similar to dear Mr. Cowper's during the first two or three years of his illness. She is in a deep melancholy, and her distress is probably aggravated by the dreadful suggestions of that enemy who, when he is permitted, is always ready to worry those whom he may not destroy. In all that concerns herself she is quite deranged; but I thank the Lord she is mild and quiet, and can pay some attention to what passes around her. She expects to die every hour, though her bodily health is not amiss; and she thinks that the moment after death will sink her into the pit without hope, for that all her religious profession was but hypocrisy, and that now the Lord had detected her, and cast her off forever.
Do you ask how I feel for her and myself? Through mercy, I can say, Though cast down, not destroyed. My trial is great but the all-sufficient Lord is my support. I am sure this affliction did not spring out of the ground. I trust the outcome will be to his glory and our good. I am enabled to preach as usual, and when thus employed, I am helped in a good measure to leave my own personal cares behind me for the time, though they often return with weight when the service is ended.
How often have I made a surrender of myself and my all to the Lord? How often have I aimed to say, I hope with sincerity: Lord, when, and where, and what you will! He is now pleased to take me at my word. I have told many that the post of trial, if supported in a right spirit, as befits a sinner and a believer, is a post of honor. This honor is now assigned to me. May his grace be sufficient for me! May he give me strength according to my day! I humbly hope he will; and then the hard will be easy, and the bitter bud will produce a sweet flower. He has designs by this dispensation, which, though beyond my reach, I am sure must be worthy of his wisdom and love. I am a short-sighted creature; I cannot tell what worse things this trial may prevent, or what blessings it may produce. My chief desire for myself is, that He may preserve me from dishonoring my profession by despondence, impatience, or any wrong tempers.
I scarcely know a person of her years, who has given more satisfactory, uniform, and abiding proofs of a real state of grace, than my dear child. Her walk has long been not only unblamably but highly exemplary. About a month before this awful gloom overwhelmed her, though she was then very disconsolate, the Lord was pleased suddenly to break in upon her mind with such power, light, and love, as she said she had never before experienced, nor ever expected. Then her apprehensions of dying were overborne, and she was heartily willing, had such been the Lord's pleasure, to have gone home. Though short, it was a precious view. It lasted but about a quarter of an hour. Now, she says it was a delusion. But it was a cordial to me, as showing me how easily and quickly the Lord can say to the troubled mind, 'Peace, be still!'
For His time, which must be the best time, I am now to wait. You and yours, I know, will pray that I may be enabled to wait with faith, hope, patience, and resignation. I trust all will be well at last, and if so, all must be well now.
I believe either you or my good friend, Mr. Thomas, have seen dear Mr. Ring's cottage. It is a delightful spot. There my dear Eliza is under the care of faithful Dr. Crabb. There she has every advantage that fine air, extensive prospects, convenient walks, and the best medical advice can afford; and there she must be for a season, until we see more of the Lord's will. She is in safe hands.
I could write on, (though my eyes are very weak;) but Mr. Ring wants to write on the other side. A letter from you now would be great charity. Collect all the prayers for us that you can; and may the Lord bless you and yours, in your heart, house, ministry, and make you a blessing to many. My warm love to you all.
I am your affectionate and obliged
20th May, 1801.
My dear friend,
At length I have the pleasure of a letter from you to answer. My poor weak eyes will try to thank you for it but they cannot allow me to write much at one sitting.
I have paid three visits to my dearest Eliza. The first was an interesting interview indeed. But I trust the Lord was with us. We behaved pretty well. We were mutually afraid of overdoing each other. This suppressed, in a measure, many emotions on both sides, for I had not seen her for about eight months. The second and third time we were calm. Her derangement still continues but my great trial is alleviated by many mercies. The horrors which once overwhelmed her mind are removed. She long thought that the Lord had detected and would punish her as a hypocrite, and that death, which she hourly expected, would sink her down to be a companion with Judas.
But, now, through mercy, when her mind is diverted from her own case, she is, in all other respects, as composed and correct as at any former time. She and her three friends are always together, and she attends the sick and distressed like a nurse; her benevolent feelings are all revived, and she goes about doing good according to her power, as she did before the storm came upon her. On the Lord's day evening, she is usually a sort of chaplain to those (of her ward) who will attend, and I suppose has sometimes a dozen hearers. To them she reads a chapter, and often throws in a word of her own by way of explanation. She then reads a sermon, and gives out a hymn. I hope the Lord has sent her for the good of others. She has, in some cases, been very useful, as I shall tell you, if I live to see you, when you come to town. She is respected, beloved, and kindly treated by all in the house, and many of the rules of the place are dispensed with as much as possible in her favor.
Yet my trial is great. But I know it did not spring out of the ground. I believe not a sparrow, or even a hair from our heads, can fall without His notice. I believe that no creature can give us either pleasure or pain but as instruments of his will; and that those who fear and love him, will, sooner or later, number their sharpest trials among their chief mercies. And, as I am well satisfied that her soul is bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord, and as I believe, though a chief sinner, I am, I trust, pardoned and accepted in the beloved I aim to resign her and myself into his hands, and to hope that all will work for his glory and our final benefit. He has made me in a degree willing but I find the flesh is weak. But this he knows likewise. He knows what I feel, and, through mercy, I am supported, though not by sensible comforts, or lively frames. But I am enabled to trust in his written Word.
It is some addition to my trial, that I cannot fill up my time with writing and reading as formerly. But he knows this also; and should I be quite blind, I ought to be thankful that I had the use of them seventy-six years, and not to complain that they failed at last. Lord, I and all I have is yours. You can take nothing away but what you first gave.
My memory, likewise, is so faint, that I often forget what I said or did two hours before. Yet it seldom fails me when in the pulpit, or when expounding in the houses of my friends. Perhaps I never preached longer, louder, or more frequently than at present. Perhaps I was never heard with more attention or acceptance. (Phillip, 1:29.) If he enables me to suffer as a Christian, this post of trial may be a post of honor, and may encourage others in their affliction to trust in him when they see his faithfulness and goodness in my case. He does, he will do, all things well. May I say from my heart, Not my will but your be done.
Mr. Raban's death seems to have been very sudden. I should like to hear more about it. I have written to his widow. May we be always ready.
Love to Mrs. Bull, to brother Thomas, to your students, and to all who love the Savior. My eyes have let me run on longer than I expected. Perhaps because I am writing to you. I am, indeed.
Your very affectionate and obliged,
4th June, 1802.
My dear friend,
If my eyes will give me permission, I must thank you, however briefly, for your very kind letter of the third. As my anniversary was on a Wednesday, I preached about Mr. Self, from the case of the demoniac in Mark 5, which so nearly resembled my own, and particularly from verses 18, 19.
I am now two days into my seventy-eighth year. My health and strength are remarkable for my age; but I feel some symptoms of declining years. The day of opportunity wears away, and the night is approaching when no man can work. But while the Lord enables me to preach, and the people are attentive and willing to hear me in my poor broken way I ought to be willing to live to the age of Methuselah, if I might but promote his glory, and be any way useful to my hearers. I am bought with a price; consequently, I am not my own. I wish to say from my heart, Lord, grant that the short uncertain remnant of my time may not discredit my profession, by pride or any evil tempers; and that when the summons shall come, it shall find me ready and waiting to go. To this purpose I have been permitted and encouraged to pray for many years past, and our God is a hearer of prayer.
My dear child joins with me in love to you and yours, and in thanks for your kind prayers and wishes on our joint behalf. I have much to be thankful for on her account. The Lord has done great things for us, and I am waiting and praying for complete relief. But, however he may dispose of us while here, I am sure that he does all things well, and that his choice for us will be eventually better than anything we can choose for ourselves. If there is any alteration since you saw her, I think it is for the better, and I am not without hope that a full deliverance is gradually approaching; but I trust we are both under the direction of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, and there I would leave it, and say, (Oh that I may say it from my heart!) Not my will but may yours be done!
Now my eyes bid me hasten to a close. The Lord bless you, in your person, family, and ministry, and return you sevenfold into your own bosom, all that you have desired and prayed for us. Love to Mrs. Bull. Brother Thomas Bull made us a kind and very acceptable visit yesterday, an hour and a half long.
I am your very affectionate,
5th August, 1802.
(Editor's note: Miss Catlett, after this, returned home, gradually recovered, and was, some time previous to Mr. Newton's death, married to Mr. Smith.)
My very dear Bull,
You will not expect me to write much; but I must tell you that I have seen your letter to Mrs. Neale. It awakened my most tender sympathy for you and yours, and my concern was mingled with joy to find the Lord so graciously supported you. Faithful is he who has promised.
For lack of eyes, I refer you to Matthew 7:24-27, which occurred in my reading this morning. How shall the house upon the rock be proved to be upon a sure foundation, if it was not assaulted by the same rain, storms, and floods which swept away that which was built upon the sand?
I could fill the sheet if I could see; but I cannot. My dear Miss Catlett cordially joins in all that I mean, when I subscribe myself, your affectionate and sympathizing friend and brother,
9th March, 1804.
Time how short! Eternity how long!