John Newton's Letters

Our common mercies

April, 1773
Dear sir,
For the past five or six weeks—I have been a good deal sickly. The ground of my illness was a cold, attended with a slight fever, and for some time with a cough, which made me feel some inconvenience in preaching. This was followed by a deafness, so great as to cut me off from conversation; for I could not hear the sound of a voice, unless it was spoken loud in my ear. But the Lord has mercifully removed the fever and cough, opened my ears, and I am now nearly as well as usual. I had cause to be thankful, especially for two things, under this dispensation:

First, that I was enabled, though sometimes with a little difficulty, to go on with my public work. It is a singular favor I have to acknowledge, that for the space of almost nine years, since I have been in the ministry, our Sunday and weekly services have not been once suspended; whereas I have seen many of the Lord's servants laid aside for a considerable space, within that time. My other great mercy was, that the Lord was pleased to preserve me in a peaceful, resigned frame; so that when I was deaf, and could not be certain that I should recover my hearing any more—I was in general as cheerful and easy as at other times. This was the effect of his goodness—for though I know enough of his sovereignty, wisdom, and faithfulness, of his right to do what he pleases, and the certainty that he does all things well—to furnish me with arguments enough to prove that submission to his will is our absolute duty—yet I am sensible, that when the trial actually comes, notwithstanding all the advice I may have offered to others—that I would myself toss like a wild bull in a net; rebel and repine; forget that I am a sinner, and that God is sovereign! This, I say, would always and invariably be the case—unless he was graciously pleased to fulfill his Word, that strength shall be given to me, according to needs of the day.

I hope my deafness has been instructive to me. The exercise of our senses is so easily and constantly performed, that it seems a thing of a matter of course; but I was then reminded how precarious the tenure is, by which we hold those blessings which seem most our own, and which are most immediately necessary to the comfortable enjoyment of life. Outward senses, mental faculties, health of body, and peace of mind, are extremely valuable; but the continuance of them for a single moment depends upon him who—if he opens none can shut, and when he shuts none can open. A single moment is more than sufficient to deprive us of what we hold most dear, or to prevent us from deriving the least comfort from it if it is not taken away.

I am not presuming to give you information; but only mentioning the thoughts which were much upon my mind while I was incapable of conversation. These are indeed plain and obvious truths, which I have long acknowledged as indisputable; but I have reason to be thankful when the Lord impresses them with fresh power upon my heart, even though he sees fit to do it by the medium of afflictions. I have seen of late, something of the weight and importance of that admonition, "This is what the Lord says—Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches—but let him who boasts boast about this—that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight." Jeremiah 9:23-24. This is a passage which, though addressed to the wise, the mighty, and the rich—is of universal application. For SELF, unless corrected and mortified by grace—will find something whereof to boast, in the lowest characters and situations.

And indeed, when things come to be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, the lunatics in Bedlam, some of whom boast in their straw or their chains, as marks of splendor or ensigns of royalty—have as much reason on their side, as any people upon earth who boast in themselves. This alone is the proper ground of glory and joy—a true knowledge of the true God. Then all is safe at present, and all will be happy forever. Then, whatever changes may affect our temporal concerns—our best interests and hopes are secured beyond the reach of change; and whatever we may lose or suffer during this little span of time—will be abundantly compensated in that glorious state of eternity which is just at hand!