John Newton's Letters

The Duke of Sully

December, 1772
Dear sir,
I lately employed some of my leisure hours (which, when I am not indolent, are but few) in reading the Memoirs of the Duke of Sully, which occasionally came in my way. It afforded me matter for variety of reflections. I pity the Duke of Sully, whose attachment to the name of Protestant seems to have been little more than a point of honor, who drew all his resources from himself, and whose chief aim seems to have been to approve himself faithful to an earthly master. He acted as well as could be expected from natural principles; and the Lord, who employed him as an instrument of his providence, rewarded his fidelity with success, honor, and riches--a reward which, though in itself a poor one, is suited to the desires of men who place their happiness in worldly things, and is so far a compensation of their services.

It is given to you, to act from nobler principles, and with more enlarged views. You serve a Master, of whose favor, protection, and assistance you cannot be deprived; who will not overlook or misconstrue the smallest service you attempt for him; who will listen to no insinuations against you; who is always near to comfort, direct, and strengthen you; and who is preparing for you such honors and blessings as he only can give--an eternal inheritance (the reverse of all earthly good). Thus animated and thus supported, assisted likewise by the prayers of thousands, may we not warrantably hope that you will be an instrument of great good, and that both church and state will be benefitted by your example, counsels, and care?

In another view, the Duke of Sully's history exhibits a comment upon the Psalmist's words, "Surely man in his best estate--is altogether vanity!" View him in one light, he seems to have possessed all that the most aspiring mind could aim at--the favor and confidence of his prince, accumulated wealth, great honors, and such power, by his offices and influence with the King, that he could almost do what he pleased. Yet he had so much to suffer from the fatigues and difficulties of his station, and the cabals and malice of his enemies, that, in the midst of all his grandeur, a dispassionate mind would rather pity than envy him. And how suddenly were his schemes broken by the death of the King! Then he lost his friend, his protector, his influence. The remainder of his days were embittered by many inquietudes: he lived indeed (if that could afford any consolation) in much state and pageantry afterwards; but, after having toiled through more than fourscore years, died at last of a broken heart from domestic uneasiness. And is this all that the world can do for those who are accounted most successful! Alas! Too low they build--who build below the skies!

And what a picture of the instability of human things, have we in his master, Henry! Admired, beloved, dreaded; full of vast designs; fondly supposing himself born to be the arbiter of Europe--in an awful moment, and in the midst of his friends, suddenly struck from the height of his grandeur, and snatched into the invisible, unchangeable world! In that moment all his thoughts and designs perished!

How unspeakably awful, is such a transition! How remarkable were his own foreboding of the approaching hour! O Lord, how do you pour contempt upon princes, and teach us that the great and the small are equally in your hands, and at your disposal, as clay in the hands of the potter! Poor king! while he expected obedience to his own commands--he lived in habitual defiance of the commands of God. Men may respect his memory, for his sincerity, benevolence, and other amiable qualities; but, besides that he was engrossed by a round of sensual pleasure (when business of state did not interfere), his life was stained with adultery. Happy, if in the hours he spent in retirement, when the pre-intimation of his death hung heavy upon his mind--if the Lord would have humbled and softened his heart, and gave him repentance unto life! I wish the history afforded a proof of this. However, in his death we see an affecting proof, that no human dignity or power can ward off the stroke of the Almighty, who by such sudden and unexpected dispensations, often shows himself dreadful to the princes and great men of the earth. O that they could see His hand--and wisely consider his works in them!

But happy is the man who fears the Lord, and delights in his commandments; who sets God always before him, and acts under the constraining influence of Redeeming Love! He is the real friend and the best champion of his country--who makes, not the vague notions of human wisdom and honor--but the precepts and example of the blessed Jesus--the model and the motive of his conduct. He inculcates (as occasion offers) the great truths of Christian religion in his conversation, and demonstrates them by his practice; yet the best part of his life is known only to God and himself. His time is divided between serving his country in public, and wrestling for it in private.

Nor shall his labors or his prayers be lost. Either he shall have the desire of his heart, and shall see the religion and the liberty which he so highly values transmitted to posterity; or, if he should live when wrath is decreed, and there is no remedy, the promise and the providence of God shall seal him as the peculiar charge of angels, in the midst of public calamity. And when all things are involved in confusion, when the hearts of the wicked shall shake like the leaves of the forest--he shall be kept in perfect peace, trusting in the Lord.