Letters of John Newton, to Rev. William Barlass
January 13, 1778
My dear Friend,
I hoped to have answered your letter sooner, but even now I break through almost indispensable engagements. Were I only to consult my inclinations, I could almost weary you with letters. Whenever I delay, I wish you to impute it to any cause, rather than negligence.
Your farther account of the state and aims of the Secession is very acceptable to me. Be assured that my heart is with you and your brethren, and more especially with those, who, like you, can look over the pales of an enclosure, and rejoice in the Lord's work where he is pleased to carry it on, under some difference of forms.
For myself, though I am sure I am where his own hand of providence placed it, and had reasons which I trust he approves, for exercising my ministry in our established church yet I do not consider myself as appropriated to any party; and had the openings of his providence so guided me, I believe I could, with equal cheerfulness, have served him either in the Church of Scotland, or among the Seceders, and been very well content, without either hierarchy or surplice. My chief difficulty would have been to join with any who are for confining the church of Christ within their own limits.
From the imperfect accounts I had of the Seceders, before I was pleasured with your correspondence, I was led to think that they were blamable in this respect; but I have now abundant reason to be satisfied, that some of them, at least, are far otherwise minded.
We have bigots (good men I hope in the main) of all denominations, and a few of a more enlarged spirit, who, while they follow their light, and wish to approve themselves to their own Master, are willing to receive others, as He receives themselves without doubtful disputations, and consider the exercise of mutual love and forbearance, as among the brightest evidences, and fairest fruits of grace.
At present, the general appearance of the established Church in England, can have nothing in it very inviting to spiritual persons, who have not acquired some previous goodwill to it by education. But I believe this is not owing to its outward form, but to the lack of the Gospel, and to the absence of the Holy Spirit, whose influences are only found concurring with the declaration of his own truth. I believe if all our bishops were such men as Leighton, and all our parochial ministers experimental preachers of the grace of God the constitution of the church would be found no way to interfere with the general edification of the people; and without the influence of the Spirit, and ministers filled with faith and grace, it signifies little whether the outward administrations of church matters are in the hands of bishops, or synods, or general assemblies.
The Jewish church service was formed upon a confessedly Divine institution; the place, the temple, the seasons, the sacrifices, the priesthood, were all, by express direction from the Lord. But when they lost sight of spirituality, and rested in outward services in vain they said, "The temple of the Lord are we!" when the Lord of the temple had forsaken them, and declared himself displeased with his own appointments.
At Olney, (and it is much the same in all the parishes where the Lord has placed awakened ministers) we are a church within a church. I preach to many, but those whose heart the Lord touches are the people of my peculiar charge; and though I have no authoritative jurisdiction over them yet the Lord gives me that weight by the word of the ministry, that they are, in general, as much unwilling to grieve me, as if I was armed with the plenitude of ecclesiastical power.
Indeed I desire no power as a minister, but what I derive from the power of the word upon their consciences. I do not seem to rule them, but when my desire is known it is seldom crossed, and I believe many of them could not sleep in their beds if they thought they had displeased me. And though I have not a positive right by my office as a clergyman, to exclude any from the Lord's table yet he has been pleased so to enforce what I have said from the pulpit, that few come there without my approbation. Perhaps there are not many assemblies in the kingdom where there are fewer come to that ordinance, whom the minister would wish absent, than at Olney. So that without any explicit discipline, the end which discipline should aim at is, in a tolerable degree, answered.
On the other hand, my superiors in the church, leave me at full liberty to preach and manage, within my own parish, as I please. The bishop usually comes into the neighborhood once in three years, the archdeacon annually. At those times I wait on them, dine with them, and then return home. This is all the weight of church power that I feel. Except for about four days in three years, I know no more of a superior, than if I was an archbishop myself.
The above was written about a two weeks ago, I hope I shall now be able to finish the sheet. I am much obliged to you for your very kind sentiments respecting me and Mrs. Newton. It would give me great pleasure to see you, but if we do not meet in this life then a time, or rather an eternity, is coming, when all the chosen race shall meet around the throne! We shall then be perfectly intimate, and perfectly of the same mind. There will not be a cloud to weaken our light, not one infirmity or mistake to cause the smallest jar in all the numerous assembly. Then there will be no call or room for the exercise of mutual forbearance. All will be harmony, joy, and love. The song of the redeemed on high, loud as from numbers without number, sweet as from blessed voices will be ever new, ever singing, and not one jarring discordant note shall be heard.
In the present life we have need of patience, but there we shall have nothing to try us. Our Lord could free his people, if it were his will, from sin and sorrow upon earth, as perfectly as in Heaven. But our troubles and difficulties are occasions which he appoints, for the proof, growth, and manifestation of his grace in us and likewise of making his love, care, tenderness, and power, more manifest to ourselves. In like manner, he could remove every prejudice, and give equal degrees of light to all his people, so that there should be no difference among them either about doctrine or discipline. But were this the case, their uniformity would not afford them such opportunities of approving their obedience to him, and their love to each other, as they may draw from their lesser differences.
But alas! Remaining corruptions, and the subtlety of Satan, operate so strongly that the sheep of Christ think they do him service, by worrying and tearing one another! Alas, when self fights in holy armor, and the cause of our own unsanctified passions is honored with the specious name of the cause of God and truth then religious zeal breathes forth indignation, envy, and wrath. Then Satan is transformed into an angel of light, and men suppose themselves to be men abounding in duty, in proportion as they depart from that spirit of love, which is the chief criterion and characteristic of the religion of Jesus.
I remember a passage somewhere in ancient history, of a battle fought in the night; both parties were resolute, many were the slain and wounded on both sides, both congratulated themselves on the mischief they had done to their opponents. At length the day broke, and turned their joy into sorrow. They then found to their confusion that their animosity had been wholly owing to fighting in the dark before they had made proper inquiry, for though they had mistaken each other for enemies, they were friends and allies, engaged in the same cause, and had been weakening each other for the advantage of the common enemy.
Alas, when we have done with this state of darkness, and come to acknowledge each other in the light of glory, were shame, regret, and remorse, compatible with that state, many of the Lord's people would have room enough for grief, upon a review of their conduct while here, to reflect how they once treated many of their brethren, who were equally dear to Him as themselves.
Blessed be his name he thinks better of us than we do of one another. He knows our frame, pities our weakness, and multiplies to us the pardons which we daily need, and will not hear or receive our mutual accusations. But they are happiest who are favored with most of that mild, merciful spirit, which shone in all Jesus' conduct when he was conversant upon earth.
Death, as you observe, is a solemn subject, and the dying hour will be a solemn hour. In our common trials, we derive some support and encouragement from our past experience. But no part of our past experience can help us to form a right conception of what it is to die! It will be a perfectly new circumstance, quite different from all we have known before. In vain we employ our imagination upon this point; we can perhaps in some measure, realize to our thoughts the moment before death, but how we shall feel, and to what we shall be introduced, the moment afterward, is inconceivable. There thought fails, the mind shudders, and starts back, as from the brink of a precipice! That wonderful union between soul and body must be dissolved, but at present the soul is at a loss as to how it will manage when deprived of those organs, which have hitherto been the inlet of all its perceptions.
But faith gets over these difficulties. Though none of our departed friends return to tell us how it is Jesus, our best friend, has died before us, and for us. He has taken away the sting that nature fears. The death of his saints is precious in his sight; the time, the place, the manner, every circumstance belonging to it, is already appointed by infinite wisdom and love; and he has promised to be with us. When we approach very near Jordan, we shall see the ark of the covenant in the waters to keep them low until we are passed over.
Abraham went forth, not knowing where he went, it was enough that he knew whom he followed. This will be our case, dying will be the last, the highest, the crowning act of faith. And though our curiosity is not gratified as to particulars yet we know, in general, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We shall then instantly see him as he is, and we shall then be like him and with him forever. Isaiah 60:18-20. Is not this a consummation devoutly to be wished?
May the Lord help us to die daily, and to live every day as though it were to be our last to live while we do live, and fill up the hours as they pass in his service, doing all we do for his sake. The rest we may cheerfully leave to him, who will be sure to do all things well.
I wish you in your next letter, to help us to form an idea of your person and situation. Is it an impertinent curiosity, or the effect of regard, that we want to know whether you are tall or short, fat or lean, married or single, of what age, and how long you have been walking Zionward? In these points, and twenty other etceteras, you may gratify us if you please, when you have leisure.
I am sorry to return you but one sheet for two; but if I waited for leisure to fill another, you would think me too long in acknowledging your kindness. I have some thoughts of tacking a few hints together for the press, to persuade Christians (if possible) to love one another, for the truth and the Lord's sake, to suspend their hostilities about forms and to unite, heart and hand, against their common foe. If the Lord enables me to accomplish my purpose, I will endeavor to give you notice.
In the mean time, I beg you to pray for me. I am a poor creature, very far from deserving the favorable opinion you entertain of me, but I hope I am daily crying for mercy, and that, though I am poor and needy the Lord thinks of me. We join in love to you. Remember me to your friends, and believe me to be,
Your very affectionate and obliged,
My dear Sir,
I congratulate you on your entrance into the ministry, and upon the trials as well as the encouragements you have met with. Both are necessary. The tongue of the learned, which can speak a word in season to weary souls, is only acquired in the schools of experience and the cross. We ourselves must feel in order to feel for others. In this view our great Teacher and High-Priest is set forth to us, as one who learned by suffering, and as able to support others, because tempted himself.
I rejoice that you are determined chiefly to tell the people of Jesus Christ crucified and to leave controversy and dispute to others.
I compare the rules which have been, or may be offered, either to ministers or believers to shoes; they must be accommodated to the foot, or else, though the shoe may look well, it will not set well.
The rules of God's Word, indeed, reveal their Divine origin in this respect, that being founded upon an exact knowledge of the heart of man, and the nature of his present state they are applicable to all persons, times, and circumstances; no real inconvenience follows from observing them, but the neglect of them is always of ill consequence.
But the rules of men are too personal, partial, and short-sighted to deserve our notice any farther than as hints, which we may follow, or not, just as we find them suit. I should be glad to entrust you with my judgment, in any point which might occasionally arise. But to offer you such copious advice as you desire concerning the matter and manner of preaching, would not only be assuming too much, but would be acting contrary to my judgment and professed principles.
I have formerly fettered myself by following other people's rules, and therefore ought not to shackle my friend by prescribing to you. You have the word of grace, the throne of grace, and the Spirit of grace with you. Under this Divine direction, what passes within you and around you, will furnish you with better rules for your own management, than you could possibly receive from the wisest man upon earth, who was not exactly in your situation.
The one question you have specified, rather surprised me as coming from Scotland; where I thought written sermons were only of a late date, and even now only in use among those who, having departed from the great truths of the Gospel, are of course necessitated to live upon their own funds. I will so far answer it, as to tell you simply how I have been led.
My first attempt as a preacher was in a Dissenting meeting-house at Leeds. I attempted it wholly extemporaneously. But I thought I had my general and particular heads very methodically ranged in my mind. I set off tolerably well, though with no small fear and trembling. But I soon feared and trembled much more, for after speaking about ten minutes, my mouth was stopped. I stared at the people and they at me, but not a word more could I speak, but was forced to come down, and leave the people, some smiling, and some weeping. My pride and self-sufficiency were sorely mortified, and for two years afterward I could not look at the place without feeling the heart-ache. This disaster made me conclude it would be absolutely impossible for me ever to preach without notes. Accordingly I began to compose sermons at full length.
The next time I was asked to preach, I did not feel much trepidation. I had my discourse in my pocket, and did not much doubt but I was able to read it. And I read it sure enough. But being near-sighted, and rather ashamed to hold up my notes in view, I held my head close down to the cushion, and when I began, I dared not take my eye off for a moment, being impressed with a fear that I would not readily fix it again upon the right part of the page. So that I hardly saw anybody in the place during the whole time; and I looked much more like a dull schoolboy poring over his lesson, than a preacher of the Gospel. I was not much less disconcerted this time than the former.
At length the Lord put it in my heart to have a meeting for a few select friends in my own house on the Lord's day evening, which I continued for about the last three years I lived at Liverpool. And in these exercises, he was pleased in some measure to open my mouth. When I came to Olney, and long afterward, I used to write about as much as I have now written, upon the texts before I preached; but for some years past, I have seldom written a page.
Very often, I cannot fix upon my text before I am in the pulpit; and have frequently begun, when I have known no more what I would say, or how I would handle the subject, than any of the people before me. This not of choice or through indolence, but of necessity. And at some such seasons, so far as I can judge of myself, I have preached to as much advantage, as if I had studied my sermon for a month!
Various have been the methods my wise and gracious Lord has taken, to break down my spirit of self-dependence, and to hide pride from me. If my mind was in a right frame towards the Lord, I think I would not be greatly embarrassed if called to preach at five minutes warning to the most respectable congregation. But often it is otherwise with me, and I am forced to venture, with my heart sadly out of tune. How often, and how justly might he stop my mouth, and put me to shame before the people! But he is merciful.
I am now busy in transcribing the hymns for the press. They will make a pretty sizeable volume, and if health and opportunity are afforded, I hope they will be published in the spring. As you will then see them all, I may fill up the paper with plain prose in the interval.
The letters of correspondence, I think will not appear until after the hymns. My letters to Mrs. Newton are not at all suited for the view of the public. I know not the law or rule about book property. If the right is originally in the author, I certainly never parted with mine. I do not mean to make any transfer of right, but you have my consent to do what you please with any of my books. The review was published upon a joint account; though no formal agreement passed. As I never received advantage from it, I suppose the bookseller can have no right to interfere against a publication in Scotland. And if it might be (as you think,) useful to others, that is the profit I chiefly aim at in writing.
I published six sermons (as intended for the pulpit) before I was in orders, soon after I was refused upon my first application. These I suppose you have not seen they are out of print. I have one copy, but know not how to send it to you. If you come hither you shall have it.
My dear friend,
Your letter followed me to Leicester. This county, in which we purposed spending a month, was seven years ago a very dark land. But the Lord has since caused the light of his Gospel to shine at Leicester, and in three or four other towns. He placed Mr. Robinson at Leicester, a young man of Cambridge, whom he furnished with abilities, zeal, and meekness suited to the station. For as he was only minister at first, it seemed no easy matter so to obviate the prejudices of an ignorant and numerous people, as to be able to maintain his standing, and at the same time to be faithful to their souls. But the Lord was with him, and therefore he prospered. And the Lord has since fixed him, and given him one of the five churches there for his own. He has been and is very useful; preaches to large congregations, and there are a number of people who are turned from darkness to light, and walk worthy of the Gospel.
This place fell to the lot of Dr. Ford of Oxford, whose name perhaps may have reached you. He was intimate with the late Archbishop of Canterbury, and was apparently in the high road to preferment. But when the Lord revealed his Gospel to him, and gave him a thirst for the good of souls, those who thought to promote him to honor, were offended. He expects to live and die here, and as this is all he has a prospect of, so I believe it is all he wishes for. He has a higher honor than the world can give that of winning souls for Christ.
I spent ten or twelve days at Leicester, and preached nine times on my way there. I am willing to sketch a hasty answer to your questions while I am abroad.
I am glad an acquaintance has commenced between you and the people at Anstruther; I hope it will grow into a friendship, profitable to them, and mutually agreeable. And if we are spared to see another year, I shall hope it will bring you to Olney. Even one year seems a long space in future though twenty years, when they are passed, appear but as a span. How often have I been weak enough to wish the interval away, which stood between me and some pleasure I had expectation of. I wish to be freed from this weakness, and therefore, though I long to see you, I will try to wait patiently from day to day until the time come. For I am well satisfied in my judgment, that the Lord's time must be best.
If I could prevent or cure your illness by a word or a wish, I would do it. But perhaps my intention would be better than my judgment. For have I not good reason to believe that you will never be ill, when health upon the whole is best for you? That we are well a single day, is of the Lord's blessing; and every illness, both as to the season, degree, and continuance, is of his appointment likewise. When he sees it needful to remind us of our frailty and our dependence upon him he will do it. And when his gracious end in sending affliction is answered he will remove it. Until then, means and medicines cannot remove what he lays upon us for good. Then, though medicines and physicians have all failed, he will send his word and heal us.
Happy state of those who love him. Every changing dispensation is to them, an effect of the same unceasing care and attention towards them. To his gracious care therefore I commend and entrust you, not doubting but he will give you reason to say he does all things well.
I would encourage you by all means to aim at extemporaneous preaching. The great difficulty seems to be owing to unbelief, and an undue regard to self. Both of which are perhaps strengthened by the custom and example of those around us. We see that pleaders in the courts of justice, and speakers in parliament, can express themselves with propriety and ease for an hour or two, or longer, on the subjects which they understand and have at heart. There are doubtless many merchants who could at a minute's warning and without premeditation, furnish out a long discourse upon the nature and advantages of commerce. I can see no reason why ministers of the Gospel should be the only people who must be necessarily confined to notes and schemes; or why, if we can talk upon other subjects, and declare what we have seen, heard, and felt in common life with liberty we should be subject to a peculiar restraint with regard to those points which our experience and study are always conversant with.
I would think the importance of the Gospel in itself, and our call and appointment of the Lord to preach it would rather enlarge our faculties, and draw forth the fullest exertion of our powers than limit their exercise. Why should a man who is continually attending to these things, and labors to be immersed in them be always obliged to read the sentiments he has previously formed of them? Besides, we have a promise of the Lord's presence and influence to assist, and in a degree to inspire us when we are simply devoted to his service, and are employed in it. There will be something of an awkwardness and hesitation at the first, like that of a person who is beginning to learn to swim, but habit and frequency will make it more easy.
I do not mean, however, that we shall ever acquire by use, such a mechanical readiness as will free us from all difficulty. A man who has employed many years in making baskets or tables, is so far master of his work, that he is morally certain beforehand of success in his next attempt. I believe it may be so in a good measure with public speakers, whose business lies in temporals, and whose dependence is upon their own funds.
But this kind of ability would not be desirable for a minister of the Gospel, because it would not be safe. Our dependence must be upon the Lord we are strongest, when we feel ourselves weak; and best qualified for service, when most sensible that without him we can do nothing. He will fulfill his promise of assistance; but then at times he may so far suspend it, as to make us feel that when we do well we have nothing to ascribe to ourselves.
An extemporaneous preacher is subject to mortifying disappointments; and if at one time he comes down from the pulpit a little elated, and not at all displeased to hear the sermon spoken of; at another, he will wish to hide himself, and hardly bear to be looked at. At least this will be the case for a time; and until the Lord by a variety of gracious and wholesome discipline, has in some good measure broken the spirit of self, and made him indifferent what his fellow-creatures think of him, provided whether he preaches with liberty or not he has grace to be faithful.
It may happen likewise, that when you have a very poor plain small congregation before you, you may speak with so much enlargement and pertinency, that you may be tempted to think your sermon almost thrown away upon them, and secretly wish you had had the Synod for your auditory, who would have been more competent judges of your performance. Afterward, if called to preach to a very respectable assembly, and when you are very willing to make good the expectations which report may have raised concerning you, the Lord may see fit to let you appear among them straitened, barren and confused.
To these trials you will be always exposed, though you may not perhaps be often actually pinched with them. The Lord does not put us to needless pain. If we are preserved humble and self-abased he will usually afford his presence in the work, and inspire us with a befitting confidence and freedom. But if self lifts up its head, if pride creeps in, if we go forth as if we were wise or good, leaning to our abilities, experience, and former services then it is very merciful in him, by leaving us a little to ourselves, to remind us what poor creatures we are.
With respect to conversing with the sick, I know of no rule comparable with that of James 1:5. I mean that circumstances are so various, that a proper judgment can hardly be formed, but upon the spot.
Mrs. Cunningham complained to you that we are tardy in writing. And I complain to you of her, that she is at least equally guilty of the same fault. Please admonish her the next time you see her. Of late, however, both she and I have been tolerably punctual.
My dear wife is tolerably well. One view in our present excursion, was for the benefit of her health. I thought exercise, change of air, and objects, might be serviceable to her, by the Lord's blessing; and I hope it will prove so. I must break off we join in love present mine to all your friends, who think kindly of me on your account.
I am, Dear Sir, Your affectionate friend and servant,
John Newton, May 1, 1779.
My dear Sir,
How long have I been wishing to write to you! At length the time I hope has come, at least to begin my letter; but interruptions are so frequent here, it may possibly be some time yet before I can finish it. How different is my situation here, from what it was at Olney! O my beloved leisure, my sweet retirements! How would I regret your loss, if I was not checked by the thought that the post I am in must needs be the best upon the whole, because the Lord has assigned it for me!
I am necessitated now to be often abroad, and when at home frequently taken up with visitants, so that I have little time for writing, or even for reading the good word of God.
Mr. Culbert informed me of your fall, but gave me the pleasing assurance that you had received no injury, but what it was hoped a little time would repair. I long for a confirmation of this hope under your own hand. I was prepared to sympathize with you, by a fall which I had soon after my coming to this house, at my own door, which dislocated my shoulder but the painful dispensation was sweetened with so many mercies, that I was not permitted to regret it, no, not for an hour.
I trust you likewise found the grace of our Lord sufficient for you, and your strength made proportionable to your day. May we both have reason to praise him for our trials, and to place them, as well as our comforts, in the list of his tender mercies. Nothing befalls us by chance! The Lord was as near us, as attentive to us, when we fell, as at other times. How often have we gone out and come in, in safety; so often perhaps that we were apt to look on it as a matter of course, and the Lord saw that a little change was needful, to quicken the sense of our dependence upon him, and our gratitude for our daily preservation.
Perhaps Satan was spreading some dangerous snare for our feet, and the Lord our keeper took this course to disappoint him. Or perhaps it was a means of preserving us from some greater harm, which might otherwise have overtaken us. However, if we cannot assign the particular reason now we shall know hereafter; and at present we may be assured that he does all things well.
My arm is now nearly as well as the other, though there are a few motions which it is not yet quite capable of with ease. In time it may be quite well; and if not, it is well enough for common use. The small remaining inconvenience will be sufficiently balanced, if it may be a standing memento, and sanctified to the making me attentive to the Lord's hand.
The little hindrances which occurred about the publication in Scotland, have been entirely surmounted and removed by the obliging attention of Mr. More, whose care and kindness deserve my warmest acknowledgment. My letters have been some time in the press, and I suppose will be published in about six or eight weeks there will be two volumes. I might have enlarged my collection to four or six; but I think two volumes are sufficient.
Yes, my friend, I am now in London the last place I would have chosen for myself, but the Lord who led me hither, has reconciled me so far, that I seem now to prefer it to the country. My apparent opportunities for usefulness are doubtless much enlarged, and here I am likely to see most of my friends, who are fixed in different and distant places, but are, upon one occasion or other, usually led to London in the course of the year.
While I was writing I was called away, and now, after an interval of nine days, I hope to finish and forward my letter. It is a time of trial at Olney, but I believe there is a need be for it. I had provided a minister to succeed me, but the people were infatuated to refuse him, though they knew him, and could not but respect him. Now they wish for him, but it is too late. His name is Scott, a neighboring minister, whom the Lord was pleased to call and teach himself. I showed Mr. Culbert the narrative of his conversion, which he lately published by the title of The force of Truth. It is in my judgment one of the clearest, most striking, and satisfactory accounts of a supernatural change, that has appeared in print at any time, and I wish it may have found its way into Scotland.
This man, however, the Olney people wished might not be their minister. The Lord gave them their wish. They have another, who is in the list of Gospel preachers, but a very different man from Mr. Scott. They are not happy with him, nor can they be so. But they must bear their burden until the death of Mr. Browne, the vicar who appointed him. Then I hope the Lord will give them a proper shepherd again, and by that time I trust they will be prepared to receive and value such a one.
They behaved, in the main, affectionately to me; and I loved them so, that it was in my heart, and in my prayers, to live and die with them. But our privileges were great, and the enjoyment of them for a long course of years without interruption, made them seem to too many as a matter of course. Weeds sprang up offences appeared. I hope it was in mercy to them, as well as a mercy to me, that the Lord removed me. They now feel the difference.
Such, alas! is the deplorable evil of the human heart, that we are prone to underestimate upon our privileges, and can seldom long enjoy our own wishes without hazard. This makes changes necessary; and under the management of our wise and great Shepherd crosses prove to be comforts, losses prove to be gains, apparent hindrances prove to be real helps; and the dark, dark cloud of disappointment brings us showers of blessings.
I am wonderfully at peace in my new settlement, and I hope not unuseful. My lecture on the Lord's day evening is much crowded. My congregation is made up from various and discordant parties, who in the midst of differences can agree in one point, to hear patiently a man who is of no party. I say little to my hearers of the things wherein they differ, but aim to lead them all to a growing and more experimental knowledge of the Son of God, and a life of faith in him.
The physician's business is with the body itself how to preserve or restore health. The care of the dress, the knowledge of fashions, a skillful contrivance about the size, shape, or color of the coat is the business of the tailor.
But I cannot submit to be a tailor in divinity. If I see my patients thriving in the power of godliness then I leave them to the Lord and their own consciences as to the form.
My thoughts often make excursions north of Tweed, where the Lord has given me hearts and friends whom I probably shall never see in the flesh. But there is a day coming, when all the chosen race shall meet before the throne! Oh, what a beautiful day indeed! May the prospect of it animate our pursuits, and spiritualize our aims.
Yet, why do I speak of seeing each other ? We shall then see Jesus. We shall see him as he is. We shall be like him, and be with him forever. Oh, what a beautiful day indeed! we may say again. Who can state the disproportion between the light and momentary sufferings of the present life and the exceeding weight and eternal duration of the glory which shall then be revealed!
Adieu, believe me yours sincerely,
Charles's Square, Hoxton, London, August 17, 1780.
The first thing upon my mind is to express my gratitude that the Lord has healed your broken bones. I trust the experience that painful dispensation gave you, both of your own weakness and of his goodness will be long remembered, and of daily use.
How blessed we would be if we would consider every event and occurrence in life as a messenger from Him, to give us some farther intimation of His will, or some farther illustration of His Word.
We are always in His school, and might be always learning; but we are too often ready to think ourselves out of school, and then, like heedless children, we think little about our lesson. But the rule of our Master allows us no playdays or seasons of absolute vacation and it is to our loss if we allow ourselves any.
Could our eye and heart be fixed upon Him from day to day, from morning to night we would profit apace. We might learn not only in the closet, or in the sanctuary but in the street, and upon the road.
All the dispensations which we call extraordinary are mercifully designed to recall our attention, to quicken our spiritual industry, and to advance our spiritual progress. And though some of them are at the time not joyous, but grievous they are all equally good and gracious.
I believe the Lord will, in his own hour, give you the habit of
extemporaneous preaching, which is as desirable in your situation, as it is in mine. For, perhaps, I preach more frequently than you. To commit your sermons to memory, must be a heavy burden indeed; it seems to me more inconvenient than reading them. And I think I could read with more spirit and probability of impressing the auditory, than if I repeated them by heart, as we commonly say, though in propriety I would rather call it repeating by head, for my heart would have but little concern in it.
But if you will be an extemporaneous preacher, you must risk, and even suffer, something. You must not despise the day of small things, nor expect that liberty and compass in your service at first, which you may afterward, by the Lord's blessing, attain to. To him who has, who uses when he has more shall be given.
When there is a competent stock of knowledge and ideas in the mind, and a person is not destitute of the gift of utterance, the chief hindrance and difficulty, as to extemporaneous preaching, arises from an undue regard to self. That thought "What will my fellow-worms think of me and my performance," will be ready to stop our mouths! This you must pray against, and the Lord will deliver you from it.
Indeed, what high treason against our Lord are we often guilty of! We profess a zeal for his glory, and for the good of souls. We know that we are charged with a message of the utmost importance and yet we are apt to be more concerned about the manner of delivering it, than for the spiritual profit of our hearers!
If you were apprized that a person was coming to consult you in your study, about his soul concerns it is probable you would not pen down what you wished to say to him, and commit it to memory beforehand; but you would talk to him according to the view his conversation would give you of his case. And, perhaps, what you would then say to a single person, with little premeditation, might be as useful and acceptable to a thousand, if they could hear it, as the most studious sermon you could compose!
The Lord has brought you into the ministry, and given you a sincere desire to serve him in it. Depend upon him, therefore, so to bless your studies at other times, as that you may be enabled to speak for him in public with composure and discretion, and he will not disappoint you. An act of simple faith upon him, will give you more ability, than many hours rummaging for something out of your own stock. When we have the fountain of living waters running near by us why should we weary ourselves with hewing out broken cisterns?
Yet you may begin gradually. Continue to write your sermons, only abridge the quantity. When you have fixed your scheme and plan, as you proceed to write on the several particulars, leave room, sometimes under one head, sometimes under another, for such enlargement as the Lord shall afford you at the time of preaching. You will probably find some of these additions the most animated, acceptable, and noticed parts of your discourse. And this will encourage you to go on writing less and speaking more.
It is thus some people learn to swim. Man, by nature, is buoyant, and as capable of swimming as a duck. But people at first are afraid of the water, and think swimming is an acquired art. Whereas the chief art is, by practice to get rid of those fears, which, by bereaving us of confidence and presence of mind, make that impracticable, which would otherwise be easy.
A young swimmer, surrounded with corks, as he stands ready to jump into the water, is an emblem of a preacher mounting the pulpit with his sermon in his pocket, or in his head. Yet I would not hastily take the youth's corks away let him begin so, by degrees he will venture with less quantity of cork, and at length without any.
Why should not preachers do the same, but be encumbered with their corks to the end of life. I would advise you likewise, as you have opportunity in houses and families, to read the Scriptures to a few friends in an expository way, not obliging yourself to explain or enlarge upon every verse in the chapter, but just to drop a hint here and there occasionally as the thought offers to your mind, without any previous contrivance or reflection. This will habituate you to the sound of your own voice.
You cannot conceive until you try, how imperceptibly and surely you will find the practice more and more easy. At first you may hardly know how to begin; in a little time you may find it almost as difficult when to stop. Only remember, that while you use the means, your real actual help must come not from the exertion of your own abilities, but from the Lord who made Heaven and earth. Exodus 4:10, 11. If your heart is right with him, you will first creep, then walk, then run and sometimes you will mount as with eagle's wings!
Think of lawyers at the bar, and speeches in parliament these have no promise from God; they lean to their own understanding. Yet how forcibly and pertinently will they speak for an hour or two, or more. And sometimes occasions so vary, and they meet with such unexpected terms, that we are sure neither their notes nor their memories could much help them. But they understand their subject, and they have it at heart, and are previously furnished with general knowledge, which they adapt to the present occasion.
I am sure you have a competent fund of Scripture knowledge, and by what I hear of you, I judge you are not tongue-tied outside of the pulpit. Therefore I do not doubt, but if you earnestly pray and strive in this matter you will succeed. You have your fightings and your fears, especially at first, and they will sometimes return upon you. But, in the main, you will be approved as an able minister of the New Testament.
My first essay as a preacher was in a dissenting meeting-house, at Leeds, in Yorkshire, in the year 1758. I do not know that I had a very overweening opinion of my own abilities; I feared and trembled abundantly but I was determined to set off extemporaneously. I did so. I opened my discourse with a passable preface, divided my subject into four heads, had subdivisions under each in my mind, and was beginning to think I would do pretty well. But before I had spoken ten minutes I was stopped, like Hannibal upon the Alps. My ideas forsook me, darkness and confusion filled up their place. I stood on a precipice, and could not advance a step forward. I stared at the people, and they at me. But I remained as silent as Friar Bacons head, and was forced to come down unfinished. My two worst enemies, self and Satan, seized me at the bottom of the stairs. I hope the Lord has forgiven the abominations of my heart, which showed themselves on that occasion.
This experiment seemed, at the time, fully to convince me, not only of my temerity, but that I was absolutely unable to preach extemporaneously, that I always would be so, and that I might as well attempt to fly! I then began to compose my sermon, and my next sermon (in another place) was with a written sermon. I was not so much afraid this time, for I knew I could read if my eyes did not suddenly fail me. So I read them a sermon. The moment I began my eyes were riveted to the book, from a fear which got hold of me, that if I looked off notes, I would not readily find the line again. Thus, with my head hanging down, (for I am near-sighted) and fixed like a statue, I read over my lesson, like a boy learning to read and I did not stop until I came to the end. I think I was rather more out of conceit with myself this time, than the former. What was to be done next? I had tried the two extremes to little purpose, and there seemed to me to be no medium between them. I looked sorrowfully at my sermon notes, and said, I can't live with or without you!
I began to think my views to the ministry were presumptuous. I thought at least, that if the Lord was pleased to accept my desire to serve him, he would not accept my service, because I had been so vile a creature; just as he accepted David's desire to build his house, but did not employ him because he had shed blood. And yet, notwithstanding all disappointments and discouragements, he was pleased at length to admit me into his vineyard, and to open my mouth.
However, I should tell you, that long after he had given me some liberty of speech, and not many years ago, at Olney, in the midst of my own people, and before a full congregation my mouth was stopped again. That is, my mind was so confused I only talked nonsense, and thought it my duty to tell the people I could not preach, because the Lord suspended his assistance. I therefore stopped, and told them so. When I had made this acknowledgment, I had liberty again, only I could not resume the subject I had been upon. But I spoke freely on what had happened, and perhaps it was one of our best opportunities. It was so to me. My pride was humbled, my mind perfectly composed, and I went home as easy as if the whole parish had admired my sermon.
Many difficulties have I had about preaching; nor am I wholly without them still. I must add, that I do not wish to be quite free from difficulties. To be an extemporaneous preacher, with some degree of acceptance and popularity, is an ensnaring situation. It affords much grounds for the workings of pride and self-delight and therefore it is a mercy if the Lord is pleased to give us frequent proofs of our own inability, notwithstanding what we can do when he puts forth his power in us.
Experience likewise proves, that we do not always preach best when we are most pleased with our own doings at least if we account it the best preaching when we are most useful. Such I think should be the standard.
When is a fisherman's best fishing-time! I think, not when he has the best rods, hooks, or lines, nor even when he has the pleasentest weather but when he catches the greatest quantity of good fish.
When we have made a poor sermon, and are almost afraid or ashamed to look our hearers in the face, the Lord may put forth his power in our weakness, and work great things by our little sermon. When we think we have done bravely, and pleased the people's ears, and sent them home to praise the fine discourse their hearts may be quite unaffected. If we were perfectly mortified to self, we would submit to be pitied or laughed at by the bulk of a congregation if we might but be useful to a few. And we should be dissatisfied with the applause of all unless we could be serviceable to some.
I wish anything I have hastily written may encourage you. I long to hear that you are freed from the drudgery of committing your sermons to memory. I long to hear that you are an extemporaneous preacher. It will save a deal of time, which might be employed to better purposes. But I would not be impatient. I hope the Lord will lead and guide you to what is best. I only say If you can believe, you shall be established.
The Lord is very gracious. I am favored with liberty and acceptance, and I trust with a degree of success. I meet with no violent opposition, and though my immediate parishioners do not attend in such numbers as I could wish, the deficiency is made up from other quarters, and I have no cause to complain for lack of hearers. The bulk of them are professors of the Gospel. My congregation on Wednesdays, and on the Lord's day evening, is made up of almost all denominations.
I now come to take notice of your queries.
1. Though we cannot fence the Lord's table by ecclesiastical authority we can, and with some good effect, guard it from the pulpit. Neither is it possible to know all our communicants personally, but I believe few come to our sacraments whom I would wish to keep away.
2. As to the state of religion in this city. There are in the Anglican church (to begin with that) but two Gospel ministers who have churches of their own Mr. Romaine and myself. I believe you need not my information concerning his abilities and success. He is an eminent preacher, and has crowded auditories. But we have about ten clergymen, who, either as morning preachers or lecturers, preach either on the Lord's day, or at different times of the week, in perhaps fifteen or sixteen churches.
The tabernacle and Tottenham Court chapel are very large; they are in the hands of Mr. Whitfield's trustees, and the Gospel is dispensed in them to many thousands of people by a diversity of ministers, clergy, dissenters, or lay preachers, who are, in general, lively, faithful, and acceptable men.
There is likewise the Lock, and another chapel, in Westminster; the former served chiefly by Mr. De Coetegen, the latter by Mr. Peckwell well attended. As is likewise Lady Huntingdon's chapel, which will hold about two thousand, and is supplied by able ministers. There is also another, not so large, in the same connection.
Mr. Wesley has one large chapel, and several smaller and though they are Arminians, as we say, there are many excellent Christians, and some good preachers, among them.
There are likewise several preachers, whom I may call Independent Methodists, of the Methodist stock, and something in the dissenting form, but stand singly, not being connected with any of the dissenting boards. I would suppose that the churches, chapels, etc. which are open on the Lord's day, for those whom the world calls Methodists, as distinct from Dissenters, will contain thirty thousand people, and in general they are all crowded.
Now for the Dissenters. The Presbyterians, excepting a few, which are called the Scotch churches are deviated widely from the way of their forefathers. Among their ministers are men of learning and abilities, but hardly any who preach the doctrines of the Cross. Their auditories are rather polite and elegant, than numerous and their profession of religion not very strict.
Experience and observation proves, that no doctrine, but Jesus Christ and him crucified will turn the stream of the heart, or withstand the stream of the world.
The Baptists are divided into general and particular the latter and sounder is, I believe, the larger part. They are a respectable people, have many good ministers, and are tenacious of the truth. They are, I think, over zealous about the point of baptism, and their numbers are kept up and increased, more by the proselytes they gain from among other denominations, than by conversions under their own preachers.
The Independents, for the most part, retain a form of sound words, though some appear verging to a declension in doctrine. I apprehend that the spiritual life is abated among them as a body. There are ministers among them very sound, judicious, and able preachers who are but poorly attended; and conformity to the evil world seems growing among those who are non-conformists in some respects.
We have further, in London, and in some other places, settlements of the Brethren, or, as they are more vulgarly called, the Moravians. These are a people little known in England; popular prejudice is strong against them, and mine was very strong once. There are some singularities in their constitution, which I do not admire some of my most endeared connections are with persons of this name and I do not know more excellent, spiritual, evangelical people in the land.
Thus I have given you my thoughts of the Lord's professing people in this city. In the great abounding of profession which prevails, there are doubtless too many who bear no nearer relation to his true church, than the chaff does to the wheat; but I hope the number of solid exemplary believers is very considerable, and I hope the Lord's work is growing and spreading both in city and country.
Every year adds to the number of evangelical clergymen, and the Lord still maintains a succession of promising young men in both of the universities; some of whom are ordained every season. Yet the number of serious students is still kept up by others, whose hearts he inclines to devote themselves to sanctuary service. This is almost the only encouraging sign we have in this dark and awful day, and it does encourage me to hope, that as sinful as we are, the Lord will not give us up to the will of our enemies, because he has a remnant, and a work among us.
3. Your next question is concerning Popery. I am not competently informed what proportion the Papists bear to other dissenters in this kingdom. But I apprehend that we are more in danger of being overrun with infidelity, than Popery. Nor do I believe the Papists are remarkably increased. I am no friend to Popish errors, but I could not in conscience join the Protestant association. I did not wish for the act in favor of the Papists; I thought it granted too much. But when it had passed, I could not join in the petition for a total repeal, and to bring upon them all the penalties to which they were before liable.
Most of the first movers of the Protestant association were my friends. I doubt not but they acted conscientiously, but I thought them mistaken in their principles. I think the Papists should be restrained from teaching the children of Protestants. But I conceive they have as good a right to judge for themselves, and to educate their own children, as I have.
It appears to me that our Lord's kingdom is not of this world, and that his subjects have no warrant from his word to inflict pains and penalties upon any sort of people in matters pertaining to conscience, of which he alone is the Lord and the Judge. The Protestant association was for a time unnoticed, at length it spread and became popular, was adopted by thousands, whose whole religion, I fear, consisted in a cry against Popery. It at length issued in those horrible riots, which will leave a lasting stain upon that part of our history. I am persuaded, the better part of the association abhorred those outrages as much as myself. And though they meant well, I considered the event as a token of the Lord's disapprobation of the methods they took.
It seemed at the time as if the giving the Papists more liberty, was the only sin the nation was guilty of, the only evil that called for redress. There was no association formed or petition thought of for the suppression of the abominable profanation of the Lord's day, of adultery, drunkenness, profaneness, or perjury no apprehension entertained of those evils which, though almost universal among us, would not have been allowed in the better days of Pagan Rome. But the allowing liberty to Papists appeared the chief thing, the one thing to be complained of and guarded against. I did not wonder at the outcome. The Lord will pour contempt upon a spirit of intolerance, even when manifested by his own people.
Mr. Culbert I love, but I seldom see him; and when I do his modesty keeps him too silent; and though I am full enough of talk when I am set a going, I am like some pumps into which you must put water, if you would have any out. I am remarkably awkward at beginning conversation.
I will answer the substance of your several queries in the gross. The negroes in Guinea, in those parts with which I have been best acquainted, (and I have reason to believe the same of other parts) have some apprehension of invisible powers, of a Providence, and of a separate state. They among whom I lived, appeared to have nothing that could be called religion; but they are strongly addicted to necromancy, divination, amulets, and charms. They are strongly influenced in the notions of magic and witchcraft. They certainly in some degree are affected by the sense of moral and immoral; they know that truth and justice are right and their opposites wrong; but it is a knowledge that has little more influence upon their practice than the like knowledge has upon many who are called Christians. I have known some of them terrified and afraid of being alone in the dark, after the commission of gross violence. But I do not know they have any idea of what we mean by the word sin, as a transgression of a law. Nor did I ever meet with the idea of communion with God as an ingredient of happiness. I believe they allow that there is a supreme power; but I do not believe they either love him, worship him, or fear him. What apprehensions they have respect subordinate powers, and agents, who are capable of hurting them.
In a word, I never perceived in them any trace of an awakened mind, or of any higher principle of their conduct than self. I am sorry to say, in answer to one of your queries, that the Europeans they have seen, instead of helping their conceptions, have generally heightened their evil dispositions, and taught them nothing but wickedness. I have frequently heard them when accused of dishonesty or falsehood, express their abhorrence of the charge, by saying, "Do you think I am a white man?" or, "Do you think I am a Christian?"
The Portuguese have indeed, on some parts of the coast, proselyted many of the natives to the name of Christian; but we generally are upon our guard against these, as the most deceitful, malicious, and revengeful of all the inhabitants. From the English, they seldom hear anything more of the name of God, or of Christ, except in a way of profane swearing, than of the name of Mahomet.
I must now conclude, lest I detain my letter another two weeks. Mrs. Newton offers her sincere love and respects. We long to see you here. Pray for us. May the Lord bless you abundantly.
I am affectionately yours,
John Newton. Charles's Square, Horton, London, Feb. 23, 1781.
How long, how often have I wished to write to you! How often upon the point of writing yet still prevented I cannot well either excuse or blame myself. I indeed waited a while for a letter from you, but when I heard you had begun one, and were disabled from finishing it, I considered the debt as paid, and that it was my turn to write again.
I have been concerned for your illness, and more so to be informed that your spirits were affected. I need not tell you that you have over-studied you know and feel it. I wish, if there is no material objection, and you are able to travel, that you would turn your face southward, and come to London. Change your air, use exercise, drop all study only take a single text of Scripture or so in the morning to feed upon all day, and live a while free from care and labor. This prescription, if you can follow it, will, I hope, by the Lord's blessing, be of great advantage to your health, and I shall have the pleasure of your company for my fee.
I see you, however, in the Lord's hands, and believe your affliction, however grievous to the flesh, is his wise appointment for your good. To him, as your best friend and infallible physician, I commend you, and believe he will lay no more upon you than he will support you under, and that the outcome shall be to your advantage. I am short-sighted, and cannot distinctly tell why He is pleased to lay you aside, after he has given you a desire to serve him, qualified you for his service, and appointed a place for you to serve him. But I know there must be a reason, whether I can see it or not. I believe and hope his design is expressed by the apostle, 2 Corinthians 1:311, He afflicts you, that he may comfort you and that you may comfort others from your own experience of his goodness. He afflicts you, that you may not trust in yourself, but in him who raises the dead. Likewise to engage the prayers of many for you, that the thanksgivings of many may afterward abound in your behalf.
These things are tokens, not of God's anger but of your being his child; not for his pleasure but for your profit, and to make you partaker of his holiness. Therefore faint not, though you are rebuked of him. But hope in his mercy, and you shall yet praise him.
I hope, among other things, the necessity of the case will constrain you to seek to him for confidence to become an extemporaneous preacher. For unless you are set free from the excessive burdens you formerly imposed upon yourself, I can hardly hope you will ever be long well. If you trust him, and honor him, by attempting to preach extemporaneously I am persuaded that you will be more comfortable in yourself, and I think more useful and acceptable to others.
Last Wednesday Mr. Jarment was at my church, and he spoke to me after service, and I have had the pleasure of his company three hours this morning. I loved Mr. Culbert, but his modesty and my reserve did not quite suit. We often looked at each other and sat silent; for though my tongue will run apace when I am set a going, I compare myself to an old pump, into which you must first put water, if you mean to get any out of it. Mr. Jarment is more chatty, and helps my natural unreadiness. But then he lives at such a distance (about three miles) that I cannot expect he will come often to see me, and I am sure it will not be in my power to call often on him. However, I believe his visits, when we can meet, will be very pleasant to me.
While you are afflicted I am still favored with health, and go through my business with as little inconvenience at London as formerly at Olney. Only I sometimes regret the lack of that leisure time I then enjoyed. But upon the whole, I have much reason to be pleased with my new situation, and thankful for it. Alas, there is the rub, the lack of gratitude is my continual shame and burden. But I serve a gracious Master, who mercifully bears with that in me, which I can hardly bear with in myself. He renews his pardon, and his goodness to me, day by day.
Mrs. Newton likewise is favored with a very tolerable share of health. I cannot well write so much as usual, while I have nothing from you to answer. I love you dearly, and shall be thankful to hear of your recovery. Write when you are able, and in the mean time continue to pray for me. We may, in this way, be present to each other in spirit, as often as we please. The throne of grace is the central point in which all the Lord's children meet. And this is equally near to us all. The people at London, and at Aberdeen see by the light of the same sun; and believers in all places see by the light of the same Sun of Righteousness.
The Head of the church triumphant does not confine himself to those who are already before the throne. He is likewise always present with every member of the church militant. As he humbles himself to notice the worship of Heaven so he stoops lower still, even to take notice of ours. And before long these different branches of his family shall join, and praise, love, and adore him without interruption, and without end.
I hear Mr. More is upon the point of settling at Shields, which I am glad of, as he seemed discouraged for lack of a settlement. I told him, that when the Lord's time came the proper place would be pointed out, though not by a voice from Heaven yet with equal certainty, by the openings and leadings of his providence.
And now I bid you farewell for the present; we join in love to you, and would be heartily glad to see you here. Believe me to be always,
Your affectionate friend and servant,
John Newton, London, October 13, 1781.
My dear Sir,
Your letter was welcome, and read with the feelings of a friend, therefore I am willing to write immediately; but it must be more briefly than I wish. Immoderate application to your studies has hurt your nervous system. This has been the cause of your illness, and the occasion of your dark apprehensions and temptations. But the Lord is with you he has supported you, begun to restore you, and I hope will give you some measure of strength for his service. But possibly you may go a little halting the rest of your journey. But all shall be sanctified. You are in that school in which his ministers acquire the tongue of the learned, and you will not suffer in vain. Others will be benefitted, and will praise God for you. 2 Corinthians 1:311.
Your thoughts of forsaking the ministry may perplex you, but they shall not prevail. You have neither right, nor will, nor power to do it. I think you did not barter with the Lord that you would serve him provided he would give you health and comfort, and everything to your own mind, but not otherwise. What! A soldier of Jesus Christ think of deserting the service because he meets with some hardships? It is not your own thought the enemy, who would gladly see you throw down your arms and run, takes advantage of your low spirits to force it upon you!
You ask my advice; I say you have need of courage, and you have need of patience. I know when trials are long continued they grow more irksome but we have no right to limit the Lord, or to say if a trial continues above so many weeks or months, it cannot be a token of God's love, nor designed for my good it must be a whip or a rod to drive me out of his service.
I would no more advise you to give up the ministry, than to renounce your Christian profession. But then I wish you to leave all in the Lord's hands. You have set your hand to the plough, and are not to look back. You are a minister, and must necessarily be so. Though it is not necessary that you should be always well, and strong, and able it is necessary that you be fixed and faithful in your desire and intention. But it is not necessary that you should be useful in the common sense of the word. You know you were useful when well, and for anything you know you have been more useful while sick. Some wise and great design may be promoted by your sickness. You are observed not only by men, but invisible powers are looking on, 1 Corinthians 4:9. And you know not how far the glory of the Lord may be concerned in your trials and supports.
It is good to desire usefulness yet self is very apt to creep in here. There are two ways of being subservient to the Lord's will by doing and by suffering; the former is more pleasant, but the latter is the best proof of grace, because in this self has least to feed upon. We are not our own. May the Lord free us from a wish of being at our own disposal, and more content to be anything or nothing to be laid aside, neglected if such is his pleasure; and only solicitous that self may be mortified, and his wise and holy will take place.
I trust he will again set you upon your legs, and open your mouth, and cause you and others to say, "He has done all things well!" At any rate, he will do you good. He often moves in a mysterious way; but he has wise reasons for all his appointments. Believe, wait, and pray, and endeavor to shake off all thoughts of declining your post as a minister with abhorrence.
I see that if you preach at all, you will in due time be an extemporaneous preacher. Be assured, this practice does not depend upon natural ability or great learning when the heart is rightly disposed and the mind competently furnished with the knowledge of the truth, and the person is really called of the Lord to preach the Gospel. I am very sure your abilities, of every kind, greatly exceed those of many who are called Methodist preachers among us, who yet do very well. It is true they are not all masters of logic, nor very accurate; but I know some who speak sensibly, with power and unction, by whom the Lord binds up the broken-hearted and awakens the dead.
The habit of preaching extemporaneously is a gift, to be obtained by prayer and strengthened by exercise. The chief obstacles are unbelief, a regard to self, and a fear of man. I believe, my dear friend, if our minds were duly impressed with all the topics of the Gospel, it would be difficult to study a sermon. If I was sure that both I and all my auditory were to die and appear before God the moment I had finished my next sermon how little would I attend to the minutiae of arrangement and style! My heart would teach my mouth, my thoughts would be weighty, too big indeed for words fully to express yet it is probable they would find the fittest words I was master of, waiting for employment.
When you try to preach extemporaneously, you will have trepidations and variations. You will speak sometimes much better, and sometimes much worse than you expect beforehand. You will often perceive your own insufficiency; and now and then perhaps your hearers will perceive it likewise. But upon the whole, you will get forward; you will preach more pleasantly to yourself, and more acceptably to the spiritual and simple part of your hearers. You may sometimes put a sentence out of its proper place, and expose yourself to the notice of petty nibbling critics, who make a man an offender for a word; but this you will not greatly mind if you are successful in winning and edifying souls.
When I see you in London, we will talk over the Protestant association. It will hardly be worth the cost to write about it. It is not needful that we should think alike upon all subjects, or that when we differ you should labor to accede to my sentiments.
I am such an enemy to Popery, that I dislike it even when it appears in a Protestant form. And all parties of Protestants are in my view more or less infected with it. If I claim the liberty of seeing with my own eyes I speak like a Protestant. If I expect other people to see with my eyes, or am ready to despise or punish them because they cannot or will not I so far act in the spirit of Popery. I do not wish to see Popery prevail in England, but should the Lord so permit, I think it would be a judgment which we have well deserved.
As a Christian and member of the kingdom which is not of this world, I know not that I am called to prevent the growth of Popery any other way, than by preaching the truth, by prayer, and by a Gospel conversation. As to what can be done by edicts and penalties let the dead bury their dead; I leave it to the men of the world who can see no other walls or bulwarks for the security of the church of Christ, than such as they are able to build themselves.
The Lord has sometimes called his true disciples to the honor of imprisonment and death for his sake. Flesh and blood is not very ambitious of this honor; and if by godly zeal, brotherly love, and a holy conduct, we may be able to engage him on our side, our privileges may be secured, and I shall be very glad. But I dare not look to any protection but his. I have nothing to do with an arm of flesh in this business.
At present, I must own that infidelity and atheism appear to me more terrible, more upon the increase, and more likely to be our ruin than Popery. If there was not a Papist in the kingdom, I would still be afraid that we are almost ripe for destruction. Most of our fears and contrivances respecting Popery, seem to spring from a love of ease, and a dread of the cross. How it may be in Scotland I know not; but I believe that the most of those who were very loud against Popery had little more regard for the true Gospel than the Papists themselves! And though there were some good persons among them, it seemed to me that the majority of serious people were quiet in their tents, and more taken up with mourning over the general prevalence of sin, than with the liberty granted to the Papists.
I am enclosing an address to my parishioners, which I sent to every house. Two or three persons have thanked me for it some I hear were rather offended, and some would not read it. But if the Lord is pleased to make it useful to one person it will be worth the while. One of my views is answered. I have discharged my conscience. I could not be easy without attempting to put a warning word in their way. It will stand as a testimony that I wished them well.
Mr. Jarment has been with me but once, I can hardly expect to see him again, except I should call upon him; and my foolish head has forgotten the name of the person with whom he lodges. I did not write it down when he told me, and could not recollect it afterward.
We still jog on comfortably we have some trials, but our mercies are innumerable. The Lord affords me liberty and acceptance in my public work. A lack of leisure time is some inconvenience. I cannot write much, but hope I am not quite idle.
Mrs. Newton joins me in love, and in a hope that we may yet see you some time in London, if our lives are prolonged. Such an interview would afford great pleasure to her, and to
Your Affectionate Friend and Servant,
John Newton. London, Dec. 14, 1781.
My dear friend,
If the gloom with which your bodily illness overspreads your mind, should have led you to charge my delay to write to you, to unkindness I am sorry for it. But I will not plead guilty to such a charge. I wished to have written immediately; but so many indispensables have engaged me, that I could not answer sooner. In my present situation, it is morally impossible to write just when I please, and some letters from persons whom I dearly love were unanswered perhaps a whole twelvemonth.
How far the reasons you assign may make it necessary to resign your present charge I cannot judge. If you cannot yourself preach, your people must have supplies and these will require expense. I hope the Lord will continue to make them both able and willing to bear this burden; and so far as your personal and private visits among them are interrupted, he can make up the deficiency by his own gracious communications.
I still hope his blessing upon air and exercise, when the weather becomes favorable, will restore you to the service you love. I pray that they, and especially you may wait upon him with patience.
Your desire to lay out your whole time in their service, is from himself, and he will accept it according to the willing mind he has given you. But self is apt to mix with our best desires, and prompt us to suppose that nothing can go on well if the plans which we form are confined and interrupted. We can hardly be busy, without thinking ourselves rather important; and then the Lord sometimes lays us aside for a season, to teach us that he can carry on his work without us.
I see not but your sickness, like the apostle Paul's imprisonment, which shut him out for public service may prove rather to the furtherance, than to the hindrance of the Gospel. You may yet live to see better days, where you are at present placed. I hope you will.
As to your dismissal, think not of it until your people propose and expect it or until it is recommended to you by those who have a right to do so. It should by no means originate from yourself. You may preach very effectually to all about you by your patience and resignation to the will of God. It is easy to talk of these things from the pulpit but the proof of the pilot is in the storm. I admire an expression I have met of Cotton Mather's to this purpose, "My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with but the Lord has enabled me to give even this up. I am now content to be laid aside, overlooked, neglected, and forgotten only let his wise and holy will be done."
But when you speak of giving up the ministry itself, I cannot well understand you. It sounds to me almost like giving up the Gospel profession. Have you not devoted yourself to his service? Did you not do this without any reserve? I am persuaded you did not make a bargain with God, that you would be his servant provided he would give you good health, strong spirits, and all circumstances to your wishes; but if these were affected you would withdraw your shoulder from the yoke.
In my view, the character of a minister of the Gospel, when sought and accepted upon right motives, and received by a public designation is indelible; we can no more part with it than we can part with our skins! It is not absolutely necessary that you should always be a pastor of a particular people but I think you must be a minister to the hour of your death. Would you have the world think or say, that you thought the Lord's service desirable, and therefore engaged in it; but upon trial it did not answer your expectations, and therefore you gave it up?
As to your fears that the Lord is provoked to reject your services they arise from the advantage Satan takes of your low spirits. They are utterly groundless. You mistake in thinking that you would terrify me if you were to open your heart to me on the subject of your provocations. I have a heart of my own which would at least equally astonish you if it dared show itself.
But what is it that we preach the law or the Gospel? You know the Lord has given you to love his truth, his cause, his service, and his people. You know you would willingly spend and be spent for his sake. How can you then indulge such hard thoughts of him, as some parts of your letter seem to express. But indeed they are not your own thoughts; you know better. But among your other sins, and heart evils you have a little of the root of unbelief remaining in your heart; and your present situation gives the enemy an opportunity of working upon your unbelief, and almost pushing you upon conclusions contrary to your better judgment. Do not give place to this enemy; resist him to the utmost of your power, and he will flee from you.
Bring all your plans and wishes, and cast them, and yourself with them, at the Lord's feet, and there lie until he bids you to arise. You have need of patience, and he has it in abundance to give you. Pray him to show you that absolute resignation to his will is the very summit of a Christian's character, and the great secret of possessing peace.
Do not wish to die, (though you had the strongest assurance of Heaven,) because life is burdensome to you. He is worthy, for whom we suffer these things. He had power over his own life; yet, though it was very burdensome to him in Gethsemane and upon the cross he would not give it up until he could say, "It is finished!" Time is short, and our sufferings though flesh and sense make much ado about them yet when measured by the standard of truth, and weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, are comparatively both light and transient.
I pity you, and feel for you in your trials but I must not encourage your despondency.
My parishioners are much as formerly very civil and polite to me. They give me no trouble but few of them are disposed to hear me, especially of the richer sort. I know not that they were angry with my address, nor do I know that it pleased them. I heard little or nothing about it either way.
I could wish to be useful to the people who by law are obliged to contribute to my support. And I have still hopes that some of them will one day know what pertains to their peace. But if they absent themselves from the church, their places are filled up by others. I have many hearers; and among them many who feed upon the truth in their hearts, and honor it in their practice. It was my mercy to be satisfied with Olney while I was there, but when I came to London I left many trials behind me. My prospects of usefulness are much greater here, and I cannot form an idea of a better situation. I would indeed like more time for retirement, and for writing to such friends as you, and more rural scenes.
This is not only true, but it is reasonable, proper, and best. How else should faith and patience be exercised, and sin mortified. A situation in every respect pleasing, would not well suit us while we are sinners. We are too apt to grow formal, careless, and worldly, as it is. If we had not buts and trials to rouse us we would be much worse.
There will be no afflictions, or even inconveniences, in the land we are going to, because there they will not be needed. In the present life, these things are necessary, and therefore they are mercies, the fruits and tokens of our Lord's love.
I had a letter from Mr. More soon after his settlement at Shields, and he favored me with a particular account of the exercises on the occasion. I received his letter a good while before yours, but I answer you first, because you are sick and dispirited. I need not tell you that my sister has been visited with a bereaving stroke in the death of her husband but he who inflicted it has supported her under it, and will support her. The Lord Almighty is her husband, and therefore, though a widow, she is not desolate.
Oh! he is very gracious, and though for wise reasons he often causes grief he will have compassion. For when he afflicts, it is not for his own pleasure, but for our profit, to make us partakers of his holiness.
Inclination would willingly send you another sheet; but leisure time is so short, that if I attempted it, I would probably make you wait a week or two longer. Accept what I can in good part, and be assured of my cordial love, friendship, and sympathy. Almost my whole time for letter-writing is confined to Saturday afternoon, and even then I am often interrupted.
My dear wife is pretty well we join in love and best wishes.
May the Lord, the good Shepherd, comfort, guide, and bless you.
I am, sincerely, Your very affectionate friend and servant,
My dear Friend,
I ought to have answered your last letter long ago. So it is, and I can make no other amends than by writing now. Perhaps, considering the terms of friendship between us, you ought to have written a second time, to admonish me of my fault, and not have stood upon the formality of turn for turn. Since my relocating to London, I have been but a poor correspondent, and the causes which made me so, still increase upon me, so that I hardly dare promise, or even hope, to be more punctual in the future. But I wish you to believe, that, whether I can write or not, my affection and friendship suffer no abatement. I am thankful that I can still consider you as in the land of the living, (as we rather improperly call the present state which is indeed the land of the dying) and restored to some comfortable measure of health, and ability for your Lord's service.
I trust you will derive many advantages from your long illness. And, among others, I hope it will in time, if it has not already, make you an extemporaneous preacher. When you wrote your last letter, which is so long ago that I am ashamed to mention the date, it had already taught you to spare one half of your labor in composing your sermons, and perhaps that half you then employed, may, by this time, be reduced to a quarter. I shall have no objection to your continuing, as long as you please, to draw up a scheme or skeleton of your discourse, with the principal heads, and divisions, and texts but I would think all that is necessary may be written upon half a quarter of a sheet of paper.
Not that I would give this advice to all I could wish some, who attempt to preach extemporaneously, would write the whole of their sermon. But you have been a student, you have a fund of preparatory knowledge, you have experience, and I think you have imagination. If you have a measure of a natural ability of utterance likewise, and really believe yourself lawfully called to the ministry, I am persuaded you lack no further requisites to qualify you for an extemporaneous preacher, than a more simple dependence upon the Lord, and a befitting indifference to the little feelings of self. Indeed, my friend, it is principally self which makes our duty difficult.
We profess ourselves the servants and messengers of the Most High God; our message is of the utmost importance, both as to the subject and as to the outcome. Our hearers are dying sinners; it is highly probable, that every time we preach there may be one or more present who will hear us no more. Now, in such circumstances as these, to be anxious, not entirely, perhaps not chiefly, for the success of our message but solicitously to feel for ourselves, what space we shall fill in the opinion of our hearers, and whether they will judge favorably or otherwise of our abilities and address; to indulge an emotion of self-applause at one time, if we think we have gone through our work cleverly; and to be ashamed to look the people in the face at another time, not because we fear we have either suppressed or mistaken the truth, but merely because we may have given them a proof of what we profess to teach them, as a principle, that we have no sufficiency of our own this is such an instance of depravity, and betrays such a shameful, criminal insincerity that we may well wonder the Lord will ever permit us to make mention of his name any more.
This undue regard to self is, I apprehend, the chief thing that makes extemporaneous preaching so formidable to those who have a competent measure of knowledge and ability for the work. Nor can we expect to be freed from it all at once, nor perfectly at the best. But by earnest prayer, and by habit and exercise in preaching we may hope, gradually to acquire more confidence in the Lord, and more indifference to the desire of pleasing men any further than for their edification. And though it befits us to endeavor, by prayer and meditation beforehand, to make ourselves masters of our subject, and to study to show ourselves workmen that need not be ashamed yet I am persuaded that we should be most likely both to please and to profit our hearers if we could speak to them, when in the pulpit, with the same simplicity as we do when out of it. As I have touched upon this subject before, I may, perhaps, now only offer you repetitions but you will excuse me.
I trust, you can say of the Lord His I am, and him I serve. Go forth, therefore, in his strength; believe his promise to be with his servants; put in your claim for that liberty with which I am persuaded it his pleasure to honor his faithful ministers who desire to put their trust in him, and you shall not be disappointed. I long to hear that you are an extemporaneous preacher. You may study as much as you please, provided you do not hurt your health. And this method of preaching would give you more time for your studies, and more for your people.
The parishes in England, where the people choose their ministers, are comparatively few. The most are appointed by patrons. But the great Head of the church has the supreme patronage. And Gospel ministers are here and there brought into both sorts of places. Even in Cambridge we have two faithful and able parochial ministers. The number of Gospel preachers in our Anglican church is greatly upon the increase; several valuable young men are ordained every quarter perhaps not fewer than twenty or thirty in a year. And now and then we hear of a minister awakened in his own parish, after a course of years spent without any regard to the souls of his people, or any skill to teach them. Some persons, who have taken pains to get the best information they can, think we have now more than three hundred Gospel preachers fixed in parishes the most of them are either curates or lecturers; but we have a good number of beneficed clergymen among them, and in some places a considerable work.
London is highly favored. But though we have many good preachers, multitudes of hearers, and many excellent Christians there is likewise abundance of light professors, and I think a general complaint, that the ordinances, though blessed to the edification of believers, are not signally owned to the conversion of sinners. I am still mercifully supported at my church, and am very comfortable in my public ministry, and happy in many choice and valuable connections.
At home, blessed be God, we are pretty well. Mrs. Newton has returns of illness, but not very frequent or violent. Our dear Eliza Cunningham came to us ill and continues ill. She, however, eats and sleeps well, has not much pain, and is able to go out to church. Her physician prescribed sea-bathing; accordingly we spent the month of August at Lymington and Southampton, and he thinks her rather better for it. Her case, however, is still very dubious. If the Lord is pleased to restore her, we shall be thankful I hope for she is a very pleasant girl, and has, I think, nearly the same place in our hearts as she could have, if she was our own daughter. But I have endeavored to resign her to His disposal who does all things well. And I trust, whether she lives or dies, she will be his.
When will you come to London? I hope the Lord will lead you to us sometime. But if not, blessed be his name for the hope of meeting in a better world. My dear wife joins with me in love to you.
I am very sincerely,
Your affectionate friend and brother,
John Newton, London, Nov. 4, 1784.
My dear Friend,
You say in your letter, "I meet with so many indispensables, that I have but little time for corresponding." The expression suits my circumstances so well, that I return it you, as the best and shortest apology I can make for my silence, which has been constrained, and not voluntary. Yet I did not think your letter had lain by me unanswered so long until I looked at the date tonight.
When I had more leisure time, I rose early. Now rising early seems doubly needful; I have lost the habit, and indeed am so wearied with running about all day, that I am not well able to rise as early as formerly.
I begin my letter with a memorable date; it is the anniversary of my great deliverance, when the Lord sent from on high, and saved me from sinking in the great waters. I have lived thirty-five years since, alas! to too little purpose. What multiplied proofs have I had in this space, of my deeply depraved nature. What multiplied proofs and instances have I likewise had of the Lord's goodness to a chief sinner! I have seen many changes of situation since the year 1734, when I left off the seafaring life but my path from that time has been, upon the whole, comparatively smooth, and every principal change and turn in life has been apparently for the better.
God has blessed me with some usefulness and since my relocation to London my sphere of service has been greatly enlarged, and very comfortable only the effects of indwelling sin are a constant and humbling abatement.
Ah! how seldom am I in my study what perhaps I appear to others to be, when in the pulpit. Indeed, my friend, the lamentable inconsistencies I feel, now that I know the Lord, ought to abase me more than all the shocking abominations of my state of ignorance. For then I knew not what I did. But now light, and experience, and acknowledgments, and repeated surrenders aggravate the evils which are interwoven in my heart.
But by grace, I am what I am it is of grace that my poor story is not much worse. The Lord is my keeper, therefore I am still preserved. By grace, I have not made shipwreck of my profession. He has not taken his word out of my mouth. It is still, I trust, the great desire and aim of my life to serve him. His work is still pleasant; and I find no sensible abatement either of bodily or mental powers; and he is still pleased to bear witness to the word of his grace from my unworthy lips. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ! In him I find peace in the midst of conflict, and power in the midst of extreme weakness.
I was glad to hear you had been enabled to do a little, and willing to take it as a pledge that he will, in due time, strengthen you to do more. I was glad that your necessity has had the good effect to make you sometimes an extemporaneous preacher; and I wish the assistance the Lord has given you on such occasions, may encourage you to trust him farther. I am persuaded that you would not exceed the warrant his word of promise has given you, if you ventured to preach extemporaneously always.
I can well remember the time when I thought it morally impossible I should ever preach extemporaneously; and now, I find little more difficulty in preaching without notes than in conversing without notes. And so far as I can judge of myself I seldom succeed better, than when hurry and engagements constrain me to speak without five minutes premeditation; sometimes without being determined as to my text five minutes before I go into the pulpit! I hope I do not, I am sure I would not, make this liberty a cloak for indolence. I would wish to be always employed in a way suitable to my calling. But if I am properly employed other ways it is no burden to me, when I have not time to study sermons. Not that I am wiser or better than I was formerly, or have more sufficiency in myself but I am mercifully delivered (in the main) from the fear of sinking, and therefore I find it more easy to swim.
Mr. Jarment seems to be a sensible and serious young man. As to his zeal, which you speak of, it does not stand in our way. He is modest enough, and I endeavor to guard against touching upon any points which might give zeal cause to be zealous. I wish I had more zeal myself if I could only regulate it and fix it to its proper objects. Oh, there are subjects and causes almost sufficient to make a stone speak. If I had a due sense of what is implied in the words sin and grace, of what passed at Golgotha, and of the states in the unseen world then surely I could not be the cold dull creature I now am!
But when zeal spends itself about the less essential matters of forms and names, about points in which the wisest and the best have always differed I would, if I could, lull it fast asleep. I then think that zeal is preposterous and hurtful, mistimed and misemployed. Like the industry of a man who should be busied and engrossed in painting and adorning his house when the house itself was on fire. Let the safety of the building be first consulted.
Is it not strange, that when we profess to receive the New Testament as our rule, and to form our plans upon it some of the plainest and most obvious precepts should be so generally overlooked? How plain is Romans 15:7, "Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." Now, how does Christ receive us? Does he wait until we are perfect in in our theology? Does he confine his regards, his grace, his presence, within the walls of one denomination? Is he the God of the Presbyterians, or the Independents only.
Do not some among you, and some among us, know with equal certainty, that he has received them? Do not they, and do not we, know what it is to taste that he is gracious? Does he not smile upon your ordinances and upon ours? Are not the fruits of true faith the same in every church? And shall zeal presume to come in with its ifs and its buts, and to build up walls of separation between those who are joined to the Lord by one Spirit in direct contradiction to the tenor of the Scriptures? Do we think we have a right to despise and censure, to judge and condemn, when we are expressly forbidden not to?
The Lord by his apostle says, "Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind." And how dare we say otherwise? Yet many true believers are so much under the spirit of self and prejudice, that they truly mean to do the Lord service, by substituting their own commands in the place of his. And they see no harm in saying: "You must think and act as I do. You must subscribe my doctrines, and worship in my way or else, though I hope the Lord has received you I think it my duty to keep my distance from you."
This assuming dictating spirit, appears to me to be Popery though among us in a Protestant form. Indeed, it is the root and source from whence most of the Popish abominations have sprung.
It is pretty much the same to me, whether the Scriptures are locked up from me or not if I must read them with another person's eyes. I think we have all an equal right to judge for ourselves, and that we are no more bound to follow implicitly the dictums of a bench of Bishops, or a board of Independents, or a General Assembly than of a conclave of Romish Cardinals.
What an unexpected digression have I run into! I will not apologize for it, for I did not intend a word of this when I took up my pen and now that it is done, I cannot give you a better proof of my esteem and good opinion, than by sending it to you. It is a sign that I do not think that all Seceders are alike. I think only of those who are awakened, enlightened, and taught of God, and are expressly warned not to call any man master upon earth. Had my providential call been clear, I think I could have joined with almost any party that hold to the Head provided they would have allowed me the peaceable exercise of my private judgment, and not expect me to fight for the peculiarities of the denomination as though they were the final jury. For as I claim a right of thinking for myself my conscience obliges me to allow the same to others.
We expected my sister in April, and hoped she would live with us. But now, we expect to hear of her death every day; for the last letters afford us no hope of her recovery. She buried her eldest daughter Susie about October, and is thought to have caught the consumption from her, by having been so continually with her in her illness. She has sent us her other child, Eliza who likewise has the symptoms of a consumption upon her. She was well a few weeks ago. Such is the uncertainty of human prospects, and to such sudden changes are they liable.
But we have two comforts first, to know that afflictions do not spring out of the dust, but they are appointed by Him who does all things well, and who is all-sufficient to make up every loss. And secondly, with respect to my sister we know that our loss will be her gain. Jesus is her Shepherd and Savior, her sun and shield, she knows his name, and puts her trust in him. Even now he supports her, and enables her to look forward with comfort; and whenever she leaves this world, she will be happy in and with him forever.
Therefore I trust we shall not sorrow as those who have no hope; nor complain because the Lord has done it. Yet it will be a trial. For we were united, not only by the ties of a natural relation, but by a long and endeared friendship, and a participation in the same faith. We had proposed much pleasure in the thought of living together a few years upon earth and still we may hope to meet and live together in a better world, where disappointment and separation shall not be known.
Surely the Lord's design by these dispensations, is to bring us more and more into the frame of the Psalmist, when he said, "My soul, wait only upon God, for my expectation is from him." Cisterns must be broken but the fountain of living waters is always full and always flowing. Gourds must wither but the tree of life has shade and fruit sufficient for us all, and at all times. Creatures must die but the Lord lives.
Creatures are like candles, while they burn they waste away; and when they are extinguished, those who depend upon them are covered with darkness. But the Lord is a sun to his people, and his bright beams can well supply the lack of the candle-light of creature comforts. In this world we must be often sorrowing, but we have cause likewise for rejoicing evermore.
Mrs. Newton joins me in a tender of love to you, and in requesting your prayers, that our strength may be according to our day; and that if the Lord calls us to suffer we may be enabled to suffer as Christians, and to glorify him, by a patient and cheerful acquiescence in his wise and holy will.
I could fill a sheet on the mournful subject you suggest the profligacy and calamities of the times. The Lord's hand is lifted up but few acknowledge it, or are affected by it. Our public affairs are dark at present, and likely, I think, to be darker. I cannot but rejoice that an end is put to the destructive war abroad but I dread the effects of our dissensions and confusions at home, especially when I see how profaneness, infidelity, and all the usual forerunners of national ruin abound and spread.
We seem to have little more union, public spirit, or sense of the hand of God over us than the Jews had, just before the destruction of Jerusalem. And yet I hope we shall not be given up like them to utter ruin. For though the nation at large seems wicked and obstinate to an extreme yet the Lord has a people among us, and I hope upon the increase. And though too many professors are far from adorning the Gospel they profess yet there are a number, I hope a growing number, of excellent Christians, who sigh and mourn for the evils which they cannot prevent, and are standing in the breach in the spirit of wrestling prayer. For the elect's sake, I hope, the days of trouble shall be shortened and moderated and that we shall not be utterly forsaken.
You will perceive that I have had this letter several days in hand. Inclination would lead me to take a second sheet, but I am afraid of lengthening the delay beyond all reasonable bounds, if I should attempt to enlarge. Mrs. Newton joins me in love to you. We wish your physicians or friends would send you to London, for there are few persons whom we love without having seen them whom we would be more heartily glad to see than yourself.
Remember us at the throne of grace, and let us hear from you when you can.
I am sincerely and affectionately yours,
London, March 27, 1783.
Letter from Mr. Newton, to the Earl of Dartmouth.
My case has been singular upon earth, and I think it will be almost so in Heaven. If love is the essence of happiness, and if they to whom much has been forgiven shall love most then, surely, (astonishing thought!) I shall be found among the foremost before the eternal throne. If great services and sufferings in the Lord's cause should be chiefly distinguished in the courts above I may be thankful if I be admitted within the door; but if much forgiveness is the distinction then I shall have a claim above millions I might venture to dispute precedence with Paul himself.
I am the man who did many things against Jesus of Nazareth. How often have I publicly and deliberately treated him as an impostor, compared him with Mohammed, and given preference to the latter! My mouth was an open sepulcher, and my life such, that I am persuaded the characters of many who died at the gallows would have been deemed amiable in comparison with mine. The Lord knows that I do not exaggerate.
Yet I was spared, pardoned, and, what is more wonderful preserved to preach the faith which I had despised, and labored to destroy. Thus I was in the dark and dreadful days of ignorance.
Since the Lord was pleased to call me by his grace, he has wonderfully restrained and kept me in my outward path, so that I have not been allowed to make any considerable blot in the view of my fellow creatures. Yet it is chiefly this latter period I shall refer to that much has been forgiven me.
Sins after conversion have an higher aggravation, from the higher love and experience, against which they are committed which cannot be found in the worst actions of unconverted men. The heart, like the sea, has depths which no human plummet can fathom and monsters which no eye but the eye of God can explore.