John Newton's Letters
Three letters to a friend
July 11, 1783
I have been much affected with your present situation, and with the case which you did me the honor to propose me for my judgment. I hope it is from some real sense of my own weakness, that I usually undertake the office of a counselor with fear and trembling. How unhappy would I be to mislead you in a point of such importance. How cruel, to wish you to be determined by my decision—unless I am sure that it is warranted by the Word of God. Indeed you have been hardly out of my thoughts since I saw you in the garden. I have considered, again and again, the advice I ventured to give you, and I am the more confirmed in the propriety of it, and in a persuasion that, if the Lord (for what are our resolves without him?) enables you to act the part which you seemed to be satisfied was right, you will never have just cause to blame either yourself or me.
I think the Lord highly honors you, by permitting you to be brought to such a trial, and thereby putting it in your power of giving both to the church and to the world (so far as you are known) such a singular and striking proof of the sincerity of your heart towards him. Surely I shall not cease to pray, that he who has wrought in you to will—may strengthen you in his power to act accordingly; and that you may do it with cheerfulness.
You have good reason for it, madam. He, for whose sake you are about to reject what many would eagerly receive, deserves it well at your hands. He gave up much more for you: he became very poor—that you might be rich. And, though he was once poor for us, he is now rich again—rich enough to make you ample amends for all you give up! Do not be afraid. His own kind providence will take charge of you, and surely do you good.
Were your conduct generally known, you would be both blamed or pitied, by those who know of nothing better than gold, and such toys as gold can purchase. But they will neither blame nor pity you in the great day of your Lord's appearance!
When I see so much formal profession, I would be almost discouraged, were it not that the Lord has given me to know a happy and favored few, whose conduct exemplifies and adorns the glorious gospel they profess. In them I see a simplicity, a spirituality, an unselfishness, a submission, and a ready obedience, befitting the servants of such a Master. They have made the choice of Moses; they endure as seeing him who is invisible, and prefer even the reproach of Christ—to all the treasures of Egypt. The sight of one such person in the house of God, animates and comforts a minister more than a crowd of common hearers. I bless the Lord that I have the honor of preaching to more than one of this description. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward!" Hebrews 11:24-26
Go on, madam, may the Lord be with you. I feel for you, I pray for you, and I rejoice in the hope that I shall soon have to congratulate you that the Lord has given you a complete deliverance, a victory, and filled your heart and mouth with his praise! Think of the rewards promised to those who overcome, Revelation 2, 3. What can the world propose worthy to be put in competition with these?
I am, Madam, your sincerely affectionate servant.
July 14, 1783
I was much affected and comforted by your kind answer to my letter yesterday. I believe, as you say, there was something providential in my writing, and, indeed, in the timing of my late agreeable visit, where I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting with you. On Saturday, when I had a quite different business in hand, a thought struck me, which made me lay aside what I was engaged in, to prepare a letter which I thought I could get conveyed to you from church; not thinking I would see you there, and have an opportunity of putting it into your own hand. As you say it proved a means of confirming your mind, I have reason to praise the Lord, (to whom I would ascribe every good and useful motion,) for putting it into my heart to write. I rejoice in your determination; persuaded that the principle upon which you act will bear you through, and that the Lord, whom you desire to serve, will, either in kind or in kindness, afford you a testimony that he approves of your conduct.
We are short-sighted as to consequences; but he knows what he is about to do. You have, in His promises, upon which he has enabled you to trust, a greater treasure by far than the Bank of England; and therefore you can be no loser by declining an offer which he only permitted to be made for the trial of your faith and integrity. I have been likewise, in my time, called to make sacrifices, and to give up some advantages for conscience sake; though certainly mine were trifles compared with yours, as you are now situated; and my own experience, as well as my frequent observation of others, convinces me, that, though we may appear to lose something for the Lord—we shall not eventually lose by him. But what I recollect of such things in my own case, and of the manner in which I was led through them, makes me take the liberty of offering a further word of advice upon the subject.
In the first place, I would not have you wonder, if, when your determination is fixed, and the affair quite at an end, you should find, instead of your path being made smoother immediately, fresh difficulties and exigencies arise. I hope it will not be so; but it was so with me. I met with pinches that at times almost staggered me, and strongly tempted me to repent that I had been (as the thought in a dark hour obtruded upon me) too scrupulous, and had brought inconveniences upon myself by a punctilio! Still, however, my better judgment spoke a different language, and assured me, it was not a punctilio—but evidently connected with duty and peace of conscience. I could not, I dared not, deliberately repent that I had acted right; but, as I said, I was tempted to it.
The Lord kept me steadfast, as far as outward conduct was concerned; but he alone knows the evil workings of my heart at some seasons. I was, however, supported; and in due time light broke through the darkness, difficulties were removed; he made me good amends, even in a temporal way, for what I had given up—besides, the opportunity it afforded of commending my profession and character, even to the people of the world, who had before affected to despise me as an enthusiast. They seemed to think, many of them to allow, that my religion was better than theirs, because it had enabled me to part with that which they felt they could not have parted with in similar circumstances. If you should be tried something in the like way, tarry the Lord's leisure, wait patiently upon and for him, and you shall one day see he has not forgotten you, though he should permit you a while to be tried whether you will hold fast your integrity.
Perhaps, when the Lord has enabled us to act honorably in very difficult, ensnaring circumstances, the greatest danger we are liable to, is, lest we should be insensibly drawn into a too good opinion of our own resolution and constancy, and indulge a secret self-complacence, instead of giving the whole praise to the Lord. I cannot forget that I felt this evil, nor how much I suffered by it; for the Lord, who mercifully watched over me for good, to prevent my being exalted above measure, was pleased, at the same time that he enabled me to conquer in a greater trial, to leave me to my own weakness in much smaller trial—so that I was left to hesitate, stumble, and fall, in some things so seemingly trivial—that I should have been ashamed of mentioning them to my most intimate friend. Excuse my mentioning this. I trust the caution will to you be unnecessary, after the noble stand the Lord has enabled you to make. I have nothing to wish or pray for you—but that he may preserve you humble and thankful.
My wife unites with me in love to you. Need I say that we shall be very glad to see you, whenever it suits you to call upon us?
Believe me to be, very affectionately and sincerely, yours.
August 19, 1783
Methinks I well understand the apostle, when he speaks of being present with his friends in spirit, while absent from them in the body. This morning I mean to make you a visit. May I arrive in a good hour; and may the Lord put some good and seasonable word in my way, that your heart may be comforted. The good hand of the Lord brought us hither in peace and safety; and we are hitherto favored with a preservation from illness, though many are ill around us, and many are falling every day. I do not remember so many people being ill with fevers at one time, during the eighteen years I lived here. I am now very busy among a people whom I have long loved, and who are glad to see me; and, though I am going from house to house almost all day, and every day, I shall hardly be able to see them all while I stay.
Health, when rightly valued, and duly improved, is a great mercy. I hope you have it, and find it so. The mind not only suffers by what the body feels, when ill—but is, for the most part, indisposed by it for the enjoyments of its best privileges. An aching head, or a sick stomach, take off our chariot wheels, engage our attention to our infirmities, preclude us from public ordinances, or unfit us for hearing, if abroad, and for any spiritual exercises when at home. At such a time, we can do little more than simply cast ourselves upon the Lord's care, and wait his will. Indeed, it is well if we can do so much—for, to exercise faith and patience at such a time, is a great thing. If health and spirits are good, we are so far prepared to meet and support the daily trials of life.
I hope you are thus armed, yes, much better; that you are favored with a peaceful frame of mind, a sense of the Lord's presence, and a persuasion that his arm will support you, and surely do you good. Be of good courage; trust in the Lord with all your heart; take up your daily cross, whatever it may be; he is your Shepherd and Guide, to whom you have committed yourself, and you may be assured that he will lead you the right way.
I can easily conceive that many things in your present situation must be unpleasant to you—but, while they are so, they will not be hurtful; and the Lord, who has assigned you your present post, is at hand to support you in it, and I trust will honor you with some usefulness while he continues you. Live with him today, and leave tomorrow in his hands. Do not let your spirits be burdened as though you were bound to perform impossibilities—but make the best you can of things as they lie before you. You are placed where you are to be a witness for him; perhaps he designs to make you an instrument of good to some who are around you; your example and conduct may have an influence, in this way, far beyond what you expect, even when you do not see it proper to speak a word; but sometimes, probably, a word will be put into your mouth, and you will not speak in vain.
If he had not enabled you to make the choice of Moses, you would have avoided the trials you found at ___; you would probably before this time have entered a very different path of life. The world would have either congratulated or envied you; but I would have pitied you. You would soon have felt (what the Lord enabled you to consider without making the experiment) how little the fine things of this world can contribute to happiness. Every day would have shown you more of their vanity, and every day would have discovered to you new instances of the solid and real evils and troubles which are connected with them. You would either have been carried away with the stream, to the wounding of your conscience and the loss of your spiritual discernment; or, if enabled to stand your ground, you would have found a thorn in every step you took.
Blessed be the Lord who inspired you with wisdom and strength to resist the golden temptation! I said then, and I say still, you will never have just cause to repent it. Continue humbly to commit your way to him; he will take care of you, and he can give you, even in temporals, what, upon the whole, shall be much more valuable and comfortable than all that you give up. However that may be, his loving-kindness, and the light of his countenance, are better than life itself.
I warned you, though you knew it before, that the enemy would try, as far as permitted, to distress and worry you. But regard him not; resist him, and he will flee from you. You are in the path of duty; what you cannot alter—bear patiently, and the Lord, in his own time, will make the crooked straight. You are, in a peculiar sense, the charge of his providence, and he will not leave you nor forsake you. We hope to be at home on the evening of the 5th. I have great reason to be pleased with my excursion; and blessed be the Lord, the thought of returning to London is very pleasant to me likewise. There (with respect to this world) my treasure is, and there is my heart also. The opportunities of preaching his Word, and of fellowship with his dear people, the many kind and valuable friends he has given me, are more to me than all the mines of Peru.
Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior's name!
Let the world have the world! The Lord has provided better things for His children! "However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him!" 1 Corinthians 2:9. Oh, for grace to be humble, thankful, circumspect, and exemplary, that our light may shine to his praise! I commend you to his gracious protection, and am,
Dear madam, yours most sincerely.