John Newton's Letters
The Lord only afflicts for our
December 21, 1776.
My dear Friend,
Your letter brought me tidings of joy, and then furnished
me with materials for a bonfire upon the occasion. It was an act of passive
obedience to burn it—but I did obey. I congratulate you upon the happy
outcome to which the Lord has brought your affairs. I see that his good
Spirit and good providence have been and are with you. I doubt not but your
union with Miss **** will be a mutual blessing, and on your part heightened
by being connected with such a family. I could enlarge upon this head, if my
letter likewise was to be burnt as soon as you have read it. I look upon the
friendship the Lord has given me there, as one of my prime privileges; and I
hope I shall always be thankful that it proved a means of introducing you
I congratulate you likewise upon your accession to
******, not because it is a good living, in a genteel neighborhood, and a
fine country; but because I believe the Lord sends you there for fulfilling
the desires he has given you of being useful to souls. Church advancement in
any other view, is dreadful! I would as soon congratulate a man upon seeing
a millstone tied about his neck, to sink him into the depths of the sea, as
upon his obtaining what is called a good living, except I thought him
determined to spend and be spent in the cause of the Gospel. A parish is an
solemn millstone indeed, to those who see nothing valuable in the flock but
But the Lord has impressed your heart with a sense of the
glory and importance of his truth, and the worth of souls; and animated your
zeal by the most powerful motive—the knowledge of his constraining love.
Your case is extraordinary. Perhaps, when you review in your mind the circle
of your former mirthful acquaintances, you may say, with Job's servant, "I
alone have escaped alive!" The rest are either removed into their eternal
state, or are still hurrying down the stream of dissipation, and
living without God in the world. Yet there was a time when there seemed no
more probability on your side—than on theirs; that you should obtain mercy,
and be called to the honor of preaching the glorious Gospel.
You are setting out with every possible advantage in
early life, with a cheerful flow of health, and affluent circumstances; and
now, to crown all, the Lord gives you the very choice of your heart in a
partner; one who, besides deserving and meeting your affection, will, I am
persuaded, be a real help-meet to you in your spiritual walk. How much is
here to be thankful for!
I trust the Lord has given you, and will maintain in you,
a right spirit; so as not to rest in his gifts—but to hold them in
connection with the love and favor of the Giver. It is a low time
with us, when the greatest assemblage of earthly blessings can seem to
satisfy us without a real communion with him. His grace is sufficient for
you—but undoubtedly such a scene of prosperity as seems to lie before you,
is full of snares—and calls for a double effort of watchfulness and prayer.
Your situation will fix many eyes upon you, and Satan will doubtless watch
you, and examine every corner of the hedge around you—to see if he can find
a gap by which to enter. We have but few rich Gospel ministers; but
it is too evident that Satan has found the way to damp the zeal and hurt the
spirits of some of those few, who for a time acted nobly, and seemed to walk
out of the reach of the allurements of the world.
I am not jealous of you; I feel a comfortable persuasion,
that the Lord has taken a fast hold of your heart—and given you a fast
hold of his Almighty arm! Yet I believe you will not be displeased with
me for dropping a hint of this kind, and at this time.
You have heard of the trial with which the Lord has been
pleased to visit us; it still continues, though considerably alleviated. It
is tempered with many mercies, and I hope he disposes us in a measure, to
submission. I trust it will be for good. My dear friend, you are coming into
my school, where you will learn, as occasions offer, to feel more for the
afflictions of others. But be not discouraged; the Lord only afflicts for
our good. It is necessary that our sharpest trials should sometimes
spring from our dearest comforts, else we would be in danger of setting up
our rest here. In such a world, and with such hearts as we have—we shall
often need something to prevent our cleaving to the dust, to quicken us to
prayer, and to make us feel that our dependence for one hour's peace is upon
the Lord alone.
I am ready to think I have known as much of the good and
happiness which this world can afford, as most people who live in it. I
never saw the person with whom I wished to exchange places. And for many
years past I have thought my trials have been light and few, compared with
what many, or most, of the Lord's people have endured. And yet, though in
the main possessed of my own wishes, when I look back upon the twenty-seven
years past, I am ready to style them, with Jacob, "few and evil;" and to
give the sum-total of their contents in Solomon's words, "all is vanity." If
I take these years to pieces, I see a great part of them was filled up with
sins, sorrows, and inquietudes. The pleasures, too, are gone, and
have no more real existence than the baseless fabric of a dream!
The shadows of the evening will soon begin to come over
us; and if our lives are prolonged, a thousand pains and infirmities, from
which the Lord has in a remarkable measure exempted us hitherto—will
probably overtake us; and at last we must feel the parting pang. Sin has so
envenomed the soil of this earth, that the amaranth will not grow upon it.
But we are hastening to a better world, and bright unclouded skies, where
our sun will go down no more—and all tears shall be wiped from our eyes!