|A DIALOGUE 
A What! Are you in tears again?
B Oh! Tears are become my food.
A What is the cause of your constant grief?
B Alas! I am a sinner.
A Then I cannot blame your tears: for sin and sorrow are very well suited; but who told you, that you are a sinner?
B The Lord has set my sins in order before mine eyes.
A How long have you been a sinner?
B Alas! I was born in sin and have lived in sin to this very hour; I am a great sinner indeed.
A And what do you intend to do?
B I really know not what to do.
A Have you thought what will become of you?
B I fear I am lost forever.
A How forever? What! Cannot you repent?
B No, my heart is as hard as a stone.
A Cannot you amend?
B Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.
A Cannot you believe?
B I cannot believe. Unbelief is the worst of all my sins and gives me the greatest uneasiness.
A All this is very well.
B How well: what do you mean Sir? I tell you that I am a sinner and that I can neither repent, amend, or believe and then you answer, "It is very well". Do you herein show the friendship which you have always professed for me?
A I am indeed your friend and I have many dear friends in the world, whom I should rejoice to see in your case. Do you not pray sometimes?
B I can neither pray, nor live without prayer. I kneel down and weep and utter some broken words, but I am afraid I know not what it is to pray.
A You read the Scripture, I suppose.
B I do. But I find it a sealed book: I have little light into it and get little comfort from it.
A Have you ever read Matthew 11:28?
B Yes, very often.
A Can you repeat the words?
B Come unto Me all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
A Was you never able to find comfort in these words?
B Very little.
A Have you considered whose words they are?
B Yes, they are the words of Jesus Christ.
A And do you think He meant what He said when He used these words?
B That's a strange question! I know He is the faithful witness and all His words are truth.
A Do you think He is able to make them good?
B Yes: for all heaven and earth.
A Do you think that rest, which Jesus has promised to give us is desirable?
B Happy indeed are they who find it.
A And who are the weary and heavy laden then, the persons invited to receive it?
B I should be glad to hear your opinion. Wherein do these words differ?
A They are different parts of the same character; weary implies the sense and feeling of the trouble, heavy laden specifies its cause and continuance.
B Cannot you express you meaning more clearly?
A A man who is weary with work can rest when his work is finished and rise with new strength to repeat his labour; but a man wearied with an heavy burden cannot rest till his burden be removed. If you put him on a down bed, he can find no refreshment. He still feels the weight of his load and becomes weaker and weaker. He can take little pleasure in his food or his friends; he has no strength for business, nor spirits for amusement. Whether sitting, standing, or walking his burden weighs him down, till his very life becomes a burden too. If you could see a person in such a case, you would have a lively illustration of the words weary and heavy laden.
B Surely I have more than seen such an one. I am myself the very person you describe. My sins are a heavy burden, bowing me down continually; they fill my thoughts by day and hurry my dreams by night. In the morning I say, When will it be evening? And in the evening, When will it be morning? My friends, my books, my business, everything is tedious. I am weary of living and afraid of dying.
A You see now, what made me say, all this is very well. You acknowledge yourself such an person as our Lord invites to come to Him, that they may have rest; you think the rest which He promises most desirable in itself and suitable to your case and you could not bear I should seem to question either His power or inclination to make good His own word. Put those things together and then see whether you have not reason to wipe away your tears and to be no more faithless but believing.
B Our Saviour says, Come unto Me, but I find I cannot come; guilt and unbelief keep me back.
A How then do you understand the expression, Come unto Me?
B I have told you that I have little understanding.
A After our Saviour was risen from the dead He names a certain mountain in Galilee to His disciples, where He appointed to meet them. If you had been present when He named it and acquainted with the country, do you think you should have understood Him?
B Certainly I should.
A Suppose the disciples had refused, or neglected to go to the place?
B They could not - they loved their Saviour and could not bear either to neglect His command or miss an opportunity of seeing Him.
A Suppose they had come to the place first and refused to wait for Him?
B They could not do so. They would remember He had promised, they knew He was faithful to His word and they would think His company very well worth waiting for.
A Our Saviour is now withdrawn from the earth; yet He still says as of old, Come unto Me. He does not mean that we should climb the clouds, but come to meet Him in the ways of His own appointment.
B Which are they?
A Chiefly these, His word, His mercy-seat and His assemblies: He converses with His people in His word, He draws near to them in prayer and when two or three of them are met together in His name He is present in the midst of them.
B True, He meets His people, but not me. I have sought Him in these ways many times. I sought Him but I found Him not. I am weary and ready to faint. I think I shall give all up. He will not look upon me at all: So far from it, that is never worse with me, than sometimes when I am seeking Him in the manner you speak of.
A I need only refer you to your own words. He has promised to meet you, He is faithful to His engagements and His company is worth waiting for. Why cannot you judge for yourself, as you did for the disciples just now?
B If I was sure He would come at last, I should be willing to wait, but I am afraid He will never meet me, never accept me, no never.
A He has not met with you, therefore He never will. - This is no good argument unless you can prove that Christ promised to meet you the first time, or at least within such a number of days, weeks or months. Have you found any text in the Bible to prove this?
B Indeed He has not fixed any time.
A How inconsistent is your unbelief! You will not believe what the Lord has promised and yet you expect what He has given you no grounds to hope for. Has He not rather told you before, that you will have need of patience? And has He not left a gracious parable to encourage you not to faint?
B It is very true.
A You forget that passage, I suppose, when you think of giving it all up.
B I confess I have been too impatient.
A Besides - are you positive the Lord has never met you according to this promise? Has He not in a measure enlightened you to understand scripture and have you not tasted of the good word of God? Have you not sometimes found your affections drawn faith towards Jesus in prayer? Have you never received any instruction or comfort, when you was hearing his ministers preach the salvation of Jesus, or when you conversed with His people of the love of Jesus?
B I cannot say I never had a taste of these things, but it has been so little.
A So little - what then, you would limit the Lord, would you, not only as to the time of His coming, but also to the degree of His comforts? He says, that he does not despise the day of small things, and surely you should not? Should not you be thankful for that you call little? Ought you not to take all fit opportunities of acknowledging His goodness for the little He has done for you? Oh smother not His mercies in unthankful silence, but call upon your friends to help you to praise Him.
B Indeed I have been ungrateful. I see it now, and I deserve nothing, nothing but wrath. It is an unspeakable mercy, that I am out of hell. But what would you have me to do?
B Lord increase my faith.
A It is a good prayer, and where it expresses the desire of the heart, it is never used in vain.
B But what are the best means?
A The Cross of Christ.
B Pray explain yourself.
A Suppose that knowing all you know at present, the evil of sin, your own guilt and misery, and suppose that there was no Saviour but Jesus, I say, suppose that knowing all this you had lived at the time when He conversed with men in the form of a servant. And being in a dull and desponding frame, as you are now, you had come, without any apprehension of what was transacting, to Mount Calvary, just time enough to see Jesus nailed to the Cross, and to see His hands and His feet pierced with spikes, to see Him raised on high the mark of contempt and cruelty, covered with blood and full of wounds: And suppose while you beheld Him thus dying a thousand deaths as one for the sins of His very murderers, you had heard the prayer for them, and His gracious answer to the dying thief. Would not such a sight and such words have sweetly suited the state of your mind? If I mistake not, you think you should almost have interrupted the solemn scene, you would have been ready to run up to Him, and say, Lord pray for me too, Lord remember me likewise, when Thou art in Thy kingdom.
B Indeed you have read my heart.
A I dare say you are as firmly persuaded in your mind that these things did once happen, as if you had been present and seen them with your own eyes.
B I have not the least doubt concerning them.
A Well then, here is the cure of unbelief. Look unto the divine Saviour, as becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross for sinners, yea glorious truth: for the chief of sinners. He loved them and gave Himself for them. And why? That they might believe on Him, as their perfect and eternal Saviour, and love Him as their Lord and their God, and be happy. Look upon Him in this light, and His promised rest shall be yours. View Him as living and dying that He might be able to save to the uttermost, and that whosoever cometh to Him, might in no wise be cast out, and then you will find matter of comfort to your afflicted conscience. This sight rightly applied is the source of peace, and the fountain of joy. Thus have I explained to you, how the Cross of Christ is the best means.
B Oh that I could but look up to Him, and be saved. Still something hinders me. My natural wretchedness, and my spiritual weakness fill me with fears.
A Be not discouraged by the one, nor despair for the other. Jesus is the antidote against the former. His Spirit is the cure of the latter. It is His office to glorify Jesus by taking the things that are His, and showing them to His people, whereby they see the infinite dignity of His person, and the infinite sufficiency of His undertakings, and have faith to receive and apply Jesus to their souls for salvation. It is this good Spirit, who fills their minds with joy and peace in believing, and produces all the fruits of righteousness in their lives. May He witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God, a member of Christ and an heir of glory: So shall you possess present peace, and receive future happiness. To the love of the Lord God I commend you. Remember once more, that Jesus died for sinners.
B And I hope He will not cast me out, though I come as a great sinner to Him.
A You have His word that He will not, His word that cannot be broken.
B To that then will I trust, the Lord being my helper, "I come unto Thee, Lord Jesus, because Thou hast promised not to cast me out, and on Thee will wait. Let it be done unto me according to Thy word." Amen.
This Dialogue may be the one which Newton wrote for publication in 1760/61, referred to in his diary on Wednesday 14 January 1761:
“At the Watch House finished a letter I began yesterday for Mr Romaine, and am transcribing a dialogue (which I wrote lately) to send to him, that if he approves it may be printed.”
The Dialogue above has been transcribed from the version held at the Bodleian Library, catalogued as ‘A Dialogue [on Matt. 11:28]’, and given an estimated date of c. 1785.
The same dialogue also appeared as Tract No. 26 for the Religious Tract Society, with the title Consolation under Convictions: A Dialogue between a Penitent and her Christian Friend. However, the RTS version is slighted edited from the above, and concludes with verses 1-3 and 9 from Newton’s hymn ‘The importunate widow’, based on Luke 18:1-7 (Olney Hymns, Book 1, Hymn 106):
Our Lord, who knows full well
The heart of every saint,
Invites us by a parable,
To pray and never faint.
He bows his gracious ear,
We never plead in vain;
Yet we must wait till he appear,
And pray and pray again.
Though unbelief suggest,
Why should we longer wait?
He bids us never give him rest,
But be importunate!
Then let us earnest be,
And never faint in prayer;
He loves our importunity,
And makes our cause his care.
[for background to this hymn see here and to view the hymn in Newton’s own handwriting see here]
Marylynn Rouse, 17/01/2014