John Newton to Thomas Robinson

10. [December 1779]
My Dear Friend
You have doubtless thought me tardy, but your friendship has, I hope, contrived some excuses for me. For about seven weeks, suspense kept me silent, and afterwards I had little leisure. The caveat was a good thing; it gave me time for reflection, it put the affair more immediately and directly in the Lord's hands, and thereby the event confirmed my mind that the removal was His will and call.
I was instituted the 6th instant, inducted the 8th, and preached my first sermon on the 19th, from “Speaking the truth in love.”[1] It was only a short introductory discourse, addressed immediately to the parishioners—written and read, and is now printing, that that I may send a copy to every house in the parish. I am told it was in general well received by them from the pulpit, and seemed to abate the formidable apprehensions, which, from report, many of my new parishioners had entertained of me. Hitherto my entrance has been remarkably easy; the secretary, the bishop, the curate, who is head grammar-master of Christ's hospital,[2] the lecturer, Doctor Home, the churchwardens[3]—all extremely civil, so far as I have had concern with them. My clerk is a man beloved by the parish for his deportment, and he is likewise a believer, a man of humility, experience, and prudence. How thankful ought I to be to the Lord, for preparing me such a person! The vestry-clerk, who is an attorney, is a serious man likewise. I am told of four or five other serious people within my precinct, but have not yet conversed with them.
My charge consists of the united parishes of Mary Woolnoth and Mary Wool-Church.[4] Both together do not contain (as I am told) 140 houses. I am not yet acquainted with the boundaries; but the Mansion-house, Post-office, a part of Lombard-street, Change-alley, Pope’s-head-alley, are within the limits; so that I am placed in the midst of the money-changers, stock-brokers, and stock-jobbers; mostly people of opulence, at least of show, and hardly one pauper family resident. I conceive my attention and care to be primarily due to my parishioners, so far as they will admit me among them as a minister: but the church-doors will be open to all, and they who choose not to attend will make room for others. The church is not so large as St. Peter's Cornhill, (which I believe you have seen) but being galleried round will, I think, hold as many, or more people. It is remarkably elegant, if you allow for that heaviness, which is the character of Sir John Vanburgh's style in building;[5] there is such a profusion of stone and ornaments, as if the architect's design had been to expend as much money as possible upon so small a spot. An enormous mass of Portland stone makes it feel like a sub­terranean grotto, so that though ceiled, wainscotted, and shut up close, with double folding-doors, it is as cold, or colder than our rough open church at Olney. And they are accustomed to have great fires in the middle aisle, without which, they say, nobody could abide in it in the winter. The congregations have been indeed but thin hitherto; perhaps if the Lord is pleased to visit us with His pre­sence, there may be people enough on any part of the day to keep one another warm without the fires. The parsonage house is by no means proportionate to the church, stands in a close lane, and would not be very pleasant tor me to live in if it was in my own hands: but it has been for several generations occupied by the Post-office to which it joins; they pay £40 per annum for it, free of all taxes and repairs, which I hope will procure me a better house in a more airy situation. The Lord has not shown me yet where I am to live; when we return, which I hope to do about the 12th or 14th of January, we shall go to lodgings for a while; your letters will find me at No. 2, Church-alley, Lothbury.
St Mary Woolnoth is at present a sort of comparative sinecure; for the stated preaching is only on a Sunday morning, and the Friday morning before the first Sunday in the month. I shall not make any hasty alteration, but when I get foot­ing and we come to know one another a little, I hope to add perhaps a lecture on Sunday evening, and another on Wednesday forenoon. I say, perhaps, for I would avoid as much as possible setting out upon a pre-conceived plan of my own.
I hope the Lord will guide me, open my way, and show me what He would have me to do. For this, I doubt not, I shall have your prayers.
I thought these little particulars might please or amuse you. Give our love to all our dear friends, with thanks to the Mr Ludlams for their letters, which I shall acknowledge under my hand when I am a little more settled. Mrs Newton was remarkably well while we were in London, which was a great mercy to us both: since our return, she has been poorly with a great cold, but is I hope getting better.
Many things have, under the Lord's permission, occurred to abate my reluctance to leave Olney; and when I thought Mr Scott[6] would succeed me, I seemed quite happy. But they unaccountably opposed the man whom they ought to have re­ceived as an angel. Most of them are now very sorry, but their sorrow is too late; and whom Mr Browne[7] will appoint, as yet we know not. I thank you for your last. We were glad to hear of Mrs R's. happy delivery, and join in love to you both. My apprehension respecting the meeting of ministers was not properly my own, but communicated to me by Mr Berridge[8] many years ago, when I proposed to him such a meeting in these parts; I still think there is some reason in them; but the Lords blessing will prevent all ill consequences; may He always meet among you.
I am, most sincerely, yours,
[December 1779] [Olney] John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1839; page 107, No. 25

[1] The Subject and Temper of the Gospel Ministry – a sermon preached in the parish church of St Mary Woolnoth, on Sunday December 19, 1779, the day of his first public service in that church – Speaking the truth in love, Ephesians 4:15. First published 1780, subsequently in various editions of Works since 1808.
[2] 1779: Joseph Dixie Churchill, Pembroke College, Oxford; 1780: William Gilly, Caius College, Cambridge
[3] Churchwardens for 1779: John Moffatt, Richard Sillitoe; for 1780: Richard Sillitoe, Joseph Monk
[4] St Mary Woolchurch Haw was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, 1666. Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, was built on the same site between 1739 and 1752, and completed in 1758. The former parish was joined to that of St Mary Woolnoth.
[5] Nicholas Hawksmoor, to whom the building of St Mary Woolnoth is attributed, worked alongside Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh.
[6] Thomas Scott (1747-1821), curate of Ravenstone and Weston Underwood, converted under Newton’s patient ministry of correspondence, prayer and fellowship. See his autobiographical Force of Truth, 1779. Newton was (disastrously) replaced as curate at Olney in 1780 by Benjamin Page. Scott was eventually appointed curate of Olney in 1781. He then moved to London as chaplain of the Lock Hospital in 1785 and subsequently to Aston Sandford in 1801. He became the finest Bible Commentator of his day, attended regularly by William Wilberforce, who said of him: “"It was in the winter of 1785-6 that the late Mr Newton informed me that the Rev Mr Scott, a clergyman of a very superior understanding and of eminent piety, more peculiarly remarkable for his thorough acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, was about to settle in London, having been appointed to the Lock Hospital. That was a period of my life when it was peculiarly important to me habitually to attend the ministrations of a sound and faithful pastor, and I willingly assented to Mr Newton's earnest recommendations of Mr Scott.  I soon found that he fully equalled the strongest expectations that I had formed of him; and from that time for many years I attended him regularly, for the most part accompanied by my dear friends (the Hon Edward James Elliot and Mr Henry Thornton).  We used to hear him at the Lock in the morning; Mr Thornton and I often gladly following him for the afternoon service into the city, where he had the lectureship of Bread Street Church.”
[7] Moses Browne (1794-1787), vicar of Olney from 1753 until his death in 1787. His removal to be chaplain of Morden College, Blackheath, in 1763 had opened the way for the appointment of Newton as curate at Olney, though it seems Browne had been expected to renounce Olney then. Newton to his wife during the process of being appointed: “Browne ... Poor man he is worthy of much compassion.  I was not willing to add to his difficulties by leaving him to think that I would use any influence with his friends to increase his difficulties.  Let him keep the title; the name of vicar is a feather in the cap which I can easily spare, and if he desires to have a reserve of £18 or £20 p. ann. from the livery, his embarrassments are so great that I know not how to object.” 26 April 1764
[8] John Berridge (1716-1793), vicar of Everton from 1755. Newton often saw him while at Olney and visited him in July 1791 when he was clearly fading: “Found Mr Berridge very weak. He and Mr Venn may teach me what to expect. No matter. I am in thy hands. I have had a favoured lot. A large share of all that is valuable in temporal wealth. My Lord teach me to resign and forgo with a good grace!”


Marylynn Rouse, 22/06/2015