John Newton to Thomas Robinson

20. 25 September 1783*
My Dear Friend
I think to send you a few lines and a frank by Mr Moore, that you may have no excuse for not writing to me.
The letter which you returned me I transcribed, and sent a few days afterwards.[1] I have had no answer; but I do not repent writing; neither friendship nor conscience would permit me to be silent. I have only now to pray and wait. I trust a time will come, when you and I shall again be in some request. But it must be in the Lord’s time, which, like the tide, can neither be accelerated by the contrivance or power of man beforehand, nor resisted when it comes. Till He is pleased to work, nothing can be done; when He will work, none can let it.
Oh! what reason have we to watch and pray? Alas! what deceitful hearts! what a subtle enemy! Gifts, services, or past sufferings, are but cobweb de­fences against him. If we presume to trust in these, he will be too hard for us; but if we are sensible of our own weakness, and our eye, hope, and desire are towards Him, who is alone able to keep us from falling, we shall stand. But who can well help trembling for himself, when he thinks of the past characters of some, who, after having run well a good while, have been so shamefully hindered? Let us watch, but still remember, that, “except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.”[2]
We have seen Olney and Bedford lately, but could get no further downwards. I think things are rather better at Olney than they were, but they are still likely to be a scattered people. A friend of mine there[3] has the best intentions, and is well qualified for an important post; but he seems to have a certain tenaciousness of spirit, which does not quite so well suit Olney. He is a good shepherd to the stout and healthful part of the flock, and while they continue so; but to bring back that which has been driven away, to bind up the broken and to strengthen the soul, requires not only fidelity, but patience, tenderness, and a certain kind of skill, which is usually the fruit of long experience and exercise within, and of much observa­tion of what passes without. I said both to him and to them, what I thought was likely to do good, and I must leave the issue with the Lord.
I had an intermitting fever at Bedford, so that, during the ten days I stayed there, I was almost wholly confined to the house. But it was a pleasant time; I was in good quarters; my mind was at peace, and I had no pain. The Lord's blessing on the bark stopped it, and I have had no return since. Your friends can speak as witnesses, that I am fat, well, and in good spirits. I mostly preach three times on Sunday, and with no more inconvenience than formerly; but l am doubtless going down hill, though as yet hardly sensible of the descent.
My situation continues in all respects very comfortable. I have scarcely any outward trial as a minister, but many comforts and encouragements—a valuable select acquaintance, who are Christians indeed, and with such only have I any intimacy. Mr Bates (whom perhaps you know, at least his character), Mr Foster, Mr Cecil, and myself formed a society, which began with the new year.[4] We are at present seven members, and by our laws are not to exceed nine. We meet once a fortnight for religious conversation, usually on a proposed subject. I seem already to have reason to consider my relation to this society, as one of the greatest personal privileges I possess. Should you ever see your path clear to spend a little time in London, I should like to know it a fortnight beforehand, that I might propose your admission as a visitant, for none can be admitted for a single evening, but upon ballot. And no person not a member can be admitted at all, if he resides in Lon­don. But a friend from the country we could sometimes receive, if there was time to propose him.
My talking time is expired. I can only add our love to Mrs Robinson and all friends—to Mr and Mrs Ludlam, Mr and Mrs Confrater, Miles, &c. &c.
I am sincerely and affectionately yours,
Hoxton Square, Sept. 25, 1783     John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1839; page 73, No. 24  


[1] The letter of admonishment to Dr Ford – cf previous letter of 22 May 1783 – which Newton seems to have first sent to Robinson for his approval/amendment. Josiah Bull printed this letter in chapter 11 of John Newton of Olney and St Mary Woolnoth, 1868, reprinted by Banner of Truth in 1998 as But now I see, and in 2007 as Life of John Newton A brief extract: “It is not a tale-bearer, but my dear Dr Ford himself tells me, ‘…I neither preach so frequently, so long, or so loud as I have done...’  My dear friend, can you really think you were ever too frequent or too earnest in the most active part of your ministry?  Are the souls of men, the cause of truth, the honour of our Lord, become of less importance than formerly?  Have the world or the devil beaten a parley, made a truce, withdrawn their snares, or discontinued their assaults, so that it is no longer needful for you to be earnest and frequent in warning every one, night and day, publicly and from house to house, as you once did?”
[2] Psalm 127:1 Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
[3] meaning Thomas Scott, who by this time was curate-in-charge at Olney
[4] The Eclectic Society, founded on 16 January 1783 with Newton, Richard Cecil (1748-1810), Henry Foster (1745-1844) and respected author Ely Bates (c1744-1812) as its first members. Newton proposed the first question for discussion: “What is the proper idea of growth in grace; and what are the best evidences of such growth, both in ourselves and others?”



Marylynn Rouse, 06/07/2015