John Newton to Thomas Robinson

22. 18 September 1784*
My Dear Friend and Brother
Welcome from Yorkshire, and you may welcome us from Hampshire; let us unite in raising our Ebenezer of praise to our good Lord and Shepherd, who watched over our persons and concerns abroad and at home. I owe thanks for two kind letters, the last came to me at Lymington; I have mislaid it, and therefore cannot answer every particular with certainty.
We were abroad just a calendar month, half near Lymington,[1] half at Southamp­ton.[2] It was a pleasing comfortable excursion, and I hope not without usefulness to myself and others. I made some new and valuable friendships; but methinks I may say of friends, as Solomon of knowledge, “He that increases them increaseth sorrow.”[3] The pleasure of meeting is succeeded by the pain of parting—then we must feel for them as often as they are in any pain or trouble. Some or other of them is dying almost daily, dropping off in succession like leaves in autumn—till we are left, if we live long, as naked trunks. Surely they who care for nobody but themselves, avoid many a pinch; but then, poor things, they know but little of pleasure—so that there is a balance. Well, I am pleased with my lot; I prefer friends and feelings to a stoical and solitary selfishness.
I am not sorry that I published Apologia,[4] though some of the dissenters have made more bustle about it than I expected. Some—but not all. I do not find that I have lost any friends among them by it, nor is my auditory decreased, though a great part of it consisted of dissenters. An answer has appeared, which has not hurt either me or my cause; the dissenters do not thank the author for it; he is called Dr Mayo.[5] Another answer I am told is fabricating by your namesake at Cambridge. This will be a formidable affair; but I hope I shall be shot-proof. The truth is, I did not mean to provoke anybody, but simply to speak for myself; I did not wish them to answer, for I am not fond of being scolded at; but, through mercy, I am tolerably easy as to what they may think or say of me, while my own conscience does not bite me; and in this case it does not.
We have a new epidemical disorder spreading in London, called the Balloona-mania. On Thursday last, one man infected hundreds, I may say thousands;[6] they only looked at him, and caught the disease. I escaped, though I saw him likewise; for I have no more desire of accompanying a balloon into the middle regions, than I had before. It was indeed a wonderful sight, but my apprehensions for the ad­venturer, lest he should come headlong through the air like a meteor, or be frozen to the outward edge of the atmosphere; together with my fears of the encourage­ment his success would give to balloon making, if he came down safe and sound, abated my pleasure.[7] A strange creature man is—what invention, what industry, what resolution! He can find out anything but the way of salvation. The love of gain and of human praise, will prompt him to more self-denial, and to risk greater dangers, than he would ordinarily be exposed to, if he aimed at the Crown of Life, and the favour of God. Yet, while he is all energy about trifles, he has no taste or spirit for what is truly important. His powers show the greatness of his original, his misapplication of them, the greatness of his depravity. His natural abilities being unconnected with true moral goodness, make him (like Satan, whom he serves and resembles) the more eminent, the more mischievous and detestable. But, behold the love of God, He has visited such creatures and redeemed them; and there are among them those whom He has accepted as His sons and His daughters.
Our good friends, who take my letter, will tell you how it is with us in general. Our personal and domestic affairs are in a comfortable state considering what a world we live in. We have roses, but not without some thorns; but upon the whole, a favoured lot. As a minister, my zeal and aim, though faint and disproportionate, are not fainter, I hope than formerly, nor am I sensible of much abatement of my power, either bodily or mental. I am heard with attention and acceptance. The church is usually full, and I have many excellent characters in our auditories. The vast to do at the commemoration of Handel,[8] led my thoughts to begin a course of expository sermons on the several scriptural passages which compose the grand work of his Messiah; the number of sermons I suppose will be nearly forty, and the texts as they are arranged in the Oratorio, which led me through a course of evan­gelical divinity, if not with the logical precision of a professor in the chair, yet in a tolerable scheme of method, for one who professes to be rather eclectic than systematic. I take notes as I go along, purposing (if the Lord is pleased to afford me light and liberty in the exposition, and to spare me to finish my plan) to publish them, and leave them to posterity as the explicit though feeble testimony of a chief sinner to the power and the grace of Christ Jesus the Lord. Assist me herein with your prayers. Tomorrow, I hope to preach my eleventh sermon on Luke 2:13,14.[9] [link to sermon and images] Then the Messiah was first performed, and though the audience were only shepherds, yet as the heavenly host were performers, I may venture to suppose, that the enter­tainment was more truly grand and sublime than that exhibited at Westminster Abbey.
We send our hearty love to you and Mrs Robinson, and all our friends in Lei­cester. May the Lord bless you more and more, you and your children.
I am affectionately yours,         
Hoxton, Sept. 18, 1784       John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1838; page 310, No. 11  


[1] Newton stayed at Priestlands, the house of Charles Etty (d 1797), just outside Lymington, and a couple of miles from the village of Boldre, whose curate Richard Johnson would soon take the Gospel to Australia on the First Fleet. Andrew, brother of Charles Etty, vicar of Selborne, had recently died – 18 April 1784.
[2] Newton stayed with Walter Taylor (1734-1803) at his home in Portswood Green. Taylor was a marine engineer, nicknamed “one of Nelson’s Boffins” for his numerous inventions, which included ships’ blocks from lignum vitae (with a 7 year guarantee – considerably better than the 3 months of the DIY ones in use in the British fleet at the time), the circular saw, ships’ pumps, copper carronades to protect ships’ hulls from barnacles and cannon balls, etc. Newton felt the Taylors’ was his second home. A selection of his letters to the Taylors were published in The Aged Pilgrim’s Triumph over Sin and the Grave, 1825
[3] Ecclesiastes 1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
[4] Apologia, four letters to a minister of an Independent church, by a minister of the Church of England , John Newton, 1784
[5] Henry Mayo, (1733-1793), pastor of the Congregational church in Nightgale Lane, Wapping, subsequently tutor at Homerton Academy. An Apology and a Shield for Protestant Dissenters, Henry Mayo, 1784
[6] On 19 September 1784 Vincent Lunardi ascended in a balloon from the Artillery Grounds in Moorfields. It was reckoned that 150,000 people gathered to witness the event.
[7] Newton told Lord Dartmouth that he had watched ‘with a mixture of admiration and compassion. How great the hazard, how poor the motives’.
[8] A Commemoration of Handel in 1784 featured the first ever large-scale production of Handel’s Messiah (500 choir and orchestra), in Westminster Abbey. The King and Queen, Bishops, civil dignitaries and nobility were invited. According to Charles Burney’s account, it was “attended by the most numerous and polite audience that was ever assembled on a similar occasion in any country”. The Directors of the “Concert of Antient Music” were “all distinguished by white wands tipped with gold, and gold medals, struck on the occasion, appending from white ribbands…
The pulsations in every limb, and ramifications of veins and arteries in an animal could not be more reciprocal, isochronous and under the regulation of the heart, than the members of this body of Musicians under that of the conductor and leader.” It grieved Newton that the focus of people’s worship was Handel rather than the Messiah, Jesus. He set about preaching on every text from the oratorio, to explain their Scriptural truths.
William Cowper wrote in his Task:

Man praises man.  Desert in arts or arms
Wins public honour; and ten thousand sit
Patiently present at a sacred song,
Commemoration-mad; content to hear
(Oh wonderful effect of music's power!)
Messiah's eulogy, for Handel's sake
[9] Luke 2:13,14  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.



Marylynn Rouse, 08/07/2015