John Newton to James Cuningham

29 October 1768

Mr  Cuningham
Five Bell Lane
Dear Brother
We received your letter of the 12th since which we have heard of your appointment to the Barfleur, [1] which gives us great pleasure – as I hope it will be a means of keeping you settled where you are. I am glad you was all along satisfied with doing what appeared to you was right, and content to leave the event in the hands of God who does all things well. We see but a little before us, but he views the consequences of things, afar off, and often times disappoints us for our good. If we were left to choose for ourselves, we should often choose to our own hurt, but if we commit our ways to him, and not lean to our own understandings, he has promised to direct our paths. So I hope you will find it.
I am glad you thought your time spent agreeably at Olney. [2] I trust you believe that you will always be a welcome guest. And I hope if we are spared to see at least another summer, you will if possible make a point of bringing my sister down to spend a little time with us. I really long to see her, but have little expectation that I shall be able to make you a visit at St Margaret's. [3] You know the reasons why I cannot be long absent – and then London stands directly in the road, where I have so many calls for service that it is hardly possible to get farther, within the time I can spare from Olney.
Your little boy is very well, grows apace and behaves upon the whole in a very pretty and engaging manner. His humours are more easily managed, and do not trouble him very often. He is very happy and often says he should be glad to see his Pappa and Mamma, but Chatham must come to him. He is a fine child. I pray God to give him his grace.
The account my sister sent of the man who died with the cards in his hands is very awful. I wish it may determine her and all whom I love to have no more to do with such wasters of time. Surely our hours are too precious to be thus squandered away. Time is short. Eternity is at hand. If our hearts are rightly affected with the love of Christ, we shall have better pleasures in his way, then the world can afford. The heaven we profess to hope for is a state where each redeemed sinner, will account it his happiness to spend an eternity in the worship and praise of him who loved us and washed us from our own sins in his most precious blood. And till this becomes our best pleasure upon earth, we cannot be meet for the kingdom of God.
Give our love to my aunt [4] when you write or see her. I am glad to find that she has made so long a stay at Mr Clunie's, [5] and has been to hear so many of my friends.
We join in love to you both commending you to the care and blessing of the great Shepherd. May he guide all your steps, sweeten all your cares, sanctify all your comforts, and make you rich in that faith which works by love and overcomes the world. And we all meet where sin and sorrow shall have no entrance.
I am your affectionate brother and servant

John Newton
Olney 29 October 1768

Please to remember to send the pens you promised me.

[1] The Barfleur was a 90-gun Second Rate ship of the line, built in Chatham Dockyard from 1761, launched on 30 July 1768. The fact that it was not immediately needed in action meant that a more leisurely pace could be taken with its construction, perhaps explaining the long-term local employment which suited James Cunningham. It lay in the Medway for two years. Much later the Barfleur saw action in the ‘Glorious 1st of June 1794’ under Sir Edward Vernon (1723-1794), with whom James had served in 1761 on the Revenge, and who began his naval career on the Sunderland under George Pocock (1706-1792), (later Admiral Sir George Pocock) who was Captain of the same ship and Commanding Officer of the Fleet in 1745 which included HMS Harwich, from which midshipman John Newton deserted.
[2] Unfortunately 1768 is one of the missing years for Newton’s diary. He was then using a page-a-day diary, as in 1767 for which his own copy of The Complete Pocketbook, or Gentleman and Tradesman’s Daily Journal exists, LPL MS 2941. James Cunningham had brought his little boy Jacky to live with the Newton’s for a year.
[3] Newton was married at St Margaret’s in Rochester. The Cunninghams lived within the parish at Five Bell Lane.
[4] Aunt Soan (d. 1782), in whose house the Cunninghams lived at Five Bell Lane. Susanna Eversfield, sister of Polly Newton and Elizabeth Cunningham’s mother, married Jonathan Soan on 23 Dec 1749. Soan was the Head Master at Rochester King’s School and curate at St Margaret’s in Rochester. He married John and Polly Newton there on 12 February 1750 (NS).
[5] Alexander Clunie (d. 1770), a member of Stepney Independent, who, when they met at St Kitts in 1754, was instrumental in bringing forward Newton’s grasp of justification by faith alone. Clunie and his wife Jane lived in Bird Street, Wapping. He had a warehouse in Upper Thames Street.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff49-50

Marylynn Rouse, 19/08/2019