John Newton to James Cuningham

23 May 1775

Dear Brother,
It is indeed a good while since I wrote to you, but in the letters I send to my sister, I always mean in writing to one, that I write to you both. However, as we have franks [1] I am very willing to send a letter to each of you sometimes. May the Lord enable me to write what may be useful and acceptable.
I should have been glad to have been mistaken in the apprehension I had, that however my sister would be pleased with her situation on the other side the Tweed, in most respects, she would not be fully satisfied with the preaching and the Ministers. For I have some knowledge of the present state of religion in Scotland. Your country was once the glory of this land. It abounded with eminent Ministers, who preached the Gospel not only in their pulpits, but in their whole deportment, and in those days it abounded with solid and exemplary Christians in private life. But I am afraid that glory is much departed. A generation is sprung up that think themselves wiser than their forefathers; with too many the very appearance of religion is thrown off, and where there is something of the form remains, the power is sadly upon the decline.
The Lord has been pleased to give your dear wife, such a sense of things and such a spiritual hunger and thirst, that I believe and hope she cannot be content with an outward decent appearance, and something like religion one day in the week – a religion consisting in duties and performances – but she wants to live a life of faith in the Son of God, and to have real fellowship with God, to feel his presence in her heart, and to have her conversation (if it might be) with those to whom she can freely declare what God has done for her soul. I wish she may find many such companions at Anstruther, and that the removal of your family thither may be a means of increasing the number.
I should have been glad, if you could have informed me that the pain in your breast and all your complaints were wholly removed. But since the Lord appoints otherwise, I have only to pray that your trials of every kind may be sanctified. That he may give you a quiet submission to his will, and that every intimation of mortality you feel, may quicken your attention to the One thing needful. [2] You have great cause to be thankful for the merciful restraints of his providence, by which you have been preserved from running into those evils, which so generally prevail in a seafaring life. He helped you to preserve a fair character in your station, and has given you a regard to his commandments, by which you have escaped a thousand snares. I believe if men were to be your judges, and if sobriety, honesty and a regular course of life, were sufficient to give a title to heaven, few people would stand fairer than yourself. I hope the good God who has done so much for you, will do the rest, but it appears to me there is something yet to be done. I think so far as I can judge by your letters, and the conversation I have had with you, you have not yet received such a view of the Gospel as I hope you will have, and that this is the chief cause of the complaints you make. You speak of a great coldness in the discharge of your duty. Give me leave to ask you with the affection as well as with the faithfulness I owe to a brother whom I love, have you really complied with the first and the chief duty of a sinner, which is to renounce all dependence upon duties and doings, and to betake yourself wholly and absolutely as a lost and condemned creature, to the blood of Jesus as your only ground of hope? You say that you are afraid you perform your duty more out of fear than from real love to God. It must and will be so till you feel yourself such a lost sinner as I have said, and count all things loss and dung for the excellency of Christ Jesus the Lord. But you will love him when you know and believe that he first loved you and has washed you from your sins in his own blood. By believing not by working and doing we are justified – Romans 4:5. [3] And when we are justified we receive new life and new principles whereby we are enabled to serve God with our spirits, and are made strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus the Lord. But the tree, that is the heart, must be made good, purified by faith (Acts 15:9) [4] before the fruit can be good, that is before our duties can be rightly performed, or acceptable to God. What a crowd of witnesses could I mention from among your old Scotch writers, in the proof of this. [5] Though at present a very different doctrine gains ground, that if we are sober and honest, go to church and keep up a round of outward duties, we are in a very good state. But whatever we seem to be, unless Christ be formed in us, [6] and dwell[s] in our hearts by faith, [7] we are indeed nothing, for If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his. [8] I believe the Lord who has put his fear in your heart, will show you the light and power of his Gospel; and I advise you to make this the chief point in your prayer, that he may enable you to know the unsearchable riches of Christ. In Paul's prayers for his friends, we may learn what we should chiefly ask for ourselves. See Ephesians 1:17, 18,19,20 and 3:16-20; Hebrews 13:20,21; 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12. [9]
I doubt not but you will take what I have written in good part, and therefore I make no apology for writing freely. Pray give my love to Jacky. I thank him for his letter, and pray that it may please God to bless him in all things but especially to give him his grace. My love to Sukey and Betsy. The Lord bless you all.

I am your affectionate brother

John Newton
Olney 23 May 1775

[information added to this letter by James Cuningham re the ships he served on will be added later]

[1] Some of Newton’s wealthy friends such as Lord Dartmouth and John Thornton often gave him the ability to send free post, authorising (franking) his letters on the outside by their signature.
[2] Luke 10:42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
[3] Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
This was an especially meaningful verse to Newton. In June 1754, having been alone as a believer for six years, met Captain Alexander Clunie at St Kitts. Clunie explained to him justification by faith alone. Newton recorded in his diary: ‘I now see more clearly than ever the reason of my former small proficiency, and of my frequent relapses into folly: I see that I had not that perfect dependence on Jesus my Saviour and him only for justification and acceptance, as I thought I had.’
[4] Acts 15:9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
[5] Amongst Newton’s favourite Scottish authors were Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754); Robert Leighton (1611-1684); Thomas Halyburton (1674-1712).
[6] Galatians 4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
[7] Ephesians 3:14-19 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
[8] Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
[9] You are on your own looking up all these verses! (KJV)

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 53-54    

Marylynn Rouse, 19/08/2019