John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


17 June 1771

Mrs Cuningham
Five Bell Lane
My dear Sister

I hear of an opportunity for Chatham, and am willing to send you a line. We are very glad to hear that Mr Cunningham is better in health and easier in his mind. And I hope that the Lord will make every dispensation productive of good to you both. I was pleased with that part of your letter in which you speak of yourself. For though an uneasiness and anxiety of mind, without any present sensible benefit, is not desirable for its own sake, it is usually the first token of a good work beginning in the soul. There is something to be pulled down as well as something to be built up in us, and both require the power of God’s Spirit to effect. A conviction that we have been wrong, must precede our embracing the right, and a sense of what we are in ourselves, and how little we can do for ourselves, is necessary to make us truly desirous of the help of an Almighty arm. You know who says They that are whole need not the Physician but they that are truly sick. [1] It is an apt comparison. I think there was a time when you thought yourself whole, that your state and your heart were tolerably good. And I believe your judgment in this respect is now something altered. Now the more you are sensible of that soul disease which is called sin, the more you will desire to experience the power and skill of the Great Physician. Consider, my dear sister, the Gospel is not a bargain. You are not required to do so much for yourself, and then Christ will do the rest – but you are told that you can do nothing, and encouraged to come to him for everything. I had a good hope that your journey to Olney, would in due time be made a blessing, and this I have frequently prayed for since. And though you live in a dark land, yet you have the Bible in your house, and the throne of Grace is always near you. Perhaps you are ready to tell me you cannot pray – Give me leave to recommend a prayer book to you. And what think you of the Book of Psalms in that view? There is an excellent very short prayer which I think will suit you – Psalm 106:4,5 [2] In some Psalms as in the 25th you will find a prayer in almost every verse, and if the words express the desire of your heart, they are as much yours, as they were David’s, and will be as surely answered to you as to him. Be not discouraged or diverted from seeking the Lord, for none shall seek him in vain. Other things have a degree of importance, but this is beyond comparison The One Thing Needful. [3] Creatures are changeable, uncertain and insufficient. When we most need them they prove empty cisterns and clouds without water, [4] but the Lord is a rich, suitable and everlasting good, in his favour is life, and the light of his countenance is better than life. There again what has he nor done and suffered to engage our love and dependence! Though he was rich he became poor for us – yea he died (a shameful tormenting death) that we might live. Oh Sister, we would not be thought wanting in gratitude and sensibility, yet to him we have been most insensible, most ungrateful. Yet still he waits to be gracious, and say Whosoever cometh I will in no wise cast out.

I have written a few words in my own way, may the Lord make them useful. I leave the rest to Polly, only desiring our love to Brother Cunningham and Aunt Soan – and that you would suitably remember our duty and love at Chatham. And do not forget our love to Jacky and Sukey. The smallpox still continues amongst us, and I think is likely to continue for some time.

Believe me to be
Your affectionate Brother

John Newton

Olney ye 14 June 1771

[1] Matthew 9:12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
[2] Psalm 106:4,5 Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance.
[3] Luke 10:42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
[4] Jeremiah 2:13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
Jude 1:12 These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, f 56-57

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019