John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


30 September 1774

My dear Sister

It is time to thank you for your welcome letter of ye 24 July. Mr A Cuningham was here when we received it, which perhaps he has informed you of before now. [1] You may be sure we were glad to hear that you find your new situation agreeable, hope the Lord will make it more and more so. In point of ordinances I perceive, you meet with something of the disadvantage which I expected, but the promise [is] Verily thou shalt be fed. So Isaiah 41:17 [2] and Psalm 37:19. [3] I trust the Lord has your heart and then you may be assured, he will supply all your wants. It is more pleasant to live where the Gospel is powerfully and plentifully afforded, but if the Divine Providence places his children in a barren land, he knows how to make up the deficiency. His good Spirit will teach you by his written Word, yea every occurrence of life, shall in his hand prove instructive. When you sit in your house or walk by the way, he will secretly guide your thoughts, enliven your heart, influence your memory, and teach you profit by all that you see or hear. Especially in prayer, he will give you to know that he is near you, will cause his goodness to pass before you, and give you a growing discovery of the mysteries of redeeming love. This you may expect, for he has promised to do you good in all places whither he leads you, and to be unto you an All-sufficient God, a Sun, a Shield, a Fountain of living waters, and an exceeding great reward.

I should like to know the name of the Minister who gave you so much satisfaction at the Episcopal chapel in Leith. The text is important, you mention Matthew 17 but I suppose you intended chapter 7 verses 13,14. [4] It is grievous to think how many are posting in the broad way to destruction – and how there are of these who profess to be watchmen, who have either[neither] wisdom or courage to give them warning of their danger, Blessed be God who has given you a knowledge of that strait and narrow way which so few find. It is strait and difficult to the flesh, but believers find it a way of pleasantness. When once the Lord has enlightened our understandings, and taught us to judge of things by the maxims of the Sanctuary, when he discovers[reveals] to them the beauty of holiness, the excellency of Jesus, and makes them the powerful constraint of his redeeming love, the seeming difficulties which before entangled them lose their force, and in the path of duty, they find a happiness vastly superior to any thing they could propose in a worldly life. It is true the knowledge they receive of their own hearts, the views they have of a world lying in wickedness, and the trials they are exposed to from the subtlety and assaults of satan, occasion them some troubles which they were before incapable of. But if they have exercises peculiar to themselves, they have joys likewise which a stranger intermeddles not with. [5] The grace of God is an unspeakable blessing considered in a temporal view, independent of what it leads to in a better life. It delivers from the guilt of an evil conscience, it preserves from a thousand ill consequences which our natural unsanctified and ungoverned passions continually subject us to. It not only leaves us the free enjoyment of every regular and proper comfort which we can receive from the creature, but by enabling us to receive them as the gifts of God, to see his hand and to taste his love in them, and by teaching us how they are sanctified by his promises and by prayer, and how to improve them with a view to his glory, it exceedingly enhances their value. Farther, Grace affords us a retreat and hiding place under all the changes and trials we are daily liable to. It directs, warrants and enables us to cast all our cares upon God, confidently to ask and expect from him present support and certain deliverance, and assures us that all things in their connection, the bitter as well as the sweet, are working together for our good. And by the access we have to the throne of Grace and the Word of Grace, we maintain such a peace, and derive such consolations, as the world can neither  give or take away. Still more it frees us from the fear of death by which we were once and long detained in bondage. So that we can be willing to live even in affliction, and glad to die when the Lord calls, though the summons should find us in the midst of prosperity – while we see ourselves accepted in the Beloved, and unalterably interested in the blessings of immortality. How strongly blinded are we by nature, that we can be averse to such a religion as this? Yet so it is, the multitude will choose the downward. They are wedded to their sins, and like the cock in the fable prefer a barley corn of sensual pleasure to the Pearl of great price. They are likewise ignorant of themselves, and therefore proudly trust to their own supposed righteousness, and reject that only way of salvation, which is revealed in Christ Jesus, and commended to us by God, as the brightest expression of his wisdom, power and love. Thus countless numbers walk in a vain show, say peace to themselves when there is no peace – and perish at last with a lie in their right hands. [6] It would have been so with us, had not the Lord by his own power made himself known to our hearts, subdued our enmity and unbelief, and saved us with a high hand. Verily we are debtors – how strongly are we obliged to wonder, love and praise all the days of our life.

We are glad to hear that you are both well, and that Mr Cuningham finds benefit from his native air. I hope the Lord will lead him to profit by the leisure he has, and that he will study the Scriptures which are able to make him wise unto salvation. He has much to be thankful for, that the Lord preserved him while he lived in the hurries of the world, from being carried away by the vices of the age. It is a great mercy. Yet there is a something more which my heart wishes – A more experimental knowledge of the Grace and Love of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he is the way, the truth, the life, the wisdom, sanctification and complete redemption of sinners. I commend him to his gracious care and keeping, praying that he may increase in knowledge, comfort and usefulness from day to day. You say your family are all well, but you mention nothing particularly about Jack’s leg – If you or I were able we would heal him in a minute, but I endeavour to consider him as in better hands, undoubted that hurt in his leg happened not by chance, the providence of God has thereby given turn to his whole future life. You know the present inconveniences, but you cannot know from what greater unforeseen evils is may be a means of preventing him. I hope when the Lord’s designs concerning him, shall be more fully opened, it will appear to have been a mercy. Give our love to him, tell him I hope he will do his best to be a scholar, and that he will pray every day to the Lord to make him a Christian. One thing is needful. [7] And whatever the Lord may appoint or overrule as a means subservient to that One thing, we shall have cause to be thankful. It is unspeakably better to go halting to heaven, than having two sound legs to run headlong down the road that leads to destruction.

I frequently exchange a letter with Brother George; [8] he really writes seriously, and I am willing to hope that his affliction likewise will prove to his advantage.

Through mercy we are still preserved in health and peace. Affairs go on much as usual. We have had a dangerous fever in the parish for many months. [9] I have been much in the way of it, but though it is infectious, and usually goes through the families where it enters, I have been preserved. Let us hear from you soon, and if we should not write so speedily [as you] wish, do not afflict yourself with the thoughts of any disagreeable event, but make allowances for my many engagements. Though I am daily writing, I am many months behindhand in my correspondence. Polly thinks she is as busy in her way as I am in mine. But I think she is a worse correspondent than myself.  When I have finished my part I shall date it and then you will see how long she is in getting hers ready. If you find more leisure than we can I hope you will not stand punctually for turns, not be unwilling to send us two letters for one. Be assured, that if we do not write, yet we think and talk of you often, and pray for you daily.

The letters which I wrote in the Gospel Magazine some time ago, are collected and published in a small volume – and entitled Letters on Religious subjects by Omicron, printed and sold by J&W Oliver in Bartholomew Close. I should have sent you a copy if I had known how – indeed when the Lieutenant left us I forgot it [10] – but as the piece is but 1s 6d bound, it is not very material, your Booksellers can easily procure it. Since this year began I have written in the Gospel Magazine by the name of Vigil, and there are a few things of mine particularly some verses entitled 'the Spider and Toad' to which there is no name subjoined. For other things I refer you to Polly.

Give my sincere love to Mr Cunningham. May the Lord you[sic] bless you both you and your children – our love to them, and to Miss Cowie.
I am your very affectionate brother

John Newton

Olney ye 30th September 1774

[1] Alexander Cuningham (1727-1799), brother of James. His obituary in the Naval Chronicle states: ‘This gentleman behaved very gallantly in the last two wars, having been in no fewer than seventeen line-of-battle engagements. In the memorable victory gained by Admiral Boscowan over the French fleet in Lagos Bay, in 1759, he set fire with his own hand to the Ocean, of 94 guns, the finest ship in the French Navy, commanded by Admiral De la Clue, which had been driven ashore, and burnt her to the water-edge.’
On Tuesday 26 July 1774 Newton wrote in his diary: ‘Mr A Cunningham came down just in time to be at the Great House, where we had I hope not an unpleasant meeting. O that he may get a blessing among us. I spoke from Colossians 1:12-13.’
[2] Isaiah 41:17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
[3] Psalm 37:19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
[4] Matthew 7:13,14 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
[5] Proverbs 14:10 The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.
[6] Isaiah 44:20 He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
[7] Luke 10:42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
[8] George Catlett jnr (1742-1774), brother of Polly and Elizabeth. His wife Sarah (née Kite) died ‘of a consumption’ in May 1773, leaving him with a five-year-old little girl, Betsy (1769-1834).
[9] A malignant fever began to spread through the town in April 1774.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 62-63

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019