John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


28 October 1775

My dear Sister

It seems long since I heard from you. Your sister has been long talking of writing to you, and at last sets about it at a time when I have but little leisure, but I am not willing the frank should go without a line or two from me. [1] So you must accept of a little bit in haste and excuse me to Mr Cunningham, that I cannot at present write to you both.

She informed you of our London journey, but my engagements would not permit me to accompany her to Chatham. [2] I was taken up with continual preaching. In which I was favoured with liberty in my own spirit, and in general I believe with acceptance. It is indeed a pleasing employment, when the Lord makes it so. To me who have been so wonderfully spared, and called to the knowledge of the Gospel, nothing should be so delightful, as to proclaim the glory of that free grace to others, to which I have been so signally indebted myself. I hope indeed I consider it as the great end of my life, and the only point of view in which a continuance in this evil world appears truly desirable. How can I wish to remain longer here exercised with sin within me and around me, and where I have but faint and transient glimpses of him whom my soul desires to love, unless my life may be subservient to his praise and glory, and to the good of his people, to whom for his sake I am a debtor. I groan under a thousand complaints, and though outward circumstances are agreeable as I could wish, yet I am engaged in a wearisome warfare, and never expect to be truly happy till I get within the veil. Then at last I hope to enter into rest. In the meantime, poor vile creature as I am, I hope he does not let me live wholly in vain. Some who were dead in sin, when I came to Olney, are now alive to God. Some who were then weak, are now grown up in the faith ripening apace for glory, and some who are already transplanted into a better world, he was pleased to make me instrumental in comforting while they were here. And I trust he is still with me, and still owning me for these good purposes, and that his work is not yet at a stand amongst us. Help us to praise him. Your dear Sister and the child are well [3] – she grows apace, is sensible, tender and obliging, and I verily hope, the Lord brought her here, that she may in due time know his name, and rejoice in his salvation.

I hope your soul prospers. If ordinances and connections are not just to your wish, still you have the Word of grace in your hands, and the throne of grace is everywhere near you. By these the Lord can well supply the want of outward means, when we are debarred from them, not by our own negligence, but by the disposals of his providence. And submission to his will as wise and good in all things, is the greatest attainment, the most honourable and the most comfortable we can aim at. When Israel was in the wilderness, though they had no corn, they had manna. If we are in the path of duty, no matter where it lies, nor whither it leads, for the Lord is with us. The time is short. We shall soon be at home, and then we shall see and confess that he led us by a right way. May we now believe it. And go on quietly leaning upon our Beloved, who has engaged to support us with the saving strength of his Right Arm. May he be much upon your mind. His name, his love, his death, his glory, his compassion, faithfulness and intercession, these are so many wells of salvation, from which we are invited to draw the waters of life with joy; they are always full, always flowing, always open. These streams will follow us through life, refresh us in death, and then we hope to drink at the fountain head forever. [4]

I have little particulars for my dear to inform you of. Give my best love to Mr Cunningham. May the Lord make you both fully of one heart and one mind, that you may walk together as fellow helpmeets and fellow heirs in the hope of eternal life. Then marriage is truly comfortable. Give my love to the children. I beg Jacky to pray to God that he may give him his grace. My heart’s desire is for him, that he may not only be orderly and obedient to his parents, but that he may know and love the Lord Jesus, and in order to this that he may feel his need of him, and be truly convinced that he is in himself a poor helpless sinner, having neither power or will to please God, unless Jesus is pleased to give him faith, and a new nature. A form of godliness I suppose is common enough around you, and I hope with you (as with us) there are a few who experience the power. Happy souls! May this be the case with all near and dear to you. Everything else will quickly vanish like smoke, but the work and grace of God shall endure forever, and they who are not ashamed of Christ and his Cross now, shall soon see him as he is, and then he will not be ashamed of them, but will say to them before the assembled world, Come ye blessed of my father, receive the kingdom prepared for you. [5] I should be glad to see you here, and hope I shall if our lives are spared. But O how much more joyful will our meeting be at the right hand of Jesus. I commend you to his love and care and remain

Your very affectionate brother

John Newton

Olney ye 28 October 1775

[1] Newton was sometimes given free franks for his post. As Polly had written he was making the most of the opportunity to include his own letter in the free postage.
[2] The Newtons left Olney on 16 August 1775 for five weeks in London, with Henry Foster (1745-1814) covering at St Peter & St Paul while they were away. Newton found himself preaching on average six times a week. He visited Mrs Sarah Talbot in Reading during this time, while Polly went to Chatham. They arrived back home at Olney on 23 September 1775.
[3] ‘the child’ is Betsy Catlett, whom the Newtons took to live with them when she was orphaned in December 1774.
[4] See Newton’s hymn Glorious things of thee are spoken, with diary and sermon extracts: Book 1, Hymn 60 under\hymns.
[5] Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 64-65

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019