John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


16 September 1782

Mrs Cuningham
[in another hand:]
[?] Bacon
NB [North Britain, i.e. Scotland]
My dear Sister

I have two letters to thank you for. The first as far as it was an answer to the two I had written to you, gave me the sincerest pleasure. I judged however beforehand what your answer would be, and I was not mistaken. I am sure you would not do a thing that you knew to be wrong; and I did not much doubt but you would perceive that the method proposed to you could not be right, when I had plainly stated the case to you. I congratulate you Sister, and I praise the Lord for you. Many people will talk about religion – a few are so governed by it, as that they will not swerve from the path of duty, truth and integrity, for the sake of gain or the fear of loss – and will rather venture upon any inconvenience, than act contrary to the simple rule of an enlightened conscience. It is an evidence that your heart is upright, that you could see and cleave to the right thing the moment it was pointed out to you, though it was against what the world would call your interest. But indeed the world with all its wisdom is mistaken. It is our best interest even with regard to temporal things, to please God and to endeavour to preserve a conscience void of offence in his sight. They who think to serve themselves by shifts and evasions do but in the end multiply their own troubles, and bring themselves into greater perplexities than those which they were afraid of. I trust in the Lord you will never have reason to repent your determination. He will take care of you, and what you have you shall have with his blessing. Your conduct upon this occasion is to me a more satisfactory proof of the truth of the reality of your religious profession, than I can receive from what many reputed religious people have to say of what they call their experience. That is true religion which evidences itself by practice, and the Lord often in the course of his providence permits those whom he loves, and who love him, to meet with such turns, as may give evidences both to themselves and others of their sincerity. If you had done as you proposed you would have done it in simplicity, not being aware that it was wrong; but the Lord mercifully prevented by giving me time to write, and then his grace enabled you to act according to the conviction of our mind. I have had something similar in my own case. I received fees in my office at Liverpoole for a time, which the oath I had taken would not fairly admit. But I bless God I did it inadvertently and when I saw it wrong I readily gave it up. [1] It made a considerable abatement in my income, and put me to some difficulties for a season, but I was no loser upon the whole. For every shilling I declined taking for conscience sake, he has given me two since. Oh he is the best friend, who has all hearts and means in his power, and has promised that he will never forsake those who put their trust in him.

As to those parts of your letter which respect your present exercise on account of Dear Susie, we most sincerely and tenderly sympathise both with you and with her. But even in this I can perceive the Lord is on your side likewise. This is a state of trial and affliction, we all have a share one way or other; but he knows how to support us, and to make all things work together for good.

You had formally much exercise and care, and many a painful feeling during the long illness of your sweet little boy; and no doubt a mother's heart felt a sharp pang when he was taken from you. But I am persuaded when you consider how the Lord prepared him for his removal, and what a sinful, miserable world he is removed from, you do not now seriously wish him back again. That hurt in his leg with all its consequences did not come by chance, nor did either his affliction or yours spring out of the ground. [2] The wound though seemingly severe, was the wound of a faithful friend. It was a means in the Lord's hand for good to his soul and to yours also. He is happy now, and had he lived many years he could but have died happy at last. But you know not humanly speaking how many evils and temptations he escaped by being removed so early. The Lord honoured you in making you a mother of one of his children. He lent him to you, he had a right to resume him, and he enabled you to submit to his holy will. We are too apt to call things our own, and this makes it so hard to part with them. But when we are taught to consider our comforts as lent to us for a time, we are more reconciled to resign them into his hands when he is pleased to call for them.

I hope you will be able to judge thus with respect to Susie. She is a very desirable child but it is his blessing has made her so – and the very reasons which make her life desirable should make you more willing to part with her. If you was watching over a dying child that was insensible and careless, that would be a trial indeed. But you have good cause to hope that he is preparing Susie for himself, and if he sees fit to take her home, I trust you will be enabled to follow her in your thoughts with delight, and think, Now I have two children and a husband before the throne, singing the triumphant song of praise to him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, [3] and it will not be very long before I shall join them and sing with them. Then farewell tears and grief and conflicts for ever.

Give our dear love to Susie. I could wish to be with her that I might talk with her about Jesus. I think she loves to hear of him – but it is not necessary she should hear of him from me. You can tell her how great and how good he is, how rich in himself, and how poor he submitted to be for the sake of such sinners as we, that we might be enriched through his poverty, healed by his wounds and might live by his death. Tell her what a life he lived; everything that is recorded of what he said and what he did, is a specimen of his power and of his compassion. Tell her how graciously he has promised to gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom. How kindly he has invited all who are afflicted, weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest – how faithfully he has promised that whoever cometh to him he will in no wise cast out. Tell her how he died, what agonies filled his heart in the Garden and upon the cross – and that by so dying he has destroyed Death, taken away its sting, changed its nature, so that it is no longer an enemy but a friend, no longer a punishment but a messenger of peace to them that believe in him. Invite her, encourage her, to commit herself into his hands as Stephen did. [4] Assure her that she may come and welcome to Jesus Christ and that he is both able and willing to save her to the uttermost. [5]

Our love to Bettsey[Eliza] – with her Aunt’s thanks for her letter. We hope, if the Lord please, she will be spared for your future comfort. We hope in his good time to see both you and her. But if we are to meet it must be in London. There is not the least probability of our visiting Scotland. Your dear Sister has frequent returns of indisposition, and yet upon the whole is what I call tolerably well. She is seldom [ms indistinct ?away from the house?], seldom detained from the house of God. She can for the most part enjoy her friends; and is certainly better than I ever expected to see her, at the time you were in England. We have lived together more than 32 years, and though we have had trials, mercies and comforts have much more abounded. We are now verging towards those days, when we must not expect much pleasure in outward things. May the Lord incline our hearts to fix on him as our rest and portion, then all will be well. Eternity will not be too long to praise him, when we shall look back and take a review of all the way by which he led us through this wilderness.
In my own health and strength I find no sensible abatement. Especially as to my public service. My situation here is honourable and important. I preach to large congregations, for the most part with liberty and comfort, and am favoured with many valuable friends. Our child[Betsy] is well, grows tall apace, and is very affectionate – she sends duty to you, and her love to her cousins.
My brother Harry and his wife are now with us. [6] He is still unprovided for and likely to remain so; though Mr Thornton [7] has taken much kind pains to serve him. I suppose he will return to Yorkshire before long, if the Admiralty do not find him some employment. Sister Nancy (whom we never saw till this visit) is a very agreeable body, and I think of a serious turn. I hope the Lord will do her good amongst us. He is very staid and sober, but I do not perceive he has as yet any religious impressions. But Grace has long arms and I am encouraged to continue hoping and praying for him. Tammy and her husband are pretty well as usual, [8] I doubt not but she would send her love if she knew of my writing.
Remember us to Miss Cowie – I pray the Lord, that the changes in your family of which she has been an eye witness may be sanctified to her.

I commend you and all of you to his gracious care and blessing, and remain
Your very affectionate brother

John Newton

16 September 1782    
Sally desires me to send her love
[in Elizabeth’s hand:]
‘Brother Newton Sept 16 – 82 recd about week before the death of my dear Susey, [a] great part of it addressed to her’

[1] Newton’s diary, 30 July 1757: ‘One thing, which may perhaps have a considerable influence upon my future life, I think proper to record.  About a month since, on reading a piece of Mr Wesley’s entitled, ‘An appeal to the mean of reason and religion’, I was led to question my conformity to the oath I took upon entrance to office.  By which I had renounced all pretensions to all kind of fees and gratuities.  Though I had hitherto continued to receive a customary acknowledgement, I was not willing to be guided by a mere scruple, therefore I consulted my friends, particularly my dear friend Mr Brewer who consulted with Dr Guyse.  And they both agreed with my own judgement, that it was not a bare scruple, but a real conviction of conscience, with which it is my duty to comply, I examined since farther into it and find myself more and more confirmed that to continue the practice, in my present judgement, would be to involve myself in wilful and deliberate perjury.  On the other hand to break off all circumstances considered is a hard lesson to flesh and blood, self-will and self-wisdom, would fain advance at least hearken to many corrupt reasonings.  I would fain have defended myself by the most indefensible argument, the practice of the many.  But I hope divine, powerful grace will enable me to rise above all plain subterfuges  and to quit rather a right eye or a right hand, than suffer them to be hindrances and offences between the Lord and my soul.  Accordingly yesterday I began to refuse a profit gratuity and by the Lord’s help, I purpose to go on in the same way and leave the event upon the strength upon his providence and promise.  He knows my wants and has all fullness to supply them and has commanded me to cast myself and my cares upon Him.  I hope I do this not grudgingly, but desire to praise Him as well for showing me wherein my conduct was wrong, as for enabling me to alter it.’
[2] Job 5:6 Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground;
[3] Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
[4] Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
[5] Hebrews 7:25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
[6] Henry (Harry) Newton (1740-1797) married Ann (Nancy) Manby (1726-1813) at Hayton near Pocklington on 19 March 1765. Harry was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He returned from Boston on HMS Lizard in December 1773, just in time to have missed the infamous ‘tea-party’. Newton wrote to William Bull in November 1797: ‘He was a sober, moral man, an excellent sea officer, and much respected and approved in the post Mr S[Ambrose Serle] procured him as agent for the transport service [in Leith]. He was friendly to the gospel, and constantly attended it. I do not know how far he was wrought upon by it; but his deportment upon his dying bed gives us hope that the Lord prepared him for the change, though he said but little. His widow is a gracious woman, and I doubt not but he who ever liveth will still be a husband to her.’
[7] John Thornton (1720-1790), a governor of the Bank of England who sponsored Newton’s ministry. Thornton was a co-founder of the Marine Society. He was also the uncle of William Wilberforce (1759-1833).
[8] Newton’s half-sister Thomasina (1746-1813) married Benjamin Nind (1742-1828) at St Olave’s on 30 August 1768. Newton described his sister as ‘a truly gracious person and happily married to an industrious Christian’.

Lambeth Palace Library MS 3096 ff 75-77

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019