John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


22 February 1783

My dear Sister

Your last letter was not read with indifference; considering it as your own account we may be sure you are quite ill, and your Sister’s busy foreboding mind thinks you worse than I hope you really are. I endeavour to believe that your complaints are the effects of a severe cold, and to hope that as the spring comes forward you will gradually find relief, and be strengthened to fulfil your purposed journey. And I pray that it may be so, but long experience and observation has convinced me that in all temporal things it is not only my duty but my interest, to submit my short-sighted wishes to the wise and gracious will of the Lord. I have certainly formed very pleasing prospects of the satisfaction we should all find in meeting here, and (if I had my full desire) of living together so long as we lived upon earth. I have been persuaded that our situation and connections would be very agreeable to you. I have felt that it would be our pleasing study to make everything as agreeable to you as possible, and I have been equally satisfied that your friendship and kindness would not be behindhand with ours.

Now if this plan and prospect be really right, if it would be so much to our mutual comfort and benefit as I have supposed, I still make no doubt but it will take place. Upon this supposition, though the symptoms of your case as you describe them affected me, they do not greatly alarm me. And though physicians should shake their heads and tell me there is little hope of your recovery, still I know that power belongeth unto God, and that one word from the great Physician can restore you, when outward means seem utterly to fail. I have often seen your dear Sister in such situations as left me no room for hope, but in the arm of the Lord alone. He has brought her several times apparently to the borders of the grave, yet she is still alive.

Therefore if the Lord should appoint otherwise, and we are not to meet till we meet before his throne, though my own share in the trials will not be small, exclusive of what I may expect to feel on your Sister’s account, yet I depend upon him, that the views he has given me, of the wisdom and propriety of all his appointments will not utterly fail me, and that he will not leave her destitute in the time of need. I shall still hope to believe that he does not cross our wishes because he takes pleasure in grieving and afflicting us, but that he has reasons worthy of himself, and very consistent with all his promises to us, for what he does. I shall take it for granted that if we could see things in all their consequences, as he does, we should see that his choice is better for us, than our own could be – and that when at last we do meet in the land of Light, we shall see things thus, and have reason to number our crosses and disappointments amongst his peculiar mercies, to praise him for all, and perhaps most for the severe, and to say, He did all things well. [1]

As to yourself I consider you in safe hands. The Lord loves you better than we can do, and if it were his pleasure to cut short your conflicts, and take you home to see him as he is, and to rejoice in his love without cloud or veil, our objections to his gracious purpose, can arise only from our own feelings, and our unwillingness to lose what we love. Why should we be afraid of your being happy too soon? But I stop. I commend you to him, I endeavour likewise to resign you to him – and I pray that he will enable my dear to do likewise. He has mercifully supported her hitherto under a series of afflictive family strokes, some of which have been so heavy, that she must have sunk, had not his arm sustained her. I have therefore great cause and encouragement to trust him for the future, and to believe that he who knows our frame will remember that we are but dust, and will not try us beyond the measure of strength he will afford us.

It has sometimes happened that I have been over-solicitous for the life of sick friends, and when the Lord has raised them up, events have afterwards taken place which have made me almost wish I could have been content to have let them go, when they seemed going. This at least is one consolation respecting those whom we love who die in the Lord, that when they are gone we know the worst of it, and that worst as we call it, affects only ourselves. As to them, they are happy – they have done with pain, grief and sin, they are out of the reach of temptation and changes, they shall weep no more. Faith sees them clothed in white, tuning their golden harps to the praise of Redeeming love. And can we mourn for them in this view! We may weep for ourselves (yet as though we wept not) but for them we should rather rejoice.

Perhaps I should not have written quite in this strain, had not your Sister’s apprehensions given rather a darker comment upon your letter, than I myself should have collected from it. I shall be much pleased and not surprised if the next news we have from Anstruther, encourages my hope of your amendment. But it is good to be prepared for every event. This is an uncertain world, and we need many disappointments to wean us from it. I would not have you uneasy upon her account; you are in the Lord’s hand and so are we. I cannot promise that she will not feel much for you, but I hope whatever she may feel will be sanctified. The Lord knows what is good for her. If it depended entirely upon me, she would feel [no] pain or uneasiness – but I am sensible that such a state which would be dangerous to another, must be dangerous and improper for her likewise. Afflictions are blessings and tokens of love. I have endeavoured to give her up likewise without reserve – only praying that all things may be so disposed that we may at last meet in his eternal glory. It is sometimes difficult to stand by the surrender I have made – but through his grace I hope not to flinch from it – being well assured that the sufferings of the present life, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed. [2]

Give our love to dear Betsy[Eliza]. Should you be removed before she is grown up, and we survive you, whoever has the care of her fortune we should be glad to take care of her person. We would endeavour to do by her exactly as by our own. I will not say less. I need not say more.

Our love to Miss Cowie. Her attention and tenderness to you greatly endears her to us, and supplies the need of more personal acquaintance to interest our best wishes for her welfare.

And now my Dear Sister I commend you to our God and Saviour and to the Word of his grace – longing and hoping that it may please him to restore your health and strength, and bring you in peace and safety, to your affectionate brother and Sister

John and Mary Newton

22 February 1783

[1] Mark 7:37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
[2] Romans 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 80-81

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019