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The John Newton Project

John Newton to Thomas Robinson

18. 16 August 1782*
 
My Dear Friend
 
I saw Mr Wheatley at church on Wednesday (it does me good to see a friend from Leicester), and as he has promised to call upon me, I will try to get a letter ready to send by him. Your last has lain too long by me, but I cannot help it. This is a hurrying-place, and I am a poor manager of time.
 
I know what I ought to feel, when you say my letters make you ashamed of yourself. They ought to make me much more ashamed. I form some judgment by the kindness of my friends of what I appear to be; but I best know what I am; I trust I am not a hypocrite. Surely I durst not write to you, if I were not conscious of a desire to be the Lord's only, and to serve the Lord only—but alas! alas! indeed I “have not attained.”[1] I love the truth, and I love to declare it, and sometimes my earnestness in the pulpit may make the hearers think I am some­body. I have a tolerable idea of the Christian character, and it is my delight to delineate it. But could you compare Mr N. in the pulpit with Mr N. in his retire­ment and in himself, you would 'start and exclaim, Nil fuit unquam tam dispar sibi.[2] Well, I believe it must be so in some measure—while, like the prisoners of Mezentius, I am chained to a dead body;[3] but I hope the time will come, when I shall no longer drag the loathsome corpse of a depraved nature about with me. Ah! what a loathsome sight; what a cadaverous smell haunts me now in every place! My very complaints seem often forced—words of course and invention; and I believe, if the Lord was pleased to increase my little exercise of grace ten­fold, I should be ten times more out of conceit with myself than I am at present. It is a poor subject—let us change it, and drop a thought about Jesus. In Him we have wisdom, righteousness, peace, power, and salvation. Grace abounds in Him more than sin can abound in me, and His compassion is fully adequate to my case. With Him there is plenteous redemption, therefore I will trust and not be afraid. The more vile I, the more glorious and wonderful will He be in saving me to the uttermost. I wish to be humbled under a sense of sin, to strive in His strength and means against it; and then to be willing to be nothing, that He may be all in all.
You are now your own curate again I suppose. Lady Mary Fitzgerald[4] invited me to meet Mr and Mrs Elton[5] to breakfast at her house one morning, but he did not come, nor she, till near noon, when I was just taking leave—so I am not likely to see him. Lord D_'s choice of a successor to Mr Stillingfleet[6] has been uni­versally approved. I hope the event will still exceed the expectation. Mr Elton will have a large field for service and usefulness; but I think he will meet with ex­ercise for faith and patience. There are many wise curious good-for-little professors in that neighbourhood. If he has anything to learn, he will find more than a few, who will think themselves qualified to teach him. But he will find wheat as well as tares, and some spots of good ground intermixed amongst almost every possible va­riety of soil which the good seed can fall upon. Such at least is the general charac­ter West Bromwich bears. I chiefly speak from report. I never preached there but once.
 
The pamphlet I mean to send with this, if Mr Wheatley calls, though printed, is not for publication. A few of them only were taken off from the press. You know I am moderate as to church matters, and therefore will the less wonder that some dissenters should apply to me for the plan of an academy. You will read here and there an expression cum granu salis,[7] considering for whose service it was written. I can honestly assure you, that, though I am not a high churchman, I could not easily become a dissenter, except I was to set up a new denomination of my own; for I think I see almost as much of the true spirit of high church amongst the dissenters as anywhere else. Mr Bull[8] of Newport, who I think comes the nearest to my Utopian idea of a tutor, is the only person I know amongst them, able or willing to carry such a plan as mine into execution. I know not but he may be called to attempt it. There are thoughts of such a thing—the issue is in the Lord's hand.
 
I bless God I feel myself to be where I ought to be—in the Establishment and in London. The Lord has afforded me many comfortable evidences that He led me hither, and many encouragements since I came. Poor Mr Scott! The seeds of the evils which tease him at Olney were sown before I left it. I believe they grew faster by Mr Page's watering than they might have otherwise done; but had I stayed there much longer, I must have reaped the crop. But Mr Scott likewise knows the Lord placed him in his post, and hopes to get good by it. I think that there will either be a new work take place in Olney, or the minister they have dared to treat with so much disrespect and unkindness, will be removed by and by. As to myself, I had more uneasiness as a minister in one month while in the country, than during the whole time I have been in town; or rather, I have hardly had a single cause of uneasiness since I came.
 
My eyes long to see you in London, for I have little hope of seeing you in Leicester. I could show you some excellent people here. We have some in our congregation at Mary Woolnoth, whom I deem first-rate Christians; and I like them not the worse for not being all of one colour. I know not any one point, in which I have greater hopes of usefulness, than in battering down the separation walls, which so often hinder the people of God from seeing and knowing each other. Methinks I see them shake, methinks I see them totter; I long to see them fall, like the walls of Jericho, flat down to the ground. Many of my hearers have mutually wondered at each other and thought, ‘How came you here? I never expected you would bear to hear a Calvinist. I little thought of seeing Mr Such-a-one within the church doors.’ Sometimes these strangers get acquainted. One has told me—If it be Calvinism you preach, I can hardly see wherein we differ. Another has found out to his great surprise, that an Arminian may be a Christian, and so on. I endeavour to keep all Shibboleths, and forms, and terms of distinc­tion out of sight, as we keep knives and razors out of the way of children; and if my hearers had not other means of information, I think they would not know from me, that there are such creatures as Arminians or Calvinists in the world. But we talk a good deal about Christians, about the Saviour of sinners, how strongly they who know Him are bound to love and serve Him, and how fervently they who love Him ought to love one another.
 
My dear is not without her ailments; but upon the whole pretty well. We join in love to Mr and Mrs Robinson, to all our old friends with you. Do not forget Mr and Mrs Ludlam[9], and Mr and Mrs Confrater.[10]
 
I am, much and always your
    
Aug. 16, 1782      John Newton
   
*    The Evangelical Register, 1838; page 398, No. 14  


Endnotes:

[1] Philippians 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
[2] Nil fuit unquam tam dispar sibi: nothing was ever so unlike itself [Horace]
[3] Mezentius was a mythical king of the Tyrrhenians or Etruscans in Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 8. An English translation describing this analogy: “I need not now repeat each bloody crime, his cruel acts; the gods shall find a time for vengeance on the tyrant and his race, who dead and living tied with face to face, and hand in hand, in dire embraces joined, the noisome smell the living bodies pined; with lingering death the peoples’ patience tied, turned into rage, which all the nation stirred.
[4] Lady Mary Fitzgerald (1725/6-1815), “unhappily married” to George Fitzgerald of County Mayo, from whom she separated in 1754, was a friend of the Countess of Huntingdon, Henry Venn, Thomas Scott etc. She attended Scott’s preaching at the Lock. Her clothes caught alight in her bedroom and she died from the burns. Scott preached her funeral sermon (from Revelation 7:14-17), which was published in 1815, also included in his Works (1824, vol 6).
[5] Abraham Elton (1755-1842), formerly Robinson’s curate at St Mary’s, Leicester, became curate (and lecturer) of All Saints, West Bromwich, resigning in 1790 when he succeeded to his father’s baronetcy.
[6] James Stillingfleet (1741/2-1826), rector of Hotham from 1771 to 1826. The Stillingfleets were credited with prolonging Joseph Milner’s life through their kind hospitality. John Wesley also enjoyed their hospitality at “one of the pleasantest places I have seen” (Journal, June 1788).  Stillingfleet had other talents: in 1797 he was awarded “the Gold Medal, being the first Premium offered for the Culture and Cure of Rhubarb” by the Society Instituted at London for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (see p157 of their Transactions, 1797, Vol 15, for Stillingfleet’s winning  “mode of culture and cure”).
[7] cum granu salis: with a grain of salt
[8] William Bull (1738-1814), minister of Newport Pagnell Independent, close friend of Newton’s since Olney days, about to found the Newport Academy for which Newton was, by request, writing the curriculum (A Plan of Academical Preparation for the Ministry, 1782)
[9] William and Frances Ludlam (married in 1772)
[10] Thomas Ludlam married Jane Richards at St Martin’s Leicester 9 March 1781





 


 

Marylynn Rouse, 02/07/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 12:42 on 20 September 2019