John Newton to Thomas Robinson

19. 22 May 1783*
My Dear Friend
I owe you thanks for two letters; part of the second, with Mr M_'s[1] comment upon it, has affected me greatly. [2] A journey at this time would be quite impracticable, and perhaps just now rather more improper than writing. But if you would give me leave to say I had my information from you, I would wish to write. And I apprehend there could be no impropriety in your averring that you could not conceal from me a matter of such importance, and in which you knew my friendship interested me so much. It might be inconvenient, if a suspicion should arise that I had my intelligence from any person here, and this consideration alone restrains my pen.
After all, the business most properly lies with you. Your vicinity and friend­ship and example give you advantages, which I doubt not your prudence and ten­derness will make the best use of. I take it for granted that you have been there already, that you have admonished, pleaded, advised and encouraged, as the case requires, with all gentleness and with all faithfulness—Galatians 6:1.[3] My heart aches, in a manner bleeds. Ah! poor place! Ah! poor friend! Ah! my other poor friend, what must she feel![4] What must the serious, what must the profane say? The good Lord watch me and you and all of us. Few of us, perhaps, have shown more zeal, more disinterestedness, more apparent simplicity in the good cause than our friend. And now to be enticed into the toils of the enemy, and led forth like Samson shorn and bound, to make the Philistines sport—how awful! Oh! my Lord, keep me. I adore and wonder that I have been kept; that I stand, (if I do stand,) for surely I am not wiser or better than some who have fallen. Oh! how should this reconcile us to every cross that the Lord is pleased to appoint, since for aught we know, all may be but just enough to prevent us showing to all the world what is in our hearts. What we commonly call crosses may be deemed comforts, compared with this heaviest of all trials, to be left to build up what we have laboured to pull down, and to pull down what we have built up. If the love of our Lord is awake in our hearts, shall we not choose (if there was no other alterna­tive) to be bereaved, to be disabled, to be even buried alive, rather than willingly to forsake or retard the good work, to grieve the hearts of the godly and open the mouths of the wicked.
This unexpected news, which at first struck me like a thunder-clap, is as it were still sounding in my ears, and is present to my thoughts all the day. I know not that I ever was so affected, so astonished with any thing of the kind. For this comes home to me. It is not a stranger—but my friend, my companion; how often have we taken sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company! Yet I hope, I trust to see a happy return, and glad shall I be if the Lord honours you as an instrument in effecting it. What a service will you then do to the church, what a comfort will you prove to me!
I congratulate you and Mrs Robinson on the accession of a new daughter, and that she has happily been brought through another crisis. May your child be the Lord's child—all your children taught of Him. It well repays parents for their broken nights, their cares, trouble and expense, when they are honoured and succeeded as instruments in bringing their children up for the Lord. What queen of France was it, whose lot historians so admire, in that she was the daughter, the wife, the mother and the sister of a king? That is, very possibly, she was nearly related to a lion, a wolf, a bear, and a fox in human shape. Poor distinction! I envy not her honours. But to be a child and a parent of an heir of glory is an honour indeed. Where will many kings of the earth hide their heads, when many believers shall stand forth with joy and say, Here am I, and the children Thou hast given me. Such I hope will be your honour.
The Lord has given us likewise another daughter. My dear's only and beloved sister, Mrs Cuningham,[5] a fortnight ago fell asleep in Jesus. Last year bereaved her of a husband and her eldest daughter; she was near upon the point of leaving Scotland to come and live with us: but the Lord appointed otherwise, and His appointments are right. She is now with Him whom here she served and loved. Her only surviving child is with us; she nearly pairs with another,[6] being about twelve years of age—a sweet girl; but a hectic has taken hold of her, and, though she has not at present any severe symptoms, we cannot confidently say, This sickness is not unto death;[7] the probability seems on the other side. The Lord can restore her; and if it be right and for the best, He will. There I wish to leave it.
I have no access to my parishioners, the few excepted who knew the truth before I came among them. I account my willing hearers my parishioners, live where they will. And after the addresses, etc, which I have sent to the others, I do not think I am bound to force myself upon them, nor that it would probably answer any good end if I did. I consider them as those who are without, till they let me know they wish to see me.

Your spiritual complaints and difficulties are mine; and I believe every minister, who is faithful and useful has the like.
My Utopian plan[8] was not of my own propounding. I was desired to give my thoughts for the plan of a dissenting academy. I am debtor to church and dissen­ters, to all names among whom the Lord has a people. Yet I believe many of the students will prefer the church line (under the present tutor), and I conceive a way will be opened for such. If not, let them be dissenters or methodists, pro­vided they are wise, faithful and useful.
Our love to Mrs Robinson, Miss Boys, and all friends.
I am, most sincerely yours,
May 22, 1783       John Newton
*    The Evangelical Register, 1838; page 397, No. 13  


[1] Possibly William Mozeen, Dr Ford’s curate from summer 1775. Mozeen “died in his chair Sunday last [6 November] at nine o’clock at night, at Great Hale, Lincolnshire”. William Benwell (a freemason) had been vicar of Great Hale from 24 April 1794; Richard Bingham was appointed vicar in his place on 23 May 1796. Perhaps Mozeen was filling in before Bingham took up residence.
[2] Robinson had informed Newton that Dr Ford was lapsing in his ministry and becoming more engrossed in the world.
[3] Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
[4] Dr Ford’s wife, Elizabeth nee Sage of Stanmore. They were married at St George’s 23 June 1774.
[5] Elizabeth Catlett (1730-1783), Polly’s sister, married James Cunningham in 1764. They lived in Rochester in Five Bells Lane, and in 1774 moved to Anstruther, Fife, with their three children, John (1766-1777), Susie (born 1768) and Eliza (born 1771). Reminding his sister-in-law that the Lord “is with you in every place”, Newton added: “Your removal led my thoughts to the subject of the following hymn and therefore you ought to have a copy.” See 'Jacob’s ladder', on Genesis 28:12, Olney Hymns, Book 1, Hymn 9. One by one the whole family fell ill and died, leaving just Eliza.
[6] Betsy (1769-1834), also named Elizabeth Catlet, was the daughter of the youngest Catlett sibling, George (1742-1774), and his wife Sarah Kite (d 1769) of Dover. When both parents died, she was adopted by the Newtons and lived with them in Olney, attending Mrs Trinder’s school associated with John Ryland’s Baptist church in Northampton. She later followed them to London, attending a school in Highgate.
[7] John 11:4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
[8] A Plan of Academical Preparation for the Ministry, qv (16 Aug 1782), in which Newton proposed a curriculum as freely as if for Utopia.



Marylynn Rouse, 03/07/2015