John Newton to Elizabeth Cuningham


29 March 1783

My dear Sister

On the receipt of your kind friend’s letter last night, we felt something like Jacob, when he said, My son is still alive. [1] Our Sister is yet alive – and there is something in us which would wish to hope further (as he did), We shall see her again. But I dare not encourage such a wish. I know that the Lord can do all things, and that his will is right. Miss Cowie’s account gave us no reasonable ground to hope for your recovery. But he to whom belongs the issue from death, can raise you, if he sees it best – but if he sees it best to take you home to himself – shall I wish that I could resist and control his will? I must not indulge such a thought, I dare not, and by the grace of God I will not. I commend, entrust and resign you into his hands, and there I would leave you. I am well satisfied that he will surely do you good.

I told you Eliza should be ours – this was a settled thing before we saw her – but she has made herself ours since upon her own account, and has taken possession of a large room in each of our hearts. I leave my Dear and Miss Cowie to tell you more about her – I shall only say, that her affectionate, obliging, gentle behaviour, has endeared her very much to me. You need be in no pain about her, so far as our care, tenderness and affection can supply the place of her parents. No doubt there is a difference of feeling, of which we who have had no children cannot be proper judges – but I trust she will never know a difference, but that we shall find a pleasure in treating her in all respects as if she was our very own. As to her health, though she has too much of a fever, I think she is better since she came. I hope she does not suffer much pain, but she is so very patient, that I cannot be certain. She watches our looks and would hide every thing of that sort from us, if she could. She is very cheerful and eats and sleeps very well. As she is young, and her disorder not far gone, it seems more easy to believe, and more reasonable to hope in her case than in yours. But with regard to her likewise I wish to say, Not my will, but thine be done. [2] My chief desire for her is, that the Lord may speak to her heart, draw her to himself, and seal her for his own. And then whether she goes to heaven at the age of twelve, or of a hundred and twenty is no great matter. The advantage seems to be in favour of those who go first. For what is there so desirable in living here, exposed to sin, pain, loss and a thousand sorrows daily, that we should be unwilling those whom we love should be happy, till they have suffered a large share of these things? Let it be as the Lord pleases, but if he is pleased to remove some to glory in the morning of life, why should we grieve that they are not detained to bear the burden of the whole long wearisome day!

Ah, my dear Sister – what a mercy, that the Lord has undertaken to choose and manage for us. For surely, partial as we are in our own favour, if we are not quite stupid, we must be afraid of choosing for ourselves. We are so shortsighted, so ignorant of consequences. But he knows all – and he will provide.

Your sister is for the most part pretty well. I am well always. If we have some trials, our comforts and mercies much more abound. You are always in our thoughts and in our prayers. The Lord bless you, yea he has blessed you, and he will bless you to the end! We shall meet again (and it will be a bonny meeting) before the throne, to sing the high praises of the Lamb that was slain.

We repeat our thanks to Miss Chalmers for her letter, [3] and we earnestly beg to hear as often as convenient. Suspense on these occasions is painful. Every letter, though it should be but of four or five lines just to tell us how you are, will be an obligation to us.

I am your affectionate Brother

John Newton
29 March 1783

[1] Genesis 45:28 And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.
[2] Luke 22:42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
[3] Miss Chalmers may have been Jean Chalmers (1751-1827) of a well-known family in Anstruther. The daughter of James and Barbara Chalmers, she was the sister of John (c.1747-1818), whose son Thomas (1780-1847) became a prominent theologian and preacher, Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University, the First Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, the first Principal and Professor of Divinity of the Free Church's New College and the first minister of St George’s Tron church in Glasgow. As Miss Cowie had accompanied Eliza to London, Elizabeth needed another companion to assist her in her illness.

Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3096, ff 82-83

Marylynn Rouse, 20/08/2019